Master Project

Valentine Meyer

Curating the shop of Cabaret Voltaire


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5 March 2010–31 July 2012
Cabaret Voltaire Shop

Frédéric Vincent, Cannelle Tanc, Ivan Moudov, Zevs

Curating the shop of Cabaret Voltaire, Dada Haus in Zürich: Art, entertainment, or pleasure consumption?

Does contemporary art address only an elite? Dada wanted to address a wider audience than the classical bourgeois well educated one. But take the example of a cabaret or a shop, which classically aims to entertain – in that context does art remain art or does it become pure entertainment?

Originally cabaret meant desire, seduction and transgression, pretty much like the pleasure zones of today’s entertainment-driven consumer society. We are surrounded by a massive overflow of stimuli, a sea of images and information generated by internet, television, movies, video, newspapers, magazines, cartoons, billboards, posters, and commercial packaging that transforms our everyday life into an endless loop of multisensory spectacles and fictions.

The central theme of Cabaret Voltaire and its shop revolves around the complex relationship between pleasure, spectacle, popular culture, and contemporary art, through a diverse selection of artworks incorporating objects, performances, limited editions, video.

As Dada is unclassifiable, the definition is also difficult to sum up. It means many things, but among them a way to bring everyday life into art and also to deconstruct the inner value of art. In that context, how 80 years later, can the curator of Cabaret Voltaire conceive of having a shop, as it seems to celebrate the very consumer society that Dada criticised? What kind of audience is this for? Does contemporary art address only an elite? If we reverse the question if it doesn’t address only an elite, is it still recognized as art?

As the Cabaret had a wide audience when it was created in 1916, and not only an elite, educated one, the shop of the Cabaret was also created 80 years later to attract people from this very commercial street where the cabaret is located (Spiegelgasse N°1 at the corner of Niederdorf Strasse). The aim of the shop is to stop and make the audience enter in this cultural place in a similar way as the Dadaists wanted to “entertain” people. Of course the shop is also meant to earn money, but it not its primary goal. It is a kind of hook to attract people who are not the typical consumer of “high culture”.

As critical experts, the artists have explored the ways in which these entertainment structures have infiltrated our lives and how entertainment can be the most efficient way of learning something.
This is obvious in the work of Frederic Vincent who choose to exhibit melted favourite pop vinyl that he used to collect, bringing them in a form where they can’t be listened to any more, thereby asking the audience about the inner value of art. Is it art as it doesn’t have any use and as it becomes a “free” and unique form and no longer pop consumer goods. Or was it better before when I could listen this unlimited edition? Or both?

So Frédéric Vincent is again questioning the link between art and pleasure in a kind of melancholic way as well. As Rancière would have said, with this artwork we have to experience  “dissensus efficiency”, a kind of a vacancy. That is why even in a shop context visitors understand it as art or at least as a question mark.

Lightness and emptiness are characteristics of the works of Cannelle Tanc, when she cuts her maps which then can’t be used any more. She is drawing a new city which is no more the sum of individual living spaces and institutional buildings, but a substractive process. Apparently, people in the shop understood it was a work of art, they even bought the maps of Cannelle Tanc, (prices around 500.- CHF). Some of “educated elite” also recognized the inner value of it as they proposed to the artist (and her curator) another exhibition in a bigger space dedicated to architecture (the Architektur Forum in Zürich in partnership with KunstBulletin).

Ivan Moudov with his “Wine for openings” is playing with the inner value of art and legitimate art venues, as well. As a selected artist for the Venice Biennale 2007 and having chosen the artistic gesture of delivering his own wine to the other national pavilions for the vernissage, is a way to invent new rules as author.

As Bourdieu would have said, Moudov is using humour to point out that an opening is an occasion or a pretext for social ceremonies for a select audience to assert and prove his membership in the “world”, in obedience to the rhythms of a distinctive social calendar.

Nevertheless, offering his wine for the vernissage of the artists group, IRWIN, at the Cabaret Voltaire shop was also a joyful event party, and of course was very appreciated by all participants. They were a “selective audience” which was a mix of artists, museum curators, students, journalists, shop furnishers, friends or clients.