In 1985, Yoon-Ja Choi and Paul Devautour stopped making
work under their own names. They devoted themselves,
as “art operators,” to promoting artists they “represented,”
spending much of their time growing and managing their
“collection.” Once practicing artists, the pair turned their
attention to identifying, collecting and exhibiting artwork
instead. The result was a kind of “meta-work” – part fiction,
part reality – in which the new collectors fulfilled various
strategic, behind-the-scenes roles, serving variously as art
historians, critics, curators and agents.
Some of the artists in their collection had curious-sounding
names: Richard Allibert, Buchal & Clavel, J. Duplo, Kit
Rangeta and Lady Penelope. Others were more plausible:
Ramo Nash Circle, Manuel Ismora, Claude Lantier,
Alexandre Lenoir, Martin Tupper and David Vincent. Others
still had a distinctly international flavor: Art Keller, Richard
Kongrosian, Vladimir Kutusov and Gladys Clover. The truth,
however, was that none of them actually existed. They
were all alter egos of Yoon-Ja Choi and Paul Devautour.
The duo’s enterprise allowed them to develop a critical
panorama of the art forms present on the market at the
time. While some works only made sense in their exhibition
context (Alexandre Lenoir), others expounded empty theory (Claude Lantier) or deliberately sidelined aesthetic
questions in favor of exhibition strategies (Buchal & Clavel).
So blurred is the line between fact and fiction that it is hard
to tell where one ends and the other begins. The artists
and the collectors are fake but the collection itself – and
the works it contains – are very much real. Unsettling as it
may be, the use of pseudonyms was by no means unique.
Writers Borges and Passoa, for example, were noted for
publishing under a number of names.
The pair’s works, exhibited at MAMCO beginning in 1994,
were donated and added to the museum’s permanent
collection in 2019. The Collection Yoon-Ja & Paul Devautour
is a record of how the art system operated between 1985,
when they met, and 2004, when they parted ways.