Revived: Pierre Restany’s 1966 MAT Manifesto

by Will Brand on August 25, 2011 · 1 comment History

Dieter Roth, "Book CC Idea", (1958), Edition MAT collection 64. Image from Christie's.

[Editor's Note: Daniel Spoerri didn't invent multiple art. As with everything else, Duchamp probably did, editioning essentially his entire oeuvre in miniature for the boite-en-valise series (1935-1940). That said, Spoerri was certainly the next in line, forming, in 1959, a publishing house that was to be the first example of truly mass-produced multiple-original art objects, priced for the general public: Edition MAT. The record is unclear, but it seems MAT only operated for perhaps a decade before succumbing to financial pressures; in that time, though, it offered pieces by the foremost Parisian artists of the day - Duchamp, Tinguely, Vasarely, Agam, Soto, essentially all of that group centered around the Galerie Denise René - and it offered them at prices that worked for the middle class: Amsterdam-based multiples dealer Harry Ruhé attests that "[a] price list of 1960 from Gallery One in London informs us that all objects were twenty five pounds each.”

In an age when “affordable art” has become such a rallying cry for marketers, and when all art encounters multiplicity through digital reproduction, it seems strange that MAT isn’t brought up more often. The reason, though, is clear: almost nothing about MAT exists in English. The only recent book on the subject, produced by art historian Katarina Vatsella thirteen years ago, is in German and difficult to find; MAT’s manifesto, produced in 1966 by critic Pierre Restany, was released as an exhibition invitation, and reproduced in a 1973 issue of Domus in French only.

The lack of information I could, you know, read annoyed me for a good long while before I realized- hey, I can fix this. With the help of translator and arts writer Ashley Rawlings, MAT’s manifesto now exists in English. It’s not much, but it’s a start. -Will Brand]

Multiplication d'Art Transformable

A permanent manifesto of social art.

I.  MAT is firstly an adventure, an episode in the capricious career of a “beat” poet-dancer who is in a perpetual state of wandering, a well regarded topographer-alchemist who goes by the name of Daniel Spoerri.

Upon arriving in Paris in 1959, Spoerri set up the first chapter of MAT (Multiplication d'Art Transformable). It consisted of an edition of 100 original multiples, all signed and individually priced. To sum up, the artists were: Agam, Bury, Marcel Duchamp, Munari, Dieter Roth, Soto, Tinguely, Vasarely.[1] Subsequent editions were something approximating a mix of avant-gardist Pop and Op tendencies: Arman, Christo, Spoerri, Villagie, Baj and Lichtenstein; Mack, Le Parc, Morrelet, Talman, etc. Marcel Duchamp would later be joined by Arp and Man Ray.

II.  But the Spoerrian dialectic leads to a general idea: art as a social phenomenon. MAT is above all a manifesto/response to this problem, an affirmation of contemporary art's social calling.

The idea of original multiples is nothing new. Born out of the ambiguous visuals of a simultaneous diffusion of individual aesthetic pleasure, it was unviable. Fautrier proved it brilliantly in 1950. Ten years later the situation was different. Spoerri was the catalyst. The choice of the first line-up of artists is significant: whether it was through the intervention of the viewer-consumer, through mechanical animation, or through pure optical effect, the works chosen for the 1959 edition are organically and fundamentally multiples, theoretically infinite in their potential transformations.

Thus the full scope of the challenge that MAT presents becomes apparent. The multiplication of an artwork is a specific quality of the dissemination of its message, grasped in its inherent diversity: the creative urge facilitated by mass communication—art speaking to as many people as possible.

MAT clearly signifies the death of the unique artwork and a move beyond artisanal aesthetics. At the most profound level of contemporary expressiveness, the excellence of a piece of work has made way for the richness of information. As Yves Klein proclaimed, there are no technical difficulties, just answers. From the beginning, MAT was an act of faith, a creed for artworks that can be disseminated thanks to machines and by machines. Today, poets have joined artists in responding to this matter—Robert Filliou, Maurice Henry, André Thompkins—making ideas concrete, visualizing words, rendering syntax into the will of the reader-manipulator. The perspectives are clear: MAT, reedited in 1966 and enriched with MAT-MOT, is today's response to the anachronistic elements of the past that have survived; it's a further step toward the decommercialization of art—the logical corollary of its integration into society.

Pierre Restany

Paris, November 26, 1966.

[1] Works dated 1958 and edited in 1959. Exhibited in Paris by [Galerie] Edouard Loeb.

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