The Art of Disappearing

C magazine | 2009

Feature interview with Krist Gruijthuijsen by Johan Lundh.

When a successful artist decides to stop producing art a ripple of questions ensues. Does this act announce the end of a lucrative career, or is it instead a refusal of the art world, which made the success possible? Can a successful artist move away from the profession of art? Will this decision be interpreted and accepted as a private choice rather than a public statement? Or, alternately, is it an altogether radical gesture, an attempt at fusing art and life?

For the last three years, Dutch curator Krist Gruijthuijsen has devoted himself to examining artists who have stopped creating art through his project Archiving Disappearance. The project is an archive of artists who have left artmaking and the art world behind. Archiving Disappearance has resulted in two symposia so far. The first took place during Gruijthuijsen’s residency at Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre in Istanbul, Turkey, in the spring of 2006. Among the participants were the Dutch artist duo Bik Van der Pol, the Swedish curator Anders Kreuger, and the American curator Bob Nickas. The second took place at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, during the winter of 2006. In the second edition, participants included the Swedish artist Andreas Gedin, the German artist Heinrich Sachs and the Austrian curator Hedwig Saxenhuber. The two installments shared a similar structure in which each participant presented an artist who had abandoned art, for one reason or the other. A book with texts and images from the two symposia is currently in production. Like Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915 –1923) Gruijthuijsen argues that Archiving Disappearance is a “permanently unfinished” endeavor.

Trained as an artist (at the Arts Academy in Maastricht, the Netherlands and Hoger Institute Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Belgium) and as a curator (at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, in Stockholm, Sweden). Gruijthuijsen and I came to know each other in Stockholm. Our conversation took place just before his departure to the Capacete international residency programme in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were he will create a successor to his curatorial project Matter of Fact for Manifesta 7 in Turin, Italy. I began by asking him when he first became interested in artists who stopped producing art.

-During my art education, I became fascinated by Duchamp’s declaration that he had abandoned art for chess. To change his professional identity was as simple as creating a readymade. I perceived Duchamp’s renunciation of the art world as an attempt to experiment with the parameters that define what we mean by ‘art’ and ‘artist’. Archiving Disappearance is ultimately the fruit of my interest in the question of what art is and what it means to be an artist.

I asked Gruijthuijsen to tell me about some of the artists included in the project. He began with the practice of American artist Lee Lozano. Largely forgotten for more than 30 years, Lozano’s works have recently experienced a small renaissance.

-Lozano is probably one of the most renowned examples of artists who have stopped producing art. Apart from Duchamp, Lozano is the main source of inspiration for the project. She debuted as a distinctive painter after the peak of abstract expressionism but slowly, during the second half of the 60’s, her paintings turned into a series of groundbreaking performative endeavors, in which she attempted to merge art and life. These language pieces (1969-1971) were seen as an act of total radicalism pleading her insanity.

Lozano’s Dialogue Piece (1969) was an early attempt to break away from a traditional artist’s role, by refusing to produce object-based work. The work consisted of conversations that she had with friends and colleagues in her studio. In contrast, with General Strike Piece (1969) she gradually withdrew from social or arts-related events in order to “examine the personal and public revolution.” This withdrawal project was followed by another extreme iteration: Boycott Women Piece (1971). For this project she stopped talking with other women, which had many tragicomic consequences.

As Lozano’s activities became more radical, they attracted more attention. This however, did not prevent her from gradually arresting art creation and breaking all connections with the art world. In 1972, the split became a fact. That same year she moved into her parents’ home in Dallas, where she lived until her death in 1999. The art historical canon termed this as her Dropout Piece (1972 – 1999). Gruijthuijsen is skeptical of a rudimentary reading of this final action:

-Is Lozano’s resignation from the art world merely another one of her artworks? I believe when one withdraws from a context (Art), which has invested in ones practice (market), the work deliberately disappears. In the case of Lozano, one simply refused her withdrawal, by entitling it as a final performative act to complete her investigation of total radicalism. Paradoxically, this turned her ‘absence’ to a ‘presence’. There’s nothing more alluring than forms of refusal—especially ones that withdraw themselves from their practice and/or system. Is it possible to withdraw from a system that fetishizes such a decision?

Attention: What you see here is only an excerpt of a longer article. The full text appears in printed copies of issue 101 of C magazine.