The Future of the Tradition

Vue du Portikus et Visage de la paix, lithographie de Picasso, 1951

Thomas Stearns, May 3rd, 2011. Article à propos de l’exposition actuelle au Portikus: The Future of Tradition: Aranda, Picasso, Matisse, Miro & Vidokle.

«Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.» Pablo Picasso

«The avant-gardist is at heart a traditionalist. Although seemingly paradoxical, keep in mind that in order for a work to be recognizable, it must be established in some context. No art exists within a vacuum. However, innovation is measured as an evolution from a « norm, » a change from tradition. Like the expression, « two sides of the same coin, » The Future of Tradition: Aranda, Picasso, Matisse, Miro, & Vidokle seeks to weave that line between « tradition » and « innovation. »
Genius of course is derived from the latin genius-, or the spark of the divine within each person, a soul. In Roman mythology, the unique tempers of these personal spirits were passed through each generation as a linage—hence the shared root between genus and genius. As such, it should come as no surprise that both Picasso and Matisse called Cézanne « the father of us all ». Such a grounding narrative not only allowed the works of Picasso and Matisse to be legible, it also established their work within a trajectory of ideas—one that stretches to Filippo Brunelleschi, Piero della Franceso & Leon Battista Alberti, who sought a geometric justification for realism so as to brake with the Gothic through an older tradition, « rebirthed. » Could this sympathy be the reason why Matisse often revisited the forms of the odalisque and the themes of arcadia, while Picasso developed a style now know as « neo-classicism »? Even the seemingly iconoclastic Joan Miró, who wished to « assassinate painting » did so not by attacking paintings, nor by producing works in new media like the Futurists or the Dadaists, but did so, counter-intuitively, through painting. Here instead of mere circumscription, these artists hit upon a third idea: novelty within a given discourse is what fosters critical reflection—the measure of which is the ability for a new work of art to form a new reading of the past. To do so, a work is placed into this story by presenting it publically, in a museum for instance, so that its references, appropriations, positions and so on can be layered on to it through that forum. Finally, these fronts slowly integrate as they too become used and made historic. In effect, art is a form of laundering as the proceeds of the artist’s theft are made legitimate through discourse—is there a VW Beatle in Picasso’s Baboon and Young (1951), or is it the face of an animal camouflaged by Picasso?
Along these lines, it is important to remember that the word revolution is derived from the same root as to turn around or, to return. Adding their own « spin, » Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle seek to establish a newer chapter by continuing the plot established by Brunelleschi’s breaking of the guild, Matisse’s beastly taunt of the cliché Impressionism, and Miró’s affront to the bourgeois tendency of painting, through, in Vidokle’s words, « the possibility of artistic self-determination…fought for and hard won from the Church, the aristocracy, public taste, and so on. »
The guiding spirits of this house, or the affinity which unites all of the practices presented here, is a desire to point at the flash of inspiration which lead the development of a new style, that special « decisive moment ». This putting of the spirit of discovery ahead of formal concerns is their genius loci. For this reason, this exhibition not only aims to look back at tradition, but also invokes its future. By doing so, this stance reworks iconoclasm as a form of sacrifice and transfiguration—Roman alters often bared the crest of a genius loci—to safe-keep the power of art while, also protecting the authority of the artistic family. With this support, the exhibition takes as its stake the enteral-return of artistic license as the productive genre par excellence with which to alter the order of art. And yet, as the title suggests, this mercurial projection is at the same time partially hidden, like a genie, even to these artists, just as it is to our contemporaries. Regardless an ethereal magic illuminates a path beyond…
Although these metamorphoses may seem violent, this exhibition instead offers Picasso’s Visage de la Paix (1951) in which our « angle of history » is configured as a face with the wings of a dove as its hair. Here, the classical symbol of a dove is wed to a smiling image of mankind, as peace after all, is about people and their happiness.
Gazing back at it though is Matisse’s profile of a woman, identified only as a lot number from a secondary market: S1PAIT5. This personalizing « face-to-face » between the angel and a woman proposes a difference between the two entities that at the same time acknowledges a shared responsibility to accept each other, peacefully. Such volleying is the signature of an « other » as well, namely the curator, Raimundas Malašauskas, who often unites exhibitions through synergistically folded repetitions of theme and variation to form a sum greater than its parts.
Guiding the viewers through this play of togetherness, Miró’s Adonides (1975) presents a short two-stanza poem. It begins in a poverty of understanding: I ignore everything I know / and know nothing at all / of all that I ignore. Once affirmed, the poem continues: How can I / believe in death / when I know / that you will die one day. Elegiacally the poet asks, since death is an unknowable, its absence can only be felt in the loss of a loved one, a loss too painful itself to even consider. Thus, death is an uncomfortable mystery. As such, the denial and anger aroused in passing can only be alienated through a mystical faith: the cycle of life and death made whole through incarnation and resurrection—the rebirth.
Calling forth this metaphysics, Aranda’s Which can do no harm (and a bone to pick) (2011), hints to a passage in Ezekiel wherein the lord breathes life into a set of desiccated bones. Featuring a mimetic carcass of chicken bones—a common item in divination—formed in unfired dry clay, the material serves as pun for Adam who God made by breathing « spirit » into a handful of earth. Here again we return to the idea of an inspiration, both literal and figurative, repeated in guised form. Yet, this hidden attribution causes little harm as the unfired clay will decompose on its own accord and peacefully return, dust to dust.
Rekindling our fire and responsibilities, Vidokle, just as Cassius queried Brutus, asks about Picasso: « Why should that name be sounded more than yours? / Write them together, yours is as fair a name ». Here, Vidokle does just that as the artist sourced a painting on the receipt of a Picasso biography—subtitled « Triumphant Years »—and endorsed the work by signing as its author.  It is with this final act that we get to the heart of the exhibition itself, that the future of tradition requires credit.
Remembering that credit is derived from « credo, » that is « faith », all of these maneuvers recall a foundational magic, that art, in order for it to circulate requires dissemination. In other words, for these plays with history to have any currency, a trust must be developed between artist and audience, between receivers—to breathe together is of course, to conspire. This basis of the system is in actuality, the system itself, a trade of ever-manipulated representations and speculations. After all, all scripts are counterfeit, the real question is: will you take it?»