Monday, 25 June 2007

painting reading versioning ...

Dmitry Gutov is a Russian artist, making his second Venice Biennale showing, in the second half of Robert Storr's keynote exhibition, in the Corderie (rope-shed?) of the Arsenale. (I hadn't heard of nearly any of the names here, whereas the first half of Storr's show, in the Padaglione Italia in the Giardini with the other national pavilions, features many better-known artists). Two weeks later my memory of the work is shamefully vague, but it was a set of paintings of, as I recall, texts and front covers of books by Marx & Hegel. I thought images would be easily come by, but I can only find this, which shows perhaps more sketchy versions of similar work. The labels explained that in his Moscow studio Gutov hosts a reading group, the 'Karl Marx School of the English Language', which has the double purpose of developing the members' English and studying canonical Marxist texts, a minority interest, to say the least, in today's Russia. The English 'instructor' in the group describes it here.
An over-riding impression from the whole of Storr's assembly was that much of today's art consists of documentation, sometimes of personal crises (cf in their very different ways, Tracey Emin and France's Sophie Calle) but more especially of political ones. Gutov's engagement seemed both less sensationalist and more complex and intellectual, than the visual narratives in war-torn cities, etc.
Sophie Calle's main installation is a huge collection of responses and versionings, by over 100 different people (women) of an email apparently received by Calle from a boyfriend, breaking off their relationship. It was hugely enjoyable to go round, but not (imo) massively profound art. An obvious precursor -- though limited to the page -- would be Raymond Queneau's Oulippian Exercises du Style (1947), which tells the same small narrative in dozens of different ways.
Funnily enough I was in John Calder's bookshop in Waterloo (London) this afternoon, at a discussion on Stefan Themerson, and there are still a couple of copies of Barbara Wright's translation of the Queneau, published by the Themersons' Gaberbocchus Press, with Stefan's illustrative initials, in 1958! Tempting at £30, and Barbara Wright was actually present ... but I do have a copy of the pbk reprint by Calder ...

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