“We are laboring under the illusion of the end, under the posthumous illusion of the end.” –Jean Baudrillard
The Austrian artist Florian Pumhösl recreates Modernism’s formal language. The so-called death of Modernism is a courageous (if not over-determined) leitmotif. The artist with his quoted historical artifacts transforms the gallery/museum as a reliquary of the Modern. The late philosopher Jean Baudrillard has already addressed the end of history. At the present time, art seeks to move away from the defunct ideologies of an exhausted Modernist hegemony, purity, progress & predictable aesthetic fulfillment. However, the relics of Modernism continue, persist & resist, just a bit older.
The question that confuses is: how do we properly mourn Modernism? Pumhösl appropriates the architecture & art of the high Modern. His cold concrete forms, the installations, his under-glass painting, the antique Japanese garment patterns, the appropriations & the Constructivist “quotations,” remind one of the possible future–the way it used to be, the way we saw it then. Post-Modernist, post-conceptual, post-minimal or post-colonial might work here, but none are a perfect fit. Everything is always “after” the past. Baudrillard wrote on the endless proliferation, this “necro-spective” of the past, of Modernism (gone, yet obsessively refurbished).
Pumhösl’s cynicism is not overt–it’s lithic & ashen. His gestures are a vivid simulacra, a simulacrum that reaches into a Modernist rhetoric, with its constraint, its sterility. When observing his artistry, we too reach back to a frail remembrance, one that was insufficient, anxious, & anemic. We might find a reliable grid & pattern to palliate (momentarily), but will that sustain our aesthetic needs today? On the anxiety of art objects Baudrillard says: “Instead of first existing, works of art now go straight into the museum. Instead of being born & dying, they are born as virtual fossils.” Pumhösl fathers these elegant fossils, ossified, resistant & un-emotive.
It’s Pumhösl’s job to keep an eye on this presumably deceased past. How do we treat this memory, (these memories) our collective regret? This new art is a memorial to an idealized time gone by, now perhaps, with an unrecognized hum of nostalgia. This is the art of looking back, an art of exquisite exhaustion. After reading Baudrillard & thinking of Pumhösl, we learn what has been, we learn to understand that a contemporary art of the NOW, is simply a thing of the past–gone to be revitalized later. The future is looking to what was. Again Baudrillard writes: “When everything can be seen, nothing can be seen anymore. What is there beyond the end?”
(Image found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/architektur/634605977/