Nic Guagnini and I both teach in Barnard College's art historydepartment. In what has become a sort of humdrum ritual, we meet forlunch every Tuesday in the big school cafeteria, which wouldn't be outof place in Jacques Tati's Playtime. We're drawn to it as much for itsdated utopianism as by the need to eat. I usually enter into ourlunchtime conversations in an unprepossessing manner, but it oftenseems that Nic is waiting to test out a new argument on me. Whatfollows is an attempt to make part of our ongoing dialogue public.
John Miller: Why do you hate flowers? And colored pencils?
Nicolás Guagnini: I generally abhor the idea of representation as a starting point for art. Flowers epitomize a relationship between beauty and canon formation (as in van Gogh's flowers) that goes nowhere fast. Faced with flowers, an artist can be either sincere or very ironic. Both channels lead to ideological impoverishment. Colored pencils frustrate me because I could never figure out how color affects lines. But I see them as unconquered territory.
To exaggerate only slightly: the only artist you speak about without irony is Piero Manzoni. Why?
I believe shit is a matter of utmost importance, never to be taken lightly.
You also seem to harbor a love for the idea of the middle class, if not for the middle class itself, but here your attitude is ironic. Are there political reasons for this?
I'd like to answer you with questions: Do you feel irony is a class prerogative? And love?
Much of your recent work relies on détournement; you've more or less détourned foreign currency, posters, and copies of Artforum. Is this a deliberate extension of Situationist aesthetics?
I take from Argentine media art of the 1960s, from Cildo Meireles's interventions, from Arthur Barrio, from Antonio Caro, from Hélio Oiticica, from David Lamelas. These influences, all South American, are naturally in sync with Situationist ideas. I would not declare that there is such a thing as Situationist aesthetics. If you were a Situationist, you'd be thrown out for that statement.
One component of your work is a critique of exchange value. Does this imply solely a technical analysis, or is there a moral component, as well? Or, more broadly, does the Marxist critique of political economy in part sublate a foregoing theological imperative?
My drive is toward the concrete, against abstractions. The economy and the idea of free markets are immense fictional abstractions. Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic once wrote, "Just as money is paper, so a gallery is a room." I see in a recovery of use value a place to access the experiential. The component of belief is more an ethical aspiration than a moral imperative. Morality is relative.
"Power Structure," a show featuring John Miller and Dan Graham and curated by Nicolás Guagnini around one of his own works, is on view at Andrew Roth Gallery, New York, through Dec. 13.
"John Miller puts five questions to Nicolás Guagnini" originally appeared in the December 2008 / January 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2008 / January 2009 Table of Contents.