Jason Ysenburg on the Vanmoerkerke collection: Building One, a focus on “Maximalism”
THIS FALL I ATTENDED AN FT CONFERENCE ON MARKET STRATEGY TO JUMPSTART MY BUSINESS AFTER A QUIET SUMMER. MANY OF THE PANEL DISCUSSIONS FOCUSED ON MILLENIALS . NOW AGED 19 TO 30, THIS GENERATION MAKES UP NEARLY ONE THIRD OF THE WORLD’S TOTAL POPULATION, WITH $990BN IN ANNUAL SPENDING POWER. MILLENNIALS VALUE FULFILLMENT AND A MEANINGFUL LIFE OVER MONETARY SUCCESS, A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THEIR WORK, TO THE PRODUCTS THEY PURCHASE AND TO AN INDIVIDUALISTIC CULTURE. SINCE THE CONFERENCE WAS GEARED TO AD AND MARKETING TYPES, ATTENDING SEEMED AN INDULGENCE ON MY PART BUT, A FEW DAYS LATER, A LIGHT BULB WENT OFF: POSE THE QUESTION AS IT RELATES TO ART COLLECTING IN A NEW LRFA BLOG AND VIDEO. AFTER ALL, ONCE THE FOCUS FOR A COLLECTION IS ESTABLISHED, IN TERMS OF PERIOD, MEDIUM, BUDGET, A ROSTER OF ARTISTS SPRINGS TO EVERYONE’S MIND. WHAT DIFFERENTIATES THE BEST COLLECTIONS, THE ONES WITH A UNIQUE AESTHETIC RESONANCE AND PERSONAL IDENTITY?
THE DISTINGUISHED CURATOR/DEALER, JASON YSENBURG, SENIOR DIRECTOR AT GAGOSIAN, ANSWERED MY QUESTION UNWITTINGLY IN THE ESSAY THAT ACCOMPANIES A GREAT EXHIBIT HE CURATED OF WORKS FROM THE VANMOERKERKE COLLECTION IN OSTENDE, BELGIUM. IN “THINGS I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT”, JASON ANALYZES A UNIQUE AND RESPECTED COLLECTION, FOCUSING ON CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY. http://www.artcollection.be/
IN THIS SECTION OF HIS ESSAY, JASON DESCRIBES SOME OF THE SPECIFIC NUANCES OF THE GROUP OF WORKS HE HAS GATHERED FROM THIS EXTENSIVE COLLECTION THAT RESONATE WITH HIM AND WHY.
Building One: The Seduction of Excess
Temporality and objects
One might say that as viewers we can’t help but acknowledge the obvious temporality of a work of art; it was created in a particular time frame, exhibited in another. If we take the example of the large industrial structures that Bernd and Hilla Becher are so fond of photographing– water towers, factories, and collieries– they all have a historical specificity, an industrial use in a certain moment in time.
However, the work of art and the work of collecting can erase this temporal specificity. The Bechers’ army of water towers tramples our sense of time. The very force of the repeated image dislodges it from temporal specificity in our viewing experience. The objects, displayed as Typologies, take on a certain timelessness through the insistent repetition of formal display.
If the Bechers use formal repetition to destroy the temporality of the work of art, On Kawara employs structural repetition to make the viewer hyper-aware of the work of art’s temporality. In a sense, for On Kawara there is nothing but time in the work of art. Here the work of art displays graphic representations of time that cite very particular moments in the past. But exactly why a particular moment in time is important is nowhere explicit in the work. The references are perhaps personal, perhaps merely mechanical, with the full importance of the exact time inaccessible to the viewer. We are left wondering whether it is the insistent, graphic recording of time that matters most for On Kawara.
Uniqueness and Contexts
Both Haim Steinbach and Ashley Bickerton upset our expectations of what art could be made out of, much in the way Duchamp did with his Readymades. But this is not to suggest that the impulse behind each artist’s work is the same.
Steinbach’s use of mass-produced objects, on the surface, bears the closest resemblance to Duchamps’s work Steinbach is not afraid to re-contextualize everyday objects, kitschy souvenirs, and children’s toys. However, that re- contextualization inevitably constitutes a highly defined and ordered space. The collecting shelf and the defining frame do not contain the usual objects that we define as “works of art.” What is collected becomes art but because it is collected and ordered in a particular way by the artist.
By contrast, the force of Bickerton’s work comes not so much from the found Readymade objects that he uses but more from the way he draws upon the Readymade images that float around popular culture. There is not necessarily anything unique about the images contained within Bickerton’s work; their very banality speaks to a manufactured exoticism that doesn’t exist. Viewing his works in the context of the art gallery, the closer we interrogate the layered images, the less they seem like high art and the more they begin to evoke a Club Med advertisement. His work leaves us with the uncomfortable question: are we looking at art or kitsch? Bickerton turns the responsibility for answering over to the viewer.
Excess and meanings
If Bickerton shifts the responsibility for determining whether an object is art to the viewer, Robert Longo’s “Men In The Cities: Final Life” shifts to the viewer the task of determining whether the work of art has any real meaning at all. Longo mixes media, forms, and genres to such an extreme that the viewer may think that they are being shown everything there is to see in art. Acute attention to detail in the drawings is juxtaposed with a bold, angular mass projecting from the wall. Figuration bookends abstraction. The two-dimensional shoulders the precocious three- dimensional sculptural projection. The restraint of black and white contrasts with the colour of bloody crimson. The figures may seem familiar to the art insider, or their gendered anonymity could be more profound to the neophyte. The projected mass resembles the outline of skyscrapers, or then again maybe its pure abstraction is more forceful. In the end, the viewer is pulled in almost every direction. Longo’s work, which at first seems so full of meaning, ends up defeating any meaning at all through its sheer excess of conflicting impulses.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR WONDERFUL RESPONSE TO THIS ESSAY. I LOOK FORWARD TO MORE COMMENTS AND APPRECIATE YOUR SUPPORT OF THE LRFA BLOG!