Titled “Art History Revisited”, issue 85 of Texte zur Kunst is dedicated to art historiography. This is now the third time that we seek to shed light on the methods and principles of this humane discipline, the discourses of which form the crucial foundation of our magazine. While the 1994 issue under the heading “Art History Under Construction” put the import of theories from the Anglo-American countries to Germany up for debate, an issue from 2006 was concerned with reflecting on the state of affairs of a discipline that at the time was extremely influenced by visual studies and an increasing enthusiasm for “contemporary art”. The current issue, in contrast, focuses on the norms to which historiography is subjected and the effects produced by its view to the past. In seven essays, common art-historical paradigms are called into question and examined a new perspective. Established academic notions are revised on the one hand; while selected themes are taken up to elucidate the principles of knowledge and theory production on the other.
Tobias Vogt’s essay examines the concept of the readymade that Marcel Duchamp introduced into the history of art at the beginning of the twentieth century. Using the example of the famous “Bottle Rack”, Vogt makes it clear that the objects Duchamp declared artworks were neither serially manufactured industrial products, nor widespread objects of everyday use. He reveals this notion as constructed by art history, which it supported so persistently in order to maintain its own theoretical concepts of the avant-garde.
Mirjam Wittmann provides evidence of the kinds of productive misunderstandings that can slip in to canonised theoretical systems based on the example of the index. The term, which goes back to semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce, was first taken up by the theory of photography, before Rosalind Krauss introduced it into art theory in 1977. However, when taking a closer look at Peirce’s concept of the index, it turns out that his understanding of it is not smoothly compatible with the way the concept has been interpreted in photography theory, and by Krauss.
Throughout his life, Joseph Beuys was faced with the accusation that in his works he ignored the conditions of production and consumption in capitalism, so as to be able to lend his materials spiritual qualities. Max Rosenberg makes clear that Beuys was quite aware of the social status of consumer goods, based on the piece “Wirtschaftswerte” (“Economic Values”, 1980). For this installation, Beuys had food and basic consumables brought to West Germany from the GDR, which he then presented as artworks. According to Rosenberg, by making precisely goods of East German origin the basis of “Wirtschaftswerte” that were transported from one Germany to the other, Beuys reflected on the different economic and ideological structures of both systems.
The topos of “reflection” – widespread in art studies – also reviewed in this issue. What claim is implicit in the proposition that a work of art is capable of reflecting something? In the case of the Moscow-based artists’ group Collective Actions, for example, the general opinion is that they reflected the social conditions in the Soviet Union with their happening-like “actions”, or events. Marina Gerber examines the origin of this notion in her essay. She shows that the concept of reflection stands in a specific relationship of art and philosophy that is characteristic of Socialist Realism, but in fact has its roots in the pre-Soviet philosophy of art influenced by Marx and Engels. In this context, Gerber proposes a different view of Collective Actions – at issue was less a reflection of socio-political reality than thwarting the expectation of a reflection achievement linked to art.
In the 1960s, after the end of Abstract Expressionism, painting also appeared to have reached a final point. During this time, the formula of the end of painting became established in American art theory, which until today shapes the discourses in and around this traditional genre. In his text, Magnus Schäfer proposes situating the influential narrative of the end of painting historically so as to give rise to a different perspective on painting practices.
The fact that, along with the much-conjured debordering of the arts in the 1960s, performative practices also came to the foreground made film increasingly significant as a means of documentation. In this vein, the films of Gordon Matta-Clark were hitherto also regarded as purely documentary testimonies of his Cuttings and performances. In contrast, Oona Lochner shows that Matta-Clark’s films, such as “Splitting” (1974), not only follow a narrative pattern but that the artist additionally utilized the possibilities of the medium in regard to staging.
The media-related expansion of art has until now mainly been discussed as a development within the fine arts, e.g., by establishing a direct genealogy from gestural action painting to performances. Upon closer examination, however, this narrow perspective proves to be insufficient. For important impetus to this process was also given by Concrete Poetry. Sven Beckstette’s text reveals the stimuli that originated in concrete poems and continued to have an effect in Body Art and multimedia installations.
As with any form of historicization, the history of art is also a constantly changing, identity-forging process. In this light, the contributions compiled here can be read as proposals for a different construction of the past extending to the present.
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)