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Michael Dreyer

When institutional witticism was still a help On Artistic Psycho-Tactics

“The Bokonor says: This seed pod has the effect that the thief, when he steals bananas, gets sick and comes forward himself. That’s what the owner of the banana plants believes. And the thief also believes it. So the seed pod has an effect – the thief does not steal. The owner is right in believing this.” Hubert Fichte1

In the art trade and in the reception of André Cadere’s oeuvre2 it was not uncommon that the objects he left behind were mistaken for his works. In a text from 1996, published in the exhibition catalogue “Unordnung herstellen”, Bernard Marcelis clears up this mistake: “His aim was not to travel and constantly be on the go, his intention was to show his work.”3 It is indeed the case with Cadere that the famous “Barres de Bois Rondes”, the painted wooden bars placed in exhibition spaces, only tell half the story if one refrains from examining them closely and reading what he wrote about them. In the same text in which “showing” is mentioned, it is also stated that only the person who “possesses nothing has nothing to lose” — a person who does things like André Cadere or Tony Shafrazi have done: entering a gallery without an invitation and showing the visitors one’s own art, for example, or spraying political slogans on paintings by Picasso. One must take a close look at Cadere’s entire body of work to find out why he has become a legend and why so many people are familiar with his bars, without being able to say why they were there. When talking about Cadere, it often suffices to begin with the act of showing — for there are indeed scores of other examples, including Dalí, Beuys, Immendorff, Kippenberger and Oehlen. Immendorff “once stuck the polar bear” into a door, or the studio door was flung open and a proletarian — an Immendorff self-portrait — showed the decadent Concept artist the masses outside, which he now had to join. Albert Oehlen, in a certain phase, firmly counted on the effect of demonstrating and on the instantaneous impression made by posters. He did so by making use of giant mouths, revolvers, nude female figures and other motifs dug out of “rags” or drawn from agitprop and fascism. In the case of Cadere, the construction of the “Barres” already reveals everything that makes up a legend, insofar as it goes beyond psychology and autobiography, i.e. diversion, marginality, the joke, the feeling of being insulted, of powerlessness and power — all in one. It is always the same movement, consisting in inclusion, exclusion, self-exclusion (almost self-sacrifice), documentation and sweet revenge. When Cadere said that the bars amounted to an “endless painting”, that was a bit theatrical; but it wasn’t when Brancusi stated that his works were “endless columns”. Yet Cadere was right all the same, for mathematical series such as permutations and prime numbers are indeed endless. To even speak of painting in the first place, in view of the fact that it was varnished wood, is as pointedly modest as having done something harmless while in fact having done something bad, which one is secretly proud of and very presumptuous in this feeling of pride. Cadere assembled the coloured parts of his bars according to the rules of permutation, but he included mistakes that imparted “secret messages”. Since Cadere, as he himself said, never applied the same colour twice in a row, we are unable to immediately see where the mistakes lie. Even if his work is frequently reduced to the “Barres de Bois Rondes”, their structure, along with the artist’s comments, do offer an insight into the performative aspect of his work, which reveals an endless alternation of being wounded and healing wounds, of attack and retreat. As far as André Cadere is concerned, I would speak of mistaking something which is actually fun with something having to do with wounding. If one disregarded all the seriousness that Cadere’s actions and texts radiate — for that is what one first encounters when not having experienced his actions — and took a look at the photos, minutes and notes, it could only have been a foolish thing to do: There’s a Broodthaers show today, so I’ll go there and place my bar in the corner; I’ll stick my polar bear in there; I’ll shit in the cloakroom. In view of the offences against the role behaviour and violations that the bourgeois canon allows, for the sake of arousing the sympathy of those in the know and those wielding power, Cadere’s actions were a bit too harmless. What people disliked was the repetition and the “aesthetic of administration” (Buchloh) with which Cadere documented everything he did. True Concept Art is almost inevitably tautological because it “does not seek to overcome the mere factuality of events”4. Cadere created these beautiful objects, yet he needed the apparatus which he had bitten and repeatedly created himself in order to produce his oeuvre. As Concept Art, Cadere’s actions were solely dependent on the pre-existence of the institution he intended to criticize. That’s the reason why Cadere is so important. For he is all too obviously situated at this significant border to heteronomy. If the fart, as Sandor Ferenczi maintains, is a privilege of adults, then shit is the privilege of children. Dalí worked along a border at which the joke and the institution still faced each other as opposites. After he had broken with his family, he was expelled from the Madrid Art Academy in 1926 and subsequently excluded by the Surrealists. And all this happened just because of shit. He later sympathized with Franco. “Structurally seen”, certain linguistic or artistic actions such as painting or forcing one’s way into a room, which could logically take on the form of a scandal, of aggression and fascism, were at first jokes. The joke is the historical core of Concept Art. Insistently demanding admiration, Dalí locked himself up, he institutionalized himself. The joke, the institution and self-institution are crucial points, for in the production of art things do not remain a joke. Instead, jokes become a system, as was the case with Fluxus. “After a week in the group of Surrealists, it was already clear to me that Gala was right. My scatological elements were tolerated within a certain frame. I was allowed to add a bit of shit. But only shit — that was impossible.” Dalí institutionalized his whims and by means of a twofold usurpation immunized himself: firstly, against the authority of psychoanalytical vocabulary, and secondly, against the privileging drive disorder (from fart to shit). But when joke and institution conjoin, the result is usually nothing but emotionalism. After the primal scene in the Surrealist group, marked by the anal taboo (Peter Gorsen), it appears as if Dalí had turned the tables and invented his own classicism, as a sweeping anti-rhetoric simultaneously directed against criticism and psychoanalysis, which are both institutions that judge art. Playing things down and reinterpreting what is harmless to something catastrophic, forcing it to become so, has always been a technique of conversation. One could easily grasp certain strains of Concept Art as standing in the tradition of civilian, male self-endangerment (Bas Jan Ader, Tony Shafrazi, Christopher D’Arcangelo, Chris Burden and many others). Germaine Guex pointed out that the abandoned person adheres to a pensée magique and constantly puts his or her surroundings to the test.5 As long as we still lived in the bourgeois age, we were able to make the fine distinction between a duel, which had to do with honour, and an assassination, which had to do with destruction. But now that is all in the past. Hamburg, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Ehrenfeld. What the term psycho-politics could actually mean can be deduced from the radical change that took place around 1980, a breaking-point, a fracture — with Jörg Immendorff as the elbow joint and Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger as the arm. Beuys as the shoulder. In the early days, Oehlen and Kippenberger used their art to free themselves from the notorious feelings of guilt vis-à-vis the old leftist arguments, but this loss of a clear conscience, this liberating self-absolutization, also rendered them immune. In this respect, the art they produced in the 1980s was a psycho-political move which again brought contempt into play — contempt, the last resort of a bourgeois form of communication. Through the “reactionary return of painting” (Buchloh), Oehlen’s and Kippenberger’s psycho-political art led the way out of the old compulsory regime of “psycho-politics” to a totally different one, in which psychology was used as an argument to break free from compulsions altogether. What Jutta Koether did a few years later in her works was to bring something back again, and this move contributed to establishing post-psycho-political art, which, although conceived in a conceptual fashion, did not yet indulge in conceptuality and didactics. That was to commence at a later point in time.6 The 1980s offer a solid basis for establishing a break with post-war history. In an interview with Albert Oehlen, conducted by Martin Prinzhorn, art students are called “Beuys’ slaves” — something which Immendorff was certainly not. When taking a look at his self-portraits showing him painting, with the painter monkey on his back, and the text “Der Malerfeind im Maler ist sein bester Freund“ („The Enemy Of The Painter Inside The Painter Is His Best Friend“), or the picture “Wo stehst du mit deiner Kunst, Kollege? („Where Do You Stand With Your Art, Colleague?“), one can indeed notice that he consistently depicted the dilemma he was in, and in doing so was oriented more psychologically than politically. Prior to this, however, by cleverly bringing Richter’s and Lueg’s “Capitalist Realism” of 1963 to the point, Immendorff had started to use the iconography and rhetoric of protest as material and thus set it free. His identification with communist kitsch had a distancing effect. The post-Lidl and pre-Café Deutschland Immendorff, who copied metre upon metre of wall drawings and wall paintings he found in refectories and to which he added his slogans with the brush, revealed an understanding of something inherent to Beuys, who was actually a great humorist, that he himself knew nothing about, namely, the soliloquy he held in public. The texts in Immendorff’s pictures pose questions and give advice to himself as an artist.7 Kippenberger’s painting “Rückkehr der toten Mutter mit neuen Problemen” (“Return of the Dead Mother With New Problems”) from 1984 also bears autobiographical traits and reveals a dilemma. The figure of the mother enters the picture and shows us what she has brought along: Stones that do not hint, in a socialist way, at Courbet or street fighting, but in a psychological and Surrealistic manner at hard, dead matter; and the mother herself is not dead, but red — in the face. Hence, the very representation of the dilemma vacillates between two opposite models presented by the picture and its text. The mother is dead but stands vividly in front of us, she is dead but red, reminding us of the slogan “Rather Dead Than Red”, as well as of a slip of the tongue or a rhyme resulting from the contradiction between the painting’s title and its erroneous local colour. As far as politics is concerned, I would stress the radical demand that is made on my sense of humour. The picture criticizes tautology, analogy, thinking in metaphors and mourning. The psycho-political view: “showing” with Cadere, “sticking into” with Immendorff, “narrating” with Kippenberger, and, in contrast, “doing art seriously”: the psychological and introspective aspects found in Koether and the idiosyncrasy in Carline von Heyl or Cosima von Bonin. The question is definitely not whether the issue is a joke and a “wound”, or already self-institutionalization, for these are only stages of a psycho-political activity. In regard to their frontality, Albert Oehlen’s many self-portraits, in which he depicts himself as Hitler with “shitty underpants” and his abstract paintings come close to Cadere’s demonstrative gesture. On the other hand, we have staging and narration: Kippenberger doesn’t show himself, he stages himself. In his self-portraits, the play has always already begun, while in the case of Albert Oehlen we are still (or again) in the cloakroom and see how he will look or what he looked like. The works of Oehlen, Cadere and Immendorff are more obscene, in the sense of off scene. To show is to simplify, and in the process of establishing oneself in the art scene, Cadere simplified by taking the short cut. It is Cadere’s symbolic acts that turn the mobile “Barres” into artworks, itinerant and tied to the artist’s body. They lack something when viewed merely leaning against a wall, just like Mona Lisa will always lack a moustache.

(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)

Notes 1 Hubert Fichte, Psyche: Annäherung an die Geisteskranken in Afrika/Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit, Frankfurt/M. 1990, p. 12. 2 Cf. exhib. cat. “André Cadere: Peinture sans fin”, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden Baden, 2007. 3 Bernard Marcelis, “André Cadere. Wege”, in: exhib. cat. “André Cadere. Unordnung herstellen”, ed. Münchner Kunstverein e. V., Gesellschaft der Freunde der Neuen Galerie, Graz 1996, p. 37. 4 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Von der Ästhetik der Verwaltung zur Institutionellen Kritik”, in: Um 1968. Konkrete Utopien in Kunst und Gesellschaft, Düsseldorf 1990, p. 96. (cited in Sabine Breitwieser, Anmerkungen der Herausgeberin zur Schriftenreihe Sammlung Generali Foundation, Art After Conceptual Art, ed. Alexander Alberro and Sabeth Buchmann, Vienna 2006, p. 9. 5 In regard to Cadere’s “parasitical” intrusion into institutional contexts, see Bernard Marcelis, in: “André Cadere. Wege” (loc. cit.), brings the marginality of artists from Eastern Europe in Paris and New York in general into play, something which I am a bit reluctant to follow. Yet on the other hand, I do not regard “abandonism” as an individual condition but as a cultural one. One needn’t have been abandoned by one’s mother to be an abandoned person. Seen this way, “behaviour resulting from being abandoned”, which according to Germaine Guex’ study bears traits of aggression, would be a cultural form of aggression, one which under certain circumstances has been transformed to art; cf. Germaine Guex, Le névrose d’abandon, Paris 1950; Charles Odier, L’angoisse et pensée magique, Geneva 1946 (an attempt to combine Piaget and Freud). 6 Namely, in the form of a kind of visual communication that has gone astray in the context of art, devoid of everything that historically constituted Concept Art, i. e. biographical and existential aspects, and even Buchloh’s “aesthetic of administration”, in which design as a technology of representation must again function as a “regime” and a petite-bourgeois ritual to make an impression — thus falling back behind Graham, Judd and Baldessari. 7 What comes to the fore in Immendorff is his notorious compulsion to confess and to expose himself, just as he so often complementarily supports his work on the form with (public) work on the self; cf. the exhibition catalogue “Jörg Immendorff – Zeichnungen 1960 bis 2003”, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf 2007 (catalogue in preparation).