"Experience may also be re-constructed, re-membered, re-articulated. One powerful means of doing so is the reading and re-reading of fiction in such a way as to create the effect of having access to another's life and consciousness, whether that other is an individual or a collective person within the lifetime called history."
Donna J. Haraway
As Frederic Jameson suggests, "The truth of experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place, but is spread-eagled across the world's spaces; (...) a situation arises in which he can say that if an individual experience is authentic, then it cannot be true; and that if a scientific or cognitive mode of the same content is true, then it escapes individual experience."
Since January 1993, in a ground-floor apartment in New York's Soho, the exhibition Salon de Fleurus has been open for viewing. Salon de Fleurus is a staged repeat presentation of one of the most significant collections of modern art from the turn of this century, which was 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 de Fleurus.
We may only relate and describe the actual appearance of the New York Salon because the artist or artists who wish to remain anonymous do not permit photographs to be taken upon the premises. Salon de Fleurus is found in a private apartment in New York of 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. The paintings are discreetly lit by table-lamps and candles. The music that pervades the dwelling is French popular music from the 1920's and 30's played on an old radio, also of the period.
All the paintings exhibited in the Salon are in ochre hues, painted on wood and emphasised 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 artefact and integrally pulsating system. That is why the paintings in the Salon, as emphasised by the artists, can be placed into two categories: painting reproductions from the collection (Picasso, Matisse, CÚzanne, 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 which 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 emphasised disharmony of the "Rococo" frames. But rather than label this as an attempt to copy original paintings as producing "fakes," using photographic records of the period and reproductions of the originals, we can talk here about the attempt to rearrange and reinterpret the system of art from the turn of the century -- a system which influenced the modernist world as such. Certainly, Picassos, CÚzannes and Matisses are exhibited before us, but rather than being concerned with an individual item, we are concerned here about the system, not in the sense of a specific reconstruction of space or an installation, but a reconstruction of a system of thinking -- one which exactly 80-90 years ago elaborated the institution of modern art as we know it today. 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 continuously regenerates and transforms itself at the same time."
The paintings in the Salon can be compared to the pre-Rennaisance icons which, instead of mythologising the antique or Judeo-Christian world, now do so with a crucial pre-modern period. Kim Levin described the Salon de Fleurus in her article: "When systems collapse, freak events such as these rise up through the cracks," and as she states, "this is more than purely a simulation -- it involves a magical realism." Spaces of very different worlds seem to collapse here upon each other, much as the world's commodities are assembled in the supermarket, and all manner of subcultures get juxtaposed in the contemporary metropolis.
We can interpret the project in two ways. Firstly, making reference to the concept of David Harvey's time-space compression, a term used to signal processes that so revolutionise the objective qualities of space and time, that we are forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves. We have been experiencing, these two last decades, an intense phase of time-space compression that has had a disorienting and disruptive impact upon political-economic practices, and the balance of class power, as well as upon cultural and social life.
Complete text available at http://www.c3.hu/scca/butterfly/Grzinic/synopsis.html as this text was written for the Butterfly Effect series of exhibitions, performances and lectures in Budapest 1996.
Received on 2003-02-28