No more heroes. The Collection VIII

From: Thursday, 02 October 2008

To: Sunday, 20 September 2009

Place: South Gallery

The exhibition vindicates the role of human beings to shape their own history, as opposed to a "heroic", tragic and demobilising way of acting.

ARTIUM, Basque Centre-Museum of Contemporary Art, presents the exhibition No more heroes. The Collection VIII (South Gallery, from October 2 to September 22 2008). More than anything else, the exhibition vindicates the role of human beings to shape their own history, as opposed to a "heroic", tragic and demobilising way of acting, which pervades politics, economics, culture and even the "freaky” universe promoted by television and comics. No more heroes is moreover the eighth presentation of the Permanent Collection of ARTIUM, a selection of seventy works installed in a new gallery space that offers the spectator the opportunity to see them in new and different ways. The exhibition includes the works of some of the key artists in the ARTIUM Collection, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Jorge Oteiza, Luis Gordillo, Joan Brossa, Vik Muniz and Juan Muñoz, together with other, emerging artists such as Karmelo Bermejo and Elena Mendizabal. No more heroes is produced by ARTIUM (Vitoria-Gasteiz), and curated by Daniel Castillejo.

«I chose a bad day to give up smoking» Lloyd Bridges repeated in Airplane. At the end of the film, «giving up smoking» had changed to «giving up sniffing glue», following bouts of drinking and tranquillisers.

I believe that today we could also say something like «we chose a bad day to start opposing heroes». The time is not right to reject heroes. They are everywhere: The heroes of Vietnam, the heroes of the bicentenary of the War of Independence, the heroes of every war that has been fought, heroes with statues on pedestals, the Olympians, all heroes in general.

We have many heroes. Some were born heroes, monsters, converted into superheroes. The freaky universe has placed fixed its gaze on the "hero" concept. Others will never know that they will be called heroes after they have died, some are heroes by accidental circumstances, but many, the most heroic of all, applied for the job, for the profession of the hero. The romantic hero, the self-destructive hero, the masculine hero, the absurd, the divine and the demonic, one has only to look around one, they appear just everywhere.

It seems obvious to point out then that for an artist, selecting the main character is to choose a hero or heroine. Just by selecting a story to tell, an image to show or some references to think about, oblige one, in one way or another, to define a condition, to specify a explicit set of conditions that, whether we like it or not, are transformed into our heroes for the very same reason. And later, we want them to be everyone else's heroes.

I maintain, therefore, that for some time now we have been witnessing the «era of heroes» and it seems that this will also be the case for some time to come. Not heroes, but HEROES. You can find references to heroic acts and deeds everywhere. No one can avoid seeing, hearing or reading about allusions to these magnificent figures, our heroes.

The «hero» is an archetype applied to all areas of human endeavour. Politics, religion, society, culture and art are the places where they can often be found. In reality, heroes are present in all aspects of life and adapt to any situation because they know very well what is expected and necessary. From its early beginnings to the present day even one of the basic mainstays of philosophy itself is the notion of «heroism» and the figure of the "hero". Why is this so? Why do we need Heroes? Could one of the reasons be the search for redemption and that, for that reason, the history of humanity is full of heroic messianic redeemers? Could it not be that our need for transcendence obliges us to appoint these figures who are half human and half divine, as mediators between God («I am divine» repeated Salvador Dalí), Glory, Memory, History and ourselves? The result is a being capable of doing or withstanding what we, poor human beings, could not even imagine in our dreams and nightmares. This vision of our role, which reduces us to mere pawns, recognises that the world can only change with titanic, Herculean, inhuman efforts which only special people, the heroes, are capable of carrying out (Ulysses, the most human of all heroes because of his intelligence and astuteness, had his wife Penelope waiting eternally for him in Itaca, knitting). The only two options left open to us is for all of us to become heroes or to do away with all of heroes so that human beings can take more of a leading role in their own affairs.

Tragedy forms an intrinsic part of the nature of the Hero. Pain, death, extreme suffering is either provoked by the Hero or is applied to him. The end result is that suffering is always there, literally or metaphorically: they kill or die, or both things at the same time. Our heroes fight against the heroes of others, confront them or compete with them in the extreme. If we are lucky, our heroes will triumph, if not, we will fear those of others, while we cry for our dead heroes. The capacity of the "self proclaimed hero" to provoke conflict, pain, goes hand-in-hand with the "unwillingly hero", who turns into an "official hero" when the State or a group designate the quality of a person in order to use him as an example and to set him apart from the community.

The passive, lethargic search, the waiting for a Hero implies the abandonment of responsibility by the majority, who place their hopes in an intervention beyond the realm of human beings, to free us from the supposedly bad things that face humankind (and was always represented in religious, political and identity terms). Therefore, this dazed sleep, this drowsy wait for participation, for mobilisation in one direction or another, will only occur blindly when our faith is heeded. Meanwhile, we sit around like the Musketeer with pipe by Pablo Picasso, waiting for the Hero to tell us what we have to do or how we have to look at things.

In the Seventies, David Bowie, published a song entitled Heroes, which was the name given to an LP. Soon after, The Stranglers answered him with a song entitled No more heroes. This expression became the war cry of an entire generation that moved rapidly towards a new version of nihilism, towards disillusionment, towards the sharp, critical aspects of the social system, expressed by the punk movement with slogans such as "there is no future" and "we don't care".

This exhibition deals with these questions but, especially, it takes a clear stance with its expression "no more heroes". Although it is understood that on many occasions, the need to remain waiting is the last straw to which we cling when there is no hope, "no more heroes" is a phrase that reveals a sense of weariness in our attitude to the Hero, compared to unquestionable genius in art, the irrefutable leader, the infallible guide, the axiomatic messiah, to all those who demobilise us, who prevent the world from turning naturally, based on wonderful powers or muscular arguments.

No more heroes is, in some ways, apart from a positive negation, the fruit of an intuition that seeks to talk, on one hand, about art and therefore about the world (to the extent that art talks about the world) and, on the other, about heroic attitudes which we must face a continuous basis.
The exhibition differentiates between two different kinds of attitudes and, as a consequence, at no time does it attempt to make an exhaustive analysis of the different types of hero. On the contrary, it will show a critical vision of how the "self proclaimed hero" (the enlightened one and the interested one) and the "official hero" (almost always unconscious of the cause of his premature death) determined two, apparently contrary postures that are, in reality, very close to one another and extremely foolish.

No more heroes is, at the same time, an exhibition of the art collection conserved by ARTIUM, which are shown once again to illustrate a theme, as this museum has done every year since its inauguration. All the works are shown exactly as their artists created them; their intentions are there, but nobody can prevent them from being seen and read by other eyes and ours, contaminated with subjectivity, with our own schemes, of the present moment that conditions us and the all-embracing mechanism of the South Gallery in which not only the works but also the spaces in which they are placed, form the exhibition as a whole. Places of sacred references, curved walls, uncomfortable narrow spaces, all intended to underline the arduous, organic and sacred space of the Hero.

Whether we want to see ourselves as antiheroes or little heroes, let us be the driving force in a world that moves - as long as a great hero does not stand in the way.

No more heroes. The Collection VIII
South Gallery, from October 2 September 20 2009

Curator: Daniel Castillejo

No more heroes is produced by ARTIUM (Vitoria-Gasteiz)
Activities: Talks by Daniel Castillejo and Daniel Innerarity; scenography course with Antonio Tagliarini; film season, selected by Juanma Bajo Ulloa; guided visits and family activities.

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