MAMCO provides a narrative, extended over a fairly short period (from the 1960s to now), so as to give back an historical syntax to the works it presents. For each sequence, there is a corresponding issue or theoretical question which the museum, as a laboratory for the collective writing of history, aims to explore and then reveal to the public the current state of its research. MAMCO Journal aims at presenting the topics we have selected through the year, the concepts that were elaborated during the preparation of the exhibitions, and the results that have (or have not) been presented to the public. It is published twice a year and is available here in a PDF format to download. To freely receive the printed version, please contact chloe.gouedard(at)mamco.ch.
‘What do pictures want?’ W.J.T. Mitchell, a central figure in ‘visual studies’ in the US, has been asking the question for more than twenty years. Above all, visual studies seeks to establish a new ‘iconology’ – to consider pictures not solely as objects or vehicles for meaning, but also in terms of their relationship to the society within which they were made.
The English language makes a clear distinction between ‘picture’ and ‘image’: ‘picture’ refers to an image and its support (one may hang a picture on a wall, but not an image), while ‘image’ is a transferable term, from one medium to another. An image may even survive the destruction of its physical support.
This is precisely what artists such as Wade Guyton, Kelley Walker and Seth Price, or Walead Beshty, Hito Steyerl and Laura Owens, set out to prove in the early 2000s: namely, that the image has acquired a new status, forged over the course of the twentieth century, connected first and foremost to its ‘technical reproducibility’ and subsequently to its emerging role as an ‘informational surface’.
Up to the turn of the twentieth century, our perception of an image was conditioned by its technique – witness the segregation of painting and photography (the former unique, the latter published in numbered editions), or abstract and figurative images. Subsequently, however, our perception of an image’s ‘medium’ expanded to encompass a much wider definition and message embracing the ensemble of practices that make its genesis and presentation possible – not only canvas and paint, for example, but also the chassis, studio, gallery, museum, and the systems underpinning the art market or its critical reception. This evolution in the concept of the image, from the abandoning of the traditional categories of ‘fine art’ to the ontological shifts in the visual régime, is the focus of the upcoming series of exhibitions at MAMCO.
Episode 1: a simultaneous presentation of two superficially opposing painterly practices demonstrates how the figurative image can also function as an interrogatory or representative form, and how an abstract image may also derive from lived, sensory experience, and demand a phenomenological response – a dialectic explored in spring 2019, in parallel retrospectives of the work of René Daniëls and Marcia Hafif. Daniëls creates works that address the context of their making and display, each picture both reflecting and challenging the practice of painting itself, while Hafif’s ‘abstract’ paintings of the 1960s are suffused with the glimpsed memory of Roman landscapes, and her monochromes express the artist’s authentically ‘materiological’ investigation. Within the series of rooms devoted to the ‘inventory’ of Hafif’s work, a major installation in situ by Richard Nonas is anchored in the same exploration of space and perception. Similarly, on the first floor – which features an ensemble of works from René Daniels’s ‘bow tie’ series – Martin Kippenberger’s MOMAs is a reminder of the connections that may be forged – centred on a kind of institutional critique – between the Dutch painter’s work and the German artist’s museographical fictions.
Episode 2: summer 2019, a major solo exhibition of the work of Walead Besthy and a number of other solo and group shows explore the image as the outcome of a process, more ‘software’ than ‘hardware’. Produced by a ‘programme’, Walead Bashty’s works also examine the apparatus of their genesis and emergence, or their links to the real world, and confront one of the most distinctive legacies of conceptual art: the understanding that art may inhere less in the object itself and more in its surroundings, in the things that bring an object to life when we ‘use’ it, look at it, display it and interpret it.