Art history as a museum depository
On the potency and impotency of the artist
The role of the artist in the process of writing art history is a modest one: ultimately, the entire decision-making prerogatives are left to the art business machinery with its factored-in error coefficient. From the intermeshing tangle of fatefully/randomly successful acts of distribution emerges a depository with the names and objects, which are finally entered in the registers involved.
The artists options for intervening are quite limited. Unless he attempts to bypass the stipulated division of labor in the art business and smuggle himself into one of the positions of power there. This, of course, will succeed only provided that the position concerned is occupied only sporadically, not permanently, so that the depository staff will not be able to detect the deception immediately – if at all. This position has, of course, long since been known to us, thanks to Gogols "Inspector General". Now, however, we are dealing with a situative "inspector-style" remake: the artist comes to the depository of art history, claims to be an inspector general, and commences a revision process from his own personal point of view.
In that moment, he also becomes a genuine revisionist of art history, since the act of exercising power has complete superiority over his institutionally preordained legitimacy. Fundamentally, the artist is thoroughly familiar right from the start with this kind of revisionist activity. Each act of artistic creation implies an act of cognate revision: from the depository of his art-historical memory, the artist takes particular objects following appropriate selection and restoration work, and places them in the current inventory of his own "permanent exposition". And in precisely this manner, following fluctuations in operational demand, he sends back to the depository "articles that are irrelevant" at the point in time concerned.
In order to create a new work of art, and in addition to achieve a conceptual/aesthetic added value, he must always view his own artistic standpoint as the result of a historical development process, and accordingly must incessantly sieve, rework, revise his own artistic "evolutionary narrative" plus its constituent parts. In other words: practice continual revision. And this is precisely what the five Belarusian artists have done. They are all currently living in Germany, working with various artistic media, forms and genres, and represent disparate conceptual and aesthetic positions. What unites them, however, is a shared academic background - a classical "Russian" art education, which in many respects shapes their artistic practice. This incorporates firstly a thorough grounding in the tradition of European art and a refined mastery of the various artistic techniques and methods developed as this tradition evolved. Secondly, it demands an analytical-critical attitude to tradition and the ability to handle classical forms and contents of European art history with mannered irony. The artists accordingly joined forces to create a work of art that explicitly necessitates these abilities, waiving the "bourgeois individualism" of present-day art production, in order by means of a collective act of creation to make a statement on their artistic position in the contemporary world of art, producing a work that doubles as a manifesto. Thus "Revision" has emerged as a work that allegorically depicts such an examination of the artists own standpoint in an art-historical context.
The work is a monumental photographic diptych, comprising two photo printouts, each measuring 2.50 x 5 m. It shows a "revision process" in an imaginary, idealized "museum depository", composed as a holistic allegory of art history as. The "revisionists" are the artists themselves. The two pictures are complex, multi-layered photomontages assembled from more than two thousand different objects-photographs taken specifically for the project, scanned images and found footage from the internet-juxtaposed using Photoshop in conformity with the compositional principles of late Renaissance painting.
In the first picture, the revision process is depicted in "in the interior" of the depository. This has been "built" in a kind of pseudo. Renaissance architecture and designed with a stringently central perspective. It is there that the artists perform their revisory labors. They can be seen synchronously depicted in exaggerated poses on several of the pictures compositional levels, as if the different phases in the sequential progress of this enterprise were being projected simultaneously onto a screen. The room contains stacks of pictures, drawings, objects, sculptures. Sometimes, specific works from the history of art can be recognized, including pictures by Piero della Francesca and Malevich, Velasquez and Lichtenstein, drawings by Leonardo and Duchamp, objects by Warhol and Nam June Paik or a Bill Violas video projection on the ceiling. In this deliberately randomized diversity, the entire spectrum of art history is presented coinstantaneously. There is no unambiguous answer to the question of selection principles for the recognizable works. Sometimes, they are the generally known programmatic works, sometimes works that resonate more in the context of some "personally" authored history of art. Some works are used in the picture by reason of certain compositional or coloristic considerations, others as material for a few successful ventures into the ironical, such as the splintered fragments of Jeff Koons "Rabbit", the falling "Brillo Boxes" by Warhol, or fake lumps of fat by Beuys. Whether the objects in the depository are merely being scrutinized and inventoried, or whether they have worse to fear - the answer to this is left to the viewer and in some cases to the second picture as well, which at first glance appears to be an attractively vivid complement to the conceptual largesse of the first picture. And only somewhat later do you notice that the statements here are being communicated with an even more pronounced artistic intensity, but in a different system of message encoding, not via the more easily articulatable statements of the subject, but by playful deployment of the stylistic means themselvers. The second picture is an act of artistic revision in itself - a revision of the old artists myth of the "ideal picture".
On the second picture, the building in which the revisionist work takes place can be seen from the outside. Through a panoramic pane, you see the revision work you have just seen from the other side in the first picture. The garden, which in the first picture could be seen far in the background from inside through the same panoramic pane, is now in the foreground. The viewers perspective has, as it were, been rotated by 180 degrees.
The second picture, like the first, has been structured on the stringent rules of central perspective, and contains at least as many different substantive and stylistic frivolities. With an arbitrary mixture of English and exaggeratedly French garden styles in the foreground, this picture is a kind of grotesque eclectic paradisiacal landscape, commencing a willful game with the traditions of landscape painting. From its connoted intention, the picture would appear to be an attempt to create a kind of idealized classicist landscape a la Poussin or Lorrain. The portico-like depository building in the background plays fundamentally the same role assigned to ancient ruins in classicist landscape painting. The innumerable representatives of (both literally and figuratively) colorful bunter flora and fauna can be discovered throughout the garden: there is a rabbit hiding in the grass, there, under the bush, you spy a hedgehog, etc., resembling the puzzle pictures in childrens books. Here, of course, the art-historical allusions to the paradise paintings of Jan Breughel & Co. can be easily discerned. All this picturesquely landscaped derangement is crowned by a cliched and minatorily romantic sky. In the background of this artistically sophisticated scenery, the viewer can now track the further developments in the revisionist drama. The actions are in unambiguous dramaturgical harmony with the first picture. You can, for example, learn something about the fate of certain objects of revision. They are being carried by the inspectors towards a fire. But we do not see what happens to the objects afterwards. Our artist-revisionists are presumptively familiar with the rules of painting dramaturgy. In good painting, the main event is seldom seen. A certain amount of scope for individual interpretation should always be conceded to the viewer. No obvious pathos, just a lightly hinted connotation of iconoclasm. If someone wants to burn art-historical features, he can use the picture to fuel his own imagination. Tricks of this kind also enable accusations of moralizing to be avoided. No finger-pointing gestures: that is good art, that is bad. Ultimately, everyone is left to decide for themselves. Even while the viewer is deciding, our revisionists are swapping a couple of jokes. The group self-portrait, for example, as »New Russian« in a typically idealized "neo-Russian" genre scene with corresponding body-language and gestures, including appropriate BMW cult models of the 1990s. Or they increase the degree of self-referential irony by appearing in the picture with lettuce-green socks and other carefully chosen garments. The artists class is manifested in how he deals with details and the self-sufficiency of his humor. These two indicators are also linked inseparably to the great tradition of mannerism. Insofar as the characteristic of the "manneristic" is an extremely context-referenced and context-defined variable, mannerism as an approach will always provide new, maximally enjoyable, intelligent and artistically sophisticated works. A maxim for which "Revision" provides the best possible proof.
Lioudmila Voropai 2005