Interlitq publishes, in English, an interview with the Argentine artist Helmut Ditsch, conducted by the Argentine journalist, Lucila Gallino
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“A WORK OF ART IS A QUESTION OF FAITH”
After having lived in Austria for over 20 years, Helmut Ditsch, an artist who is both internationally recognized and commercially successful, has now returned to live in Argentina. In this interview with the Argentine journalist Lucila Gallino, Ditsch reveals his commitment to Argentine politics and, after confessing why he has chosen to exhibit his art in public squares, goes on to explain why he does not choose to surrender to the system which, he contends, currently governs contemporary art.
Helmut Ditch also gives us an insight into the artistic manifesto that he is in the process of writing, the car he wants to design, and tells us what his new studio in Argentina is going to look like.
Can you tell us how your relationship as an artist interconnects with what is happening in the world today, in political terms?
My work establishes a dialogue with real people, the people on the street, and not with what I choose to call the “Intensive Care Unit” system. Avant-guard artists can’t live without a very famous curator, lots of marble, glamour and the media ….but they have a short life-span. In my opinion, this kind of artist is what I call a “patient”, and one that ends up dying, precisely because no one except the establishment recognizes this as art. But what I do is completely different in nature.
I’m intrigued, can you tell me more about the concept of the ”Intensive Care Unit”?
I mean those works of art that cannot exist by themselves, they are not universal works of art. But the artist is not to blame for the system. So many artists succumb to the establishment, and all that this entails. “Intensive Care Unit” Art is the epiphet I give to this kind of network that ends up betraying artists. And most artists don’t have the opportunity to extricate themselves from this tendency because the whole system is propped up globally. For me there is no other option than to exhibit in public squares. At least this is what I do, and I can assure you that I am very happy with the decision that I have made.
Is it true that many museums do not accept your work or do not invite you to exhibit? Is this, you think, due to the fact that you exhibit your work in public squares?
Yes, so much so that last year it was the Argentine bicentennial and the Foreign Ministry proposed that I give an exhibition in Vienna. But, can you believe it, museums refused to accept my work. I had an inkling that this was going to happen and had decided to put the museums to the test. To ascertain whether there really was an animus against what I was doing with my art, I asked the Foreign Ministry to try to obtain a place to exhibit without mentioning my name. And they did succeed in obtaining a site and I ended up giving the show in a tent in winter, in December, with a temperature of 15 degrees centigrade below zero, in one of the most important squares in Vienna. I would go as far as to say that this development was very positive for the image of Argentina, and for what I consider I should be doing as an artist.
What is your relationship with gallery owners, curators and even artists themselves?
They are in general opposed to my aesthetic. Some people feel the need to inhabit an exclusive, elitist world. I do not criticize this as such but am of the opinion that we have to promote national and popular art, sponsor a demotic art, as it were, and not the “Intensive Care Unit” art which I referred to earlier.
But isn’t it the case that your recognition hails from the Austrian establishment?
No, I must correct this misconception. The beginning of the success of my artistic trajectory was, in fact, thanks to the middle class and that is why I was able to make an impression on so many people. The success I achieved was categorically not from the European artistic establishment. I was, in fact, persecuted from the beginning and there has been a kind of “control” exercised over me in Austria, and pertaining to everything I have done there. At first I was apprehensive because I realized that the treatment that was given to me was, in fact, brutal. It was not a case of a single person but the entire system that was against me. And this simply because I do not represent the mentality of the establishment. I would go as far as to say that many people have treated me with distance and even with a disdain amounting to contempt.
What is the museum that you are planning on building going to be like?
It will not be a museum, it will be a studio. I get my inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci, he symbolizes what I am doing, but in my case this will spill over into other disciplines as well.
What exactly is the “HD Art Factory”?
It is a powerhouse of ideas, a Factory of National Art. In some environments, everything flows better if you use the language of the system, so that it sounds “politically correct” – but, in essence, and to keep the idea simple, it is a project that is intrinsically national and popular.
Which is guilty, the artist or the system?
The artist is not to blame, it is the system that forces him into a vicious circle from which it is very difficult for him to extricate himself. Great artists are born from the masses, and the artist must elevate people in the sense of Nietzsche and they should not, under any circumstances, confront them with the paranoia of certain artists, who for example, present a piece of meat in a nylon bag and leave it to rot. And if the artist does do this, then he is showing disrespect towards the public. Every expression is an ideology, some expressions are absurd but other expressions are universal.
From this Argentine distance and perspective, what is happening in Europe today?
The directors of museums in Europe know that something is brewing, and they don’t want to become further bogged down in the mistruths they have been peddling for a long time. It can not be the case that modern art is deemed to have more merit than the art that has been created over the course of 2000 years. Suddenly we are in a period in which everything is coming apart at the seams.
Millions of people go to see the Mona Lisa because it is a work of art of great value. And we also have a painter like Vermeer, whose work is among the most outstanding to be seen in Vienna. Nobody has to explain anything to people because everything is there for them to see. That generation of artists painted for all of mankind.
Does art have to meet certain universal laws?
Of course, universal art must deliver to people. There must be a dialogue, aesthetics, a vision, the magnitude of the message, power transmitted by that very message, and all of this executed with great virtuosity. If a component is missing, it becomes what I call “Intensive Care Unit” Art. There are many artists who don’t have the talent to draw, but they have an interesting concept, and there are many generations of disoriented artists, and also confused teachers who are requested to teach a subject that they themselves do not understand.
For example, modern art holds in its regard a Damien Hirst’s “Happening” higher than Da Vinci”s “The Last Supper”. Of course, such a comparison is invidious and there’s no comparison at all.
I am sure that if you give, say, a worker the opportunity to choose between a selection paintings, he will choose something that transmits light, something that gives him the inspiration to get up the next day, the strength to keep going to overcome the daily tedium of routine.
I think we are on the threshold of a new culture. That is why I am writing a Manifesto of National Culture, which will, as it happens, be a text based on all the experience I have accrued.
Are you interested in having your work included in American private collections?
No, please! No, that doesn’t give me any feeling of glory at all. My greatest satisfaction is to exhibit in a public square, and to be there alongside thousands of people without middlemen, without experts, no one to explain anything. The phenomenon of the football stadium, that’s what I want. Many rich people who have bought a yacht and decide to buy art want something to separate them from what they consider to be the demotic. They cannot imagine that a maid or a worker may have the same taste as them. That is why I give priority to that very public that is too often underestimated, and am profoundly interested in their point of view. But there is something else to add here. Money corrupts, it softens your senses. Sensibility is lost when you have money to burn.
So if, say, an Austrian banker wanted to buy your work?
If such a banker had wanted to 20 years ago, I would have needed his help but not nowadays, when it is the paintings that matter. In fact, I have brought some of these paintings with me and want to give my next exhibition here in Argentina.
Would you be interested in participating in the upcoming Venice Biennale?
Venice is a political city and, bearing this in mind, I would definitely like to spend time there whenever this is possible.
Are you finding a welcome here in Argentina that you have not found in other countries?
I always received a warm welcome from the Austrians, the Italians, the Argentines. It was not the establishment that bought my work but the middle class. My art does not engage in a dialogue with people that make a cult out of art. Many museums closed their doors to me; perhaps this is because I am debunking the myth of what constitutes art. If this is the case, this underscores the fact that I am on the right path.
Is there a book in your life that has influenced you?
Yes, “Zarathustra” by Nietzsche, because it is a text that has a philosophical impact. I know many parts of it by heart. It interests me because it communicates the strength of action that inspires the creation of better worlds.
How do you reconcile designing a Ferrari and exhibiting in the public square?
These pursuits are not incompatible. I am a car designer. The Ferrari has nothing to do with the frivolous. Frivolity is to ride a Rolls Royce. When I see the Ferrari I see Da Vinci because that is the spirit of the Italians of the north. It is no coincidence, beauty is exuded by the spirit of these people.
What comes now for you after having produced such impressive works as El Mar (The Sea)?
I am interested in continuing my work here in Argentina, I am considering living in my vineyard in Mendoza, where I will move forwards with a project I call FAN, standing for the Factory of National Art. The project is in the hands of an Austrian architect, Roman Delugan and his wife, both of whom are very well-known in Austria on account of the buildings they have constructed throughout the world, such as the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.
What will the design of the structure be like?
My atelier will have the shape of a puma jumping. The idea is to have some part of the structure in the water with the shape of a manta ray in the front. The technique is called physiology aesthetics, in which these relationships are respected, and it is uplifting when you see what can arise spontaneously from pure motion, in this case a puma leaping in the air.
Among your projects you are designing a car …
I learned to draw according to what I will call the efficiency of beauty. I have knowledge of aerodynamics because I have observed nature very closely, so I understand its efficiency. The more efficient a being, the more beautiful it becomes. Beauty is not something I like, or you don’t like because beauty is a natural law. The more efficient, the more beautiful the creature. No one can deny that the Concord is the most beautiful airplane ever built.
After living many years in Austria, a country with a powerful bird of prey in its coat of arms, what does the strength of the eagle signify for you?
But I must tell you that I prefer the image and strength of the condor. The condor symbolizes freedom and sovereignty, that is why I have it embroidered in my jacket, on the clothes that I design personally.
About Helmut Ditsch:
Helmut Ditsch was born in Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires, in 1962. His works are unique in their style, inspired by the majestic vastitudes of nature, and produced on canvases that reach monumental proportions.
In the nineties, having settled officially in Vienna, his artistic career acquired an unstoppable momentum. In 1997 he was already considered to be one of the most successful of young artists, and two years later, he consolidated this success with the work La Cordillera (The Mountain Range), acquired by the OeNB (Central Bank of Austria) at a record amount for a contemporary Argentine artist.
In 2000, Ditsch set up his atelier in Ireland, completing in 2005 the series Grandes Temas Naturales (Great Themes of Nature) that had until then comprised deserts, mountains and ice, with the work El Mar (The Sea), inspired by the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2001, he exhibited for the first time for the Argentine public at the National Museum of Fine Arts, bringing together more than 100,000 people during in the course of this solo exhibition. Such a turnout was repeated in 2006, when Ditsch was invited to participate exclusively in the International Book Fair of Buenos Aires.
Alongside his artistic trajectory, Ditsch began traversing various creative paths, including concepts relating to automotive design, clothing, music composition and production of high end premium wines. He also plans to establish an academic space dedicated to philosophical thinking, combining all of these initiatives under the umbrella of the concept of the “Helmut Ditsch Art Factory”.
In August 2010, Ditsch broke the record price for a work of art produced by an Argentine artist, Mar II (Sea II), which was sold to a collector in Andalucia, Spain, for U.S. $ 865,000, surpassing the price that had been paid previously for Desocupados ( The Unemployed) by Antonio Berni.