Yoon Ya and Paul Devautour

Sylvana Lorenz, Galerie Beaubourg

If Theodor Adorno spoke of art as a “fait brut” (rough fact), the current danger is that it is merely a fait accompli. Art’s mediatization and distribution have engendered a condition in which its legitimacy is confused with success. If for Donald Judd, “The true test of art [was]. . . its credibility as art,” today, cynicism, hopelessness, and vacuity are its likelier modalities.

Though artists in France during the ’80s redeployed media strategies without playing up kitsch contents as did the American Simulationists, they nevertheless fell victim to the condition fostered by the intercourse of art and the media. As an antidote to the cynicism involved in these approaches, Yoon Ya and Paul Devautour revive the Situationist legacy of the ’60s (which has been totally perverted by Jean Baudrillard and his epigones), animating the crucial question of spectacle via a practice that is totally subversive to art.

As opposed to a return to the progressive militant discourse, which on American turf is deployed with the force fueled by its own naiveté (from Jenny Holzer to Group Material), the subversion “à la française” of Ya and Devautour tactically deploys a panoply of Derridian detours. As Derrida remarked to Emmanuel Lévinas, the best way to pretend to speak Chinese to a Chinese person is to speak to him in Chinese. In other words, in order to pretend, one must redouble the pretense—fake faking—thus truly do.

To fake faking; that is the apparently unsustainable position of Ya and Devautour, whose activities begin with the donning of a façade identity as collectors. This implied cessation of artistic practice, like Marcel Duchamp’s chess playing, allows the artists to set aside the rules of the game by taking up a double position that is simultaneously inside and outside the game.

From the outside, Ya and Devautour act as the curators of their own exhibitions, which they present, each time, as a selection from a larger collection. They also play the part of their own critics, signing articles, catalogues, or essays that accompany and make up the most compelling part of their project with the names Pierre Menard or Maria Wutz. From the inside, they operate by producing not art, but artists—not works, but the space between works. They create a distance that consists precisely in giving each effort the name of an artist—a name that evinces a close rapport with artistic practice itself: the nominalism of art. (Thierry de Duve taken literally.)

These two exhibitions present four “artists” from the collection. The first shows the recent works of A. Lenoir, the team of Buchal and Clavel, and Duplo—artists united by a single careerism that guided their decision to show at the Galerie Beaubourg. Lenoir examines the reciprocity of art and the media, to the extent that the essential basis of his program is devoted to the control and development of information about his work. His sculptures are conflated with the photodocumentation and commentary that would have accompanied them had they been realized.

Buchal and Clavel, like many other teams of artists, have been contracted to work together—the difference being that their work has nothing in common. Buchal creates plaster sculptures—scientific models of mathematic equations—whereas Clavel’s posters reroute images taken from various cinema or television sources, by means of a laser copier. Duplo uses the well-known children’s building blocks that bear his name to fabricate a series of monochrome panels and minimal sculptures, while letting his passion for “neo-geo” combinations run wild.

The most interesting exhibition, however, is that of the post-Situationist group Ramon Nash at Sylvana Lorenz. The fictional collective reenacts the historic self-dissolution of the famous movement led by Guy Debord in the ’60s. This second ending takes the form of a game entitled “Guerre des réalités” (War of realities), in response to a CNN Business News advertisement, which fashions a game out of the European territories (the balance of power and investment strategies).

Fake faking is thus Ya and Devautour’s double response to post-Modern cynicism, on the one hand, and to the naive critical authenticity of much politically engaged contemporary work, on the other. This stance is manifested in their systematic use of repetition and reprise—though not in an ironic sense. On the contrary, it functions as an introduction to a basic difference at the core of repetition. This difference is firstly an affirmation (paradoxically sincere) of repetition’s precedence over origin. The question is not to attempt to make new (this was the Modern crusade) but to impart a force and positivity to the concept of repetition. If repetition is the essence of post-Modernism, it becomes a question of conferring upon it a status of origin; that is, a paradoxically modern value. In its refusal of self-repetition (style), the collection of Ya and Devautour endows repetition with a basic value: judgment. “To make art is not to judge what art is, but what it should be,” remarked de Duve—this is the ethic of these new genre collectors.

Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.