Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The pilgrim's staff and the institution: Andrei Cadere

A funny story about how I literally stumbled across the work of Andrei Cadere, at the MACBA(Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona): trying not to trip over a Bruce Nauman installation, which consisted of a tape recorder spinning the band around a chair leg making eerie noises as one changes one's position - you have to know security guards are much more lax in Spain about policing visitors. I was captivated by the looped tape so i forgot to look right and almost kicked a couple of multicolored sticks out of their place resting against the wall. For a minute I thought to myself, "those darn kids from family days must be behind this." But then I noticed a wall-text next to the sticks, identifying the mysterious wooden contraptions as a piece by "Andrei Cadere, French artist of Polish origin, born in 1934 in Warsaw, died in France in 1978."

Huh? To any Romanian, when you read that name you realize the guy was definitely not French, and definitely not Polish. (his last name means "falling") Actually I wondered what Cadere would have considered himself to be. I decided to investigate; I don't consider myself a nationalist, but I am naturally drawn to finding out as much as I can over artists involved in the post WW2 art community in Romania. My interest piqued, I made for the MACBA bookstore and then the internet, not before leaving a note "to whom it may concern" at the visitors desk to look into Cadere's Romanian roots. I really like it when an artist comes from various contexts in time, but for crying out loud, do your research and acknowledge those influences.

Turns out, Cadere was born in Warsaw in 1934, where his father was a diplomat. He lived in Bucharest for about 30 years, where he was a self-trained painter and a model, experimenting in underground shows with everything from surrealism to optical art. In 1967 he left for Paris, France. I can easily imagine why - conceptual art was not exactly encouraged in Romania at the time, in fact you could go to jail for doing it. As artist Ion Grigorescu remembers,"Cadere did not mingle." The position of travelling at the center of things while remaining on the margins, is crucial in understanding Cadere's conceptual work.

Feeling as ignored in France as he was by the Romanian institutions, Cadere came up with an ingenious performance to break through the limits of art museums and galleries, something which he could more freely do in Paris than at home: he infiltrated himself into openings he wasn't invited to, carrying with him a mysterious rounded wooden bar, entering into conversations with the audience and art critics, like it was all very natural. Sometimes he sent a cheeky announcement to museums that he and his work will be attending the opening.

Cadere would oftentimes position himself in front of paintings or just walk around the gallery space; his purpose was to draw attention to himself and his ideas. The wooden bars were made up of cylindrical segments of lengths equal to their diameter, in two or three different colors, assembled after an elaborate system of permutations. He was in fact enacting a performance, where the wooden bar was a metonymy for the idea of expanding the limits of art beyond the white cube of the institutions and into life. Part of this performance were the carefully planned meetings and conversations with ordinary and famous people, walking around with a wooden barin the city and his lengthy explanations over the algorithm of permutations.

Although in his performaces Cadere used art-objects, he considered them to be paintings on a cylindrical surface, coining the term "peinture sans fin" (infinite painting). Only in opposition to traditional paintings, his bars could be exhibited anywhere without the usual fuss over hanging or handling the artwork, in museums, galleries, artist studios or simply on the street. Later he issued certificates to authenticate and sell the wooden bars, labelled as paintings. His practice was definitely confrontational to artists and institutions, in a non-aggressive, playful and ironic way.

Thinking back to how I discovered Cadere, it is hard to stumble across the only material remains of his work today, the wooden bars, and imagine the much more complicated context and institutional critique he envisioned. One could say, Cadere's work was also his life, and you can't separate the two. His nomadic practice, constantly walking with a bar on his shoulder through the urban environment, allowed him to charter a map of the art world, constantly changing its borders in relation to his art. Actually it is ironic that the very practices the artist rebelled against in the 70, have now appropriated his work, institutionalizing it, no?

Although it turned out that Cadere only influenced the Romanian art scene to a limited extent (because of the censorship and surveillance of those remaining in the country), his practice definitely comes out of the Romanian context in which he struggled before 1967, foregrounding the state of art in public discourse. Because he was an outsider, a marginalized artist coming from one of the poorest countries in Europe, he created performances aimed at de-stabilizing the rigid order and hierarchies in the French art circuit. (and let's not forget the 1968 student movements which inspired a repertoire of protest, just a year after Cadere came to Paris). The artist sat the general public and those in power around a shared table of debate over who makes the rules in art - and in life. As he put it: "My art is the situation of my work in the world. It is critical of power. That is what I call the political in my work."

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