March 30, 2006

Curatorial vs. Theoretical Practice, Pt. 2: Fischer vs. Matta-Clark

In 1977, Gordon Matta-Clark performed his signature “cutting” on a 5-story office building in Antwerp, carving semi-circles in successive floors through the structure of the building. Office Baroque is both sculpture and site, as the building becomes fused with the artist’s “mark,” at one with the conception and action. Beyond an articulation of space, Matta-Clark’s work is an intervention that disrupts the “social fabric” of the architecture, revealing the “boxes” that we live and work in to be prisons maintained by capitalism to provide “context for insuring a passive, isolated consumer.”

Juxtapose this year’s “cuts” by Urs Fischer into the walls of the Whitney Museum in the ’06 Biennial, and you have an apparently derivative, shallow gesture of theoretical practice; conceptual style without substantive concept. Again, it appears the ’06 WB curators were entranced by the ubiquitous “metonymic cloak of post-conceptualism” worn by Fischer, whose work lacks confirmation of an authentic concept other than vandalizing the sacred walls of “The Institution.”

In our reading this week, Lee Weng Choy states that the “contradictions” in an artwork “make it possible to speak to the work critically in the first place.” Moreover, he believes the purpose of “interpretation” is to “open up multiple readings of a work.” (Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, 251) Thus, I would like to “interpret” Urs Fischer’s “knock-off “of Gordon Matta-Clark as nothing more than a contradictory stunt, since punkish pranks do not necessarily convey artistic intention. Further, given this model of curatorial practice, I suspect we will see similar simulacra in future contemporary art surveys, as images pile upon images, empty acts upon emptier acts, and the inevitable function of the spectacle will be revealed, as Guy Debord has said, to “bury history in culture.”


Richard A. Meade said...

I find not only that Fischer's work is derivative of Matta-Clark but it has that sci-fi "time portal" look to it, ala early Star
Trek and some of the more recent sci-fi television series. Whereas
Matta-Clark didn't compromise the integrity of the building by cutting through "baring cross beams" (see photo) Fischer picked a wall that most likely is a transient wall in the museum. Walls come and go inside
museums, they are configured to be built and removed after exhibitions so as to make way for the next show. In this essence Fischer is a charlatan, neither revealing the meat of what holds up the museums roof nor risking
the wrath of it's collapse.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Welcome, Richard! We are not alone in noticing Urs Fischer’s quotation of the earlier (better) work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Michael Kimmelman points out in his New York Times review of ’06 WB that Fischer weakly re-hashes both Matta-Clark and Richard Serra:

Urs Fischer, taking off from what Gordon Matta-Clark did then [the 1970’s], chops huge irregular holes in a couple of the show's walls; like Mr. Serra in the old days, tossing hot lead, he also drips wax from candles perched on rotating tree branches (the effect is mildly meditative) to make rings on the floor.

The citation /appropriation /referencing of previous (better) conceptual practice is, of course, a major component of much post-conceptual work. The chief signifying element of the weakest post-conceptualism is to affect the “look” of previous work, that is the superficial “style,” to distract the critical “eye” from noticing the empty center. It is not about “influences,” for that clearly exists in all “original” work, but the goal of post-conceptualism should be to move the concepts forward and to add to the conceptual discourse.

The keen observation of your “Star Trek” connection merits further exploration. This “time portal” concept could have legs with an intelligent vision behind it. I was particularly intrigued by your idea that Fischer’s “cuts” do not undermine the museum’s architectural structure, much less engage in “institutional critique” a la Hans Haacke and Marcel Broodthaers:

Urs Fischer cut enormous, gaping holes into a gallery wall, raggedly framing other works of art. Viewers tend to creep toward the holes, wondering if they should step into the breach. (They eventually do so, smiling like the boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.) According to the advance word, the Biennial’s European curators, Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, would also break down walls, reframe art, and push into new territory. This Biennial would be the first with a title. Its perspective would be global. It could be revolutionary.
Well . . . the walls are still standing.


Exactly! If Fischer’s “cut” walls were meant to “frame” the artwork in opposite rooms, would this not appear to be more a reinforcement of the “institutional context” instead of a critique?

Richard A. Meade said...

Other views to consider when comparing what Fischer and Matta-Clark accomplished with their work.

If the viewer looks at the photo of the “cutting” that Matta-Clark did in 1977 it exists on several levels. The first one is as I mentioned, exposing what holds up the building and the floors above and below, i.e. baring walls and the cross beams, trusses, on which the floors rest. But there are other levels on which this work existed. The “cutting” has no rails or guards to protect the viewers as they approach the edge of the cuts made in the floors either above or below. This brings in to play the fear of high places, acrophobia, as the viewers peer down from each successive higher level to the floors below. The curved lines in the “cutting” could, in some individuals, cause a feeling of vertigo. So the decision by Matta-Clark to create this work isn’t arbitrary, in fact it is well formulated to exist on several levels.

Now let’s consider the piece by Fischer of “cutting” a hole in an obvious transient wall of the museum. What has Fischer accomplished by doing this piece? Has he exposed anything to the viewer of the “skeleton” of the building as did Matta-Clark? As the viewers approach the “hole in the wall” is there any other transitory experience for the viewer other than framing the art work on the other side of the gallery wall or the “crossing over” in to the other space? To simply “rehash” a work like Matta-Clark’s by cutting a hole in a vertical transient wall, seems to only exist on a very superficial level compared to that of Matta-Clark’s.

Finally, Fischer has at least a 50% share in blame at the lack of “pushing the envelope” so to speak, in having his work in this show. Actually his share could be lower when one considers the factors of having been chosen or is that anointed, to be in this show? After all, it is the curator who decides what work is placed in this show and the lack of knowledge of what came before is sorely missing in the curatorial choices of this show. Curators are just another form of bureaucrat, pushing their agenda, or lack there of.

mike said...
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mike said...

Mark Cameron Boyd,

I like Fischer's mockish attitude. Punkish if you will (you're a jerk if you won't). Sometimes as an artist it is good to poke fun at the seriousness others see in their own work, it is validating.

By the way, too much artspeak here. What is this crap. This is the only entry I red because it was the shortest.

Take Care,


M. Cameron Boyd said...

Welcome, Mike.

I can appreciate the "punkish" attitude of mockery and the use of satire to deflate the "seriousness others see in their own work." However, I don't see how this applies to Fischer's wall cuts in WB06. Perhaps you would care to illuminate it further? Feel free to use some of that "artspeak," as you should get used to it.

mike said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.