Less is Less, More is More (1995) – [eng]
What I want to do here is get down on paper why I almost always (but not always) show many, very many, in fact, too many, works in my exhibitions. This is a criticism that is often levelled at me, but I don’t have any difficulty living with it; I’m not trying to explain anything or defend myself. What I’m trying to do is write down – positively, assertively – what I had in mind, for example, in the case of Less is Less, More is More (1995). There’s the old Bauhaus idea of leaving things out, of simplifying, eliminating. This leads to products, and to artworks, that may be elegant and chic, even pretty, but they aren’t beautiful. Beautiful form is a fraud, and this – in art, and above all, art presentation in galleries, exhibition venues and museums – is pushed to the limit.
White walls, grey floors, large spaces, that’s all fine, but then comes the problem: people put very little in them, ideally as little as possible, presenting what’s most important, most valuable. What I have difficulty with here is that this approach is totally systematic. You see it done over and over again, even today – in fact, especially today.
This insistence on value, this exclusiveness, this luxury is what scandalizes me. And the result is often exactly what people want: art exhibitions that look just like art exhibitions, but only because of their form. Less is more: it’s a designer’s precept. I know a gallery isn’t a worker’s home, and a museum isn’t a canteen; a gallery isn’t a place where people really work. But galleries, museums, exhibition spaces are often more like upper-middle-class homes or white-collar residences than any of the above. It’s all about Less is More as an appropriate language of form, borrowed initially from art and then applied to other fields, such as design. Who buys art? What are they buying? I think more is always more. And less is always less. More money is more money. Less success is less success. More unemployed are more. Fewer factories are fewer. I think entirely in terms of economics. That’s why I’m interested in this concept: more is more, as an arithmetical fact, and as a political fact. More is a majority. Power is power. Violence is violence. I want to express that idea in my work as well. I don’t accept the dictatorship of the isolated, the exclusive, the fine, the superior, the elite.
And that’s why when I show many, far too many, works, I’m making a political statement. That’s why it’s never right to call it ‘swamping’, ‘flooding’, etc. Ideas like that don’t interest me, because they’re passive: you (the artist) can’t stop the tide of the work yourself; you’re flooded, you have no choice, etc. No; what it’s about is showing this excess actively, assertively; it’s not about all-over, it’s about economy, power and a political position. I don’t want to swamp anyone, flood them, overwhelm them; I want the show to be about individual works – not as a formal diktat, but to make the individual important in a conscious effort, using quantity to help the individual assert its own importance, but in relation to the others, not without them. That’s how I see it, and though I admit that I’ve done it myself – shown a single work in a single space at an exhibition -I didn’t see that as a distinction or added value. In this case, the individual work was a representative, a witness, no more and no less; a representative or witness that’s very present, and reports on behalf of the others. That’s important to me. Even though I know it’s an approach that’s very difficult to keep up, from the point of view of the whole of art history, it’s still what I want to do. In my exhibitions I always try to find ways of making that possible for viewers. I work through presentation and form, for example, on fabrics, on tables, as a cascade, by trying to work with limitations, to stress change; but I still let the presentation form remain what it is: the form, the mould, the vessel in which the work is contained. And for that reason alone, because there is a vessel there, my vessel, it can’t overflow unless I want it to. I like the Barnes Collection, but not for the individual masterpieces that make it up. No; it’s more the way the pictures are presented and put together: they’re arranged by size, not by period or subject or artist. What this apparently silly, simple, strange decision – to arrange the pictures by size, all hung to the middle line – does is create an overall impression that’s overwhelming, simply because there are so many pictures. It lets the viewer completely isolate one picture from all the others – they pretty well have to if they want to focus on it. They have to forget the others around it for a moment, but then the overall impression returns again, like focusing your eye on a detail and then shifting back to the whole. In my recent exhibitions it wouldn’t have been possible to take a single work away without being aware that something was missing. It would have left a hole, although the hole wouldn’t have actually told you what was missing; it would just have given a few clues as to its size, and its external form.
Translated from the German by Michael Robinson
Thomas Hirschhorn, Katalog, Berlin, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, 1995.-