Comments on Curt Schweicher's book "Art Is Dead, Long Live Art". From Internationale Situationniste #5 (December 1960).
The bankruptcy of the art in power becomes more evident day by day, even in the eyes of those who are its most notable connoisseurs. And, in their despair, they confound the bankruptcy of this art, in which they participate, with the metaphysical bankruptcy of all artistic practice. Thus they distort the meaning of modern experiments, which are still to be made; or which have barely begun in secret. Moreover, these connoisseurs patently bear most of the responsibility for this forced secrecy.
For example, Charles Estienne,1 when he abandoned all of the bluff of his modern art, tried to save some things from the shipwreck by laying hands on “Tachism”.2 Naturally, he was familiar with all the full-time scholars of distorted modernisation. But all of them have hidden the fact that true Tachism had already been done to death, and [even] before the invention of that label. Those who had founded the Tachist practice were already dead, and their imitators were already in the display cases. And, of course—even before one admits Wols and Pollock there—in all the museums of modern art.3
The recent critique of Curt Schweicher is fortunately more radical: he abandons even Tachism.4 There are many good things in his book Art is Dead, Long Live Art (in particular, see the 4th point of his theses), which approach Situationist positions.5 Unfortunately, all the rest is very confused. Curt Schweicher does not understand the role of the negative, which he repudiates in modern art. He does not understand the profound simplicity of all the problems that he falsely considers complex and he does not understand any better the new totality, the superior complexity which develops itself from the awareness of this simplicity—[that is to say] of the crisis of modern art. When Schweicher unilaterally condemns the illustrations that he presents to us, which are the images accidentally obtained in the wastes produced by the work of the machinist [du travail machinist], he neglects the evident fact that such objects only become artistic at the conclusion of the actual experience realised beforehand by the artists who engage in the destruction of the image. And the choice that he makes among the objects is first of all determined by his personal taste, his particular way of understanding a certain stage achieved artistically—in this case, his taste goes as far as the caricature of the average informal painting.6
The fundamental error of Schweicher resides in his belief that too many means have been invested in modern art—when in fact there are far too few.
An enormous number of pseudo-modern artists artificially invest—in order to build-up speed as artists—the resources that they draw from their bourgeois occupations (they are firstly, lawyers, publicity agents, police officers). This process forms a special economic milieu, which finds expression in a new conformism: precisely the non-aesthetic academicism that Schweicher rightly denounces. The confusion of Curt Schweicher’s ideas only reflects the real confusion of his milieu. One believes here, in a spirit of competitive free enterprise, that it is better to help a great number of “avant-garde currents”, [that are] different in their objectives—exactly like the idiots who buy-up the maximum [number] of tickets to be sure of winning the lottery. And yet, in a given moment, there exists only one possible direction for creating other artistic conditions. Moreover there are good, simple criteria for recognising, among them all, the tendency that goes in this direction: it is sole one that cannot be bought.
People sufficiently informed—even if they do not readily speak of it—already know very well that it is at present the Situationist International.
Lothar FISCHER, Heimrad PREM,
Helmut STURM, Hans-Peter ZIMMER.
This article was published as the editorial in the 2nd number of the German Situationist journal Spur, in response to the book by Curt Schweicher, Die Kunst ist tot, es lebe die Kunst [Art is dead, long live Art].7
Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, July 2013. Thanks to NOT BORED! for help with the translation. From https://thesinisterquarter.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/response-to-schweicher/
- 1Charles Estienne was an art critic who was associated with Tachism and Art Informel—see footnote 2.
- 2Tachism: Also known as ‘Lyrical Abstraction’, is considered by contemporary art criticism as a European variant or version of ‘Abstract Expressionism’ in the late 1940s and 50s. In essence an art movement that formally deployed mostly painterly methods of abstraction already developed by earlier avant-garde artists. The term was coined in the early 1950s and popularized by Michel Tapié in his 1952 book Un Art autre (note that Tapié was particularly loathed by the Situationist International as an advocate of the merely formal modernist style that had come to dominate so-called artistic avant-gardism in the 1950s). The term is derived from the French word for stain, splot or blot (tache). Tachism is often considered as a subset of ‘Art Informel’ by art critics, but also confusedly as an equivalent descriptive term.
- 3Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, better known as ‘Wols’, was a photographer and painter associated with what would become known as Tachism before his death in 1951. Jackson Pollock was perhaps the most well-known painter to be associated with ‘abstract expressionism’ in the United States.
- 4Curt Schweicher, German art critic and historian.
- 5Curt Schweicher, Die Kunst ist tot, es lebe die Kunst [Art is dead, long live Art]; published 1960. Possibly an earlier edition was published in 1953.
- 6‘Art informel’ is one of the terms used for those associated with mostly painterly abstraction in Europe in the late 1940s and 50s. Also see footnote 2.
- 7Presumably the original was in German. It is unclear who translated it into French.