So-Called Art Enthusiasts Of Berlin, WAKE UP!

“So-called-artists of Berlin, WAKE UP!” screamed one commenter in response to an article we published last week regarding the fiasco over at Deutsche Bank KunstHalle’s open call for artists. “Enjoying Humiliation! or How Berlin Artists exploited themselves for the marketing interests of Deutsche Bank,” another raged. Although we have been covering the KunstHalle’s opening heavily the past few days, our website’s most prominent interlocutors have not been us: they’ve been our readers.

Our various articles and Facebook posts have been flooded by comments from artists and art enthusiasts who have differing opinions on whether or not Deutsche Bank’s latest stunt was morally and/or conceptually acceptable. Furthermore, a few commenters have gone as far as to condemn the artists who participated in this madness. One stated: “Anyone who participates in this should give up being an artist right now. Immediately with whatever little self-respect and/or intelligence they have left.” Harsh words indeed, but are they justified? Would art history actually argue in favor of this open call? Let me explain…

francois-joseph_heim1“Charles Distributing Awards to Artists Exhibiting at the Salon of 1824 at the Louvre.”
Work by Francois-Joseph Heim (1827)

For those of you who have studied art history, you must be familiar with the infamous Salon de Paris that rose to prominence within the 18th and 19th centuries. For those of you who aren’t: the Salon was a government-funded exhibition that invited artists to submit works for a jury review in the hope of exhibiting in the Louvre. While initially only Académie approved artists could be shown in the Salons, after the French Revolution the doors were opened to anyone. In Ross King’s excellent book “The Judgment of Paris,” he explains that on the day artworks were accepted, hundreds of artists would rush the streets of Paris carrying their paintings (often still wet) to be judged. Sound familiar?

Naturally several works were rejected and adorned with a scarlet “R” painted prominently on the back of their canvas. Due to the bourgeois taste of the jurors, some of modern art’s most famous painters (e.g. Manet and Courbet) consequently exhibited in the Salon des Refusés. In both the Salons of accepted and rejected works, artworks were stacked on top of each other up to the ceiling, which might seem a bit bizarre and inappropriate to contemporary readers. Nonetheless, while institutional critique of the Salons instigated a few exhibitions that would later define what art would become, here is a brief list of painters who partook in the Salons and would be deemed “non-artists” by a few of our readers: Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-August Renoir, just to name a few.