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.
In An elliptical retort… (2009), a handwritten letter on various hotel stationeries, Marc Camille Chaimowicz conveys his impressions of contemporary Los Angeles as he prepares for his solo exhibition at the Vienna Secession. Chaimowicz, who lived in Vienna in 1982 on an artist residency, experiences Vienna reappearing again now, “in myriad form or as a chimera,” from his remote location in Tinsel Town.
Beyond the anecdotal—Viennese chefs at LA restaurants, or Franz West at LACMA, for instance—Chaimowicz cites the presence and works of artists and architects like Richard Neutra, Adolf Loos, and Rudolf Schindler who were integral to and directly influenced by the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte. Spurred by increasing Austrian conservatism in the 1920s and ‘30s, each made his way to Los Angeles as part of the “broad and endless stream of exiles, each generally travelling on one-way tickets.” In a testament to this history, Chaimowicz’s exhibition at Secession presents a mixed installation of the artist’s personally designed and hand-made objects bearing the stylistic imprint of fin-de-siècle Jugendstil, consumer objects of mid-century Los Angeles, and International Modernist architecture and design. Throughout his career, Chaimowicz has produced a range of objects, even venturing recently into set design. Here, in an eclectic collection of masterfully designed and crafted objects, ranging from asymmetrically cut carpets to parasols, curtains, and wallpaper, Chaimowicz reveals the continuity of these artistic and historical milieus.
The success of Chaimowicz’s presentation lies in his parallel homage to the artists that preceded him, and his exacting initiation of the additional present layer on this richly mined palimpsest. Dual (1992–4), a set of two chairs that can be alternately positioned as an elegant, high-backed armchair or a luxurious chaise lounge is upholstered in a cream-and-maroon pattern particularly reminiscent of Klimt’s virtuoso painted patterns, visible in his Beethoven Frieze (1902) permanently on view one floor below. Curtain (for MvdR) (2008), made originally to accentuate the soaring vertical lift in Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie building in Berlin, pays tribute in a different context with a gauzy waterfall of blue fabric. Vienna Triptych, Leaning… and Surrounded by Chorusgirls and Sentinels… (1982), a series of wood panels painted with layered patterns, leaned upright against the gallery walls and flanked by fashion photographs overlaid with the same patterns, reverberates with the patterned moldings and carved detailing throughout the Secession building.
The graphic patterns of Chaimowicz’s textiles reformulate the ornate, sensuous curves and crisp graphics of Wiener Werkstätte and Jugendstil patterns. In the process, he drains them of historical authenticity and reanimates them with a sherbet palette of lemony yellow, lime green, and dusky pink. Exaggerated beyond the muted pastels of mid-century Los Angeles, Chaimowicz’s designs verge on fun-house goofy. Five carpets, titled B1 through B5 (all 2009), are cut asymmetrically and displayed on slanted pedestals, and exaggerated, bubble-letter legs support dressing tables, entitled Deux coiffeuses (peut-être pour adolescents), l’une habillée, l’une pas (2008).
In an interview with frieze, the artist asserted that “we should resist the tyranny of linear time for one which is much more elusive, labyrinthine, gracious and, once understood, perhaps even kindly…. The future will, in all probability, fold itself into the past, the better than to accommodate the present.” For Chaimowicz, each work and exhibition is the unique presentation of a collaborative process; repeatedly shown works evolve with each showing, and he invites artists to participate in his so-called “solo” exhibitions. At the Secession, Chaimowicz asked Austrian architect Hermann Czech and British artist Simon Thompson to contribute their own works, with Czech’s Kleines Kafe II (Small Café, 1973–4), a variation on a 1950s upholstery design, in particular, bearing the mark of the institution’s stylistic innovation.
In these collaborations and in Chaimowicz’s general additive style, both anticipation and retrospection are at work. Continuity and linkages between historically distant milieus and aesthetics run backward and forward between artists, architects, and designers, and appear, again, momentarily in this exhibition. Each handmade object, Chaimowicz seems to argue, is the product of its historical development, a layering of the influence of personalities, of personalities on a place.