The transformation, repetition and adaptation of existing artwork is a fundamental principle of artistic practice. These principles go as far back as Greek and Roman antiquity where the major works of sculpture of the time were reproduced to great renown through replicas, copies and new variations. In the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp’s readymade and Andy Warhol’s Factory broke with twentieth-century dogmas of originality and innovation, resulting in artists engaging more deeply with historical artistic traditions. Consequently, citation and appropriation became the apparatus for a postmodern understanding of artwork with repetition being its defining stylistic feature.
In this sense, Christian Holze’s exhibition is titled NOTHING NEW, and stages the comeback of one of the main artworks of late Hellenistic sculpture The Borghese Gladiator (Louvre, Paris) in the form of a virtual re-enactment. The life-size marble statue showing a young warrior in the lunge position was added to the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese soon after it was found in the year 1609. Since then it has often been copied and adapted. The precise realisation of anatomical details of the athletic body and its complex movements has found special admiration amongst artists and scholars. In 1623, Lorenzo Bernini, for instance, made his David (Galleria Borghese, Rome) based on the appropriation of the main elements of the antique role-model. Bernini’s statue stands as one of the main artworks of the European Baroque. The artwork combines the study of nature and antiquity to produce a dynamic, lively figure, its vivid mimicry of masterful expression, on view from all angles.
While the Borghese Gladiator and Bernini’s David were once the popular plaster casts of antique sculpture, they later led a shadowy existence hidden in the depths of historical collections. Along with other masterpieces of sculpture, however, they experienced a “Renaissance” through virtual reality. Virtual reality gives these artworks new roles in multiple contexts. For instance, web portals sell the pieces of art as 3D-Scans for developers of computer animations and they are used by advertising companies as well as in movie and television production. Based on such commercial 3D-objects, Christian Holze develops render graphics. He creates his pieces free from physical characteristics, like a sculptor in a simulated space, with multiple tools and procedures. The new digital tools of raytracing and cloth collision refer to the realisation of the mirroring of surfaces and the directing of the fusion of fabric and objects. The immaterial character paired with realistic light and glazing effects define the visual appearance of this metamorphosis, blurring the lines of reality and imagination. Next to artworks with soft, flowing fold-arrangements, Holze repeatedly manages to melt physiognomies of the two hero-sculptures into more than brotherly embraces, yielding a fluid polymorph mass. These sculptural double-statues embody snapshots of possible conditions of movement in a virtual space with total permeability and minimal bounciness. Thereby, the avatars of Bernini’s David and of the antique warrior are connected to postmodern »Tableaux Vivants«, beyond painting and sculpture.
The blending of the original form into digital colour surfaces without material structure is translated into Inkjet Prints on canvas. The canvas is ultimately varnished as well as partially painted over by hand with a paintbrush and colour. As printed originals, they thus stand for their own inner conflict. The classical canvas-art prints of famous paintings by master artists can be understood as a contemporary market response to an individuals’ societally rooted longing for the materiality of the unaffordable original, a purchase left exclusively to a financially fluid elite. In his artworks, Holze thematizes the relationship between artistic work and commercialism. In doing so, he processes the fashion industry’s motives and questions relating to the marketing of copyright and branding-phenomenon.
Consequently, digital watermarks referencing the online picture databases keep reappearing in Holze’s artworks. As copy protection, their purpose is to prevent the uncontrolled distribution of the non-authorised use of artwork. They mark the claim of ownership in the form of a signet and lie over the graphical figures like a transparent net. The obvious connection to the luxury segment of a highly coded fashion industry cannot be disregarded. Logos and brand names printed on textiles not only visually mark the belonging to a specific company, they also contribute massively to the sales value and thereby to the success of the item. In fashion, the excessive focus on consumer products and emphasis on the label is especially popular with brands where the name becomes added value. The brand name thereby has a tangible influence on the aura of the desired, fetishized object.
Business collaborations in the creative and cultural scene use this mechanism to transfer the style, image and status of certain artists to their commercial output. In January 2020, the fashion brand Highsnobiety launched its new Old Masters-line in collaboration with Sotheby’s. In the spirit of the digital culture of replication, artworks were reproduced on t-shirts and sweaters, combined with elements of the Sotheby’s Corporate Design and brand logo. Three years earlier at the Paris Runway Fashion Show, Virgil Abloh presented the new autumn/winter collection 2017 of his brand Off-White, calling it Nothing New. The campaign shot published on Instagram shows a black and white version of Duchamp’s Mona Lisa with moustache (L.H.O.O.Q, 1919) along with the famous pseudonym of the artist, »R. Mutt 1917«. This signature, however, can only be found in this form on his artwork Fountain from 1917, marking the most famous readymade in art history.
The idea of samples and the free montage of pawned pieces from a variety of sources, the pervasion of popular and high culture, of street wear and haute couture in the fashion industry all stand in the tradition of an established cultural technique. By combining all these different contexts and meanings in his artistic practice, Holze not only claims authorship, he further refers to the fact that his models originated from databases and he emphasizes the product character of his artwork, designed for a market which connects the pricing and increase in value of a product solely to an artist’s name. Therefore, Holze’s labelling of his works with badges or pendants can be understood as both an artist’s signature and as the labelling of his goods. The labelling of his work serves to prove authenticity and coin the brand. In turn, the arrangement of the artwork in the exhibition room on a modular launch system made of variable aluminium frames, highlights his working in a virtual, three-dimensional space.
Incidentally, there is nothing known about the creator of the Borghese Gladiator. Only the signature on the pedestal of the sculpture reveals a name delivered to posterity: Agasias of Ephesus, whose fame lives on through a single piece of art. Scholars now assume that the marble statue was based on a long-lost bronze paragon. In this case, the artist’s signature would be even more astonishing as it leads one to assume that even in antiquity there was an awareness that transmissions were not simply seen as reproductions, that transferring processes were instead perceived as artistic achievements in their own right. Differences in material, format, and tools, as well as individual preferences and skills have always led to alterations and reshaping, resulting in new artwork: nothing new.
Translated by Sophie Rodoreda