POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Christoph Buchel‘s now defunct Training Ground for Democracy while under construction.
An exceptionally well executed excerpt from Paper Monument’s Letter to the Editors,
Susan runs a gallery out of her car. She's a half-time paralegal and writes restaurant reviews on her blog. Jack makes hyperrealist paintings of his boyfriend and teaches writing at a community college in Westchester. Mike did abstract concrete sculpture and interior decorator work on condos. The work got so lucrative he didn't have time for the sculpture; now he's essentially retired from art. “I've sublimated all of my sculptural impulses into decorative schema,” he says, “and I've never felt more like an artist.”
Kim does text-based installations around ideas of loss, urban decay, and the flÃ¢neur. (She's a registered nurse in Ozone Park.) Louis makes neo-Neo-Geo assemblages with photographic laminates and decorative sponges. He used to work for Tim, when Tim was showing with Frances, until Frances closed the gallery and Tim stopped painting to do his furniture restoration full-time. Louis is now an art handler. He handles Chinese pottery. He handles second-tier Ab-Ex paintings. He handles pet portraits.
Bonnie makes photographs of Chinatown manicurists. She was a P.A. for The Bros of New York until it got cancelled. Her roommate Sandra does plein air landscapes and porn. They both did some fetish videos for a small, niche-market production company based in San Diego. They did one called Put Your Hand in the Flan, which was just what it sounded like. They did one called Ants in My Pantyhose, which was also just what it sounded like. Were these video-taped performances, in fact, a component of their art practice? They often wondered.
Art world parody or the start of a novel based on a series of true or almost true stories? Hard to say. An array of equally absurd stories follow this one.
I assume this letter points to the binding, unspoken subject of their latest issue; the madness of art world. I’m still making my way through all the essays, but worth the read is Roger White’s discussion of the 90’s-installation-art-meets-site-specific sculpture genre of art making, a practice I’m convinced is typically defined by its emptiness (article only available through purchase). It’s basically puffed up exhibition display: An immersive environment recreates an experience you either already know or will read about to give the viewer a more “complete” picture.
White chronicles a fair amount of crazy as he discusses various artists working in the field; Christoph Buchel’s never completed Training Ground for Democracy, an epic installation to resemble to resemble a ghost town and a war time village being the most high profile. The project died after the artist and its host institution, Mass MoCA became embroiled in a series of legal disputes over a grossly over-budget installation.
The meat of White’s thoughts come after a careful chronicling of the dispute mentioned above,
The most interesting aspect of the situation came to light as Training Ground went from being a sculpture about a fiction to being a fictional sculpture. As the work passed into pure anecdote, irrealized by the sequence of bureaucratic and legal events that culminated in its dismantling and landfilling, Buchel retaliated by portraying those processes of the institutional and juridical decision-making as forms of art-making – bad ones, at that. He embarked on a series of “metaprojects” about the work, incorporating legal documents from the case and selections from his correspondence with the museum into new installations. He filed discovery motions, then signed, framed, exhibited, and sold the results. One piece, shown at the 2008 Armory Fair in New York, included a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll rigged with a tape that “read” excerpts from the Mass MoCA v. Buchel motion hearing.
Training Ground for Democracy’s failure to materialize, no doubt immensely painful for the artist and rightly mortifying for the museum did at least partially illuminate a way forward for the genre of the total installation. Whereas previous examples were massive and overbearing, requiring a huge investment of time, space, and money for questionable aesthetic or conceptual returns, buchel’s de-installation practice is compact, portable, and efficient: A slimmed-down form for the new economy. It’s suggestive, it leaves room for imagination, and it doesn’t require any heavy lifting. Plus, rather than staging a confrontation in a fictional space, it reflects small but actual inroads into the real. Buchel has accidentally found the right was to turn a museum inside out.
But don’t these inroads to the real already exist? Buchel just morphed his project into institutional critique art, another well established genre. Frankly, I’d take an Andrea Frasier guided tour parody and critique of the museum over Buchel’s toy Mickey any day.