This is the last part of an article on Bojan Sarcevic by Jennifer Allen that appeared in the September 2008 issue of Frieze magazine. It has some very interesting connections to issues I have been thinking about in my recent flower paintings. I’ll get around to writing more about this soon. She refers to a text by Adolf Loos ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1909), that declares ornamentation to be degenerate. It is the beginnings  of the separation of craft and the applied arts from fine arts.

There’s a key sentence in Loos’ condemnation of ornament in his discussion of tattoos: ‘The urge to ornament one’s face, and everything in one’s reach, is the origin of fine art.’6 Many artists who sided with Loos would prefer to forget that he essentially wanted to free architecture and the applied arts from the fine arts; they wanted to free the fine arts from criminal ornament too. As Brüderlin notes, already in 1907 Paul Klee worried about distinguishing his work from ornament; by 1917 Hugo Ball sarcastically wondered whether abstract art would produce anything more than ‘a revival of ornament’; today calling an art work ‘decorative’ or ‘ornamental’ still constitutes an insult. Yet ever since Immanuel Kant put the fine arts and ornament together, they have shared the key criteria for aesthetic judgements: beauty and uselessness. Beauty may have since waned, but uselessness has not, despite the interactive drive of relational aesthetics and the spate of crossovers. Indeed, what is a ready-made, if not a useful everyday object taken out of commission: for example, a urinal that can’t be used since it’s only for decoration? Sarcevic not only embraces the ornament as a fully legitimate art but also shows that both ornament and decoration are vital social manifestations, which hold complex and often nomadic histories that link different cultures and time periods. By embracing ornament, Sarcevic has taken a very different path from many of his contemporaries, who have instead chosen to question the neutrality of Loos’ architectural Modernism, including Minimalism. Of course, that’s another obstruction.

 

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