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- Daniel Spoerri, exhibition catalogueBy Andre Kamber
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Important Art by Daniel Spoerri
This is among the first "snare-pictures" Spoerri created in his hotel room of rue Mouffetard upon arriving in Paris in 1959. Here, we find the remnants of a meal: plate, bowls, glass, spoons, knife, paper tissue, and a glass bottle, all adhered to a board. There is also an ashtray, matches, and a book. The novel approach was intended to generate a feeling of surprise and discomfort in the viewer, toppling normal expectations about what art might consist of and providing a transformed perspective on an everyday activity we normally take for granted.
Spoerri has often described the snare-pictures as objects, which are found in random orderly or disorderly situations, which are then mounted on whatever they are found on (table, box, drawer, etc.) in the exact composition they are found in. The whole piece is then hung like a traditional painting on the wall. This is exactly what the artist did here. Like Duchamp's ready-mades or Surrealist's unconscious-derived assemblage, Spoerri honored ordinary objects with the lofty status of "work of art." He also defied laws of gravity, normalcy, and the laws of art itself by appropriating a piece of reality and transforming it into a painting/sculpture/relief. The effect purposely provokes the viewer, confronting him/her with a fresh perspective of something so common as to have been previously unnoticeable.
Like Rauschenberg who created Bed in 1955, the artist desacralized art by using everyday life as fodder, especially the prosaic action of eating. Here, Spoerri meets the idea of his Nouveau Réalist peers that art is life. However, with his snare-pictures, he adds the notion of time and space. He often states that these works steal and capture a moment or a portion of life in time. A specific moment is indeed physically frozen, and at the same time that this moment is preserved, it is also dead. As John G. Hatch tells us, the artist has often reminded critics "the trapping of a moment of existence is the death of that moment." However, the snare-picture, like photography or a still life, immortalizes that very moment in time, suggesting a sense of timelessness as well.
This particular work is also importantly autobiographical, giving us a glimpse of the artist through its items. When the Tate Gallery acquired it, Spoerri had the opportunity to explain, "the location was Hotel Carcassonne, 23 rue Mouffetard, Paris 5ième, a tiny hotel room, 'au mois' where I had no table to eat [from], and so I took bits of hardboard and in this case the back of [a] Vasarely multiple." The multiple had been part of the artist's MAT Edition project. These details indicate the life of a struggling and busy artist. The book Dichtungen in Prosa by the Swiss poet Robert Walser was given to Spoerri by his uncle Theophile Spoerri who was like a father to him. It is still one of the artist's favorite books and shows here the strong bond between the uncle and his nephew. This allows Spoerri to acknowledge his uncle and maybe to fix his whole unsettling childhood on a piece of board. He states: "I think that actually it's a question of territory. Because I had lost my territory since childhood, and even during childhood, I never had a territory. [...] I was a Romanian Jew, evangelical in an orthodox country, whose father was dead, without being certain that he was really dead. I swear to you, the first things I glued down were all that, that feeling."
The Repas Hongrois is the result of one of the most famous performances of Spoerri. During the tenure of his show "723 utensils of cooking" at the galerie J in 1963, Spoerri transformed the space into a restaurant. Each evening, he prepared a meal that was served by an important art critic to an unknown party. Each day, that table was trapped and glued by the guests themselves, and put on the wall of the gallery for exhibition. This Repas Hongrois was served on March 9, 1963 by critic Jean-Jacques Leveque. We can see plates, silverware, glasses, napkins, glass bottles and actual leftovers.
The collective artwork presented a humorous and innovative twist in its live satirical portrait of the art world. For the first time, Spoerri had invited the public to play a part normally reserved for either artist or critic, in which they became both. The gallery transformation into restaurant became a metaphor for the contemporary art scene. Radically, the guests were ultimately the ones who decided on the destiny of the work. As John G. Hatch states, "The success or failure depends on the consumption of the meal, on the preference of 'taste' of its consumers, and the word of mouth that follows."
This first experience was a large success and many banquets and dinners followed. By then, food had become more central to Spoerri's practice.
This work is the first collection of variants of an object that Spoerri created in his career. It consists of 45 different styles of glasses and optical devices randomly numbered, labeled, and compiled on folding wooden boards. It was originally conceived to be an interactive installation. Viewers were supposed to try on the different glasses and experience modifications of vision. What remains of the work today seems to be slightly different from the initial artwork where a death mask of Voltaire was hung over the display.
Spoerri began the project in 1961 in Copenhagen. Many of the elements were found or donated. The artist bought several in flea markets, and many were given to him by fellow artists such as Meret Oppenheim who famously contributed the Venetian blind version. Art History Professor Jill Carrick states with reason that although authored by Daniel Spoerri, L'Optique Moderne is in many ways a collaborative work. Among the contributors, she counts several key European and American Fluxus artists like Ben (Vautier), Alison Knowles, Emmett Williams, Robert Filliou, and Robin Page. Because of this, it becomes an amazing documentation of twentieth century artists and artistic styles. For example, Carrick mentions a pair of orange and tan glasses sprouting soft animal fur that Spoerri fabricated in homage to Meret Oppenheim and to her iconic Surrealist object Untitled, the fur-covered tea cup. Another pair refers to Yves Klein and was created by artist Ben. They consist of round blue-lensed glasses in gold-colored plastic frames and, for Carrick, allude not only to the famous International Klein Blue but also to Klein's grandiose claims to "see," "sign," and "own" the blue sky.
The work is also a direct reference to Marcel Duchamp: Spoerri was interested in the Dadaist's readymades as well as his optical experiments on illusion.
The collection of old and new devices was also a way for Spoerri to comment on the ideas of progress and modernity. The evolution of an object was more important to him than a mere collection of similar objects, Spoerri once stated. The work also extended his intentions to document periods of time through the objects associated with it, thus perpetuating his idea that life and its ephemera are the greatest forms of art.
In 1963, Spoerri in collaboration with his friend Francois Dufrene recorded all the eyeglasses in a book of photographs of himself trying on several. The book called L'Optique moderne. Collection de lunettes présenté par D.S. avec en Regard d'Inutiles Notules par François Dufrêne was published by Fluxus under the direction of artist George Maciunas, and would accompany the work from then on.