Posts tagged Postminimalism

Washing Day, 1976

Hi! It's been about 6 months since I wrote. I moved to New York and life got busy. But I'm fine now so let's see if we can pick things up.

I recently reacquainted myself with the artwork of Renate Bertlmann. What kept my attention this time around is the humor I see behind Bertlmann's work, and the simple messages that can be abstracted.

Bertlmann is a feminist avant-garde artist whose career began in the early 1970s. Born in 1943 in Vienna, Austria, Bertlmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Upon graduating in 1970, she lectured at the academy through the early 1980s. Throughout this time, she built a corpus of work using various media including drawing, painting, object art, installation, photography, film, and performance.

Touching mainly on the binary opposition of male and female roles, Bertlmann worked with phallic and breastlike shapes, using humor and hyperbole as a platform for discussion on a topic that is otherwise generally a sore subject for any thinking female.

As was en vogue in the post-minimalist time she began her work, Bertlmann often used ordinary objects. But in her case, this was to her advantage, as she worked with familiar household objects, a place where things are almost strictly divided between male and female genders. This by default made her a "feminist" artist, even without publishing a manifesto or saying anything about it outright.

Caress (Washing Day), 1976

The undisguised sexual nature of Bertlmann's work bends gender norms as much as it overtly acknowledges the dichotomy between the two. Her ability to blur the lines is well demonstrated in her close-range photographs of inflated condoms touching each other. Male gendered objects become reminiscent of the female body and hermaphroditic inuendos.

Tender Touches , 1976

Tender Touches, 1976

Likewise, hanging inflated condoms alongside flaccid condoms on a laundry line in her Washing Day series, Bertlmann juxtaposes the male and female figure using a traditionally male gendered object.

Washing Day, 1976

In a recent interview with the Tate Modern (2015), Bertlmann explains her subversive humor:

Pornographic jokes have always been a male domain, made at the exclusive expense of women. I consider my series of objects an accomplished example of an obscene female joke. This joke has hit home; it targets the deadly serious, male sexual arrogance. My works could be created only because I was obviously able, despite my anxieties, to discuss sexuality and sexual repression simultaneously through desire and ironic distance.

Especially at the time of her work, Bertlmann's pervasive use of 'private' parts of the human body were, and are widely still considered vulgar for women to discuss, let alone exhibit. I feel like her ability to avoid erotic notions while still using these symbols is a huge feat, and actually adds fuel to the outrage fire, as one might be able to accept an erotic "vulgar" female, the way society does with Anais Nin, but for Bertlmann's work, replacing eroticism with overt symbols of obscenity, the message is no longer palatable to social conformists.

Urvagina, 1978

Renate Bertlmann has explained that she identifies with "physically handicapped wheelchair-bound outcasts," which is partly influenced by their role in Thomas Bernhard’s play A Party for Boris (1968). This explains the presence of wheelchairs in her work since she started in the early 70s.  (A very "unfeminine" ordinary object, don't you think)? A wheelchair might seem incongruent with the rest of her work at first glance, but Bertlmann explains that she likes to use wheelchairs "to emphasize the tension between inertness, mobility, and bodily contact," which combined with gender norms, actually makes a lot of sense.

In her performance Pregnant Bride in Wheelchair (1976) (below), Bertlmann implies the handicapping outcome of a woman who is both pregnant and a bride. I can't find any interviews with her in English about this particular performance, but it seems like she assumes the persona of a pregnant woman who is made to marry due to social pressures of the time.

The pregnant bride is not only in a wheelchair, but her fingertips also appear to be nipples, exaggerating the exhausting and giving nature of the female body. Her face is also ghostly, perhaps alluding to the death of the young woman's freedom, or maybe done in effort to depict a grotesque figure in a situation where women are typically expected to look pure and beautiful.

After she finished lecutring in 1980, Bertlmann soley focused on her studio work and what she calls "freelance" work. I've never heard a working artist call themselves freelance but maybe she also did work for hire that is outside of her personal aesthetic.

Below, Bertlmann's installation 1984 piece, Breast Incubator has holes for hands to enter within the clear case, offering a means to fondle the breasts within. The nipples, however, have exacto knife blades sticking out of them, which to me symbolically expresses the instances where being groped is an unwanted experience.

Breast Incubator, 1984

Through today, Bertlmann continues to create work that sheds light on the objectification of the female body and using her humor to emasculate male gendered objects. 

Untitled, 2016

By hanging condoms that are used as bud vases on a towel rack with ribbon, I see Bertlmann making a multi-layered joke here. And hello, still at it in 2016! She was born in 1946. She is not faking this joke. She lives this thing and she is nailing it. Flowers and ribbons—so "girly." A towel rack—a domestic object, maybe gender neutral (though I think one could argue that almost all domestic objects are associated with females). Yes Ranate. Yes.



I find myself growing increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of "the alternative." What was once non-conformist has become totally generic. There is now a Williamsburg in every city. Newly 'revived' places considered desirable because they are 'eclectic and liberal' have become the familiar. We've returned to a time where Americans believe that looking and behaving a certain way will make them happy. But instead of a having a nuclear family and a white picket fence, we're all "creative," we eat at hip places, we travel, we wear vintage, we buy artisanal everything

Of course this cultural phenomenon is a reaction to mass production and the utter destruction that the past few decades have inflicted upon humanity and the environment, but we've effectively replaced a blind acceptance of Betty Crocker products with a blind acceptance of gluten free products. Only I find it worse now, because today we all know that advertising plays into our subconscious, we know that everyone's internet lives are curated, and yet we consume the new standard, believing that doing so can make us 'different' from 'everyone else.' (Not to mention tons of people and brands are simply repeating the work of others and parading as if they're original).

And yes, farm to table restaurants and organic foods are wonderful, it's important that we consume more consciously, but I'm starting to think modern society is a throwback to the 1950s, but this time around everyone's in indigo; and consumption, though less corporate, is far more commercial because we're all a brand. We're all patrons of propaganda. Nearly everyone has a website. 'The individual' is a consumer product, and quite frankly I'm calling everyone's bluff (hence the rant). But instead of getting too upset and turning on humanity, I've decided to study a period in history where similar sentiments were turned into art.

"Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form," Arte Povera Group Exhibition, Bern, 1969

When thinking of artwork that reacts to my current woes, Germano Celant's "Manifesto" for the Arte Povera movement comes to mind. In the manifesto titled, Arte Povera: Appunti per una Guerriglia (Notes for a Guerrilla War), the opening lines state, “First came man, then the system. That is the way it used to be. Now it’s society that produces, and it’s man that consumes.” Using language that was political and revolutionary in nature, Marx and a "rejection of consumerism," Celant's manifesto was a social critique. This manfiesto was first published in Flash Art magazine in 1967, after the group's first show, and is now considered to be the launch of the short-lived Arte Povera movement in Italy, a movement which lasted through 1972.

The name 'Arte Povera' literally means "poor art," and was adopted because the artists worked as a group to counter 'high art,' criticize capitalism, class struggle, and the commercialization of fine art by using "poor mediums."  At a time when art was being produced in an industrial fashion (think graphic design techniques used in pop art processes, for example), and abstract minimalism had overstayed its welcome, dominating the market to the point where it was no longer cutting edge, but had become palatable for every day consumption, postminimalist artists emerged in Europe and the US.

During this time, Arte Povera artists made use of ordinary objects such as rope, plaster, metal, soil and wood as mediums, shying away from traditional, rigid art forms, since the latter were thought to be concerned with emotion and individual expression. In a sense, this movement was Italy's specific type of postminimalism because performance, process and land art were applied to create installations, but how they differed from artists working with similar mediums and likeminded agendas elsewhere, was that Arte Povera emphasized the rejection of consumerism and the branding of the artist.

L-R: "Shaman Showman," Alighiero Boetti, 1968; "Che Prendo il Sole" (I sunbathe), Alighiero Boetti, 1969;  "Che Fare?" (What to Do?), Mario Merz, 1968; "Igloo di Giap," Mario Merz, 1968, reads: If the enemy concentrates, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses force.

In effort to curb the emphasis on the individual, Arte Povera exhibitions were formatted in such a way that it was difficult to distinguish each artist's work, completely undermining the conventional gallery format that traditionally brands an artist to make their work ready for consumption. With interest in creating a dialogue between art and the viewer, where the viewer is free of preconceived notions, the Arte Povera exhibitions aimed to form a different experience of the art on display. By using familiar, everyday materials in a gallery setting, this goal was further solidified. Hence viewers were left with only the materials, the forms in which the materials were put together, and often, words one would otherwise find in combat or revolution propaganda, without being spoon fed the meaning, the need to consume the art, or branded artists.

"Muretto di Stracci," (Wall of Rags) & "Venere Degli Stracci," (Venus of the Rags) 1967 Michelangelo Pistoletto 

While it is difficult to say whether or not Arte Povera's attempt to remove a brand from their art was achieved, (I mean, they gave it a name and worked within certain parameters), I think it is more important to overlook the trend of the "fly on the wall" method that most artists and academics were adopting at the time, to focus on Arte Povera's call for attention to consumerism and branding in general. Considering Arte Povera was in a sense, a reaction to the homogeneity of the Post-War West that went on in the 1950s, I think my comparison of our society today with the 1950s again shows a need for awareness of the blind consumerism and branding our society participates in currently. 

Bagtazo isn't a brand. It's a name I have given to the work I create. And while the aim is to make a living from my work, I've been really giving thought to how I would like to go about doing that moving forward. Because ultimately the success of Bagtazo relies on you. The consumer. I can make beautiful things, but I can't live from making them without you.

At a time when so many people have 'start ups,' the economy is basically in the hands of the people in a way that it hasn't been in the past 50 years or more. So maybe if we put a little thought into how we're consuming, how we're selling (and let's take it beyond caring where it's made or buying into the ubiquitous stories people tell up about how the brand was born from sunshine or some heritage nonsense) and really put some thought into how and what we're consuming, perhaps we can insight the revolutionary air of the 1960s once more. After all, I feel like we've been living in the 50s lately, so maybe there's only one place to go from here... who knows.

"Artist's Shit," 1961 Piero Manzoni

Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2015


Every designer likes to think of themselves as original in some way, but I also like to consider my influences, who my predecessors are, and which of my contemporaries work in a similar vein. I like to do this with other trends and design themes, in order to get a better understanding of where they're coming from.

This month I participated in COEUR Tradeshow for LA Market Week, and was struck by the repetition of postminimalism in accessory design. Though postminimalism came about in the 1960s, and remained a dominant style in art and music through the 70s, there seems to be a new wave of postminimalism in artisanal wares as of late.

At the show, I saw a lot of pieces that resembled the late artist Eva Hesse's work, made in the 1960s. Using misshapen, almost playful lines, the application of rope and other everyday objects; materials containing many characteristics of postminimalist visual art: necklaces, pottery, bags, and apothecary goods by designers from New York, California, and even Australia are being made in this style. This new movement makes sense to me, as designers are likely reacting to the very minimal trends of plain sack dresses and monochromatic outfits that permeated the last five years of fashion.

But now that we're here collectively, I think it's important to study a forerunner. Both to pay homage, and to better educate ourselves on what has already occurred so that we might build upon, rather than repeat.

Eva Hesse was born in Germany in 1936 to a Jewish family. During WWII Hesse and her sister were sent to England to flee the Nazis, and were met by her parents a few years later. Once reunited, she and her family went to New York in 1939 where they lived together in Washington Heights until 1944 when Hesse's parents divorced. A year later, her mother committed suicide. Hesse was only ten years old.

Hesse had an impressive art education, having graduated from the School of Industrial Art in New York as a teen, followed by brief studies at Pratt Institute of Design and Cooper Union, before receiving a BA from Yale in 1959. At Yale she studied under Josef Albers, an abstract expressionist who greatly influenced Hesse.

Following her education, Hesse met her husband, sculptor Tom Doyle. The two went to Germany together in 1965 where they lived in an abandoned textile factory during Doyle's artist residency. Living in a dilapidated industrial space, Hesse began to use left over parts from factory machines and other industrial materials in her work. 

Though the year in Germany with Doyle ended in divorce, Hesse's work was forever changed. Returning to New York, she focused solely on sculpture – moving away from painting to working exclusively with three dimensional objects. 

Hesse's 'anti-form' style, along with her use of latex, resin and other industrial materials gained recognition, allowing her to exhibit her work of large-scale sculptures in a solo show at the Fischback Gallery in New York in 1968. But four years after Hesse returned to New York, the same year of her first solo show of sculptures in the US, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Hesse underwent three surgeries before dying a year later at the age of 34, ending her career at a mere 10 years of work.

Though Hesse was not an outright feminist, she did call her work "feminine" because she was a woman. Nevertheless, in addition to influencing designers today, she also impacted feminist artists from the late 60s through the 80s with her ability to find recognition and to live as a working artist during a time when the art world was dominated by men. Hesse had six exhibitions in the short ten years she worked, two of which were solo shows, something that was virtually unheard of for a woman at the time.

Though Hesse's life and work were cut short, her legacy lives on, and great efforts have been made to preserve her early paintings, as well as her later drawings, drafts, and sculptures. To this day, Hesse's work is debated among critics because of the difficulty in discerning what of her work is complete, and whether to call a drawing a draft for future sculptures, or finished work. Hesse has had numerous posthumous retrospective shows, as much of her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, MoMA, and other art centers around the world.

Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015