© Annette Lemieux, Apparition, 1989. Chromogenic print.
[A]s we have constantly been reminding ourselves ever since Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” authenticity empties out as a notion as one approaches those mediums which are inherently multiple. “From a photographic negative, for example,” Benjamin argued, “one can make any number of prints; to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense.” For Rodin, the concept of the “authentic bronze cast” seems to have made as little sense as it has for many photographers. Like Atget’s thousands of glass negatives for which, in some cases, no lifetime prints exist, Rodin left many of his plaster figures unrealized in any permanent material, either bronze or marble. Like Cartier-Bresson, who never printed his own photographs, Rodin’s relation to the casting of his sculpture could only be called remote.
(…)For the plasters that form the core of Rodin’s work are, themselves, casts. They are thus potential multiples. And at the core of Rodin’s massive output is the structural proliferation born of this multiplicity.
©Annette Lemieux, Truth, 1989. Oil on canvas
(…) [A]uthenticity need not be a function of the history of technology. But the formula that specifies a photographic original as a print made “close to the aesthetic moment” is obviously a formula dictated by the art historical notion of period style and applied to the practice of connoisseurship. A period style is a special form of coherence that cannot be fraudulently breached. The folded into the concept of style is a product of the way style is conceived as having been generated: that is, collectively and unconsciously. Thus an individual could not, by definition, consciously will a style. Later copies will be exposed precisely because they are not of the period; it is exactly that shift in sensibility that will get the chiaroscuro wrong, make the outlines too harsh or too muddy, disrupt the older patterns of coherence. It is this concept of period style that we feel the 1978 cast of The Gates of Hell will violate. We do not care if the copyright papers are all in order; for what is at stake are the aesthetic rights of style based on a culture of originals.
(…) One thing only seems to hold fairly constant in the vanguardist discourse and that is the theme of originality. (…) More than a rejection or dissolution of the past, avant-garde originality is conceived as a literal origin, a beginning from ground zero, a birth. (…) For originality becomes an organicist metaphor referring not so much to formal invention as to sources of life. The self as origin is safe from contamination by tradition because it possesses a kind of originary naivete. Hence Brancusi’s dictum, “When we are no longer children, we are already dead.” Or again, the self as origin has the potential for continual acts of regeneration, a perpetuation of self-birth. Hence Malevich’s pronouncement, “Only he is alive who rejects his convictions of yesterday.” The self as origin is the way an absolute distinction can be made between a present experienced de ‘novo’ and a tradition-laden past. The claims of the avant-garde are precisely these claims to originality.
excerpts from KRAUSS, R. (1981) The Originality of the Avant-Garde: A Postmodernist Repetition. October, Vol. 18, pp.47-66.