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  • Christian Hain

Duchamp to Daimler, Handmade, Ready-Made, Fanmade

(Berlin.) I’ve been to D.C. again. Daimler Contemporary, that is.

Their latest show is about “ready-mades and beyond”, or, the exact title: On the Subject of the Ready-Made or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board.

At first, I didn’t get it. I mean, I'm perfectly aware what a ready-made is, the invention of Duchamp, the later use by other artists. And this is a nice show of Daimler Corp.’s treasures from Armleder and Arp to Warhol and West; also Dieter Blum’s cowboys are (on horse-)back again. - Reassuring: None of the works are electric, or "autonomously painting" (like the future of not only Daimler cars). But they are no ready-mades, either.

The collection’s (curators’) taste seems rather on the abstract, and monochrome, side, but no doubt they do have taste. Some works are magnificent - curved wood screwed unto the wall by Richard Artschwager; Bill Beckley’s tri-coloured photo triptych of Hot and Cold Faucets. Still, no ready-mades. Except, maybe, half of Patrick Fabian Panetta’s Proxy Affairs: a microphone on a tripod leaning to a canvas covered with black tape (supposedly an unfinished/rejected painting below). And chairs from Donald Judd in his designer persona, among other furniture.

The idea to only number the works and leave all further information, as to artist, title, year and technique to the catalogue, seems fine as long as you don't do like me, ignore the counter upon arrival and head straight to the show. Later, on my way out again, I discovered that catalogue. It’s for free, and so is a larger version with even more information. - By the way, I love the small mysteries of life: Is it done by the same, presumably Swabian, print shop who otherwise lives on the glossy leaflets you take away from your local Daimler dealership to drool over at home (if Mercedes is your thing)? We all did it, when we were sixteen. Ok, at twenty still. Ok, I still do it. Though not Mercedes. Although, that AMG GT... No, this blog has not been taken over, this is not paid content. Back to art: I read the texts. You should do the same, if not on paper, go download them from DC’s website. On the Subject of the Ready-Made... is curated by conceptual Welsh artist Bethan Huws. What they mean by “ready-made”, is actually curating. Because Duchamp, inventor of the ready-made, was also a curator on occasion. The title refers to a quote of the master himself, Marcel once told of a hypothetical “reversed ready-made”: “You take a picture by Rembrandt, and, instead of looking at it, simply use it for an ironing board.”

The question, is curating an art or not, has never yet been answered satisfactorily. At least, this Daimler is chauffeured by a true artist. Bethan Huws has previously edited a catalogue of Duchamp, or a catalogue of comments on Duchamp, and generally focuses all her work on him. Her selecting works from Daimler's collections and presenting them in another, non-art, context, makes them ready-mades. No, not true. This is still an art context. It would only make sense if you took an artwork and transferred it to a, say, industrial context, or PR, to sell cars, maybe. Wait, this is getting out of hand...

Let’s take a step back. A ready-made: an industrial produce presented in a different context, i.e. an art exhibition. The artist turns explorer, and "discovers" serially existent creations. Instead of copying a natural creation to canvas - like it has been done for centuries of European art history - he takes an “artificial” creation, signs it, and by the act of appropriation and the transfer to a new reception context, raises it to Art (adds the aura, if you like). A curator, on the contrary, is Art’s version of an art director, a VJ who has (ok: should have, or at least pretends to have) an idea, a concept, under which he unites artworks from a given collection, or sourced in the wild.

Bethan Huws did not sign these works – and had she tried, Daimler would have intervened. Neither is there a new context. Like every curator ought to, Huws selected works that get along well with each other, rather independent of era and school. One niche proves best her visual taste, and, moreover, the existence of polychrome works in Daimler Collection: Ulrike Rosenbach, Bill Beckley, Josef Albers, Donald Judd, Roland Fischer and Timm Rautert add up to each other and make a nice ensemble.

But there is the show, and there is the catalogue, the larger one - it's the true star here! In this catalogue/artwork, you will find “explanations”, or thoughts, to each work. Furthermore links to Duchamp’s life, art, and conversations (his love for Chess is legendary, reason enough to include the term “knight” - French: “cavalier”/“chevalier”, also “horseman” -, and select a Liu Zheng photograph of a peeing donkey who carries a costumed Warrior on his back), plus French homonyms, idioms, and their translation. One leads to the other in a play of associations, a Glass Bead Game. There is also a touch of Carambolage to it.

I like a good association chain myself: As mentioned above, there's some design in the show, from outspoken designers like Konstantin Grcic or Max Bill. Last year, Brooklyn rapper desiigner topped the US charts with a song called Panda, it was not about the eponymous Fiat model (but a monochrome BMW indeed). desiigner was sampled by Kanye West for his album The Life of Pablo. Pablo was an artist, and a contemporary of Duchamp. Duchamp would tweet like Kanye. The French translation of “car” is “voiture”; a seven-letter-word like “Duchamp”. It must mean something, it’s as relevant as any numerology based conspiracy theory. Wtf am I talking about?

Seen from a different angle: A catalogue of comments on Duchamp won’t pay your bills. Neither does conceptual art. Curating a show for Daimler does. Or, a more psychological approach: If you’re in love with someone, you tend to link every single impression to that person. That log looks like her locks, that car is the blue of his eyes, and that exhaust sounds like when she’s eaten bea- well, you got the idea. I’m glad, Marcel Duchamp is no longer alive. Bethan Huws is obsessed with him to a degree that no longer seems healthy, she certainlywould stalk him.

On the way out, I nearly dropped my pencil. If I had, intentionally, and left it lying on the floor, it could have become a guerrilla ready-made, or: a ready-made “created” - no: transformed/elated - by a guerrilla artist. A Facebook friend recently reposted the photo of a black S-Class with graffiti on its side: “Berlin hates you”. Let’s pray for the sprayer, his victim was only an innocent dentist from the countryside, visiting his student daughter for a weekend, and not a resident mobster with migration background (the car’s two principal buyer types). A car could be a ready-made. The sprayer did not tag/sign it, but ‘used it as a canvas’. Maybe you prefer to stick to DC Comics.

Seriously: On the Subject of the Ready-Made or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board gives you stuff to think about, and what more could an art exhibition ever want to achieve?

On the Subject of the Ready-Made or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board, 25 November 2016-14 May 2017, Daimler Contemporary

World of Arts Magazine - contemporary art criticism



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