For his show “The Curator, The Lawyer, and the Psychoanalyst,” French-born, Brussels-based artist Pierre Bismuth asked three people with the title professions to select a number of his works and elucidate their choices in wall texts accompanying the exhibits. Installed in the Kunsthalle Wien’s lofty main gallery, the show comprised roughly 60 pieces in a wide range of mediums, from video and film to photography and collage to a newly commissioned large-scale installation.
Although the exhibition spanned much of Bismuth’s career, with works from the late 1980s to 2015, it was not presented chronologically. Due to the unusual selection process, the pieces were loosely grouped according to thematic criteria, highlighting Bismuth’s conceptual approach while also revealing just how deeply entrenched the participants in this experimental setup are in their respective professional discourses. Bismuth’s video series “Respect the Dead” (2001-03) was installed near his “Unfolded Origamis” (2003-04), both of which were chosen by the lawyer and the curator. The former consists of well-known movies, including Lethal Weapon, Vertigo and The Godfather: Part II, projected on a wall on loop; they’ve been edited in such a way that the films end immediately after the first death scene. For “Unfolded Origamis,” Bismuth had an origamist fold and unfold printed posters. Each work is displayed flat and titled after the object that it had once been folded to depict, such as one of Andy Warhol’s famous flowers that had been turned into a Samurai head. The lawyer saw both series as an opportunity to muse over copyright issues. The curator emphasized Bismuth’s intervention in the source material. Meanwhile, the psychoanalyst, drawing on Sigmund Freud’s and Jacques Lacan’s fascination with doubles, selected works such as the photograph Double Bass (2003) and the film Double Symmetry (2003), in which Bismuth mirrored half images of, respectively, an upright bass and a Marx Brothers film on the vertical axis, thus creating perfectly symmetrical pictures.
Though each participant took an entirely different approach to the work, all three chose “Following the Right Hand Of,” one of Bismuth’s better-known series, begun in 1998. Here, the artist captures the hand movements of various celebrities in rare film clips by stretching transparent foil over the screen and tracing the gestures of one person’s right hand with a marker. He presented the doodlelike abstract drawings laid over the original footage—projected on the wall or played on a monitor—which features the likes of Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud and Marilyn Monroe.
Fried Chicken Flavored Polyethylene (2015) was not considered by the three participants since it was the work commissioned by the Kunsthalle Wien. In spite of this, Bismuth prominently placed the installation at the center of the show. The main element was an extruding machine used to melt and shape plastic. Various bags filled with plastic pellets were stacked near the apparatus, while brown blobs resembling piles of feces, products of the extruding process, were arranged in a large circle on the floor near the machine. From pellets to blobs—not much of an achievement. This, precisely, seemed to be the point: at times the making of art does not require pretext, justifying discourse or purpose at all. It can be just an act of idle transformation.