The Art of the 20th Century

Galerie Francesca Pia

Tony Morgan und Daniel Spoerri, Beefsteak, 1968, Standbild

Tony Morgan and Daniel Spoerri, Beefsteak, 1968, Film still

Since the 1960s Olivier Mosset has consistently explored the possibilities of painting as a medium of conceptuality and non-gestural abstraction. This exhibition, curated by the artist (who was born in Switzerland and lives in Tucson, Arizona), set out to demonstrate the cataclysmic and catalytic effect of film and video on painters – even if paintings to prove this point were omitted. Instead, the show was bookended by two of Mosset’s own non-painterly works. It opened with the photograph La Chute d’eau, sur le moulin, Chexbres (The Waterfall, above the Mill, Chexbres, 2009), which depicts the same waterfall near Lausanne found in Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall / 2. The Illuminating Gas, 1946–66) and, in so doing, refers back further still to Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World, 1866). And it ended, skipping forward more than a century, with Mosset’s Last Run At Montriond 14 (2006), the last of four films presented in the show. The film documents a dragster racing car in the former gallery space of Circuit in the Montriond district of Lausanne; the car revved its engine hard before performing a wheel spin and depositing rubber scorch marks on the floor.

Mosset’s curatorial endeavour was to encapsulate the art of the last century in five works (the other three were made by artists who happened to have a background in, or connection to, French-speaking Switzerland). But he could just as well have claimed to be presenting a history of the Western world, albeit reduced to the car, oil, consumerism and the spectacle.

In the middle section of the exhibition, Sylvie Fleury’s video Carwash (1995) showed the artist washing a succession of vehicles and parodying the myths woven around fat American cars – the symbol of a sovereign state built on oil and industry lost its lustre in the face of her incessant cosmetic fussing. Next was a documentation of Ben Vautier’s ‘Actions de Rue’ (Ben – Actions de Rue 1960–1972, Ben – Street Actions 1960–1972, 1960–72), a series of black and white clips edited together with the artist’s retrospective commentary. In a delightfully rudimentary but effective way, Vautier disrupted urban life in Nice with gestures such as seating himself in the middle of a promenade in Attendre que le temps passe (Waiting for Time to Pass, 1966). Vautier’s voiceover situated these actions in the context of his colleagues in the Fluxus movement, and inspirational figures such as John Cage and George Brecht. The final piece was Tony Morgan’s film Beefsteak (1968), which was based on an idea from Daniel Spoerri and tells the story of a steak in reverse, letting the footage run backwards, from the point of human shit back to its consumption, cookery, butchery and eventually to the animal’s resurrection from the slaughterhouse floor, before it too does the inevitable and defecates.

Any attempt to find one overarching idea to which every part of this small puzzle of an exhibition could be related was in vain; there was always at least one work that would wriggle free from any tidy thematic bundle. In the spirit of Duchamp, Mosset bound together random moments and came out with more than the sum of their parts. It was an unorthodox, disparate and mischievous reduction of the 20th century, in which Mosset, French-speaking Switzerland and technology proved to be, as they say in French, the world’s belly button.

Aoife Rosenmeyer is a critic, translator and occasional curator based in Zurich, Switzerland.

Issue 1

First published in Issue 1

Summer 2011

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