#FrancisOnFilm: Art Manifestos at Sundance

26 January 2017

Manifesto, starring Cate Blanchett and directed by German filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt, transforms a visual installation into film. In the film, Blanchett reenacts thirteen manifestos representing major movements in art. (The installation has been on view as separate panels at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, the Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.) Blanchett plays roles from an elderly vagrant in an abandoned factory in Berlin reflecting situationist artists such as Lucio Fontana to a new anchor and reporter question and answer about minimalism.

Many of the manifestos imbue 20th century artists’ indictments of capitalist or consumerist culture.  There’s Claes Oldenburg’s I Am For . . . (Statement, 1961), read by a bourgeois mother saying grace to her bored husband and children before a lunch of roast hen and vegetables:

I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.

[...] I am for US Government Inspected Art, Grade A art, Regular Price art, Yellow Ripe art, Extra Fancy art, Ready-to-Eat art, Best-for-Less art, Ready-to-Cook art, Fully Cleaned art, Spend Less art, Eat Better art, Ham art, pork art, chicken art, tomato art, banana art, apple art, turkey art, cake art, cookie art…

And there’s Jim Jarmusch’s endorsement of authentic thievery in film, proclaimed by a school teacher to her students working on projects in class:

Rule # 5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.’

A confession: I was bummed that I only recognized a fraction of the manifestos, including those from Oldenburg and Jarmusch. I wish I’d had a cheat sheet as I assume I might have had at an installation exhibiting the film. But it was fantastic to see the reenactments melded together and printed text identifying the sources would have disturbed the film’s magnificent visual imagery. If you like modern art, architecture, dance, or film, and the political-aesthetic questions they raise, go find this! (If you can—the film hasn’t yet been reported as being purchased for distribution.)