Taking Down the Names of the Anonymous Movement
The first question one asks upon entering the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt is: where is the show? The guard directs me around the corner to a set of exterior stairs that lead to a door above the museum restaurant. It is a self-effacing gesture seemingly designed to skirt the vast, canonical spaces of the museum to which it is attached. The next question that arises (and lingers) is: to what extent is this act tongue-in-cheek?
As the title of the group exhibition suggests, the curator as well as the “eleven (significant but anonymous) international artists” are all unnamed.1 With its dark purple walls, broad drapery blocking outside light, and manifold corners isolating objects from each other, even the exhibition’s layout is designed to downplay itself. One must seek out titles and dates in a handout—that is, if one’s dependence on “metadata” is insufferable.2 Such maneuvers are intended to intensify the attentiveness of viewers to the objects on display. The cult of the name is identified as a barrier to perceptual engagement with artworks: our desire for captions, titles, dates—anything extraneous to the “thing itself”—is accused of operating under the logic of a celebrity-obsessed art market. I find dubious the claim that an artwork can exist without its informational context—that is, its circumstances of production, its relationship to the producer’s broader body of work, and so on. The premise that is set up in Anonym (2006) offers the objects a somewhat awkward position in which to be approached. One could argue that from the artist’s necessity to remain anonymous, either a parallel world must be constructed where the authorless pieces would differ from those that an artist might make unaffected by their own “text,” or certain ways of making art (perhaps certain artists entirely) cannot be included in the anonymous show.
The works that we are presented with in the anonymous exhibition exist in the position between being “here” (which they obviously are) and being zombie objects, vessels whose appearance seeks only to be obscure enough from an artist’s portfolio to be unidentifiable. However, despite our idealism concerning the value of autonomy and sincerity in art, anonymous art is a challenge to notions of what is “authentic” rather than to what is “inauthentic.” The dare made to “judge a work primarily by criteria immanent to the work” by Max Hollein (the Schirn’s well-known director) in his preface is, we hope, thus another instance of affect,3 a provocative assertion lacking the conviction it calls for.
I think the exhibition succeeds where it displays its affect (which is detectable in most pieces), allowing us in on the “joke.” For instance, one of the first pieces along the dark corridor is a sculpture (I am beginning to understand what peace might be, 2006) with the rough dimensions of a kitchen table placed on its side. Shaped like a slice of toast, brightly coloured, and with several extensions (including a now-familiar crystal motif protruding from the top and an arm that sporadically lets one drop of water fall quietly to a puddle on the floor), it has the appearance of the many contemporary sculpture/design hybrids that one might see in art magazines today, referencing a whole genre but playfully begging to be read formalistically.
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