L'IMPRESSION DE L'ARTISTE
The rules of interaction that are adhered to by museum visitors today find their genesis in the eighteenth century concept of the ‘palace of art.’ Historically, museum such as the Musée du Louvre posited the idea of great artworks representing great nations, and as such, one message came to the fore: you can look but do not touch.
It was Marcel Duchamp in the early twentieth century who revolutionised the idea of what constituted art. For him, found objects were perfectly viable forms that could be used in artworks — as long as the artist had selected them (at which stage we imagine the artist picking these objects up, handling them, touching them and re-ascribing their function). With the dematerialisation of the art object in the 1960s — initiated by conceptual artists wishing to circumvent the market’s relationship to fine art and release the formalist notion of the autonomous object — artists increasingly experimented with art’s constitutional makeup, undermining the notion of permanence. They formulated a language in art that saw objects changing state over time; object that could be touched, worn or handled; objects that could be erased at the end of an exhibition and reinstalled, and so on.
Ephemerality was a progressive element activated by artists, from Fluxus’ 1960s Happenings to Dieter Roth’s Small Garden Gnome as Squirrel Food Sculpture (1969), a chocolate and birdseed gnome intended to be placed outdoors and consumed. All of a sudden, art could be impermanent or changeable; it could dissolve or exist for a brief moment in time. Taking Roth’s idea one step further in the 1990s, American artist Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather (1993-4), comprised numerous self-portrait busts made from chocolate and soap, which have slowly dissolved and changed with time.
Michael Müller’s own soaps present another form of self-portrait, one where his hands convey the physicality of his artistic life, underpinned by scents directly linked to his studio. Numerous artists have impressed their hands into matter to leave traces of their own touch, not least Gabriel Orozco’s My Hands Are My Heart (1991), where two silver dye bleach prints show his fingers embossed within a heart-shaped piece of clay. Indeed, the touch of the artist has been a key consideration throughout art history, a sense of uniqueness or even holiness being imbued into objects via the artist’s direct touch or ‘aura’. Despite the market shifting to make way for the dematerialisation of the art object, including this concept within its framework, it continues to value most highly rare objects that can be directly linked to the touch or aura of the artist.
L’IMPRESSION DE L’ARTISTE is an extension of preceding forms in Müllers oeuvre. His 2016 exhibition at Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden included the works Tageswerk (Day’s Work) (2015), a table displaying numerous bodily-imprinted lumps of fired and glazed ceramic, and mach dich selbst (do it yourself) (2015), a video of the body as material, hands being moved and manipulated in a process of becoming formed and forming.
L’IMPRESSION DE L’ARTISTE was exhibited in 2017 at Galerie Thomas Schulte’s show “Teil 18. Die Welt gibt es nicht!” (Part 18: The World does not exist). The status of Müller’s objects within the exhibition was unclear: are they artworks or products? With the gallery being situated in a former Jewish fashion store, the concept sought to expand upon the space’s history and shift the usual rules of engagement when it comes to art, blurring the line between art, life and fashion. Smell, cleanliness, touch and perception are all intrinsic to the success of the fashion industry, which seeks to emphasise the importance of being squeaky clean and on trend. Indeed, fashion houses and celebrities alike are renowned for producing their own scents, body washes, soaps and products, cashing in on contemporary society’s obsession with cleanliness and the aura of fame. So why not contemporary artists? They too are worshiped and idolised in equal measure, treated as creative geniuses whose market value and personal aura can reap investment rewards. Müller’s soap actively plays into this conceptual framework, encouraging viewers to stay clean and connected.
– Louisa Elderton