Learning from bastardism
In 1972, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour published “Learning from Las Vegas”, the foundational essay of postmodern architecture in which the Las Vegas strip was defended as a new architectural paradigm. Almost half a century later, in many architectural manuals, some authors still strongly oppose accepting that the huge neons, the announcements of the Celine Dion show and the fake pyramids can be seen as architecture. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. Ferran Adrià was invited – where is he not invited? - to participate in the Kassel Documenty of 2007. The production of artist Rirkrit Tiravanija consists mainly of preparing feasts. Andy Warhol invaded the galleries of New York in 1964 with simulations of Brillo detergent boxes. Last year Pedro Almódovar, among other relevant figures in the film industry, protested with irritation that a film produced by Netflix could participate in the Cannes festival. Each and every one of these episodes has caused scandal.
The debate between the limits of the disciplines or the idiosyncrasy of artistic languages is a constant in the historiography of the arts. And in this sense, it is interesting to observe how the concept of “design” was key in one of the most heated moments in the history of this controversy. In 1563, what was noted as the first academy of art opened in Florence, founded by Cosme de Médici as the Accademia delle arti del Disegno. In this academy, promoted by Girogio Vasari, students explicitly learned art of design, that is, tools related to geometry, mathematics or anatomy, which served as the theoretical and scientific foundation prior to the execution of a painting, of a sculpture or a work of architecture. Thus, the first time in the history of art in which the intellectual or liberal character of the arts was strongly defended was done by taking the concept of design as its foundation.
Now, as pointed out by Yves Zimmermann in his article “Art is art, design is design” -2003-, the dialogue between the notions of art and design has experienced other variations since the Industrial Revolution and the rise of applied arts in the nineteenth century. The author explains that, although in the beginning the works of graphic and industrial design were evaluated with the same aesthetic criteria as those understood as works of art - think for example in the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec or in the production of the Bauhaus-, in recent decades such as those of the eighties, design was tainted with a derogative patina, assuming itself as a mere cosmetic of the objects or signs.
The exhibition Art Designers launches this debate once again in a moment of special and stimulating bipolarity: our era of hyper specialization coexists with discourses surrounding the fluid, the undefined, the mutant or confused happiness. Although these antidicotomic narratives see good fortune in the field of gender activism, of affective sex or of identity-the commitment to non-binary or polyamorous thinking or bastardism-we could ask ourselves here about the porous declassifying force of the pieces integrated into the exhibition.
From the outset, the site where the works are displayed allows us to review that tyranny of the “nomenclature dependent on the spaces” according to which the same object would be assumed as a design if it were in the display case of a shop or in a muppie or as an artistic object if it were moved to a museum, a gallery or an art center. Espai Tactel Toormix happily transitions between design and art, and like those Florentines of the 16th century, it takes thought and conceptualization as beacons. Moreover, if anyone still thinks that artistic production has not depended on a client who demands or expects something, strictly until a century ago, and in a more inconspicuous manner today, is either naive or a romantic.
To all this we must add the capacity of the works presented to alter certain binarisms that have marked the traditional debate between art and design: Is Antoine et Manuel’s piece any less close to the design by transforming a fragment of some of its serialized furniture into a unicum? Does the same thing occur with the lamp of Mathieu Mercier? The French artist affirms that his lamp is a work of art, not an industrial production. Why does he need to affirm something like that? Are not the industrial pieces of minimalist authors artistic material? Did not Walter Benjamin enthusiastically celebrate the democratic character of the serialized work in his famous text of the beginnings of the last century, “The work of art in the era of technical reproducibility? Are we still in need of the aura of the unique?
In the same vein, if the MACBA recently read the visual poetry of Joan Brossa from the notion of transformism and no one is surprised to find conceptual artists who work only with the expressive and formal capacities of the text in the halls of contemporary art museums. why not also understand the typographic poster of the Claudiabasel studio, the textual pieces of Anthony Burril, the exploration of the vector and the color by Alex Trochut or the visual jokes of Eike König Volskwagner as artistic material?
And finally, perhaps the most difficult exercise, how does the design manage to incorporate the performative and carnal dimension, to move from the screen or the pattern to a creative reflection around the body? Step into the shirt-canvas of Pepa Salazar or identify yourself as a precarious worker in those 300 hours of seemingly immaterial work reduced to three canvases with disheveled eyes and deranged hands, configured by The Rodina.
Purists will be irritated by this exhibition. Yet Venturi, Scott Brown, Izenour and Raphael would be delighted to see a canvas of Micky Mouse with the face of the logo of McDonalds and the nose of Adidas, the Augusto of Prima Porta interupted by Patrick Thomas, eyes that seem to have spent years hanging from a bright pink canvas or a few hallucinated vectors that melt like chewing gum at kilometer Boomer in the same hybrid space.
Victor Ramírez Tur
Doctorate in Art History and Professor at the University of Barcelona