La Nausée du Peintre

For several decades, Duchamp's readymades were dismissed as charming jokes, and Rodchenko's monochromes were simply ignored. Modern art was blooming, and the end of art's history seemed further away than ever. Constructivism, expressionism and surrealism were successful start-up enterprises with big promises for the future, presenting talented young artists with an abundance of exciting challenges. No one needed the Pyrrhonian sophisms of artists without art.

In the course of the 1950's, however, the dynamics of modern art starts to get exhausted very quickly. With Jackson Pollock's gratuitous gestures and Georges Mathieu's theatrical performances, the cult of subjective expression has culminated in its own parody. Duchamp's cerebral hypotheses have become living reality: the connoisseur's capacity to assign profound meanings to arbitrary traces of human activity is overdeveloped to such an extent, that any painting is as good as any other. The creative artist who is aware of this, is overcome with a sickening sense of senselessness: "la nausée du peintre".
"Ce qui a été ébauché n'apparaît plus que comme une barbouillage inane, sans plus de capacité à signifier que n'importe quelle autre proposition concurrente: émulsion pigmentaire amorphe, désormais collée à la semelle de ce qui n'a plus rien d'un tableau, dont elle était idéalement séparée et qui, désinvestie des rêves d'absolu qui l'habitaient, se trouve maintenant reléguée au rang d'objet parmi les autres. Un désarroi paralysant, une débâcle phénoménologique. On pense au mot qui, à force d'être répété de façon incantatoire – mais là, c'est un jeu, et c'est un jeu d'enfant – se vide de son sens, se remplit d'ouate."
Conil Lacoste 1989, pp. 11/12.

"C'était mauvais, ça faisait 'de la peinture'. (. . .) J'ai fait de la peinture d'une manière désespérée. Je n'arrivais jamais à finir mes tableaux, je pouvais peindre sur une toile pendant des mois sans aucune raison de l'achever, je n'arrivais pas à saisir l'instant, il y avait toujours une espèce de continuité, un infini agaçant . . ."
Jean Tinguely (1966)
Many artists now embrace Duchamp's point of view. The readymade becomes a standard technique in the art of Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme: Stanley Brouwn's shoe shops, George Brecht's Events, Arman's Accumulations, Daniel Spoerri's Tableaux-Pièges, Christo's Empaquetages. The esthetic validity of all and everything is asserted explicitly through mirrors, glass windows, and socles which display the whole world. Alternatively, the futile and superfluous nature of art is illustrated by means of tautologies, paradoxes, monochrome paintings, empty frames, empty rooms and closed galleries.

Note that artworks of this sort hardly count as esthetic objects in the Kantian sense of that word. They are statements with a literal meaning, didactic and unambiguous. And sterile -- because, once the point has been made, there is no reason to repeat it and no way to develop it. They are self-defeating speech acts which kill the discourse that spawned them. The end of art.

La Nausée du Peintre
···