Note:
Documents d’artistes asked Catherine Macchi de Vilhena, a critic and art history teacher to cast a first glance at the documentation.
Various key figures will be regularly invited




“A Catalog of Artists"
a text by Catherine Macchi de Vilhena



Madamina, il catalogo è questo
delle belle che amò il padron mio :
un catalogo egli è che ho fatt’io ;
osservate, leggete con me
1.


Within the very serious endeavor of cataloging undertaken by the non-profit organization Documents d’artistes lies an irrepressible logic of condensation and dilation which confers a succession of definitively makeshift states upon this space documenting contemporary art. The concern is in fact to circumscribe, using the most scientific of methodologies, a particularly heterogenous and shifting geographical and social reality by indexing the artists of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. What a task!
A catalog of artists, that is, an endlessly changing survey of a population notorious for its mobility and instability2.

Conceived as a tool for the documentation and diffusionof artistic creation3, this initiative’s aim is twofold: to assess the region’s contemporary art activity and to act as an interface between artists, artworld professionals, and more generally, various publics.
If, as it takes shape, Documents d’Artists proves promising as a learning tool and accelerator for putting artists in touch with the artworld, the endeavor has displayed an unexpected complexity early on. Documents d’Artistes has pinpointed the extreme density of artistic creation in the PACA region and its remarkable diversity.
To this day the only one of its kind, this inventory’s existence raises a series of questions regarding the documentary approach, making it an experimental site, a veritable laboratory studying the presentation of contemporary art.

One thinks right away of the problem selecting the artists. At first this seems simple. It’s enough to list those contemporary artists who are significantly bound to the region. But a number of questions surface, indicating the size of this documentary task. What exactly is an artist? From what point on does one acquire this title? Are there factors of exclusion at work in the art world? What kinds of networks is it worth excluding or including in this documentation and for what reasons? As can be seen, the catalog’s fleeting and imprecise contents are somewhat resistant to examination.

It’s thus advisable to hone down the selection by using methodical and flexible choice criteria, something akin to Don Juan’s ideal “Pur che porti la gonnella”4, enough to validate a conquest’s entry as a precious statistic which the dutiful Leporello would promptly jot down in the much cherished catalog.
Documents d’Artistes has apparently found the solution in the form of a doubleobligation expressing their will to offer a quality panorama of artists, while remaining open to alternative practices. The attention bestowed upon non-dominant esthetic models is a solid guarantee to avoid editing a complacent contemporary art yearbook.

Firstly, Documents d’Artists thus wished to look beyond the current art trends on the rise by taking the risk of presenting work by very young artists fresh out of art school, self-taught artists, or those working outside the institutional circuits. In each case, it seemed necessary to grant a space for expression to these artists lacking a considerable art career path.
And everyone knows, no curriculum vitae means no exhibitions, no exhibitions no curriculum vitae...Documenting a body of work amounts, in part, to remedying this painful lack of attention.
Secondly then, one must accept the obvious: historical artists can’t be brushed under the rug without risking a fragmented view of the region’s artistic landscape and amputating interesting affiliations which are the pride of renowned artists and the meaning of history (even if, ultimately, the latter don’t really need such a media tool).

Once the main guidelines of the documentation have been defined, one needs a tool capable of rendering the cataloging of this unstable and proliferating reality possible.
The website seems to be the only means which concords with the idea of an infinite catalog. Adjustable by definition, virtual reality is capable of assuming the incessant regrets of the present. The web corresponds twice over to Documents d’Artistes’ objectives in that it’s founded on a democratic ideal. The web wishes to remain accessible to all in this global village the world has become.
The documentation thus targets different interest groups, from the galerist to the instutional figure, the collector to the enlightened amateur, and why not the university researcher or simply the art student and the curious.
The question regarding optimal distribution is thus resolved.
For those who shy away from computers - no longer very many - a space with printed documents is open for consultation in the organization’s offices.

A current and legible visual layout is thus defined to best serve the various parties’ interests: artists and public. A space is designed to operate like a personal site; direct access to each artist, but allowing thematic links with other practices. Entirely conceived in collaboration with the artist, each file represents a unique and priviledged moment during which new questions regarding its elaboration arise. From the data base one can access the artist’s files according to criteria such as name, geographical location, field of expression or the artists’ keywords. The texts are updated annually and the images bi-annually.


The artist’s file is divided into three sections: five reproductions of significant works, often annotated, a rigorous bio-bibliography accounting for all the artist’s activity in order to provide a social portrait going beyond the artistic activity, and to conclude, an artist’s statement constituting the core thought behind the work.
This section contains several subcategories: keywords, techniques and materials, fields of reference, artisitc affiliations and an introductory text to the work, generally written by the artist. The fields of reference and the artistic affifiliations undoubtedly represent the richest and most innovative part of the file. The artist is granted the freedom to show his/her subjective view of history in the form of open and often playful artistic and cultural combinations, which are nonetheless extremely important to an understanding of the work.


Such an ambitious media tool obviously requires some reflection.
True, the question raised by this catalog which seems to want to rival with the writing of history is most arduous: What will remain of all these artist’s works? Having understood the terrible stakes behind this paradoxal program of cataloging the present, the Document d’artistes team sought to remain detached from the selection process. That’s why they assembled a committee comprised of eight contemporary art professionals from various secteurs to choose the artists.

At the current hour, no one can predict what role Documents d’artistes’ initiative will play in the recognition of the artists represented. Between forced encounters and chance encounters, the history of posterity is old hat. Duchamp had already brilliantly underlined its limits, and in doing so questioned history’s validity. Nonetheless, Documents d’artistes’ almost philanthropic endeavor displays a genuine desires that this experiment in cataloging function as a transition period before a career.
This is why the association provides artists information on the management of their professional activity, going so far as to organize conferences focusing on practical questions pertaining to the artist’s status.

One is thus clearly caught between oblivion and history in an intermediate space that might be defined as a moment of reprieve or simply the space of life itself.
We’re between failure and history and it’s not so bad. We’re there where everything is still possible, between the library of unpublished writings in Brautigan’s Abortion and a dictionary of social and historical success whose model goes back to Vasari. Oddly enough, this paradoxical inventory which operates with a programmed dysfunctionality and which admits to being a possible space of oblivion, lays down new conditions for the wriing of art.


Catherine Macchi de Vilhena
January 2001
(Art historian, Art history professor at the École Municipale d’Arts Plastiques de Nice et de Monaco, correspondant for Artpress)



1 “Dear lady, here is the catalog of those beauties my master loved: it’s a catalog
I’ve compiled myself; look, read along with me.” Lorenzo da Ponte, Libretto of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

2 For example, it’s enough to mention these young people who abandon the art world shortly after having completed their education, tired of their precarious condition.

3 Documents d'artistes is a free service for artists and public alike. This initiative is sponsored by the following authorities:
Ministère de la Culture-DRAC Paca
Région Paca
Conseil Général 13

4 “So long as she wears a skirt”.