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Gustavo von Ha: paradoxes of imitation

The Inventory exhibition; arte outro, at MAC-USP (former headquarters of Detran), is curated by Ana Avelar and is on display until February 5, 2017. 37 works are presented as the finishing point of the imitative paradoxes, created by Gustavo Von Ha, who questions a series of artistic conventions, through themselves, to establish relationships between true and false in the contemporary arts system. If Michelangelo or Picasso presented their own early career drawings to the public of their respective times, it is likely that such objects would be understood as learning exercises. This ancient artistic convention had a dual function of attesting the apprentice's ability and teaching techniques. The copy thus fulfilled a double pedagogical role. Today, however, when Gustavo Von Ha presents his paintings at the Inventário exhibition; Another art, at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo (MAC-USP), the result of imitations of well-known canvases by Alfredo Volpi and Jackson Pollock, tensions and draws the visitor's attention to the question of authorship and originality.
Whether they are very thick material paintings, whose colors are reminiscent of Van Gogh (although the artist says that the starting point is works by Alfredo Volpi), or drippings (which imitate Jackson Pollock's gestures), both types of paintings presented in the exhibition have a lot of a mirror paradox. Displaced from their own origin, they are relearned in gesture by the artist who will say: “yes, they are copies. But copies authorized by the artists’ families, after long negotiations”, in an interview given to students on the Art: history, criticism and curation course. Paradoxical, because he is not the author of the idea, although he produced them manually one by one. Paradoxical, because the spectator can recognize someone else's gesture, even if it was produced by Von Ha. The central paradox lies in the acceptance of imitation as an original gesture. And, speculate, because the reflection is very different from the original impulse. It is a displacement of the modernist heritage to the present day to ironize how “value” is constituted in the arts system. And paradoxically, the artist states: “I intend to sell the images to institutions, because I don't want them to end up in a collector's room who will take them as original”.
Copying as an artistic convention is not random, nor is the selection of artists and works, of course. All of Von Ha's choices, himself, seem to have iconic value, or to question the icon's place. If this work began with an interest in the gestures of Tarsila do Amaral and José Leonilson, it is through the wide circulation of images, outside the artistic field, that the investigation actually begins. “I started by Googling the best-known images of Tarsila in 2007.” This starting point reveals what Duchamp had already identified in the 1962 text “The Creative Act”, that the spectator's gaze and the circulation of the image alter the meaning of the work. Such displacement seems to be the center of Von Ha's interest. Technique and gestures only serve as ridiculous mannerisms or as a material fact, even if they are not actually such, that is, as a trigger. In fact, they serve as an argument for a new investigation roadmap, it is not for nothing that the term “inventory” identifies ongoing extensive research, whose exhibits are partial examples of this process.
This work of imitation over almost a decade also made the artist realize that when he imitates the gestures of other artists, a by-product or another product emerges, a performance, that is, a device for activating questioning, “without it necessarily being a parody. In fact, it is on the threshold of what the artist himself did,” he says. “The intention is not to approach forgery, although I have had contact with some to study the process of other artists.”, he adds. The performative aspect became clear when, after producing numerous audiovisual works, such as the one in the exhibition, to justify the existence of an orthonym. In the exhibition, Gustavo Von Ha is a persona of Gustavo Von Ha, a persona that he produced as Volpi or as Pollock. The “neutral” surface of these paintings that tend towards the abstract are recoveries to enjoy the way in which the art system enthrones the celebrity artist, since these surfaces can accommodate almost any content. The artist realizes the artificiality of “spontaneous” situations, especially when he produces the photo in which he imitates Pollock’s famous photo from Time magazine, which took “ten hours and two minutes to make”. In the first frame in which Von Ha, the orthonym, appears as Pollock, only the gesture is present; in the second, however, the production is present, implying the lighting and the setting.
In the video at the end of the exhibition, critics, curators and other artists talk about the persona created by Von Ha, the orthonym. Among them are Paulo Pasta, Tadeu Chiarelli. In one of the passages, the critic embodied by Bárbara Paz reproduces the first paragraph of the article “Modernist Painting” (1960) by Clement Greenberg, speaking about the specificity of the medium, the quality of the colors, etc., as if it were yesterday; in another, a critic asserts with the value of absolute truth the saying: “The color.. the color comes from everything made of paint!”. What if the most unsuspecting spectator goes around repeating the insults of this joke as a universal truth? It is likely that much of Clement Greenberg's criticism was made in this way, creating value for a State propaganda tool. Thierry du Duve is there, in the article “Kant after Duchamp” (1998), to show that it is necessary to read carefully the details of traditional criticism, which at that time was at the service of the CIA. On the other hand, this place is also part of the spectral space of the paradox proposed by Von Ha, himself, since the ordinary relationships established with objects are abandoned to the detriment of critical discourse. Most of those who attend exhibitions simply repeat their dictates without changes, without surprises, without paying attention to the objects themselves, but with a view to specialized criticism, as true equals truth.
For Gustavo Von Ha's work to be established, approval and authorization from the authorities are necessary. So, Tadeu Chiarelli establishes a theoretical line from which he could have started, a bourgeois origin, recognizable by all those who know even the slightest about the history of art, impressionism. This affiliation not only provides support but also authorizes a completely decontextualized work, set with studio objects (pigments, color test, sponge, Farberger egg, used brushes, books, etc.) and exhibition posters that create a certain strangeness, given the dating offered. If the dates of the video and posters do not match the known chronology, it is with Paulo Pasta's speech, which opens and closes the statements in the exhibition film, that meanings begin to be constructed, that absurdities become more explicit, or as Von Ha himself says, “it is necessary to give clues to the spectator to understand that it is a game”. When Pasta says that Von Ha, the orthonym, “was strange and out of place”, this displacement is not justified. By the simple fact that the issue of muralism, tachism, action paiting are not posed in an analytical way, but in impressionistic terms, the “joke” that is taking place becomes clear.
On the one hand, it is likely that Von Ha's painting, the orthonym, will not excite those interested in visual arts as much, since the origin of his questions and the questioning that can be unpleasant as an end are known. On the other hand, with a little patience, after decanting the initial impressions, questions regarding authorship and originality may arise when observing aspects of the original paintings by the great masters. This gesture produced in an attempt to achieve changes and displacements of meanings makes us rethink Von Ha's systematic work, himself, in another way of reading, namely, that neither the great masters knew so clearly about their effects, nor the paintings by Von Ha are simply imitation. They are, in fact, a procedure that wants to place today's works with a historical past in a kind of philosophical dialogue, questioning whether the arts system puts the spotlight on those who produce a poetics in which ordinary relationships can be restored, under the anomaly of a discourse foreign to oneself. In other words, it is important to know whether the viewer considers the object he observes or whether only the discourse about the object, even when removed from him, and whether the circulation of images gives a new format to the meanings expressed in them. In this case, the means is massage that enhances the artists' self-esteem by catapulting part of the interest among those interested: museums, collectors and critics. A marketing game.
It doesn't seem to matter if it's true or false, the fact is that the device created by Von Ha himself is the result of a procedure, the product of which is, ultimately, a performance, which shows that what the artist produces is his work , just as Michelangelo and Picasso did, but under new management, at another time.

André Aureliano Fernandes
André Fernandes studied literature (USP) and art (PUCSP).

He is a poet, editor and critic.

He has two books of poems Deriva (Hedra, 2007) and Dwell (Hedra, 2010)

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