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A 21st-Century Artist Borrowing from Gertrude Stein

 The small, dimly lit back room of Jimmy’s No. 43 was crammed with fold-out chairs and chattering literati, in a scene resembling an afternoon gathering of friends. The back door to the East Village pub creaked open and shut, until finally 20 or so people took their seats for the start of the monthly Sunday Salon. Up to this moment, Filip Noterdaeme had been nervously pacing around in the tiny space, though he said he’d done this “a million times or so before.”

Noterdaeme, a Eugene Lang College professor and artist, was referring to the public readings he’d given since the publication of his first book, The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart  (Outpost19) in spring 2013. Neither fiction nor nonfiction, the faux memoir uses Gertrude Stein’s 1933 Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as a template, mimicking the writer’s style and tone. Both autobiographies chronicle the lives of a pair of expatriate lovers, one in the bohemian scene of Paris in the early 1900s and the other in New York during the social upheavals of the 1990s. Research Radio caught up with Noterdaeme to discuss how the art world has changed in the 80 years since Stein entertained luminaries in her famous salon in the rue de Fleurus.

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After graduating from the School of Visual Arts, Noterdaeme enrolled in the MFA program at Hunter College but ran into trouble: The department denounced his appropriations as “plagiarism” and dismissed him from the program. He reoriented his life toward literature and art education, writing a dissertation on Gertrude Stein, earning an MA from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, and working as a lecturer at The Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2003, he decided to once again test the boundaries of the contemporary art scene, and created the Homeless Museum of Art, or HoMu, a project intended as a commentary on the growing commercialization of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum. Noterdaeme installed a “museum” in his rental apartment, complete with a collection of artworks that functioned merely as props. He designated a stuffed coyote as the museum’s director of press relations and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 as the director of marketing.

Despite the humor inherent in his work, Noterdaeme gets serious when it comes to the contemporary art world’s embrace of corporate values. “The art world today is preoccupied with money. Money has always been involved, of course, but in the past, attitude dictated form in the creation of art. Now, it seems that money dictates form, which dictates attitude,” he told Research Radio. “We are at a time when the banker has become the artist, almost making the artist superfluous.”

Back inside Jimmy’s No. 43, Noterdaeme finally took the stage. “There is much I could say about the creation of this autobiography,” Noterdaeme began, “not the least of which is the influence of Gertrude Stein’s own autobiography, published 80 years ago. But it’s best to leave the reading of this particular passage to my counterpart and partner in aesthetic crime, Daniel J. Isengart. It is his story, after all.” A slender man stepped onto the stage, picked up the text, and began reading. “And now I will tell you how a Belgian and a German happened to form a creative bond of which the New York art world at that time understood nothing.…”

Find Filip Noterdaeme’s Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart here.

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Research Radio is a New School podcast series that explores academic inquiry at the university. Our faculty and students have been researching pressing social and scientific issues, from sustainability to psychology to politics, for nearly a century–and now you can hear about their latest findings. 

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