I. Playing with the Icon
Andy Warhol’s much quoted statement that his art was merely the depiction of the surfaces of things and that in precisely this his art exhausted itself, touched the core of American culture, as it has been perceived by its critics since the 1950s: a self-satisfied materialism, which saw its goal as the production and distribution of commodities in themselves, without troubling to investigate their content or their essence as commodities. In a similar manner, the way art was produced, how it came into being, was declared obsolete by Warhol through his own diagnosis of his work. What mattered was the effect which could be achieved with art.
The important decision which was made by the American, art historically speaking, was that such an effect was best achieved by taking the well-known, ubiquitous icons of his time and declaring their repeated visual realisation to be art. This decision was neither new nor extreme – Duchamp’s concept of the ready-mades was considerably more radical and was developed long before this. Warhol’s paintings were much more a playful commentary on and with the total objectification with which the artist himself had grown up, a person whose daily culture derived from the idolisation of people (admiration of actors) and things (market awareness). Warhol's life was “pop” before he declared it to be so.
The visual substance, the objects of representation, was available en masse. So it was merely a question of picking and choosing, according to attractiveness, or “appeal”, which motif would make the biggest impression. This was valid as much for the artist himself, being a self-declared representative of an anonymous mass culture, as for the viewer of his images, who was to be similarly defined. The only difference between them was that the latter need not even go to the trouble of developing visual taste by making a choice and thereby engaging in a productive act. The definition of art as a purely receptive act meant that participation in the processing of art required no such effort. The use of bold colours helped to promote subjectified “taste” as a criterion for choice. In this Warhol could rightly and without overstatement define himself as “the most American of all artists”.
One and a half decades after Warhol´s death, his art, but not his concept of art, has permeated daily life all over the world, to the same extent as American culture as a whole. His “Marylins”, as well as his “Campbell Cans” have probably reached the most distant corners of the earth, but hardly ever with a realisation of the ironic distance which was inevitably linked to their coming into being from an autochthonous culturization. This would have demanded the complete negation of ethnic differences, as well as the total negation of the global predominance of American life-style as a result. On the contrary: When they are perceived, Warhol’s icons are already mutated into idols. Proof of this is the remarkable fact that the “Marylins” and “Campbells” are better known and easier to recognise than the actress and the soup tins themselves. Hardly anyone outside of the USA would think of looking for the tins in the supermarket, and hardly anyone in the global TV public watches simple Monroe films with pleasure, or appreciates the long vanished ideal of beauty which she embodied.
The iconisation of popular images has long since attained its own momentum and has changed into its reverse. Today, no one cares, except those who are professionally occupied with such questions, whether something is art or not. Art is no longer an amusement for a small select group. Art is produced in such a way and with just such effect as Warhol clairvoyantly suggested. Everywhere it is produced and consumed en masse – in the Internet as a “free tour”. There is always something new to discover. Nothing stays the same. Warhol's famous 15 minutes as a time frame for consuming art and so for becoming famous through art, are far too long. The time for exchange is exactly 1:1. The icon is immediately recognised as such and forgotten in the next moment. Contemporary art has reached the base line.
Paradoxically, in the wake of Warhol’s conception, art has not made itself obsolete in the moment of its self-negation, but has become a permanent part of daily culture, just as valuable or as valueless as all those other material goods which do not cater for essential life functions and are not necessarily produced to aid survival. Art, in the most American of ways, is no longer of value in itself. Having become a mass phenomenon, the creative act – be it, as Warhol defined it, the knowledgeable choice of the object capable of becoming an idol – has disappeared so much into the background that it is recognised as such but no longer valued. An example of this is the fact that, in the 90’s, after a short flare-up of provocation for the sake of provocation and artist idolisations, which quickly ran out of steam, today there are a mass of artists, none of whom seem capable of stepping out of the anonymity which seems to have become a veritable criterion of art.
II. The Game with the Game
The hopeless situation in which art finds itself in the present, with Warhol as its prophet, is pertinently reflected and commented upon in the work of Marie Pittroff. She does this in a particularly “European” way. In Pittroff’s paintings it is not, as with the American Pop artists and their imitators, the substance of the icon as product, which is of interest, but a further step, the iconisation of the product, icon. Keeping an ironic distance from the last prophet of material made surface, Warhol, she takes up his iconography, in order to reflect herself and her world into the third millennium. The art cosmos as created by Warhol becomes the object of desire. Out of the mere pop-consumer as predicted by her American prefiguration, the European artist transmogrifies into the art-producer, iconising pop-consumption. In a conscious creative act, Marie Pittroff takes up the icons of the icon culture which are available to her, to expose and therefore unveil their iconic substance via iconisation. Insofar as she takes up a materialism which has become valueless and puts it back into an historic framework, she shows herself to be a very European artist.
Marie Pittroff never takes as a motif anything from her own creativity, or goes back to the source, but always selects a motif which is mediated: This not only has to do, with the Warhol tradition, in which she sees herself as an artist, but also, equally, reflects how this art tradition is, for her, always a mediated one. As a contemporary European, she is influenced in her perception by the predominance of American daily culture, to which mediated Pop-Art belongs, along with what made it a theme, the surface. In this sense it should be seen as a conscious act, not only to understand this culture as mediated, but to use it as such and to represent it as such. Pittroff’s images express a playful adoption of the already iconised art product of American origin.
The Warhol game with the icon evolves into the Pittroff game with the idol. In that she recognises and picks out idolatry as a negative result of iconisation on the basis of the post-festum absolutism of its product character, Marie Pittroff brings Warhol into our time. By playing with idolatry as fractured and also as dangerous iconisation, she accentuates the general loss of direction and namelessness as a delayed result of the “15 Minutes”. In stage-managing this, at the same time enjoying her own self-indulgence, and also as a warning, she segments the Warhol cosmos, takes one of his products – but not directly, again mediated – and pushes it to the bitter end.
Lou Reed, grown-up and long-since out-grown, created by and survivor of the Warhol empire, is Marie Pittroff´s “Marilyn”. His image creates the icon. It is entirely mediated via photographs and reports from others about him, and has never been contaminated by personal contact. This icon is the core segment for the European interpretation and development of a now historic, indeed the last workable American art discourse. Pittroff's iconography goes beyond that of Warhol, in that as well as showing the mediated historicity of an art product – we see “Lou Reed” age in series – she also foregrounds the distance she herself has developed from the object which has grown out of the media-documented historicity created by others. “Lou Reed” is never imagined as a quasi-authentic human, but always refracted by quasi-documentary stylisation in black and white paintings. In this way the artist creates Europeans-ironic distance to a culture, which takes the once holy image of the human being and exposes it brutally and untiringly, making it a fetish and thus degrading it to a mere product.
By receptively and productively distancing herself from a mode of art discourse that she will never be part of, Marie Pittroff makes one ask oneself about the substance behind the icon. That is the substance of the iconised object himself, as well as his representation. In so far as the de facto global idolatry of our time becomes a theme via this mode of questioning, Marie Pittroff in her continuing process of inserting her own creation, brings the authentic American surface structure back into the coherency of universal art history and at the same time makes a statement about the present situation not only for herself but, as a fellow sufferer and one who creates out of this suffering, humanity itself which participates in the artificially perpetuated Americanism just by suffering.
III. The Game Goes On
In Marie Pittroff’s images, emotional participation in the global reception process draws out the essence of American culturisation from a European perspective. The potential for artistic suffering and its sublimation is a long way from being exhausted in the two-dimensional and static, pathos-evoking object fixed on canvas. Just as the authentic American commentary of an Andy Warhol found its correct expression in the conception of multi-media art – “Lou Reed” being a participating element – Pittroff derives from this a contemporary reflective perspective which incorporates the use of other presentation media. Beyond conceptions like “installation” or “performance”, which have long since become history, these are the production methods of our time, the one strategically adequate realisation of iconography on the present perceptive horizon which not only permits use, but actually begs to be used.
Old images are awakened to new life by “morphing” techniques, and by the final elimination of the original iconographic material, they appear as completely new, unique art-works, yet from original sources. In their own synthesising they become authentic products. Banal objects from the past are seen ironically insofar as their idol character is again exposed to view, appearing under the expectations of a completely changed perspective, counteracted. The sensualness and meaningfulness of Gesamtkunstwerke, removed by multi-media over-kill like the legendary rock shows of Velvet Underground, are examined without any nostalgia. Through further media execution, they are examined for their artistic core through segmentation and repeated syntheses. All levels of meaning of autochthonous Pop culture – affirmatively negated without exception by Warhol, and therefore once again programmatic - capable of being historically documented are understood as structural elements in a discourse which proves itself to be valid even now, by the mere existence of the global perception process, which he set in motion.
The question is merely this: What was it about actually? Answers under:
America – the other number.
Dr. Hermann Stauffer 2002 (University of Osnabrück), Translation: Liz Crossley,