»Blacked Out. George Cup & Steve Elliott. Retrospective« by Naoko
in: Springerin Vienna, Issue 1 - 2009
Wolfsburg. Consigned to oblivion: the German-American artistic duo George Cup & Steve Elliot. The two native Lower Saxonians had numbered "since the early nineteen-sixties among the influential catalysts of American Minimal Art" (catalogue), but after sharing a professional and private life for decades, they underwent a doubly tragic rupture: George Cup died under mysterious circumstances, and Steve Elliott was accused of the murder and placed under arrest. From that point on, their common oeuvre was completely ignored because of the long-unresolved question as to Elliott's guilt and incrimination. Any further art-historical examination was utterly blocked on the institutional level?even though their works were already represented in renowned collections such as that of the Guggenheim Museum. Elliott's rehabilitation and release finally occurred in 2007 but, for him as well, the first survey exhibition, organized in Germany, came too late: The artist died several months before the opening.
This is a historical revision which is too lovely to be true. For it is a matter here of a "retrospective conceived as an artistic project," as the program text so discreetly indicates, one whose protagonists have in fact been completely fabricated. The truly virtuoso storyteller goes by the name of Dirk Dietrich Hennig (born 1967), lives and works in Hannover, and prefers to operate?as is hardly surprising?under pseudonyms. Since 1998 this conceptual artist has undertaken various "historical interventions" in an art-historical context; he thereby addresses the very public which seeks the sensational and the constantly new, the catching of whose attention represents so great a challenge. Comparable to the sharp-witted stirring-up of confusion by Orson Welles who, in his famous radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" (1898/1938) or in the late, no less cynical film-essay "F for Fake" (1974), used documentarily disguised fiction to give impressive impact to the mechanisms of the respective medium, Hennig is fundamentally concerned with stagings of art. Inextricably entwined with this endeavor is a penetrating investigation with regard to the art world, to established measures of value, and to the practices of the exhibition process.
Hennig took great care with the meticulously arranged retrospective "George Cup & Steve Elliott." With close attention to detail, two collections were feigned whose individual items are now being presented for the first time in this exhibition?a witty commentary on what has recently once again become an influential parameter in the art world, namely that patronage which frequently goes hand in hand with eccentricity and self-stylization. The exclusivity which is purported here, along with a partial obscurity with regard to the provenance of the artifacts, suggests one thing above all?authenticity. Circumspection and competence in the handling of historical material are conveyed by the indication that the "original" 8-mm film is being presented for this show only in a digitalized version. Even a "research center" dedicated to the two artists has been set up (only on the virtual level, of course). The extreme effort has been particularly rewarding with respect to quasi para-textual areas such as press mailings, exhibition labels and, not least of all, the catalogue which only upon close scrutiny reveals the deception behind it: The assumption is not totally false that there may be recognized here a certain spitefulness towards all those who skim over texts fleetingly, half-heartedly, and with only a superficial interest, without reading them critically; on the other hand, this counterfeiting is so perfectly achieved that it is actually quite difficult to become mistrustful. But Hennig is concerned precisely with this aspect of doubt, of the recapitulation and relativization concerning one's own knowledge?and with the conditionalities and inadmissabilities inherent to canonized and consensual truths.
One only does full justice to Hennig's works, however, upon examining not only these aspects of institutional criticism, but also the various, well-thought-out components constituting an oeuvre of this type. For in spite of all rigorously conceptual orientation, practical execution most certainly plays an important role in the case of Hennig. In addition to several display-cases which "archivally" contain "historical documents" such as contemporary art-magazines, contact prints as well as black-and-white photographs featuring, for instance, Cup and Warhol, there is an abundant offering of everything which excites the heart of the art connoisseur: painting and over-painting, works on paper, objects and installations, but also artist-books, video- and experimental-films and sketches. These diverse groups of works are adroitly integrated into the asserted, real context. Oskar Fischinger's abstract film compositions, Russian Constructivism, and also American Color-Field Painting are synthesized into a thoroughly independent variant of Minimal Art. This gives rise to diverse declinations of a reduced formal vocabulary whose depersonalized gesture is of course an excellent match for the deconstruction of authorship at work here. The plastic qualities of the paint, the overcoming of the flat canvas all the way to object art and installational modes of presentation, as well as the space-related, sometimes exaggerated utilization of sources of light?Hennig makes masterful use of all these components with the help of a well-informed background-knowledge in art history. Quite impressive, for example, is the light projection in "Lightsquare Projection #3, 1972," which may clearly be understood as a sort of continuation of that which Mark Rothko had in mind with his paintings. Thus connections and cross-references are interwoven out of a?genuine?historical tradition, whereby the immense significance of reception itself becomes the theme. Even Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" only acquired its recognition as a masterpiece with iconic status through the praises sung by Walter Pater. Hennig's consummate artistry lies, not only in his utilization of the mechanisms inherent to the game of art through a dazzling mastery of its rules, but also in his transformation of these insights into what is a fantastically effective dramaturgy for spinning a richly resonant tale.
Translated by George Frederick Takis
Original source: https://www.springerin.at/2009/1/review/blacked-out-george-cup-steve-elliott-retrospektive/
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