The Bar, the Friends, the Voice, the Stage:
Martinez on Stand-up Comedy and the Frankfurter Kunstverein's Project for
For American stand-up comedians in the 1960s
such as Lenny Bruce, comedy could be a political weapon. Now with "A
Delicious Feeling of Confidence," the Frankfurt Kunstverein has
transported this idea to the present day - as an artistic strategy. On
each day of the Frieze art fair, a program will be presented on a
specialyl designed stage combining humor, politics, film, and performance.
But how political can artists be as entertainers? Oliver Koerner von
Gustorf talked with Chuz Martinez, the director of the Frankfurt
Kunstverein, about the Deutche Bank-sponsored project.
Chuz Martinez, director of the
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: How did the whole
idea of "A Delicious Feeling of Confidence" arise?
Martinez: It all started with a conversation with the artist Dora
Garcia about the complicated relationship that contemporary art seems
to establish with its audience. We thought about whether there were models
or situations in which the relationship between artist and public is just
as difficult, but that can be seen in entertaining ways. And suddenly Lenny
Bruce came to mind, someone we both adore. Bruce used to insult his
audience; he said things like "I'm gonna piss on you," he cracked jokes
about the Ku-Klux-Klan
and abortion, but people still thought it was incredibly funny. I find it
very interesting how he used stand-up
comedy as a medium for what was essentially a very political language.
there's also another aspect to stand-up comedy that fascinates me - the
fact of its being a situation in which a person is standing more or less
alone on stage. And this person has to create a kind of faith. You know,
if you really like a comedian, you go to a place just to see him. You
don't need fancy costumes or an orchestra or anything. You go to a bar to
meet some friends. You have a drink and sit there, and then you listen.
Just think about Seinfeld,
for example. Jerry Seinfeld's
sitcom represents the typical stand-up routine. It's all there: the bar,
the friends, the voice, the stage. It makes you wish there were people
with the same kind of routine in contemporary art - that people could come
to see an artist, sit down, and say to themselves: "let's see what he or
she throws at me tonight."
searching comic Lenny Bruce after his being
for allegedly obscene language, San Francisco, 1961
The idea of working
with the format of stand-up comedy arose three years ago when the Frieze
Foundation invited me to participate with a project for the art fair.
I was still working in Bilbao at the time. I was always thinking about
what it means, exactly, to be present at an art fair as an institution.
Even if the Frankfurter Kunstverein is
non-commercial, and maintains a distance to the art market, there is no
such a thing as being "outside" the marketplace. On the one hand, through
our program we propose a critical counter-voice and working strategies
that intend to surpass the economy of the spectacle. On the other, by
accepting the invitation of Frieze,
we inevitably become part of the fair. And so it seemed appropriate to the
situation to use the model of stand-up comedy to ironically twist a
surrounding that makes us feel a bit like stand-up comedians ourselves. We
present artists as entertainers on a small scale, like stand-up comedians.
But in reality, they aren't entertainers, of course. We believe we can
change the world, even if we don't have the recipe yet. But we keep on
trying. If nothing else, then at least we'll provide some entertainment.
Tobias Putrih, Venetian, Atmospheric, 2007
Venice Biennale, Slovenian Pavilion
Michele Lamanna, Courtesy the artist/Max Protetch Gallery, New York
there a provocative message behind the project?
want to invite people to think about the fact that political opposition
can have many voices, many methods of operation. Lenny Bruce stands for
political awareness. He was an ambiguous, critical voice. His method was
effective: he used his stand-up routine to attack the politics of Eisenhower
American Puritanism, the narrow-minded ideas of religion, race, and
society. And I think especially now, during the era of the Bush
administration, it feels like a good time to reclaim an American voice as
critical as Bruce's was. This doesn't mean lapsing into mindless
Anti-Americanism. Lenny Bruce was an American institution, even when he
disagreed with what was going on in his country.
Putrih, Sketch fort he auditorium at Frieze Art Fair, 2007,
So what will the
audience experience at the Frieze Art Fair? Could you describe the stage
that Tobias Putrih is building for the event?
Frankfurter Kunstverein was invited as an independent institution; now it
was our turn to invite. So we thought about Tobias
Putrih, a New York-based Slovenian artist who creates sculptural
structures and environments that can be used by the audience, that have a
social function. We corresponded back and forth with him to develop an
adequate setting. In the end, he designed a tribune that faces a round
stage. The construction is made of wood, cardboard and scaffolding poles,
with four large "arms" to carry the lighting system, almost like a tiny
football stadium. At the same time, it resembles an artificial animal,
some kind of robot or metal "transformer" that embraces the stage from
above. Visitors can sit down on the tribune, and there will be a cinema
space inside the tribune for them to watch films. The installation will
have a rough, industrial look. Tobias Putrih's ephemeral architecture is
complex in structure, but at the same time it looks very low-tech, very
"handmade." It suggests that anybody could make it; it also represents a
highly economical way to use common materials. All in all, we invited four
artists to be "curators of the day." Each of them has a day to activate
Garcia, It it not the past, but the future, that determines the present.,
the: "Golden Sentence Series", 2001,
view Frankfurter Kunstverein, 2007,
And they also put
together the film program?
films for the program. The project is a collaboration between myself as
the project's initiator, the co-curators Katja Schröder and Tobias Meyer,
and the four artists. We've developed a very funny dialogue in the course
of viewing films and searching for new material. The first artist that
came to mind was Dora Garcia, because we'd had that initial conversation
about the project. On the first day of the program, Dora will be launching
the project with an homage to Lenny Bruce, whose discursive humor goes
together well with Garcia's conceptual practice, which is dry and
intelligent, linguistic in a sense. An actor will read Bruce's stand-up
jokes, re-enacting them for an entire day, joke after joke. On the first
day there will also be a small performance: a slapstick number conceived
by the artists Gabriel
Lester and Loris
Greaud, suggested by Raimundas
Malasauskas, a well-known Lithuanian curator: monochrome paintings
hanging on gallery walls, all of them falling to the floor at a certain