On the 40th anniversary of ‘Transformer: Aspects of Travesty’ – a ‘groundbreaking’ show curated by Jean-Christophe Ammann in 1974 – Richard Saltoun Gallery is showing a ‘re-proposition’ of the original exhibition, that reunites all the artists, in London and allows the viewer to assess what has changed in these forty years and whether this homage has any relevance at this point.
‘Transformer’ include works from all the artists featured in the original exhibition: Luciano CASTELLI, Jürgen KLAUKE, Urs LÜTHI, Pierre MOLINIER, Tony MORGAN, Luigi ONTANI, Walter PFEIFFER, Andrew SHERWOOD, Katharina SIEVERDING, Werner Alex Meyer (alias Alex SILBER), THE COCKETTES and Andy WARHOL and, as the press release states, ‘deals with the aesthetics of desire and transformation’. It must be born in mind that the original show had happened before the ‘Act Up’ shows at the New Museum and the Venice Biennale. Having said that, once these two happened, the aesthetics of ‘Transformer’ (which were never formally groundbreaking nor original) seem to belong more the to the world of fashion than art.
In other words, today this show looks anachronistic and unnecessary. Although the show is announced in the same way it was announced forty years ago, it hardly conveys the ideas of transformation or metamorphosis but its opposite. Even though the original Ammann curatorship could be considered ‘groundbreaking’ in political terms, from the point of view of its aesthetics it was extremely dull and conservative for it overlapped two aesthetic tools that tend to destroy all thematisation of change. I am referring to installation and montage. Let me be more clear. Both montage and installation are formal ways to convey change but together they neutralise each other and this is what happens in this show. It is just too arty, too fashionable, too radical and too juxtaposed.
Hence, the viewer is confronted with a cornucopia of men dressing like women, cocks instead of tits (that is, in the exact place of tits), make up on male facial features, etc. The continuous nod to the worlds of fashion and glam-rock, in this context, is the worst possible idea because creates a theatrical distance that makes the whole exercise almost fictional. There is too much distance between the exhibition subject matter and the viewer who ends up seeing four different and completely unnecessary levels of objectification. The first one has to do with the opposition of ‘man as woman’, the second ‘montage as photography’, the third ‘installation as exhibition’ and the fourth, ’fashion as art’. The reader might argue that this constant displacement of meaning and form might be considered in itself an allegorisation of change. On the contrary, it creates so much ‘aesthetic’ distance that the outcome is almost ornamental or canivalesque. Just a thought.
RICH SALTOUN GALLERY
UNTIL FEBRUARY 28TH