The Incoherents Salon
A Mise-en-scène by Pablo Helguera and Dannielle Tegeder
March 13 – June 3, 2017
Hunter East Harlem Gallery
Curated by Arden Sherman
Hunter East Harlem Gallery launched The Incoherents Salon, a mise-en-scène by Pablo Helguera and Dannielle Tegeder inspired by the protomodern French artistic movement, Les Arts Incohérents.
Founded by publisher and writer Jules Lévy in Paris in 1882, The Incoherents were a collective made up of artists and writers who organized humorous exhibitions as a satirical response to the aesthetic and political circumstances of the time. In the midst of our current restless political moment, Helguera and Tegeder’s theatrical mise-en-scène offers a tribute to a group of artists that used satire as a weapon to push against the status quo and embodied a critical spirit that would later become a common denominator of the avant-garde.
For over ten years (1882-1895), The Incoherents took up a format of a hybrid cabaret and salon, and the happenings of the group fell somewhere between free artistic expression and public entertainment. Artworks created by the group were parodies of famous pieces of art, political and social satire, costume balls, graphical puns, and monographic paintings directly mocking the Impressionists. Cleverly curated locations contributed to the success of these humorous exhibition-demonstrations and were meant to rebel against the seriousness and boredom of popular events and popular sentiments of the time. Additionally, The Incoherents self-published catalogues, fictional artist statements, and created well-orchestrated advertising campaigns using newspapers, flyers, and personal invitations to promote their happenings—they even donated proceeds from their admission fees to charity. De-professionalization was one of the major characteristics of The Incoherents, whereby painters might take up writing, exhibitions of drawing would be launched by those who couldn’t draw, and architects might become financial analysts. Absurdity and provocation were the driving mission of the group.
Moreover, Les Arts Incoérents introduced the usefulness of satire, humor, and political provocation within cultural production, acting as precursors to the avant-garde cabarets of the early 20th century and the performative interventions of Surrealism and Dada, and could be said were early influencers to movements like Fluxus. Their theaters of conversation and exchange, or cabarets, played a critical role in the emergence of what philosopher Jürgen Habermas termed the, “public sphere” which emerged in “cultural-political contras” to court society.
With this history in mind, Helguera and Tegeder consider Hunter East Harlem Gallery, where socially minded art projects are on display, as a site for a revistitation of the experimentation and elements of Les Arts Incohérents. From March 13 to June 3, 2017, Helguera, Tegeder, and Hunter East Harlem Gallery invite artists, community members, and creatives into the gallery to present time-based projects that embrace The Incoherents‘ commitment to social engagement and community-oriented exhibition-making.
This exhibition is made possible by the Goldberg Fund in support of the Curatorial Certificate program at Hunter College.