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“Gestures of Disappearance” was first shown in 2002 at the Gallery of the Art Academy in Leipzig, Germany, under the full title “Kunst Verlassen 1 — Gestures of Disappearance”. The exhibition brought together, for the first time, four seminal artists, each of whom disappeared from the art world in different ways and for different reasons.

The exhibition gives a comprehensive overview of the life and work of the little known but influential pre-Dadaist poet, critic and rabble-rouser, Arthur Cravan, as well as post-war American based artists Bas Jan Ader, Chris Burden and Lee Lozano. As the title “Gestures of Disappearance” suggests, the exhibition focuses on the ostentatious, performative and, for some, inescapable aspects of artistic withdrawal.

When each of the artist’s scepticism about the social and political capacities of art reached its climax, their doubts in their own role as an artist became visible in both artworks and symbolic gestures. These gestures negotiated the individual possibilities within a societal framework that all four criticised, sometimes drastically, with sharp insight and little will to compromise. 

Lozano and Cravan left the art world for good. Burden did not. Ader died during his last project, an attempt to cross the Atlantic from Cape Cod in his one-man yacht. The melancholic and existentialistic tone of the exhibition makes tangible the artists’ struggles with their identities and future perspectives. It points to an artistic model or myth of the artist rooted in romanticism, a position which had become ever more fragile, irrelevant and inadequate.

“Gestures of Disappearance” is curated by Alexander Koch.