November 6, 2013

Hip Hip...! Birthday Celebrations of Artists - Dead or Alive

 Celebrating Andy Warhol's 85th birthday. Earth cam image from New York Times 

I always refuse to memorize the dates of birth or death or an artist. Although it is a frequent question during guided tours I stay immune to the request. I usually solve it by making generalizations, for instance, at the Painting Forever show in the New National Gallery I present the four artists as (white, male, and) middle-aged. That should do. Yet it might not be that smart of me in the end, especially as a curator. When an artist’s round-numbered birthday is coming up (preferably older than 60 - sorry, 30 or 40 just won’t do) that is reason enough to think about curating an exhibition. Foundations/ sponsors will totally dig it. Round-numbered anniversaries are holy - it’s a plus when the artist in question is deceased. This summer it was the 85th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s birthday. For the occasion the Andy Warhol Museum organized a 24-hour live stream recording of Warhol’s gravesite in Pittsburgh. I don’t think Warhol would have cared much about this tribute at his tombstone. “I never understood” Warhol said, “why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment.’”

Regarding birthday celebrations - luckily there are exceptions on the round-number rule. Galerie Mila (this is the new gallery in the middle of the middle - Linienstrasse corner Tucholskystrasse - directed by my friend Katharina Raab) celebrated the 56th birthday of the Berlin artist Wolfgang Müller on October 24th with an audio play of Frieder Butzmann to Müller’s alter ego in Iceland. Wolfgang Müller usually doesn’t celebrate birthdays but he thought that 56 was a nice number to give it a try (and so it was!). Last summer the 126th anniversary of the birthday of Marcel Duchamp didn’t go unnoticed either. Berlin artist Johanna Thompson  (with whom I co-founded a new art services business called das kunstberlin - check it out, like it on facebook!) took the occasion to do her long-time desired combo of chess and art - of course, Marcel Duchamp embodied the perfect match.

Werkleitz Festival, entering the exhibition Utopien Vermeiden, 2013

By the way, it seems to me that Marcel Duchamp is on the rise lately - slowly but surely outdoing Pablo Picasso. That impression can be overrated since I tend to associate every art thing that goes with a toilet, a urinal or its fluids as a tribute to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain - aka the beginning of contemporary art. Visiting the Werkleitz Festival in Halle I had for instance to admire the location of the movable toilet box right in front of the exhibition entrance. The exhibition was titled Utopie vermeiden (To Avoid Utopia) so I was seriously contemplating this to be a curatorial move to, from the start, nip every thought of utopia in the bud. Yet it could also have been one of these many German rules that create absurd situations (maybe the restroom had to be in the proximity of maximum 1,2 meter of the exhibition exit?). A great toilet-tribute to Marcel Duchamp was done in the 1980s. The Westberlin punk-artistband Die Tödliche Doris took a promotional picture in the restroom and it was displayed as a huge poster on a skyscraper in Shibuya, Tokyo. 

Die Tödliche Doris in the restroom, 1980s

In her performance Johanna Thompson was generous and invited people to be Marcel Duchamp. She reenacted the chess game he played with Eve Babitz at the Pasadena Museum of Art, she herself slipping into the role of the naked lady. (Visitors of the Meret Oppenheim-exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin know that also Oppenheim presented Marcel Duchamp with a chess game: bon appetit, Marcel. By the way: the Martin Gropius show celebrates Oppenheim's 100th anniversary of her birthday. Spicy detail: the MoMA in New York, when asked to give works for the Berlin exhibition on loan, got so excited about the idea (or the number - one can never top 100!), refused the loan and created an own exhibition. Ha!) Unlike Eve Babitz, Johanna Thompson did not lose a chess game against Marcel Duchamp, actually she won them all except for one. Would Marcel Duchamp have been a good loser? He seemed to have been totally free of the need for recognition, so probably he could not be bothered. When asked why he didn’t create art anymore, he replied: “Oh, I’m a breather, I’m a respirateur, isn’t that enough?”

Here an exclusive interview with Johanna Thompson about her performance Being Marcel Duchamp. Please take note I just happened to discover iMovie and when doing this interview, I made all the beginner mistakes you could imagine, like picking the loudest corner of the Friedrichstrasse and changing perspectives every second. So I made it black/white to cover that up and I succeeded in removing almost all the noises I apparently make while other people are talking. Thanks to Johanna for her indulgence! 

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