Under the programmatic title Anonymous: In the Future No One Will Be Famous, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt presents an exhibition with works by 11 international artists who – like the curator – will remain unnamed. In their Notes toward a Manifesto, the initiators of the exhibition proclaim: “Anonymous artists wish to wriggle the status quo into a status incognitos. Their aim is to remove the increasing barbarization of thought via short circuits and fast lanes created by the marketing of artists as brands whose works have become masterpieces in ignorance of philosophy.”
Unlike other manifestations of anonymity in the current contemporary art scene – where artists take on pseudonyms – this exhibition is unique in gathering a group of artists who have put themselves undercover for a certain period of time (vaguely stated as “until the expiration date has been reached”).
In recent years, critical observations of the art market and its influence on the discourse of contemporary art have increased noticeably. Artworks have turned into branded commodities and the artist&8217;s name has become the primary means of distinction. Content fades into the fog, magazines feature artists who have not even graduated from art school, and dealers purchase works en masse in advance. Exhibition curators have changed into impresarios setting the tenor for the reception of the work with their names and the themes associated with them. Under such circumstances, the work of art is forced into the background and loses its disturbing and subversive potential. An exhibition in which the artists remain unnamed, however, takes on the social and aesthetic task of revitalizing access to art and individual experience by leaving out certain codes that have become primary, as it were. A playful situation is created where the work can be critiqued ad hoc without having to read t he label.
The enormous quantities of data with which the contemporary art system operates today is difficult to ignore. What art is today and how we think and talk about it is dependent not least on how we deal with this data and what weight is given to various bits of information.
Whether it is a specific artist or the depiction of a certain theme, the perception of an artwork is immanently informed by the prior experience one brings to the exhibition. Artist names inevitably structure subjective experience and, at times, even hinder spontaneous reactions and aesthetic encounters.
In addition to keeping the artists’ names undercover, the exhibited works have been placed within an architectural puzzle piece, a labyrinth of deferred meaning. By taking up the theme of anonymity as well, the exhibition transposes the subject of hidden authorship onto another level. Is there an author of the five white cars mysteriously parked one after the other? Has the hand of the artist intervened within recognized “acts of nature” – is the bird&8217;s song making that branch move? Did the dog&8217;s bark spark a fire? Why are the authors of city fountains most always anonymous, and was Duchamp cognizant of this fact when he titled his famous latrine “Fountain”? And what happens to the notion of sculpture when the sculpture begins to drip? The phenomenal questions raised by these works yield to an unparalleled autonomy of the spectator.
In the case of an exhibition that casts an opaque veil over names and whose works not only communicate this enigma but themselves contain traces of anonymity – laying a trail replete with mysteries and myths – the ability to read art by means of its metadata shifts to a lower-lying level. As if a space has been folded into multiple strata, in which the ceiling becomes the floor and the window only lets in that which already exists inside, viewers are continually cast back on themselves, on their own observations, and they are, thus, connected with the works whose reality is shaped in part by their perception and a language that explains them.
Well-known artistic strategies like Appropriation or Conceptual Art recede to the periphery of perception – and the metalanguage that has long since permeated and “managed” artistic works (or manipulated the reception thereof) undergoes a recession. Under the bright light of aesthetic perception, the names of the artists appear as distracting prosthetics, supplemental limbs that keep us from falling into a conceptual void. It is precisely this gap that anonymous works seek to fill. Removing the names produces a strange chaos, a game that is more than an obvious trick and also more than a deliberate deception. As viewers, we stand at the edge between knowing and not knowing the work, and at the same time we see the names that appear in our consciousness and their meaninglessness, and stand in the center of a mysterious or rather unknown language.
In art, the known and the unknown are not mutually exclusive opposites. Not infrequently, the idea is to foreground the unknown aspect of a known artist, to confront the unknown side of an artist with what is known about him or her, increasing the significance of his or her work. This legitimizes not only the repeated exhibitions of so-called classics but also results from the variety of perspectives and interpretations of a work of art that ensures that its meaning is not restricted but demarcated (or stripped of its boundaries). It proves more difficult – though many ambitiously contemporary galleries and exhibition spaces pursue competition on this front – to make previously unknown artists known, and the chances of success in that venture are in no small measure based on how well the institution – or curator – is known that shows the unknown artist’s work. In both cases, the unknown is less a failing of art than a guarantee of its continuation.
Andy Warhol – whose artistic reproduction of everyday images and celebrated faces became world-famous even beyond connoisseurs of art – made the prophetic statement in 1968: In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. Undoubtedly, this certainly approximates the truth of the devaluation of the status of fame and the assembly line production of so-called art stars. With the popularization of fame, however, comes an unwieldy hunger for fame that must be fed – a vicious circle as more and more famous people are fabricated, who, likewise, possess less and less of the “aura” of fame and, consequently, are quickly and easily replaced. Anyone who is world-famous today, thus the tautological formula, will be soon forgotten tomorrow.
CATALOGUE: “ANONYM /ANONYMOUS – In the Future No One Will Be Famous,” anonymous and Max Hollein (eds.), with a preface by Max Hollein and texts by Dominic Eichler, Stephan Heidenreich, April Elizabeth Lamm, Eckhart Nickel, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. German/English edition, 160 pages, 32 b/w illustrations, Snoeck Verlagsgesell-schaft mbH, Cologne, ISBN 3-936859-51-5, hardcover, linen.
In addition, 500 blank catalogues with 160 empty pages will be published.
DIRECTOR: Max Hollein
SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT
60311 Frankfurt, Germany