Irony Tower

By Schwarz, Dieter | Artforum International, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Irony Tower


Schwarz, Dieter, Artforum International


A German artist friend once told me what made him sign up for Dieter Roth's class at the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie in 1968. Meeting the professor for the first time he noticed the fear in his eyes and simply couldn't help but feel intrigued. Fear was a powerful motivator for Roth, one that put him on his path - to conquer through wit and intelligence the domain of art, which promised him a measure of safety, while he continually tested art's limits, not as a revolutionary avant-gardist but as an ironic commentator and skeptical moralist. His classes, by the way, weren't held at the Akademie; instead, he assembled his students in a nearby bar, to keep a safe distance from the school. It later irked him that Beuys got all the credit for unconventional teaching at Dusseldorf.

I don't know precisely what Roth discussed with students, but perhaps he spoke of his vision of art, as he once formulated it in a simple diagram in Philadelphia in 1964. There he presented the history of art ill the twentieth century in the form of a staircase: the stairs were labeled "talent," the landings "irony." For every step forward, irony took artistic talent to another level. Though Roth was impressed by the Modernist optimism he encountered in the US in the '60s, the pragmatic American outlook probably represents the antithesis of his conception of language and the world. It's no accident that Roth struck up a friendship with Richard Hamilton and Marcel Broodthaers, with whom he planned a theme exhibition for dogs (among other things, the work would be hung at canine eye-level).

Dieter Roth follows in the tradition of such painter-poets as Arp, Klee, and Schwitters, whose literary-pictorial art in turn comes out of German Romanticism. In his innocent explorations during the '60s, carried out in such unpretentious media as drawings and poems, Roth constructed tentative worlds governed by mutations and multiple variations - worlds regulated, that is, by nonregulation. In that period, his refined formulations and poetic subtlety had no rival - certainly not in the activism of Fluxus. One looks in vain to Roth for ideological assaults on various Modernist narratives and art-historical progressions; rather than attack them, he'd follow their traces, draining them of their certainties in the process; he knocked the wind out of formalism's ineluctable logic, blatantly attaching his tools to the production of that momentum, or even dipping it in chocolate.

In so doing, he took lucid stock of the present. There's an unforgettable scene of his offering his commentary on a work of Beuys' in Vienna in 1979: he drew attention to the solemn pathos of Beuys' relics by placing cheap utensils alongside the auratic objects and drawing an arrow on the floor to bring out the comparison. In the process, he implicated himself along with those whose practices he was calling into question: "I find that artists as we know them, myself included, pull a sort of curtain up before themselves. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Irony Tower
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.