Friday, March 18, 2011


Walking into the galleries of Kunsthalle, I saw white-painted bent barriers stacked vertically to form towers that resembled Tatlin's Monument to the Third International. The fluorescent lights in the middle gave out an eerie Dan Flavin-like glow. I had an "Ah, of course!" moment when I found out this sculptural work by German artist Bettina Pousttchi was actually called Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin. In fact, Flavin himself had made a series of many pieces since 1964 under the name of Monument for V. Tatlin.

Continuing upstairs, I spotted John Baldessari's Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell printed on a sweatshirt (actually four sweatshirts of sizes M, L, XL, XXL nested inside one another). It was called Baldessari for All by Turish artist Banu Cennetoğlu. I couldn't help but wondering: are these just borrowing or plagiarism? Is it OK because they are art?

Bettina Pousttchi, Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin, 2010
Banu Cennetoğlu, Baldessari for All, 2010

Then in the afternoon, I went to the VitraHaus. The visit started to answer the question I had earlier. I remembered one of the critiques about this building was that it repeated the cliché profile of a simple pitched-roof house. It is a tired form (MVRDV, Fujimoto, etc.). But in this case, paying "homage" to the home is definitely the most appropriate thing to do.

The primary purpose of the VitraHaus is to display furniture and objects from the Vitra Home Collection. So the "stacked houses" concept makes perfect sense. It provides a unified character to the showrooms while allowing localized settings with different atmospheres for different scenarios. The massive collection was broke down into "vignettes" of domesticity - it felt comfy and homey! Now I saw the premise of borrowing: the chosen model serves the purpose and intention of a new maneuver.

These series of "places" felt like home, but they were not direct copies. The extruded volumes intersect each other on different levels at different angles, forming complex and interesting relationships both on the outside and the inside. The central open space, for example, has a unique urban quality, with bars flying above in different directions. On the inside, the angular intersection creates multiple perspectives, and the spatial experience is absolutely beyond a simple pitched-roof house. It was suddenly clear to me how borrowing is different from taking: the new product elevates its archetypal origins to a new level by creative manipulations or injected new meanings. The spatial complexity is further enhanced by spiral stairs that wind their way through the labyrinthine building. I could really feel that the visitors sequence was carefully calibrated.

When night fell, the large end windows glowed like stages. The impressive cantilevers gave the illusion that the houses were floating in mid air.

On the way back, my thoughts continued. I thought about Duchamp's Fountain; I thought about Andy Warhol; I thought about Ulysses; I thought about Jonathan Safran FoerI thought about Bohemian Rhapsody; I thought about the fact that DJ's didn't really produce the tracks they use; and I thought about Glee. It's called paying homage in art. And to Newton, this is "standing on the shoulders of giants."

No comments: