art+argument returned in 2015 with an explosive debate at Herrmann Germann Contemporary. Defending the motion ‘Sincerity has no place in an art gallery’ Anna Kanai started with intent: she claimed that sincerity has not merely no place in a commercial art space, but in art in general. “Pretence, deceit and hypocrisy are precisely [the] key virtues that make art so interesting and unique from its very beginning” she said, illustrating this with the story of how Zeuxis and Parrhasius’ challenged each other as to which was the better artist. According to Kanai the tale illustrates a viewer’s expectation of conceit. Her argument continued, via Hegel and Oscar Wilde, to conclude that contemporary art requires viewers who are able to both “cope with the critical reflection that art is just pretence and …[be] well educated in matters of style, so … able to make a fair judgement.” Returning to Zeuxis and Parrhasius, she said that “the contemporary observer [would be] no longer fooled, but is taking an active part in that hide-and-seek that art performs”.
The opposition was opened by Hannes Grassegger, who started by clarifying the role of a gallery, as a place where art is sold. A gallery being – as it is often described – a ‘white’ space, “a place where I can imagine all things becoming possible”. The gallery enables, first of all, a moment when everything is possible in the presentation of art, and secondly, a moment where price is realised by virtue of a sale of a work of art. “I would argue that the aim of the art gallery is to create sincerity by providing a room that leaves all options open beforehand“ said Grassegger. From a broader perspective, he then compared the freedom of the art gallery makes it, in our secular age, a “quasi-religious place…. there’s something sacred in it, which actually forms the core of our society, which is freedom and liberty”. Closing, Grassegger stated that insincerity in an art gallery is contradictory, a notion he would not entertain.
Florian Seedorf continued the defence of the motion by reassessing the negative reputation of insincerity. Not just falsity and frivolity, Seedorf found insincerity “interesting, playful, colourful, unusual, entertaining, funny, successful”. Seedorf detailed several artists who have employed these strategies to great effect. Paul McCarthy, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons all make or made works that sell for millions at auction today. He also suggested that collectors are little interested in the context or meaning of works – all that matters is future expectations of value. Ultimately – and Art Basel Miami is the best illustration of this – “the whole concept of art or the art gallery context is based, these days, on event culture and entertainment. People come to openings, receptions, to meet other people, to dinners, to connect and make deals. Or they come to events like this one here to connect, to meet people; it’s the event experience that they want to have.”
Stefan Burger was the last to make an opening statement, and it was the shortest. “I have to say I don’t understand the notion of sincerity” he stated. “And when I say that, that’s sincere. “
The discussion that followed was heated, and brought to an unexpected early close by the opposition. Stopping the debate in its tracks, they stood up and unfurled a poster with the message: “HÖRT ENDLICH AUF, KUNST ZU MACHEN” (Would you ever stop making art). In a statement they called on the galleries of Zurich to open their doors to the refugees currently homeless in Europe. With that, they departed. In their absence, the audience voted the proposition the winners.
Many thanks to all the participants, and to our generous hosts Tomas and Stefanie. Do not hold any of the speakers to their words! The next art+argument will be on the 4th December – more information to come soon.