A Work of Art or a Fetish (1991)

(The English version of the text was published in gallery catalogue: “Artyści galerii – Galeria artystów [Gallery Artists – Artists Gallery], Contemporary Art Gallery, Sandomierz 1994)


To use a biological metaphor, one could say that the 21st century was conceived – not born but conceived – at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, and that is coincided with the death of the 19th century. It was the time when the argument concerning the values in art between the arier- and the avant-gardes was concluded, following the final academization of the latter. Representatives of both these movements were given posts of academies, and their works displayed in galleries side by side. That situation was marked with perfect external stagnation on the one hand, and with internal feeling of the need for freedom on the other. The hiatus between the internal and the external became conspicuous enough to make a French critic, Jacques Lebel, attempt to formulate a definition of the events taking place in galleries at that time; events transformed later on into the ‘Happening’ movement. According to Lebel, it was the ”happeners” who were trying to fill up that ditch. The ditch – or gap – cannot be seen so easily today: the after-comers of both the arier- and the avant-garde, although not involved in any kind of argument pertaining to values, occasionally announce their victories or promote new fashions, which are commercialized quickly and lose their impetus. The gap between the external and the internal is invisible because it has become so huge one cannot watch both its borders at the same time; moreover, everybody’s eyes have been fixed upon the external. The crowd is all there, with the fame, money, market and movement. The external is not even epidermal any more – as somebody has put it, it is the epidermis of the epidermis that becomes more and more important today. Marcel Duchamp foresaw this when he said that the mechanisms being created were able to promote anything. And so did Ignacy Witkiewicz, announcing the approach of the era of meaningless art. The edge of the external- the other border of the gap – is nearly empty. It has happened before – only Teo Van Gogh considered his brother’s paintings as the works of a genius and was surprised that other people were not noticing it. So, despite great efforts taken by happeners and performers, this gap still remains a gap. I think it will gradually fill up by itself. A moment is coming when sociotechnical mechanisms feeding on populism will be uncovered, and the area of meaningless art will become a part of history. The weakness of happeners and performers lies in the fact that their works are being verified here and now – because of that, they cannot carry in time anything that is internal. Sooner or later, although most probably not until the 21st century, the external will eventually explode, revealing what is a valuable work of art and what a mere fetish.

15 October, 1991

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