PRINT January 2001



ONLY ONCE IN MY LIFE have I contributed to a publication that sold out virtually as it rolled off the press. OK, so my essay didn’t exactly move the merchandise. What did were the people who designed it, the French duo of Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, known since 1991 as M/M. Starting out designing CD covers and overseeing the Paris-based eDEN magazine, M/M entered the world of fashion in the mid-’90s, doing ad campaigns for the likes of Jil Sander and Yohji Yamamoto. Through such projects as the catalogues for the 1998 “Nuit Blanche” at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the debut edition of the Berlin Bienniale the same year, they’ve since become the darlings of the European art world—naturally enough, somehow. Still, they don’t want to be artists; they want to be graphic designers. But, as French artist Pierre Huyghe says, “They are really sharp when it comes to discussing art.”

Huyghe should know, since he works with M/M regularly, as do fellow artists Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. The designers collaborated on the pavilion for About, the film the trio submitted to the 1999 Venice Biennale, presenting the artists’ names on walls like movie credits. More recently they worked with Huyghe and Co. on a show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, and they are involved in a project with Huyghe, Parreno, and Françoise Roche for the London ICA.

So with all the high-profile partners and venues, why don’t M/M consider themselves artists? One thing’s for sure: It’s not out of modesty. “While we respect the work of artists, we have taken the position that what we do is, in a certain way, more pertinent than what they do,” they told Swiss critic Lionel Bovier in a 1998 interview. “We believe that we are dealing with reality and are confronted with the same questions that many artists ask and have asked, but we have in addition the means to answer these using real networks of communication.”

For all the duo’s Kunsthalle cred, though, they do manage to sidestep one pitfall for many artists: the signature style. There is no “typical” M/M product. The “Nuit Blanche” catalogue, for example, is elegant and diminutive, filled with blank, monochromatic pages. The Berlin Bienniale catalogue, on the other hand, is black and serious and top-heavy with stats of all sorts about the host city. Nor are they prisoners of the text: Upcoming projects include a music video for Björk (they’ll work with frequent collaborators Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin), and they’re even about to try their hand at a bar (again with Huyghe et al.) for Pernod-guzzling Parisians.

A poster, an exhibition, a major ad campaign, a place for the thirsty to quench their soif? Another day, another network of communication. A recent M/M image shows a baby reaching for a copy of Deleuze’s Pourparlers. Is it a self-portrait? A polymorphic, rhizomorphic embrace of the discipline without organs? “We do like Deleuze, but to say that is of course already a cliche.” They said it, not us.

Daniel Birnbaum is a contributing editor of Artforum.