July 2010, Claire Fontaine @ MOCA North Miami

Claire Fontaine, Economies, Installation view, 2010
Courtesy of the artists and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami


Claire Fontaine: Economies
Curated by Ruba Katrib
Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
Joan Lehman Building
770 NE 125th Street

North Miami, Florida 33161
June 3 through August 22, 2010

Economies, the show by Paris-based collaborative Claire Fontaine, assimilates several strands of modernism and contemporaneity. It attempts to engage viewers in a social discourse that ‘pushes the envelope’ by using a riotously simple aesthetic. Economics may be called the dismal science, but Marx’s opinion that it is the most fundamental social science looks pretty undeniable these days. The ‘assistants’ of Claire Fontaine (as the 2 artists call themselves) facilitate a rigorous demonstration of the way consumerism and advertising have turned the developed world into a series of more-or-less homogenous 'shopping malls.' This has been accomplished primarily through an unholy alliance of business, government, and the’ Public Relations Industry, and definitely applies to art fairs, too.

Economies presents social and especially economic values as ultimately inseparable from aesthetic values. In this respect, art’s purpose in contemporary society as a kind of speculative currency ought not to diminish its value as a mirror of what we are about. The simultaneous use of art-world ready-mades and industrial ready-mades ties these two worlds together. That this show does feel more genuinely subversive than the usual jab at established values may also be due to the artfully chaotic layout of the familiar objects. In this case the video on lock-picking called, Instructions For the Sharing of Private Property, or the scattered tennis balls - used as projectile ‘care’ packets for jailed inmates - ought to satisfy those who decry social injustice, as well as social order. Things do trickle down, but not necessarily within the intended societal frameworks. Suicide Stack is a video based on the suicide note left by 53 year old Joseph Stack. A self-employed businessman and part-time rock musician, he flew a plane into the office building housing the tax authorities in Austin Texas because he felt they had ruined him. Excerpts from his emotional letter are presented in a monumental scrolling video that mirrors a very recent event here in the US and drives home the immediacy of the widening rift between modern liberal democracies and their citizens.

Claire Fontaine, Suicide Stack, 2010
Courtesy of the artists and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami

Given the all-consuming concerns with ownership and monetary value, economic and media manipulation, debt and bail-out cycles, and the grotesquely disproportionate distribution of wealth that have become re-current themes in the world economy, the validity of this group’s position is difficult to deny. Powerful labor unions are tightly allied with governments and are extracting ever-larger concessions from non-aligned workers. Sought-after electronics and other consumer products are manufactured in increments all over the globe. Admittedly, then, themes of ownership and exploitation look a lot more complex than Marx might have imagined. But it's hard to imagine that Marx could have foreseen an age when advertising and promotion can turn virtually everything we touch into a measure of status and self-love. Right around the time of the economic meltdown people were saying: "I’m tired of buying things I don't want, with money I don’t have, to impress people I don’t know." It’s become common knowledge that, generally, the politician who spends the most promoting himself wins. This seems all too true in our little art (market) world as well. Maybe it really is time to move beyond not just consumerism and the age of promotion, but the materialism in general.

Claire Fontaine’s rejection of authorship, or, as it has come to represent in the art world, stardom, is borne out by a consistent effort to downplay their own names and individual roles in the creation and promotion of their work. Further, their use of artist ready-mades is an invitation to go to the next level in our relationship with the work of still-living, or recently dead art stars like Felix Gonzalez Torres or Bruce Nauman. The unmistakable re-appearance of these artists’ relatively recent ‘innovations’ indicates that their work has become a kind of art world brand that can easily be knocked off and re–presented in a way that is as seductive, or at least as validating, as the original. Is owning the rights to a easily-manufactured neon sign a good investment? Is it an important statement about art and is it as important as the one that was made a few years earlier? Hard to say in this market, right?

Claire Fontaine, Change, 2006
Courtesy of the artists and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami

A pressure-activated alarm bell hose snakes it’s way through the exhibition making walking through the show a bit of a minefield; it sounds off regularly as visitors either accidentally or intentionally step on the hose. It's a jarring sound but also a comfortable reference to all the bells and whistles we’re surrounded by. A disconnected dishwasher, standing away from any walls like a typically self-referential work of contemporary sculpture, is carefully stacked with a selection of shiny black sex toys for washing. Industrialized sexual expression and the sex industry's intrusion of mass-produced homogeneity into the most personal aspect of human experience is not omitted in this look at 'economies.' A big tv screen that displays the words, ‘flat screen tv’, while a smaller screen displays British coins with the sovereign on both sides, mocking these sought-after icons. This may not be as delicious as Rauschenberg’s ‘erased’ drawings (by famous/expensive) artists, but then these are mass-produceable ready-mades so it isn’t quite the same thing. The ready-mades here include: slit-open, object-filled tennis balls littering the floor (referring to their use in getting ‘things’ to prisoners); quaintly rotating suspended artificial houseplants (inspired by ones seen in a Miami restaurant); framed checks from a number of blue chip international contemporary art galleries (representing the importance of pieces of paper in the sophisticated, contrived arrangements of trade and value); coins with razor type blades concealed in their edges; the sawed-off part of a sawed-off shotgun. The exhibition itself treads a fine line between chaos and order, tension and calm. There's a lot of space between the works. The tennis balls seem to tie it all together, and, simultan they also keep it from feeling like yet another ‘very serious', self-conscious attack on Social Democrat values, presented in the polite minimal aesthetic preferred by art-world elites.

The use of altered or fabricated pieces meant to mimic works by other contemporary artists in an innovative kind of second-generational ‘contemporary artist ready-made’ presents the viewer with an undeniable reflection of our reality. It is loaded with the references to incarceration and control, promotion and advertising, violence and repression that remain hallmarks of our heretofore self-congratulatory civilization. Sometimes, intellectually ‘tight’ exhibits like this are cold mirrors of our social ills. Instead, this show seems to suggest that with all our technology, we may not have progressed much since Bosch and Breughel rendered their images of the ‘Earthly Delights’ in the late Middle Ages... Perhaps, like Bosch’s drawings, the honesty, humor and humanity behind what is being rendered are things we can easily recognize and connect to. If so, then this may be why the show can leave one with a sense of connection to a kind of mischevious, if dark, sense of irony. And it may simply be that the use of every day objects adds up most artfully to one of the more serious and inescapable inventories of civilization.

Claire Fontaine, Instructions For the Sharing of Private Property, 2006
Courtesy of the artists and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami


Claire Fontaine, Economies, Installation view, 2010
Courtesy of the artists and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami

David Rohn

David Rohn grew up in the suburbs of New York, the city in which he lived during most of the ’70’s and ’80’s. After studying Architecture, Art and Urbanism at NYU, the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Pratt Institute, he moved to Miami where in 1995 he began to exhibit paintings, videos, installations, and performances. Currently associated with Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art, Miami, his work has reached museums and collections both public and private. David Rohn has contributed art reviews to Art Press (Paris), The Sun Post (Miami), Art Papers (Atlanta), and TWN (Miami-now defunct), and online publications TuMiami, MAEX and ARTLURKER. For more information please visit: www.davidrohn.net

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