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The Fake Is More

Achieving what no one even three years ago could foresee as the necessary resolution to the dialectical impasse posed by the object-form critical dilemma, Karen Eliot's pieces both assert and transcend objectness and formality; or, perhaps better stated, they represent a synthesis of the form and object into what might be called form-object art. Resolving at one master stroke the problem of content without compromising the purity of the nonreferential object as such, Mrs. Eliot's work, by reproducing the exact appearances of Kazimir Malevich's oeuvre, nevertheless introduces new content and a new concept, in the total phenomenological sense, by actually representing the actions of someone other than Kazimir Malevich. That is, in their real meaning, these objects are Malevich plus, Malevich and more, and the implications to be extracted from them will no doubt occupy a segment of the artistic and critical community for months to come.

In their double orientation between past and present, they represent an advance in another respect; in no other form but the fake can the thing be so sharply distinguished from its self, the an sich, or essence, from the für sich, or reality. For by reproducing existing art forms the artist both receives the sanction of his predecessor and at the same time negates the attempt to observe any new formal development, thus shifting the entire phenomenon to a superior, that is, critical, level. What is at work here is lived experience relived, or more accurately, the painted object repainted. In spite of the apparent similarity in the work of both artists, there are some profound differences. The works faked by Mrs. Eliot were all executed by Mr. Malevich over a twenty-year-period, whereas the works under review here were all completed within the year 1986. Looking at the works of Mrs. Eliot, we see a lack of development in the artist's refusal to succumb to either a unilateral linear statement or an expression of complete circularity, but rather a synthesis of both in what might be called circulinear art, neither either or but both and. Moreover, the above is made perceptually concrete to the observer through a process of heightened simultaneity. For on first viewing Mr. Eliot's oeuvre, we are reminded of Wittgenstein's comment,

"Das 'Sehen als...' gehört nicht zur Wahrnehmung. Und dann ist es wie ein Sehen und wieder nicht wie ein Sehen."
"Seeing as... is not part of perception. And for that reason it is like seeing and again not like."[1].

We are clearly in the presence of a dilemma. In answer to Wittgenstein's question, what is the criterion of the visual experience?, his obvious answer, "die Darstellung des Gesehenen", "the representation of what is seen"[2], simply will not do. In addition to what is seen, there is the known: the preordinare relationship of the subject-object synthesis paravisually determined in the Kantian sense; as Merleau-Ponty has observed,

"Le propre du Kantisme est de n'admettre que deux types d'expériences qui soient pourvues d'une structure a priori: celle d'un mode d'objets externes, celle des états du sens intime."[3]

Self-clarification is obtained through the painting themselves. Through serial repetition, the artist's search for a style and an ontology, an artistic expression of ontological ends, is consolidated in particular works that sum up the gains of painful and anxious exploration of viable form, at least temporarily. One such work, Supremus No. 50, with its grid pattern adumbrating with a torquelike precision around a tension-filled center, reiterates the combinative passion of artist and critic that is the achievement and the ultimate responsibility of anti-post-actualism: in essence, the re-creative process. To say this is by no means to slight Malevich as such. But any comparison of Eliot and Malevich would have to concede that the former's power and potentiality, her superior pictorial structure, her more exclusive visual mode, and lastly, her more fully depicted literal shape, based as they are on the reproduction of the latter's work, vastly intensifies the conflict between them. However, these are but stylistic differences, at best provisional. On second viewing, one begins to be more profoundly conscious of and receptive to a radically new and philosophical element in the work of Mrs. Eliot that is precluded in the work of Mr. Malevich, i.e., the denial of originality, both in its most blatant manifestation (the fake as such) and in its subtle, insouciant undertones of static objectivity (the telescoping of time). As pointed out by Philip Leider [4], "The identity we all share in Malevich's art as our art, the art of our time, is deepened, broadened, and made, of all things, joyous," whereas Mrs. Eliot's art is neither deepening nor broadening nor, if anything, joyous. On the contrary, it is surface, narrow, and, most especially, tragic, for one is forcefully reminded at every line and turn that it represents the ontological predicament of our time, indeed of every living being: inauthentic experience. They are, in a word, fakes.

Read Karen Eliot Interview (from SMILE Vol.6, The New York Scene)


  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen, Frankfurt/Main 1967, page 231/Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, Oxford 1978, p. 197.
  2. Ibid., page 232/198.
  3. La structure du comportement, Paris 1977, page 180.
  4. Philip Leider, Literalism and Abstraction, Kazimir Malevich's Retrospective at the Modern, Artforum, 8 (April, 1970), 58