Attack of the clones, part 2

This item just appeared in Artnet News; apparently "anonymous" shows are happenin':
"ANONYMOUS" ART SHOW IN FRANKFURT The Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt is set to roll out "Anonymous: In the Future No One Will Be Famous," Oct. 31, 2006-Jan. 14, 2007. Organized by an anonymous curator and featuring a selection of anonymous artists (they have agreed not to reveal their identities for the duration of the show), the exhibition is a reaction to what participants describe as the pernicious branding of artists in the contemporary art world.

The artists have even published "Notes toward a Manifesto" (of anonymity, presumably), declaring, that "Anonymous artists wish to wriggle the status quo into a status incognitus. Their aim is to remove the increasing barbarization of thought via short circuits and fast lanes created by the marketing of artists as brands whose works have become masterpieces in ignorance of philosophy." Also available is a 160-page catalogue, edited by "anonymous" and Max Hollein -- as well as a limited-edition run of 500 catalogues with pages that are completely blank.
Harlem's Triple Candie gallery also did an "anonymous" series in 2004 and 2005, consisting of two shows by artists whose identities won't be revealed (ever, according to co-gallerist Peter Nesbett.) The curatorial intent was essentially the same--"reaction to pernicious branding of artists in the contemporary art world"--although Triple Candie framed it more thoughtfully as an issue of "how biography informs interpretation." The shows weren't obscure: one was reviewed by Ken Johnson in the New York Times and the gallerists mentioned them in an interview they gave in Flash Art interview in this summer.

While it appears the Schirn Kunsthalle either doesn't read the art press or is, um, appropriating another gallery's recently-promoted concept, the affront may not be all that severe. The fact that the Kunsthalle's artists will be revealed at the end of the show makes it more of a coy guessing game, or publicity stunt, than any kind of transgressive curatorial effort.

Attack of the clones, part 1

Update: from (the exact link is bloggered): "dear tom moody, see the catalog to the exhibition, page 19. in an interview, the anonymous curator cites this Triple Candie exhibition as being one of the many predecesors of this anonymous show. [...]" -- tom about Curated by "Anonymous" Sat, 11.11.2006 16:35

- tom moody 10-26-2006 8:35 pm

they didnt ask me to be in the show.
- anonymous (guest) 10-26-2006 11:30 pm

me either.
- anne onimus (guest) 10-27-2006 4:26 pm

"how biography informs interpretation." is big in the literary critism world, too, which explains the Jonathan Franzen review you posted about last week.
- adrien (guest) 10-27-2006 7:26 pm

"...doesn't read the art press or is, um, appropriating another gallery's recently-promoted concept..."

Are you implying that there could/should be some kind of ownership, or aura of originality, attached to projects involving anonymous artists? I know you know that the death of authorship project has been going on for decades. I personally find it a bit confusing in the current context of blooming open source ideology. On one hand, the idea that art transcends its makers is beautiful, emancipatory and grounding. On the other hand, do we (art-practitioners and art-appreciators) really truly want to let go of authorship? It seems as important and useful as ever to give credit where credit is due, to follow the development of one indvidual's practice as an evolving project, and attaching concepts to specific people is very helpful for sorting information (eg: Cory Doctorov's role as internet mentor). But, back to the first hand, I think we are unavoidably being forced to let go of the idea of originality, as so many more artists are now visible and the fact that tropes and memes pop up synchronously, and cross pollinate faster than anyone can claim them as their own. In my opinion, the cult of the 'new' is getting old fast.
- sally mckay 10-27-2006 7:49 pm

On the other hand, the internet should make it possible to trace with great specificity when an idea first popped up.

The question here is a narrow one: who did the first curated show of anonymous artist(s)?

In other words, put all the machinery in place to promote a show (space, press release, mailers, cheap wine reception) where the identity of the artist whose work is publicly on view for a set period of time is not revealed?

Triple Candie did it before the Schirn Kunsthalle (the point of my "wet blanket" post). Did anyone do it before Triple Candie (a subject for additional research)?

The questions you are raising are good ones. There is a paradox in suggesting that anonymity is a virtue, or that too much importance is attached to associating a name with an idea, while still claiming the right to assert name authorship of a concept ("a curated show of anonymous artist(s)").
- tom moody 10-27-2006 8:26 pm

cant you give credit without granting authorship?
- bill 10-27-2006 8:27 pm

What Bill said.
- tom moody 10-27-2006 8:30 pm

I think I am personally more invested/interested in "who did it" than I am in "who did it first."
- sally mckay 10-27-2006 8:36 pm

I'm interested in what Brian Eno calls "scenius"--the development of a "sound" or a "look" by lots of people at the same time--but I can't help being interested in who contributed what (which I believe subsumes "who contributed what when"). Much as I'd like idealistically not to care.
It's just the curiosity of breaking things down into their constituent components.
- tom moody 10-27-2006 8:53 pm

In other words, I love that Lennon and McCartney didn't identify their respective contributions to songs but find it electrifying to learn, after the fact, who actually wrote what.
- tom moody 10-27-2006 8:57 pm

I agree completely that chronology is pretty important to history, and I definitley appreciate it in that respect. And it's useful and interesting to remember what discourse did or did not contextualize artworks from the past. The idea of an artist openly and directly copying another artist and claiming the new work as their own may have been unimaginable before Sherri Levine. However, I'd find it hard to believe that she was the only artist dealing with such concepts at the time, or even the most interesting. (I expect Bill may have something to say about that!)
- sally mckay 10-27-2006 9:29 pm

The lore has at it that Richard Prince did it first, and Levine called him to ask if it was OK to use the idea, and he said OK (to his short term regret).
- tom moody 10-27-2006 10:43 pm

that is funny lore. I like it.
- sally mckay 10-28-2006 12:28 am

Really interesting post. It inspired me to riff off of it and blog about anonymity over here - (

I won't go into details but basically, I'm with Sally when she said the thing about the developing narrative. I think context is really important.
- MK (guest) 10-30-2006 4:23 am

Thanks for your post and link here.
I have no problem with curators parsing credit to the finest degree, or claiming it.
On the artist side, though, "bio" is a little out of hand, which is what I think these shows seek to correct.
An artist does something, gets famous, and once enough collectors buy in that "name" assures that every miserable piece of crap the artist makes is "good." It's a total cult of personality. On the flip, artists without names are worthless (i.e., the vast majority of work made).
Strip away the bio and you're actually back to talking about that terrible (or wonderful) thing sitting in front of you.
- tom moody 10-30-2006 4:47 am

hand copied (not cut and pasted) almost at random from jean baudrillard's the conspiracy of art, illuisions, art... contemporary of itself:


Taking this conceptual and minimalist logic to the extreme, art could do no better than to disappear without any further discussion. At that point, it would no doubt become what it is: a false problem; every aesthetic theory would be a false solution.

Yes, but here is the point: it is all the more necessary to talk about art now that there is nothing to say about it. Paradoxically, the movement to democratize art only reinforces the privilege of the idea of art, culminating in the banal tautology "art is art." Everything can supposedly be summed up in this circular definition,

Marshal McLuhan: "We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art."

The revolutionary idea of contemporary art was that any object, any detail or fragment of the material world could exercise the same strange attraction and ask the same insoluble questions as those formerly reserved for a few rare aristocratic forms called artworks.

That was its true democracy, not in allowing everyone access to aesthetic pleasure but in the transaesthetic advent of a world in which each object without distinction would have it's fifteen minutes of fame (especially objects without distinction). Everyone is equal, everything is great. The upshot came in the transformation of art and the work itself into an object, without illusion or transcendence, a purely conceptual acting out, generating deconstructed objects that deconstruct us in return.


- bill 10-30-2006 4:43 pm

True enough. I guess I'd say the solution to that is to work under aliases or collective names, rather than anonymity. Some artists are as frustrated by their bios and all the attendant expectations as we (the adoring public) are. So perhaps instead of going anonymous, they could take on an alias and develop whole other bodies of work, with their own narratives and context. There are heaps of good examples of this and not much is coming to mind at the moment - only example that springs to mind is the Hafler Trio.
- MK (guest) 10-30-2006 4:49 pm

i think going anom, under alias or otherwise masked, is treating a symptom not the disease. levine ultimately made more interesting work than prince on a borrowed idea (as though it was his to gift.) my thought is, keep your name and give up on the authorship. levine has credited olivier mossett as well. O doesnt own monochromes but has managed to distinguish himself as a major painter and a great conceptual artist without overt "signature" techniques.


Finally, we haven't talked about the Melt Downs where you had a computer assist you in "melting down," scanning some of the great masters of modernism like Monet, and averaging out the color information within them to yield a series of prints and then paintings. This was a complex process. What inspired it?

SL: I wanted to distill these others paintings. I love monochrome paintings. I think monochrome paintings are the apex of modernist painting. For years I've been trying to figure out how to make a monochrome painting that made sense in the context of my work and I was very pleased when I came upon this solution.

JS: I think we could apply to your work in general what John Caldwell of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art noted about the Melt Down paintings. "In creating such paintings, Levine pays homage to these artists while at the same time asserting that their work is available for use by other artists in whatever manner they choose."

SL: I do see my work as a head-on confrontation with the anxiety of influence,

JS: Now that we are in the 90s, there have been a great many attempts to summarize the 80s - to write the history. "Appropriationist' work has been criticized for lack of conviction. In other words, the works did not feel compelled to convince, Do you accept this?

SL. Yes, but I see doubt as a virtue.

- bill 10-30-2006 5:39 pm


btw, go eric!

- bill 10-30-2006 6:08 pm

Did the triple candie show have an opening? did the artists go? I wonder if they stood in front of their work, or identified themselves or everyone there was incognito.
- anonymous (guest) 10-31-2006 5:39 pm