02 n°65 mar/avr/mai 2013
02 n°65 mar/avr/mai 2013
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Essai Walter Benjamin 60 replicas in frameworks typical of the way the history of art of the 20 th century was written. The expositions and studies of historians are in fact markers which underscore the appearance of such and such a paradigm, such and such a school, and such and such a line of thought, and, above all, underpin the chapters of a common history. The unfolding of this history is based on research into creative gestures which renew the genre and propose new ways of going about things. In a nutshell, it is a history which reckons that a new stage is reached every time an original and novel stance is identified. Now, the projects of interest tous conversely propose copies. From their appearance, which does not camouflage their status and their dating, which is unconnected to that of the originals, the pieces shown in these projects are not calledupon to stand in for the works they are imitating. In our attempt to get to the bottom of the objectives involved, we might make mention here of the analysis made by Nathalie Leleu of the replicas which haunt certain museums. 1 In her text, the author looks into several re-creations of vanished and inaccessible works commissioned by museum curators. The people responsible for the copies of Mondrian’s Victory Boogie-Woogie (1943-1944), reproduced in 1946 at the Stedelijk Museum, El Lissitzky’s Abstract Cabinet (1927-1928), re-created in 1968 at the Provinzialmuseum in Hannover, and Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1919-1920), remade in 1979 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, were not forgerseither. Their respective names were Willem Sandberg, Alexander Dorner and Pontus Hulten. They were guided by a single brief, to work with their favourite medium : the exhibition. In order to produce the narrative underpinning their praxis, they needed objects to present, and if the original was not available, a copy could stand in for it. As Leleu explains, « If copies and re-creations take on the same symbolic function as the ‘authentic’works they rubshoulders with in the exhibition space of the modern museum, their introduction into the collection—by way of the inventory, a normative and validating procedure— points to a break in the conventional spirit of the work of art, at the same time as a change of historical paradigm, of which these objects are the marginal but declared symptoms. » 2 Otherwise put, in their desire to bring meaningful ensembles together, those responsible for writing art history through its display are openingup a Pandora’s box, the box of the copy, the box which denies the supremacy of the original gesture. Leleu incidentally reminds us that, in the first lines of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility, Walter Benjamin points out that « the artist’s replica, the copy, and the re-creation have always acted as auxiliaries of artistic creation, endowed with precise functions which vary from period to period ». 3 The function covered by the afore-mentioned re-creations is strictly educative, associated with the requirements of the exhibition. This means that their purpose is less to bear the name of their authors (Piet Mondrian, El Lissitzky and Vladimir Tatlin) than to act as examples illustrating the ideas of the curators commissioning them. These orphan-like works are not to be understood in order to detect therein an original creative gesture ; rather, they appear as objects which are « open and reserved for the discourse and challenges of memory, over and above their substance. » 4 So it is no longer the artist and his work which are admired in this type of production, but the history which consecrates them as masterpieces. It is perhaps guided by a similar line of thought about the difference between a work seen as an object bearing the mark of its creator and its status as a historical icon that, in the « International Exhibition of Modern Art », the style and making of the objects run counter to their typology of « authentic » production. Including the works of certain artists born after 1913, the exhibition presented, among other works, Joseph Kosuth’s Definition, an oil painting dated 1905, and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, in the formof a visibly handmade plaster sculpture. In a less demonstrative way, all the paintings we can see in the three exhibitions which form « Les fleurs américaines » at Le Plateau are carefully executed but show styles well removed from those copied. In fact, by their explicit nature of being substitutes, they re-enact our relationship to art and its history since the invention of reproduction, since it is possible to see the works without going to them, but rather by getting them to come to us. In the slide shows and PowerPoint presentations used in art history courses, and in textbooks, all that are shown are replacements and stand-ins which have the features necessary for the demonstration which justifies their appearance, but not all the characteristics of the work being studied. It is this history of exemplarity that runs throughout « Les fleurs américaines » in which reproductions of articles from newspapers, and photographs documenting this or that presentation of works are exhibited, shown in the same way as the paintings. Here, the history of presentation, through exhibition, historicization, and journalism is presented at the same level as the artist’s original gesture, which disappears a bit more in favour of a narrative. A narrative wellunderscored by the succession of the three projects brought together under the title « Les fleurs américaines ». It is written as a succession of three characters. The first is Gertrude Stein and her « Salon de Fleurus », which Conférence de Walter Benjamin, Mondrian’63 -’96, Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, 1986. 1. Nathalie Leleu, « Mettre le regard sous le contrôle du toucher. Répliques, copies et reconstitutions au XX e siècle : les tentations de l’historien de l’art », Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, n˚93, autumn 2005, p.85-103. 2. Id., p.86. 3. Id., p.86. 4. Id., p.90. 5. Inke Arns, « Les trous de ver de l’histoire de l’art », Trouble - Factographies, Paris, Trouble, 2010, p.127. 6. Daniël Miller, « Interview with Walter Benjamin », A Prior Magazine, n˚23, 2012, p.44. 7. Beti Žerovc, « My dear, this is not what it seems to be : an interview with Walter Benjamin », Inke Arns and Walter Benjamin (ed.), What is Modern Art ? (Group Show) – Introductory series to the modern art 2, Frankfurt am Main, Revolver – Archiv für aktuelle Kunst, 2006, vol. 2, p.30.
was open in Paris between 1903 and 1913 and can be regarded as the first time modern works were brought together, and, for this reason, as the first stone in the edifice of the historicization of modern art. The second character is Alfred H. Barr, the first director of a museum dedicated to modern art, the Museum of Modern Art which opened in New York in 1929, where the first lines of a history and a typological classification of European modernity were written. The third person is Dorothy Miller who, with exhibitions such as « 14 Americans » in 1946 and « Abstract Art in America » in 1951 extended that narrative and incorporated within it Abstract Expressionism, the movement that was then coming into being and was thus hallowed as a logical extension of that history. The works thus become documents at the service of historical rationalization. The act of copying and re-creating which runs through « Les fleurs américaines » merely underlines this, as much as it demonstrates the way in which these documents have been used to write a history. Clad in this new status, the works actually no longer have as their author the person who produced them, but the person who shows them, the person who talks through them. We are thus entitled to ask who the person is who produces such projects, who, under the overall name of Museum of Modern Art is presented as an « educational establishment ». 5 An educational project which, unlike those of curators, does not attempt to write a history but describe its construction. Here again, a ghost appears. In the same way as the narrator hides himself in the manipulation of works, the person who reveals how they function hides in anonymity and talks by bringing dead people back to life. The person who most frequently comes back is Les Fleurs Américaines Une exposition conçue par/curated by Élodie Royer et YoannGourmel en collaboration avec/with le Salon de Fleurus, New York et le Museum of American Art, Berlin/Frac Île-de-France/Le Plateau. Photo : Martin Argyroglo. 50 ans d'art aux États-Unis, collection du Museum of American Art, Berlin. IJi 61 Walter Benjamin, often presented as the spokesman of the Museum of American Art. In an interview, he explains that he no longer believes in art. According to him, « art exists only in ‘the story of art’, primarily as art history and art museums. And (I) don’t believethat it is an objective and universal story, but a simple invention of a certain kind of society ». 6 Now, this invention is based on respecting codes and parameters which validate its writing. With regard to the way in which this history is written, Walter Benjamin reminds us that for certain people believing in Christian history, a painting depicting a Madonna with child has these two persons as its principal figures. The same painting presented in a museum which, for its part believes in the history of art, will have as its main character the painter who executed it. Walter Benjamin concludes from this that : « This is how you actually change the meaning of the same object by changing the narrative in which it plays a role ». 7 So what Walter Benjamin summonsup is a history without proper names and without chronology. A history which cannot be read with the usual tools of art history based on a linear evolution madeup of original gestures. This is why there is no point in looking for its origin. It can be noted, on the other hand, that if it has not been initiated by an identifiable person, it has been initiated by a technique—reproduction—which disqualifies the originality as much as the hic et nunc in favour of the shift in this kind of narrative, this kind of exhibition, this kind of medium and this kind of context, which invariably re-invent an inscription and a history for it. – 02 n°65 Printemps 2013

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