You can't see me - See me if you can
Modern Art: Can an ape and a child do it or is a professional artist clearly superior? This was the topic of discussion for a show broadcast on German TV 26 September 2011.
They set about answering it by having a competition. Each participant was given a piece of 70cm x 50cm piece of paper, tubes of finger paint in red, yellow green and blue, two brushes and 10 minutes to complete the task.
The artist was German-Dutch Jos Diegel (born 1982) and he has created an exhibition around the way the show was conducted. Strictly speaking, it’s about a special form of artistic superelevation and misappropriation.
Here we go! Three allegedly creative and at the same time interchangeable categories face each other. That‘s the narrative, thereby role clichees and images of an ape, child and foremost of the artist are to be solemnly reproduced, as well as the common reception of art itself. Later on, the three paintings will be presented to passer-bies at a shopping center in Frankfurt who are asked to guess which painting was made by the ape, child and artist.
That is definitely an entertaining quiz, but it might have a deeper sense as well. The central curious as well as childish, anthropomorphic question might be: What is art in the end and can art easily be defined as such? Which compository concept is pursued by the artist? Does an ape and a child pursue an aesthetical intention? Which role does the audience play? Can children and apes only produce fake art?
From a science-of-art-point of view only a complex ménage à trois of artist, object and audience results in a true artwork. Nonetheless, here, we are treating a certainly even more complex ménage à trois.
“Any child could do that,” is often said and indeed, there is a desire to paint ingenuously and unprejudiced like a child. Some artists were able to paint early on in their life, but needed a whole lifetime to learn again how to paint like a child. Painting apes have been in the focus of art history for centuries. The ape becomes a heraldic and symbolic animal by the order of art. As a genius amateur or copycat in God’s creation, the ape becomes a mascot of artistic self-understanding and self-consciousness. And number three is the artist himself, everything said, he is not interested at all. In the end, the only thing that has been proven in this TV show with a very bad art work, that an art dealer can recognize the art work by an artist, that‘s it.
So really, nothing has been proven, that had not been proven long before. The goal of a constructed situation doesn‘t have to be to prove oneself as an artist by winning a painting competition against an ape and a child. Thus, what the TV production company did not know: this artist takes the competition for an intervention, nobody is aware of.
In his art Jos Diegel plays and entertains with topics concerning social-political questions and normative-narrative structures. To him his body of work is a happy and a-disciplinary experimental science, where he negotiates and constructs situations by means of film, installation, painting, performance and literature. Jos Diegel lives and works in Leipzig, Offenbach am Main and Berlin.