Archis dobbelt niet / Tales of demolition

The title refers, of course, to the nerve-racking dice game of craps. Curators and artists went on the rampage, and the question was how the outside world would react. Well, they got what they asked for. Major consternation flared up round the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, a venture which was firmly nipped in the bud by the police. His contribution was a crime: stealing the contents of the Bloom Gallery and displaying the spoils before the public. It was appropriation art for advanced learners, at a level where the strong arm of the law comes into play. But it seems there are limits after all. The cover of this issue of Archis gives you an impression of what remained to be seen at De Appel. Visiting the exhibition was a bit like taking part in a military assault course, the shrapnel flying in all directions.

Loud though the protestations may be that Cattelan’s mini-scandal was just a feeble recapitulation of sixties happenings for the benefit of the Amsterdam in-crowd, the artist was taking chances that none before him had dared. Firstly, he compromised art by transgressing the sacrosanct boundary between aesthetics and the legal order. He was stealing. Secondly, he jeopardized his own artistic freedom by risking jail. Finally, he was abandoning the recognizable work of art. What he did was just a tactical move, not a completed product of the kind to which the art public, innured though they may be, still apparently clings. The harvest of this anarchy has so far mainly been public irritation. People want to be reminded of art, not of organized crime.

Elsewhere in this issue you will find a critical review of the exhibition as an artistic event. Besides that, there is perhaps a lesson to be learned for all the professional fields covered by this magazine. Architecture too (cf. art) has been committed to the graveyard in the past. The architect too (cf. the artist) is under pressure as a practitioner of a specialized profession. And, taking the analogy further, might not the autonomous architectural object also have reached the end of the line? From that point of view, the most memorable image of the exhibition at De Appel is an exposed bit of sanitary installation, namely a sewage pipe. Precisely the function that is usually concealed as throroughly as possible (as though by definition) here forms the heart of a work of art. Is this the future?

The acts of sabotage in and around De Appel have suddenly brought ‘fine’ art very close to the world of building once more. Not in the area of design, this time, but of demolition. Weren’t all the artists’ interventions in fact architectonic, if negative, ones? – offices wrecked, breaking and entering, malignant plumbing and labyrinthine routing (you had to thread your way past obstacles and under lowered lintels). If art aims to hit us where it hurts, a conceptual affront such as a urinal no longer suffices. Nowadays genuine molestation is required. It’s an art in itself.

News from the debris-strewn fields, tales of demolition… isthis the way to launch one’s career as editor-in-chief of Archis? Before jumping to the conclusion that our pens will henceforth be dipped in nitroglycerine, please await further instalments of this column. There’s bound to be some building in it.

Scènes uit een atelier. Christian de Portzamparc in Centre Pompidou / Scenes from a studio. Christian de Portzamparc in Centre Pompidou