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Enclave 4: news of the world | Présence Panchounette (1969-1990)

Jan 30, 2015

Opening: Friday 30 January 2015, 7-9pm
A short introduction by former members of PP will take place at 6.45pm
Open Saturdays and Sundays til 15 March, 12-6pm

Who killed Présence Panchounette? And was it in self-defence? Premeditated, a long time coming? Death by misadventure, shot themselves in the foot? A staged disappearance? or were they ambushed?

news of the world sets an investigation room to try and review the facts, through photographs, images of crime scene, enlargements, physical reconstructions, pictorial evidence and historical objects, so a profile can be established. Former members will be present on Friday 30 January to testify.

Their 1969 manifesto immediately set them apart from their contemporaries: ‘Panchounette’s goal is not subversion… Everything is fine’.

This declaration prefigures 20 years of combat. Their targets: the art scene, nay…system!, the official authorities, the avant-gardes, the general lack of gut, Beuys, Koons, Cragg, Buren, or anything which professes to subvert yet perpetuates the order. They act recklessly, without sentimentality or remorse and they take no prisoners.

The guerrilla performances show the bravado of irresponsible, confrontational artists who regard the type of transgression, seriously served, eagerly sought and advocated by subsidised art institutions, as a suspicious and grotesque convention.

Theirs will be the voice of the mediocre, the expression of the working class, the ordinary of the provincial, the naivety of the self-taught, the snigger of the childish. Stupidity and incoherence, derision and contempt will be their weapons of choice: private view invitations to a traffic accident, public art gift to Bordeaux of a fake decorated garden well, the artist world boxing championships, self-advertising/self-denouncing graffiti, fake brick wallpaper hanging on concrete bunker walls.

They will argue that despite everything aesthetic taste does remain the core driver of critical judgment in contemporary art, and that this is a taste dictated and guarded by an initiated, ‘discerning’ class, the establishment. Under a pretence of existing beyond social divisions, contemporary art’s purpose is to safeguard inequality and protect it with an infantry of professional social commentators.

Presence Panchounette’s first gallery exhibition in Paris brings mass-produced home decoration and designs into the gallery space: the psychedelic wallpaper inside recalls Bridget Riley, the fake-brick adhesive on the windows (“8.7cm wide”) parodies Daniel Buren. The story told as a farce: intellectual endeavours, repeated, become decoration; subversion, when nothing is at stake, is a production line.

Présence Panchounette aim to wreck the hierarchies which still hold: good/bad taste, high/low art, western/rest of the world; they champion art as industrially produced (without artists), the emotion of kitsch; that which never disappoint because expectations were low; the object which does not quite function in its context; the punny titles which undermine attempts to address the works seriously; the effects which falls short of the ambition; the cheap decoration outflanking the high production values –décor too-; the real rather than the token gesturing at reality.

By the late 1980s, it was all going so well for them. Their work exhibited at the Cartier Foundation, Villa d’Arson, Hamburg Kunstverein, Paris FIAC, Stuttgart, Seoul and L.A.. In 1990, a public commission in the offing. The kiss of death for any self-respecting artist. Recognition comes in both senses: their work –which fought against status- receives status, and their objects acquire familiarity, branding, taste and so, surely, predictability. The scene has caught up -eclecticism is in-, learned how to handle them –after all, it thrives on detournement-, and it can do business with them. The success is a clear sign of their failure. They quit.

The investigation evokes a recent bygone art world which, in 2015, is difficult to comprehend: institutionalised artists yearning for the official approval of their object-based multi-media radicalism, institutions keeping the 1960s dreams alive on a drip, with homeopathic dilutions of criticality, a world where the freshest post-ism already looks great in the collector’s rooms & ‘could I have some more?’, where privilege breeds authority and where the authority creates the consensus.

Présence Panchounette are dead and I for one will not miss them. Everything really IS fine now.

With grateful thanks to Eric Fabre.

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