19 10 06


Elisabeth Steger

Some remarks on Isabelle Graw´s  "art, market, fashion - principle celebrity / portrait of the artist in the visual industry" and a photo of Rick Maiman ( both in Lettre 74 / pages 44-49 ).

"Fashions are a drug which is to compensate the fatal effects of forgetting on a collective scale. The more short-lived a time, the more orientated it is to fashion."
Walter Benjamin / Passagen-Werk / Fashion [B9a, I]

Isabelle Graw, editor of the art magazine "Texte zur Kunst" and professor at a well-known art-school in Frankfurt am Main, published a text in the new issue of "European Culture Magazine" Lettre.  A little photography which is placed besides the biographical information, shows us the art scientist Graw wearing huge sun glasses and long hair - hiding most of her face. That´s her entrance as a participant of the "art world".  And you could certify this entrance as a consequent one, because Graw´s motto given at the end of her text, dealing with the massive pressures of this world, sounds like this:  "dress up and hide behind your work!"
In her introduction Graw is shortly describing the art market and she tries to address or include all readers in an unmistakably way when citing Karl Marx, remembering a sentence of the Kapital: "That is your story which is told here."

No! I have to veto here and want to contradict - not in the sense that I would refuse the fact of living/working myself under the pressures of the law of the neo-liberal politics/economy system. - I am living as an alert contemporary, I am as well a tiny little part of the (art) market and I have to act on a (labour) market like anybody else who is forced to sell his/her capacities for work  ( and we will be forced to until a time has come when each of us will dispose of a basic income ).

But I am reading Isabelle Graw´s text mainly as HER story, the "tightrope act" story of one who is - to speak again in her  terms - a "compromised participating observer", commuting between believing and not-believing in art.  Through observing the (art) market Graw locates a shift in it, gives us a diagnosis of this shift   ( -the definition power of the art market had culminated- )  and she herself defines this shift, as a powerful participant of this market, with a "necessary" new word which is: visual industry ( -changed situations require new concepts- ). And at least she is characterizing this visual industry through: a celebrity principle, compulsion of performativity and corporate structures. In her mixed-up analysis - addressing various actors in the (Western world) market places of art at different points in her text - she defines furthermore the two tasks of a critic: Looking at art pieces without illusion and at the same time looking at them in a way that these art works have possibly another stake than the value they got on the market.  She emphasizes the need to remember "historical insights and achievements - like institutional critique or forms of certain picturesque negations of painting" - but, that´s very sad, this is only a marginal note,  here she delivers  no example, no single name, not even a male artist name ( Graw is doing name-dropping as well as the ones she is criticising for that behaviour reducing the more important art pieces to only artist-names and she is swinging between the pure male "Künstler" and the  fe/male  "Künstler/innen" for reasons which are not understandable to me ). 

I think speaking about the "compulsion of performativity" requires a definition of what is meant by performativity. From a comprehensive, more abstract point of view performativity or the "power of performativity" means not a power "which is constituted through a subject ... but only a permanently repeated acting which IS the power in its persisting and its instability" ( Judith Butler / Bodies that matter ). Regarding for example the process of teaching - which is as well a performative practice ( remembering the book "Teaching and learning as performing arts" by Robert Filliou /1970 )  the question could be placed here which concept of teaching Isabelle Graw follows as a professor at an established institution ( would be interesting how Graw is acting/interacting with her students - at least more interesting than remarks about fashion problems of business people ).

"Grasping the unique is the task of the portrait - if the any`-s are to be fixed, a camera objective is required" Giorgio Agamben / La communità che viene

My next objection links up to the shift. Performed myself a shift, a very concrete one in the process of reading. Let me do what Isabella Graw is actually demanding: looking to art works. It is only a little jump for one´s  eyes from Graw´s text to the photo of Rick Maiman which is placed next to the beginning of the text - but maybe it is a great leap forward from  the written observations of professor Graw and her power to define,  onto a photographical "observation", a speaking example of "visual products".  
Besides supplying different magazines in the net with photos of famous people like Bill Gates or family members of American presidents, Rick Maiman ( -who is by the way not mentioned in the Lettre list of authors, artists and photographers on page 5- ) is depicting here, on page 44,  less known people. Let us have a look at this photo because it shows us something which is "forgotten" in Graw´ s text - forgotten in the sense of producing only little to almost no attention to the special circumstances of female bodies  in art/market/fashion. ( "The human body - above all the female - was never manipulated in such masses, that it will be next to through and through invented new." Giorgio Agamaben / La communità che viene )
Besides, the photo shows us an example for the historical and conceptual starting point of capitalistic production, the cooperation ( Das Kapital / 11th chapter / cooperation ):
We see some similar dressed women sitting next to each other, lined up at a desk, making calls. The description below the photo reads as follows : "Bei einer Versteigerung von Marilyn-Monroe-Devotionalien werden Gebote über Telefon entgegengenommen". And we recognize at once:  The acting subject of this sentence vanished completely through fatal tricks of grammar. But the subject is fixed through the camera´s objective : women carrying telephone calls with the potential buyers of the bidden products during an auction of Marilyn Monroe devotionals. We see the busy speaking/listening women with almost the same hairstyle, dressed up with similar (un)sexy job-adequate classical jackets, the well-known uniforms of most female politicians, business workers, assistants, secretaries, flight attendants... - and we could view this women as examples for the ones who appear in a state of having lost their individuality and mutated into a little Heerschar of angels ( Paolo Virno / Gli angeli e il general intellect ) doing the basic, affective work in the whole process, the auction. We got a  photo of the usually hidden ones acting in the dark. These (female) bodies at work are focused  through the camera´s eye and accidentally got into the centre of our attention too - putting these themes and their entanglement more into the focus of discussion: women, body, work, visibility.
( Not to withhold the background of the photo to you: we see again photos, three huge ones of "Goddess" Marilyn Monroe or - speaking in a term of  Pierre Klossowski /La monnaie vivante - three portraits of one of the famous "slaves of the industry". And the trinity of Marilyn Monroes are hanging on the wall -behind and upon the working women- not only as art works to be sold but as icons, altarpieces of the bio-political age. )

I am respecting  the motto Isabelle Graw chose ( "dress up and hide behind your work" ).
In the art/fashion world in which you are exposed to the  "chase of class vanity" ( Passagen-Werk/ fashion [B6;B6a, I] ) protecting yourself  is for sure a necessary survival technique  - IF you want to survive in THIS (art) world. But whether this protection is done with huge sun glasses all alone should be asked about ( and: Dark glasses do not only protect the eyes -
isn´ t veiling always a sign for disguising something too ? ).

What is maybe  more necessary at all - in the context of art and politics - is to acquire "this historical change of human nature, which capitalism tries to restrict to the sector of the spectacle ... (it is )  to combine picture and body in a space, in which they are no longer parted from each other and therefore give shape to any Body whose physis is bare similarity" ( Agamben / La communità che viene ).

Transversalize yourself and perform dervish dances through your nets!