Real Fictions, Fictitious Realities
by Thomas Wulffen
in: catalogue: Blacked Out - George Cup & Steve Elliott - Retrospective, Berlin 2008
The country of Transnistria was recently the subject of a report in Deutschlandradio. This was not an examination from a literary perspective, but instead a journalistic report about
Transnistria’s struggle for international recognition. For eighteen years, this tiny country not so far from Odessa has existed after declaring itself independent of the Moldavian Republic.
Transnistria is not recognized by any other country and exists only for the inhabitants of Transnistria itself. What status does the nation of Transnistria possess for those who are not its
During the course of the theorizing about the structure of matter in the field of atomic physics, the English atomic physicist Peter Higgs conceived of the so-called Higgs particle, also known
as the Higgs boson, whose existence has up till now not been proven. With the help of this construct it is possible to resolve contradictions in the Standard Model. If no trace of the Higgs
boson is ever found, then the Standard Model is false.
In 1973 there appeared in the collection of texts Idea Art edited by the art critic Gregory Battcock a short text about the artist Hank Herron entitled “The Fake as More,” written by Cheryl
Bernstein. Only thirteen years later was the text exposed as a fabrication and fiction by the critic Thomas Crow in his article “The Return of Hank Herron.”
These examples bear witness in various ways to the function, impact and significance of fiction. The example of Transnistria is situated on the level of fictional objects in political space. Even
if this state exists as such, on the one hand its non-recognition denies legitimation to its existence. But on the other hand, self-assertion is a fundamental element of every national order.
The justification for the invasion of Iraq by American troops in 2003 largely consisted of a fiction based on the existence of weapons of mass destruction asserted to be in the hands of
Saddam Hussein. The point of departure for this undertaking was information furnished by a BND agent with the alias “Curveball,” whose credibility was already subject to doubt beforehand,
but whose assertions fit conveniently into the political calculations of the Bush administration. In political controversies, fictions are again and again declared to be realities, in order to be
able to defy one’s opponent.
In the field of science, the use of fictitious objects is a more or less legitimate means of scientific investigation and university debate. If inconsistencies or contradictions arise in a given
system, they can be temporarily abrogated by the deliberate utilization of fictitious entities. The aforementioned example of the Higgs boson is one instance of this. But at the same time
there is an indication here that a fictitious object can become a real one. This does not, however, allow the reverse conclusion that a real object can become a fictitious one.
Or could it be that we have here underestimated the significance of literature as an essential part of culture and art? In literature, there occurs the conversion of a real figure into a fictitious
person. A famous example of this is the novel Buddenbrooks. Verfall einer Familie (Buddenbrooks. The Decline of a Family) by Thomas Mann, for which the history of the author’s own family
served as the basis for the plot of the novel. What status does the figure of Tony Buddenbrook assume with regard to the model Elisabeth Mann? Is it not permissible in this case to proceed
from the assumption that the figure of Elisabeth Mann takes on representational elements from the fictitious figure Tony Buddenbrook which are capable of effectively changing the real
In the contemporary highly complex societies of post-industrial nations, it may be considered as a given that their manners and means of identification are based on both so-called real and
fictitious attributions. There where the dividing line between fact and fiction is scarcely perceptible any longer, the personality as well comes to be blurred in its situation somewhere
between fact and fiction. Who is Brad Pitt? Who is Hank Herron? The latter can be reconstructed on the basis of the text by Cheryl Bernstein. But who is Cheryl Bernstein? For her part, Cheryl
Bernstein is a figure penned by the art historian Carol Duncan who, together with her husband Andrew Duncan, developed the figure “Hank Herron.”
This story, in the double sense of the word (translator’s note: Geschichte, “tale” or “history”) has been repeated on various levels and can itself make reference to a sort of model. Stefan
Koldehoff’s book entitled Meier-Graefes van Gogh is subtitled Wie Fiktionen zu Fakten werden (How Fictions Become Facts). In 1998 William Boyd wrote the story of Nat TateÞAn American
Artist 1928-1960. Behind this quite successful fiction (the text is complemented by photographic material on the life and work of Nat Tate) stand not only the man of letters Gore Vidal but
also the musician David Bowie. In 1993 Warren Neidich discovered the “unknown artist” and, in a book of that title, situated him in the context of art history. But in fact this artist only
constitutes a part of art history to the extent that he comes to the fore as an aspect of familiar depictions of artists’ meetings. It is also a matter, however, of an ironic self-image of Warren
Neidich, who himself plays the unknown artist. The oeuvre of Dirk Dietrich Hennig is simultaneously a mirror and a repository for the theme of fiction and fact in the field of contemporary
art on the level of the person, the archive and the operating system which is art.
“Must Art History Be Rewritten?” – In Place of a Preface
by Roland Nachtigäller
in: catalogue: Dirk Dietrich Hennig / Blacked Out - George Cup & Steve Elliott - Retrospective, Berlin 2008
When a comparatively young institution such as the George Cup Research Center, which moreover claims to have offices in New York and Hannover, approaches two rather small exhibition
institutions with the suggestion of a thoroughly sensational project, then as a rule caution is required: How serious is this sort of organization, whose interests possibly lie hidden in the
background, how is the research center financed, and with what scholarly pretensions is work being done there? Generally these are questions which can only be answered with difficulty
down to the last detail, and to which one responds – after some preliminary research – more or less intuitively, on the basis of one’s feelings in encounters with individual persons, and with a
view to the existing or absent fascination engendered by the specific artistic project.
So what is the appropriate attitude when an eloquent individual in his mid-forties arranges with the requisite circumspection a personal appointment with the secretarial office and then, in a
jovial and self-confident manner, proceeds to serve up an almost unbelievable story? In this case the biography of an American artist-couple with German roots, whose name in Europe (in
the meantime!) is almost completely unknown, but who nevertheless are supposed to have belonged since the early nineteen-sixties to the most influential impulse-sources of American
Minimal Art: George Cup & Steve Elliott? Two artists and in addition, for more than thirty years lifetime-companions, whose respective and joint works were not only slowly forgotten during
the last twenty years, but were supposedly also systematically removed from collections and art-historical examinations?
Above all after a careful examination of the works in question, and after due consideration of the numerous aspects of this enigmatic art-historical originality, the Städtische Galerie
Nordhorn and the Kunstverein Wolfsburg decided to present, as the first institutions in Europe, the two-part retrospective of both artists. The works are drawn from two different private
collections, which up to now have likewise not appeared in a more extensive framework – the collection of a French enthusiast who remains anonymous here, and the collection of A.C.
Greenspan – whose convincing work-groups by George Cup & Steve Elliott ultimately tipped the scales favorably. It is above all the great artistic energy, the unswerving focus of the
Minimalist attitude in the struggle for formal reduction (here above all in terms of color), and the so-called primary structures which persuaded the responsible officials to take a chance on
this experiment consisting of an exhibition whose validity cannot be guaranteed one-hundred percent. Ultimately of pivotal importance were also discussions about how much the
individuality of the artistic position actually comes to the fore in a lifetime oeuvre which conceives of art above all as a depersonalized, self-referential system. If then in later years, for
example, this de-individualization, the attempt to avoid all allusion to everyday objects, or a deliberate anti-illusionistic procedure are slowly retracted, then to what degree is there the actual
emergence of a productive “slapstick potential of Minimal Art” (Jörg Heiser, Plötzlich diese Übersicht, “Suddenly This General View,” 2007)?
Thus there are above all questions at the beginning as well as at the end of this preparatory process, and in this case these are predominantly inquiries which are directed more towards the
public than to the respective institutions. Why were these groups of works, which seem so consistent within themselves, not acknowledged for so long a time in an appropriate manner? With
the rediscovery of these works, is there a concomitant change in the view of Minimal Art altogether? Which interconnections emerge into view here between the Constructivism of the
nineteen-twenties, the tendencies of American abstraction in the post-war years, and the post-avantgardist movements of the nineteen-eighties? Must evaluations and correlations, art-
historical classifications and perspectives be rethought?
And finally, this exhibition, its history and its objects also rests upon a fundamental issue: How does history, how does art history arise? “No pause for breath; history is made, it moves
onward” (Fehlfarben, 1980). But then who makes history? Every individual, opinion makers, the mainstream, or market interests? And how objective is this history? There have been periods
when the focus of classical history was primarily on revealing the wide panorama of dominating interests, and a start was made in writing a new history “from down below.” At the moment,
however, heroes are once again being sought, in art as well. And only too often one hears the prescription that history must be “rewritten” or even entirely “written anew.” By whom? For
Ultimately it is a question of responsibility as to which exhibitions and which works are presented to an interested public by communal, or at least non-commercial, exhibition institutions.
The generally interested visitor, just like the professional public, trusts that a fundamental seriousness and purity constitute the basis for the works being shown. And so in the end, it is also
a question of individual passion when, in two institutions which are actually dedicated to contemporary art, there is a presentation of this in no way risk-free view of the historical works by
George Cup & Steve Elliott. Available as formal justification are the astonishing urban-historical correspondences of their respective birthplaces (in Nordhorn and Heßlingen, today
Wolfsburg), but in this matter both institutions have their backs to the wall. If we present this artistic duo and their works for discussion, we allow the audience, each individual person as well
as the professional world, to form an opinion – not only concerning the relevance, quality and binding character of the exhibited works, but also as to whether we have become entangled in
the complex web of various hidden interests so that, upon more exacting scrutiny, everything turns out to be utterly different…
Roland Nachtigäller, 2008
Blacked Out - George Cup & Steve Elliott
with texts by A.C. Greenspan, Justin Hoffmann,
Thomas Mang, Roland Nachtigäller, Lutz Stratmann,
in german and english
55 pages with 47 images in hardcover
Praestare, Berlin 2008
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