An Interview with ML (Puste Kuchen) on Citylab

Please read an interview I made with ML (Puste Kuchen) - for Citylab.

I think, I always will answer what people don't expect: “Judging from your drawings, do you think, you are a sex maniac?'“Definitely not, I am probably the greatest idealist since Plato himself, platonic love is the most wonderful thing in the world'' (ML)

[Crina]: One of the world’s most famous modern paintings is Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending Down the Staircase,1912, which was in a vague Cubist style. In Europe, he tried to enter a version of it in a Cubist exhibition, but was refused because organisers said nudes don't descend down stairs, they recline in chairs. Maybe this can be a starting point to a discussion about Postmodern nude and its representation in contemporary art.

I have been familiar with your art in over 3 years, and I remember that first time I saw your drawings, my thought ran towards Toulouse-Lautrec, Moucha, and maybe Matisse or even Tamara Lempicka.
I would like to ask you how much, if at all, you relate to these artists, (or others, of course) – and when have you started exploring nudes in your drawings/paintings?

[ML]: Of course, you are right, I always admired Toulouse-Lautrec, Schiele, Klimt. Rodin. They have built the erotic universe of my youth, don't forget that at this time, sex was still something hidden by many curtains, and drawing, painting were such curtains, they veiled the actual erotic content, enhanced it or transformed it. My personal starting point was Rodin. I first saw Rodin drawings in Paris, not in an exhibition as you might perhaps suppose, but in a 4 vol. edition, a sort of catalogue raisonné. I stumbled upon it in an antiquarian bookshop somewhere on the Barrieres, it was rather badly made, the illustrations were small, many on one page, mostly b/w and the printing quality was most antiquated. But the multitude of simultaneous poses deeply impressed me. It was much more like a film than like an image. Then Matisse of course. I admired him. According to a well known anecdote he didn't even look at his models while drawing them. But I mostly admired him for having told one of his patrons, Hahnloser I think, that one day in 1927 or 1929, he, Matisse, suddenly understood that he was completely unable to draw, that he still had to learn this. I don't think Matisse was joking. Doubts are a good thing. They help an artist more than 100 Turner Prizes and 200 grants. Concerning Lempicka, I didn't know much about her work until I saw the 2011 Rome exhibition. Etc. Etc. Most of all I have to confess that I do not consider myself a talented artist: I had to work very hard for the little I am able to draw. Daily practice, you can't even imagine the heap of paper I wasted, etc. Most of all: I never considered myself a potential member of a postmodern elite: creating installations, pseudo-philosophical abracadabra and so on, sitting for some 70 days on a chair in MoMA, etc. That’s not for me. The more I get familiar with postmodern art practice, the more I consider it a hoax and I hate it ... There is something very silly and very manipulative in postmodern art.
[Crina]: There are several categories I would suggest as possible ways of structuring postmodern nude art, after a brief documentation. (please pardon my obvious internet references hehe). Firstly, there is the obvious custom of postmodernism to critique certain modernist clichés, such as the redundancy of the fashion world, glamour magazines, etc. Pop artist Tom Wesselman mined much of this cultural common perception during the 1960s with his “Great American Nude” series in which he depicted advertising’s use of the female figure as a sex object to sell products.

In fact many historians and critics position the beginning of the postmodern with the advent of Pop art and its relentless immersion into mass culture. In the 1980s, artists such as Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman created works that explicitly deconstructed the status and representation of women in society, through a series of overtly appropriated works. 

Another tendency of postmodernism is its use of pastiche, that is, its endless borrowing of past styles only to empty them of their original meaning. We can quote here Eric Fischl, who returned to Manet’s quasi realist style to which he added the touch of sexual explicit narrative, which pinned the appropriation to the 20th century.

Another artist, David Salle, explores images of misogyny in his overtly graphic paintings of women in compromising positions (often his significant other), which of course, triggered numerous critics from feminist activists.

[Crina]: So, M. What would you call the new features of the postmodern nude? How does Postmodernism as an artistic trend – manage to shape up visual perception of nudity in present day society.

[ML]: “Postmodern nude” sounds like an oxymoron. In spite of Fischl, Salle, Jenny Saville, etc. I don't think there is such a thing as a ,,postmodern nude''. The so-called postmodern nude actually is part of a huge hoax. The militant reaction of feminist lobbies proves exactly this: postmodern nude is an attempt at provocation in a domain where provocation is no longer possible. Artists as Fischl and Saville are playing with pornography and human flesh, and their work seems sexually motivated, but don't forget that these artists could (and probably will) change their taste overnight and suddenly paint flags or landmines or mutilated bodies or even George Bush and Hugo Chavez as a diptych in the style of a Flemish primitive, etc. So drawing a contemporary nude is actually a very lukewarm tentative to act politically. A bit like in the late 18th century, when Restif and de Sade wrote political tracts in form of pornographic texts. Except that this time all is fake. Once a tragedy, then a farce, to quote Marx (Brumaire). Actually Political Art nowadays has but one signification for me: no content. It is important to notice that the main problem of postmodernism is the problem of authenticity. European civilisation has lost its authenticity, we all are more or less bad copies of copies of copies. Quite generally speaking, authenticity exists in two forms, in an external one, and in an internal (or inner) one. First about external authenticity, mainly induced by politics -- historic changes, political repression, etc. The agents of history are playing the role of ,,clients'' ,,commissioning'' political artists. ,,I am oppressed, I react''. Ergo: I am authentic. That sort of argument: ,,I am the perfect collage artist, because I am born in Ex-Jugoslavia, and my whole life has been a big collage''. Ergo: I am authentic. I am Syrian, I am a postmodern artist. I am authentic. I am an ,,Iran-born New York-based'' film producer. I am authentic. Thank you Fukushima mon amour, for having made me an authentic human being! I am a rebel, I am authentic. I am a rebel and I am an activist. A rebelling activist. An active rebel. The artist is an activist and the activist is an artist. They are all rebels. Have a look at dOCUMENTA: my name is Erhegfruth Bathsudzbi, I am authentic. I am a rebel and an activist. etc. etc. No. No. Try to reverse the statement, and you will get something like: my name is Hans Schmid, I am born in Germany, I never visited New York. These are the reasons why it is impossible for me to ever become an (authentic) artist. Fortunately, there is a second type of authenticity: inner authenticity, directly coming from the heart. Actually the stuff life is made of seems to be approximately the same for all of us. An extremely mysterious and complicated matter, and we have to use our brain intensively, to verify our feelings intensively, if we are to have the least chance of exploring and understanding what life is like. If by chance we ,,succeed'' in doing so (i.e. if by chance we do not completely fail), the result of this successful process might be called ,inner authenticity'. That's the sort of artwork I appreciate. Unfortunately the postmodern artworld does not like ,inner authenticity'. There are many reasons for this. Here’s one: “heart, feeling, longing, passion, yearning'' etc. are considered central vocabulary items of a postmodern dictionary of kitsch. That's an axiomatic statement: impossible to change it. On the other hand, you have guys like Koons etc. actually producing kitsch and declaring it nonkitsch, selling it for millions of dollars ...

[Crina]: What makes the postmodern nude interesting and problematic is its ambiguities: we see people in the desperate (but vain) attempt at gaining control over the narrative of their life. Salle has been charged by some feminist critics as exploiting the female image, while Odd Nerdrum’s strange paintings are labelled as pertaining to anachronism or mannerism, by postmodern critics.

Can we safely assume that the lack of knowledge on a matter leads to the exploitation of that matter by those who have knowledge of it?

[ML]: Postmodern criticism is a double-edged sword. Apparently critics condemn in harsh terms. Actually their reviews serve the interests of postmodern society, of which they are themselves an important part, in other words, their reviews serve their own interests. Critics, professors, intellectuals, curators, philosophers (to a lesser degree politicians and sportsmen) consider themselves as forming a new class of true postmodern artists. In certain respects painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, etc. are but puppets used by critics, professors, intellectuals, curators, philosophers etc. in order to sharpen their own social image as rising stars of a new era of postmodern Art. Some examples: postmodern Art mostly proceeds in the same way athletes do: most postmodern artists repeat millions of times the same boring 2 or 3 gestures. Sometimes they even try to break ,,records'', etc. Our so-called postmodern literature isn't actually literature, but an assemblage of traces left by specific agreements among editors, e.g. curator A tells editor B: I invite you to Blablabla-Fair at Al Burj/Dubai, if you publish this text for me. Contemporary bookstores are packed with the results of this type of machinations. Postmodern intellectuals are mainly writing about completely superfluous topics, e.g. ,,the role of Jewish Dibbuk-Theatre-representations between September 1921 and January 1922 east of the Jenissei'', etc. And when they edit index volumes to Joyce Collected Works (,,multiple Joyce''), it's no longer Joyce's work which is important, but the index volume considered as the final and true artwork resuming -- no: replacing -- in a sublime way Joyce's whole artistic activities. Etc. I am of course exaggerating and caricaturing, but there is some truth in this. The new lingua franca of art and scholarly work is vanity. The main upshot of this extensive manipulatory practice is what you call ,,lack of knowledge'': nowadays we have millions of specialists, but not one of them can see the emperor’s new clothes. Otherwise ludicrous events like dOCUMENTA simply wouldn't take place. I could write a 500-page book on the devastating activity of our so-called ,,curators'' ... We’re only a very small step away from them inviting the likes of A.B.Breivig, the “rising biennale star'', “authentic emerging artist'' ...

[Crina]: A performer who wears a mask over her/his face and nothing else causes more "problems" of perception than a performer whose face is completely naked (without even makeup) while the rest of his/her body is completely clothed. Nudity in performance and art is complete only to the degree that the spectator sees.
Let me remind our readers that you insisted upon keeping your real identity “undercover”, which again, it is a sign that the mass public is rarely prepared to be confronted with nude art, as performance or form of expression, no matter how good it might be. What are your thoughts regarding eroticism and nudity in visual arts, and how do you, as an artist, define your work in relation to commonly puritan societal prejudice?

[ML]: First, I have to keep my real identity undercover, otherwise I would lose my job: I am a teacher in a very catholic and provincial environment, etc. But I do not like this, my bunny mask called pustekuchen (German for: ,,futile, useless'' ) bothers me. Secondly: I prefer the naked face to the naked body, and if you have an ,,unhurried look'' at my nudes, you will quickly notice that they are neither postmodern nor conservative. They show the face through the body. Beautiful faces are important to me and I try to draw them as best I can. Moreover you can see censorship bars and shamefaced girls or couples. I think the future of eroticism is situated in the ,,ideal geography of beautiful faces''. The naked body enhances the beauty of a face, but the real thrill is the one of the face itself. So hiding a face behind a Wolf or Superman mask seems to me the beginning of commercialized sex, while beautiful faces at least keep alive a certain -- maybe vain -- hope of escape. Of course postmodern critics will tell me that masks are not promoting, but ,,denouncing'' commercialized sex, while beautiful faces are generally considered by them as ,,part of the lascivious memory of an old man remembering his long-gone jeunesse dorée''. For the art critique, artworks have to be exclusively “bloody, full of crime and politics'', certainly not expressions of feminine beauty (that's kitsch for them: fashion, decoration, illustration, etc. If you want to express yourself in a correct postmodern way, you have to use blood, sperm and shit instead of ink and pencil). Of course, I am completely deaf to these arguments, and I know that I can't change about the fact that I am romantic, that I sincerely believe in ideals like platonic love, Great (with a capital G) feelings, etc. This might be the right moment for my coming-out: Sex, considered as one of the Fine Arts, is boring. Blood in European Contemporary Art is a hollow pretention. Some call it,, avantgarde,'', ,,surrealism'', ,,dadaism'' (I recently even read about the existence of a ,,dadaist psychology'', God knows what this might be), but all these tendencies seem to me, now, as they got a part of history, brutal, fascist and mostly fake. On the other hand, I adore David Lynch. So you see that things are not as simple as you might think: I adore Lynch, but I despise Anselm Kiefer. In certain respects, I clearly feel that Lynch's work is a work that comes “directly from the heart''. In other words: inner authenticity. I even perceive an intense sweetness in Lynch's perturbed horror visions. One last thing: wearing masks signifies for me – a reluctance to be involved. Postmodernism as a whole wears a huge mask, postmodern artists quite in general are ,,not involved'': they don't create for the sake of art, but for their own ,,fame'', for their unchecked pretention. So called postmodern artists are living exclusively for their unchecked vanities. Their so called works are of minor importance, frequently, these works don't even exist: initially based on a curator's idea, produced post festum in China by art slaves, payed by grants and subsidies, etc. The artist of the future will be a malleable puppet without a work of his own, manipulated by ArtWorld, curators, professors, philosophers, critics and intellectuals, (he will be a malleable puppet ,,or he won't be'', as Malraux would put it, etc.). So you can understand why I do not consider myself a postmodern artist. Sometimes, I even regret having begun to draw. Maybe my drawings actually are too soft, too sweet. Maybe not. Perhaps you should know that I have never had an exhibition, that I have never shown my drawings in a gallery deserving of that name. Once more: I do not consider myself important enough to call myself an ,,artist'', once more: I don't risk my job for the ,,artist'' I am not ...
[Crina] Society’s outlook as a whole needs to be re-educated on this matter and begin to see the female body as a thing of beauty and not an object for sexual release. And until that is accomplished, the nude body will always be viewed as inherently wrong.
Thank you, M., for kindly answering my questions. I hope to have you again as a guest in citylab soon.

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