Vuk Cosic on Fri, 14 Feb 97 22:20 MET

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

nettime: (Fwd) miran


------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

Date:          Thu, 13 Feb 1997 23:00:31 -0800
From:          Miran Mohar <>


This is a letter of support for Alexander Brener, an artist who has to 
stand in front of a Dutch court on charges of vagabondage and destruction 
of the Malevich painting "Suprematism 1922-1927." 

We met Alexander in 1994 in Moscow, where he was known as a poet of 
controversial Russian-Jewish identity. When we met with him he had just 
re-emigrated from Israel, where he emigrated with his family few years 
before. He explained his return to Moscow as a gesture of his 
disillusionment with any existing political system, finding Russia after 
the collapse of socialism an appropriate place to make an artistic 
statement of that disillusionment. Our common language--which resulted in 
a few joint projects, including Interpol and Transnacionala in 1996--is 
based on the belief that the contemporary art situation is highly 
politicized, in the sense that economically stronger countries control 
and abuse the system of values we inherited from the tradition of 
contemporary art of this century as a common spiritual good. It is 
therefore necessary and legitimate for any artist to question the 
position andbmechanisms of implementation of an individual art work in a 
system of art which refuses to be just a toy of markets and ideologies.

To satisfy this necessity, Brener transposed his poetic statement from 
literature to the direct physical language of actions-performances. In 
the beginning of 1994, he did an action in the Fine Art Museum 
(Puskinskij Musei) in Moscow, where he stood in front of one of van 
Gogh's paintings and excremented in his pants while repeating: "Vincent, 
Vincent." He described this action as a dialogue with the beginnings of 
modernism, where
"excrement in pants" had a double meaning--both of great pleasure caused 
by the work of art and the notion of excrement as a symbolic 
materialization of the monolithic ideology that Van Gogh was placed in as 
its founder.

Once he provoked Dimitry Prigow, who is an exemplary avant-garde artist 
living in Moscow. While Prigow was reading his poetry, Alexander jumped 
on the stage, houting, "It's burning! It's burning!" grabbing his own 
buttocks. That, he xplained, was his answer to Prigow's belief, that his 
poetry is a cold analysis. Prigow accused him of being a Fascist.

Another similar event took place during the reading of poetry by another 
Russian legend, one of the most sophisticated poets of the sixties - 
Jevgenij Jevtusenko. During this reading, Alexander stood up and repeated 
the phrase: "Silence, my mother wants to sleep." His provocation angered 
Jevtusenko, who called upon his bodyguards to help. Another action was 
Brener's public masturbation on the diving platform of the swimming pool 
built during socialism on the site of a destroyed orthodox church. This 
action was made during a one-day exhibition organized by the artist 
Andrej Velikanov. Brener was later arrested by the police for the action. 
We should also mention one of the most political actions of his. He went 
to Red Square in boxing equipment in the middle of the war campaign in 
Chechniya and shouted in the direction of the Kremlin: "Yeltsin, come 
In October 1995, Brener visited Ljubljana where he did three short 
actions on the streets. One of them took place in front of the Slovenian 
National Opera and Ballet building, which is located between the 
Slovenian parliament and an Orthodox church. He climbed onto the balcony, 
pulled his clothes off and appeared in nothing but a pair of black boxing 
pants. He then put boxing gloves on, sang an Arabic liturgical song and 
smashed a baroque window in the Opera house. After leaving Ljubljana, he 
returned to Moscow, where a few weeks later he threw few bottles of 
ketchup on the facade of the Byelorussian Embassy, destroying them in 
protest of the almost-dictatorial Byelorussian regime.

The event that made him a controversial figure in the international art 
community took place in February last year in Stockholm, Sweden in the 
context of the Interpol project, where he destroyed an artwork made by 
the Chinese artist Wenda Gu. As participants in the same project, we 
understood the reason for his action. Interpol was a project curated by a 
Swedish curator Jan Aman and Russian Victor Misiano as a three-year 
project in progress, where the main aim was to establish communication 
among different artists.The project was not classically curated. The 
artists were supposed to formulate the exhibition as a collective through 
communication and interaction between their works. The curators were 
supposed to provide a possibility for meetings in Stockholm and Moscow 
and to organize the final event. It was especially stressed that 
classical individual art objects were not welcome at this exhibition.

When we actually came to realize the project, we were all shocked to see 
that an enormous work by Wenda Gu took up the central alley of the space, 
with no attention to any other artist presented there. The disappointment 
was even bigger when we realized that the organizers represented by Jan 
Aman were very proud of this work, accepting no objection that this work 
by definition broke the rules of the game established in three years of 
prior communication.

As Jan Aman was the financial supporter of the project, the whole story 
became West-East polarised, also the more so because it was obvious that 
Victor Misiano was ultimately thrown out of the game. Therefore, on the 
day of the opening, Brener simply destroyed Wenda Gu's work. For that he 
was accused of being  a fascist by the group of artists and by the 
organizers of the exhibition, and a very primitive and nonchalant letter 
was sent to all important addresses of contemporary art institutions, 
claiming that Misiano and
all Russian artists present are a group of fascists.

Our position toward this action is that his action was completely 
legitimate in the described context because, after three years of talking 
and constructing a bridge of values between individuals of two different 
socio-political and cultural contexts, the organizers allowed an art work 
that totally negated the basic ethical imperatives of the project to be 
presented in the classical and universally accepted manner. None of these 
actions could be called vandalism or Fascism--the method by which even 
people from a sophisticated contemporary art community usually stigmatise 
them. They are based on a very consistent and carefully built value 
system presented in his literature, essays and public speeches.

As Alexander stated during his visit in Ljubljana, he doesn't believe in 
a political democracy, but he does believe in a democratic art--that is, 
an art of individuality fighting for mental and spiritual freedom and 
moral progress. Political democracy is impossible because it demands 
total responsibility of every member of the society. Therefore, art is a 
good tool, which should be used for democratic self-development. For 
Brener, the majority of Russian art is not democratic because it derives 
from a very narrow circle of Russian intelligentsia. There are some 
exceptions such as Tolstoy, Mayakovsky andKhlebnikov. He distinguishes 
avant-garde art from modernism by the difference in their impact. 
Avant-garde art has an ethical impact, which is completely different to 
the formal impact of modernism.

For Brener, the avant-garde artist is a man who is able to pledge all his 
being against Western civilization. As Western civilisation is a violent 
appropriation of all other worlds, for him the language of affect (as 
defined by Atnonin Artaud) is the only weapon against the unquestionable 
power of Western societies. In his actions, he articulates this language 
of emotions through three basic feelings and principles: sexuality, 
aggression and impotency. We described some previous works and actions, 
together with Brener's philosophical and ethical position in relation to 
the question of art, in order to prove that
his latest action--in which he sprayed green paint in the shape of a 
dollar sign on the Malevich painting "White Suprematism 1922-1927", a 
white cross on a white background-- is an act of consistent artistic 
language of expression and therefore can not be interpreted as an act of 
lunatic or a criminal act.

Of course, we understand that on the judicial level there is the 
difference between the legitimate and legal aspects of a specific 
incriminating act. We all know that one of the main purposes of law is 
the protection of property.  As we are informed, the market value of the 
painting before Brener's intervention was claimed to be 20 million Dutch 
guilders, and after the action, according to the Stedelijk Museum's 
evaluation, the painting lost one quarter of its market value.

We state that this is an arbitrary evaluation, which should be discussed 
in the context of the mechanisms that create the value of artifact in the 
20th century. First of all, there is no evident proof that the value of 
the painting is really lower then before. It may be even higher if the  
legitimacy of Brener's act can be explained, proved and accepted now, or 
in the future. The economic value of an artifact depends on its symbolic 
value, and symbolic evaluation is made under certain value systems 
accepted in an economic-spiritual-social exchange. Therefore there is the 
possibility that Brener's act didn't cause any financial
loss but rather a profit to the legal owner of the painting.

Another question here involves the legal ownership of the painting--and 
thus the legitimate right of the museum in exhibiting it. It is known 
that Malevich exhibited in Berlin in 1927. Because he had to return to 
USSR before the exhibition ended, he asked Hugo Haring to keep the works 
until he returned to Germany. He asked another person to keep his 
theoretical writings. He never returned to Germany, and it is not known 
what exactly Malevich asked Haring to do with his works. Some of them now 
belong to the Stedelijk Museum and probably got there as the result of 
transactions made after Malevich's death in 1935, when various political 
regimes in Western Europe as well as in Russia were hunting this kind of 
work and the value systems attached to them. It would be interesting to 
see the documents of those transactions and the economic values that the 
works had at that time.

Brener's action consciously and deliberately stuck a finger into a very 
deep and serious wound in contemporary European political history caused 
by proletarian revolution, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, the Cold War and 
the chaotic process of establishing a new world order under the 
leadership of global capitalism. As the matter of fact, contemporary 
art--modernism and avant-garde art--was the only value system that 
opposed the aggressive and narrow social and political divisions of the 
past as they fought for primacy and the globalization of their 
ideologies. Only contemporary art was creating a value system and 
language of integral individuality, first spread throughout European 
culture regardless of political and social borders. During the Cold War, 
this first autonomous and independent language of early avant-garde art 
became the official value system of Western democracies, and therefore 
one of the most sophisticated ideologies ever existed. The end of cold 
war brought out many unresolved questions and conflicts of the past. 
Among other things, it raised the question of the historical roots of 
Western economical supremacy, which plays a major role in adding market 
values to the symbolical values of global civilisation.

The main strategy of maintaining cultural, symbolical supremacy through 
the economical supremacy are appropriations which can be followed through 
many examples from legitimately questionable but probably legal (we say 
probably, because of the slippery definition of the real market value of 
a cultural object) appropriations of archaeological treasures from 
ancient cultures to the unclear material identity of the Malevich 
collection left in Western Europe after the exhibition in Berlin in 1927. 
Is it true that the global capitalism is a new definition of the cultural 
colonization of the Western world of all the
rest of the world?

We believe that Alexander Brener didn't destroy anything that Kazimir 
Malevich contributed to  humankind. On the contrary, he artistically 
enlightened the misunderstanding as to what Malevich actually contributed 
to humanity by reflecting the act of reification, where the so-called 
cultural world is showing respect to his dead object while at the same 
time disrespect to the genuine, living culture he comes from. The force 
behind this misunderstanding is symbolized in the sign he sprayed over 
the work.

 Knowing Brener, we believe that his action didn't take place in the name 
of any political or national identification but in the name of individual 
and artistic expression and the legitimacy of artistic intervention 
in--and interpretation of--actual historical injustices and violations. 
His action proved that he is a legitimate descendant of the best minds of 
his cultural tradition.  He belongs to the spiritual continuity of 
Futuristic poets such as Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov. Therefore, his action 
is legitimate if not legal--and sometimes legitimacy has to be put above 
the legality if we want to preserve our spiritual life against narrow 
materialistic dictate.
By that we don't want to legalize the ritual of destroying objects of art 
as anormal way of cultural communication. There have been [a] few 
examples of destroying an art object of one artist by another in the 
history of contemporary art. Only a few of them became legitimate in the 
contemporary art tradition. Their legitimacy is based on the clarity of 
reason, on the clearly defined ontological support behind an act and not 
in the act of destruction as itself.

We are aware that these kind of spectacular actions can be a very 
convenient way of getting attention and publicity in the context of 
present societies, which are guided by the power of information. We 
sincerely believe that Brener's action is not an abuse but rather an act 
of risk and heroism dedicated to his genuine beliefs.

Finally, we would like to say something about his charge of vagrancy. 
Stating what he is stating, doing what he is doing, Brener's artistic 
activities produce values that are still priceless in any of existing 
states of the world. Therefore, it is quite normal that he cannot afford 
accommodation in an expensive, welfare town as Amsterdam is at the 
moment. Being poor or attacking the norms of the present is another 
legitimacy he shares with the dead and living individuals who created, 
and who are creating, the very controversial
notion of art.

We sincerely hope that the Court of Netherlands  will approach to 
Alexander Brener's act by spiritual intellectual vigour which will enable 
its representatives to think out all the complexity of the event and make 
a charge in his defense.

1. See his texts "I speak in the language of emotions," Interpol project.
(A global network from Stockholm and Moscow), Catalogue published by
Fargfabriken, Stockholm 1996, and "I am spending the night in Brooklyn," 
in the
book of poetry called Transnationala, published by Hereford Salon, London 
2. See the text "Malevich: Falling into a black square" in ARTnews,"
(Summer 1991) by Konstantin Akinsha

Eda Cufer                                                                
            Ljubljana, February 11, 1997

Goran Dordevic

Dusan Mandic
Miran Mohar
Andrej Savski
Roman Uranjek
Borut Vogelnik

IRWIN/Dusan Mandic
Periceva 38
1000 Ljubljana
phone:               + 00 386 61 327 279
phone & fax:     +00 386 61 322 605
*  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
*  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
*  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
*  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
*  URL:  contact: