Monday, December 16, 2013

James Howell and Alan Charlton at Mies van der Rohe Haus, Berlin

During 2013 the Mies van der Rohe Haus in Berlin has organized a series of exhibitions on the colour grey. The fourth, Haupsache Grau: Konstruiertes Grau (Constructed Grey) features works by Josef Albers, Alan Charlton, Andrzej Gieraga, Hans Jörg Glattfelder,  James Howell, Caro Jost, Arnulf Letto, Dennis Meier, Gerold Miller, Otto Reitsperger, Sibylle Wagner, Peter Weber and Susan York.

Wita Noack's essay on the exhibition concept

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cecilia Vissers, Time and Tide, Summerhall, Edinburgh, 11 October - 22 November 2013

Cecilia Vissers exhibits eight sculptures at Summerhall, Edinburgh.

Blacksod Bay, a two-part work from 2010 in hot rolled steel, currently hangs in the stairwell.

For further information, including a short video, see the Summerhall webpages

Saturday, August 31, 2013

One Is Enough

Having invented his Barre de petit bois ronde, Andre Cadere did not need to invent anything else. This one device was sufficient for his intention. It allowed him to intervene at any point in the gallery system and it allowed him to walk away at any time from the same system.

This situation is dramatised within the Barre itself: a sequence of colours is interrupted by one colour out of sequence, a context is established and then disrupted. With this, we have the full content of the Barres. They are not aesthetic objects: it would make no sense to compare them or to prefer one to another. In Cadere’s absence, the Barre remains emblematic of its maker’s freedom, of a critical intervention or distance.

In a similar way, Buren’s stripes were enough for his critical and installational purpose. He did not need a different device for each occasion. Indeed, to have used another motif would have been counter-productive. It would have introduced the possibility of comparison between works, or a chance for the exercise of aesthetic judgement. In Buren’s case, it is not the motif but its placement that is at issue, and for this purpose one motif is enough.

Friday, June 14, 2013

a single road

"For in the end we all - even I - live by eating, drinking, sleeping.
Those are the fundamental truths, but one has to pay for them.
I've worked a lot. From this point of view, I don't wish to deny
the success of my works. I have a good conscience; I've written
thousands of slips of paper. In the sense of this responsibility -
work, conscience, fulfilment of duty - I'm no worse a worker
than anyone who has built a road."

- Hanne Darboven
quoted in Hanne Darboven, Cultural History 1880-1983, 
by Dan Adler, Afterall Books 2009

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Not

Why do one thing all your life, when you might do different things, as many as you like, whenever you feel like it ?

It may be that this question is no more applicable to art than it is to any other area of life. Why be married and faithful when you might have any number of sexual partners? Why stay in one job when you might try others, or live in one place when you could move or go travelling ?

Such questions are crude, marked by exclusions and failure of empathy. They assume choice as a right and take consumption as the model for agency. They are also self-defeating, since, if choice is open, the decision for singleness or consistency will be as legitimate as any other.

No doubt mistrust of a single practice is the legacy of romantic notions of the freedom of the artist, of an effortless creativity, a constant self-invention. Investment in the idea of the artist as exception remains strong in a society where room for manoeuvre is still limited.

Why continue to make one form of art when you might develop or invent different practices at different times ? While such a question might begin in a genuine puzzlement, it would be unreasonable to press it beyond a certain point. Where art is concerned, interrogation should always be secondary to a genuine effort of understanding, to an attempt to inhabit the problems, to see a practice from the inside, with some sense of its advantages as well as its restrictions.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cadere on (non) development

Lynda Morris  I was very struck by your response to a question one of the Slade students asked you about the development of the work.

Andre Cadere   There is no development in the work. It is a method I made six years ago. It is a very precise method and it is always the same method. Each piece is different. It is not good to use the word "stick". Each "round bar of wood" is different. Each bar I make is included in a system that was there from the beginning, with permutations in the order of the colours, and one deliberate mistake (laughing). So in fact what I am doing is like a world constellation of round bars of wood. I do this and I do that in the making but in fact they are included in a platonic sense.

Lynda Morris  So the development in the work is not in the craft of making the bar of wood or the permutation of the colours, but in the situation where you present it ?

Andre Cadere   Exactly.  My art is the situation of my work in the art world. I am only interested in the art world because the work in the street is always the same. In the street there is no development because people in the street react in the same way today as they did six years ago and as they would react 20 years into the future. Maybe it will change as I grow older and older, maybe when I have white hair (laughter) but it is not certain.
     In the art world my work has changed in a very interesting way in the last five or six years. Even in 1972 at Documenta people asked me "What is this ?" I replied "This is my work and I exhibit it in this way. I bring it with me." People made fun of this and they said: "In six months you will become serious again." Six months later it was the same, I just continued for one year, two years and three years, and so the art world started to have different feelings about my work. And people started to ask: "What does he want, why is he always at openings and art fairs ? Does he want to show his work in galleries and in museums ?" And now in fact I have had a lot of shows in galleries and with museums and I continue to work with the round bar of wood. But I think the art world still does not really understand my work.

from Documenting Cadere 1972-1978, Modern Art Oxford/ Koenig Books 2013  

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Hedgehog and the Fox

'There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defence.

But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.

For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.

...The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes...'

Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History (1953/78)

Carl Andre, Herm, 1960 (realised 1978)

'I find that the more I feel that I'm capable of doing the things I want to do, the narrower my scope is. I feel far more concentrated. I'm definitely a hedgehog, as in the metaphor of Archilochus, the way someone like Bob Morris is definitely a fox. The fox knows many things and the hedgehog knows one thing very well. This is not a value distinction at all. Rather, it's a difference in temperament between different kinds of people.'

Carl Andre, interview with Patricia Norvell, 1969

Andy Warhol, Superman, 1961

By contrast to Andre, Warhol most certainly was a fox.

'If an artist can't do any more, then he should just quit; and an artist ought to be able to change his style without feeling bad. I heard that Lichtenstein said that he might not be painting comic strips a year or two from now - I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And I think that's what's going to happen, that's going to be the whole new scene.'

Andy Warhol, interview with Gene Swenson, 1963

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Espace de l'Art Concret

Niele Toroni

Daniel Buren

Olivier Mosset

Alan Charlton with Richard Long

Espace de l'Art Concret, Mouans Sartoux, France

Although not particularly "Concrete" artists, the museum has in
its collection work by Josef Albers, Daniel Buren, Andre Cadere,
Alan Charlton, herman de vries, John McCracken, Olivier Mosset,
Ulrich Ruckriem, Fred Sandback & Niele Toroni.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stylized Painting

It's hard to think of a more detailed account of the uniqueness of painting as an activity than Nigel Wentworth's book from 2004, The Phenomenology of Painting. But after a few pages, it is apparent that Wentworth is essentially only invested in a specific kind of practice.     

In one section he grapples with the issue of what comprises an artistic gesture. He asks: why is it that painters come to paint in a specific way? How do we explain an artist's stylistic consistency, the inimitable mark of the artist's hand, evident in each work they create? He seems to have an artist such as Willem de Kooning in mind, whom he writes about in an earlier section of the book.

Willem de Kooning in his studio, East Hampton, 1964
Photograph Hans Namuth

Stylistic consistency is a mixture, Wentworth argues, of habitual actions involving “complex motor capacities” and “complex sensory discrimination”. 

But he is aware that this is true of any learned skill, like typing, for instance. So he introduces a qualification. Typists encounter highly similar situations all the time, such that you can say that you "know" how to type. But this is never true for painting. Practice at painting can lead to what he terms “mastery”, yet never “knowledge”. His rationale for this is that even “great masters” can make second-rate works. Strong art, on the other hand, involves the painter maintaining a careful interplay between his or her practical store of forms of behaviour learned from previously performed actions (we might call these habitual actions), and the very particular conditions encountered in this particular painting. A balance, in other words, between repetition and innovation. 

Wentworth's account is full of statements about what constitutes "good" art. For him, it is about maintaining a delicate equilibrium between, on the one hand, consistency and, on the other, spontaneity. This image of an artist walking a precarious tightrope stretched between the recognizably familiar and the innovative is often rehearsed within art criticism. But the trope is not relevant to Single Road artists.  

Wentworth might well be scathing of an artist such as Daniel Buren, for instance, who falls short of his criteria. He would probably call the work “stylized art”, because there is no vital, or risk-filled interaction between the artist and the work. “Stylized painting”, he writes, "is a form of sclerosis - closed, repetitive and boring.”

Daniel Buren
Detail in Actual Size of a Work Executed in 1966

Daniel Buren
Detail in Actual Size of a Work Executed in 1967

Daniel Buren
Detail of a Work Executed in 1968

Daniel Buren
Detail in Actual Size of a Work Executed in 1969

Daniel Buren
Detail in Actual Size of a Work Executed in 1970

Daniel Buren
Detail in Actual Size of a Work Executed in 1971

from Daniel Buren's contribution to the exhibition catalogue
Guggenheim International Exhibition, 1971

Friday, March 1, 2013

On Kawara

On Kawara's subtitle for his Date Painting, Nov. 18, 1966:
"I collect the painted days."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Emese Benczúr - Should I live to be a hundred

On December 16, 1997, Emese Benczúr started to embroider the caption "I THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE" on pre-produced textile strips, which came from the factory with the simple text woven into them: "DAY BY DAY". Every day she embroiders one caption, thus the number of embroidered ribbons grows by one day after day and the number of pre-produced ones diminishes by one day after day. She had exactly enough ribbons made to last until her 100th birthday.

The artwork has been exhibited several times, first in 1998 during the Manifesta at Luxemburg, when its growth could be seen over the course of three months. The rolls of pre-fabricated material placed on the shelf held the days the artist has given herself - the future. While hung on the walls, arranged in a row were the captions, increasing in number - the past. As "future" was running out, there were more and more to see on the walls. The artist was sending the embroidered strips continuously.

One may wonder why on earth any artist would want to embroider the same words on a ribbon day after day. Even if we left out of our speculations the most obvious one, there could be several reasons and purposes that could lead to such monotonous repetitions. In general, people who are in danger for an extended period of time, or who live under chaotic circumstances would behave similarly. Here we suspect perhaps something different. The time spent on embroidering creates for Benczúr the peace, which she needs for self-reflection, for creating order in the turmoil of everyday life. It bridges personal time and external time, so that she can control what happens to her, and can attempt to catch up with the inevitable.

In other words, what occupies Benczúr's mind is not leaving a mark, not the past, but the present. At the same time, her method is fundamentally different from Roman Opalka's, who conquers time by withdrawing from it while he spends hours on end with writing numbers. Benczúr on the other hand creates the time for herself. With a strange dichotomy, she creates a piece of work, which – at least virtually – fools death. Because, even if she cannot think that she can avoid the end (because time runs out no matter what), at least she devours the time measured out for herself consciously and systematically.

István Bodóc

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tehching Hsieh, Allan Kaprow, and 'lifelike art'

Between 1978 and 1985 the Taiwanese-born artist Tehching Hsieh completed five performance pieces in the United States, each of which lasted for precisely one year. Immediately, they were followed by a sixth, spanning thirteen years.

One Year Performance 1978-1979
Sealing himself in solitary confinement in a wooden cage for twelve months, and being wholly reliant on a friend for his food, clothing and refuse.

One Year Performance 1980-1981
Punching a time clock in his studio every hour, on the hour, twenty-four times a day, for 365 days, without a break.

One Year Performance 1981-1982
Living outdoors through all seasons, without ever entering a building or a vehicle.

Art/Life One Year Performance 1983-1984
A collaboration with the performance artist Linda Montano. For a year they remained tied together around the waist with an eight foot rope, and, while the rope obliged them to do everything together, they avoided all intentional bodily contact.

One Year Performance 1985-1986
Living for a year as though art did not exist, neither as a topic of conversation, nor as a subject to read about, nor as a gallery to visit.

Tehching Hsieh 1986-1999
Following these five works, Hsieh commenced a sixth, which would last thirteen years, from 31 December 1986 to 31 December 1999. During this timeframe, Hsieh stated that he would make art, but not show it publicly.

Further details, including additional illustrations, are available at his website,

These durational works are different from other projects discussed in these pages. Hsieh's programmes are not intended to last for a lifetime: he always stipulates in advance when they will terminate. Nonetheless, Hsieh's art is related to other long-term projects we have been exploring. Like Kawara, his projects rely on unwavering adherence to self-imposed rules. And like Opalka's statement of 1972, Hsieh also issues declarations of intent, carefully laying out his plan. But most importantly, Hsieh's 'lifeworks', as he calls them, explore the relation between art and living, and this is a theme that the work of Absalon, Opalka, and Reinhardt also raises.

In an essay called 'The Meaning of Life' from 1990, Allan Kaprow poses the question 'Is playing at life, life?'

'Life in birds, bees, and volcanoes just is', Kaprow writes. 'But when I think about life it becomes "life". Life is an idea. Whatever that idea might be - playing or suffering or whatnot - it floats, outside of time, in my thoughts. But actually playing at life in any form happens in real time, moment by moment, and is distinctly physical. ...If I think about life under those conditions, it begins to resemble a hair, a crumb, a dead fly. And that's another idea.'

'So lifelike art plays somewhere in and between attention to physical process and attention to interpretation. It is experience, yet it is ungraspable. It requires quotation marks ("lifelike") but sheds them as the un-artist sheds art.'

Kaprow's account of 'lifelike art' as being dual-focused is a helpful way to approach Hsieh's last two projects. Between 1985 and 1986, Hsieh gets on with life, or, as he puts it, 'I just go in life'. But afterwards, this lack of art productivity is presented by the artist as 'art'. In a recent exchange with Adrian Heathfield, he explained that this work was based on one rule, whose purpose was 'distinguishing art and life'. Just 'going in life', just letting time pass: this is the idea. Already it is an interpretation of experience, and so stands outside real time, as a thought, ready and waiting to be called art.

They say art is like the law: both have to be seen to be done. Hsieh's later thirteen year plan, lasting from 1986 to 1999, might have involved the artist making work, but, if he did, it went unseen. It had no witnesses. What we do know is that at a ceremony on New Year's Day 2000 Tehching Hsieh revealed a poster stating that he had kept himself alive.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I sense no stylistic or structural development of any significance within my proposal"

Dan Flavin, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Robert Rosenblum)

"I know now that I can reiterate any part of my fluorescent light system as adequate. Elements of parts of that system simply alter in situation installation. They lack the look of a history. I sense no stylistic or structural development of any significance within my proposal - only shifts in partitive emphasis - modifying and addable without intrinsic change. All my diagrams, even the oldest, seem applicable again and continually. It is as though my system synonymizes its past, present and future states without incurring a loss of relevance. It is curious to feel self-denied of a progressing development."

Dan Flavin, "some remarks ... exerpts from a spleenish journal", Artforum 5, no. 4 (December 1966), p. 27.

Dan Flavin, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"I've been painting this same size painting for over two years"

Ad Reinhardt, letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
13 December 1962
Archives of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Reproduced from the exhibition catalogue, 'Imageless: The Scientific Study and Experimental Treatment of an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting', Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008

Cecilia Vissers

Part of the purpose of this site is to draw attention to the wide number of artists who share a commitment to remaining consistent to a single idea. Perhaps it was Ad Reinhardt, Roman Opalka and On Kawara who provided the historical precedent for this. Thanks to their reputation and their career success, they contributed to a general recognition within art circles that continuity over time was a valuable position. In turn, it has become permissible for many other artists, from a wide range of artistic backgrounds, to celebrate the regularity and predictability of their art, as opposed to its (inevitable) variety.

The sculptor Cecilia Vissers is one such example. She has been exhibiting since 1994. Gradually over time the focus of her art narrowed, until, by 2006, she decided only to work in anodised aluminium and steel. Inspired by the directness and plainness of minimalism, she regards the materials she uses and her approach towards them as the consistent factor for all her work. The alterations she makes between each piece and the next are negligible, and consist, essentially, of modifications to the shape of a rectangle or a square. But she stresses these differences are slight by comparison to the emphasis she places on the continuity of her work.

Cecilia Vissers, Installation view, Masters & Pellavin Gallery, New York, 2012

Cecilia Vissers, Gaoth, 2010

Cecilia Vissers, blacksod bay, 2010

Friday, February 1, 2013

Absalon's Six Cellules

"I can see my life from now on, living in these conditions. I think that this year I will live in at least three of them, the one in Paris, the one in Zurich and very possibly the one in Frankfurt. And once I am living in these constructions it will be like a new starting point for me...."

Cellule No. 1 (Prototype) 1992, Paris

"The object is a constraint and, because of this constraint it exists in my life, a bit like in religions, it's like having a whole series of constraints which in fact allow us to go elsewhere, that is to say to attain something stronger, more intense. All the houses are made with the desire to impose physical constraints which will mean that this house will be very real to me, and at the same time my presence within it grows in strength, because the house is very orderly, almost anonymous, and because of this anonymous aspect that it exudes, I have a double existence, because of this orderliness."

Cellule No. 2 (Prototype) 1992, Zurich

"First, it isn't a ghetto, it's a journey that I envisage for myself in that life, because I would be moving from one house to another and my nomadic life would be a lot stronger than my life today. It would be very clearly emphasised, the fact that everything fits into a single suitcase, that with that suitcase I can move about according to my needs. Each house will evoke a different atmosphere, in which I will live, and this is the life I dream of, that I long for, it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing, a thing of joy for me."

Cellule No. 3 (Prototype) 1992, New York

"How long is the project going to last?
How long? I dream of it lasting forever. I think that my life will be short, like all our lives. That's fine. For a life-time, that's fine."

Cellule No. 4 (Prototype) 1992, Tel Aviv

"The great difference between a modernist and me is that a modernist thinks about the world, how to make it better, how to sort it out. Whereas I am not thinking about changing the world, like the avant-garde might have done. I am thinking about changing my life."

Cellule No. 5 (Prototype), 1992, Frankfurt-am-Main

"What is the difference between a guy in Tokyo who lives in a tiny tunnel with a tiny television and myself? I mean it's the fact that he dreams of living in a big house with a swimming pool and I have chosen to live in a little tunnel with a television in front of me. And for me choice is a wonderful thing. That's what I'm suggesting to others, choosing, not just blindly obeying, their personal and private inner logic that has been suggested to us."

Cellule No. 6 (Prototype), 1992, Tokyo

All quotations are from a lecture Absalon gave at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 4 May 1993. A transcription is included in the exhibition catalogue accompanying his retrospective in 2010-11 at KW Institute for Comtemporary Art, Berlin, pp. 256-71.