31 January 2016

Kitsch, Dirt, Mud, and Chaos

Hans-Peter Zimmer, collage, date unknown

At the end of the prior post I had mentioned the Gruppe SPUR. I hadn't had reason to think of them in many years. In fact, I once had a copy of a German-language book on the group; a book that was long ago lost, destroyed, or came to some other such fate. At any rate, being reminded of them, I decided to seek out images of their early, SI-era work online. No quick task, as the group was -- I gather -- never widely known outside of Germany.

Comprised of painters Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm, Hanz-Peter Zimmer, and sculptor Lothar Fischer, the group came together in 1957 in the city of Munich. Their work during those years in many ways mirrors of number of postwar "art informel" avant-gardist tendencies of the era -- like a mishmash of COBRA-style taschism and art brut primitivism.

Heimrad Prem - Untitled, 1962

Lothar Fischer, title and date unknown

Helmut Sturm  "Paar", 1962

Hans-Peter Zimmer - Untitled, 1961

Lothar Fischer "Flucht aus dem Morgenland", 1959

Heimrad Prem "Gesicht einer Landschaft", 1961

Hans-Peter Zimmer "Abstrakt Komposition" , date unknown

Lothar Fischer, title and date unknown

Helmut Sturm "The Blue Phantom", 1961

Members of the Situationist International at the London ICA, 1960, with
SPUR members Zimmer, Prem, and Sturm center, standing. The meeting
would mark the beginning of friction between the two groups. 

The group had first come to the attention of Asger Jorn in 1957, who immediately reckoned them to be successors to the artistic aims that COBRA had pursued earlier in the decade. Shortly thereafter, Jorn, the four SPUR members, and a handful of other associates collaborated on a manifesto for the Gruppe, parts of which proclaimed:

Concepts such as culture, truth, eternity, [and even] other artists do not interest us; we must save our own lives. The material and spiritual situation of art is so distressing that one can not ask artists to paint in an engaging fashion. Only the upstarts can paint this way.

The tired generation, the angry generation, are over. Now, it is the turn of the kitsch generation. WE INSIST UPON KITSCH, DIRT, THE ORIGINAL MUD, CHAOS. Art is the heap of dung in which kitsch grows. Kitsch is the daughter of art: the daughter is young and perfumed, the mother is an old woman who stinks. We only want one thing: to spread kitsch.

We want ERROR. Constructivists and Communists have abolished error and live in eternal truth. We are against truth, against happiness, against satisfaction, against good conscience, against fat stomaches, against HARMONY. Error is the most marvelous capacity of man! Why is man here? To add to the errors of the past, which no longer suit him.

Abstract painting has become an empty aestheticism, a place where the lazy of spirit frolic, looking for a convenient pretext to harp on worn-out truths.

Abstract painting is CHEWING GUM THAT'S BEEN CHEWED A HUNDRED TIMES, and stuck underneath a table. Today, the constructivist and structuralist painters try to chew this totally dry piece of gum one more time.

Art historians make each necessary spiritual revolution into dinner conversation for intellectuals. We will oppose A MILITANT DICTATORSHIP OF THE SPIRIT TO THE NON-ENGAGEMENT OF THE SPIRIT. 

Jorn brought them to the attention of the SI, and the Gruppe was soon invited to join the Situationist network. Their involvement with the SI would last only a few years before a series of disagreements prompted Dubord to expel the four artists from the organization.

As far as the sloganeering of the Gruppe's manifesto, a lot of the ideas parallel similar notions espoused by Jean Dubuffet -- especially those Dubuffet would later put to paper in his essay "Asphyxiating Culture." Also ironic to note the claims made for the liberation of kitsch in the same document; considering that the year of the Gruppe's expulsion from the SI coincided with the point at which Gerhard Richter and his confreres began formulating their ideas "Capitalist Realism" as an artistic response to postwar consumerist culture.

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