Dispatch From Ljubljana

Fiction Reconstructed. The Last Futurist Exhibition, Armory Show, Salon de Fleurus. Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art, January 2002.

In January 2002, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, visitors could see the exhibition entitled Fiction Reconstructed: The Last Futurist Exhibition, which was originally produced by two institutions in Slovenia- the Gallery Skuc in Ljubljana and the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Celje.

I.

In the 1980s, several projects based on the reconstruction of works of art from the avant-garde took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where The Last Futurist Exhibition, by Kasimir Malevich (Belgrade), The International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show), and a lecture entitled “Walter Benjamin: Mondrian 1963-1996” were installed at the Gallery Skuc.

The Last Futurist Exhibition by Kasimir Malevich (Belgrade) had first been presented in Belgrade in a private apartment in 1985 (from December 1985 to February 1986), and then at the Gallery Skuc in 1986. The International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show) was first presented in Belgrade, in the Salon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in September 1986, curated by B. Mijuskovic, and presented again in Ljubljana in October and November 1986. The authors of all these projects stayed anonymous or, more accurately, their names were not important for the understanding of the project. The artists presented themselves merely through the exhibition titles or by signing their work with the names of famous and deceased painters and philosophers.

The Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show) presented copies of artworks that were exhibited for the first time in New York from 17 February to 15 March 1913, along with a representative selection of copies of avant-garde and various modernist artistic movements.

Although (perhaps by a miracle) these could actually have been originals on exhibit for the first time in Belgrade and then in Ljubljana, this notion was soon confounded by the dates on the paintings: They were signed with the names of the artists that the paintings supposedly belonged to, but dated 1905, 1913, 1932, 1969, 1988, 1990 and 2019.

The Last Futurist Exhibition 0.10 (zero-ten), shown in March 1986 at SKUC Gallery in Ljubljana, curated by M. Grzinic and signed by “Kasimir Malevich,” presented a construction of the exhibition of the same title, staged in its original form by the great Russian Suprematist Malevich in St. Petersburg between 17 December 1915 and 19 January 1916.

The project was first presented in Belgrade in a private apartment from December 1985 to February 1986 and then in Ljubljana (March-April 1986), as well as in a fragmented version, again in Ljubljana, in 1994.

The reconstruction was created from the sole photograph of the original exhibition, which is reproduced in every serious art history compendium.

The curious artistic exploit also included a series of new Neo-Suprematist paintings, which translated Suprematist elements into the technique of petit point, or combined them with classical relief and sculptures. Here, we are witnesses to an iconoduality that verges on the kitsch.

This is not an attempt to copy the original as such, nor to create “forgeries” on the basis of photographs of a specific period and reproductions of the originals, but an attempt to (re)create a system of art that has built the institution of contemporary art as we know it today.

The Last Futurist Exhibition 0.10 established, in the 1980s, a special relationship with the photograph by literally reconstructing it through copying the objects and paintings in the photograph and, later, by duplicating the position of the exhibits at the site of the show; thus, a special relationship with history was established.

In a letter published in September 1986 in the journal Art in America, the very same Malevich (with the added postscript “Belgrade, Yugoslavia”) writes, “When I was hanging my little Suprematist paintings on the wall, at random, I could not have imagined, even in my dreams, that a photograph of this installation would become so famous, and that it would be published in thousands of books and newspapers.

I don’t remember exactly who took the picture, but there is only one black-and-white photograph. No colors. I have a feeling that this photograph is becoming even more important than my Suprematist paintings.”

II.

Fiction Reconstructed was displayed in 2001 in the same space as in Ljubljana 15 years ago, in the Gallery Skuc, and was overseen by the same curator. All the projects mentioned above, plus one, were reconstructed, recollected, and recopied, and redone. Again, the artists remained anonymous.

Looking at Fiction Reconstructed, one might introduce an analogy to certain projects and copiers who have already won recognition in the North American and Western European art markets-namely, artists such as David Diao or Sherrie Levine.

Although their artistic concepts are based on the copying of renowned avant-garde and neo-avant-garde artists, the system of verification through the work/artist pair is constantly maintained here as the artists pay special attention to their own identity and their names by consistently signing their copies.

'Fiction Reconstructed' (The Armory Show), Belgrade.

Contrary to this, in projects like The International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show) and Walter Benjamin: Mondrian 1963-1996, we witness the concealment of identities and names and, therefore, also a complete erasure of the artist’s body.

Hence it is not surprising that such artistic concepts appeared in the 1980s in the countries of (real) Socialism, especially if we recall the rather psychotic discourse by which these Socialist countries predominantly functioned.

What the visitor finds in all three projects that are part of Fiction Reconstructed are copies, but what is important is that these copies contain not only all the parameters of the painting that is being copied, but more the idea of the work and the act of copying it.

Copying makes repetition, and reproduction intrudes into the features characteristic of modern art, such as the new, the original, and the authorial; copying does not falsify or forge the original, but questions the current, canonized foundations of modern art: namely, the identity of the artists and their work, the meaning and significance of the work, and its interpretation.

Copies do not originate from an opposition between works and do not directly refer to pictorial inventions, but rather refer to the possibilities of their own appearance.

This is a completely antihistorical reading, a reading that requires a skepticism of the disappearance of things, of linear genealogy, and of a homogenous time without interruptions. The copy confronts us with forms of historicity and/or antihistoricity of the visual and virtual/cyber world.

Let us for a brief moment take into consideration the fourth part of Fiction Reconstructed, the already-mentioned lecture entitled “Walter Benjamin: Mondrian 1963-1996.”

'Fiction Reconstructed' (The Armory Show), Belgrade.

The lecture was delivered for the first time in Ljubljana in 1986. Since we know that Mondrian lived from 1872 to 1944 and that Benjamin died some years after Mondrian, we can simply say that these are Mondrian’s original paintings, and Benjamin is not the original artist.

Even if we suppose that, for some unknown reason, Mondrian was able to date or antedate his paintings in this way, a scientific analysis would soon prove that these paintings were done after his death.

The paintings are dated with the numbers 63, 79, 83, 86, 92, and 96, which means that the earliest was painted in 1963. Therefore, we must pose a new question: “Who is the real creator of these paintings and why were they painted?”

III.

The third part of the Fiction Reconstructed project is the most bizarre; its name is Salon de Fleurus. Salon de Fleurus was opened in a private apartment in the Soho district in Manhattan, from 1992 to 1993.

It was staged as a repeat presentation of one of the most significant collections of modern art from the turn of this century, created by the American author and literary critic Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), a Jew of German descent, with the help of her brother Leo Stein in their Paris apartment at 27 rue [street] de Fleurus.

This is why the reconstruction of this space, after approximately 100 years, is called Salon de Fleurus, referring to the address in Paris and also to the fact that the best-known pieces of modern art were for the first time displayed together in the form of a salon tea party. The public went there to visit Gertrude Stein and to drink tea, but also to admire the collection of modern art that would shape the idea of modern art itself.

'Salon de Fleurus', New York.

Salon de Fleurus is situated in two rooms connected by an oval atrium. The apartment is furnished with antique furniture and paintings. Carpets cover the floors and old, decorative curtains hang over the windows. Table lamps and candles discreetly light the paintings. The music that pervades the dwelling is French popular music from the 1920s and ’30s played on an old radio.

All the paintings exhibited in the Salon are in ochre hues, painted on wood and emphasized stylistically with extraordinarily incongruous frames. Thematically they refer to paintings from the collection of Leo and Gertrude Stein, chiefly from the period 1905-13, and to the collection itself as a complex artifact.

That is why the paintings in the Salon, as emphasized by the artists, can be placed into two categories: painted reproductions from the collection(Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, etc.) and paintings depicting the collection, originating from black-and-white photographs.

We are witnesses here to an exact painted facsimile of a particular era that has much to do with life, history, fiction, and art. We also see the exaggerated iconic duality, which borders on kitsch, while the Cubist paintings are transposed to our present time in the manner of Russian icons.

Their painting technique is clearly amateur, with the emphasized disharmony of the “Rococo” frames. But rather than label this an attempt to copy original paintings, or a production of “fakes,” using photographic records of the period and reproductions of the originals, we may talk here about the attempt to rearrange and reinterpret the system of art from the turn of the century-a system that has influenced the modernist world as such.

Certainly, Picassos, Cézannes and Matisses are exhibited before us, but rather than being concerned with an individual item, we are concerned here with the system, not in the sense of a specific reconstruction of space or an installation, but a reconstruction of a system of thinking-one that 80 or 90 years ago elaborated the institution of modern art as we know it today.

'Salon de Fleurus', New York.

Therefore, in the New York Salon, we can purchase not only paintings but also furniture and all the items in both rooms. Every painting sold is substituted with a copy of the same one, or with another from the same period. Thus the Salon regenerates and transforms itself continuously.

Even if the author behind the Salon de Fleurus stayed once again anonymous, one personality appears in all the stories about the project, that of Goran Djordjevic, a “former artist” (his words) and a physicist with a degree from MIT who left Belgrade for New York in the beginning of the 1990s.

In the 1980s Djordjevic had assisted in the creation of The Last Futurist Exhibition by Kasimir Malevich, “Walter Benjamin’s lecture (Mondrian 1963-1996)”, and The International Exhibition of Modern Art (Armory Show).

Today he works also as a doorman and a narrating guide at the Salon de Fleurus project. When you ring the bell to enter the Salon de Fleurus, he welcomes you and shares some of the stories he has listened to in the almost nine years that the Salon has been open to the public.

Lawrence Rinder has selected the Salon de Fleurus to be part of the Whitney Biennial 2002 in New York, and it will be presented in Belgrade (January 2002), Ljubljana, Celje (in 2001), and in Budapest (at Muscarnok, at the Budapest Gallery of Contemporary Art. Salon de Fleurus will be shown as a collection of paintings and artworks installed in the museum and, at the same time, the same pieces and artifacts will be shown in a private apartment in Spring Street 41 in Manhattan.

In May 2002, the Fiction Reconstructed exhibition will be shown at the Sydney Biennial, and the works and artifacts from the Whitney Biennial exhibition and from the private apartment in New York will be exhibited there as well.

Bibliography: 

1. Bukatman, Scott, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-modern Science Fiction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).

2. Grzinic, Marina, Fiction Reconstructed: Eastern Europe, Post-socialism and The Retro-avant- garde, (Vienna: Edition selene/Springerin, 2000).

3. Haraway, Donna J., Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Free Association Books, 1991).

4.  Levin, Kim, review of the Salon de Fleurus, Village Voice, 19 January 1993.

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