Concealed, painted, freighted with particular psychic resonances, the object was also to be isolated and staged. In these cases, brought into the foreground, the object became a part of the milieu that received it and exhibited it: the museum or the art gallery. Increasingly the work of art is the expression of isolated contemporary projects which have their basis in a personal mythology for which the artist alone has the key to interpretation.
Jean Michel Sanejouand made his first Charges-objets (object-weights) in 1963, works deriving from his anti-paintings. The object is in opposition to painting and presides alone in space. Made up of real objects incongruously assembled with other fragments of objects, these Charges-objets are assembled in such a way that their meaning disappears along with their former use. They aspire to a banality without any signification other than their being there, their problematic presence, their non-sense. All the same, there is an ironic aspect that comes through in these objects weighted with nothing.
For Joseph Beuys, who was close to the Fluxus group, the objects he exhibited (such as Fat Chair, 1964, or Infiltration Homogen for Grand Piano, 1966) are pieces taken from performances he did, where the disguised object took up the whole of the stage. In the late 1960s, Jean-Pierre Raynaud invented his Psycho-objets, while in the 1980s Bertrand Lavier showed his “fridges” and his painted office furniture.
JOSEPH BEUYS (1921-1986)
Beuys expanded the idea of art to reality as a whole. His ritual actions aimed to release the plurality of the senses. Art would have a therapeutic virtue and the artist would be akin to a shaman. Objects and materials linked to an entirely personal symbolism anchored in his biography were involved in an art with social aims in a sick society.
By associating a piano, a musical instrument and carrier of sound waves, with felt, a material symbolic of life and survival for the artist, Beuys aimed to make this object an energy vector. The piano’s sound potential is filtered through the felt. The object is disguised and can be made out behind the fabric which opens it to other sensory experiences. “The two crosses”, said Beuys, “signify the urgency of the danger that threatens if we remain silent […]. Such an object is devised to encourage debate and in no case as an anaesthetic product.”
Thus the object becomes increasingly arrayed with symbolic resonances which the artist has to explain since they are particular to him, as is also the case for Raynaud’s Psycho-objects. The flowerpot and the square white tile which recur in his work refer respectively to life and death in a cold and increasingly aseptic world.
HE REAL OBJECT SUBVERTED
From Duchamp to the Surrealists
With his Still Life with Chair Caning (1912), Picasso had already made great advances in the process of desacralising the work of art through the insertion of components taken straight from reality into the painting. The use of collage emphasised this challenge to the canonical representation. The raw materials of reality broke into the representation, but these intrusions formed a dialogue with the painted or drawn parts of the work and the Cubists used them for plastic purposes. Marcel Duchamp went a step further in desacralising the work of art. This desacralisation and its implicit relation to the object was to be redeployed in a new drama of the object, the Surrealist object, on the search for the dream’s irruption into reality.
MARCEL DUCHAMP (1887-1968)
In 1913, Marcel Duchamp exhibited a “sculpture” titled Bicycle Wheel. Two everyday objects were attached and stuck together by the artist: a bicycle wheel and a stool. Nothing here was the handiwork of the artist, who produced a three-dimensional collage by assembling two ordinary objects.
Duchamp had been a painter to begin with and rebelled against painters, whom he called “turpentine addicts”, and against “the retinal stupidity” connected with this art. He pronounced himself closer to the style of Leonardo, and defined painting as a mental thing. His Nude Descending a Staircase caused a sensation in New York and made him famous. Going beyond the nude, with it he sought a method of reducing movement in space.
In 1914, with his famous Porte-bouteilles, bought at a department store, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de ville, Duchamp elaborated the concept of the ready-made: “an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of the work of art by the mere decision of the artist” (Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, André Breton, 1938).
The hand of the artist no longer intervenes in the work. All skill and all aesthetic pleasure connected with the perception of the work are made void. The creator’s traces have disappeared and been reduced to the mere choosing and titling of the object. The title which from the outset names the object most baldly, Porte-bouteilles (Bottle-Rack), will assume increasing importance; later the object would be rechristened Séchoir à bouteilles ou Hérisson (Bottle-Drier or Hedgehog).
Yet the choice of this object was not an insignificant one. Glasses and bottles had invaded Cubist painting, from which Duchamp wished to escape since it was, in his words, like a “straitjacket”. Analytical Cubism’s bottles and glasses broken down into countless transparent facets were succeeded by the real object, opaque and made of iron, welcoming them with the prickliness of a hedgehog.
In 1915 Duchamp left for the United States. Continuing with his ready-mades, he added inscriptions to them, like the one on a snow shovel: In Advance of a Broken Arm. It is only verbal logic that, through humour or puns, transforms the ordinary object into something else: a precipitation of the likely future. Duchamp was to lay increasing stress on this verbal dimension which, by insinuation, involved the mind of the viewer in the perception of the work. The delectation of the eye was succeeded by that of the mind.
His best-known ready-made, the famous upturned urinal rechristened Fontaine, dates from 1917. When it was submitted for exhibition at the Society of Independent Artists, in New York, under the pseudonym R.Mutt, the jury to which he himself belonged rejected it, and the epic success of the ready-mades got under way with this scandal.
The original ready-mades have disappeared and replicas remain which, as Duchamp put it, “convey the same message as the original”. In his view, aesthetic criteria alone are not enough to define what art is and what it is not, and it will be the artist who calls into question the limits of art by pushing them further and further. The disappearance of the utility of the object proclaimed by its installation in a museum environment, and the new meaning conferred upon it by its title, would henceforth suffice to qualify as a work of art what had not been so a priori.
Duchamp’s radical and innovative approach laid the foundation for a great many interrogations of the status of art in the twentieth century, and for a breakthrough of the object into the domain of the plastic arts.
Tyburn gallery Moffat Takadiwa, 2015 Forigen objects exhibtion
“I believe that I am not making objects exactly, but statements which are meant to change the lives of my people, the image of my country, and the world at large. Through my work I collide the laws and policies of my country against the excretes of its society.”
Moffat Takadiwa, 2015
Tyburn Gallery is pleased to present Moffat Takadiwa’s first UK solo exhibition Foreign Objects from 5 November 2015 – 9 January 2016. Born in Karoi, Zimbabwe, in 1983, and currently based in Harare, Takadiwa is known for his simple but intricate installations made from found materials, including spray-can debris, plastic bottle tops and discarded electrical goods. Through the works exhibited, Takadiwa engages our senses, both literally and visually, as a unique way for identifying foreign materials, items and objects.
Takadiwa’s practice engages with issues of material culture, identity and spirituality as well as social practice and the environment. The exhibition groups together wall-hung sculptures that bear witness to the cultural dominance exercised by the consumption of foreign products in Zimbabwe and across Africa. Imported consumables become symbolic of the shifting power struggles within post-colonial Zimbabwe, resulting in the uneven distribution of economic and cultural power across the country. Greatly influenced by the Argentine semiotician Dr. Walter Mignolo’s scholarship on ‘coloniality’ and modernity, Takadiwa’s work is an explicit challenge to contemporary governments whose pledges on indigenous empowerment are failing to come to fruition.