End of History?
The label inside Alexandra Hopf’s coat reads “End of History - Regen perlt ab”. The coat is fashioned after post-revolutionary Russian design and ethos. The end of history in fact did not take place after the fall of Stalinism, nor after Vladimir Tatlin designed his “Monument to the Third International” (1919– 20). What was once thought of as the end was in fact the beginning, the beginning of the Stalinist counter-revolution. The end of history is also the name of Alexander Kojève’s theory calling for equality as a global order with a Marxist twist. However, for Kojève the end would arrive when absolute knowledge displaced ideology.1 The inner lining of Hopf’s meticulously tailored coat is linen and the outer shell is made of glass fiber.2 The overall cut of the coat is modeled after a coat worn by Vladimir Tatlin. Hopf’s label reads as a provocative text referring to an epoch when the end of art was proclaimed, while commenting on the commodified article of clothing by revealing its function in German – rain runs off.3 The coat is one out of a series by Hopf titled “Tatlin’s Code”. The purpose of a code is to be deciphered, to reveal a message or even to serve as a riddle to be solved. This code can be read on multiple levels: 20th century art history, from the Russian avant-garde movement (or better Constructivism) to Dadaism and Minimalism resonate in Alexandra Hopf’s work.
Working with the ideology of construction, Alexandra Hopf makes key chronicled art figures her sources. As if to uncover the directory of influential male artists, Hopf traces a century of art in her own seemingly timeworn works. Although her works are contemporary, they bear a surface of antiquity. This antiquity is manifested in Hopf’s complex surfaces, and is an aspect of her practice of questioning time and art systems. Hopf’s media include work on paper and acrylic glass, relief, sculpture, and textile. Early 20th century figures she focuses on, besides Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), are Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956), Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), Francis Picabia (1879-1953) as well as mid-century Frank Stella (1936).
In her 2012 solo exhibition “A Private Collection” Hopf revisits Russian Constructivism.4 Here she presents female mannequins wearing overalls modeled after Rodchenko’s very own. The constructivist-inspired designs mimic robotic and biomechanical shapes. Rodchenko’s overalls – his workwear – represented the new socialist self of the modernist collective as the creator of intellectual production. Hopf examines the current role of the artist (or constructor) in the light of Constructivism: To produce art is to redefine society? In 2014 Hopf engages with Alexander Kojève in her “Kojève’s Diary” series with numbered works titled either Contract or Board. Here she explores the potential of the two-dimensional using gouache on carbon copy paper mounted on acrylic glass. The fabricated diary in this series could be read as a personal or philosophical text, but the words have been erased. Lines and the traces of time are visible on the weathered, wrinkled, worn surfaces. Illegible as they may be, even to the well versed reader of Kojève, the mounted and super-sized variants of ruled paper provide a surface that awakens the pictorial consciousness. Writing paper is evoked and forms of re-presentation transpire with constructivist recollections. Hopf’s “Kojève’s Diary” series configures what could be a universal and homogeneous consciousness of Constructivism.
The work Board #5 (St. Vierge 02) (2014), atypical for the series, recalls another image from our art historical consciousness. (image 5) Made with gouache on carbon paper and mounted on acrylic glass, it is an update of Francis Picabia’s La Saint Vierge (The blessed Virgin) (1920). Picabia, embraced the idea of an individual pictorial vocabulary based on experience. Rejecting the label of an artist altogether as well as any one particular style, Picabia was a contradictory key figure of the Dada movement.5 The blessed virgin appears as an ink spot within the pages of his Dada publication “391”. Within the context of Dada the piece was anti-art and anti-religious – a visual pun – a spot or stain named after Virgin Mary bearing no resemblance to her. Le Saint Vierge was accompanied by Picabia’s statement “Nuts to whoever looks at this!”. Hopf cites and reproduces Picabia's gesture of defloration. This could be read as a reminder to the viewer of the misogyny behind this gesture. Either reduced to a black splash or the mere sheet of white paper, the virgin was now stained by the artist/author.6 He had left his trace, code, or markings. As was to be expected, the male Dadaists maintained the 19th century status quo of patriarchal socio-cultural standards and codifications in regard to gender.7
Hopf’s series the “Stella Files” are created in a similar vein to “Tatlin’s Code”. Hopf engages with the work of Frank Stella, another male artist, albeit born post World War I. In the early 1960s, Stella was laying the foundations of Minimalism in the context of post-abstraction. The Stella Files #6 (2014) by Hopf alludes directly to Stella’s aluminum paintings (1960) with metallic paint on canvas as a continuation of his black paintings. In the spirit of Stella, Hopf negates space and any illusion thereof. Hopf goes even further in breaking up the relationship between color, form and pattern. Her lines disappear and reappear, and are neither precise nor clean. In The Stella Files #3 (2014) the lines are blotchy, with faded hues of blue resembling a batik effect from a time long gone while Stella’s abstractions, painted with household acrylic paint, seem sharp and new. Combined Piece #3 (Piece of Stella) is part of the related collage relief series “Pieces of Stella”. A rough cutout of cotton in a faded, azure hue is mounted on a wall with another piece of cloth in a contrasting, marbled peach tone hanging in its upper left hand corner. This hangs in folds, resembling a handkerchief. Hopf’s Stellaesque patterns, depicting faint drawn out vertical lines throughout, are disrupted by their formal arrangement.
Alexandra Hopf reconstructs the avant-garde with an idiosyncratic museological approach. She is interested in the history of display and how we see; and creates exhibitions as collections, houses and even as stages with respective titles – “A Private Collection”, “Maison Tatlin”, “Screen Memories”. For her 2012 exhibition “A Private Collection” she presented the documentary film, “The Estate of A. Rodchenko” (2012) about Rodchenko’s stage design for Vsevolod Meyerhold, along with miniature Deistvo costumes on panes of glass. Her 2015 exhibition “Maison Tatlin” in Cologne is structured around theories of art and the artist, psychoanalysis and Dada exhibition history. The prior exhibition “Screen Memories” at Gallery Sobering in Paris uses free-standing metal frames as structures to see through and to bring a stage- or screen-like concept of projection into the exhibition space. Which lens do we use to interpret Hopf’s works in the act of viewing – a female artist working within a male art historical canon?8 Hopf obscures the rich art historical sources through which she questions frames of references. She reawakens the pictorial consciousness from a contemporary artist’s point of view; one of a pluralistic standpoint: we are both here and there. To use Boris Groys’ concept, Hopf’s practice encompasses a hetero-chronology.9 Her work imaginatively returns to 20th century successes and failures, oscillating between beginnings and endings. By making the past contemporary, she asks the same pertinent questions as Tatlin, but now addresses them to the global art audience, still in the process of comprehending post-anthropocentric thought, in a scenario of global economic crisis.
Kojève not only introduced Hegel to French philosophy but also had a profound influence on Sartre, Lacan and Breton.
Like the constructivists, Hopf is a kind of artist-engineer; in this piece she uses a fairly new industrial material to create garments. Glass fiber is strong, lightweight and can be used as a thermal insulator as well as for electrical and sound insulation.
In 1922 the Russian critic and designer Alexei Gan declared that the end had come for art, calling for creative activity to be politicized to the maximum and for its artistic component to be minimized.
The exhibition “Alexandra Hopf: A Private Collection” was on view from November 3 to December 15, 2012 at Cruise & Callas, Berlin.
Picabia believed modern art was doomed and nothing but self-destructive nihilism.
David Hopkins, “Questioning Dada’s Potency: Picabia’s ‘La Sainte Vierge’ and the Dialogue with Duchamp”, In: Art History, Volume 15, Issue 3, September 1992, 317-333.
Naomi Sawelson-Gorse, Women in Dada: Essays on Sex, Gender, and Identity, (Cambridge, MIT Press 2001), preface.
For more information regarding screen theory and the male gaze see: Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen 16 (3) 1975, 6-18.
Daniel Birnbaum, Chronology, (New York, Lukas & Sternberg 2005), 68.