Allen Ruppersberg

Le Magasin’s new artistic direction was apparent even in the first exhibitions organized by director Yves Aupetitallot. This museum, which is housed in a former factory building, seems best equipped to present exhibitions of a certain historical depth accompanied by small, thematically related survey shows—at least this was the case with its impressive Allen Ruppersberg retrospective. The show was accompanied by an extensive catalogue and a small, concurrent survey exhibition, curated by Paul McCarthy, which also explored California art—or, rather, art created in California by three artists born outside the United States: Bas Jan Ader, Guy de Cointet, and Wolfgang Stoerchle. The catalogue and the smaller show emphasized the museum’s goal of reconstructing not only Ruppersbcrg’s long career, but also the epoch it spanned.

Although his work first emerged under the banner of Conceptualism, Ruppersberg never focused on the movement’s moretheoretical aspects; rather, he directed most of his attention to the relationship between elite art forms and popular culture, making a significant contribution to radical debates about the nature of art and artmaking. Where’s Al?, 1971, for example—a piece the exhibition correctly highlighted—which consisted of a large number of photographs and brief, typewritten dialogues interspersed with ellipses and placed on a large white surface, constructs the identity of a phantom artist called “Al.” The focus of the dialogues, however, is not this persona’s inner life, but rather his actions and his role in society. The photographs in this piece present the artist as an integral part of a collective group.

In 1969, Ruppersberg managed a hotel and bar that were open to the general public, underlining the degree to which his relationship with the surrounding community was at once nonidealistic and nonideological. Not only does his work eschew the strict theoretical models endemic to Conceptual art, he also avoids idealizing life, a tendency that limits many artistic operations taking place in real time and space—work ranging from Happenings to body art.

Catherine Queloz’s catalogue essay correctly notes that, for Ruppersberg, the book is a microcosm of the world; much of his work, in fact, treats language as a structure that not only alters, but also defines reality. This has resulted in works like The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1974, in which Ruppersberg faithfully recopied every word of Wilde’s text onto numerous white canvases, and the tables piled with remaindered books he has been producing since the beginning of the decade. It has also resulted in the piece A Novel that Writes Itself, 1978, in which the viewer was invited to buy him- or herself a role in a narrative linked to Ruppersberg’s life, heightening our awareness of the mechanisms that also create the reality within which narrative is inscribed.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.