Curator of the 4th Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial, Peter Weibel. Press photo.
“If You Don't Rewrite the World, Then the World Will Rewrite You”
Interviewed by Anna Iltnere 10/10/2011
Peter Weibel (Germany, 1944) was elected to curate the 4th Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial, which is currently going on in Russia's capital from 22 September through 30 October. His spectrum of an education ranges from cinematography to medicine, mathematics and logic; but in the end, he chose contemporary art as his base, with interests in conceptual and new medium art, experimental cinema, and the language of speaking about art. The concept, or theme, of this year's Moscow Biennial, and against which Weibel had to cull the submitted works, is “Rewriting Worlds”. 64 artists from 33 countries are participating in the central exhibition, including Gints Gabrāns from Latvia and Timo Toots from Estonia, as well as already world-famous names such as Olafur Eliasson (Iceland/Denmark), Gerhard Richter (Germany) and Ai Weiwei (China).
In speaking with Peter Weibel, I was given the opportunity to learn about the idea of “rewriting” contemporary art, its development, and its role in today's world, as well as why Weibel hasn't been going to the Venice Biennial for several years now.
At the press conference, you mentioned that with this exhibition, you wish to make a clear delineation between modern art and contemporary art. What are the main differences between these two periods of art?
More precisely, I wish to bring attention to the division between imprecise knowledge and the modern art which has developed into contemporary art. It is usually accepted that modern art is abstract painting, which began in 1915 with Kazimir Malevich, who completely abandoned the notion of representing an object. I don't agree. Already in 1913, Marcel Duchamp declared, for the first time in the history of art, a real object as being a work of art; that was a subversive moment. I believe that modern art is characterized by the replacement of representation with reality. If before, bodies were painted, than in modern art, bodies are painted on – and we get body-art. If before, we had landscape painting, then with modern art we have “land-art” – the artists physically goes into the landscape and changes it. Before, paintings depicted light, the sun, rainbows; and then enters real light – with light installations. That, which art used to represent, is now real. And it's wrong to postulate that modern art accents freedom of color and form without a connection to reality. Therefore, the first criterion would be the replacement of representation with reality.
In academic art, it was considered the highest mastery to be able to recreate a person's face so that it seemed real, not painted. The goal was perfect imitation – which can be achieved – if there is no discernible evidence of the instruments and methods used. So that the brush stroke is not visible, only the skin is visible. But in the middle of the 19th century, some artists realized that they wanted to work differently. And modern painting evolved, the goal of which was to bring to the forefront the methods and instruments with which the representation is achieved. If the goal of academic painting was to show the painted face as living and present, then the modernists came with the mission to show that the face is construed. The critics of the time were correct when they pointed out that when looking at Monet's paintings, you don't see people, but rather the paintbrush. So modern art began with the revelation of how the image is created. Then there followed a row of artists who didn't paint from nature anymore, but rather from photographs; photography was a developed technology of the time and was also looked upon as an instrument. Even Andy Warhol didn't paint a single painting. All of his works are screen-prints, copies of photographs. This can be applied to pop-art as a whole.