A Name in a Network: Constructions and Dissolutions of Identity in the Work of Philippe Thomas

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Hanna Magauer, Universität der Künste, Berlin, Germany


    The (de)construction of his own artistic identity is one of the main themes in the work of French post-conceptual artist Philippe Thomas (1951-1995). In the 1980s, it was all too apparent to Thomas that any critique of subjectivity in modernist and postmodernist art was still being promoted by careerist artists in a competitive field. Influenced by literature and language philosophy, Thomas saw in the visual arts a paradoxical conflation of art object, critical statement and artist persona. And so, in 1981, Thomas set up a confusing game with his name, in which one fictional “Philippe Thomas” criticized another person by the same name in letters and text works, or in which he sold his authorship to collectors and institutions. With his agency “Readymades belong to everyone®” founded in New York in 1987, Thomas offered to its collector base from France, the US, Germany, Italy and Spain, the service to “become great artists without the pain, anguish and poverty”. The proposed talk will analyze Thomas’s project in the context of his socio-historical environment. Influenced by artists such as Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, John Knight or Sherrie Levine, Thomas’s works often display the art world networks in which he aimed to inscribe himself. By looking at some of his activities in Paris and in New York, I will draft out misunderstandings and non-alignments between the French and American scenes, from readings of so-called French theory to queer activism. As I will argue, Thomas’s performance of non-identity is always aware of the impossibility to fully disappear as an author. The lecture analyzes this interplay and asks about the connections between Western art world centrisms, network imperatives and the queer play with artistic identity.