This issue of Texte zur Kunst is dedicated to the phenomenon of “artists’ artists”. The term designates largely unknown artists who are passed on as “insider tips” to galleries and curators by colleagues, or are integrated in artworks in the form of quotes or references. It already indicates the significance of social processes of acknowledgement. “Artists’ artists” have the aura of those recommended by experts but whom the market and the established art institutions have hitherto failed to notice (see the survey among artists in this issue). This emphasizes the high esteem in which those figures are held by other artists, while market success and institutional recognition usually commence only posthumously. Nevertheless, “artists’ artists” are being increasingly marketed as of late.
Seen from this perspective, the figure of the “artists’ artist” is fundamentally characterized by a paradox, for on the one hand these are artists who are respected and whose works — but also attitudes, for example, the announced withdrawal or the performative refusal of productivity — function as reference figures for contemporary artistic production because they presently play no visible role in the institutions and the market. On the other hand the status of the “artists’ artist” can only be attributed to these positions at the expense of being “rediscovered” by the public (see Diedrich Diederichsen’s contribution). Among the prominent examples of “artists’ artists” who in the past years have become known to a wider audience, either as reference figures in works of contemporary artists or in solo presentations mediated by “artists’ knowledge” to the extent that they were finally included in the canon of postwar art, are Lee Lozano or Charlotte Posenenske, but also Paul Thek, who became ennobled, as it were, through Mike Kelley’s interest, or Bas Jan Ader, André Cadere and Poul Gernes, who all appeared in exhibitions of Cosima von Bonin.
Today we are confronted with a situation in which artists formerly regarded as “artists’ artists” themselves profit from the art boom. The market has become so differentiated that market segments have evolved which are actually specialized in more complex “resistant” practices. So is there much more to discover? Despite this appropriation, the interest in “artists’ artists” is by no means obsolete from an art-critical point of view. It in fact opens up a potentially idiosyncratic space of production and interpretation. One obviously finds two aspects in the model of the “artists’ artist” — the potential of being closed off to market events as well as the precondition for a “hype”.
What, then, are the reasons for the current interest in “artists’ artists”? Can it only be explained by the desire of the globalized market for the reactivation of positions from different regions of the world, which seem to emerge from oblivion and whose works promise an enormous increase in value — and are moreover mediated through the arcane knowledge of other artists as the ultimate sign of relevance and legitimacy? Is the figure of the “artists’ artist”, in this sense, a symptom of the knowledge-based economy in the field of art, in which the knowledge of what is remote and dissident has itself become a commodity and currency? Is it merely the effect of new requirement profiles to which, in the times of “artistic research”, historical research also belongs? How could a typology and historiography of this phenomenon be conceived?
Against this backdrop, the current issue seeks to develop a genealogy of “artists’ artistry” (see the essays by Mitchell Algus & Jay Sanders and Stefanie Kleefeld) and discussing it in view of current institutional and market-specific developments (see the interviews with Sabine Breitwieser and Daniel Birnbaum). Art history and art criticism play a decisive role in establishing the “artists’ artist”. With this main focus, we would like to continue in the tradition of “revisionist art history”, yet with the knowledge that it could play into the hands of the market. For this reason, this issue does without monographic studies on hitherto supposedly unknown figures and rather seeks to focus on an analysis of the phenomenon of “artists’ artists” in the interaction between artists, curators, critics and market players.
We find it equally essential to discuss the reference to “artists’ artists” as a special case of what Helmut Draxler calls the currently dominating “communication code” in contemporary art, where allusions, quotes and references to art-historical predecessors and a broad range of historical episodes (preferably from the history of modernism) are put to work in theoretical texts and aesthetic codes (see the roundtable discussion “Please recommend us“). After the modernist notion of the self-sufficient presence of the autonomous artwork has come to an end, it is indisputable that no artistic work could operate outside this mode of referencing and that advanced artistic practices always also perform a critical reflection on their historical preconditions. Particularly in the context-related and neo-conceptual practices of the 1990s, which explicitly undertook a reinterpretation of methods and premises of late-1960s, early-1970s art to update the methodologies of institutional critique, references to precisely such predecessors gained decisive importance – not without reason does Draxler’s observation of the current significance of references stem from his discussion of Fareed Armaly’s early works. In contrast, “referentialism” could be used to describe present forms of referencing, which themselves have become a driving force and formative method of artistic work (see the essay of André Rottmann). Thus, this issue proposes to differentiate between a formulaic to formalistic mobilization of reference systems and a reflective one – not least when an “artists’ artist” once again serves or must serve as an inspiration.
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)