Part of Faim de siècle collection, 1999
6-box detail, 2000
Presentation at Kunstmesse Frankfurt, 1998
The Faim de siècle series .. literally ‘hunger of the century’ .. was planned around the millennium and featured 100 notable artists of the 20th century in the form of fake confectionery. The system was conceived as a ‘Pic-n-mix’ selection from which the ‘customer’ could choose their favourites and receive them packaged in specially crafted presentation boxes. The regular format was nine to a square box, but there were other options ranging from a small box of three to a ‘Connoisseur’ box of twenty-five.
I had to make my own choice of which ‘100’ to include in the list .. in some respects easy, and in others very difficult. My aim with the whole enterprise was to comment on a number of things .. the commerce of art; its public consumption; the way even the artists themselves fall prey to their ‘trademarks’! It all stemmed from watching a family group ‘doing’ the Tate, all the while fuelling themselves with handfuls of snacks. The easy part was choosing the 50 or so artists who, whether by critical or public opinion, just have to have their place in the lifeboat. So there’s Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pollock, Beuys, Warhol .. for example. But of course I couldn’t help being influenced by a number of artists who may have been teetering on the edge of the ‘100’ but whose work was ripe for caricature! OnKawara for example may not make it into someone else’s list but for me his ‘day’s date’ work was such a gorgeous opportunity! The difficulties came when an artist really had to be ‘done’ but, even though the work could be soundly caricatured, I found it unsatisfying to do in the form of a sweet. For example, the ‘trademark’ image in people’s heads when they imagine the work of Matisse is likely to be round, painted nudes in heavy brushstrokes .. but I felt that would be boring! So instead I took the ‘paper-cut’ work he did in later life because this better suggested sugar-candy treatment. Basically I got a bit wilful about it at times .. they were my rules to break!
It was a bit harder to assess ‘popular opinion’ back then .. no Internet, in the form it is now! Now, if you google Robert Smithson for example, you’ll get the little Wiki package straight away complete with photos of him and his Spiral Jetty .. you’ll see my ‘chocolate’ version above and below .. or with Yves Klein you’ll get him and his ‘blue’.
I employed more than 100 different materials in the making of these forms .. none of them edible, by the way! .. ranging from metals, wood, plastics, silicones or resins to hessian, wax, faux fur, cardboard and cellophane. All were hand-made .. at the very least hand-cast and painted. Each commissioned box was accompanied by a printed and signed certificate which listed the box number and the edition number (out of 100) for each form selected. One of the most satisfying parts of the work was formulating a number of ‘chocolate’ paints .. not only the colour of dark, milk or ‘white’ chocolate has to be right but more importantly, the surface quality. Because I’m proficient in eating chocolate I had a fool-proof test .. I knew I’d got it right when I really started to ‘taste’ it in my mind!
I coined the word ‘multicat’ for this form of multiple .. from the German ‘Unikat’ for unique. The boxes were a form of both because, although the individual forms were produced in limited editions of 100, no box arrangement was ever exactly repeated .. each collector had his/her own unique version of the idea. I’ve got the records somewhere, but I believe I completed almost 100 orders for boxes of various sizes between the autumn of 1997 when I first exhibited them and the last one sold in 2003. I was living in Hamburg for half of this period and had been since 1989, slowly but surely establishing myself as an exhibiting artist. I showed the collection, or parts of it, many times .. with my gallerist Angelika Osterwalder; at the Kunsthaus Hamburg; at art fairs such in Hannover and Frankfurt .. even a couple of spots on regional television! I think I did it well .. and it certainly did me well!
The excerpt here features clockwise from the top .. Ian Hamilton Finlay, Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Smithson, Yves Klein, Claes Oldenburg and Henri Matisse.
Humour in Art
Yes, I was compelled to write ‘Art’ with a capital ‘T’ .. and in a sense that sums up the problem! I don’t think attitudes have changed significantly even now in 2015 compared to when I was thinking about this back in 1997, regardless of the steady acceptance of so many different media and approaches ‘into the fold’ since then. There will always be a core of influential people who regard humour as a ‘sweetener’ close to trivialization, and who feel that the serious endeavours of acclaimed intellects should not be made fun of. This has been trickling down to the rest of us for decades, or more, and it continues .. we’re all still very uneasy about it!
The question is .. what is ‘being serious’, and when is one not being? You see, ‘funny’ should never be seen as the opposite of ‘serious’, it’s just a different way of dealing with it.
Anyway, I’m going to break off there .. I feel a long-winded diatribe coming on, which I’ll have to hold in for the moment!