I talked with Sandra Bürgel for some time about "Wir Verbessern Ihre Arbeit", and at the end of the discussion she mentioned something very interesting regarding the disparate reactions of curators and collectors to the exhibition. This is her reconstruction (my translation):
"I don't believe that the theoretical foundation of each particular work, which can still be seen in the photograph of the original, was affected. But the physical interference in the works is, let's say, quite fresh in respect to things like the authority of the object or the untouchability of the work - the question, with what importance a single work of art positions itself in the world (and in the artist's oeuvre). Because of this a few collectors have commented in a rather alienated way about the exhibition. The thought of dispensability or expendability, as easily as it may be formulated, strikes at the very basis of 'collecting'. They would have liked to be presented with two variations and thus to be able to compare the original with the remake."
While it may be tempting to see "Wir Verbessern Ihre Arbeit" as related to remake culture, to remix culture and/or appropriation art, it is precisely the point made here that the originals cease to exist as such through their improvement. Physically, they are, with only some exceptions, irrevocably altered, perhaps even destroyed - the possibility of restoration being questionable - in order to make a derivative work, the exhibition. It's a blow to one of the pillars in the creation and sustaining of value in the art market: the authority of the original. It's a blow only possible because of this authority, because anything like an eternally existing original is still imaginable in so few limited human endeavors. But such blows come and go and don't suffice to explain the iconoclastic nature of this show.
Consider all of the processes of production in which some object, some material is destroyed or irrevocably altered in order to produce something else. In effect, that is exactly what has gone on here. Instituto Divorciado has made an exhibition which is simultaneously a work of art of its own, using works of art as its "raw" material, so to say. But it's more complex than that. Suppose the works had been randomly purchased from a flea market and then painted over - would the exhibition still have been disturbing? Further, supposing the improvement had been a small and simple change which worked with (incorporated) rather than against (suppressed) the original, would the exhibition still have been disturbing? And if Instituto Divorciado had utilized copies rather than originals? It seems that the disturbance stems from the fact that the artists of the original works are still listed as authorial figures participating in the exhibition, that the original state of the "improved" works is photographically preserved and reproduced in the exhibition merch and that this whole thing is conceptually bound in the idea itself of an improvement executed as a radical near-deletion of a work of art either previously seen by its creator as "finished", or otherwise with which the creator considered him or herself "finished".
Once again, it's an exhibition that makes a statement, and a strong one, which simultaneously poses a far greater number of questions. And this is the moment, when I leave a show and my thoughts are running in so many wild and unforseen directions, that I feel I've really seen something. And this is something that one doesn't find so easily.
Instituto Divorciado, "Spiegelzeit“, 2009, Mirror with clock face, dia 100 cm
(with reflection of: "Perforated Flags“, 2009, 17 flags with cut-out holes, dimensions variable, each flag 157 cm x 93 cm)
Installation view "Wir verbessern Ihre Arbeit", courtesy Galerie Sandra Bürgel, Berlin 2009,
Postscript: Wednesday 13 May, 2009
Out of curiosity, I look back at Sandra Burgel's text for the press release of 7x2, where I first encountered the gallery over a week ago. This is what I find (my translation):
".. the exhibition "Wir Verbessern Ihre Arbeit" opens on 30 April, questioning the improvability of artworks. In 7x2, complementary measures will be taken toward beautification, or stated differently, a decoration representing prosperity will be carried out"