1.About form, limits and the return of the Same, and a selection of 37
statements from Art as Art, the selected writings of Ad Reinhardt.
1- Work of art, power to remain uniquely itself.
2- There is just one painting everytime.
3- Perfection of beginnings, eternal return.
4- The re-de-mannerization of neo-mannerism.
5- Artists come from artists, art forms come from art forms, painting comes from painting.
6- The one direction in fine or abstract art today is in the painting of the same one form over and over again.
7- Painting as central, frontal, regular, repetitive.
8- Brushwork that brushes out the brushwork.
9- formless, no top, no bottom, directionless.
10- Sign which refuses to signify.
11- The re-de-iconologicalization of iconology.
12- The re-de-pictographicization of symbol, signal and sign.
13- Imageless icons
14- There is just one image, one imagelessness, one plane, one depth,
one flatness, one color, one colornessness, one light, one space, one
time, one timelessness.
15- There is just one art, one artlessness, one painting, one painterliness, one painterlilessness.
16- This painting is my painting if I paint it.
This painting is your painting if you paint it.
This painting is any painter's painting.
This painting is anyone's painting, with few exceptions.
This painting is personal, impersonal, transpersonal.
17- The extremely impersonal way for the truly personal.
18- The one, eternal, permanent revolution in art is always a negation of the use of art for some purpose other than its own.
19- Nothing to take hold of.
20- Nothing "usable", "manipulatable", "salable", dealable", "collectible", "graspable".
21- One concept escaping concept.
22- The first paintings which cannot be misunderstood.
24- Beyond "seeing".
25- Not "see" it, but "oned" with it
Present to those who can touch, absent only to those who cannot
26- Painting that is almost possible, almost does not exist, that is not quite known, not quite seen.
27- "What you see is what you see" Being understood
"What you see is not what you don't see" Small mind
28- Spectacle of the invisible.
29- Up your crass-materialism.
30- A clearly defined object, independent and separate from all other
objects and circumstances, in which we cannot see whatever we choose or
make of it anything we want, whose meaning is not detachable or
translatable. A free, unmanipulated and unmanipulatable, useless,
unmarketable, irreducible, unphotographable, unreproductible,
31- Resist at same time as it stays in connection.
32- Limits in art are not limits.
No limits in art are limits.
33- The more art changes, the more it stays the same.
The more art stays the same, the more it changes.
34- The next revolution in art will be the same, old, revolution.
35- An avant-garde in art advances art-as-art or it isn't an avant-garde.
36- I didn't set up these rules. You can find these all through time. I
haven't made one original statement. These have all come from artists
who have said something like this as artists.
37- All artists-as-artists say the same thing.
Aav : All these statements are my statements. Many other of Ad
Reinhardt's statements are also my statements, some are not... Still, I
believe my paintings (tableaux) are somehow more like his paintings
than his own are. I mean that if my paintings were exactly similar to
his in our time, they would be different from what his were in his
time. What was possible to do with a form in his time is no longer
possible today, and inversely...
The Same is not the similar or the identical, there is a difference in
the repetition, it returns transfigured in a different context.
Viguier : You mean that what his paintings could do in his time yours can do it in our time!?...
A : Yes... Like everyone else, Reinhardt had an internalist conception
of the artwork. But still, he is the first artist to have drawn the
implications of a finished painting... implications which are
external, which he explicates and unfolds in different ways outside the
painting. In the same way I'm interested in what a painting does rather
than in what it is.
"All artists-as-artist say the same thing"... my explications proceed
from the same painting... and a painting each time returns for the
first time, anew.
"There is just one painting everytime".
V : We know it is the successor who creates the precursor. Reinhardt
has today other successors than you. Do you all say the same thing?
A : They don't say that they do... They don't say either that their
paintings are the same paintings as Reinhardt's paintings... but it
does sometimes happen that we say more or less the same things.
V : Reinhardt is a formalist in the sense that he handles problems of
surface, of scale, of de-limitation, etc. in the way these things were
coded at the time of Greenberg, even if this was to achieve
formlessness... Formlessness in Reinhardt's work follows from a formal
device which gives a sort of positive and collective status to the
absolute painting... in which even the colour has gone. And his
internalist conception of the artwork gives complete priority to
contemplation over any interaction and context...
A : Yes, Malevitch's statement, "form doesn't put anything into form",
isn't his statement, either is Malevitch's statement about "freed
colour"... Nevertheless Reinhardt says about the painting: "Present to
those who can touch, absent only to those who cannot". Form doesn't
have the final word, and some of the explications of a finished
painting's implications proceed through contextual action as in the
statements 20 and 29 here, and many others in his writings...
There is a sign and an exteriority to it: Reinhardt is not only
concerned by what the painting is but also by what it does, by what it
allows one to do or to imagine.
He had already started doing the work I am doing at the Object's outer
side... But despite his statement "Limits in art are not limits. No
limits in art are limits" his art did remain premised on the
theoretical alternative of having limits OR not having limits. In this
sense art happens within the limits rather than outside (38). But maybe
what he really is saying is what he does not say, what can't be said...
but only induced by what is said.
V : Limited, the painting was secured by the form and, moreover,
Reinhardt was saying that it was isolated from "life" by the museum.
This at a time when limits were being blasted and when the museum had
already been turned into a Luna Park... This also limited his
acknowledgement of the market and of a more general social context.
A : His conception of the museum context relates directly to his
paintings, it corresponds to the logical explications of his painting's
implications in the context of art. The museum is defined as an
exteriority which is logically adequate to what an absolute painting
"is". He pretends to the authority of the theoretician but not really
to a theory of the museum.
What is extraordinary in his work is that the art is happening at both
sides of that limit which was so important to him, it has that split in
the middle of it.
V : You mean that the art is also in treating a thing as the thing it
"is"... the way it implies to be treated. But Reinhardt never claimed
this contextual and interactive side as part of the artwork!
A : Neither did the early Stella although he had made that shift from
painting to sign in an even more radical way... this had led him into a
blind alley as it was then said. It was then impossible... but after
half a century of conceptual, contextual, postmodernist art we may be
in a position to reconsider the problem.
Sources to quotes and note:
1- (Art-as-Art) (1966-67), in: Art as Art, the selected writings
of Ad Reinhardt. Edited by Barbara Rose. Berkeley, Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1991 (first published in 1975), p.73
2- There Is Just One Painting (1966), p.71
3- (Creation as Content), p.193
4- 39 Art Planks: Programs for "Program" Painting (1963) n°12, p.69
5- Art-as-Art (1962), p.56
6- Art-as-Art (1962), p.56
7- 25 Lines of Words on Art: Statement (1958), p.52
8- 25 Lines of Words on Art: Statement (1958), p.52
9- (The Black-Square Paintings) (1963), p.82
10- The First Paintings..., p.111
11- 39 Art Planks: Programs for "Program" Painting (1963) n°18, p.69
12- 39 Art Planks: Programs for "Program" Painting (1963) n°29, p.70
13- (Imageless Icons), p.108
14- (Art-as-Art) (1966-67), p.71
15- (Art-as-Art) (1966-67), p.72
16- Abstract Painting, Sixty by Sixty Inches Square, 1960 (1963), p.84
17- 25 Lines of Words on Art: Statement (1958), p.52
18- The Next Revolution in Art (1964), p.59
19- (Oneness), p.106
20- Art-as-Art (1962), p.56
21- (Art-as-Art) (1966-67), p.78
22- The First Paintings..., p.111
23- (Oneness), p.107
24- (Oneness), p.106
25- End, p.113
26- (Imageless Icons), p.108
27- (Art in the World), p.133
28- Twelve rules for an academy, p.203
29- (Government and the Arts), p.181
30- The Black-Square Painting Shows, 1963,1964,1965 (1966), p.83
31- (Oneness), p.107
32- Art in Art is Art-as-Art (1966), p.65
33- 44 Titles for Articles for Artists under 45 (1958), p.149
34- The Next Revolution in Art (1964), p.59
35- The Next Revolution in Art (1964), p.59
36- Bruce Glaser. An Interview with Ad Reinhardt (1966-1967), p.19
37- An Artist, a Fine-Artist or Free-Artist, p.142
38- For a more extensive study of Reinhardt's formalism see: Aav. Et puis quoi alors. Ukio, automne 1994
2.About the atomic object and the reversibility of its Being into the exteriority of its Event.
Aav : A Painting (Tableau) is there, at first sight, it is absolute
(unrelational), atomic, one - it breaks down to no other part than
itself -, imageless, radical, solipsist (self-referential), silent...
it is an abstract painting, a pure negative, an Object.
O Object, presence and grace!
Viguier : You must have people asking you if this is a return to an
essentialist or substantialist ontology. I must admit, one could see
here a naive realism or naturalism and as a result an Idol.
A : An Idol, a despotic signifier, is in principle supposed to be
collective. An Object can only exist for each person, it has no
objective or intersubjective foundation. You are alone... It is a
possibility as a percept and as a concept - obvious, prima facie -, but
it is not a possibility in theoretical reason, it has no legitimate
grounds to stand on as a collective being... Theoreticians are right to
say that such an object is impossible. But it is precisely on the
grounds of this impossibility that it becomes a possibility in art!...
You believe in what you see, but what you see is "beyond belief", one
could say that it is the less well shared commonplace in the world.
V : So there is no repeated thing which can be isolated or abstracted from the repetition itself?
A : The word abstraction has the advantage of referring to an
abstracted object as well as to the act of abstracting this object. A
non-objective, absolute painting is never already painted into a
Painting, it can't occur independently from an act of personal
consideration... it is the viewer who is a "painter"... and a painting
each time appears for the first time anew.
Its timelessness is always in real time.
There is just one timeless painting, everytime.
V : A pure negative... something which can only be defined by saying what it is not, as Reinhardt did?
A : Yes, when you define it as a substantive rather than as a verb. In
its timeless and fixed appearance, it is purely affirmative, verbal and
dynamic. Object is the name of what has no double, of what has no name.
V : "Unnamable", "One concept escaping concept", but still we are using here a concept!
A : An infinitive rather than a noun... But it is in the nature of a
painting to be shown, and there is no ostentation without a degree of
substantivation, of generality. Still, it is an infinitive rather than
it is a noun.
But if we look at things from the point of view of an Object's Event
rather than from the point of view of its Being, from the point of view
of the effects rather than of the cause, it is then clear that there is
a shift in levels between the concept of an Object and the concept of a
realist object-for-everybody - or an Idol, as you said -, a shift in
the idea. Both these objects have very different implications and do
not work at all in the same way... they clearly don't do the same
things. An Object can't be shared at a primary level without becoming
something else than an Object. Both possibilities correspond to clearly
V : There is the possibility of an Object as directly accessible as
percept and as concept... the possibility of a "presence" which has
been a sort of sea-snake in modern abstraction. For Reinhardt this
presence is contemplative, but you are a pragmatist... I mean that a
conception is to be tested by the practical effects it has in a
context... by what it does rather than by what it is. Meaning is not
prior to action and to the world.
A : The term pragmatism belongs to philosophy, used in art it can be no
more than just a way of speaking... There is an attention for the
exteriority of the sign... An Object has no relations but, as such, it
The work is propositional and logical, it proceeds from IF to THEN;
from an Object's logical implications in the context of art to their
explications, and back again. Given an Object, you can then somehow
"turn around" it by unfolding its Event. This is an active and
contextual process, but on the other hand the contemplative and
ostentatious "presence" remains central to art.
V : By unfolding an absolute painting's implications, its implied
effects, you take it into the dimension of its spectacle and of its
Event. Any sign can be considered from the point of view of its Event,
through the practical effects it has in interacting with the world.
Artworks interact with the context in which they are actualised and
maintained as artworks...
A : You can also find that they interact with things far beyond the
close art context, or that they have a potential to do this...Of course
the interactions of a new or different sign are generally more
perceptible than those of a sign we are used to.
V : An Event may be actualised, but its existence is always also
virtual. Imagined or acted out, potential or actualised, explications
are unfolded in chronological time. But the whole Event is
instantaneously anticipated and intuited through the fulguration of a
multiplicity of possible effects. The Event is the unconscious of a
A : Intelligence is the mind's ability to anticipate... to evaluate the
forces at play. Yes, an Event "exists" as much in its potential effects
- in potentia, in potency - than in their actualisations - in actu -,
intensively as well as extensively. Its instantaneousness can make you
say that it is both what is to come and what has already happened.
There is no primacy of a Being over an Event - of a cause over an
effect, of a precedent over a consequent -, they are both initial and
synchronic to each other and perfectly reversible. The Event and the
context it occurs in are no less originary than the being... Our idea
of an object is the idea of its Event, its reality is always in part
The possibility of a being or a sign only corresponds to the
possibility it's Event has in being actualised in the world. Any
potential has already its origin in the milieu in which it is likely to
be actualised, its existence as its truth do not precede the world. We
could talk about the onto-logical reality of an Object...
V : The routes of being... In Object art, the problematic is
deliberately blocked in depth in order for meaning to be displaced into
a field of exteriority - on the other side of the limit. An Object is
less what you end up with than a point of departure.
A : A sign is a force... Art is a laboratory for the sign!
V : Robert Smithson said that an artwork was both a thing and a way of
seeing that thing. There is no work which exists without being
sustained by a point of view and by process.
A : All works need to be implemented (to use Nelson Goodman's word) by
a some one in order to work. A work needs not only to be seen but also
needs to be considered according to the perspective from which it was
made... which is built into it.
A percept is not a simple perception.
V : An Object is as it works...
A : And as what it does or allows to do... It opens a field of
exteriority which is both contextual and processual, but which is
clearly distinct from the notions of context and of interactivity as
they have been established in postmodernist theory since they do not
proceed in a continuity to flux and context but from a limit, a split...
3.About the alternative between having or not having limits as equally obstructive to the idea of the Event.
Viguier : Ideas of fullness and self-presence, and of silence and
unrepresentability have been promoted by Romanticism, Symbolism and by
a strong current of abstract art up to the early minimalist
art-as-object tautologies, and since then in a more underground way.
Postmodernism has been a strong refutation of this thesis.
Aav : A salutary refutation which has exercised a real critical
activity and has finished undermining a naive realism... I'm not
interested in refuting that refutation even though I keep the
art-as-object proposition. The problem about that refutation is that it
remains premised on what it refutes... on its inverted image, somehow
affirmed in order to be negated. There is an irony about this
refutation which has somehow kept the art-as-object still alive under
V : Still, art is not based on the denial of of what it is not, but on
the affirmation of what it is... to quote Deleuze: to affirm a
difference is not necessarily a negation of what the affirmation
A : Yes, what is important are the works themselves. Nevertheless, the
neo avant-garde project which was pursued through postmodernism was to
dissolve the work's unity, to place it in the contingencies of actual
context, to break its limits in space and time, etc., etc. Peter
Bürger has pointed this out quite some time ago. Then it was as a
"failure" that people came in the end to accept the idea that even
non-object art was limited, that even these works were necessarily
abstractions and were transferable. This has given way to a certain
V : Smithson was already saying "if it is art, it must have limits"...
This was seen as a failure to establish the primacy of the particular
over the general, of the transient over the permanent, of use value
over exchange value, a failure to oppose a deep resistance to the art
institution, to the museum as a "place of confinement". Postmodernist
theory never seems to be able to account for these limits other than by
default - still sort of whispering that if these limits had been broken
it wouldn't have been a "failure". This is where we have been at for
now almost thirty years... We both found the postmodernist approach of
little help in reconsidering the problem of limits.
A : Nevertheless, we must not forget that the modernist thesis was
premised on an internalist conception of the artwork corresponding to a
denial of the context. Daniel Buren summarised this in the late sixties
by saying : "When the artwork appears, the museum disappears."
Non-object's critical activity has been salutary.
V : The refutation of limits was also a criticism of the Euclidian
conception of space... you know, the good old fence around the
garden... but in the meantime a new concept of unity and limitation was
being formed through this critical activity. Unity is no longer
conceived as a whole made of parts which are circumscribed as space or
time, but as a plane of consistency which combines multiple and
heterogeneous elements in space and time and which makes them hold
together independently from any spatial contiguity or any topographical
boundary. Smithson himself had already gone that way at the time he he
referred to the work's unescapable unity.
For a long time we liked thinking the work had expanded beyond the
field of vision, we now realise it is the field of vision itself which
A : Despite the tremendous work postmodernism has done in opening the
work to the context in which it appears, it somehow hasn't escaped an
internalist definition because, as we just said, all these works show
to be limited and transferable.
V : You mean that theories which refute the modernist closure are all
historically premised on the alternative between works which have OR do
not have limits. Postmodernism shares this with modernism!?
A- Exactly, art shifts from a topographical conception of limitation to
a topological one, while keeping the terms of the alternative still
exclusive of each other through promoting non limitation, while keeping
the alternative as a premise and defining the limit's existence by
V : ... In theory, not always in art... I know many works which seem not to care less about the alternative!
A : Surely, but I'm trying to illustrate my point... I mean that if
limits are unescapable, one might as well tighten them up and try to
skip over to the other side.
V : It's true that even works which don't care less about being or not
being limited still have an exteriority to their limits... an "other
A : As you say, work and "Frame" both work together...
V : Is it because of these reasons which are in built into
postmodernist theory that works and their institutional framework have
not seriously been correlated as partaking of a same history?... There
are correlations between the works we are talking about and the
institutional context in which they exist that seems to me quite
unaccounted for in art history. What is also interesting is that these
correlations don't only concern the past, but are reactivated each time
a work is exhibited.
A : You're the historian...
V : ... Well, here's a historian's question: art-as-object, its
timelessness, has been qualified as non-historical. How do you see it
as proceeding from a particular moment in time?
A- ... We can say it has a certain timeless structure... I mean
the capacity the mind has to abstract a thing and to contemplate its
eternal being; the subject-object structure... Its a problem which is
at the beginning of philosophy. But Object art is historic in a double
sense; historic because it taps onto the forces of the abstract
tradition, and historic because its possibility as art must proceed
from a state of language or of the world at a certain moment in time.
V : What about the accusation that "self-presence" blocks memory.
A : The Return of a Same painting is not about remembering although it
can surely make an historian remember all sorts of things... I think
one is only able to remember the past as one is able to imagine the
present... The mind remembers just as it anticipates. It's as much a
question of geography than of history...
4.About the distinction between a panel and an Object as both distinct from the artwork.
Viguier : You say that an absolute painting is never already painted
into an Object, that it cannot even be given a positive status as art.
What status has it exactly?
Aav : I make panels not Objects, it is up to each person to consider,
or "paint", a panel into an Object. As I have said, it's an act
of personal consideration.
IF it is an Object, THEN... or; if it is art, then..., if it is an
ironing board, then... if it is a company logo, then... if it is an
Idol, then... in each of these cases you have a different thing within
an identical form and each of these things implies different effects.
As signs, they don't work the same way, they don't do the same things.
In each case is intuited, imagined and acted out a different Event.
There is no inherence of an Object to a form, an Object cannot be
secured within a form; a form can only be more or less adequate to be
considered as an Object.
A panel is craft, not art... and anybody can make one. I have made these statements again an again in texts and in manifests.
V : If neither a panel nor an Object are art where is the art?
A : In the case of an Object, the limit is not what borders the work,
but what crosses through the middle of it. The art starts when an
Object is finished. There is an Object, a subject and a context, the
art is in between all three. An Object is only one element in the work
of Object art.
That's why you will never find a signature attached to a panel. What is
signed is a combination, a circuiting. ... And in a way, the
combination is the signature itself.
V : Robert Morris said about the same things you are, while referring
to his box-like shapes around the mid-sixties. The object is only one
of the terms, the two other were the spectator and the site. Are these
works part of your referential tool-box?
A : Yes, I probably wouldn't have thought those sort of things were possible if other artists hadn't done them before me.
But with Morris there is a contradiction between an autonomous object
and a work in which the object is only one of the terms, not a split.
Moreover, since Site Specificity we have learned that a site has so many different ways of being specific...
V : His strategy didn't prevent these objects from being reified as art...
A : I don't know, ... I think the concept and the certificate have
already become more important than the objects. The real question is:
do they still work as art or do they become something else when
reified? Works don't sustain their identities on a purely visual or
formal, physical level... they also have their own rules!
However, my approach is quite different to Morris' and I do not at all
conceive art's resistance to market value the way he did... neither in
the way non-object art in general did.
V : We'll return later to that problem... So, the art is neither in a
panel nor in an Object, it is in the actualisation of an Object in the
context of art. ... But to show a panel doesn't necessarily make it
into an Object... isn't it so.
A : Yes, that's how an Object works... a panel is just a panel... a
panel is an Object for whom it is an Object... you know this for
yourself but you can't know it for others...
V : I remember Domino's exhibition. As a guest curator to the Atelier
Mémoire he had invited you to exhibit there. You returned the
invitation, offering him to show panels under his own name... and he
A : Yes, that was in 1996. it was his own show. My name only appeared
on a label in a corner of the gallery as the panel-maker. There were
many people at the opening. Nothing could be taken for granted in this
exhibition... We played the game all the way and it was good fun.
V : One could also wonder if it was art. By standing on the edge he was addressing this question.
exhibited by Domino at Atelier Mémoire, 1996.
implementation and the maintenance of artworks, and about divergent
notions of interactivity and context, and back to Object art.
Viguier : A work needs to be implemented in order to work. It is both a
thing and a way of seeing that thing, ... the aesthetic relation,
spectatorship, is necessarily dynamic.
To the idea of "implementation" Goodman grafts the notion of
"maintenance". ... If an artwork needs to be implemented in order to
work, it also needs to be maintained, treated, administrated, in an
adequate way in order to work.
Not only this, many contemporary works need to be partially or
completely reconstructed at each exhibition; if the artist is absent,
this is done by the curator or the registrar. Display, lighting,
restoration, conservation, reproduction, documentation, author's
rights, and several other sections, all partake of a context of
maintenance. The way you treat something, the way you show it, needs to
be coherent with what this thing "is". Each work - its particular way
of existing - implies a particular adjustment of its context of
maintenance into what I have called its "Frame". What has become
apparent since the time of the neo avant-garde is the inseparability
between the work and its maintenance. I have been working for some time
on these problems; with you in Logique du Cadre (1), with Ivan Clouteau
in a more practical and pluridisciplinary way (2), and in teaching.
Aav : Because maintenance is sustained through implementation one can
say that the maintenance is partaking of the aesthetic relation
itself... the actor in the maintenance is always first a spectator...
The maintenance partakes of the aesthetic as well as of the artistic,
of the reception as well as of the production while blurring the border
Alongside this idea we did need to clarify different notions of interactivity...
V : Yes, in correlation with the idea of limits in postmodernism, the
notion of interactivity is understood as the spectator's input into an
always unfinished work, ... in the process of being produced... On the
other hand, the maintenance, which is also a form of interactivity, is
applied in relation to a "finished" work, it is exerted from the other
side of the limit, from the outer side... Both approaches are
discontinuous with each other... in theory.
A : Ah! Reinhardt, in a discussion with his fellows of the New York
School in 1950 - a discussion about when a work is finished, or
couldn't be finished -, he says : "problems start when you're handling
a painting as a finished object." And he adds further : "I want to know
the painting's exterior truth, the interior one I think I know it." ...
I find this almost prophetic, and very humorous in the context of the
New York School!
Sorry, keep going...
V : ... Jointly to the understanding of interaction as an inside
process to the work, the context is conceived in a continuity with the
work. Whether it be in time or in space, the limits expand while works
become immersive or decorative. I mean; what happens on the other side
of the limit is not accounted for for reasons which are somehow in
built into the theory as we were saying the other day.
A : It can't account for the Frame as partaking of the material field of the work itself...
V : Beside this, artists have always been collaborating, sometimes even
intimately, with institutions, with curators, with collectors, etc. at
the level of the exhibition, of the maintenance of their works... which
is so often most problematic. There are intimate correlations between
changes in art since the mid XXth century and the changes in curatorial
practices, in museum architecture and in everything else which operated
the integration of works. This dimension of interactivity exists in
practice rather than in art theory. Those who have been interested in
it - as people of the ISP (Independent Study Program) at the Whitney
Museum or Jean-Marc Poinsot at the university Rennes 2 - have been
labelled under "institutional theory".
Since the history of art is the history of the avant-garde, I think art
history and art mediation would gain by opening up more to that side of
A : If it is true that the modernist closure did block the conscience
of the work's contextual conditions at the time postmodernism started
its critique, I think that today it is the art criticising limits
which, paradoxically, is blocking the conscience of these same
conditions. ... We're back to square one: When the work appears, the
V : I remember Buren stating in 1998 his opposition to the "autonomous
work" and assimilating it to the "commodity" and to "capitalism". I
felt that what was said in 1998 was different from what was said in
1968 although the words could have been perfectly identical... it just
didn't have the same meaning!
A : Some museums have become more avant-garde than the artists
themselves! Art-as-life has been doing very well in institutional
politics. The transitory, the immersive, the ephemeral have now the
character of the unchangeable. The more art changes, the more it stays
the same. Even some of the most extreme works end up as a sort of new
"formalism" in which, within a certain set of rules, "anything goes"...
(With certain exceptions).
V : Anyway, if we account for the limits of these works, whatever these
works are, we can expand our ideas of interactivity and of context by
considering them from the point of view of their Events. A work's Frame
(an adequate context of maintenance) is part of a work's implications
and in this sense it partakes of its Event.
An Event is always more or less consciously perceived, but it somehow
"exists"... its effects can be acted out or remain virtual or latent. I
believe the spectator has a lot to learn from understanding a work's
Frame. I mean that if the actor is always first a spectator I think the
spectator is also a potential actor. The idea of a spect-actor has been
at work right from the beginning in what we each have been doing.
A : Yes, my work is in between an Object, a spect-actor and and a sort
of more or less conscious topology or "site" spread out with the Event.
But I don't think that what you call the "Frame" of maintenance is so
easily continuous with an "absolute object". Your Frame will never be
V : Maybe, but you couldn't imagine an Object, or any thing in art, without the Frame in which it is actualised, shown.
A : No, of course... an Object doesn't exist independently from its
maintenance and from its spectacle in the context of art. Nevertheless
a Frame can only be more or less adequate in helping someone consider a
panel as an Object... there either there is no Frame which would make a
panel into an Object. An Object is precisely what allows us to imagine
that there is a play, to experience a disjointure between both...
The correct way of showing an Object would be on a white wall with a
diffuse and neutral lighting so that they are erased and transparent.
But, it would make no difference for a non-relational object to be
shown on a green wall with a red lighting ... it would still be the
Same Object. Nevertheless, wall and lighting go from erasure, in one
case, to interaction and reflexivity, in the other. An erased and
continuous element can overturn into a discontinuous and reflexive
one... and the other way round.
V : Nevertheless, there has to be an adherence... there can be no
complete split between what a thing "is" and the way it is shown or
A : Yes... the way it is related to as being what it "is". I believe
that this disjointure reveals the Frame rather than it denies it.
The Event is not less "originary" than the being, there is a
synchronicity between cause and effect... we spoke of that a few days
ago... The "Frame" expands well beyond the close technical context you
are talking about.
V : You mean a Frame which is much less easy to get hold of...
A : The important thing is that an Object switches you onto the plane
of its Event, turns you into a spect-actor, even though an Event can
never itself be represented as a whole, or even represented at all,
because you are always too much part of it... it is too contingent, too
oceanic for that. ... its virtuality is always too unconscious. You may
intuitively anticipate at once an Event, but it is only successively
that you can unfold in it a thousand planes...
What is important is that you perceive the field of the Event as the
site of an exhibited Object, the invisible part of the spectacle.
V : All this could lead us to talking about the conventional ways of
exhibiting art from non Western cultural minorities as a negation of
the way we have defined art.
A : Yes, the work minus its Event, when we have defined the Event as both the origin and the end of the work.
1- Aav et Alain Viguier. Logique du Cadre. Précédents et
conséquences de la neo avant-garde. Hôtel des Bains
2- See the internet site managed by Ivan Clouteau :
6.About the author, the signature, the sponsor and the spect-actor.
Aav : The first panel/Object I exhibited was at Le Salon des Anonymes
at Nikki Diana Marquardt gallery in Paris in March 1989. I had until
then been painting and exhibiting semio-contextualist works and
monochrome paintings in France and in Australia for about ten years...
I had the feeling I had reached the end of something... over the last
years the work had been narrowing down to tautological pieces and
installations. But what I was showing in this exhibition had in one go
jumped onto another plane... the former work had in one go turned
up-side-down... It was "the same old revolution" Reinhardt had talked
In the exhibition there were no names alongside the works but everybody
could recognise Koons, Beuys or Duchamp. That's when I also dropped the
From then, under the same author's name the work came with a new
signature... or was itself a new signature... considering it is the
signature that makes the author rather than the other way round.
Viguier : You mean that it is the art which makes the author rather
than the author who makes the art... It is true that there is no author
prior to a work...
A : An artist's signature has two sides to it; on one side a proper
name attached to a person, on the other a way of seeing and of
making... I mean a signature is not what comes on top of a work, it is
the work itself... the vector which makes heterogeneous elements work
together... the rule or the cipher which enables us to see what is
V : A combination... Yes, I think it's the case for all authors...
A signature has a certain autonomy and ideas have a life of their own,
that's why you don't need to push them all the time... This leaves you
time for ideas which are not your own. Recently I have written an
extensive text on the art of Peter Hutchinson and I have been working
on space and landscape in central Australia, and doing other things...
A : Oh, have you!...
V : I am your principal collaborator and sponsor. I make a living by
teaching in contemporary history and theory and I try to work within
the rules of academic orthodoxy.
A : Yes, I know, that's why you never mention my work in your talks...
but I'm not complaining... because we are having a good time together.
Whom would I be having this sort of conversation with...
V : Now that we have talked about ourselves, the first producers... What about the spect-actor?
A : An absolute painting alienates the subject by being separate. But
as some abstract painters have been saying it until this day: the
subject is present to oneself as the painting is to itself... The
feeling of one's own presence to the world... as a preliminary to a
dissolved self. But as we said earlier, the subject of an Object is
also the subject of an Event. The contemplative and transcendent
"presence" is at another level the immanent "presence" of a contingent
exteriority. At the level of an Object the subject is self-centered,
"present to oneself", at the level of the Event the subject is
completely ex-centered and scattered.
V : An Event is collective, it belongs to a transpersonnal exteriority
of signs... there is no autonomous subject which would be placed
above signs... Just as the author is, the spect-actor is the mime or
the automaton of the logical unfoldings of a sign's Event.
A : I like Peirce's idea that the logical form is already achieved in
the sign itself before being achieved in the mind... The routes of the
Event are the routes of the mind... one's mind is no less in signs out
there than in one's brain.
V : Some people are going to say that there is not much room here for an individual subject ... a person.
A : Probably. But, on the other hand, how could not each of us be a
different person... the expression of a possible world. The way one
territorialises signs, the way one makes them work together, is
generally the affair of a fairly personal combination. Even Bouvard and
Pécuchet don't repeat exactly the same things.
||Tableaux, Galerie Nikki Diana
Marquardt, Paris, 1992
||Tableaux, Galerie Nikki Diana
Marquardt, Paris, 1992
With works by Flavin and
Divola, Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt, 1992
and pluralism in the field of art, and about truth, communication
and the future of the avant-garde.
Viguier : Some people probably ask you why some of your texts which
claim an abstract art recall the somehow outmoded form of the art
Aav : The manifest corresponds to the fundamentally affirmative and
exclusive - agonistic - nature of the work of modern or avant-garde
art. ... Pluralism is not about works which are themselves and
everything else at the same time.
V : Are you understating that the Return of a modern painting can only come After postmodernism?
A : The way this word is used is never quite clear. It isn't
necessarily contradictory to the modern. My only concern is to
disentangle a particular blocking in postmodernist theory. ... What's
the matter with people wanting to send you straight back to a Before as
soon as you start talking of an Absolute painting!
Object art is propositional not ideological, it is local not total, it
is a "language game", as Wittgenstein would say, or a "system of
limited generality", as you sometimes say. "Abstract Art" can no longer
come under a unified concept; postmodernism has defined it as a field:
a variety of sometimes incompatible orientations in which there is no
The affirmation of Object art is not the negation of non-object or
postmodernist art within a pluralistic field. A logical context and a
closed object do not exclude a syntactic context and an open object,
they just work at two different (and locally exclusive) levels.
V : Yes, one can no longer evaluate a work on the basis that it belongs
to such or such school. Works today combine so many different currents
and operate on so many different levels. You have to depart from the
work itself, not from criteria which would levitate above it. If some
currents are alive, schools have had it!
A : Group exhibitions in the sixties and seventies started inaugurating the coexistence of different systems...
V : Just like the art you and I like, our friends also come from all
walks of life. Remember Ukio, the little magazine we used to publish
with Bader, Creuvier, Domino and Hubert-Rodier between 1993 and 2000.
At each editorial meeting there were a lot of people and none of them
knew it was a meeting. The parties were good fun... we only found out
what was in the magazine once it was being put together... We flew over
the 1996 market crisis with panache.
A : Christian Hubert-Rodier is part of a generation of radical abstract
artists which started working in the early eighties. Since that time
his work has been steady in form and direction... He has been painting
abstract paintings over and over again... without ever conceding to the
disembodiment of images. Still, it would be a joke if we said to each
other that we should initiate a school.
V : Schools, movements, are always like schools of cats and dogs, but
from the outside they look like families or like battalions where
everyone seems to stick together. But really the artist is left alone
to affirm a difference despite everything else.
A : The avant-garde, the new, which itself is a sort of negative, gets
also constantly confused with negativity. That a work excludes from its
combination what it is not does not mean that it negates what it is
not... As we already said, art is For what it is and not Against
what it is not... The agonistic nature of modern art is not
necessarily an antagonism...
V : As we also said, we can see that despite the apparent antagonism
between the institution and the avant-garde, both have been synchronic
in their changes. We said that an Event only really exists through the
possibility it has of being actualised in a context... Yes, artists and
institutions have been collaborating all the way! The permanent
ex-centering of centrality necessarily entails some flexibility within
the isomorphism of something which wants to conserve itself by
repeating itself in an always identical way.
A : What I wanted to say was that the new and negativity are two
separate things. If they are still confused under the current notion of
the avant-garde they need to be analysed separately... Once you have
done that, then you can start asking why they get confused...
V : This confusion which masks the synchronicities between art and
context has not been very helpful in accounting for the history of the
context of maintenance as relevant to art history.
A : ...
V : The emphatic tone of the manifesto aims at convincing, but then you
seem to be speaking to somebody who would be out of reach or missing in
A : The emphasis... the loud-speaker... Yes, I sometimes do get carried away.
But then, who exactly are you speaking to? On one side a proposition
needs to be affirmative and concise, but then who could it possibly
convince? How does a proposition become "true"? A truth which is patent
to the author can seem deplorably personal to a listener...
Obviously, even the "decision makers" in the art institution are not in
a position to decide alone whether a proposition is true or false.
Nobody can measure alone the extent of an Event... A new sign has to be
compatible with a multiplicity of other signs, with series of signs and
of Events... Decisions proceed from a play of forces in a complex field
in which artists are at least as important as decision-makers (art
comes from art). This of course is also true for all areas of research,
not just for art.
Modern institutions are in a permanent readjustment to the world, to
its changes and mutations...The power is always already moving
somewhere else without knowing exactly where. The Forecast of a force
is always a political affair but there is no meta-control...
V : Aren't people themselves receptive to change?
A : Of course, individuals are somehow mobile. But sometimes new ideas
make them feel like they are lying... because they are always saying
they want things to change... sometimes even claiming it on high
V : William James wrote that truth is what happens to a proposition...
a proposition becomes true, it is made true as it is actualised in the
A : Yes... There is nobody to convince... the force of a proposition
has nothing to do with the force it is said with. What I want has no
incidence on what the world wants or on what a sign can do.
It's when a proposition has been established as true and that it voiced
with a loud-speaker... that's when you have to move off!...
V : The loud-speaker, that excess... is often associated to the persona of the artist.
A : You hope one would be only left with the excessive and anonymous
nature of difference itself, the loud-speaker would then be doing a
V : Although you position your work as a difference, there is no
fundamental fracture between your studio and the museum-gallery...
That's a remark Mel Ramsden made, referring to the "manifesto" New Art
Has a Future published by Spec&Editions (1). He said that this
merging of the place of production into the place of diffusion was a
passive approach to the museum enterprise.
A : Since long ago Artists have vacated the studio as a place which would be meaningful in itself.
What is interesting about Art & Language is the way the studio was
reinvested as a historical genre in the late seventies and early
eighties with a reference to the Index they had made earlier in the
seventies... The index presents you with a scatter of references which
are prior to any finished product... The work in the museum takes you
back to the studio as a place of working and producing meaning... you
are taken into the process.
What I'm doing of course partakes of a very different process, it is
inseparable from a context of actualisation. I don't think the
separation of the two places Ramsden talks about is a necessary
condition to "the autonomy of art".
V : There is also this idea that if the studio is absorbed by the
museum - rather than the museum being absorbed by the studio - the
practice of art could be cast into the museum's artistic ideology...
there would have to be some distance between the studio and the museum.
A : I don't think you can state so clearly an inside and an outside to
the museum... As we said earlier, the split is a possibility of the
institution itself rather than a split between an inside and an
outside... On the basis of such a division, nobody escapes being a
V : Still, isn't that giving a lot of credit to the museum enterprise which has its shortcomings...
A : I make no difference between a potential and an actual
museum-gallery... the problem of their separation is secondary in my
practice... one can't be on every front-line...
V : ... Well I think some institutional shortcomings need to be criticised and acted upon. How would things ever change?...
A : ...
V : ...
A : The studio is the first place in which a work's implications are
actualised. I don't see it as fundamentally different to the
museum-gallery (or even to the book-catalogue) as a place of diffusion
which only proceeds in pursuing the same logic... it's only a matter of
degrees in a work's public becoming.
But what is a "place"? Cezanne said he was doing an art for the
museum... the museum he was painting for and the museum he did not fit
in couldn't be called the same "place". Again, the museum has no
priority over the work as the cause has no priority over the
possibility of a field in which its effects can be actualised.
V : The New has no Forecast (Avenir) (2), it only has a Future... the incalculable.
Truth is something that happens, or does not happen to a proposition.
But a proposition can be sustained with independence from being true or
false. As Peirce said, it can be contemplated as a sign susceptible to
be asserted or negated... it keeps its full meaning whether it is
asserted or negated.
A : The proposition is purely affirmative, assertive, from the point of
view of the Future, hypothetical from the point of view of the
Forecast... considering that Forecast always implies a resolution in
truth of falsity. But a proposition is worth more by the problem
underlying it than by any resolution... "truth" is worth for the
embarrassment it gets the mind in... The "truth in painting" is an
attack within the fortress of received ideas.
V : The Forecast happens when tomorrow is split-off from now and is
exerting coercive forces upon it. As Bourdieu said, investment must
make a short or a long term return... its always a time in respite...
The Future makes no split between the time of investment and the time
of return... it is absolutely modern !
A : An artist should never exchange a Future with no Forecast against a
Forecast with no Future... The Future keeps you in touch with the
dramatic reality of history...
But how do you address such a proposition?!... What is apparently
addressed to understanding through communication and calls for the
listeners ascent (even if improbable) seems to operate, to
"communicate", in a less conscious, less verbal order of facts.
V : But what we are doing just now is to communicate...
A : Yes it's part of it... but communication is also something which
will never happen and something which has always already
happened... it has happened in the fact that an idea is always
already in the company of a lot of other people's ideas. And when you
find a new potential to a sign, when you combine a new concept or make
an old idea into a new one, this immediately becomes potentially
communicable within a quasi-universal space... even before any
communication has been made of it!
Where does "communication" happen exactly?
Beside, an idea has a life of its own, and a natural life span. Freed
from ideological casing it is only left with its viral reality; the
ability the meme has to duplicate itself without any friction or
Small enterprises don't have the means of distribution, so they have to
rely on propagation... at least they have the advantage over big
enterprises in being able to check that sometimes these ideas do move
by their own...
V : The new, the modern, subsists with a potential and a virtual
"existence"... but when it has reached the public, when it has
been acted out, it is that it has already become true or that it is in
the process of becoming true... it's already too late. As
Jean-François Lyotard put it, when the modern is publicly
actualised it is already post-modern...
A : ... and it is only once post-modern that, retrospectively, one can
see it as having, once, been modern. Time is out of joint... and you
wonder where communication would have ever happened...
1- Published unsigned as a centrefold to Spec&Editions' 2001 bulletin.
2- Le futur and l'avenir are often used as synonymous words in French
but they also have been separated by Jean-François Lyotard into
the meanings they are given here. L'avenir is a sort of future-anterior
3- The concept of the "meme" is from Richard Dawkins.
8.About form and implications.
Viguier : Despite the status the panel has it can't be confused with
the readymade. A panel is somehow also made, and not only shown or
maintained, into what it "is".
Aav : A form can be more or less adequate to be considered as an
Object, you will never make an Object. It's not a question of being the
author or not... As an author, I don't sign either an Object or a
panel. ... You can make a panel out of almost any shape and
colour, there are no worries.
V : The brushwork has disappeared into an even surface which often has
not quite sunk the weave of the canvas. You use all sorts of colours...
acrylic paint with its flat and banal quality. A panel is both a
surface and a volume. The width of the stretcher makes the painting
stand as an object on the wall, the sides are primed but not painted
and they somehow work as a ground to the surface figure ... or are
themselves the figure? A plane-volume (un plan-volume) you once called
it. This somehow keeps the panel separate from the wall. Symmetry also,
by preventing the panel from floating around on the wall, contributes
to its separateness.
When a panel has more than six or seven sides, it starts to remind of
all sorts of other things, so shapes are kept quite simple although
open to multiple variations...
Panels have no titles or numbers and no dating. You make them in a
haphazard and unrelated way, sometimes you have them made by other
people... and sometimes leave them behind after shows.
A : Yes, it's just a panel... What you see is what you see!...
V : But things don't just fall out of the sky. There must be some method and a certain sympathy in making them...
A : Sure, there is always a method even though it can change from one
time to an other... and its logical unfolding is always sympathetic.
But you go blindly! Because it is only once it is finished that you can
see how a panel looks. I like some more than others but then I never
remember by which particular method it was made, or sometimes even if
it was made by me. You'll probably end up with a more adequate panel
when it is made with method and sympathy but nothing has proven me this
to be really true.
V : I can hear some people saying that you can't suppress the fold
between figuration and non-iconic abstraction. The index has unlocked
modernist abstraction from its supposed closure.
A : As talkativeness has undermined its silence, as proliferation has
broken its simplicity... The Neo Geo artists, the Appropriationists and
many other artists have been handling such problems... We end up with a
much more conceptual notion of plasticity itself.
It is sure that a return to the non-iconic can no longer be premised on
the negation of this plasticity. That would be the end of art... since
most of the exciting work done today develops semiotic or syntactic
propositions. As I said before, both systems operate on different
Many of the artists from the movements I just mentioned had gone beyond
any opposition between the iconic and the non-iconic with the
simulacra. The non-iconic icon is no less iconic than the iconic icon,
it is "the image of imagelessness" as Reinhardt put it.
This is why I call myself an abstract "painter"!
V : You have started by making self-referential, more formal panels in two or several parts.
A : I occasionally still do... But form risks inducing that a panel
would be already painted into an Object. The only advantage of form is
to show what a panel can look like when treated pictorially.
V : You insist on the fact that the paintings you paint always the Same, single, ultimate painting?
A : Yes, always the Same one... I'm serious. Let me explain. The panels
all look different, but their differences are unimportant - they are
ornamental in a sense. What is important is not that they are all the
Same, but that they all work the same way when considered as an
Object. A thing owes its objectivity to the "existence" (actual
or virtual) of its Event. This is why it is not a problem if you are
colour blind or even blind...
V : Radical abstraction has often been a turning point between the end
of something and the beginning of something else. It is at the
beginning of all sorts of things which diverge in all sorts of
directions. This happened in the historical avant-garde with Rodtchenko
or Lissitzky for example. it happened with object-painting which
reached its most critical moment in the early sixties with Reinhardt's
Black Paintings. The work of Stella, Andre and Judd, which had started
from there, soon overturned to the beginnings of in situ and into
theatrality. In Europe the work of the Zero group had operated a
similar overturn into optical, kinetic and environmental or decorative
art. Buren who at the time of BMPT was making paintings at a zero
degree (une peinture au degré zéro) overturned into
contextualism. ... There are many other cases in which the end of the
object-painting is the beginning of something else...
A : But this does not mean that since the sixties artists have not been
continuing a line of radical abstraction, even if they have been a
It is precisely because abstract forms have lost their higher meanings
that artists today paint these paintings as being negative or neutral
while assuming their banality. Radical abstraction has always been
there although with little public exposure. It had a bit of exposure
through Peinture, Cahiers Théoriques in France in the late
seventies, and through the magazine Artistes in the early eighties,
then it somehow reemerged under the name of Radical Painting in New
York in the eighties and nineties with a group of American and European
artists. There are also similar currents in Germany, in the U.K. and
elsewhere in Europe.
V : How does your work relate to these abstract tendencies?
A : The exhibition La Couleur Seule in Lyon in 1988 made an incredible
mixture of monochrome painters from all generations and countries. It
showed that almost identical paintings could be so many different
things. "Abstraction" is no more unified than is the rest of art. I
understand abstraction as what is abstracted from the direct
environment, but you have a lot of art which, although termed
"abstract", is open to context through semiotic activity. Abstraction
is made from all sorts of combinations...
V : Aren't you enacting once more the end of abstraction into the beginning of something else?
A : Yes, an overturning of Reinhardt's Ultimate Painting inside-out...
a potential he had started pointing out himself as we were saying at
the beginning of this conversation. But this does not imply the
refutation of object-painting as in the cases you mentioned, on the
contrary it is a reinforcement of abstraction as being the condition to
the unfolding of a new site.
It is important that an artist like Pierre Dunoyer has been stating
that his paintings are not objects (tableaux) by nature but through an
act of consideration. I like the way he has thrown out formalism and
kept the baby! He also shows that you can brush back in the brushstroke
and keep it as impersonal as if it was brushed out.
Olivier Mosset in 1968 started painting his object-paintings
(tableau-objet), he was then saying things like "this painting is no
more than what it is." He later defined himself more as a painter but
he has always remained true to his early statements.
V : He claimed a painting "working only as a painting". And he also
talks about an "internal logic to the work", about difference rather
than sameness between paintings. He does not want to confuse the
painting's resistance to discourse with an essentialist ontology - a
position in which art criticism has tended to lock Reinhard's paintings.
A : What I'm interested in is how do you paint "a painting which is
only what it is". How does Mosset paint that sort of painting?
The paint over the canvas caries no biographical charge. He says he is
foreign to his work, the paintings appear as he makes them. Each
painting is detached from any general system or from any chronological
sequence. The succession from one painting to another, from one colour
to another, or from a series to another does not refer to any rule
other than aleatory. He is relaxed and playful in making formal
decisions. I think all this is what he means by an internal logic to
the work, it is the thread that leads trough the various decisions the
painting is the result of.
"This painting is any painter's painting", almost is.
V : He is one of the most radical of abstract artists of this time...
abstract in the sense of a separation or of an "autonomy" of the
A : But there is more: Mosset's paintings have implications that go
beyond the strictly pictorial procedures. The anonymity logically
excludes the signature from the front of the painting or from anywhere
else on it. His early paintings were neither signed nor dated.
Titles for a long time were "untitled" with the mention of colour
medium and size. When later on he starts using titles, they name what
you see or they refer to things which obviously have nothing to do with
the paintings as it was the case for Stella's early paintings. Anyway
the titles' flexibility doesn't prevent them from working around the
idea of a non relational object.
In a conversation with Catherine Millet (1977) he talks about the
necessity to "detach ourselves from what makes a painting's value, its
symbolic or aesthetic value, and its economical value". So, there is
also an external logic; it all works like consistent machine.
V : "All artists-as-artists say the same thing"... Even if he has at
times taken quite some distance with what you are saying about him,
there has always been a sort of tension which proceeds from that logic.
Under various disguises, there is the sameness of a repetition... Even
when he plays with other logics, it's still the thread.
A : Something is made into and is maintained as what it "is", that logic is both internal and external.
V : These external implications are interesting to examine in the area
of reproduction, photography. In this case too, there has to be an
adequacy between what a thing is and the way this thing is reproduced.
Nobody would think of photographing Fountain from the side or the back
as if it was a sculpture in the round... Mosset's paintings are
reproduced as perfectly frontal as most paintings are.
How does photography relate to a panel or an Object ?
A : An Object is of course unphotographable. You can reproduce a panel
in a more or less adequate way for it to be considered as an Object.
But then, an Object has no relations... I mean that if you really
consider a panel as an Object, you can photograph it under any angle or
lighting, it will always be the object it "is" and not another.
On the side of adequacy, there are many ways to make a photo of a
panel: frontally, slightly from the side so you can perceive the width
of the stretcher, with a section of the floor, so you can perceive the
scale... or you can frame it with no reference marks on the wall, etc.
Generally the vertical sides of a panel are parallel to the sides of
the photo so that you keep the photographer out of the picture. As
anyone else making photos of monochromes, I will try to get an even
lighting on the surface.
Still, it is always possible to bring up a reflexive disjointure
between an Object and its photography... this even within the
V : These panels, which are unconcerned about the internal side, can they still be called paintings?
A : Not as panels, but if you define painting as partaking of systems
of representation which are beyond the strictly pictorial activity,
yes. These paintings are abstract non-iconic icons.
V : It probably hasn't always been easy to show this sort of "painting".
A : In 1990 I had a one person show at PICA with an extension at the
IMA in Brisbane in Australia. On one side postmodernists looked at me
as if I had my sails flapping in the winds of history, on the other
side painters would invite me to see how to exercise a paint brush.
Without the support of David Bromfield, Noel Sheridan and Nick Tsoutas
this exhibition would never have happened.
I also had a solo exhibition a couple of years later at Nikki Diana
Marquardt in Paris. She was very supportive although the show was
unsurprisingly a commercial flop. What was important for me in these
two shows, was to state clearly the new direction my work had taken.
Of course, I also wanted to test the work and I did then realise that
people want to recognise things straight away, they lock you into what
they already know; into the past... I then realised that some work
still needed to be done on the side of what we called earlier
"communication"... That's when we realised that two of us would not be
to many in braving the prohibition of the atomic object.
V : What about now?
A : One must hope that what has been going through so many complicated
words in this conversation can become simple and direct in the mind and
the eye of a spect-actor.
|| Tableaux, Perth Institute
of Contemporary Art / Institute of Contemporary Art, Brisbane.
||Tableaux, Perth Institute
of Contemporary Art
Tableaux, Perth Institute
of Contemporary Art
|Tableaux, Perth Institute
of Contemporary Art
9.About the actualisation
and the transferability of works.
Viguier : An Object would have no double, and couldn't be transferred
or exchanged... At which level then is the work doubled into an
exchangeable generality?... Because there has to be at least an
individual and its double in order that a work be recognisable as
a work. A thing requires a degree of permanence in order to be lifted
Aav : Object art is not a composition, but a field which is distributed
at the outer side of the limit into multiplicity and immanence. I
consider this exteriority as partaking of the material field of the
I know you like the idea that all works are limited but myself I remain
true to the project of the avant-gardes by wanting to break the work's
limits, by wanting to blur the borders between production and
reception, between art and "life"!
V : ...
A : What is signed as an individual is not an object or even an Event,
but a circuiting, a formula or a cipher, rather than a being. The
spirit of the letter.
V : Yes, we saw that with Morris' box-shapes: although the work was
identified with the transient experienced variable it was always from
the start fixed and exchangeable at the level of its rule or formula.
In your case it is clear that what is signed is not something to
actualise following prescriptions, it's the general idea as to how
A : To me it is clear that it is about transferring the principles of
construction rather than any instructions for what should be
It is important that artists like Lawrence Weiner have established that
the work they transfer is independent from a particular mode of
actualisation... while then the particular mode of actualisation
becomes part of the work.
V : Many works today need to be reactualised at each exhibition, while
only subsisting as a document in between exhibitions. The rules of the
collection have adapted to this. To (re)-actualise a work then means to
restore and to animate the letter with the spirit. We can say that
these works merge completely with unbounded intellectual property.
A : What is signed and the signature itself are like two sides of a same coin.
The signature is also a monopoly the exploitation of which is protected by the author's rights.
But the art is not only the spirit, the spirit is what works with the letter in the concrete world...
V : What I find interesting with the Avertissement Buren joins to the
contract when selling a work, is the clear articulation between the
spirit, the letter and intellectual property. He aims at making it
difficult to manipulate the work as a dead letter and at placing
"responsibility" on the collector, the curator or the actor in general.
But in exchange to observing Buren's strict prescriptions, the owner
has the guarantee that the integrity of the global work, of which
he owns a part, will maintain its integrity.
Following artists like Buren, Carl Andre or Weiner who have been active
in the recognition and the application of the right of intellectual
property, artists belonging to the post-conceptual generation like
Gonzales Torres request even more strongly those who own or who show
works to engage into an active and considerate relation through their
These problems are now to be found at the heart of recent orientations
in preventive conservation which are developed in places sheltering
contemporary art. This is a question which is central to Ivan
Clouteau's survey on the actual function of the registrar of
contemporary art collections.
A : Some of these artists, and many others since then have demonstrated
that the commercial value of a work does not correspond to it's being
but to a right to show something with a certain signature.
V : You make panels which you sell at cost price and you sell
certificates which are a right to show panels associated with your name.
A : Yes... generally I sell a panel with a certificate, but if a buyer
doesn't want the panel I will subtract its price from the sale.
V : There is something absurd in the one-way alternative of use value
having "failed" to resist market value... in the idea of a work which
could escape market value and consequently in the idea of a work having
"failed" in escaping it... If the work is inseparable from its
maintenance, it is also inseparable from the costs the latter entails.
Market value is the translation of a degree to which an Event is acted
out and of the amount this costs... which also correspond to a degree
in public exposure. Acting out, exposure and costs work together (with
of course other factors). Increase in value is a translation and a
sedimentation of the Event value or of the truth value, or in a more
restricted sense of what Benjamin called the work's exhibition value.
An artist doesn't necessarily depend on the museum and the market to
survive as a person (thanks to the sponsor), but does depend on it to
survive as an artist or as a signature.
A : Yes, the work is valueless, it only has added value. Philippe
Thomas was right to consider collectors and art actors, or agents as he
would say, as the producers of a work's true existence... a bit like in
the movie industry. Ghislain Mollet-Viéville has often engaged
in playing with this idea as an art agent while challenging the border
which would separate him from an artist's position.
In the same way as for artists, you find some collectors, gallerists,
curators and also spect-actors who have a lot of Future and little
Forecast, and others who have a lot of Forecast and little Future...
If avant-garde art is said to be "resistant" to market value, it is not
because it is against market value, it is because it has the means of
living despite the fact of having little public exposure and no real
market value... it has an autonomy. How could new art be anything else
V : Your work has a legal framework, but very little is prescribed
through contracts as to how a piece should be actualised ... even its
title is left open to choice... How does one handle, how does one show
this sort of work?
A : Oh! That's not complicated to start with. You can show a panel like
any other abstract painting, the main thing is that you have in mind
that it is an Object. You know it's the Event which is the site...
V : But since an absolute object always also keeps a disjointure from any appropriate
Frame, there is the possibility to play off a segment of the Frame
against an Object, to revert the transparency of its convention into a
reflexive process. By unfolding an Object's implications you can, in
that way, "turn around it".
A : Yes, that is also part of what somebody showing can show. You can even play off the title...
V : Aren't you afraid that such an absence of prescriptions regarding the letter can give way to all sorts of abuses?
A : I think the collector's and every one else's interest, and not only
the author's, is that a thing is maintained as the thing it "is".
Other than what it "is", this thing would have less consistence and
probably none at all... To betray the spirit of the letter can be
dishonest towards those who have no prior knowledge of the work and
ridiculous to the eyes of those who do. ... A work takes care of itself
to some extent.
Panel with monochrome
attributed to Ivan Puni
10.About artist books and the physicality
of conceptual works.
Viguier : You talked about an always open alternative between a
transparency and a reflexive disjointure. In Dictionnaire, the single
word on each page can be either predicative and transparent or
disjointed and reflexive when it is put to work in relation to an
Aav : The words' definitions are to be found in one's "dictionnaire de
idées reçues", which, like any dictionary, is a
discursive formation regulated through institutions as Foucault would
The word is put to work in relation to an Object...
V : Dictionnaire, both mobilises and deregulates the static condition
of the dictionary as archive. It was once presented in an installation
next to a panel open at the word "pure", and another time in a
performance in which you explicated the word "transferability", these
two works appear themselves in books (1).
A : Books have the advantage of reaching out to an audience you chose.
You don't just get the nearby audience you have in galleries. And it
costs less money to take the gallery to the visitor than the visitor to
V : Spec & Editions is both a gallery and a publisher, a place, or
a sort of "heterotopia" (a placeless place) to quote Foucault again...
A place, but also a space.
A : Aren't we now here!?
As a gallery space, I like to think that it is not an enclosure which
would be filled by a work, but a space generated and spread-out by the
work itself. Heterogeneous coordinates are both gathered into a place
and spread out into a sort of map.The "gallery space" isn't
subordinated to an architectural model.
But when you think of it, even the box-like museum-gallery is always
some kind of a map too which is spread through publications, mailing
lists and through a diversity of cultural practices of the Frame.
V : Even if Spec occasionally occupies real spaces, it doesn't have the
permanency of the museum, it occupies no less the sort of (virtual)
space which Heidegger called an "absence of distance".
A : Spec is like an elephant which goes through the eye of a needle
between two shows. Its space is then similar to the one you are
thinking of when you have lost an email. Place has primacy over space.
But we have seen that all this first depended on the "proper distance"
of an Object.
V : The book is itself a support for exhibitions, for texts, for
advertisements, etc., it seems to loose the self-sufficiency artist's
books generally have.
A : A support for something else... the kind of thing which ends in the
bin. Still, some people have understood that even the envelope was part
of the "book"... Where does the book start and where does it end?
V : As for any artwork, all sorts of people can actualise and act out
an Object's implications, but the author is always the first one to do
it. The book appears as some sort of Frame and as an index to an
A : Yes, despite never being quite adequate for this... but seen as
effects, these may to some extent imply their cause... They point no
less in the direction of the site of an Event. It seems more as if the
book made of the limit a surface of transcription.
V : All books are produced in black and white photocopies... you defined them as being specimens.
A : Some of the early books were stamped in blue ink with the word
"specimen". It was later found out that the originals the specimens
were supposed not to be were no more original than the specimens. How
V : This means that whoever duplicates a copy on a photocopier has the same specimen?!
A : Yes, that's right... I stopped using the blue stamp when it became
clear that the stamped books looked more original than both the
originals and the specimens.
V : The books have a documentary side to them in the way the
exhibition catalogue has. But even then the documentary images are
cleaned out as to look like collages... sometimes they look more like
projects than actual productions. This is maybe why you ended up being
classified as an "illustrator" in one of our famous institutions.
A : Quite a few works we consider now as historical only existed as
projects in their own time; you only have to think of the
constructivists, de Stijl, dada, etc. The documents related to Fountain
published in The Blind Man and in Rongwrong in 1917, were they a
documentation or an illustration?
Seth Sieglaub is the one who made the most clear statement in this
regard when he said in 1969 about the exhibition he had organised with
conceptual artists and about the catalogue he had published: the
exhibition is only an illustration of the catalogue. Weiner has always
refused to give priority to "a concrete fact" over "a potential
feasible fact", it is the same here.
I see no clear cut between documentation and illustration in the sense
of a cut between the actuality of what is happening and the virtuality
of what could happen or of what has already happened and could happen
again. Each of these moments can't exist without enclosing in itself
V : Does this mean that the work can dispense with it's physical reality?
A : Not at all. Besides it is wrong to think that conceptual art, or
even dematerialised art, would be set in an opposition to the
"materiality of the work". Conceptual art (as, in other respects,
modelling theories) has precisely shown us that the idea operates
within the bodies of things.
Art is a concrete thing, there is no art without a material and factual
reality. I often do move things around in pictures but they are always
based on photographic documentation... even if it has sometimes gone
trough several generations of photocopies.
Without the possibility of an Object hic et nunc out there, there is no
Object art. But for an Object to exercise its effects all you need to
know is that it exists. The concrete reality of a work, of any artist's
work, doesn't only come from its "physical presence" - as premised in
concrete art and modernist movements. The virtual work encloses the
moment of its actuality as the actual work encloses its virtual moments
and their potential effects. The physical actuality is only a moment of
a work's factual existence.
Sometimes ideas do more things, have more physical effects, than
physical objects... As Gregory Bateson said: physical causes can
produce virtual effects and virtual causes can produce physical
effects... This of course assumes that I consider a work's Event as
partaking of its material existence.
V : Finally is Object art to be found in an Object and its Event or in its cipher, its signature?
A : I make no separation between these things... I only make one at the
level of market economy in which only the signature can be the operator
of an exchange.
V : Well, that will be all for now. Tomorrow we will continue our conversation in French.
A : Oui.
1- Manifeste. A présentation of Dictionnaire, Spec & Editions, 1998; Spec 2001. And Explication by Aav, Spec, 2004.