Jimmie Durham Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement – 2019
So to dispel rumors that awards are never won by the ones who deserves them, the Venice Biennale will deliver this year the Leone D’Oro for career achievements to the great Jimmie Durham. I write about in order to really celebrate this, letting a few images emerge as they come; our paths crossed 16 years ago, when I was a student and he was a teacher destined to change my life. That year at the Antonio Ratti Foundation in Como, as a visiting professor, among other things, he asked us to offer objects that he would later destroy with stones. The video documentation of that performance (Smashing, 2004) has chased me over the years like a ghost of a young man who has something very urgent to tell me before it’s too late. JD sitting at the desk in the role of bureaucrat proceeded to crush our sacrificial victims, freeing his students one by one from the reassurant feeling of their objects. He anticipated the digital apocalypse that would transform our artist studios into offices, where repetition is both a replacement mantra and a cog with death as a pivot. JD sees and hears far, does not run but is always early; meeting him through his works allows us to lean a little farther on the promontory of the present tense.
A decade or so earlier, JD had carved a refrigerator – always with stones – (Stoning the Refrigerator, 1966) which then became a sculpture (St.Frigo, 1966) exposed not so much as a sculpture, but rather as a warning for other refrigerators in the world: “this can happen to you too!” Because yes, it is evident, JD’s sculptures speak and they do it clearly: their apparent naivety and his frequent textual calligraphic insertions are like drawbridge, carefully imagined and made to accommodate as many people as possible. To me his works have always felt significantly anti-elitist, one could say they they want to expand a minority, but they never give up undermining the norm, the common sense, the identity solidity of power.
Perhaps they are extremely rooted in reality and do not come from far away, but they advise us to use imagination here and now; proof of this is the fact that JD has openly declared that some of his sculptures in the past have been exhibited without an arm or a leg because even if those pieces were ready, unfortunately they did not fit in his suitcase (La Malinche, 1988-1991). In fact, why complicate things in those rare cases when they appear simple? And on the contrary, it is not at all simplistic to define as an “artist” a person who is also a poet, activist, essayist, educator and occasionally a musician: it is JD who, by managing to inhabit these roles simultaneously, is able to redefine the the significance of the word “artist”. The first thing he did when he decided to move to Europe in 1994 was to study branding strategies through a photographic series (In Europe, 1994–2011). I like to think that behind the lens of those shots depicting JD in everyday places and gestures, there was Maria Thereza Alves, great artist and his traveling companion…Just to affirm that the story of Art Art is always – also – a love story.