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Some reflections on the idea of a different collection

Text for the catalogue "On the edge", art museum of Tel Aviv,

In the course of the twentieth century, not a few artists took part in art history by adopting a stance whose increasingly analytical nature ultimately estranged them from traditional collectors of æsthetic objects in favor of collectors more interested in critical considerations. The direct result of this shift in artistic goals was that a work of art could no longer be equated with its objects, thereby radically transforming operations involving the acquisition of works of art. Hence the famous "Bottle Dryer" is not a work of art, just an object of the art of Duchamp; naturally it has to be presented within the domain of art, but any everyday article could do just as well. Because for Duchamp, "it is the viewers who make the pictures." Thus it is the idea of the ready-made which really makes up the work, while the object itself is nothing - it is interchangeable.
(Marcel Duchamp did not even try to keep the main original ready-mades : today, only their reissues from the sixties survive. When a museum asked Duchamp if it could purchase an early ready-made from him, he replied that all it had to do was to acquire one directly from a department store !).

By shifting the artistic problem from a question of form to a question of function, the ready-made gives priority to the mental activity, leadind the art lover to view reflections on art as an artistic act in its own right which cannot be dissociated from the act of collecting.

This notion has been underpinned by other artistic propositions. For example, in 1959 Yves Klein effected the destruction of the object and the dematerialization of the work of art. His invoices/receipts, called "zone of immaterial pictorial sensitivity", were to be purchased and then burned by the collector. Only an entry in a list of works bears witness to the work's existence.

Some twenty years later, Buren, Mosset, Parmentier and Toroni also challenged collectors by stating that "a painting is objectively reactionary by vocation" and that "the artist and his art should no longer be accepted."

Michel Claura, who was their "spokesperson", writes that "the painting of Buren, Mosset, Toroni IS. Simply being, it is completely detached from its creator. Simply being, whoever created it can lay claim to it..." And Bernard Ceysson makes the following comments about their declarations : "These artists... wanted to believe that a picture reduced to "degree zero"...would put an end to the production of art objects - in other words to the society which consumes them ! But the revolution has not taken place and society has consumed the revolutionary reduction ! It has seen in this a radical formal revolution which can be appreciated on an æsthetic level. For these artists, then, all that remained was to stop producing, or to reiterate the display of the picture reduced to square one, until finally both art and society vanish ! And this has not yet come about..."

For his part, the lover of Minimal and Conceptual art no longer wishes to be a "vegetable collector." Facing this art, he is no longer in the presence of a beautiful object inviting contemplation; rather, he grapples with the object's definition and the various effects of its display. Indeed, Minimal and Conceptual art, through a discourse about and around the work, tends to bring the viewer's point of view closer to the field of action : the work is fashioned by being put on show, and its acquisition is an act of commitment by the collector.

Such an approach to art, bound up with the conditions in which the work is perceived, and with the reactions and initiatives to which it may give rise, induces the collector to perform a systematic inquiry from every angle into the nature of art and its context.

Gradually the painter's studio, his palette, and his easel become of no concern to the collector, and of even less concern are the frames with their attractive "marie-louise" (inner frame), the protective glass, angle brackets, and pedestals. Directional spotlights have the same effect on him as the "picture reflectors" fixed over Impressionist Landscapes. He is no longer interested but in comprehensive works which take into account their space, their mode of presentation, the experience bound up with their perception, or the modes of their appropriation. Hence if he wishes to adopt a radical attitude, he cannot but detach himself from the finished object represented by traditionnal sculpture or painting.

His attention is thus attracted to certain artists. Ian Wilson, for example, proposes discussion as a work of art; for him, all art is communication, and hence he prefers conversing to sculpting ! And Michael Asher's works constitute a critical analysis of the conditions of the production and reception of art. To the end, the artist uses in his installations only those elements which already exist in the setting in which they are displayed; they are mere meaning-producting devices, and cannot be commercialized in other locations.

In contrast, Warhol's works are far too commercialized not to arouse suspicion!

Warhol's genius was to contaminate art by assimilating his works to mass consumption products (Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, Brillo, the Mona Lisa...) because - according to Baudrillard - the art object, a new triumphal fetish, must deconstruct its traditional aura, its power of illusion, in order to glow in the pure obscenity of merchandise. What Warhol makes sacred is merchandise as merchandise, and in this modern merchandise spectacle, a parallel spectacle about the disappearance of art takes place.

Warhol made the point himself : "So on one hand I really believe in empty spaces, but on the other hand, because I'm still making some art, I'm still making junk for people to put in their spaces that I believe should be empty : i.e., I'm helping people waste their space, when what I really want to do is help them empty their space" (The Philosophy of Andy Warhol). And again, quoted by Alan Jones in Art Press n°199 : "I think every painting should be the same size and the same color so they're all interchangeable and no-one should think he has a better or a worse picture than anyone else. And if the 'original picture' is good, they're all good."

Jeff Koons likewise turns the givens of art upside down : his "objects of idolatry" operate like dazzling simulacra which the artist contrives to get museums and collectors to buy at very high prices, although they are merely kitsch objects devoid of any signifiance other than their ability to fascinate. This has been clearly understood, but apparently not among his collectors : it is the price which makes it possible to accord the status of artwork to Koons' flashy objects, because in the public's view, at that price, it cannot but be art !

Closer to us, in France, Philippe Thomas' agency, "readymades belong to everyone", proposed to collectors that they trust themselves heart and soul into an artistic "turnkey" project, a work of which they themselves would be the author, and which would associate them with the great names in the catalogues and calendars of events of the foremost museums. As a result oh his directing genius, combined with a torough knowledge of art and its practices, Philippe Thomas thus produces a work of art/fiction which has everything it takes to fascinate, apart from the fact that the collector, faced by the artistic objects subjected to his signature, cannot but ask himself : these light boxes, monochrome pictures, ready-made devices - do they not constitute the clichés of trendy art ; do they not ultimately revert to a biography which is utterly devoted to the glory of Philippe Thomas ?

As with Warhol, who encouraged the proliferation of his Campbell's Soup in order to strip art of any aura and, paradoxically, to acquire an aura himself, or Koons and several other "manipulators", it is Philippe Thomas' move which is interesting rather than the works he proposes, which are of little artistic value, because it is in fact his discourse - and the power of seduction it generates - which makes him a great artist.

So where does this leave the art collection ?

Can one really buy all these objects, the interest of which is very often to be found in their connection to a very specific situation or in a sociological denunciation which is not always "worthwhile" to the person who will acquire them ? How can one impart coherence to a collection of contemporary art if one wishes it, nevertheless, to reflect the attention paid to these processes ?

And since Marcel Duchamp used to say that one can be an artist without being anything special, is it still possible to define what a great work of art is, and if the artist should be the only person to produce it ?

Today, the solution would seem to be to place oneself on the artists' side, to choose those who allow some room for intervention in the working-out or realization of their works; ultimately, to take their place, because themselves are sometimes induced to take place of collectors.
(Claude Rutault collects the various initiatives of people who adopt his definition / methods and this led him to present the "works" of a number of figures from the art world in his 1983 show at the ARC. Yoon Ja and Paul Devautour have ceased to be artists in order to devote themselves entirely to the managing of their collection).

As early as the seventies, Count Panza was granted documents / certificates allowing him to have constructed - by specialized personnel - works which he had just purchased from artists.

Since then, an additional stage has been reached, with art lovers themselves realizing the works in which the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the artist's activity.

For Sol LeWitt, "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made forehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art..." This artist does not allow conception and implementation to merge, which is the reason why his Wall Drawings are based on a certificate accompagnied by a diagram allowing collectors to draw them as a part of a visualization which is intended to be a basically mental process. The artist allows a few liberties in the execution of the work. He explains his stance by saying, "Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side-effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works... The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course..." Hence in order to be moved, a Wall Drawing will have to be redone and although it will then change appearance, it will always remain the same : only its concept has been sold. So in Sol LeWitt's thinking, it is not the finished work which must be logical, in other words predetermined, programmed, without surprises, but the idea of the work.

When Claude Rutault asks his collectors to paint canvases the same color as the walls on which they hang, he is proposing works whose appearance is also valid for a limited period only. Each has a corresponding definition and method which offer various modes of realization, and an indeterminate number of implementations bound up with parameters (place, time) that are often independent of the artist because they are chosen by the collector. What we are witnessing, then, is a leap beyond the picture, beyond the finish object. There is no quest of originality, no invention, no exploration of new materials, no sophiticated hanging techniques; eveything is determined by the collector on the basis of the definition / methode which he has selected.

What Lawrence Weiner does is to issue a letter informing the collector that the Statement he has just acquired has been registered in his name with a New York attorney; in addition, three possibilities are suggested to him for exhibiting it :
1) The artist may construct the work,
2) The work may be fabricated (by someone else),
3) The work need not be built.
Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist. The decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.

Lawrence Weiner refuses to favor his realizations over those of others, and all of them, although not identical, are just as valid as any other. By radically challenging the traditional status of the art object, the artist is placing no limits on the material performance of his propositions, nor on their poetic perception in space and time. Here everything is in flux, the work functions on many levels and plays on the ambivalence - tangible / intangible, visible / invisible - by referring the collector, as he assumes responsibility for his Statements, to the eternal question of the reality of the work which he possesses.
(at the time of the joint opening of the Beaubourg Galleries, I took it upon myself to present the following Statement to illustrate the point : "IN AND OUT - OUT AND IN - AND IN AND OUT - AND OUT AND IN" at Picard Frozen Foods. Nothing was changed or added to the shop's normal way of operating, with the result that this work by Lawrence Weiner which I had advertised was only seen by visitors to the exhibition as they came IN and went OUT, searching in vain for the tangible product with which they are normally provided by the art market).

The infinite implementations of all these works bear witness to the fact that the art in question values the conventional nature of its products less than how it fits into a new architectural, social, or ideological context, and that consequently the collector must be able to promote its successive presentations.

At this stage, the roles of the artist, the exhibition curator, the collector, the critic, and the art agent become interchangeable, or at least complementary. Together, these different actors on the art scene, by may of multimedia, invest different interactive networks where art become indissociable from the history of our society : fashion, design, architecture, computing, music, communication...thereby allowing them to considerably expand the conditions in which a work of art finds its meaning.

And they all oppose the notion of an art object which can be rendered sacred in order to destabilize the socio-economic systems to which the collector of the past - because of extra-artistic considerations- was all too often tied.

(in order to rid my collection of the traditionnal collection mindset, I have no works hanging up in my appartment and I have decided, entirely in keeping with my status as an art agent - who finds more art in art networks than in art objects - that it will be comprised of everything relating to the following areas: archives, articles, communication, lectures, publications, expert evaluations, exhibitions, interviews, publicity... By way of example , I think that my archives are a far more important array than any collection of art objects because it constitutes both the content and the meta-form of an art which can no longer produce forms. Moreover, today, in order to encounter art it is also necessary to emerge from the traditional art venues : to follow Benetton's advertising campaigns because they create a different style of communication, enter the empty space ofJapanese architects, analyse the psychosis of Jacques Mesrine whose best agent was the Paris Match, keep an eye on the progress of computers with the Internet and its impressive potential... And many more things, which can be summarized by saying that it is simply studying what our society is creating : often this contains all the reflection which is asked of art and which is found only in a watered-down version in most of the recyclings or diverse adaptations carried out by artists !).

                                                GMV , 1995


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