The art of Marc Camille Chaimowicz has grown into its own content in the process of being re-created. What might have begun as expediency—with requests for his 1970s installations to be reexhibited as they began to seem very current in the context of the louche theatrical mannerisms of younger artists—has evolved into a theme, a meditation on memory, and the emergence of pop-cultural mythology from the dwindling of original events.
Chaimowicz’s 1972 installation Celebration? Realife resembled the aftermath of a decadent party. Re-created in 2000, the work had an air of glamorous dissolution and had matured to comprehend the co-dependence between an art original and its trace, and retro-culture’s dubious remaking of the past in forms which have no more than a sentimental connection to the periods they reference. The installation—fragments of glittering memorabilia tenuously linked by strings of fairy lights—had become a metaphor for the fraying links between past and present.
At MD 72, Chaimowicz followed an identical premise, based on a slightly later body of work, Here and There (1978): a suite of black-and-white photographs, mostly of elegant London interiors, pasted onto tall panels of plywood. The panels were propped and sometimes stacked against the walls. A table-cum-sculpture (Dressing Table, 1977/2011) and a few fey abstract watercolors (“Series No. 1,” 1995) looked like stage props preserved from the original scenario. A contemporaneous film, Partial Views of an Interior (1978)—shown here on a network of monitors—was shot in the same rooms as the photographs, and features the young Chaimowicz reclining on a bed or standing by a window gazing out wistfully. A performance of disaffected hedonism now appears as a rendition of nostalgia that eerily foresees the sentiment it would evoke 30 years on. Chaimowicz silently plays an effete Proustian protagonist, trapped like a delicate butterfly in the edifice of bourgeois social mores, under the weight of personal ennui, and now, furthermore, in the half-light of a past he can never escape.
Painted in pale gray or silver, the approximately 8-foot-high panels had a no-nonsense physicality starkly at odds with the photographs, like minimalistic interlopers in an environment predicated on insubstantial reference. In contrast, the high windows were curtained with a printed fabric, fine as chiffon. Curtain (for MvdR), 2008, was another self-quote, hailing from Chaimowicz’s 2008 Berlin Biennial installation, where it was hung over the even higher windows of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie building. Bringing the source of the remake temporally closer serves to emphasize that art referencing its own history, and its artist’s history (the history of his artistic persona), must be as much an art about the art world as an art about how the past can be reclaimed. Diaphanously veiling the windows, the curtain signified our diminishing access to history, but also, conversely, the piece served as a consolidating window comprehending the addition of this exhibition to its previous installation and the site that housed it. More tangentially, MD 72’s ornate late 19th-century interior, with its high portals between rooms, happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Victorian drawing room architecture of The Gallery House in London’s Kensington, as its image is preserved in documentation of the original Celebration? Realife. It seems history does repeat itself.
Photo: View of Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s installation Here and There, 1978-2009; at MD 72.