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A Tittmannian Look at Contemporary Art

taavakasvotIn my opinion, the best lesson I learnt at the Helsinki Rudolf Steiner School was not to take anything at its face value. I applied this motto perhaps more efficiently than my teachers would have wished; because at the age of seventeen there were many things I did not like looking at in the school.

I wrote a letter to Stuttgart, to the Freie Waldorfschule am Kräherwald. At that time, in 1983, there were no kinds of exchange student organizations between Finland and Germany, but the board of the school read my letter and accepted me in as a non-paying student.

My life would most probably have evolved differently, if it had not been for Mr. Tittmann.

Mr. Tittmann was running the course Moderne Malerei (Modern Painting). According to the school practice we addressed him as formally as he addressed us, but when he entered the classroom his sparrow-like being was quickly equipped with eagle wings. He acted out the Sturm und Drang type visions of modern art for us and forgot about all formalities unnecessary in the situation.

Mr. Tittmann’s most important lesson to us was that you have to be able to think, interpret and argue yourself. ”You will never amount to anything, if you only think the way I do – about art and Butterbräzels (a butter twist from southern Germany). You will amount to something if one day you realize how you think yourselves.”

Herr Tittmann did not only guide me onto my own path of research of the visual arts. He also took me into some subsequently beautifully theorized ”third space” for good, into a transitional identity or point of view, which is always from somewhere else than just where we come from or where we are going to.

That is why I now look at contemporary art from a slightly peculiar angle, in a Tittmannian way – this time from Barbados, our Caribbean home, in the neighbourhood of which my partner and I are the only white people.

International contemporary art is polarized and fragmented. In some places there is argumentation and multiculturalism – a good example was the project Rethinking Nordic Colonialism – a Postcolonial Exhibition in Five Acts, organized by NIFCA, Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, which was closed down at the end of 2006.

The project was a self-critical crusade into the history of the oblivion of Nordic colonialism, carried out by the Danish curators Frederikke Hansen & Tone Olaf Nielsen, also known as Kuratorisk Aktion. They created a ”glocal” perspective by integrating cultural practitioners from basically all over the world into the project and by looking at manifold ethnic and sexual identities in an understanding and unprejudiced way.

In other places this kind of activity is not perceived as interesting – most people hardly know about it. At its best Kuratorisk Aktion publishes a book with the print run of 2000 and a DVD, whereas the circulation of the multinational Vanity Fair magazine is over a million. The special issue of the turn of the year was The Art Issue, the title of a special feature being Money on the Wall. And that is what the interviewees, important and influential art practitioners of New York are talking about.

Art is a market, a consumer commodity and a status symbol. Tobias Meyer, a leading expert on contemporary art at the auction house Sotheby’s is saying: ”Now a great apartment in New York is $30 million – – A great Rothko is also $30 million.” In Meyer’s opinion, a successful businessman of today has to have something to hang in his living room, not in the corridor.

For Meyer an art enthusiast or a collector is naturally successful (and likely to be a white) businessman. In this view ”face value” – and probably all other possible values – have been replaced by ”market value”.

Meyer will not have a chance to develop a less one-eyed view in a Tittmannian sense, but he may be able to succeed in a Kimmelmannian way. Michael Kimmelmann is the chief art critic of The New York Times. His book The Accidental Masterpiece. On the Art of Life and Vice Versa (2005) is an excellent introduction to finding new views on art, its history and present day – on meanings and personas of the kind that are not part of the mainstream canon.

This is also a way to look at contemporary art and its history.

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