BY Elena Filipovic in Reviews | 05 APR 04
Featured in
Issue 82

Simon Moretti, featuring John Armleder

BY Elena Filipovic in Reviews | 05 APR 04

The most imposing work in Simon Moretti's first solo exhibition in Paris was by John Armleder. Almost no matter where you stood, Armleder's flower-patterned Wall Drawing (all works 2003) was the backdrop to Moretti's works. The move to invite Armleder was both daring (how many solo shows feature another artist's work?) and perfectly coherent - Moretti the artist always seems to have the shadow of a 'master' at the centre of his work, while Moretti the curator often constructs atmospheric spaces by bringing together other artist's pieces with his own.

Citation, dialogue and references to Modernism and the avant-garde are the stuff of Moretti's work. But the results are never nostalgic or ironic. Rather, Moretti looks back in order to introduce tensions that the originals didn't have. He translates the rational, utopian or bombastic tenets of the postwar avant-garde using homey materials, artisanal processes and a quirky sense of scale and space. Thus Frank Stella's hard-edged canvases become a soft, quilted duvet in Untitled; the Pablo Picasso painting Jacqueline à la fleur (1954) becomes Portrait of Jacqueline with Flowers, a set of ceramic vessels, the size and colour of which were determined according to the original; a photograph of a Gutaï artist's performance, Challenging Mud (1955), is transformed into a smallish needlepoint image, Untitled (Kazuo Shiraga); and Minimalism's industrial containers (or the modern museum's conservation strategies) become Afterimage, a series of clear, handmade Perspex wall cases pierced with holes. The references to the 'originals' are both palpable and distant, either specific (as in the case of ceramics based on a particular Picasso portrait of his lover), or general (the duvet could be seen as a limp version of any number of 1970s shaped canvases by Stella or a more geometric version of a work by the Supports-Surfaces group).

Between the original and its projection, between Modernism and its reinterpretation, Moretti points not only to recent canonical works but also to the role of conservation, presentation and documentation in the making of a legacy. His collaborations with a seamstress to reproduce photographs of Kazuo Shiraga sliding wildly in the mud, Hermann Nitsch advancing an Actionist bloodbath, or Hans Namuth's shots of Jackson Pollock splashing paint are as much tributes to these radical, performative acts as they are about the role of photographic documentation as evidence and metaphor for the workings of history. Photography's instantaneous recording of legendary performances is countered with the slowness and intimacy of needlepoint.

To limit descriptions of Moretti's work simply to their conceptual and referential preoccupations is to tell only half the story. They are resolutely material works, and their arrangement in the gallery plays no small part in their sensual and subtle declarations. Here Moretti suspended his oddly geometric bedcover against the wall and part of the floor, making the architectural limits of the gallery space a focus. The holes in the Perspex box of Afterimage cast shadows of their circular cuts on the wall behind so that the projections and the gallery's white wall served as figure and ground of the piece. It conveyed the sense of modesty in much of Moretti's work - what is a shadow but a ghost of something else?

Re-Mix, a neon light piece at the front of the exhibition space, gave off a pale glow of déjà vu: artists that had scripted spaces with neon - from Dan Flavin to Cerith Wyn Evans to Armleder - invariably sprang to mind. This familiar-from-the-past-but-different-in-the-present work announced that, like any proper remix, the exhibition enabled one to look forward but also back, rethinking a series of absent referents. Moretti, the able DJ remixing modern masters, is also an astute critic and historian, making it clear that Modernism is constantly re-defined through retrospective readings.

Elena Filipovic is director and chief curator of Kunsthalle Basel. She was senior curator at WIELS in Brussels from 2009–14, during which time she initiated Work/Travail/Arbeid with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker