Mediamatic Magazine Vol.1#1 Tony Morgan 1 Jan 1986

The Media Explosive Years 1960- 1980

Autobiographical research into the meaning of media/medium.

At the beginning of the sixties I believe that many artists and poets who would have become painters in another decade, moved towards performance, video, photography and a very anti-museum quasi-political stance. The sixties and the seventies were the breathing space for the contemporary painter. We became the model, the landscape. We looked back into the eyes that scrutinised us. We moved within the pictorial plane, experienced touch, heal, warmth, agression, loneliness, hate and love. We became all those adjectives that previous painters, artists and admirers applied to their work.
We became the painting. 1)


Hotel Saint Denis Paris, Studio TM - Morgan, Tony. 1974. Published in Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 1#1 (1986)

I was living in Paris at the time, working on pieces for the show. 2)

Daniel Spoerri, on seeing the sculptures, remarked that they were too clean, too industrial and La merde, c'est plus beau! The same evening I made Daniel a small spiral sculpture painted a beautiful shit color. After presenting the work to Daniel the next day we talked of the idea to make a film about the life story of a beefsteak. Three years later in Krefeld, West Germany I made the film Beefsteak. I believe that this incident and my later association with Fluxus artists 3) showed me a way to explore the media explosive years of the sixties and seventies.

1) Tony Morgan Behind the Curtains 1984, unpublished text
2) Junge Englische Bildhauer Kunsthalle Bern arranged by H. Szeeman
3) TM made this film with Robert Filliou, George Brecht, Emmett Williams, and Dorothy Iannone between 1969 and 1972


1 A something intermediate
B a middle state or degree; mean
2 an intervening thing through which a force acts
3 any means, agency, etc., specif. a means of communication that reaches the general public
4 any surrounding substance in which bodies exist
5 environment
6 a nutritive substance, as agar, for cultivating bacteria, etc.
7 a person through whom communications are supposedly sent from the spirits of the dead
8 any material or technique as used in art
9 a liquid mixed with pigments to give fluency

1 A something intermediate

In 1969 Klaus Staeck organized a huge multi-media exhibition under the title Intermedia Heidelberg 1969 on his university campus.

My concern at Heidelberg was twofold. One, to work with the people present in a sculptural form and two, to fuse, also in a sculptural form, nature and an industrial product. From the fields around the campus we collected buttercups and fresh grass. In the showrooms I mixed the buttercups and grass with colored polyester resin, added the catalyst and hung them up to cook. 5)

I signed one of the student blocks (where they were housed) as a Block of People.

4) Collins Concise Dictionary definitions of medium
5) see photo and documentation Between 1 Kunsthalle Dusseldorf 1969

1 B a middle state of degree

Under degree I read two definitions: Any of the successive steps or stages in a process or series and Music, a note with respect to its position relative to the other notes in that scale.

In the late sixties was born the fallacy of the Unlimited Edition. This was a false concept of a number of artists that through producing an unlimited number of art objects or prints they were going to reach the 'unlimited public'.

The confusion arose through artists being unable to distinguish between the avantgarde and 'Kitsch' cultures. 6) Avant-garde art was 'art for arts sake', 'pure poetry', its content being dissolved into so complete a form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in party anything not itself (Clement Greenberg). Kitsch culture is a parasite and can only exist by feeding from a fully matured culture. In order to make an art object for an Unlimited Edition the artist was forced to make something that would appeal to the market. Pure poetry was sacrificed for the petty bourgeois needs of the urbanized masses (said in the forties and still appropriate).

Yet there are contemporary artists who have used kitsch images intelligently, mirroring the petty bourgeois obsessions with fake sensations. 7) Such paintings are a rather cynical laughter directed at the illiteracy of the urbanized masses. They have flung back into society its own sickness but without offering a remedy for their faked sensations.

True sensations, moods and pure poetry are, as commodities, difficult to handle. Society's market (the sale of kitsch culture) is mechanical and operates by formulas. 8)

The second quoted definition of degree points a way for the avant-garde that the artist could musically find his or her own sound relative to the other notes in that scale. Wittgenstein also mentions a need to find out about the flow of things.

The avant-garde, in the most literal sense, suggests being 'in front of others'. I personally feel that 'being in tune' knowingly to one's present mood and environment is a far greater challenge and that discovery of daily tranquility through my work is an essential aim.

6 Clement Greenberg Avant- Garde and Kitch, in: Partisan Review 1939
7) Polke comic strips, Richter candle paintings, Salle pornography
8) Clement Greenberg Avant- Garde and Kitch, in: Partisan Review 1939

1 B mean

Defined as halfway between two extremes

The creative act begins where the mind is no longet able to conceive the vision of something not yet made. The creative act is the bridge, halfway between two extremes, and the completion of the vision is the painting, the object, the video, the photograph or the event.

2 an intervening thing through which a force acts

This prompts me to ask the question:
What is the essential ingredient of an avant-garde work, whether it is an object, a poem, a painting, photograph or video?

That the created work, being original, has the force to provoke new thought within its particular field.

3 any means, agency, etc., specif. a means of communication that reaches the general public

I have partially dealt with this definition under 1 B

Between 1972 and 1982 I was a performer within the art 'world' and then later an entertainer in the theater. In the small theaters I was involved with looking for a means to communicate with the general public. It was impossible to use the same material in small alternative theater 'theaters' as I had used as a performer in the museums and galleries. The more I became entertainer the more uncomfortable I felt hiding behind a role. I felt that, as a performer, I had been able to experiment but as an entertainer I was forced to deliver a sort of satisfaction for the general public. My last show as an entertainer was in the Dankert Theater in Hamburg where I continually stepped out of the roles I had imposed on myself.

I was no entertainer.

My move towards entertainment was made with a sense of loosing something essential to my personal creativity - I was loosing the possibility to experiment, to discover. Performance within the arts can remain truly avant-garde because it is not designed to be consumed by the general public.

Etienne Decroux's theories and classes deal with the basis of European classical mime.

Many years ago Decroux arranged an evening to show his research into mime. After the first twenty minutes of the presentation he made a mistake and, being a perfectionist he began again.

It is difficult to remain a poet within a field whose general public demands to be entertained.

4 any surrounding substance in which bodies exist

An image that comes directly to mind is a small super 8 film I made of Henry Miller talking to an interviewer on TV. He was already in his eighties but still had the vitality of someone in his thirties.

He was swimming in his pool talking up to the interviewer ... you see what I mean? he kept repeating. His body was thin and emaciated, bottled with the strong voice of a young man.

5 environment

A definition being all the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or group of organisms.

In the early sixties there were many environmental sculptures. I felt their nature was architectonic, impersonal, too close to an industrial aesthetic. It was as if the sculptors of the sixties (especially the English) wanted to be accepted by the masses, so they began entertaining, making pretty intellectual objects, flirting with the general public. Yet Tony Caro's Early one morning and Philip King's Ghenghis Khan were excitingly fresh sculptures of the early sixties. King's attitude was that sculpture had to be close to nature and come out of a humanistic, pantheistic approach. In his Notes on Sculpture 9) King mentions: It seemed to me that in Greece the architecture grew so naturally out of the environment. It wasn't something just plonked down like a formula, it had emerged out of the necessity of people living there.

9) cat. Whitechapel Gallery Studio International Phillip King Sculpture 1960-68, June 1968

People and their immediate environment

The most elementary performance I have made was Peoples Presence in Aktionsraum Munich on the 20th February 1970. I would like to quote from Aktionsraum documentation: 10)

Gegenüberstellungsstück: Peoples Presence

Der Film Munich People 11) handelt von euch, vor der Kamera und mir, hinter der Kamera, euch anschauend. In dem Stuck Peoples Presence aber ist nichts zwischen euch und mir (zwischen du und ich). Nur ihr, vor mir und ich, vor euch und ihr vor der Person, die euch am nachsten ist.

Peoples Presence handelt van der Anwesenheit der Leute. Gesicht gegen Gesicht. Vis-a-Vis.

Leute, Leuten gegenübergestellt. Leerstelle. Nichts dazwischen. Ich schaue nach dem besonderen leeren Raum zwischen euch und mir (zwischen du und ich), wo wir beide Ruhe haben und frei von Zeit sind. Gemeinsam diesen Augenblick zu finden, wo es keine Zeit gibt. Dieser Augenblick der Ruhe und wundervollen Leere, wo wir uns berühren für eine Sekunde oder vielleicht (mag es) länger (sein) dieses Keine-Zeit-Land des Bewusstseins da zu sein.

In Peoples Presence schaue ich euch fur 60 Sekunden oder länger an. Da ist nichts zwischen uns. Was wir in der Zeit finden, ob diese Zeit geöffnet werden kann zu Nicht-Zeit, dessentwegen mache ich das Stück: Peoples Presence

The most elementary 'pure' film I have made is the Grass Projection where an empty 16 mm projector projected light into a corner of grass at Aktionsraum in Munich. Another 'pure' environmental or structural film was Black Corner. 12) The projector must be directed into the corner of a room where the light is 'painted out' with black paint (darkness).

10) Peoples Presence in: Book Aktionsraum 1 Munich, p.76
11) Munich People 16mm film B/W 20 min, shown on WDR 1969
12) cat. Prospect 1971 Dusseldorf Kunsthalle Black Corner 16mm film B/W 3 min

6 a nutritive substance, as agar, for cultivating bacteria etc.

Avant-garde culture, Ersatz culture, kitsch culture and now bacterial cultures.

I quote culture (Collins Concise Dictionary) without the adjectives:


1 cultivation of the soil
2 development or improvement of a particular plant or animal
3 a growth of bacteria, etc. in a specially nourishing substance (culture medium)
4 A development, improvement, or refinement of the mind, manners, taste, etc. B the result of this
5 development or improvement of physical qualities by special training or care (body culture)
6 the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a given people in a given period; civilisation

7 a person through whom communications are supposedly sent from the spirits of the dead

In the early seventies I was offered a free ticket to Greece. Within a few hours I found myself voyaging from island to island with a group of strange people on a private yacht. On the second island (Paros) we visited there was an ancient Greek town. I was not in the mood to visit empty streets and old stones. I decided to swim to a small island nearby. It was much further than I thought, so I looked for an islander who could row me back. The island was empty. I swam back to the main island arriving more dead than alive. When I had recovered I noticed a cave up in the hills behind the old Greek theater. As I climbed up to the cave I had a strange feeling of being one of thousands.

Inside the cave there was an oblong stone laying like a small bed at the back. Two huge blocks of stone formed the portals and a large oval stone was placed at the mouth of the cave. I began to see the oil flame burning outside the cave. I heard the voices and noises of a living town at the foot of the mountain. The oblong stone was a sacrificial stone. Standing behind the stone I began to see images, visions that did not seem mine. I was sweating and suddenly realised my body was shaking uncontrollably. I sensed something above my head and looked up. There was a channel through the rock up to the top of the mountain. I could see a small square of sky.

It was the closest I came, as a medium, to having communicated with the spirits of the dead.

8 any material or technique as used in art

To make the most obvious observation is that, after the media explosive years 1960-80 any material or technique can be used in art.


David Salle in using banal motifs such as sub-Disney cartooning, Afro-Cubist fragments, 50's style and Art Deco seems to be searching for a clash of styles (techniques), a kind of implosion that would lead to his own very personal way of painting. The clash of styles seems to me to have been more critically placed by Picabia at the beginning of this century. Picabia's work is far less secure than David Sale's, Each of Picabia's works stand on the edge of banality. Sale's work is more secure, his style of juxtapositioning saving his paintings at each step from the danger of failure. Each chosen motif relating always to another. Living in Paris in the early sixties I saw many Picabias and I was always surprised by his insecurity and innovation. Innovation and a closeness to failure seem to be the risks involved in searching for a new style. I admire the risks Picabia takes. 13)

The Collins Concise Dictionary gives us a beautifully paradoxical definition of style:

1 distinction in artistic expression
2 something stylish, fashionable

13) TM Manifesto The Object of Painting correction 8.001: Radical painting is to discover a style that need not change Amsterdam 1984

9 a liquid mixed with pigment to give fluency

I mentioned before Wittgenstein's concern with the flow of things.

The English watercolorists of the eighteenth century touched upon the momentary beauty of nature, of the glitter of wet leaves, charged clouds, green moisture of meadow, the moments passionate excitement. Constable, Alexander Cozens, Girtin and Turner tend to be seen only as the forerunners of a far greater internationally renowned movement Impressionism.

What seems to be historically totally overlooked is the unknowing or knowing interests of the watercolorists with the flow, fluidity of paint. Impressionism was an inquiry into the reflection of light and the isolation of color. Watercolourism was a movement of its own, researching the fluidity of paint. The same way Jackson Pollock later separated the brush from the paint.

Water-color is essentially a flat art. Its particular beauty and virtue is in its transparent delicacy, and in the freedom and freshness with which it can be spread in thin washes, or dropped in rich luminous blots or in the combination of areas of clear washes, in which the underlying nature of the paper is preserved, with limpid rich accents, happy-drying clots and strokes and dashes, distributed like sign posts 10 guide the eye through the design. The vehicle, water, is always the most important ingredient, and not the body of paint. 14)

I like the suggestion in the last line that the water, helping the flow of things is the most important ingredient. The watercolors were made in the flat in order to aid the fluency of the work.

I have spent time last month looking through examples of English watercolourists in the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Jackson Pollock studied and looked to his immediate predecessors -the cubist movement- for the basis of his imagery. I wish I could have been able to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum with Pollock and chatted to him afterwards about the flow of things.

A flow back to nature, perhaps.

14) H.J. Paris English Watercolor Painters, London 1945

If you'd like to quote something: Morgan, Tony. "The Media Explosive Years 1960-1980." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 1 # 1 (1986).