Curators' Concepts: Peter Weibel
An End to the »End of Art«?
On the Iconoclasm of Modern Art
The crisis of representation began at the historical moment when painting lost—under the pressure of photography and the praise of its unprecedented, truthful representation—its interest in presenting reality and took instead—from paint to brush, from canvas to frame—the means of expressing representation as the subject of representation. With Van Gogh the color began no longer to be bound to the object. With his pure, absolute suprematist color painting, Malevich banished the object from the picture. At the same time the represented object vanished by being replaced through a real object: the ready-made of Marcel Duchamp. In 1921Rodchenko painted three monochromes as the »last paintings.«
The self-dissolution of painting can be explained in three steps: first, by a shift of accent the color is analyzed as the medium of painting and becomes the main element, above form, i.e. in Impressionism and Expressionism. Second, color becomes independent, leaves behind the laws of local colors and receives its own absolute status, see, for example, Suprematism and monochromes. Third, paint is replaced by other materials, such as white by aluminum. Surface design without painted color allowed for the making of "unpainted" paintings, allowed mere surfaces of wood, metal, marble, or cardboard to hang or lean on the wall as paintings. In this dialectics of liberation, which consists of declaring progressively historical elements of easel painting independent (from color and canvas up to the frame) and making them absolute, not only were objects repressed from the abstract image but finally the picture itself became repressed and destroyed (empty canvases, empty frames), in the end leading to the departure from the picture.
The paint-less or monochrome easel painting could be—as was shown by artists from Lucio Fontana to Yves Klein—cut or drilled or torn, attacked by fire or acid. Finally only the empty frames of paintings or just the backs of paintings, were shown. Even the surface of the canvas could be replaced by the surface of the skin. Naked bodies covered with paint became the instruments for color application or became the canvas itself. Painting as the arena of action (Action Painting) became a bodily action on the canvas and finally a painting on the body, an action without canvas. Centered on the artist’s body, even the products of this body [like feces] could find the social consensus to be accepted as an artwork.
From the empty image to the empty gallery, from the white painting to the »white cube« (O'Doherty), we see the iconoclastic gesture of modern art. In this iconoclastic tradition we also see the substitution of painted images with texts. The material-bound, object-like paradigm was replaced by insight into the linguistic nature of all artistic expressions.
Yet by leaving the picture and the mediation, modern art has also produced a way out of the crisis of representation. Especially the Neo-Avantgarde after World War II and movements like Kinetics, Fluxus, Happening, Actionism, Body Art, Process Art, Land Art, Arte Povera, Concept Art and above all the development of Media Art—from Expanded Cinema to Virtual Reality, from closed circuit video installations to interactive computer installations—prepared social practices as open art forms, by making the pure spectator a participating and interacting user.
Thus began the farewell to the idea of modernism (T. J. Clark), that was determined by the iconoclastic gesture. These practices, in forms of intervention, interaction, institutional critique and contextualization took art beyond the White Cube, where questions of gender, race, class, power, colonialism had not been asked. With the end of the epoch of modern art, which announced the end of art, new practices beyond the crisis of representation began.
From mathematics to medicine, from computer-supported proof methods to computer tomography, we see a triumphant return of the image to the natural sciences. While modern art turned more and more into an iconoclastic strategy, in a critique of representation, we see the advent of an iconophilic science trusting the representative power of the image.
We live in a period where art, as the former monopolist of the representative image, has abandoned this representative obligation. Yet science, in contrast, fully embraces the options which technical machine-based images offer for the representation of reality. Therefore, it could be the case that mankind will find the images of science more necessary than the images of art. To be able to maintain its significance up against the sciences and their picture-producing procedures, art must look for a position beyond the crisis of representation and beyond the image wars.
CEO of the ZKM_Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe
Born 1944 in Odessa, Peter Weibel studied medicine, literature,
film, philosophy, and mathematics [modal logics] in Vienna
and Paris. Besides his activities as artist and curator his
publications about art and media theory earned him international renown. Since 1976 he has lectured widely at universities and academies in Europe and the US. After heading
the digital arts laboratory at the Media Department of New
York University in Buffalo from 1984 to 1989, he founded the
Institute of New Media at the Städelschule in Frankfurt-on-Main
in 1989. Between 1986 and 1995, he was in charge of the Ars
Electronica in Linz as artistic consultant and later artistic
director. From 1993 to 1999 he was curator at the Neue Galerie
Graz and commissioned the Austrian pavilions at the Venice
Biennale. Peter Weibel has been Chairman and CEO of the ZKM_Center
for Art and Media Karlsruhe, since 1999.
Selected Publications : Kritik der Kunst. Kunst der Kritik:
es says & I say [Vienna 1973], Studien zur Theorie der
Automaten [Automata Studies], C. E. Shannon and J. McCarthy
[Ed.], ed. with Franz Kaltenbeck, [Munich 1974]; the catalogues
of Ars Electronica from 1986 to 1995; Logokultur [Vienna 1987],
Die Beschleunigung der Bilder. In der Chronokratie [Bern 1987],
Vom Verschwinden den Ferne, ed. with Edith Decker [Cologne
1990], Das Bild nach dem letzten Bild, ed. with. C. Meyer,
Peter Weibel [Cologne 1991]; Identität: Differenz. Tribüne
Trigon, 1940-1990. Eine Topographie der Moderne, ed. with
C. Steinle [Vienna, Cologne, Weimar 1992]; Kontextkunst [Cologne
1994]; Pittura Immedia [Klagenfurt 1995]; The Media Pavilion
[Vienna/New York 1995]; Jenseits von Kunst [Vienna 1997];
Inklusion: Exklusion [Cologne1997]; Kunst ohne Unikat [Cologne,
1999]; Offene Handlungsfelder [Vienna 1999]; Net_condition
[Cambridge,Mass. 2000]; Olafur Eliasson. Surroundings Surrounded,
ed. with O. Eliasson [Cambridge.Mass 2001]; ctrl_space, ed.
with U. Frohne and Thomas Levine [Cambridge, Mass 2002].