An Idea Is How the Brain Smiles

Last May, De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam organized an exhibition of artworks focused on the changing system of values within the artworld in this time of financial crisis. De artworks were part of a charity auction at Christie's. Edna van Duyn, one of the curators, looks back on the project. Kunstcentrum De Appel organiseerde afgelopen mei een tentoonstelling van kunstwerken met als thema het veranderende waardensysteem binnen de kunstwereld in deze tijd van financiële crisis. De werken maakten deel uit van een benefietveiling bij veilinghuis Christie's. Edna van Duyn, een van de curatoren, schreef een terugblik.

Job Koelewijn: reading session at De Appel

By Edna van Duyn

The project ‘Take the Money and Run’ had the double impact that was secretly hoped for: good proceeds for our new building and an exciting contribution to the current discourse on the economic and symbolic value of art works, culminating in the performance by the auctioneer.
Today’s instable times as a result of the financial crisis and the homelessness of de Appel’s started a process that created new works of art.
Daniel Buren exemplified a correct answer to the questions posed by the invitation. According to Buren, the value of art must be understood as the economic one that is only created when it is sold. ‘Concepts are sold everyday. But, in the art world a concept to be sold must have a kind of a shape, a form and looks like a visual object even if it is a mere piece of paper with few words on.’
Lawrence Weiner, who was first in submitting his work, and in doing so, gave us the good spirit to continue this project, confronted the viewer with ‘catch as catch can’ next to ‘From Peter to Paul’, which brought up associations of standing at the door of heaven, morally questioning right or wrong, and in a light-hearted way making the institution conscious of its current position in deciding how to survive. In the work of Barbara Bloom the viewer was triggered through the subtitle ‘An idea is how the brain smiles’ which still sounds like the perfect poetic title for the project by emphasizing one of the main targets: presenting art as an enrichment of experience and imagination.
During the process of making ‘Take the Money and Run’ we were in touch with Aernout Bourdrez, a lawyer specialised in intellectual copyright who pointed out to us the difference between the Corpus Mysticum and Corpus Mechanicum, the respective spiritual and physical elements of an art work, which strengthened our idea of asking for conceptual works on A4 Paper, containing proposals for new works.

Maria Barnas composed a letter on A4 that contained the invitation to a future correspondence with the buyer of her proposal. In the presentation at the Brouwersgracht, the birthplace of de Appel in 1974, the conceptual esthetics of sheets of paper, framed as modestly as possible, hanging on the brick white painted walls, became contemporary reminiscences of the beginning of de Appel. In the early seventies (in the slipstream of conceptual art) Wies Smals stepped out of the commercial gallery world – although gallery Seriaal already focussed on accessible art in editions – and started an institute with private money that aimed to present art to visitors participating and experiencing performances and media-based art. These ephemeral works were usually Mystical Bodies of which little remained. The opening of ‘Take the Money and Run’ was attended by many young artists in the retinue of Tomo Savić-Gecan, Ahmet Ögüt and Maria Barnas. Also present were witnesses of the first hour, like Ulay, Aggy Smeets and Antje von Graevenitz, as well as Harrie de Kroon who, with his alternative search engine, the [wdiggie], supplied us with a 70s spirit that has survived into the 21st century in the form of a playful and at the same time serious reshaping of a behemoth like Google. The 250 visitors to the opening, the beautiful weather and the live flashbacks provided an atmosphere of cheerful reunion and a look into the new future of de Appel, with its new building being a topic of speculation and discussion.

Achmet Ögüt

In the work of Apolonija Šušteršič the architectural requirements for the new location were transformed into thousands of A4 sheets of paper, each representing 0,06237 m2, a share in the floor plan of the building divided into different functions. Due to the site-specific work of Šušteršič the interaction between the real estate market and the art market was represented and thanks to de Appel’s board member Suzan Oxenaar the ‘Anti-gentrification’ work is now part of the collection of de Appel.
How applicable the questions were that we sent out became apparent in the reactions of YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES and Marlene Dumas, both of whom referred to the addressing of the artist. Reminding one of Weiner, ‘What’s the catch, there is no catch’ and ‘They pay you for seeing what others don’t see, doing what others don’t do’, Young Hae questioned the image of the artist now. Christie’s chose this work for their invitation and it was hoped that the public would get the double meaning of their text.
Marlene Dumas, who has one of the most successful relations with the art market in the Netherlands, generously submitted a handwritten statement in which she pointed out that it is not evident that artists always respond to the needs of ‘To whom it may concern’ and that she sometimes doesn’t feel like pleasing at all.
De Appel has had her support over the years in many different ways.
There were only a few artists who liked the concept and yet backed out of it because of time constraints, or because they have in the past already donated many works to art institutes and didn’t feel at that moment the need to question that practice.
Mladen Stilinović who worked in 1979 with de Appel at the Brouwersgracht, supported the project with an existing work, therefore deviating from the A4 concept, from his series of off-white painted pillow cases with red painted texts on it, one of which says I am selling and other I am selling Duchamp. When he gave us this work during his opening in Antwerp at Extra City, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. With all the works a bonding was created during the process, this one especially, and it will hopefully be seen again in a public collection, as some museums were represented at the auction.
The actual response to our invitation sent out in January was so quick and positive that when Ad Petersen and Thea Houweling consented to a unique resurrection of de Appel at the Brouwersgracht, this involved not only a symbolic location but also a floorplan of an intimate size, which meant that no more artists could be invited. There were still a lot on the wish list, to mention only a few: Dennis Adams, Stanley Brouwn, Moshekwa Langa, Douglas Gordon, Hans Haacke, Barbara Kruger and many others.
We were very pleased with the work by Meschac Gaba, who asked his twin 8 year old sons to execute a performance he conceptualised, whereby they would make drawings and sell these as well to the audience to support de Appel. Alexandra van Dongen, mother and curator of applied arts at Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, was present to assist Johannes and Jonathan. In anticipation of the performance, the boys had indeed prepared some drawings in advance, and these sold well. The attention of the public was so overwhelming that they actually didn’t make many drawings on the spur of the moment. Two drawings were signed and dated by the young artists and joined the diptych of their father including his statement in the auction. They might well end up on view in a public collection as well.

Johannes and Jonathan Gaba at De Appel (photo: Robert-Jan Muller)

The work of Sven Augustijnen was difficult to comprehend at first, making us wonder whether his e-mail was somehow trapping us in our own concept. It is addressed to Sonia Dermience and says in French that he has prepared her return to the United States with a gun, bullets and parrots. Should she dress like an Indian? The intriguing text stuck in our minds and triggered our thoughts so much that we assumed that the imaginative value of this work was reached anyway. In line with the cheap print out of the email, economic and symbolic values were both covered. The same went for Liam Gillick’s work for which he used a medieval print in which 13 people are gathered around a dish and entitled it: mmm money pie.
Within the framework of the concept, Jens Haaning convinced us with an existing work, ‘Passport’, framed in a wooden frame so no one could open it, and still valid, it said on the certificate. Requiring belief, trust and imagination on the part of the viewer and future buyer, it inspired the auctioneer, Arno Verkade, to recommend this work. This auctioneer excelled in the performance, conceptualized by Christian Jankowski, in which he auctioned his ‘personal’ belongings, breast pocket handkerchief, tie, suit jacket, shoes, shirt, socks and shoes and finally, the auction hammer. A phone bidder asked if Verkade would auction his belt, but the performance was not meant to honour ‘fetish’, but to deconstruct the principle of auctioning. The auction house specialists were also excited by the work of Louise Lawler: ‘People who expressed interest for this work, also bid on the following:’ would incorporate other works following the Amazon system on Internet. Images from Internet were appropriated by Dominique Gonzalez Foerster in an A4 ‘diptych’: an announcement for ‘Pickpocket’, a film by Robert Bresson juxtaposed with a modest text saying ‘underground needs your money baby’. Referring to money in an even more direct way was the check of Maurizio Cattelan, promising to pay one dollar if it would be cashed – the proceeds were more than a thousand fold, prompting a lot of discussion during the show and most effectively illustrating the symbolic versus economic value of art.
Reflecting on productivity in terms of time and energy, Dora Garcia actually wrote: ‘Today I wrote nothing. Doesn’t matter.’ Garcia’s work appeared to be a major complement to the proposed correspondence of Barnas.
Future activities of the owner were optional in the works that Claire Fontaine and Coleen Fitzgibbon and Robin Winters submitted. Fontaine’s proposal was that the future owner would construct a neon sign saying: This neon sign was made by Hans van Oostrum for the renumeration of two thousand, three hundred euros. The A4 showed the future size and positioning and a second A4 contained the estimate. This design makes one curious where it will be executed.
‘Take the Money and Run’ was inspired by the title that Fitzgibbon/Winters gave to their project in 1977 at the Brouwersgracht, in which they isolated the audience after relieving them of their valuable personal property and then left the building, leaving the public in utter astonishment. The visitors didn’t know that they would come back and return their property later. In July 2008 graphic designer Peter Bakker reminded me of this performance that I personally didn’t witness, but the mention of it after more than twenty years in the current context prompted us to use it for the title and to invite them to participate in the project. Fitzgibbon/Winters proposed a drawing ‘for the future’ that will be made in consultation with the owner.
Partly through these retold stories, the early de Appel has become legendary. While the works were being installed at the Brouwersgracht, Ad Petersen told us some apocryphal stories complementing its academic history and editing the myths that evolved around the unfortunate loss of Wies and Josine. (These stories should somehow be collected.) Ad Petersen, the former curator of the Print Collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and his wife, Stedelijk Museum colleague Thea Houweling, were a welcome accompanying eye during the set-up of the presentation.
Ahmet Ögüt also promised a drawing if one would buy the A4 saying: To those who buy this A4 sheet of paper, I will give an A4 drawing as a gift.
Job Koelewijn implemented our request in his daily reading out loud of books and recording this on cassette tapes, which he has been doing since 2006. The meditative action requires a different attention and focus than one is used to in the daily flow of life. Koelewijn sort of enlarged this reflective action by photographing the tapes and the books and designed a banner on which his daily records are noted and illustrated by the covers of the books he read. During the show one reading session was public, and the visitors attended a concentrated reading by Koelewijn, alternating with undersigned, of the I Ching, a rather intricate text on which Koelewijn gave some comments after introducing this work within his oeuvre.
Nedko Solakov was one of the artists who donated a work for the auction and also generously participated in ‘Take the Money and Run’ by stating that a sentence, printed on normal A4 paper, including a spelling mistake and which is not signed by him, is a ‘potential to possibly accommodate a fresh idea for a successful art market strategy in the times of global crisis. Unfortunately the full stop in that sentence had just killed that potential, which is good for the art market too, unless this sheet of useless paper goes to an art auction.’ This quotation from Solakov’s A4 makes it clear that at the same time he is involved in the auction through an existing work by him, which is usually signed and handwritten, he is conscious of the implications and layers of reflection involved in being engaged in a charity auction.
Monica Bonvicini’s work consisted of more than twenty sheets of tracing paper with titles in stencil repeating the word ‘Run’ from Take the Money and Run’ in song titles, thus emphasizing the running, floating and streaming element that money has (‘Money has to be spent’ or ‘You can’t take it with you if you die’).
Spending money and the responsibility of how much art is valued, is what Tomo Savić-Gecan expressed in his text that was glued to the wall: ‘Each gallery visitor sets the ticket price for the next visitor.’ In 2005 this idea was put into use in the ‘On Mobility’ show at de Appel. The purpose within the framework of ‘Take the Money and Run’ was ‘only’ to have people think and talk about it, so the idea always remains the property of the artist and oral history.
Erick Beltrán focused on the physical quality of a sheet of paper, which is not worth anything in itself, but made into a ball and photographed in four ways and accompanied by a sheet of paper on which the ‘cutting edges’ are printed in a pattern, it symbolized the imaginary quality a concept can have.
‘Take the Money and Run’ was accompanied by an instruction in the work by Roman Ondák in his A4 stating that the instruction for the work was ‘Take the instruction and run’.
The institution, the curator and the viewer were addressed, although all had to think of an instruction him/herself. Action and reaction are shifted here. The perspective of subject and object was put into the work that Sean Snyder made: ‘The problem for the artist is not to know if the work of art should be considered as an object or as a subject. Since the two are inseparable.’
And as if Snyder wants to advise the institution, the curator and the viewer, his statement ends with:
‘Give value to the commodity at hand. Redistribute the idea.’
Time and again our brains smiled.

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