BMPT at Hunter College: All There Is To It
Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni at Hunter College’s 205 Hudson Gallery
February 27 to April 10, 2016
205 Hudson Street (at Canal Street)
New York, 212 772 4991
“Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, Toroni,” an exhibition of work by the short-lived group BMPT (Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni) now at Hunter College, is sparse. It consists of only four artworks and two vitrines of documentation, mainly in French. Yet, given its subject, it is complete, though also thoroughly lacking. The show in the main gallery consists of one painting by each of the group’s members; in this sense the exhibition is complete. As for the deficiency, the show’s smallness is in part compensated for by the exhibition “Critical Gestures & Contested Spaces: Art in France in the 1960s,” which documents the varied groups, artists and political practices that constituted the neo-Dadaist and high Modernist art scene of ‘60s France (mainly Paris). This exhibit recounts the context from which BMPT emerged. For some, this history and the artists and groups that participated in it may be fairly unfamiliar. The inclusion of this exhibition demonstrates that BMPT was not unique in their endgame strategy, its political endeavors, or, for that matter, were they the most radical.
In the main gallery, one painting consists of alternating vertical green stripes and bands of raw canvas. At each end, the stripes are hand-painted opaque white. The stripes are all of equal width. Another painting has a black circle with a pristine white dot at its core, which marks the center of the canvas. The stripe painting and the painting of the black circle are both on stretched square canvases of equal size. The third work, un-stretched canvas pinned to the wall, consists of five alternating horizontal bands of gray and white. The last white band, at the bottom of the canvas, is about a third of the width of the others. The fourth is a piece of oilcloth pinned to the wall and imprinted with uniformly spaced, brick red, marks made using a number 50 brush at 30-centimeter intervals. (It is important to note that all four paintings in this exhibition vary slightly in format, size, proportions and dates, yet are representative of each artist’s motif.)
BMPT’s works structurally consist of a horizontal, a vertical, a configuration, and mark-making, respectively. Buren paints vertical stripes, Parmentier horizontal ones, the black circle on a white ground is made by Mosset, and the uniform brush marks, repeated at 30-centimeter intervals, are Toroni’s. Each of these artists was committed to producing only their own motif, which serves as a logo. While these works are handmade and authored by different artists, they are stylistically anonymous. Together, these four paintings by BMPT represent an index of a type of abstract painting that is identified with the anti-relational, anti-compositional ethos of Minimalism in the States, and in Europe it would be understood to be derived from Art Concrete, or perhaps Zero.
Between January and December 1967, BMPT had the opportunity to manifest their critical stance in four highly public events. The nature of these events was influenced by the Situationist notion of intervention — a disruption of the norm. The documentation of these events is displayed in two vitrines, and they’re described in a supplement, which also supplies us with BMPT’s manifesto of January 1967 in which they conclude “We are not painters.”
In all four events their paintings serve as tropes; in the case of the 18th Salon of Young Painters, they produced their works in public under a banner with their names. This was accompanied by an audio tape that advised their audience to be more intelligent. At day’s end, they took their works away, installing a second banner so that the two banners together stated “Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, and Toroni Do Not Exhibit.” In another, their paintings served as décor, the setting for a performance that never occurs: the audience sits waiting for 45 minutes, staring at their paintings. In their fourth and final manifestation, slide shows of traditional painting subjects — such as landscapes, nudes, etc. — were projected onto their works. These projections were also accompanied by an audio track that admonished their audience that “Art is an Illusion,” “Art is a Dream,” etc. With the fourth manifestation BMPT’s artistic and political experiment came to an end. Parmentier, in December of 1967, denounced Buren, Mosset, and Toroni for their willingness to deviate from the agreed upon formula; he proclaimed that by abandoning strict repetition they “situate themselves in a regressive manner with respect to this moral position.”
In each of their manifestations, BMPT reduced their works to mere props, and in doing so, sought to expose art’s commodification, the rendering of culture as spectacle under capitalism, as well as their own complicity (and that of everyone else). Problematically, with this exhibition, we are given a painting show: an exposition of trophies, emptied of their critical function. BMPT works have been captured, and tamed and are now loaded (down) with the aura of art — the very thing these works were meant to escape. Consequently, the critical nature of BMPT’s position is lost. They now signal some other message, one more aesthetic and formal than political. We are shown examples of the standard motifs agreed to in 1966, and even these diverge from BMPT’s standard model in that they do not adhere to their initial commitment to uniformity and repetition. In this, exhibition, BMPT’s radical proposition, meant to challenge notions of artistic authorship and originality, is also lost.