press release

Witte de With is pleased to present The Temptation of AA Bronson:

AA Bronson (b. 1946, Vancouver) is both artist and curator, subject and object, in this hybrid project that includes his recent solo work, his collaborations with younger artists, and works by friends, both queer and not. Also included are two of his curatorial projects: Queer Zines, incorporating more than 100 queer zines from the punk era until today; and Ancestors, a personal archive of books, editions, and ephemera that form a fragmentary and incoherent historical underpinning to the overall project.

Themes of body, spirit, sex, religion, community, death, ritual, and magic collide throughout The Temptation of AA Bronson in sigils, crystals, mirrors, nudity, and bodily fluids. Moving up through the old school rooms of Witte de With, the style of exhibition moves back in time: the white cube gives way to the immersive environment of the surrealist exhibition, and to the cabinet of curiosities, to finally arrive at the threshold of magic: the phantasm of images, smells, sounds, and action that contains the potential for healing.

The exhibition features a new commission by AA Bronson and Michael Bühler-Rose, The City of Nine Gates, consisting of two large cubes, each containing the remains of a performance. Bronson’s Invocation of the Queer Spirits (Rotterdam) will be enacted privately by a small group of invited participants at midnight prior to the opening. Bühler-Rose’s ritual, Invocation by Fire, is open to the public a few hours later at dawn.

A new iteration of Marina Abramović’s major installation Transitory Objects: Beds for Human and Spirit Use invites visitors to don white laboratory coats and earphones, and to lie down on wooden tables to experience the healing energy of crystals, which she calls “the most simplified computers of the planet.” Abramović says: “If you put in any impulse—that's how you get digital watches—the impulse never leaves the crystal. […] They're regenerators."

During the opening, The Temptation of AA Bronson will be baptized with a confusion of simultaneous and continuous performances by Chrysanne Stathacos, Michael Dudeck, Nils Bech and Sands Murray-Wassink.

The Temptation:

The title The Temptation of AA Bronson alludes to Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the many references Flaubert’s tightly-knit text brings together, and its subsequent reverberations in art, literature, and theory. Flaubert began writing The Temptation of Saint Anthony in his twenties in the 1840s, and published three versions over his lifetime, the last in 1874. It was his Gesamtkunstwerk, his life’s work, and remained incomplete and inchoate. Michel Foucault describes it as the first modern text, the text that activates modern literature, that sets the library on fire: we look over Saint Anthony’s shoulder and witness a kind of movie within a movie enacted on the Egyptian desert and indexing the temptations which form our physical, moral, intellectual, and emotional life, sourced from the paintings and books of Flaubert’s world, and founded in The Bible, “The Book” itself. Like Freud, Flaubert could not escape sexuality; he spent his life immersed in cataloguing the perversions of humanity.

Saint Anthony was a very particular figure, the father of the desert fathers, the hermits who prefigure monks. He lived in North Africa at the end of that mostly undocumented period when Christianity centered in Africa, and Christians were primarily black. He died in 356, two decades after the center of Christianity was moved from Alexandria to Constantinople (Istanbul today) in Asia Minor. Only 1000 years later did the center of Christian power move to Rome, that is, to Europe.

Flaubert freely wrote of his own sexual encounters with prostitutes, mostly in Egypt and Turkey, both male and female, even with boys. He shared a history with Saint Anthony, not only of life in Egypt and Asia Minor, but also a life lived in continuous dialogue with temptation.

Salvador Dalí created his seminal painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony in 1946, using classicism, eroticism, and Surrealism to invoke the intermediaries between heaven and earth. It was his first painting on a religious theme and has become one of his most ubiquitous images. It is included in the exhibition in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

Saint Anthony, Flaubert, and Salvador Dalí share a particular skill in representing a practice through personae. Their life work is not constructed as a sequence of cultural products or even achievements; rather, each represents a practice encapsulated in lifelong dedication to being present in the world.

ARTISTS: The exhibition includes works and performances by twenty-eight artists from eleven countries, in addition to the many artists and writers included in Queer Zines and Ancestors.

The Living: AA Bronson, Bradford Kessler, Carlos Motta, Chrysanne Stathacos, Elijah Burgher, Gareth Long, Jeffrey Valance, Louwrien Wijers, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray, Marina Abramović, Matthias Herrmann, Michael Bühler-Rose, Nicolaus Chaffin, Nils Bech, Oisin Byrne, Reima Hirvonen, Ryan Brewer, Sands Murray-Wassink, Scott Treleaven, Sébastien Lambeaux, Terence Koh, TM Davy, Tom de Pékin.

The Dead: David Buchan, Derek Jarman, General Idea, Robert Flack, Mike Kelley.

AA BRONSON (b. 1946, Vancouver) is an artist living and working in Berlin and New York City. In the 1960s, he left university with a group of friends to found a free school, a commune, and an underground newspaper. This led him into an adventure with gestalt therapy, radical education, and independent publishing. In 1969 he formed the artists’ group General Idea with Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal; for the next twenty-five years they lived and worked together to produce the living artwork of being together, undertaking over 100 solo exhibitions, and countless group shows and temporary public art projects. They were known for FILE Megazine (1972 – 1989), their unrelenting production of low-cost multiples, and their early involvement in punk, queer theory, and AIDS activism.

Since his partners died in 1994, AA Bronson has explored the subjects of death, grieving, and healing, most recently in his performance series Invocation of the Queer Spirits. He has had solo exhibitions at the List Visual Arts Center at MIT (2002), Cambridge; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2001); The Power Plant, Toronto (2003/2004); and the Secession, Vienna (2000), among other venues. In 2008 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 2011 named a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres by the French government. He is represented by Esther Schipper, Berlin.

AA Bronson’s work—as an artist, healer, curator, and educator—is dominated by the practice of collaboration and consensus. From his beginnings in a free school and commune, through his twenty-five years as one of the artists of General Idea, in his deep involvement with founding and developing collaborative and social structures such as Art Metropole, the NY Art Book Fair, and The Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice, and through his current collaborations with younger generations, he has focused on the politics of decision-making and on living life radically.

The Temptation of AA Bronson

The Living: AA Bronson, Bradford Kessler, Carlos Motta, Chrysanne Stathacos, Elijah Burgher, Gareth Long, Jeffrey Valance, Louwrien Wijers, Mr. and Mrs. Keith Murray, Marina Abramovic, Matthias Herrmann, Michael Bühler-Rose, Nicolaus Chaffin, Nils Bech, Oisin Byrne, Reima Hirvonen, Ryan Brewer, Sands Murray-Wassink, Scott Treleaven, Sebastien Lambeaux, Terence Koh, TM Davy , Tom de Pekin.
The Dead: David Buchan, Derek Jarman, General Idea , Robert Flack, Mike Kelley.