On Saturday October 31st we witnessed, together with the rest of the Dutch art world, the shocking revelation of sexual assault by a prominent Dutch artist, brought to attention in NRC by the research of Lucette ter Borg and Carola Houtekamer.1 The detailed accounts of sexual assault and rape highlight not just the sickening nature of the events, but also the the continuous dismissal of the victims’ reports. Certain behaviour was even credited as being ‘creative’ and ‘unique’ during the artists’ time at the art academy. The myth that is attributed to his persona – that of the ‘bad boy’ artist who behaves recklessly and disregards all boundaries for the sake of creating art – still has a firm hold within the current art world. The structural confirmation by art academies, institutions, galleries, and the audience of his persona as producing ‘interesting art’ shows us how to this day, the person profits from the proliferation of the myth afforded to him.
This issue of Simulacrum addresses the layered relationship between the artist, life, and work. In light of recent news, we can conclude that the distinction between ‘art’ and ‘life’ is sadly enough one we cannot always afford to make within the current reality of the art world. The many ways in which art and life are entangled are extremely complex and subject to existing power relations. A critical review of the way we read biography into art is therefore essential.
A renowned researcher in the field of the biographical is Sandra Kisters, whose book The Lure of the Biographical (2017) was recently awarded the prestigious Karel van Mander Prize. In her article, she elaborates on her process in developing a method of research that incorporates both the ‘Return of the Author’ as well as the influence of the artists’ environment. Julia Alting draws our attention to an overly symbiotic reading of the life and work of Frida Kahlo. By allowing her life to dominate her work, the artist is reduced to the domestic sphere and cut loose from the political context that her work relates to and comments on. This results in a tilted reading of her artwork and its political relevance. The abundance of Kahlo-parafernalia, such as the sock that graces the cover and belongs to Alting herself, might be less innocent than assumed at first sight.
The spaces between process and work morph into each other almost intuitively in the writings of Luca Penning, also an artist herself. ‘Traces of work slowly trickle into life. Or is it supposed to be the other way around?’ she questions. If an idea is birthed from within, when is the moment that it grows into a body of its own?
Esther Scholtes investigates how meaning is created from within the materiality of the medium of photography in relation to the work of Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990), currently on show at Rijksmuseum in the exhibition Ed van der Elsken: Crazy World. In her article she shows how the artists’ work was shaped from within his personal and artistic obsession with the camera, and how within the medium of photography artist, medium and work constantly influence each other.
The work of Claire Bamplekou also revolves around redefining the boundaries between life and work, photography and performance. In her Meditation Notes she reflects on the constantly changing relations between self, surrounding and the role of our awareness. The fragments of text form an intimate diary about subject and object, to show how the more material, mundane and the spiritual, ephemeral aspects of art are delicately intertwined.
The image of the introverted, withdrawn artist is placed in a different light by Matisse Huiskens. He shows how the artist-as-hermit persona of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) as presented by museums, curators and art historians alike, exists as a solidly constructed myth which conveniently disregards the artists’ involvement with the fascist movement and its racist politics.
The stifling structures of the art world always stand in the way of a free artistic practice. Escape often ceases to be an option. In a chapter from her book , you asshole. (2016) Alina Lupu explores the implications of Lee Lozano’s (1930-1999) attempt at creating a truly free art piece by documenting her disappearance from the art world. ‘Does that then turn you into a saint or just a regular piece of shit?’ Gerjan Piksen also pursues freedom. In conversation with Désirée Kroep about a way to disband your artistic identity, we quickly discover that his ‘system’ is not easily escaped. Yet his practice exposes that the desire for artistic freedom is not merely naive idealism, as it can provide the breeding ground for a critical look at one’s own identity, and fruitful new ways to deviate from it.
We end with an ambitious experiment by Bas Blaasse, in which a potential new balance between artist, audience, and artwork is explored. Maybe the ‘death’ of the author is not a prerequisite for the creation of a space where there is enough room for the interpretations of both the author and the reader.
From the broad range of Frida Kahlo-parafernalia, through the refusal of the art world as ‘piece’, to the justification of outrageous behaviour in line with the ‘bad boy’ persona; the many ways in which the myth of the artist manifests itself are extremely complex. We hope that the articles in this issue contribute to a critical reading of existing ideas surrounding the artists’ persona and their role within our society.