Sep 16, 2015

Alan Kaprow
Art Which Can’t Be Art (1986)

It’s fairly well known that for the last thirty years my main work as an artist has been lo- cated in activities and contexts that don’t suggest art in any way. Brushing my teeth, for example, in the morning when I’m barely awake; watching in the mirror the rhythm of my elbow moving up and down . . .

The practice of such an art, which isn’t perceived as art, is not so much a contradiction as a paradox. Why this is so requires some background.

When I speak of activities and contexts that don’t suggest art, I don’t mean that an event like brushing my teeth each morning is chosen and then set into a conventional art context, as Duchamp and many others since him have done. That strategy, by which an art-identifying frame (such as a gallery or theater) confers “art value” or “art discourse” on some nonart object, idea, or event, was, in Duchamp’s initial move, sharply ironic. It forced into confrontation a whole bundle of sacred assumptions about creativity, professional skill, individuality, spirituality, modernism, and the presumed value and function of high art itself. But later it became trivialized, as more and more nonart was put on exhibit by other artists. Regardless of the merits of each case, the same truism was headlined every time we saw a stack of industrial products in a gallery, every time daily life was enacted on a stage: that anything can be estheticized, given the right art packages to put it into. But why should we want to estheticize “anything”? All the irony was lost in those presentations, the provocative questions forgotten. To go on making this kind of move in art seemed to me unproductive.

Instead, I decided to pay attention to brushing my teeth, to watch my elbow moving. I would be alone in my bathroom, without art spectators. There would be no gallery, no critic to judge, no publicity. This was the crucial shift that removed the performance of everyday life from all but the memory of art. I could, of course, have said to myself, “Now I’m making art!!” But in actual practice, I didn’t think much about it.

My awareness and thoughts were of another kind. I began to pay attention to how much this act of brushing my teeth had become routinized, nonconscious behavior, compared with my first efforts to do it as a child. I began to suspect that 99 percent of my daily life was just as routinized and unnoticed; that my mind was always somewhere else; and that the thousand signals my body was sending me each minute were ig- nored. I guessed also that most people were like me in this respect.

Brushing my teeth attentively for two weeks, I gradually became aware of the tension in my elbow and fingers (was it there before?), the pressure of the brush on my gums, their slight bleeding (should I visit the dentist?). I looked up once and saw, really saw, my face in the mirror. I rarely looked at myself when I got up, perhaps because I wanted to avoid the puffy face I’d see, at least until it could be washed and smoothed to

match the public image I prefer. (And how many times had I seen others do the same and believed i was different!)

This was an eye-opener to my privacy and to my humanity. An unremarkable picture of myself was beginning to surface, and image I’d created but never examined. It colored the images I made of the world and influenced how I dealt with my images of others. I saw this little by little.

But if this wider domain of resonance, spreading from the mere process of brushing my teeth, seems too far from its starting point, I should say immediately that it never left the bathroom. The physicality of brushing, the aromatic taste of toothpaste, rinsing my mouth and the brush, the many small nuances such as right-handedness causing me to enter my mouth with the loaded rush from that side and then move to the left side — these particularities always stayed in the present. The larger implications popped up from time to time during the subsequent days. All this from toothbrushing.

How is this relevant to art? Why is this not just sociology? It is relevant because devel- opments within modernism itself let to art’s dissolution into its life sources. Art in the West has a long history of secularizing tendencies, going back at least as far as the Hel- lenistic period. by the late 1950s and 1960s this lifelike impulse dominated the van- guard. Art shifted away from the specialized object in the gallery to the real urban envi- ronment; to the real body and mind; to communications technology; and to remote natu- ral regions of the ocean, sky, and desert. Thus the relationship of the act of toothbrush- ing to recent art is clear and cannot be bypassed. This is where the paradox lies; an artist concerned with lifelike art is an artist who does and does not make art.

Anything less than paradox would be simplistic. Unless the identity (and thus the meaning) of what the artist does oscillates between ordinary, recognizable activity and the “resonance” of that activity in the larger human context, the activity itself reduces to conventional behavior. Or if it is framed as art by a gallery, it reduces to conventional art. Thus toothbrushing, as we normally do it, offers no roads back to the real wold either. But ordinary life performed as art/not art can charge the everyday with metaphoric power.

in david bohm’s view, all the separate objects, entities, structures, and events in the visible or explicate world around us are relatively autonomous, stable, and temporary "subtotalities" derived from a deeper, implicate order of unbroken wholeness.              

Jan 27, 2012

between the photos of primary colors in the last post about fort standard‘s blocks…’s amazing post about the ellsworth kelly paper printed up in germany…
and the article in last sunday’s ny times about ellsworth kelly…
how could i not share these amazing pieces by marine huggonier?
“In david Bohm’s view, all the separate objects, entities, structures, and events in the visible or explicate world around us are relatively autonomous, stable, and temporary “subtotalities” derived from a deeper, implicate order of unbroken wholeness. Bohm gives the analogy of a flowing stream:

On this stream, one may see an ever-changing pattern of vortices, ripples, waves, splashes, etc., which evidently have no independent existence as such. Rather, they are abstracted from the flowing movement, arising and vanishing in the total process of the flow. Such transitory subsistence as may be possessed by these abstracted forms implies only a relative independence or autonomy of behaviour, rather than absolutely independent existence as ultimate substances.

so please enjoy the visual and philosophical connections you make today.
and go from fragmentation to wholeness.
posted by matt olson

fort standard is a contemporary design studio founded in 2011 by gregory buntain and ian collings. having studied industrial design together at new york’s pratt institute and the bauhaus university in weimar germany, their work is a fusion of craft-based              

Jan 27, 2012

awesome to see our pals fort standard in nyc last week!  
we met last spring through the noho next exhibit.  they are great.
their hardwood blocks are amazing.  only $85 for a bag full!
please enjoy the time while it is passing.
posted by matt olson

"there are lots of images in the work but i’m not sure they’re standing still – meaning – this is the only thing you’re looking at… with the pictures i took in alaska, you’re actually looking at something that can’t be grabbed in a picture: the future."              

Jan 24, 2012

towards tomorrow (international date line alaska) 2001 – marine hugonnier

marine hugonnier bender this afternoon.

“there are lots of images in the work. but i’m not sure they’re standing still-meaning-this is the only thing you’re looking at… with the pictures i took in alaska, you’re actually looking at something that can’t be grabbed in a picture: the future.” via

here’s to the future (which is already the past)

but please enjoy both.

posted by matt olson

fantasy is often posited as the antithesis of reality, but this is a fallacy. fantasy is a part of reality – perhaps the most vibrant, and certainly its most fun. without fantasy, the reality we inhabit would not only be grayer; it would not exist at all              

Jan 23, 2012

(chemistry), material remaining after a distillation or an evaporation, or portion of a larger molecule – In particular, in biology, often refers specifically to an amino acid
(law), portion of the testator’s estate that is not specifically devised to someone
(complex analysis), mathematics, complex number describing the behavior of line integrals of a meromorphic function around a singularity
(agricultural), Crop residue, materials left after agricultural processes
(relatioship), lingering feelings occurring after the commencement of a relationship often brought about by the unwillingness of one party to let go which can lead to sporadic emotional discharges.
Residue may also be: a) The remainder in modular arithmetic b) The heavier fractions of crude oil that fail to vaporize in an oil refinery
via wikipedia title via 032c
or is everything the residue of time?
please enjoy the time while it is passing by.
posted by matt olson

music, happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and places try to tell us something, or have said something we shouldn’t have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps…              

Jan 20, 2012

scenes from nyc part two.

amy’s shirt (kinda)! 
happy birthday e! (again : – )

i see kersti everyday on my coffee table.  fun to see people irl!

magical & otherwise and amy!   awesomeness.

for some reason seeing this every day made me think of this… every single day.

dia: beacon bound

this guy was here to greet us.

jean-luc moulène!  loved – loved – loved!

 anonymous friends in cool clothes.

 phillipe vergne‘s bentley

kiosk was closed : – (

spring street lombardi’s was open : – )

big daddy cane! aka mondo patrick.

eric timothy carlson aka etc (who we did this & this with)

obsessed with these.

project no 8 = maison martin margiela oxfords for amy!

quality time with kyle (& aapc!) amazing energy.  something great is coming soon.

went to see the maurizio cattelan show all.  loved it!  loved…

when i see this?  i think of this… always.

one last look around brian and elizabeth’s back yard.  we loved staying here.

then off to the standard to watch the sunset…

looking south.

looking north.

i’ve always loved a reflection on a window.

late night snack.

then it was morning. (i got new shoes at project no 8 too!)

bye nyc

we’ll be back soon!  thanks so much everybody!
please enjoy the time while it is passing us by.
sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
posted by matt olson

rolu haiku: you become yourself / while you become each other / again and again | pic is 1 of 3 posters made @ "graphic design: now in production" @ the walker ‘when does something, become something else? again and again and again,’ the tentative title…              

Jan 12, 2012

1/3 of 3 posters “when does something become something else again & again & again” poster fabrication by jurg lehni

so honored to be featured on the always great sight unseen. chk it!

we designed some jewelry for their shop too!  more tomorrow.

please enjoy the time as it passes by again and again and…

posted by matt olson