Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oyvind Fahlstrom

I don't ordinarily like the politics behind Jed Perl's writing but there was one observation of his that had some general application, "young artists don't have influences as much as sources." This doesn't meant that young artists aren't inventive, it is just that I have many friends who are teachers that have said that when their students reinvent the wheel andthey as teachers point them towards older artists there is a new phenomenon of being shrugged off. This is not terrible - Marinetti and others wanted to burn the ground behind them - it may be though that there is not as much fervor for making it up on one's own as much as a simultaneously busy kaleidoscopic imagery yet lazy mindedness for students to confront head on later in life - right after school perhaps.

This is by no means limited to the visual arts - writers I have known are bewildered to find students writing something like Wallace Stevens for example never having heard of him much less read him, and so many other examples, the refrain is how does this happen? The teaching and scholarship of previous epochs made one incapable of being unaware of the existence of predecessors much less absolutely required to go into them and through them. My roommate came back from Yaddo years ago with a wellknown writer giving his novel to an an agent who found a publisher - I was living with him through every step of this exciting process -and then finally an editor who said "this book has so much of two of my favorite novels, Mrs. Bridge and Geek Love." Wesley had never read either, but I read his novel and recognized the vignette style of moving through a chronological time in truly compact and well written prose paragraphs isolated from each other in the page space from both Mrs. Bridge and the follow up Mr. Bridge quite well; we had all been so enthusiastic about these two novels by Evan S. Connell (and all the handsome paperbacks from the belated North Point Press also). That is a mystery how these things are in the air.
One time in Bruce Pearson's studio I was showing him my drawings and he looked at one and said it looked like his work, and I said they were redrawings of Arp forms with the aboriginal radiating lines surrounding, and added, alot of times when we think we are pulling things from thin air we find the air is very thick.

It is an interesting time when the young no longer feel that they have to eat the father, as they are quite content absentmindedly snacking on him.

I had read somewhere that Robert Storr had said now would be a good time for students to reconsider working with politics. The main thing about refamiliarizing myself with Oyvind Fahlstrom on the website of his foundation (a trip to the Strand yesterday to buy the large monograph that I had been meaning to before starting the whole Cabinet of Cabarets endeavor was gone) is how much his early fifties working a codex book form is this very sweeping cinematic doodling and abstraction from page to page, so familiar to so much going on with younger artists now; and then his incredible range of activities, listed in the bio below. I didn't know he had written so much poetry and that he wrote an influential essay about concrete poetry - the article on his poetics on the website begins with a quote from Charles Bernstein (who is a compelling performer in the Futurist MoMA event from February 9th further down on this blog); I do intend to have a lot more on poetry eventually and have to study this aspect of Fahlstrom further. There is also the film work, the early days as a political commentator and journalist, and the plays...but the main thing is the political depth and breadth of research behind his work and how plain exciting, formalistically far ranging, pop and yet elegant his work always is - and there are many times he goes more in the direction of being more abstract and formally inventive as well.

For now I find some of his work so familiar to some of what younger artists are doing, but they are doing it without the political knowledge, or desire to weave it in as content. There could be no better artist to look into at the moment for lessons in form and content and attention to global events I can imagine. He certainly was an influence on a good friend of mine Lisa Austin who went to Yale to get her MFA in 1982, (she is still making work but never moved to New York as someone who got a job teaching art far from the center) and much under discussion at the time with so many of the sculpture students I knew in the late seventies and early eighties. It really is a loss that Oyvind Fahlstrom died so young - there was a roadmap for a continued life's work here in every direction while staying absolutely necessary to an understanding of US and European hegemony and its complicated interplay. In his maps, monopoly boards, and vast information filled puzzles, it would seem that many artists I do admire who work(ed) well with political events or economic diagrams or so on have only picked up on one or a few parts of the puzzle of his vast tracking and vision. Many of these artists are (were) late bloomers or had a long time underknown or underground and so are my age or older on top of that. When the backlash hit Identity Politics and other politics in the midnineties, it hit very hard right at a time where students couldn't really afford to think about their awful tuition and debt burdens not paying off with galleries and collectors or grants and commissions one day. We paid twelve to eighteen dollars a credit hour when we went to school in my day, only the unbelievably rich kids had credit cards and cars while we had bounced checks and bicycles - but we were free, in ways no student after the college loan and credit card epoch could possibly imagine. I never got a credit card and came back from France, which was a nation of national health care and savings accounts (met people with the new debit cards but never credit cards outside of a certain demographic. The Europeans had never believed the stock market anything for anyone outside of the casino class. It is too bad they didn't know what their banking and financial class had been up to. Paper money only is one thing in the end - it is promissory notes from banks backed up by a nation state's federal reserves and taxpayer monies. This is not socialism versus global capitalism, it is the difference between fictional money and something that could be proven to be a nonfiction!

We are now printing new money and bailing out trillions that should have been revealed as fiction in the first place on some impossibly brighter future, - this is the first generation actually to increasingly eat their young with each passing decade even while throwing way too much at them from the time they are born giving them no training in temperance or saving or tools for survival - in a complete reversal of Freud's little fable used for an art world parable above. I had seen the US as increasingly financially delusional with every passing year back from Europe, and that was not subject to left or right politics because absolutely no one was tracking deregulation or economics with any common sense whatsoever - there was always such a host of issues that could be endlessly discussed and argued about that seemed more important at the time.

Please look into Fahlstrom's monopoly game boards on his website - he would have certainly been of utmost help at this time and perhaps there is an artist out there who can pick up the baton. Mark Lombardi certainly was tracking money changing hands but not perhaps aware of this overall attempt at a New World Order that was no order at all, there is no pattern and order in a global capitalism become a giant casino that was not even entertaining but purely predatory and vicious. In an article on Gagosian Peter Scheljdahl describes this infamous dealer as both a genius and a shark. Really - the shark is the lowest form of prehistoric intelligence and so maladaptive that if it stops swimming forward it dies. So many American people, museums, universities, institutions think that if they stop expanding, making ever more money, getting ever more publicity, they will die. It is time to let them shrink back into something more rational, to the size they were before they had CEOS and presidents perched like ticks feeding off the entire enterpise, and before they were grown like the little sponge toys that start out tiny and become dinosaurs by being flooded with magic grow water in the form of fictional liquidity. And there have to be more real deaths allowed as a lesson - perhaps Parsons School of Art should just melt down altogether, for just one Art World metaphor.

If there often is one marker artist for a time we are in, Oyvind Fahlstrom is the one for the times we are in now. But then he always was in his own time.

Öyvind Axel Christian Fahlström was born Brazilian on the 28th of December in Sáo Paulo, the only child of Frithjof Fahlström, born in Trondheim, Norway, in 1886, and Karin Fahlström, nèe Kronvall, born in Stockholm in 1900. He spends his childhood in Sáo Paulo, Niteroi and Rio de Janeiro and is educated in Portugese and English at Escola Britannica de Sáo Paulo.

In July, at the age of ten-and-a-half, he is sent to Sweden to spend the summer with his maternal grandfather and aunt. A month after his arrival in Stockholm, Germany invaded Poland. Now stranded by the outbreak of World War II, he is enrolled mid-September in Whitlockska Samskolan, a private school for foreign students in Stockholm.

His parents return to Stockholm, by which time he is an adult. After graduating at the top of his class in June, he is forced to choose between Brazilian and Swedish compulsory military service. He elects to become a Swedish citizen and relinquishes his Brazilian passport.

Classical studies and art history at the University of Stockholm. Travels to Paris and Italy meeting other poets and painters.

Theatre and poetry, journalism, criticism, translations. Contributes regularly to the Swedish press on cultural topics, both local and foreign, a role he will perform the rest of his life. Divides his time between Stockholm, Paris, and Rome.

Produces Opera, a room-sized drawing using felt-pen.
Marries Birgitta Tamm.

Solo exhibition at Galleria Numero, Florence (shows Opera). Writes Hätila ragulpr på fåtskliaben: manifest för konkret poesi (Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy: Manifesto for Concrete Poetry), which is published in 1954.

Produces Ade-Ledic-Nander I and II, which are part of a planned series of "character-form" paintings. Writes twenty-seven page scenario for the second painting.
Separates from Birgitta Tamm.

Joins the Phases movement. Opera shown at Galerie Creuze, Paris. Solo exhibition at Galerie Aesthetica, Stockholm.

Every second Saturday hosts an open studio.

Contract with Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. Participates in the Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture at the Carnegie Institute of Art. Scholarship for study in Italy.
Divorces Birgitta Tamm.

Solo exhibition at Galerie Daniel Cordier and at Galerie Blanche, Stockholm. Honorable mention for Ade-Ledic-Nander II at the 5th Bienal de Sáo Paulo.

Scholarship for study in France.
Marries Barbro Östlihn.

Grant from the Swedish-American Foundation to live in New York. Moves into the 128 Front Street studio formerly occupied by Robert Rauschenberg. Jasper Johns lives in the same building. Henceforth he lives and works in New York, spending summers in Sweden, France and Italy. Begins the Sitting… series.

First variable painting, Sitting… Six months later. Solo exhibition at Galerie Daniel Cordier. Participates in New Realists exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Happenings at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and on Swedish television. Publishes the word-game Minneslista för Dr. Schweitzer's sista uppdrag [Checklist for Dr. Schweitzer's Last Mission]. Fåglar i Sverige [Birds in Sweden], a "tape-event", is broadcast by Swedish radio.

Writes the plays Hammarskjöld om Gud [Hammarskjold on God], which is staged at Pistolteatern, Stockholm in 1966, directed by Sören Brunes, and Bröderna Strindberg [The Strindberg Brothers]. Represented by Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Den helige Torsten Nilsson [Holy Torsten Nilsson], a five-hour audiphonic novel, is broadcast by Swedish radio. First variable multiples, Eddie (Sylvie's Brother) in the Desert and a banner, Send Me Back to Congo. Represents Sweden at the XXXIII Venice Biennale (the most important work is Dr. Schweitzer's Last Mission, 1964-1966). Performance of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine for 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering organized by Experiments in Art and Technology at the 26th Street Armory, New York. Roulette, his first painting in oil on photo paper is shown in Erotic Art at Sidney Janis Gallery. Bord (poems 1952-55) published by Bonniers, Stockholm. The Strindberg Brothers is translated to French.
Mao-Bob Hope-March (black and white, 16 mm) using material from Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.

Writes the play Oswald kommer tillbaka [Oswald Comes Back]. Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. Produces his first work in which the oil on photo paper on vinyl elements float on water (Parkland Memorial). Version of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine broadcast on Swedish radio. Monograph published by Bonniers, Stockholm. Participates in towards a cold poetic image, Galleria Schwarz, Milan; Pictures to be Read/Poetry to be Seen, the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Makes two documentaries in New York for Swedish television about the anti-war movement amongst other things (black and white, 16 mm).The Strindberg Brothers is staged in New York during the summer at the Gotham Art Theatre by Michael Abrams. Finishes the play Förlåt Hitler [Forgive Hitler]. Bonniers publishes Den helige Torsten Nilsson in book form. Eddie (Sylvie's Brother) in the Desert... Collage is donated to The Museum of Modern Art, New York in the Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. Takes part in IV Documenta Kassel. Makes a thirty minute film, U-Barn (black and white and color, 35 mm). Retrospective exhibition in Pentacle, Musèe des Arts Dècoratifs, Paris, includes The Little General (Pinball Machine).

Solo exhibitions at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York and Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne. Travelling retrospective organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Writes the screenplay for a feature film (old-age love story and revolt in a psychiatric hospital). Makes Meatball Curtain (for R. Crumb) for Art and Technology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Begins filming Du Gamla Du Fria (100 minutes, color, 35 mm).

Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Cellen [The Cell], a radio theatre collage for Swedish radio based on interviews with cancer patients. Du Gamla Du Fria [Provocation] is shown at the Venice Film Festival. Self-publishes Sketch for World Map Part I (Americas, Pacific) which is distributed in the May issue of the New Left journal, Liberated Guardian, in an edition of 7000 copies. World Bank is selected for the New York Collection for Stockholm, an American gift to Moderna Museet. $108 Bill is published by E.A.T. in two editions: as a silkscreen print and as a lithograph.
Writes the play Dromdjuret [The Dream Animal].

Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. Writes the play The Black Room, based on the Watergate scandal. Retrospective at Moore College of Art Gallery, Philadelphia. Sketch for "World Map", is published as a silkscreen print by Avery, Kenner and Weiner, Inc. to benefit the Youth International Party.

Retrospective at the University of Wisconsin, Foster Gallery, Eau Claire. Solo exhibitions at Galerie Buchholz, Munich, and Galleria Multhipla, Milan. Die Zeit publishes an article and a silkscreen print, Column No. 4 (IB Affair). Retrospective portfolio of ten silkscreen prints published by Edizioni Multhipla, Milan. Prize for the silkscreen print, Seven S.O.M.B.A. Elements, at The 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo.

Solo exhibition at Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris. The exhibition Let's Mix All Feelings Together - Baruchello, Erró, Fahlström, Liebig is shown in museums in Munich, Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Paris, Rennes, Humlebaek, etc. A Proposito del Mulino Stucky for the Venice Biennale. Filming of documentary on Fahlström begins (Jan Sundström, director). Begins writing play interlocking events from the life of Wilhelm Reich with scenes from the television serial, Blondie.
Separates from Barbro Östlihn, to live with Sharon Avery.

Prepares to live and work in Paris for a year. Participates in Drawing Now, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which travels internationally. Solo exhibitions at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York and Galerie Ahlner, Stockholm. Catalogue raisonnè on his prints and multiples is completed by Sharon Avery. Éditions Maeght publishes Nights, Winters,Years (Words by Justin Hayward) in the series, Affiches (an artist-writer collaboration). Monograph published by Edizioni Multhipla, Milan (essays by Achille Bonito Oliva, Laszlo Glozer, Olle Granath, Öyvind Fahlström). Completes plans for Three Nightmares, a pool installation commissioned by Renault, Paris. Documentary on Fahlström aired on Swedish television. Elements from "Masses" and Sixteen Elements for "Chile I" prepared for publication by Gino Di Maggio and Sharon Avery. Reworks Night Music 4: Protein Race Scenario into eleven panels.
Divorces Barbro Östlihn.
An exploratory operation in mid-September reveals colon cancer metastacized to the liver which is untreatable.
Marries Sharon Avery.
Dies on the 9th of November in Stockholm.

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