Posts Tagged ‘Callum Morton

03
Dec
13

Essay: ‘Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 14th December 2013

Presented by Monash University Museum of Art in association with Melbourne Festival

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Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes. My favourite pieces were Jeff Koons’ tactile Balloon dog (Red) (1995, below) and the coupling, copulating lights of Lou Hubbard’s Stretch (2007, below).

I am not going to critique the exhibition pieces per se but offer some thoughts about the nature of the readymade below.

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs taken at the opening © Monash University Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated.

Download this essay as a pdf (9.8Mb pdf) Text © Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.”

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Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

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Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments

Dr Marcus Bunyan

December 2013

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The readymade is everywhere in the world (for the readymade can be made of anything); the readymade is nowhere in the world. This is the paradox of the readymade: it does not exist in the world as art until after the artist has named it. In this sense it can be argued that there is no such thing as a readymade. It only comes into being through the will and intention of the artist. The readymade may live unnamed in the world for years but it does not exist in the world as art until the artist has intentionally named it (or made it). As Marcel Duchamp observes,

“It’s not the visual aspect of the readymade that matters, it’s simply that fact that it exists… Visuality is no longer the question: the readymade is no longer visible, so to speak. It is completely grey matter. It is no longer retinal.”1

The readymade is (initially) a concept of the brain and not of the eye. It is a commodity made by man living in the world made ready for identification as art ‘already made’ by the recognition of the artist of its exchange value – the object as transitory metonym which “stands in” for another place of being through a change of name or purpose. It is the intention of the artist to impose an (alternate) order on the object, an order in which the readymade questions aesthetic criteria and categories such as taste, authorship and intentionality. As Dr Rex Butler notes, “The work is not simply intended – which is an obvious fact about any work of art – but about an intention that has come to replace, while entirely reproducing, that which is the very embodiment of the contingent and unpredictable.”2

According to Thierry de Duve, the choosing of the object is accompanied by three other acts: naming the object, signing it and devising some original presentation for it.3 There are the so called unassisted readymades (such as Duchamp’s Bottle dryer, 1914 reconstructed 1964 below) and there are also plain, aided, sick, unhappy, reciprocal and semi-readymades.4 In reality no readymade is unassisted as all are called into being by the mind of the artist. But the concept of the readymade “heralds the realisation that art can be made from anything whatsoever.”5 If this is the case then the readymade “makes of all aesthetic judgements something unconvincing, derivative, second-hand,”6 perhaps even deliberately “invoking” criticism before the artwork is even constructed. If the inherent structural and aesthetic function of all things is predetermined, as though fulfilling some underlying design, it is the artists intentionality in naming the object as art – a model of explanation “that abducts from external products to internal processes, from what is visible to what must be inferred”7 – that deliberately places and fixes these objects in a new moment in space and time.

Through appropriation, readymades “make their claim to the dignity of an art object through some unexpected presentation that decontextualises them and pulls them away from their daily use.”8 Through appropriation, artists laud everyday objects as art for all to see.9 Through appropriation, art institutes emphasise the power of the art institution, the readymade made taxidermied, stuffed object, placed on a stand, an everyday object lauded as art for all to see. In this scenario, the desire of manufacturing that wants consumer objects to be seen as useful, valuable is inverted as readymades become institutional objects of desire just out of reach of the audience (10,000 dollar coins just lying around on the floor!). The death of the object as an object and its reanimation “to the dignity of an art object” is completed “simply by its presence in the museum.”10 As Elizabeth Wilson states, “The only defence against transgressive desire is to turn either oneself or the object of desire to stone.”11 In this case it is the museum officials that turn the object of desire into stone (by lionising them as readymades). In actuality, these objects that artists imagine explore the dichotomy between presence and absence and the nature of transgressive desire.

Essentially, the concept of the readymade is both elastic (like the band that holds together the brick and book cover in Claire Fontaine’s witty La société du spectacle brickbat 2006, below) and fixed (like the brick itself), the readymade being both a performative act (ritualised play) and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects it names.12 Further, a link can be made to Bachelard’s theory of space and imagination which describes literary space as reflexive, resonant and moulded by consciousness.13 In their playfulness the spatial dynamics of readymades challenge and illuminate the human, sensory possibility. They examine how the reality of contemporary life is disguised and concealed from view, and how human beings are alienated from the very objects that they produce. For the French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre, “(The) critique of everyday life is … at once a rejection of the inauthentic and the alienated, and an unearthing of the human which still lies buried therein.”14

“One avenue for this unearthing is what Lefebvre describes as moments of presence – fleeting, sensate instants in which the “totality of possibilities contained in daily existence” were revealed. While destined to pass in an instant, it is through such moments that we are able to catch glimpses of the relation between the everyday and the social totality.”15 This philosophy or theory of moments was developed in opposition to Bergson’s understanding of time as a linear duration (duree) of separate instances and for Lefebvre, these “moments are “experiences of detachment from the everyday flow of time” which puncture the banality of everyday life…”16

“All the activities that constitute everyday life must then be rethought in terms of a dialectic of presence and absence and each moment is simultaneously an opportunity for alienation and disalienation.”17 The readymade, then, explores the politically radical potential that lies within the everyday through play and the intentionality of the artist. Through representation, readymades mediate between absence and presence; through poësis they begin to inhabit another time and space.

“In the poetic act, presence is the given. Lefebvre intends ‘poetic’ to cover unalienated production – the Greek poësis – as he explained in The Production of Space (1974)… Presence and poësis stand outside social relations of production. Flashes of inspiration, moments when one feels ‘all together’ and ‘in touch’, are not determined by economic relations, and cannot be prevented, even in a prison camp.”18

Readymades are a reaction against the linear production of industry, which is both functional and hierarchical. They are a reaction against the banality and repetition of the everyday – of the hegemony of capitalist production and the social relations of everyday life. In a culture of use and use by, the readymade “inscribes the work of art within a network of signs and pre-existing material.”19 Theses assemblages enable us to ask the question, what makes aesthetic judgement possible. They offer an alternative form of resistance to the imposition of linear repetition, through a form of mental and visual play. The moment of the representation encloses a transition (something transitory, something which ‘traverses’)20 – through a plethora of creative, emotive and imaginative practices – from something stable to un/stable.

This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.

It is the same with the readymade. The inscriptions on the early readymades (such as the bottle dryer and urinal) detailing authorship, dates, times, places can be seen as an attempt to ‘fix’ an individual artwork in the flow of time, to distinguish it from its unacknowledged neighbour – like “fixing” a photograph. It is telling that when the bottle rack was lost and remade in the 1960s the text that was originally on the lower metal ring was lost with the object itself.21 The text sought to fix these transitory moments of absence : presence.

Søren Kierkegaard calls this transition a “leap,” where a human being chooses an ethical life-view, one that resides in the actual and not in an ironic-aesthetic attitude.

“It is important to see that choice, as the characteristic of the ethical lifeview, forms a radical break with the ironic spiral of the aesthetic attitude. Kierkegaard sometimes calls the ethical choice a “leap,” a term that expresses the fundamental uncertainty of each commitment to actuality: contrary to aesthetic fantasy, which is “safely” self-contained, the outcome of the individual’s ethical choice is dependent on actuality and therefore not fully under the individual’s control. This is a decisive difference between aesthetic irony (including meta-irony) and the ethical leap: instead of merely rejecting all actuality, the latter takes responsibility for a certain actuality and tries to reshape it.”22

And tries to reshape it. Thus we can say that readymades are human beings taking responsibility for their actuality by choosing to name an object as art, creating objects that challenge aesthetic value judgements and an ironic-aesthetic lifeview through their very presence, by their very selfness. Remembering (ah memory!), that it is always a past moment that we recognise. The familiar is not necessarily the known – it has to be named.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Endnotes

1. Duchamp, Marcel. “Talking about Readymades,” Interview by Phillipe Collin, June 21, 1967, quoted in Girst, Thomas. “Duchamp for Everyone,” in The Indefinite Duchamp. Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2013, p. 55 quoted in Day, Charlotte. “Introduction,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 85
2. Butler, Rex. “Two Snapshots of the Readymade Today,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 98
3. Duve, Thierry de. “Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 92
4. Ibid.,
5. Ibid.,
6. Butler, op. cit.,
7. Danto, Arthur C. “Criticism, advocacy, and the end-of-art condition: a working paper,” on Artnet website [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/features/danto/danto97-3-6.asp
8. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
9. “Still, appropriationism, which defines the end-of-art condition, is pretty much the defining principle of our moment, putting, as it does, everything and every combination of things at the service of art, even including bad drawing and bad painting, since these, being designated, tell us only what kind of point the artist who appropriates them intends, not what kind of artist she or he is.”
Danto op. cit.,
10. Duchamp, Marcel. Definition of the readymade in the Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme quoted in Duve, op. cit. p. 92
11. Wilson, Elizabeth. “The Invisible Flaneur,” in Watson, Sophie and Gibson, Katherine (eds.,). Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1995, p. 75
12. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 1-2
13. See Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958 (1994)
14. Trebitsch, M. “Preface,” in Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of everyday life Vol. I. London: Verso, 1991, pp.ix-xxviii quoted in Butler, Chris. Law and the Social Production of Space. August 2003, p.60 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file/6e262ab2-3509-3354-9079-f0a16c85949c/1/02Whole.pdf
15. Harvey, D. “Afterword,” in Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, see note 1, at p. 429 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 60
16. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 61 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
17. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 70 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
18. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, p. 99 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. Google Books website.
19. Sharkey, Patrice. “When Everything is already a Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 107
20 Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, p. 213 quoted in Shields, Rob op. cit., p. 99
21. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
22. Dulk, Allard Den. “Beyond Endless “Aesthetic” Irony: A Comparison of the Irony Critique of Søren Kierkegaard and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” in Studies in the Novel Vol. 44, No. 3. University of North Texas: Fall 2012, pp. 325-345

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Man Ray. 'Cadeau (Gift)' 1921 reconstructed 1970

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Man Ray
Cadeau (Gift)
1921 reconstructed 1970
Iron with brass tacks and wooden base
19.0 x 14.9 x 14.9 cm (overall); iron & base: 17.9 x 14.9 x 14.9 cm; glass cover: 19.0 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' (detail) 1913 reconstructed 1964

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Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle wheel (detail) (with Dr Marcus Bunyan)
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4 cm (h.); wheel: 64.8 cm (diam.); overall: 126.5 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: © Joyce Evans

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Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' 1913 and 'Bottle dryer' 1914

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Marcel Duchamp
Bicycle wheel (detail)
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4 cm (h.); wheel: 64.8 cm (diam.); overall: 126.5 cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Marcel Duchamp
Bottle dryer
1914 reconstructed 1964
Galvanised iron bottle dryer
65.0 x 44.0 x 43.0 cm (overall); base: 37.5 cm (diam.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Martin Creed
Work no. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball
1995
A4 paper, ed. 625/Unlimited
Approx. 2 in / 5.1 cm diameter
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London

Aleks Danko
Art stuffing
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on paper-stuffed hessian bag
75.0 x 58.0 x 30.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales – John Kaldor Family Collection

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Barry Humphries. 'Battle of the plate' 1958

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Barry Humphries
Battle of the plate
1958
Welded steel forks
28.5 x 87.0 x 26.5 cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of Barrett Reid 2000
Photo: © Joyce Evans

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Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (detail)

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Haim Steinbach
Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks) (details)
1990
Aluminium laminated wood shelf with glass display case and objects
150.0 x 150.0 x 62.0 cm (overall installed)
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992

Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992

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Tony Cragg
Spyrogyra
1992
Glass and steel
220.0 x 210.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992 (detail)

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Tony Cragg
Spyrogyra (detail)
1992
Glass and steel
220.0 x 210.0 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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“Arguably the most influential artistic development of the twentieth century, the readymade was set in motion one hundred years ago when Marcel Duchamp mounted an upturned bicycle wheel on a stool. Duchamp’s conversion of unadorned, everyday objects into fine art completely inverted how artistic practice was considered. Suddenly, art was capable of being everywhere and in everything. It was a revolutionary moment in modern art and the ripples from this epochal shift still resonate today.

Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century pays tribute to Duchamp’s innovation, including two key examples of his work: Bicycle wheel 1913 and Bottle dryer 1914. Other important historical works that MUMA has borrowed for the exhibition reveal the readymade’s presence in Minimalism and Conceptual art as well as its echoes in Pop art. The exhibition traces some of the ways the readymade has been reinterpreted by subsequent artists in acts of homage to Duchamp or further expanding the possibilities the readymade has unfurled.

Among the various trajectories of the readymade, Reinventing the Wheel traces its elaborations in neo-dada practices, with a particular focus on everyday and vernacular contexts; the mysterious and libidinous potential of sculptural objects; institutional critique and nominal modes of artistic value. These discursive contexts also provide a foundation to explore more recent tendencies related to unmonumental and social sculpture, post-Fordism and other concerns, particularly among contemporary Australian artists. Bringing together works by over forty artists – from Duchamp and Man Ray to Andy Warhol and Martin Creed, along with some of Australia’s leading practitioners – this is a one-of-a-kind salute to an idea that continues to define the very nature of contemporary art.

“This is the most ambitious exhibition that MUMA has yet presented, including works that establish the historical moment of the readymade in Europe and its reception in the USA and in Australia. Most exciting is the opportunity for living artists to see their work as part of this ongoing history,” said Charlotte Day, Director of MUMA.”

Press release from the MUMA website

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Joseph Kosuth. 'One and three tables' 1965

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Joseph Kosuth
One and three tables
1965
Wooden table, gelatin silver photograph, and photostat mounted on foamcore
Installation dimensions variable
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Julian-Dashper-Untitled-(The-Warriors)-WEB

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Julian Dashper
Untitled (The Warriors)
1998
Vinyl on drumheads, drum kit
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the Julian Dashper Estate and Michael Lett Auckland

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Masato Takasaka. 'Smile! Bauhaus babushka sundae boogie woogie (model for a prog rock SCULPTURE PARK)' (detail) 1999-2007/2013

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Masato Takasaka
Smile! Bauhaus babushka sundae boogie woogie (model for a prog rock SCULPTURE PARK) (detail)
1999-2007/2013
MDF, vinyl, marker on foamcore, soft drink cans, acrylic, paper notepad from Bauhaus Museum giftshop, plastic wrapper, cardboard, polycarbonate sheeting, marker on paper, Metallica babushka dolls, toy guitar, sundae keyring
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist and Studio Masatotectures, Melbourne

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Jeff Koons. 'Balloon dog (Red)' 1995 designed

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Jeff Koons
Balloon dog (Red)
1995 designed
Porcelain, ed. 1113/2300
11.3 x 26.3 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Lou Hubbard. 'Stretch' 2007

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Lou Hubbard
Stretch
2007
Two ‘Studio K’ Planet lamps, fluorescent lights, MDF, acrylic paint and Perspex
108.3 x 251.8 x 29.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Scout, Melbourne

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Andrew Liversidge. 'IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE' 2009

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney

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Andrew-Liversidge-IN-MY-MIND-I-KNOW-b-WEB

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Andrew Liversidge
IN MY MIND I KNOW WHAT I THINK BUT THAT’S ONLY BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE (installation photograph)
2009
10,000 $1 coins (AUD)
30.0 x 30.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Joyce Evans

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Callum Morton. 'Mayor' 2013

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Callum Morton
Mayor
2013
Polyurethane resin, wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
290.0 x 200.0 x 26.0 cm
City of Melbourne Art and Heritage Collection

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Claire Fontaine. 'La société du spectacle brickbat' 2006

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Claire Fontaine
La société du spectacle brickbat
2006
Bricks and brick fragments, laser impression
178.0 x 108.0 x 58.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

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Word History: The earliest sense of brickbat, first recorded in 1563, was “a piece of brick.” Such pieces of brick have not infrequently been thrown at others in the hope of injuring them; hence, the figurative brickbats (first recorded in 1929) that critics hurl at performances they dislike. The appearance of bat as the second part of this compound is explained by the fact that the word bat, “war club, cudgel,” developed in Middle English the sense “chunk, clod, wad,” and in the 16th century came to be used specifically for a piece of brick that was unbroken on one end.

1. A piece of brick or similar material, esp one used as a weapon
2. Blunt criticism the critic threw several brickbats at the singer

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Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F.
Monash University Caulfield campus
900 Dandenong Road
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) website

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17
Aug
11

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart

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“Lyotard writes,”We must not begin with transgression, we must immediately go to the very end of cruelty, construct the anatomy of polymorphous perversion, unfold the immense membrane of the libidinal ‘body,’ which is quite the inverse of a system of parts.” Lyotard sees this “membrane” as composed of the most heterogeneous items: human bone and writing paper, steel and glass, syntax and the skin on the inside of the thigh. In the libidinal economy, writes Lyotard: “All of these zones are butted end to end … on a Moebius strip … a moebian skin [an] interminable band of variable geometry (a concavity is necessarily a convexity at the next turn) [with but] a single face, and therefore neither exterior nor interior.”

Jean-François Lyotard quoted in Victor Burgin. In/Different Spaces 1

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“Taking a walk is also an extremely immediate form of experience. Serge Daney describes the act of perception while taking a walk: ‘Because I am not particularly fond of bravura pieces, I always need a transition from one thing to the next. And I am glad that I can find it through by body and experience of walking…”
The visual memory of the walker/viewer determines the sequence of the pictures. Since the 1960s Marcel Broodthaers has defined the exhibition as a cinematic sequence of pictures and objects, thereby subverting the fixity of the single object through recontextualisation.”

Serge Daney quoted in Hans Obrist. “In the Midst of Things, At the Centre of Nothing.” 2

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Libidinal, Moebic MONA

My analogy: you are standing in the half-dark, your chest open, squeezing the beating heart with blood coursing between your fingers while the other hand is up your backside playing with your prostrate gland. I think ringmeister David Walsh would approve.

My best friends analogy: a cross between a car park, night club, sex sauna and art gallery.

Weeks later I am still thinking about the wonderful immersive, sensory experience that is MONA. Peter Timms in an insightful article in Meanjin calls it a post-Google Wunderkammer, or wonder chest.3 It can be seen as a mirabilia – a non-historic installation designed primarily to delight, surprise and in this case shock. The body, sex, death and mortality are hot topics in the cultural arena4 and Walsh’s collection covers all bases. The collection and its display are variously hedonistic, voyeuristic, narcissistic, fetishistic pieces of theatre subsumed within the body of the spectacular museum architecture.

The experience starts with the ferry ride from the wharf in Hobart to the museum – the only way to arrive. During the 20 minutes of the journey mental baggage seems to drop away as you look over the water to the industrial zinc works, pass under bridges and then the museum comes into view. Perched on a promontory of land the museum rises like a rusted ancient temple. After disembarking you climb a colossal staircase to the entrance of the museum, all angles and mirrored surfaces. You enter one of two Roy Grounds listed modernist buildings built in the 1950s – beautiful, crisp white spaces that house the shop and a cafe, cloakroom and inquiry desk where you collect your ‘O’, an iPhone-like device that tracks all the artworks that you look at. The are no didactic text panels in the museum freeing the viewer to just experience, all data such as artists names and educational information and the tit-bit Gonzo text being accessed through the ‘O’. Into the large enclosed forecourt space a spiral staircase with a circular lift in the centre descends into the abyss (an inspired piece of design) and your journey proper has begun. Three levels deep into the ground you travel, the space carved out of solid rock. Impressive.

The museum is the body and the artworks are the organs, fragments of the whole exhibition (that of the actual museum). The experience is very kinaesthetic as the body gets lost within the space of the gallery. We wandered like flaneurs among the darkened, cinema-like spaces, almost floating from one area to the next, discovering, feeling disorientated, following underground passages, tunnels and stairs, emerging into light and then descending into the abyss again. Hours passed. Like a Moebius strip there seemed to be no interior/exterior to the body. As Lyotard notes the membrane of the libidinal ‘body’ is composed of the most heterogeneous items: here was rock, steel, shit, bestiality, intestines, brain, touch, burial etc… the curating of the collection within the space “creating a safe space for the appreciation and consideration of seemingly extreme and subversive practices.”5

Into this space of controlled transgression, the carnivalesque mise-en-scène allow the artists to delve into the deeper and darker areas of the human condition: “as Anthony Everitt once said of Damien Hirst [to] ‘open up paths for the viewer into areas of experience which are not anti-moral or amoral but extra-moral… a world where bad taste is driven to the point of elegance and disgust is filtered into delight’.”6

While some of the works were spotlit in the darkened galleries, “this dramatic lighting working to decontextualize the art objects, evoking a crepuscular and “timeless” sense of space, out of which the individual pieces emerged,”7 there also seemed to be an affinity between the building itself and the artworks (relating to the concept of affinity in museum curation). The diversity of installation techniques made an acknowledgement of the institutionalizing processes part of the viewer’s experience of the show, disrupting a unified, totalizing presentation of these objects and their cultures as “exhibition.”8 The intertextual tableaux mixed a Damien Hirst spin painting with Egyptian sculpture, ancient artefacts with Fat Cars. The context of the objects and their relationship to each other and the architecture is how the works are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic rather than information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the artefacts, objects and contemporary works. These inventive arrangements create a meta-narrative that offers the possibility of multiple interpretations to the viewer, multiple truths. All of this undertaken as the body moves through the spaces of the gallery and gets “lost”. As Norman Bryson has observed, “Architecture is sensed primarily through the eye and through bodily movement, and these sensations also play a key role in the way in which the contents of museums make their impact.”9

While the items are not explicitly related in terms of subject, medium or style through unexpected confrontation the works spring to dissonant life. Most of the time. When this process doesn’t work the viewer is left a little flat feeling, and…. so? wandering from piece to piece becoming slightly disenchanted. Little of the work at MONA took me to new spaces; in fact some of it was pretty mediocre, including the very dated Sir Sidney Nolan Snake (1970 to 1972, see below) that is permanent ‘wallpaper’ and takes up a whole, beautiful gallery wall. The tri-screen video by Russian collective AES+F, the works by Anselm Kiefer and the ancient artefacts (most of all) were notable exceptions. The museum is not a place for prolonged concentration and contemplation. This is not really the point of the place. The whole museum is a sensory, immersive surprising experience that cannot be broken down to its parts. David Walsh’s collection does tick all the fashionable boxes: here a Juan Davila, there a Del Kathyrn Barton, now a Howard Arkeley as though his buyers have advised him on just what to buy, but it is his personal vision, his collection. You can’t argue with that.

On of the problems of lumping all of these works together is obvious: “Ancient objects whose meaning is lost to us, medieval utensils, Christian religious images, and art objects made by modern masters were reduced to one meaning – stylistic resemblances providing evidence of the essential nature of humanity.”10 In other words a return to the globalizing view of humanity evidenced by Edward Steichen’s MOMA world touring photographic exhibition of the 1950s ‘The Family of Man’. Conversely, when this strategy works well it promotes for the viewer different modes and levels of ‘interpretation’ through subtle juxtaposition of ‘experience’. As Emma Barker has observed, “we still need a curator to stimulate readings of the collection and to establish those ‘climatic zones’ which can enrich our appreciation and understanding of art… Our aim must be to generate a condition in which visitors can experience a sense of discovery in looking at particular paintings, sculptures or installations in a particular room at a particular moment, rather than find themselves standing on the conveyer belt of history.”11 Within this plastic space experience is paramount, allowing the viewer to develop their own reading without relying on the curatorial interpretation of history, setting new parameters for the relationship between viewer and object. As Barker notes such juxtapositions are a more natural strategy for a private collector than for a museum curator, with exhibitions and displays according to this dialectical principle happening with more frequency.12 The museum looses its fundamental didactic, educational purpose.

Other problems may also become evident. In a museum whose spectacular architecture was specifically designed for David Walsh’s collection it will be interesting to see how outside, touring exhibitions (such as the recently installed Experimenta Utopia Now exhibition) display in the space, especially given the psychosexual nature of his collection and its relationship to the building. If the quality of the temporary exhibitions is overwhelmed by the architecture, if the labyrinthine, enigmatic and layered nature of the space (all those floating bridges and the huge Void that can be seen in the photographs below) engulfs lesser works then it may well fall very flat.

At the end of the day we emerged into the afternoon light, expelled from the museum in a tidal wave of humanity, exhausted, satiated. Where else in Australia could you spend all day at a museum and not have seen enough? On flying home you can log into the MONA website to retrieve your ‘O’ tour, to see what art you liked and what you didn’t; what pieces you saw and all those that somehow you missed! The physical and its remembrance transported into the virtual.

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Since Laura Mulvey’s essay of 1974 “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” we have been aware of the voyeuristic and fetishistic character of our psychosexual relation to cinema. Engulfed in the dark cube, that psychosexual panorama, the cinematic labyrinth that is MONA has the viewer absenting themselves in front of the art in favour of the Eye and the Spectator.13 Spectatorship and their attendant erotics has MONA as a form of fetishistic cinema. It is as if what Barthes calls “the eroticism of place” were a modern equivalent of the eighteenth century genius loci, the “genius of the place.”
The place is spectacular, the private collection writ large as public institution, the symbolic power of the institution masked through its edifice. The art become autonomous, cut free from its cultural associations, transnational, globalised, experienced through kinaesthetic means; the viewer meandering through the galleries, the anti-museum, as an international flaneur. Go. Experience!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Delia Nicholls for all her help and to MONA for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting (all except the top two and the one of us inside Babylonia that were taken by Fredrick White). Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Zinc works from the ferry on the way to MONA

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MONA exterior, Hobart

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3d schematic from the O, showing the levels and nodes indicating art works visited, MONA

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The Void
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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B1 walkway overlooking The Void
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Loop System Quintet/Untitled (stool for guard)

Left:
Taiyo Kimura (Kamakura, Japan, 1970)
Untitled (stool for guard)
2007
Mixed media, clothes, cd player, speaker

Right:
Conrad Shawcross (London, England, 1977)
Loop System Quintet

2005
Waxed machined oak, five light bulbs, electric motor and gearbox, drive shafts, cogs, universal joints, flange units, screws, bolts, nuts, washers

Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Callum Morton (Montreal, Canada, 1965)
Babylonia
2005
Wood, polystyrene, epoxy resin, acrylic paint, light, carpet, mirror and sound
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael 
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Sculptor Fredrick White and myself inside Callum Morton’s Babylonia wearing the ‘O’

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Portrait gallery
Various artworks by various artists
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Masturbation. It is a source of endless irony to me that when I was young, and desperately in need of endless fucking, no one was interested in helping me out, whereas now, older and slower, I could fill even my desired adolescent quota. What saved me then was my right hand, even though I call myself left-handed. Surely the hand that you wank with (I guess John Holmes was ambidextrous) defines you just as much as the hand you write with? Anyway, who writes anymore? It’s so much easier to type. Mental masturbation allows me to pretend I’m a mental John Holmes, takes both hands. But no brains.

Art. I’m not at all sure that conceptual art and traditional art are the same thing. One can come from muscle memory, from pragma; at its best it’s not at all conscious. The former, though, is so self-aware it’s often targeting its own self-awareness. Check out the Hirst and the Pylypchuk at the other end of the gallery.

David Walsh 2011

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Corten Stairwell
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Corten Stairwell & Surrounding Artworks
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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The Nolan Gallery

Sir Sidney Nolan (Carlton, Victoria, Australia, 1917-1992)
Snake
1970 to 1972
Mixed media on paper, 1620 sheets

Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus, Greece, 1936)
Untitled

2002
Jute coffee bags, coal; three parts

Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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Erwin Wurm (Bruck an der Mur, Austria, 1954)
Fat Car
2006
Steel chassis and body; leather interior, with polystyrene and fibreglass
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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1. Lyotard, Jean-François. Économie Libidinale. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1974, pp.10-11 quoted in Burgin, Victor. In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p.150.

2. Obrist, Hans Ulrich. “In the Midst of Things at the Center of Nothing,” in Harding, Anna (ed.,). Curating: The Contemporary Museum and Beyond, (Art & Design Magazine Profile No. 52), London: A.D., 1997, p.88.

3. Timms, Peter. “A Post-google Wunderkammer: Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art Redefines the Genre,” in Meanjin, Vol. 70, No. 2, Winter 2011. pp.31-39.

4. Keidan, Lois. “Showtime: Curating Live Art  in the 90s,” in Harding, Anna (ed.,). Curating: The Contemporary Museum and Beyond, (Art & Design Magazine Profile No. 52), London: A.D., 1997, p.41.

5. Ibid., p.41.

6. Ibid., p.41.

7. Staniszewski, Mary Anne. The power of display: a history of exhibition installations at the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998, p.84.

8. Ibid., p.97.

9. Bryson, Norman. “A Walk for a Walk’s Sake,” in De Zegher, Catherine (ed.,). The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act. London: Tate, 2003, pp.149-58.

10. Staniszewski, op. cit. p.129.

11. Barker, Emma. “Exhibiting the Canon: The Blockbuster Show,” in Barker, Emma (ed.,). Contemporary Cultures of Display. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, p.55.

12. Ibid., p.45.

13. O’Neill, Paul. “The Curatorial Turn: From Practice to Discourse,” in Rugg, Judith and Sedgwick, Michèle (eds.,). Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance. Bristol: Intellect, 2007, pp.13-28.

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Museum of Old and New Art
655 Main Road Berriedale
Hobart Tasmania 7011, Australia

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm

MONA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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