Maurizio Cattelan, Daddy Daddy, 2008, Steel, resin, painted and varnish finish.
Back in November Howard Halle wrote one of the more scathing reviews of the year at Time Out describing the Guggenheim rotunda as a setting for a circle jerk. The critic was responding to curator Nancy Spector’s exhibition theanyspacewhatever (closed this Tuesday), a show highlighting young to middle age artists working in the field of relational aesthetics, nearly all of whom had made better work in the past. Halle touches upon this issue, though he focuses more on a kind of insider condescention permeating the show.
As defined in the early '90s by its main proponent, French critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, relational aesthetics is basically the latest in a long line of stabs at bridging the gap between art and life. Bourriaud proposed that in the Internet age, the whole of human relations and societal contexts can become the artistic fodder for “reprogramming the world,” to borrow from the title of his tome on the subject. A tall order for any artist, but the ones here—Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija—have been ably abetted by an international network of curators who are themselves creatures of the new world economy. Accordingly, relational art has become a sort of political expression without the real politics that might upset the moneyed elites who support artists and art administrators.
…the aim seems to be for everyone involved—curators, collectors, artists—to pretend like they're not part of the game they are playing, and applaud themselves for it. For instance, Parreno's movie marquee, hung on the outside of the museum like a garish barnacle, presents itself as a poke at the star status of the gang inside. But it also reminds you just how lucky you are to be entering this orgy of self-congratulation. Similarly, Pardo's obstacle course of decorative cardboard partitions hung with works by the other artists in the exhibition includes Tiravanija's copy of a Richard Prince biker chick overlaid with I WENT TO THE GUGGENHEIM AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS RICHARD PRINT. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more.
I’m not as bothered by Parreno’s movie marquee as Halle — I’m fine with being reminded about how lucky I am to be entering the arena of self congratulation — but he’s right to point out that amount of self referential work in the show grates to say the least. I saw the show with my brother the day after Christmas and subsequently spent more time than I would have wished defending the movement. “At it’s best simple, unexpected acts, evoke a sense of comradery and excitement”, I told him, remembering a friend’s enthuisastic words earlier in the Fall as he recalled Rirkrit Tiravanija’s movement of his gallery’s offices into the exhibition space, or his serving of Thai food to gallery-goers in the 90’s.
But as Maurizio Cattelan’s drowned Pinocchio floating in the lobby of the Guggenheim suggests, the hay days of relational aesthetics are long gone. How the puppet died we don’t know — it could be suicide or murder — but either way his untimely death provides the key to understanding one unintended interpretation of relational aesthetics in this exhibition; as a document of the failure of its utopic ideas for art. A cryptic audio tour written by Liam Gillick and performed by the world memory champion Boris Konrad attempts to present a perfect the past with an unclear present; Rirkrit Tiravanija and Douglas Gordon’s Cinema Liberté, screens previously banned films such as The Last Temptation of Christ, a film so much a part of popular culture the only social context it engages is that through its own narrative thread; and Carsten Holler’s Krutikow’s Flying City Revolving, a plastic construction of seven rotating towers is actually based on the utopic but clearly unattainable vision of Georgii Krutikow (ideas later picked up upon in the 60’s by Archigram). Ultimately though Cattelan’s Pinocchio places the final kabosh on Relational Aesthetics; after all, nothing shuts down human relations and societal contexts as a point of departure more than the metaphorical death of said context.