By ANTHONY HADEN GUEST, May, 2018
Pierre Restany, the great French critic, a protagonist of the Nouveaux Realistes of the 60s, nailed the contribution of Fred Forest when he wrote that “He is certainly the first artist to grasp the true importance of communication not just s a series of systems designed to convey reality, but as a space – an autonomous territory.” The 84 year old Forest, who delights in describing himself as “France’s most famous unknown artist in the world”, has made art using every sort of communications media, including video, radio and the mail system, he made early art use of the Internet, and he insists that he is only interested in using the most modern means when making his art. His show now up at WhiteBox on Broome is called Fred Forest Exhibits The Pompidou Center Paris In New York and will run until May 26.
The Forest show in part references the period in 1982 during which he turned a space in the Pompidou into a hub during which he and a staff of fifteen spent five weeks putting together items, dealing with sex, death and bizarrerie. Yes, fake news. It also references the fact that in 1994 he sued the Pompidou Center over acquisition practices of which he disapproved.
It most certainly references the circumstance that in 2011 Forest showed up at the Pompidou’s Video Vintage exhibition to protest his omission from a major retrospective of a form in the development of which he had played a significant part. He presented a petition signed by a great many culturati, then gave a performance during which he was bound like a mummy in vintage 1970s Portapak videotape, after which exhibition-goers were asked to cut him loose.
Forest, in short, is a troublemaker, a prankster, a cultural poacher. An appropriately named fictional prototype who comes to mind is “the Artful Dodger,” the juvenile pickpocket in Charles Dickins’ novel, Oliver Twist. He first came to attention in 1972 when he bought fifteen square centimeters in France’s most distinguished daily paper, Le Monde, had it published as a blank oblong, asking readers to fill the space with material of their own devising and send him the results. When we spoke at WhiteBox Forest he cheerfully acknowledged that he had been alluding to an action of Yves Klein, an artist strongly supported by Pierre Restany, who had a widely publicized show in 1956 at the Iris Clert gallery, at the opening of which 3000 people swarmed into an empty room.
Forest’s assaults on the practices of the art world have been witty and unremitting. In 1977 he put up “artistic square meters” of undeveloped land for sale at an art auction. He continues to attempt installations of his “invisible square meters,” including an attempt at MoMA, New York, a few months after his Video Vintage action. Also at MoMA he had himself videotaped taking a tour. We see Forest gazing at the Duchamp bicycle wheel and some Dan Flavin neons.
Both the bicycle wheel and the neons, once on the cutting edge of manufacturing, were made with what is now obsolescent tech. Keith Haring’s show of Xerox art at MoMA’s Club 57 show comes to mind here, as do the copy machine-made pieces by Carolee Schneeman that were up at her terrific show at MoMA PS1, and, yes, how poignant, indeed how patinated, cutting edge tech can swiftly get. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest is an internationally known writer and artist.
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