– Autumn/Winter 2009

Do you, promise not to transform?

Gareth James

As a young artist recently out of undergraduate art school in London, my first reaction to the work of Art Club 2000 in the early nineties was peremptory and hostile. I remember, surprisingly clearly, muttering 'wankers' under my breath before turning the page on the spread of their signature Gap photos that appeared in Artforum. Of all the images of the members of Art Club 2000 dressed in Gap clothing - in a library, in Times Square, on a rooftop, outside a fast-food joint - I think it was the limpid lollygagging in the image of them inside the Conran shop that irritated me most, seeming so slight and vacuous compared to the angry, sarcastic golf-zombies that the London group BANK was producing at the same time. When I turned the page, it was with conviction - a 'forever' sort of thing.

Now, in agreeing (enthusiastically) to write about them fifteen years later, the conventions of wedding speech writing would seem to apply: after the initial provocative remark of dissent the speaker proceeds to reveal how the years and greater familiarity with the subject have led him or her to reject the first mistaken impression for a more sturdy sort of truth. While at weddings the formula is principally a way of getting laughs, a similar method is often present in art criticism, suggesting that the critic often shares with the wedding speaker the design of sneaking in his or her courageous honesty or clever guile under the cloak of a description of the rich complexity of the subject.

This essay was headed that way, but early drafts were impoverished by my attempts to disavow

  1. See Walter Benjamin, 'Critique of Violence', Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (ed. Peter Demetz, trans. Edmund Jephcott), New York: Schocken, 1986; and Jacques Derrida, 'Force of Law: The "Mystical Foundation of Authority"', Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (ed. Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld and David Gray Carlson), London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

  2. Glenn O'Brien, 'Into The Gap: Art Club 2000', Artforum, vol.32, no.6, February 1994, pp.72-75.

  3. Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol.40, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.

  4. See Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason (trans. Michael Eldred), London: Verso, 1988, in particular ch.5 for his discussion of Diogenes as the kynic philosopher (kyon means 'dog' in Greek).

  5. The original members of Art Club 2000 were studying with Hans Haacke and Mark Dion at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and initially came into contact with American Fine Arts, Co. through a project initiated by Dion.

  6. See George Baker, The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2007.

  7. Jean-Joseph Goux, Symbolic Economies: After Marx and Freud (trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage), Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990, p.3.

  8. Ibid., p.9.

  9. The older explanatory modes of attending to art leave the artwork in the position of primary object, whereas the meta-critical, at the very least, displaces it from its presumed centrality, and potentially replaces it with a reading of the criticism itself, moving the work into a marginal position relative to the general equivalent that criticism might become.

  10. Jacques Lacan employed the term 'sexuation', and not 'sexuality', to indicate that the subject is inscribed as a man or woman by virtue of the signifier rather than by virtue of their biological constitution. See J. Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-73 (Encore) (ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink), New York: W.W. Norton, 1998

  11. See J.-J. Goux, Symbolic Economies, op. cit.

    , p.5.

  12. Grand Royal interview with Daniel McDonald and Art Club 2000, 'Talking More Paranoid Conspiracy Trash About Your Friendly Neighborhood Denim Vendor', Grand Royal, issue 1, 1993. Available at http://www.beastiemuseum.de/gr/1996/Magazine/Issue1/Features/GAP/default.htm (last accessed on 13 August 2009).

  13. Goux continues: 'Even if this "materialist" direction may be considered as a simple turn-about that leaves the oppositional structure [between idealism and materialism] intact, it is situated in a strategy that challenges the logic of general equivalents by reinstating what the metaphysics of value and idea (that is, metaphysics period) was obliged to eliminate in the course of its development.' J.-J. Goux, Symbolic Economies, op. cit. , p.6.