PETER HILL'S MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY IDEAS

Peter Hill

The Albury Wodonga Superfiction 1993

Collaboration Peter Hill and J.J. Voss (Photographer)

The Sorbonne Conference, 2006


"The Sorbonne Conference took place in Paris on the 24th and 25th of November.

“Visual Arts, the Web and Fiction” was organised by Bernard Guelton

Other items and images will be added later

True Lies and Superfictions

Dr Peter Hill

Numbers correspond to slides (diapositifs)
  1. In August 1989, I created a fictional museum in New York called The Museum of Contemporary Ideas. Initially, it existed only through its press office. Rather than exhibit this work in a gallery I sent out fictive press releases around the world to news agencies like Reuters and Associated Press, to galleries, museum directors, magazine editors, and artist friends, describing the pioneering work of what was supposedly the world’s biggest contemporary space for exploring art and ideas. It had its billionaire benefactors called Alice and Abner “Bucky” Cameron who had supposedly made their fortune in the Cameron oil fields of Alaska.
  2. The Camerons were loosely modelled on the Gettys and Armand Hammers of this world. Why did I do this? I was not trying to create a hoax, rather to reflect a mirror image of the art world. My press releases were “testing” the art world’s ability to tell truth from fiction. If my work has any theoretical underpinning it comes from the philosophy of science and the works of
  3. Thomas Kuhn and his notion of the paradigm change
  4. Sir Karl Popper and his device of “sophisticated methodological falsificationism”
  5. and Paul Feyerabend and his anarchistic description of how science works as proposed in his book Against Method. Feyarabend was one of the catalogue essayists in the paradigm changing Zeitgeist exhibition in Berlin in 1981.
  6. But the Superfiction has other uses. In the same way that a young architect may never be able to build the great buildings that they imagine, they can live out their fantasies through their architectural plans. Since 1992 I have called this type of fantasy a “Superfiction”. In this case – in 1989 - it allowed me to create and structure a huge museum exactly as I wanted it. So the Superfiction is also a device for releasing fantasies.
  7. So this first press release reflects and critiques what was happening in the art world in 1989. At that time exhibitions such as Magiciens de la Terre in Paris and Bilderstreit in Cologne were being mounted after years and years of planning. By contrast, I introduced a gallery space in the Museum of Contemporary Ideas called “The Changing Room” which would respond immediately to political and cultural events through a think-tank of curators, journalists, economists and philosophers, thus bringing the tensions of the news room  and the pressures of the press office to the presentation of art and ideas.

            The major exhibition in this fictive space was on the subject of
             government  propaganda,  and was a quick response to the recent massacres in Tienanmien Square. It title – “To Get Rich is
            Glorious” was taken from a statement by Deng Xiaoping. By
            contrast, his June 9th speech which melded economic liberalism 
            with political orthodoxy, and made five days after the Tienanmien
            Square massacre spoke of “Plain Living” and set out a seventy    
            year program to promote the new philosophy.’

  1. I deliberately put many bad puns into these press releases in English, but understandably they tended to go unnoticed in Germany, Italy, France, Japan and other countries. The first press release was sent out in August of 1989, and in November of that year, the weekend when the Berlin Wall was being demolished, I went to the Cologne Art Fair. There, I met Dr Wolfgang Max Faust, respected editor of Wolkenkratzer magazine and I asked him if he had received my fictive press release. He said that he had, but did not realise it was a fiction, and had asked his writer Gabriella Von Knapstein to write an article about it, proclaiming it to be the most exciting new museum in the world. When I told him that this was my artwork he went white and said “For God’s sake please don’t tell anyone until after next week. I have been asked to chair a meeting of German industrialists and curators to see if Frankfurt could build an even bigger museum based on New York’s Museum of Contemporary Ideas.
  2. Again, I say this was not a hoax, but as an artist it gave me an umbrella under which to work. I could create fictional artists, curators, editors, collectors, and auctioneers and through them create an alternative art world. As an art student in the early 1970s I took a summer job as a lighthouse keeper on three uninhabited islands off the west coast of Scotland. From this period I wrote a book called Stargazing which has been published all round the world but not yet in France. I was 20 years old and it gave me a chance to step off the world and view it from a distance. Many of my Superfictions stem from this period of reflection. On the lighthouse we watched, on our black and white television sets, the Watergate hearings beamed lied by satellite from Washington, and we watched the horrible climax to the war in Vietnam.
  3. In the early days my Superfictions were “mail art” projects with press releases sent out through the post.
  4. By 1992 I had put the whole project through a détournement and distributed them through the Internet.
  5. I was already building fictional Art Fair installations in museums, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales project space in Sydney, and the Auckland City Gallery in New Zealand.
  6. Through brooding about these installations I decided to put The Museum of Contemporary Ideas through a complete “détournement” and have it emerge as a novel, art installation, and website, called The Art Fair Murders. The narrative of this speculated on what would happen if a serial killer was loose in the art world killing a different person in art fair cities in the great year of revolutions, 1989: January, Miami; February, ARCO in Madrid; March, London; April, Frankfurt; May, Chicago; and so on through to June, Basil and November, Cologne.
  7. Narrative has long been a part ofboth figurative and abstract painting. I wanted to introduce “plot” into the art making process.
  8. By the mid 1990s I had met a number of artists around the world who created different fictional worlds. The first was
  9. Res Ingold in 1989 at the Cologne Art Fair with his fictional airline Ingold Airlines. He then went on to introduce me to
  10. the late Servaas in Holland with his fictional world of deep see fishing.
  11. Servaas led me to Torch Gallery and Adriaan the director introduced me to the Seymour Likely Group who ran their own bar as an artwork near the red light district
  12. And so it went on. In 1989 I came across
  13. Joan Fontcuberta and the fictional creatures he had made through taxidermy, and David Wilson’s Museum of Jurrassic Technology  in Los Angeles.
  14. Many others followed.  Rodney Glick in Australia with his Klausian Philosophy
  15. His student Eve Anne O’Reagon with her fictional cosmetics company Babyface
  16.  The Leeds 13 in England and the group DAMP in Australia with their group interventions.
  17. More recently Alexa Wright in London and her Phantom Limb Projects. I have curated on exhibition for the Sydney Festival in 2002 on the subject of photo-fictions. Next, I would like to curate a large show on the whole topic of Superfictions.
  18. So going back to the first Press Release. Many of the fictional artists and artists groups that I invented for that first press release to The Museum of Contemporary Ideas back in 1989 now became characters in The Art Fair Murders. These include the art teams: Nouvelle Kunst Faction from Paris; AAA (Art Against Astrology); Made in Palestine – Made in Israel; Elvi and Jack; Aloha, a group from Queensland in Australia, The ArtTsars from Leningrad, and Film Pilgrims from New York. This is a still from “The After SexCigarette “ by Film Pilgrims. It is a filmed ballet about gender issues. What they do is return the concept of the art pilgrimage to film. Their movies are only shown in one cinema in a remote location in the world. So, I the same way as you have to travel to Paris, if you live in Glasgow, Sydney, or Chicago to see the “real” Mona Lisa, so with the work of Film Pilgrims you have to travel to
  19. disused cinemas in Auckland, New Dehli, or Nova Scotia to see their work. You have to make a pilgrimage.
  20. There are also individual artists in The Art Fair Murders such as the young conceptual artist from Holland called Milco Zeemann and two painters from Texas who are rivals in love and art – Herb Sherman and Hal Jones. When I started this project I was living and teaching in Tasmania, Australia, having moved there from my home city on the other side of the world, Glasgow, Scotland. The first thing I did was I prepared two advertisements for one of my favourite journals The London Review of Books.
  21. The first one appeared on December 14th 1995, on page 27, and looked like this. Over the next two months there was, as I had predicted, zero response to this advertisement.
  22. The second advertisement appeared in the March 7th edition, 1996, page 23. It was identical to the first one except for the following additions: Internet auction from $500,000. Fax Peter Hill in Tasmania on – followed by the number. Responses to the second advertisement came from all over the world – Rome, New York, Tokyo, London – from literary agents, publishers, and the media. This strategy of running two similar but crucially different advertisements was deliberate. From its inception The Art Fair Murders was intended to critique both the world of contemporary art and the world of literary fiction. As a visual artist (and what I call a ‘heroic amateur’ a term I named after artists such as Jorg Immendorff, Sandro Chia, and Stephen Campbell, all artists who moved from performance or conceptual art into painting, with little early talent but huge ambition) I examined the world of literary fiction around this time, in search of controversy. And I should say here that in describing and planning my work I have devised certain phrases which include: “Superfictions”; “Aesthetic Vandalism”; “Logical Extremism”;  and “Splitting the Eleven”.
  23. When I looked at the literary world I found that there was a huge fuss being made over the English writer Martin Amis receiving an advance of £500,000 for his book The Information. Yet at the same time there was nothing but praise for Nicholas Evans who was awarded almost six times that amount for his first novel (with film rights)   The Horse Whisperers. The latter was seen by many as pure entertainment, not literary fiction, so high fees were accepted as part of the deal.I chose the sum of $500,000 in order to ‘mirror’ the world of publishing within one of its leading journals – The London Review of Books, and to test the hypothesis that the mention of money and an internet auction would create a difference in response. In fact, it created a very big difference. Between the time of placing the first advertisement and its appearance, I began to write the novel. I also scanned the first few chapters on to my web-site. Again, using a ‘heroic amateur’ strategy, I decided to write the novel backwards, starting with the sort of ‘blurb’ one finds on the back of an airport novel and never written by an author but by someone in the marketing department of the publishing house. This became the template for the book and the art installation. When the second advertisement appeared many of the responses came from the media, particularly in London, and several interviews by phone, fax, and email followed, particularly from The Times in London and The Independent.
  24. The fictional part of The Art Fair Murders – the novel Thirteen Months in 1989 – is supposedly been written by a taxi driver called Jacko in Aberdeen, Scotland. He had trained as a sculptor at Goldsmiths College a year or so behind the so-called Young British Artists. For a while he worked as an art transporter and developed his own form of Cockney Rhyming Slang known in the books as Art Transporters’ Rhyming Slang:

Gretchen Bender            Return to sender
Tony Cragg              Shag
Donatello                    Mellow
Rolf Harris              Paris
Cindy Sherman            German
And so on – but perhaps it loses a little in translation

  1. The accompanying web-site was developed under the umbrella of The Museum of Contemporary Ideas and can be found at www.superfictions.com.When the visitor reaches the home page they are faced with a museum elevator which has fourteen floors. On each floor there is a separate project.  When the visitor clicks on The Art Fair Murders they are faced with five choices. By clicking on The Making of the Art Fair Murders one can see all the information, advertisements, correspondence, and scribbled notes that marked the early days of the project and its subsequent development. All of these background notes to all of my Superfictions are known  as “The Manhattan Archives”.
  2. When I create a new Superfiction I always mark its arrival with a pen. In these dangerous times – especially with the stupidity of the US, Britain, and Australia - I still like to feel that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. These pens are mailed out around the world along with  press releases and other documentation.  I do like the conventional  postal system – the idea that objects, letters and postcards (Made in Palestine) can be placed in a box anywhere on the planet and a few days later end up in someone’s house in Paris, New York,  or Tasmania. I also think Superfictions work best when  the Internet works in tandem with the postal system.
  3. I would now like to finish by talking about two strategies I have been developing recently. The first relates to the Cameron Oil pens that I have had manufactured. A few years ago I did a project  in England at the Museum of Modern Art. Before leaving Australia I went to the State Library in Melbourne and located a copy of the Oxford phone book. In it I discovered that there were  seventy-two people with the surname “Cameron” who lived in Oxford. From Australia, I sent them all a Cameron Oil pen and invited them to come to a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art. I enjoy using chance elements like this in my work and in a sense it relates back to the Surrealist game of “Exquisite Corpse”. I also enjoy failing at things. Over the years I have learned more from many failures than I have from the occasional success. As Samuel Beckett said, “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” My lecture to the Oxford Camerons ended in exquisite failure. Unknown to the audience I had hidden three first year art students, dressed as terrorists, in a large cupboard behind the podium. At the prearranged signal of me turning on a video recording they burst out of hiding, dragged me from the room, bundled me into a car and drove me to Heathrow Airport from where I flew to Stockholm with my curator. There, to my surprise, I discovered there were seven Camerons in the Stockholm phone directory. The reason my kidnapping failed visually of course is because we all had silly grins on our faces. We looked stupid, or certainly I did. But it is something I might try again.
  4. I am currently working towards an exhibition at a large commercial gallery in Sydney called Boutwell Draper. The exhibition will be called “The Myth of the Frame” in tribute to Sir Karl Popper’s paper “The Myth of the Framework”. In it I am examining the rivalry between  two of the painters who are characters in The Art Fair Murders.  I should say at this point that under the umbrella title of The Art Fair Murders there is the novel, the installations, and the web-site. The novel itself is called Thirteen Months in 1989. There are twelve  art fairs, twelve cities, twelve months, and twelve murders – but there are thirteen chapters since one of them represents an alternative ending.
  5. This project, from the start, has deliberately examined three clichés and tried to turn them into something fresh. These three clichés are:
  6.  If I had to reduce the questions that The Art Fair Murders is asking down to just a few, they would be: What happens when the painting escapes from the picture frame? And what happens when the novel escapes from the pages of the book? What happens when they go out onto the street or when they infiltrate the Internet? So I am questioning how we frame things, and I will finish with one final example, the works of Herb Sherman and Hal Jones from Texas. There is a fierce rivalry between these two painters, made worse by the fact that Hal Jones sells his large canvases to museums around the world while Herb Sherman has never been collected by a museum but his work is bought by multi-national hotels and casinos. Back in the 1960s, Hal Jones was a student of Herb Sherman’s and also worked as his studio assistant. Hal’s girlfriend, Lisa, was also an art student and after a particularly wild studio party Herb seduced her and thus began a short but passionate affair. Hal went crazy and trashed Sherman’s studio. But he did not do it in a wild and unconsidered way. He employed what the judge, in his summing up, described as “aesthetic vandalism”. Hal waited until Herb went to Las Vegas for a week for the unveiling of his “Poker Suite” of canvases at Caeser’s Palace. During that time he cut into a series of already-framed canvases with saws, spilled paint down other almost completed canvases, and blocked out large sections of other works with monochrome rectangles allowing Herb’s multi-coloured signature style to show through only at the edges.
  7. Hal Jones was sentenced to a month on a prison farm where by day he spent his time with the other inmates painting the perimeter fence first one colour, and then when it was finished, another, and spent the nights locked up in his prison cell with three other felons. Out of this period of incarceration came what he calls his “Fence” series of large monochromes the dimensions of which relate to the size of his prison cell. He spent much of his time in prison measuring things with a cloth tape measure Lisa smuggled in when visiting him. Other canvases relate to the size of his food tray, the cell window, the exercise yard, his mattress, and the overall dimensions of the double bunk bed.

            Herb Sherman’s framing device is a traditional heavy – and expensive – frame,
            often with a gold slip. His casino paintings are all named after card games –
           Chemin de Fer;  Sweepstake Hearts; Razzle-Dazzle Cinch; The Wild Widow;  
           Mexico Conquian; Rouge et Noir; American Skat; Chinese Fan Tan; and
           California Jack. His hotel paintings reference oceans, ports, bays, and beaches –
           Double Bay; Bay of Islands; Indian-Pacific; Corio Bay; Seventy Mile Beach; and
           The Port of Amsterdam – the latter taken from one of his favourite Dave Van
           Ronk songs that
            he invariably has playing in his studio while he is working.
            Hal Jones’s framing devices is a simple piece of timber placed along the top of his
            monochromes with objects attached which reference his time on the prison farm:
            razor wire, broken glass, bolts and screws,  mice and rats.

  1. And I will finish at this point by showing a final image, one of the most precious

            which I collected during the research for my PhD into Superfictions. What do you
            think it is? It looks a little like a Mark Rothko painting reproduced in black and
            white but with a diagonal horizon. It is in fact a painting of Degas’ ballerinas. Bur
            it has been prepared for publication in an Iranian school text book so all of the
            human figures have been air-brushed out. Except if you look closely at the
           shadows you see the thought police have left the shadows of the little girls on the
           floor. If we are to become experts at deciding what is true or false in any given
           visual statemen we must become expert at looking into the shadows. That is where
           the most interesting Superfictions hide. Thank you.

 

 


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