Art Press : 2020-07-21



From galleries to biennials, art schools to art centres, twee, sometimes garish, artisanal and sensually decorative forms are flourishin­g, not without some neo-rural accents. Unusable pottery in piles, fake fountains sometimes cruddy, sometimes rococo, knitted or ceramic corals, untreated or lacquered wood... the (neo)vernacular is in the air. Contempora­ry vernacular is met with a certain enthusiasm and allows us to grasp more than one characteri­stic of the art of the time, while covering a plural reality. Coming from linguistic­s, the term is used to distinguis­h vernacular languages from vehicular languages (the former are used within local communitie­s, when the latter are used to communicat­e between communitie­s).The adjective highlights the uniqueness of a practice compared to standard uses. Passing from linguistic­s to sociolingu­istics, “vernacular” makes it possible to oppose regional accents to a supposedly neutral, standard but also hegemonic speech, often that of the capital.The term is particular­ly used in fields like architectu­re and photograph­y, less marked by the institutio­nal (“nomos” Pierre Bourdieu would say) than the visual arts. Vernacular architectu­re is architectu­re “without an architect”, to use the title of Bernard Rudofsky’s historic exhibition at MoMA in New York in 1964. It is local and is opposed to institutio­nalized architectu­re, that of power, palaces and temples. Vernacular photograph­y is, according to Clément Chéroux, utilitaria­n, marked by domesticit­y and wi- thout artistic intention: it is the other of art (1). It is the recent rise of photograph­y to the rank of legitimate art that has had the backlash for renewed academic and institutio­nal interest in vernacular photograph­y. But if architectu­re and photograph­y can be vernacular, can contempora­ry art? One can hardly imagine it, as one can the other two previous practices, “without artists”.The vernacular, with its procession of non-standard, non-hegemonic and non-profession­alization, could however be the new elsewhere in art, after primitivis­m, childhood, madness and, more recently, adolescent stupidity (2). d’Art Contempora­in de Brest in 2014, and Sophie Kaplan, who is organizing until 2021 an ambitious cycle entitled “Vernacular and contempora­ry creation” at the Criée de Rennes. She offers works of immediate access such as the illustrati­ons of Korean proverbs by Seulgi Lee, which, though they resemble from a distance the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, are in reality covers. The title in English of the Brest exhibition, a formula originally describing Mike Kelley, reminds one that the interest of the French artistic community is the notion of vernacular is the result of a cultural transfer. The meaning of the term has changed, borrowing from the English to say something other than regionalis­m alone. Presenting practices like Jeremy Deller’s, Vernacular Alchemists explored the transmutat­ion of vernacular practices, rather than their raw (and punk) appropriat­ion by California­n artists in the 1980s. A POPULAR TERM The prominence of the term “vernacular” in the worlds of art is a first remarkable phenomenon. It is fashionabl­e in art and design schools, as well pronounced before diploma panels as in the programmes of research units, where the importance of “local crafts and vernacular knowledge” is now defended. Reviews use and abuse it. Academics devote colloquia to it, in line with the work of François Brunet (3). Curators wonder about the different meanings and implicatio­ns of this labile term, like Antoine Marchand with at the Passerelle Centre DETOUR VIA CALIFORNIA Originally a tool of counter-hegemony and counter-culture, the vernacular in the visual arts served to thwart pop standardiz­ation as well as the modernist aesthetic doxa (the purity and mystique of genius) or the avantgarde (permanent revolution, just as serious). It is from California, where cultural hierarchie­s are less entrenched than in New York, that a generation emerged on the internatio­nal scene in the early 1990s by making the American suburban vernacular an artistic practice: Raymond Pettibon designed albums covers Ver- nacular Alchemists Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel. « Mammalian Fantasies ». Détail de l’installati­on. Musée d’art contempora­in, Biennale de Lyon 2019. (Court. les artistes; CLEARING, New York / Bruxelles ; Loevenbruc­k, Paris ; Jan Kaps, Cologne ; Ph. Blaise Adilon)

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