Ernst CaramelleForty Found Fakes

Public Event
In collaboration withMai 36 Galerie, Zürich and Peter Freeman, New York
Art Basel / Unlimited 2022
13 Jun19 Jun 2022
read inGerman
Ernst Caramelle’s Forty Found Fakes is a major work of post-conceptual art and one which helped to prepare the way for new idiosyncratic positions that emerged in the 1980s. Each of its sheets shows a newspaper cutting with an illustration of an everyday object or setting, which is claimed to reproduce the work of a well-known artist. This witty and at the same time decidedly critical questioning of artistic originality first appeared as a printed publication. Now the 40-part work is to be displayed for the first time in its original form.
Ernst Caramelle came to the fore towards the end of the 1970s with slender and yet – for all their modest dimensions – important and seminal publications that are categorically to be understood as works in their own right. In 1979 in one of these brochures he ironically quotes from a text written about himself: “The Austrian Caramelle seems to be in broad outline what would conventionally be called a ‘conceptual artist’” [1]. In his works from these years – drawings, videos and printed works – he embraces the critical interest that conceptual art had developed in art itself. In an irreverent and witty manner and with an acuity of vision camouflaged by seeming naivety he sheds light for his part on the insufficiently considered assumptions and precepts with which conceptual art justified its programmatic rigour and claim to a superior position. In particular, Caramelle’s work was directed at the self-assuredness of a seemingly critical stance towards the prerequisites of the original work and of authentic authorship.
Caramelle’s Forty Found Fakes was brought out in 1979 in a print run of 1,000 copies by Thomas Way & Company, a fictive New York publishing house for art books. From 1976 to 1978 the artist had cut out from newspapers photographs that reminded him of the work of this or that (in those days) well-known artist. Accompanied by a brief statement from Caramelle, the booklet (27,9 x 43 cm in size) presents one illustration per page with the corresponding name – Palermo, Klaus Rinke, Trisha Brown, Joseph Beuys, Hanne Darboven etc.
In contrast to what the title with its alluring alliteration might suggest, what is at issue here is not so much the question of forgery or faking but rather the question of the original. The possibility of mistakenly recognizing in the photographs of day-to-day situations the work of important artists makes conversely clear that their “authentic” works must be seen as originals attributed to them personally. This is noteworthy inasmuch as each of the works invoked draws on Marcel Duchamp’s aesthetics of the ready-made, i.e. the radical questioning of artistic originality. Caramelle’s ability to see in all possible things a reflection of artistic originality makes clear to what extent the young artist was able to perceive in the outstanding art of his time a return to the cult of the original. Even earlier, he had reacted against this cult with the polemical declaration: “Art is a fake” [2]. Seeing fakes everywhere liberated the young artist from the constraining claims of the work of the previous generation and opened up the realm of art once more for unexpected images – which becomes the great topic of the 1980s.
To suggest in the year 2022, more than forty years later, however, that his own “originals” reproduced in the publication Forty Found Fakes should themselves be individually framed and exhibited bears witness to a self-irony that can stand comparison with the irony of Duchamp. After the latter’s Bottle Rack (or Bottle Dryer) had been recognized in the 1950s as an outstandingly beautiful sculpture (Robert Motherwell), Duchamp had a limited edition of his Fountain produced, thus countering for his part the discursive fetishization of the ready-made by the effective transformation of the industrial mass-product into a rare and valuable pseudo-original.
In exhibiting the “originals” from his publication Caramelle is deploying a further strategy – as subtle as it is astute – in his ongoing argument with the oppressive power of originality and the authentic.
[1] Publication of the Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna, 1979, n. pag.
[2] Publication of the Galerie Krinzinger, Innsbruck, 1977
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