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No Time Left to Start Again and Again: Allen Ruppersberg exhibits at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels
Allen Ruppersberg, Honey, I rearranged the collection to make the most of it., 2000 Pencil and marker on paper Courtesy Galerie Micheline Szwajcer and the artist © Galerie Micheline Szwajcer.

BRUSSELS.- Allen Ruppersberg (b. 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio; lives and works in Santa Monica, California, and Brooklyn, New York) belongs to a generation of American conceptual artists that changed the way art was made and thought about at the end of the 1960s. His multiform artistic work, which includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations, performances and books, amongst other media, is inspired by the Beat Generation and anchored in a critical approach to media and consumer society. Over the years, Ruppersberg, an avid collector, has accumulated an impressive quantity of books, posters, postcards, educational films, magazines, records and other documents or objects that bear witness to American popular culture. This archive serves as a regular resource for the artist, who tirelessly draws, copies, classifies and recycles elements in the making of his works.

Having studied commercial illustration at Chouinard Art Institute (CalArts today) in the early 1960s, the artist became an excellent draughtsman; he has often copied out fragments of his archives by hand, but he also regularly employs a variety of mechanical reproduction procedures to the same purpose. In the past fifteen years, he has been more and more prone to using a photocopy machine. He was a regular at Kinko’s for a while, but it didn’t take long for him to decide to buy his own machine, which he uses to enlarge or reframe his archive. The technique bears a certain resemblance to the process of human memory, which by continually redefining and reframing, reveals our memories.

At WIELS, Ruppersberg presents one of his more recent works, entitled No Time Left To Start Again/The B and D of R ‘n’ R. It is a sweeping survey of recorded American vernacular music, from folk to rock, passing through gospel and blues. The monumental installation assembles various materials drawn from the artist’s archives, such as amateur snapshots, obituaries for deceased musicians and images of old records. These documents were photocopied and then laminated before being hung on pegboards like the ones you see in hardware stores. The mural arrangement of the photocopies acts as a visual history whose order – and narrative – are interchangeable. The presence of boxes filled with similar documents in close proximity to the pegboards reminds us that other narratives are there, waiting to be told. Finally, a soundtrack composed of a hundred popular songs accompanies the installation. The songs are taken from the artist’s collection of over 4,000 78rpm records, and are contained on 8 vinyl records especially produced for the exhibition.

In parallel with the installation, Ruppersberg presents a selection of earlier works that echo certain notions important to The B and D of R ‘n’ R, such as memory, the transmission of knowledge and the relationship between art and popular culture. In the central hallway is a selection of silkscreened projection screens made in the 1990s. These vintage screens are silkscreened with images taken from the educational films in the artist’s collection – he owns over 2,000. On the wall is a series of works whose titles begin with the formula, ‘Honey, I rearranged the collection’, and end with a joke. The jokes vary: some often offer a glimpse into the obsessions of the art world, some are about relationships, and some turn on more existential concerns. These witticisms were initially jotted down on Post-its that Ruppersberg used to adorn his own work, as if he were himself the collector who had left his wife a note. In 2000, he replaced the practice of appropriating his own work with that of drawing a home library. Over the years, he has retouched the drawing using a variety of techniques: silk-screening the image in multiple colours and positions, enhancing it with watercolours, stickers, found photos, texts, etc. In each instance, the visual alteration is linked to the punch line of a joke. The image of the library, which returns time and again in this series, can be interpreted as the equivalent of the collection alluded to in the text. More broadly, though, it alludes to the notion of the archive. The library is this reservoir – of ideas, forms, stories and lives – that has been the source of Ruppersberg’s work for the past forty years.

Ruppersberg puts the vestiges of history to infinite variations, and in so doing he breathes life into a culture threatened with oblivion, even though it is an integral part of our history and subjectivity. For the artist, the point is not to reconstitute the past: the present is far too short for that. In his own words, there is no time left to start again.

Winner of several prestigious prizes, among them the National Endowment for the Arts (1976 and 1982) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1997), Ruppersberg has participated in numerous international collective exhibitions, such as When Attitudes Become Form, Kunsthalle, Bern, 1969; dOCUMENTA V, 1972; Biennale de Lyon, 1996. Important solo exhibitions of his work have been staged by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1985, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2005, and the Museum of Art, Santa Monica, 2009.

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