Luther Blissett on Tue, 23 Feb 1999 01:35:19 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Luther Blissett Update #2

Luther Blissett Project, Italian Situation, Updates 
Late February 1999 - # 2

>From La Repubblica on line (<>, the digital edition
of the national daily paper, as well as the most visited Italian website) 
3 February 1999, Wednesday:

A provocative letter: Must "mainstream" art be inviolable? And who decides
what is genius?
[begin staff preface]
ROME - Of course it is a provocation, but it is also more than that. The
letter which Luther Blissett - the collective identity that has accustomed
us to many coups (verbal and not) in the recent years - sent to struck us and roused our curiosity. It expresses a feeling
that many people certainly got a week ago, when the vandalistic smearing of
a Jackson Pollock work hit the news. It was not a rational thing; rather, a
joke people uttered, or just thought, by instinct: "Which one is the
smear?". A superficial question that was restrained by cultural awareness
and indignation for this assault on contemporary art and its dignity. In
his/her letter, Luther Blissett turns the joke into a lucid provocation.
One may agree or not, but it would not be just to throw this text away. Our
correspondent and art expert Paolo Vagheggi replies to Luther Blissett at
the linked page.

On 26 January 1999, Piero Cannata operated on Pollock's painting "Undulated
Paths", exhibited at Rome's National Gallery of Modern Art. I challenge
anyone of the journalists that covered Cannata's action to tell the smear
from any of the other scribblings. Cannata's intervention is the best
tribute ever to the artist. The only difference between the American
Abstract Expressionist and the Italian performance artist is that the
former used to express his madness within an "artistic context", and
consequently found the theoretical and financial support of critics and
art-gallery managers. Most likely, without such a support, Pollock would
have entered a lunatic asylum, nurses sneering at his "works" on the walls.
Jackson Pollock didn't paint: he dripped, smeared and soiled. On his
canvases one can find saliva, cigarette stumps, matches, anything. One day
Pollock urinated into Peggy Guggenheim's hearth. Yeah, he pissed in it,
before the eyes of several onlookers. He was probably drunk. This
immediately became one of the best known "performances" of the great
genius, whose life was punctuated by such acts. That fireplace is still in
one of the rooms with a view on the Canal. If Piero Cannata or any other
anonymous visitor of the present "Peggy Guggenheim Collection" pissed into
the same hearth, what would the keepers do?
Of course they wouldn't deem the guy as a genius, at best he'd be
denounced. However, are you sure that Pollock's performances are more
important than Cannata's? Are you really sure that Pollock wouldn't like
such a "betterment"? 
Why should an art work hang on a wall with people only allowed to look at
it, since it is obvious that eyesight is just one of the senses roused by
whatever work? One should be allowed to touch and smell. This would quickly
wear out the paintings? So what? What do you need a sacred and infinitely
inviolable object for? Don't you know that museums keep Calder's sculptures
in narrow rooms, though they were created for being exhibited in the open
air and shaken by the wind? Don't you know that museums bar the way to
Beuys' and Tinguely's works, though they were projected for interaction
with the public? *This* is violation.
If the most important thing is the artist's intention, than Pollock's
painting was not destined to a reliquiary, and Cannata's intervention is
licit and particularly well-aimed. But museums and galleries are driven by
other factors, such as money. This is commonplace, then why keep schmoozing
about art being sacral and untouchable? Talk about commercial value. If the
word "artist" has ever had any meaning, then Piero Cannata is the real
artist. Unlike Pollock, Cannata never compromised himself with the art
establishment, never strived for the critics' and gallery managers'
appreciation. He couldn't care less, he's got better things to do. Mind
you, this is not the first case: people like Van Gogh were never understood
at their time, only to be re-estimated after several years. Itís funny to
recall the blindness of Van Gogh's coeval critics. Oh, they were so obtuse!
Oh, those were such obscurantist times! Nowadays it's different, art is
free of prejudices... Isn't it?  
Tomorrow Piero Cannata will go back to the madhouse that hosted him during
the past two years, and it's gonna take decades before he's acknowledged as
a well-deserving performer. Not only Piero Cannata will get entries in art
history books: he'll get them as one of the most radical and innovative
artists of the Nineties. This is one of the tasks we leave to our posterity. 
(2 February 1999)

A Reply to the "pseudo-Futurist" provocation: Pollock was a self-conscious
artist, values cannot be annihilated


Maybe that of the pseudo-Luther Blissett is nothing other than a nice
pseudo-Futurist provocation. None of us has forgotten Filippo Tommaso
Marinetti's 'incendiary violence': 'We want to destroy museums, libraries
and whatever kind of academies', we want to set Italy free from 'its fetid
gangrene of professors, archaelogists, cicerones and antiquarians'.
Therefore, long live Piero Cannata, let's promote him to the rank of
artist. Long live the David hammer-freak and Pollock smearer. But what if
this, instead of being a pseudo-Futurist provocation, were just the opinion
and belief of an ignorant (ignorant being for 'he who ignores')? In this
case, we should tell them the difference between a rash gesture caused by
madness and a conscious, advised, pondered and researched artistic deed. We
should tell them that Jackson Pollock, no matter what the nazis would have
thought of him, was not a dauber, nor was his art 'degenerate'. His strokes
were not felt-tip scribblings. His technique, "Dripping", was sharp and
pondered. As Dora Vallier explained, the canvas was placed on a level
surface, even on the floor; and a few holes drilled through the bottom of a
color box allowed the painter to work moving about and letting the color
drip on the canvas.
There was no fortuitous act, as explained by Pollock himself, who died in
1956 at the age of 44: [...what follows is a Pollock's quote which I won't
re-translate from Italian back into English. It's about the control of the
drops' trajectory, T.N....]
I could go on for so long telling stories about Pollock, who studied
philosophy and psychoanalisis (as well as native-American painting), who
was Picasso-wise and always lived between anxiety and the rapture of his
work. This rapture was provoked by his quest for a personal existential
style: he identified himself with his artworks, which gradually expanded
and absorbed all his energies.
As Palma Bucarelli noticed back in 1958, during the NGMA Pollock
Exhibition, 'thus, independently from any analogical reference, painting
itself can express the most profound movements of the soul; the more the
canvas reflects the "quantity" and the "length" of painting action, the
clearer is the expression of emotional intensity.' 
Jackson Pollock is not Pietro Cannata [sic]. Pietro Cannata is non Jackson
Maybe someone dreams of an annihilation of values in order to say: 'I can
do that as well!'. Things are not like that. There will not be any Night of
Crystals, no matter what Luther Blissett believes.
(2 February 1999)

[Luther Blissett replied, but Repubblica didn't run the piece. Luther put
it into circulation as the issue #39 of their anti-art newsletter called
"Epistula Ex Vaticanis Museis". Here it is:]

Luther Blissett replies to Paolo Vagheggi about the Cannata affair

At best, your response proved that you didn't even read my press release.
At worst, you read it but didn't understand. I didn't say 'I can do that as
well!' nor did I call Jackson Pollock a worthless dauber. Maybe that's
really what I think, but I am not so naive as to give you the opportunity
to splutter the usual reply: 'You are ignorant, you don't understand
contemporary art', which means, as you said yourself, that I ignore it. 
I promoted (or degraded, which depends on the point of view) Piero Cannata
to the rank of artist. At this point, customary language would require a
large amount of terms like 'Post-Modern tension', 'Empathy', 'Genius',
'Intemperance', 'Existential Drama', plus a few quotes (preferably taken
from some mateís book). Mix up, ferment for one month, and the artist is
ready. Is the vernissage scheduled?
It goes without saying that I won't do that, because I'm no respectable
critic. My tool box does not contain catalogues and invitations to
exhibitions, but a hammer, a knife and a few permanent markers.
If I'm no respectable critic, that's precisely because I'm not able to ignore.
Unfortunately, those who 'ignore' are people like you, journalists,
critics, gallery managers, collectors... You and the majority that you
represent are ignorant. You're ignorant because you think it's possible to
separate the "beautiful" from the "ugly", "art" from "madness", you have
the power to put a man into an asylum, that is the power of ignorance. I
belong to a minority that rely on their own "lack of culture" and (luckily
or unfortunately) couldn't even hurt a bug. Maybe I'd be able to hurt a
You're so keen on defending Pollock's art from the charge of being
"degenerate", a charge that nobody pressed. Don't you find it bizarre? You
are supporting the improsonment of a 'mad vandal', a 'fanatic', while you
try to convince me that Pollock, who was praised in life and died a
millionaire, expressed a profound existential tragedy!
'He identified himself with his artworks, which gradually expanded and
absorbed all his energies'. Aren't these words perfectly suitable to the
life of Piero Cannata?
'There was no fortuitous act'... Yeah, you think that Cannata's is 'a rash
gesture caused by madness'... And yet, for more than 9 years, Cannata has
gone ahead with such a lucid project that even Fontana would envy him!
Cannata plans his actions months in advance, and is determined to carry on
for the things he believes in. No, Piero Cannata is not mad (nor does
madness exist, but this is another story). He's just mad enough to go a few
inches beyond the sacred and unpassable boundaries of Art, enough not to
long for the support of critics and galleries.
Paolo Vagheggi, Maurizio Calvesi, Achille Bonito Oliva and all the others:
you're precisely that kind of persons that in 1909 were shocked at
Futurism, and in 1917 were indignant because an urinal was exhibited in a
gallery,  and in don't-remember-what-year because an artist was selling his
own shit. It's too easy, after more than half a century, to organize Dada
and Surrealist retrospectives, dish up monographs on the likes of
Marinetti, Breton and Tzara, people who died and were enterred long ago.
You just recuperate; when will you *propose* anything? 
Here's my answer: your descendants will do it for you in a few decades, as
time pours oil on today's troubled waters, as Piero Cannata is gagged and
stuffed with thorazine, Alexander Brener grows old and suitable for
museums, Luther Blissett become a spectre (s/he already is). I look forward
to those banquets, revaluations, essays, exhibitions, catalogues, T-shirts
and CD-roms.
No, it's not you that make history. Maybe it's not me either. Piero Cannata
is trying to do it.
Things are like that. There will be a Night of Crystals, no matter what
Luther Blissett believes. (5 February 1999)

Next posting:
update #3: Repression And The Musti affair

F.P. Belletati, Bologna, Italy
A Luther Blissett Mythopoetic On-line Guide:
last updated: Autumn 1998

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