L'Hiver de L'Amour

In France the younger generation of artists and critics is quite dynamic, and its combined self-promotion has resulted in three new art magazines that are already widely read. The three artists and two critics who edit one of these magazines, Purple Prose, (Elein Fleiss, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Bernard Joisten, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Olivier Zahm) also organized an international survey of young artists under the title “L’hiver de l’amour.” (The winter of love). (This show will open this month in modified form at the P.S. 1 Museum in New York.) The title is a metaphor for the contradictions of their lives, for a fragmented subjectivity.

The show functioned more as the definition, through sampling, of a rather common area of intervention, than as an early critical assessment of new tendencies. This was evident in the presence of more “historicized” artists who have been important for recent generations as new points of reference and who, apart from General Idea and Allen Ruppersberg, have only recently received wide recognition (the fate, for example, of David Hammons and Larry Clark).

The bizarre structure of the museum, with its large semicircular corridor (the Arc!) and irregularly arranged rooms, seemed appropriate for showing off the complexities of new investigations and very diverse formal solutions: the general impression was one of a productive chaos—of unpredictable relationships of meaning within both a given work and among the various works.

As for the pieces exhibited here, they seemed to confirm the desire of this new generation to abandon formal exercises in favor of work that is socially and politically aware. The choice of languages adopted follows from that desire and not vice versa; often solutions are found in recycling the techniques and materials of the neo-avant-garde, considered as a nonprivileged reservoir with respect to the world of mass communications.

Apart from the world of pure forms, the artists’ attention shifts toward reality, for what they know comes out of their own experience. And their feeling for the real fluctuates between an awareness of drama and the irony with which they face it. Maurizio Cattelan built two irregular, Minimalist white cubes that actually consisted of sacks containing debris from the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea in Milan, destroyed in an attack by the Mafia. Mat Collishaw adopted a similar look, and installed a “Suicide Suit”—small photographs of dead bodies on the walls with a large transparent structure that looked like a death chamber at the center. Julia Scher exhibited photographs of nude women in sadomasochistic garb. Dike Blair and Tom Kalin investigated stereotypes (behavioral and linguistic, with a video and a call girl) by submitting corporeality to the discipline imposed by the sex industry. Both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue contained many erotic images, for these artists look at the body as a vector for and sensor of the uneasiness of our time. By contrast, there was a certain irony that attempted to replace discipline with impulsive disorder, to invent new possibilities of interpersonal relationships, where a critique of behavior was combined with the vindication of deviance (Alix Lambert’s photographs of weddings; the odoriferous, hormonal productions of Carsten Höller; the animal masks that Jean-Luc Vilmouth made available to visitors; or the “alternative” use of urine proposed by Shuji Ariyoshi).

It is interesting to see how this rebellion has a utopian charge that attempts to give possible responses to real-world conflicts without formulating world views. This could be seen in the room of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, which accommodated all those who wanted to tell their stories, in Andrea Zittel’s “covers” in Rikrit Tiravanija’s pallets, in the amorous language of Lothar Hempel’s video, or in Wolfgang Tillmans’ photographic images of youthful life styles. Taking our own needs and desires as a point of departure for arriving at new forms of socialization seems to be the stake of this new artistic game.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.