CONCERNING BUSINESS

by Patricio M. Zárate 

1 Ken Thomas, Seattle Times September 28, 2018 

When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane, you also invent the plane crash.

-Paul Virilio,Politics of the Very Worst (1999). 

Our current global era is characterized by massive access to information, multiculturalism, transnationalization, and interdependence. Along with potentially progressive qualities, globalism has a less desirable side: a concentration of wealth, opulence, excessive luxury, and the growing use of tax havens. This latter phenomenon confirms some general suspicion: in a small sector of the world, it is okay to be completely alien and indifferent to what happens elsewhere. Our economic foundation has been generalized to force countries and people to enter into a corporate speculative game. Companies have created codes and relationship logistics, establishing a new world order, claiming control, drawing economic lines, mapping not only borders, but history. 

Artists throughout history have tried to puncture a hole in these normalizing powersand man made borders. A stunning example of this is André Breton’s Le Monde au Temps des Suréalistes (The Surrealist Map of the World) (Variétés, Brussels) 1928, where Russia and Labrador eat up North America completely. And in a recent meeting at The White House between the Presidents Donald Trump and Sebastián Piñera illustrates how this new world order uses corporate in-game codes to pull a prank on the public by blurring man made boundaries. “In a show of solidarity with his American counterpart, Piñera displayed for Trump a printout of a red-white-and-blue American flag that contained the outline of a small Chilean flag. “This is the American flag, and there is the Chilean flag, right at the very heart of the U.S. flag1,” Piñera said, holding the printout, bringing a smile to Trump’s face.” The publics’ reaction gave rise to many interpretations and conjectures. Although the gimmick is forced and obvious, the flag within the flag shows how governments, in their desire for expansion and economic integration, are willing to do everything necessary, even to symbolically lose territorial integrity. Breton’s map leaves out America in 1929 and President Piñera’s printout of the flag within a flag annexes the state of Chile into the U.S.A. in 2018. 

What for some is a bad joke, comes off for others as clumsy, inappropriate, and most importantly: in bad taste. Is it a dichotomy that confirms the disaffection and coldness of financial agents when it comes to business in the corporate arena. The same holds true for the art world at the higher echelons, where art becomes part of the investment class. And we cannot just tear our hair out saying that across art history similar gestures do not exist of money and art running hand in hand. That is why an important cultural bridge was established between New York City and Santiago, beginning precisely with Jay Batlle’s first solo exhibition Free Lunch in 2011 and continuing in 2017 with Closed For Business. Through exhibitions at the National Museum of Fine Arts, a platform was created to invite working artists from New York City to Santiago, a switch in the predominant coordinates of art world paradigms. New York City is the heavy weight contender center of the art world. Investing in the logic of geopolitics, we flipped the locations on their head by inviting Batlle to exhibit in Santiago. Maybe the South can be the North and the North in turn could be the South. This idea echoes the ingenious gesture of the Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres García, who arranged the Latin-American map the 

President Donald Trump, right, smiles as Chilean President Sebastian Pinera holds up a picture showing the Chilean flag at the center of the U.S. Flag, in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, in Washington. (AP photo/Alex Brandon)

Andre Breton’s SURREALIST MAP OF THE WORLD, Variétés, Brussels 192844 

2 Joaquín Torres-García, Inverted America by Dr. Maya Jiménez, Smart History Blog 

3 The Atrocity Exhibition is an experimental collection of linked stories or “condensed novels” by British writer J. G. Ballard., Which associates the Kennedy assassination with a sexual or sporting event, the work has maintained controversy, especially in the United States, where some considered it a slur on the dead president’s image. Ballard claimed that “it was an attempt for me to make sense of that tragic event.” Wikipedia 

other way round in an ink drawing from 1936. Although at first glance, this flip in the drawing seems illusory, our understanding of gravity lets us see the trick. The geographical references work indiscriminately of own location, art can escape the boundaries created by money and power with a simple ink drawing. “Our North is the South.2” So Joaquín Torres-García proudly announced in 1935 in The School of the South Manifesto. 

Just like Batlle’s (pronounced “Battle”) last name becomes a misspelled word in the English language up North. In the Latin-American South, Batlle is a not so uncommon a name. In 2000, Batlle was the last name of the Presidential candidate of Uruguay. The artist Batlle took this to good effect and extended the campaign stickers for his own personal promotion when he first moved to New York City. In his “Batlle For President Series, 2000” the artist made posters and t-shirts of the photo based works from actual campaign stickers and posters: distributing them around New York City. At the time Batlle was a relatively unknown artist starting out in NYC, his campaign for president was an absurdist gesture to express the overwhelming power of misunderstanding in the corporate world of branding. In the Dada tradition Batlle distributed the artworks to the public and never showed the series again. Shucked into the void of history. 

This epoch in Western terms is characterized by hedonism, where everything seems to be spinning out of control, without any consequence other than for enjoyment and profit. The unregulated “flipping” promotes a delight in the senses, because our visual culture is in itself very fetishistic. Capitalism is finding the imagery used in advertising as a perfect ally, because the creation of taste is just another atrocity exhibition3. Consumption not only refers to luxury goods itself, but to all type of goods, including food. When finding that a meal is lacking in taste, a consumer does not exclusively decide by reliving the past experiences associated with their childhood. Advertising has had some influence here as well. Even though gourmet food is reserved for refined palates and exotic tastes, it can be learned later in life. And there is fast food ~ a much more homogenized flavor but no less delicious to the masses. Culinary pleasure is available to everyone. A ferris wheel of consumer consumption that goes round and round, until the economy or the sustainability of the world collapses. 

Another revolution is the sublime leaving the field of philosophical and aesthetic ideas slipping into the field of food. As an example with global travelers we are seeing the beginnings of a ‘generalized arrival‘ whereby the traveler arrives without having to leave as Paul Virilio points out. The tourists are not concerned these days with the journey, but the speed at which it starts and ends. When you arrive at your destination, whether it is a business or tourist trip, finding a place to eat is a necessity. Nowadays visitors don’t look into the history or geography of a place, only the best place to eat, which they can find on their smart phones before they arrive and experience in their mind before they get there. 

When New York-based artist Jay Batlle dines out, he’s still on the clock, and in the present frame of mind. Of course, he’s at the restaurant to feast and imbibe and commune with friends. Upon the meal’s consummation, however, he poses a question he’s been regularly asking restaurant staffers for the past decade. They oblige, and a blank sheet of the venue’s 

stationery is carefully placed in his hands. He’ll return home, and on it, in watercolor and pen and wine and coffee grounds, he’ll express his thoughts — on the evening, the atmosphere, the idea of decadence and societal consumption and what fine dining has become. He can’t get there in his art until after the feast. His home turf is New York City, a place where the multiple courses of a feast acquire immeasurable dimensions. It is also a place where contemporary art created the biggest collision of mass culture and food: Pop Art consigned in the known works of Andy Warhol “Brillo Box” and “Campbell´s Soup”. High and low dance hand in hand, branding becomes fine art, accessible to the masses. 

It is curious that in the determined and audacious environment of New York City, Batlle champions the recovery of a more demure and local modernism, emulating “backroom artists” such as Herbert L. Brown and the famous illustrator of The New Yorker magazine, Ludwig Bemelmans. This gesture illustrates situations away from the stridency and excitement of the mainstream art world. Batlle draws from the imaginary of street life, and away from the glamour of large galleries and museums. His use of these artists’ work and the quotation of the modernist poster or affiche, allows him to recover residual forms of drawings and paintings that have been forgotten. With the formal structure of the poster, Batlle makes space for disallowing predominant readings. 

Batlle’s recent appropriation of Andy Warhol’s emblematic soup cans is similar. His treatment of this consumer culture signifier disintegrates into a splatter of paint. This is a clear expression of self-assurance and fully against the excessive commodification of goods. The restitution of the modernist poster on the part of Jay Batlle, attempts to reverse the most exuberant and magnificent physiognomy of Pop Art, sending us to another epoch: Abstract Expressionism. Mixed with the decorative elements of the classic style typography and the traditional format of the menu stationery, Batlle recreates a scene democratic to everyone. Contrary to the exaltation and magnificence of merchandise, it appeals to a more colloquial language, full of satire and sarcasm. 

Living in the actual moment: enjoyable, relaxed, spontaneous, and truthful. Within these activities the least adulterated past-time is eating and drinking, because it is frank, direct and immediate. But recently food stopped being simple. Cuisine has become more sophisticated and subtle, possibly surpassing contemporary art. It is a maximum expression of good taste. Not just content with a sandwich from the delicatessen, the publics’ refinement of taste grew into the modern cuisine leading to Michelin stars, and everyone talking about the enigmatic fifth flavor: umani. Is food the first conscious act of humanity? It is turning into the last link of cultural development for capitalist societies, far-removed from the experience of poorer countries? Without it would humans have no need to interact anymore, maybe this is Batlle’s art? 

It is only fascination on this side of the world, our noses pushed up against the petri dish of humanity. Free Lunch, the previous exhibition of Batlle’s in Chile, presented an idea free of charge, but now 7 years later with Closed For Business, Batlle’s emphasis seems to be focused on the sophisticated world of the gourmet and its growing absurdity. Maybe the idea of taste and the exquisite result of gratification with food have a primordial connection to happiness. Batlle is asking us to all take a break and enjoy ourselves, while everything is discounted because it is Happy Hour from six to eight. Cheers!

__2018 (Translated in English by Jab Lately and edited by Savannah Roberts)

FOOD, SEX, ART, MoMA PS1 Queens, NY 2017

Parody and irony are often used in his work, sometimes even adopting some perverted and obscene predispositions. Notably present is the criticism of consumerism. There are also openly vulgar erotic allusions to Herbert L. Brown paintings. With any parody, some form of mockery exists, pleasantry and prank mixed like a stiff drink. Batlle in no case ridicules. Rather he places the content in a different, penetrating point of view ~ no less effective than the openly nude paintings of Herbert L. Brown. Although it seems like a fun game, we are facing more thorny issues when we talk about art. This situation always manages to annoy us a bit but it also amuses us in a good way. 

Batlle’s menus go through the serial reproduction of an original or a modified copy. At first glance the audience does not know for sure whether it is an original or a modified menu. 

Below: Batlle’s Koon’s Hot Dog 46 

1 The suspension clause is a clause in the U.S. Constitution that protects the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus by not allowing to suspend the writ once issued. Likewise, suspension of the writ is permissible only on exceptional cases like rebellion or when it would amount to invasion of public safety. This clause is referred under USCS Const. Art. I, § 9, Cl 2. This clause reads as: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it”.

We presume by the menu’s appearance on his artwork that they are following the usual codes used by the restaurants, the same proposed at the beginning of a diner’s experience when ordering food. With some waywardness, Batlle insists time and again in this type of graphical mode, accentuated by the imprint of painting, graphics, drawing spontaneous and immediate, promoting the indeterminacy of the image and the senses. To quote Batlle; “People collect art with financial aspirations as well as aesthetic. I wanted to make a body of work that critiqued the branding of contemporary art or artists, specifically in painting, but at the same time champions the Epicurean and Dionysian aspects of being a painter, the “romantic ideal.” I think that through contradiction you can escape capitalism. I’m questioning why someone “likes” something; is it the nude reclining, the gesture, the color, the scale inthe picture, or did you happen to get married in the restaurant on whose stationery I drew on?”

At the current time Closed For Business seems to be a legal suspension clause4 only for societies of high consumption and it is a total contradiction in a shopping center where Batlle’s two solo shows were held in Chile. It is this flip of expectations that Batlle proposes on the occasion of his second solo exhibition, favoring the equivocal and the absurd. In the same way, the National Museum of Fine Arts does not charge access to the gallery, and emphasizes it on the door with a sign saying “free entrance.” It is one of the only truly free spaces in the midst of fast-food outlets, restaurants, cinemas and department stores. In addition, as a way to reconfirm this gesture, in this very catalogue, Batlle has decided to cross out the original title Closed For Business, and by way of a subtitle, he is offering a Happy Hour. In Chile this Anglicism was incorporated into popular jargon. It has no literal translation and was adopted several decades ago. Happy Hour is understood as a time of rest and relaxation after work or prior to a night out. 

Routine meeting spaces are of paramount importance to individuals, because it is a place to carry out a deal or to discuss a future project, and or even start a romance. 

Living in the actual moment: enjoyable, relaxed, spontaneous, and truthful. Within these activities the least adulterated past-time is eating and drinking, because it is frank, direct and immediate. But recently food stopped being simple. Cuisine has become more sophisticated and subtle, possibly surpassing contemporary art. It is a maximum expression of good taste. Not just content with a sandwich from the delicatessen, the publics’ refinement of taste grew into the modern cuisine leading to Michelin stars, and everyone talking about the enigmatic fifth flavor: umani. Is food the first conscious act of humanity? It is turning into the last link of cultural development for capitalist societies, far-removed from the experience of poorer countries? Without it would humans have no need to interact anymore, maybe this is Batlle’s art? 

It is only fascination on this side of the world, our noses pushed up against the petri dish of humanity. Free Lunch, the previous exhibition of Batlle’s in Chile, presented an idea free of charge, but now 7 years later with Closed For Business, Batlle’s emphasis seems to be focused on the sophisticated world of the gourmet and its growing absurdity. Maybe the idea of taste and the exquisite result of gratification with food have a primordial connection to happiness. Batlle is asking us to all take a break and enjoy ourselves, while everything is discounted because it is Happy Hour from six to eight. Cheers!

__2018 (Translated in English by Jab Lately and edited by Savannah Roberts)