Philippe Thomas

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Exhibitions at Jan Mot

19/05/17 - 15/07/17

Galerie Claire Burrus, Carine Campo, Michel Grandsard, readymades belong to everyone®

13/09/14 - 31/10/14

Mario Garcia Torres, Robert Morris, Philippe Thomas
A situation in which an argument can be discussed

“Imagine that an author…” – A few words on Philippe Thomas

by Émeline Jaret, December 2021

Philipe Thomas (1951-1995) is a French artist renowned for his rigorous body of work, which in his own words, called for a ‘revision of author’s rights’. For over fifteen years, he relentlessly probed the authorial authority of his work by operating an all-encompassing fiction lodged within the reality of the art world. He first formalized his critical approach to the art system by devising a fictional artistic movement, le Fictionnalisme (1985-1987), before creating a service agency  – readymades belong to everyone® (1987-1993).

After studying philosophy and literature, Philippe Thomas developed a multidisciplinary and citational artistic practice, adhering to a conception of art as a research process. To use Daniel Soutif’s terminology, he conceived his practice as a ‘language experiment’. From his earliest works in 1977, Philippe Thomas attempted to interrogate the discursive nature of art making – his approach was marked by an ambition to devise a form of ‘writing of events’ (une écriture des événements). Each one of his projects reflects the conditions surrounding the artwork’s coming into being, with every single component partaking in a larger narrative. As he wrote it himself:

Imagine that an author, in order to express himself in an original manner, takes on to   create a fiction that he would inscribe within the reality of the world, instead of confining it to the boundaries of a book or a tableau. He could decide to attribute his authorial function to others who would thereby become actors, if not characters…

With great precision, this phrase formulates the hypotheses that Philippe Thomas tested out through his approach, which consisted in a protocol whereby the buyer of his work was required to sign the piece and take on the authorial responsibility for it. This statement written by Philippe Thomas in 1990 for the catalogue of the exhibition “Feux pâles”, is itself conveyed through someone else’s voice. Sampled from a discussion between the author’s rights specialist Bernard Edelman and the collector Jacques Salomon, the statement is attributed to the latter, though it was in fact written and uttered by Philippe Thomas, and eventually signed by Salomon to fulfill the requirements of the fiction. This delegating of authorship actualizes the disappearance of  Philipe Thomas as an author who gets replaced by the signatory-collector. The signatory, whether it be a private individual, a public or private institution, becomes a character in Thomas’s fiction.

This ‘art of society’ as Philippe Thomas called it, proceeds from a conception of art as a social game. As early as 1981, his work takes the form of a fictional dispositif in un manuscrit trouvé (a found manuscript), concretized in 1985 in Sujet à discrétion (Subject to discretion) and through le Fictionnalisme, and systematized in 1987 with the creation of the agency, readymades belong to everyone®. Founded at New York’s Cable Gallery, and in a second time, in Paris at galerie Claire Burrus, the agency developed internationally through numerous projects. Each project implied a double reading that willingly added to the prevalent ambiguity, and aimed to blur the boundary between the work and its margins. Philippe Thomas closed his agency in 1993, having collaborated with over sixty signatory-collectors as his many heteronyms. In his last piece of writing, he reinstates his name as that of the author. In May 1995, the national newspaper Libération publishes an article titled “Le Cinéma, quelle histoire!” (Cinema, what a story!), signed by Philipe Thomas himself – his first official reappearance since 1985. A few month later he died of AIDS-related complications, having had just enough time to conduct a series of interviews with Stéphane Wargnier, where he provided many clues for the understanding of his work* – a fiction that became a reality and  continues to unfold twenty-five years later.

* “Entretiens entre Philippe Thomas et Stéphane Wargnier” edited and presented by Émeline Jaret, in Paul Bernard, Émeline Jaret, Philippe Thomas, Stéphane Wargnier, L’Agence, Geneva, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, 2021.

Since 1995, the estate of Philippe Thomas is administered by Claire Burrus (executrix testamentary), accompanied by Émeline Jaret since 2008, and represented by Jan Mot since 2012. Two significant retrospectives of Philippe Thomas’s work have been organized with the generous help of many friends of the artist: in 2000-2001 at MACBA (Barcelona, Spain) and at Le Magasin (Grenoble, France) ; in 2014, at MAMCO (Geneva, Switzerland). An anthology of Thomas’s writing was published in 1999, presented by Alexis Vaillant: Sur un lieu commun et autres textes (MAMCO, Geneva). Émeline Jaret’s doctoral thesis (Sorbonne University), which presents the first comprehensive analysis of Philippe Thomas’s body of work (1977-1995) is currently getting published (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, France).

Works (1985 - 1995)

This section of the page presents a selection of individual works conceived by Philippe Thomas as well as exhibitions and publications that are equally part of his artistic practice.

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Claire Burrus, Sujet à discrétion [Subject to discretion], 1985, 3 framed color photographs and 3 title cards with text: “ANONYME la mer en méditerranée (vue générale) multiple”, PHILIPPE THOMAS autoportrait (vue de l’esprit) multiple” “CLAIRE BURRUS autoportrait (vue de l’ésprit) pièce unique”, photographs: 65 x 80 cm (each), title cards: 4 x 12 cm (each), unique, installation view Philippe Thomas at Greene Naftali, New York City, 2017 (organised in collaboration with Jan Mot, Brussels and Claire Burrus, Paris)

Fictionnalisme : une pièce à conviction, Galerie Claire Burrus, Paris 1985, 40 p.

Installation view: Fictionnalisme : une pièce à conviction at Galerie Claire Burrus, Paris 1985.

readymades belong to everyone®, Display, 1987, 9 color photographs mounted on black plexiglass, 70 x 50 cm (each), installation view of the opening of the agency readymades belong to everyone® at Cable Gallery, New York City, 1987

readymades belong to everyone®
advertising, advertising, 1988
black & white photograph, framed
157 x 123 cm
edition of 3 and 1 A.P.

i ready made appartengono a tutti®, Pubblicità, pubblicità, 1988, black & white photograph, framed, 157 x 123 cm, edition of 3 and 1 A.P., installation view at Jan Mot, 2017

Carine Campo ®
097130 278010, 1990
acrylic on canvas, grey on white, title card with text: “CARINE CAMPO ®”
97 x 130 cm (canvas), 4,5 x 11 cm (title card)
unique

Installation view Hommage à Philippe Thomas et autres œuvres augmenté de L’Ombre du jaseur (d’après Feux pâles) at MAMCO, Geneva, 2014, photo: Ilmari Kalkkinen

Installation view Galerie Claire Burrus at FIAC, Paris, 1988

Laura Carpenter, Insights, Galerie Claire Burrus, Paris 1990, 78 p. (English version published by Gallery Curt Marcus, New York City 1989)

Edouard MERINO
Insight, 1989
cibachrome print on aluminum,title card with text: “EDOUARD MERINO Insight 1989”
photograph: 120 x 180 cm, title card: 4,5 x 11 cm
edition of 3

Installation view Hommage à Philippe Thomas et autres œuvres augmenté de L’Ombre du jaseur (d’après Feux pâles) at MAMCO, Geneva, 2014, photo: Ilmari Kalkkinen

Feux pâles : une pièce à conviction, CapcMusée d’art contemporain, Bordeaux 1990

Installation views Feux pâles at CAPC/Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 1990

readymades belong to everyone®
Thinking of…, 1993
color photograph and title card with text:
“Laura Carpenter, Bruna Girodengo, Christophe Durand-Ruel, Dominique Pollet, Vincent Wapler, Paolo Vitolo, Denyse Durand-Ruel, Michel Grandsard, Jacques Salomon, Alexandra Tacke, Georges Verney-Carron, Tullio Leggeri, Jean-Louis Froment, Luciano Inga-Pin, Bertrand Lavier, Simon Salama-Caro, Eva Felten, Branislava Dekanic-Srenger, Massimo Minini, Marc Blondeau, Claire Burrus, Alain Clairet, Daniella Betta

THINKING OF…

Benoît d’Aubert, BDDP, Armand Bartos Jr., Bruce A. Beal, Donatella Brun, Caisse des dépôts et consignations, Carine Campo, Céline Cazals, Jay Chiat, Chiat/Day/Mojo, Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Dolci dire & Associés, Gilles Dusein, Christine Fain, Yvonne Fischer, Dorith Galuz, Josée Gensollen, Ingvild Goetz, Stephan Goetz, Manuel E. Gonzales, Mirèse de Gunzburg, Ernst Ulrich Hertel, Bruno Hoang, Jederman N.A., Serge Klugman, Barbara Krakow, Leagas-Delaney, Werner Lippert, Edouard Merino, Albert Moulonguet, Serge Müller, Giancarlo Politi, Arend Oetker, Rottke Werbung, Sabine Schütte, Jacques Toulorge, TBWA Milan, Jozef Zander.

(Venice, June 10th, 1993)”

127,5 x 158 cm (photograph), 20 x 20 x 0,4 cm (title card)
edition of 3

Works (before 1985)

Philippe Thomas Spensem 1978

Philippe Thomas
Spenserm, 1978
7 typewritten pages, cardboard cover,
31 x 21,4 cm (each)
ed. Katia Pissarro, Paris

Biography

Philippe Thomas

1951 (Nice) - 1995 (Paris)

View full biography

News

14/03/21
Philippe Thomas Agency

Created by the French artist Philippe Thomas, the communication agency called readymades belong to everyone®, for its American version inaugurated in 1987 in New York, and les ready-made appartiennent à tout le monde®, for its French version, is an entrepreneurial structure behind which the artist disappears. MAMCO owns all of this agency, which ceased to operate in 1995. The book The Agency (L'Agence) is the first systematic and exhaustive study of this enterprise which has radically questioned the figure of the author. The book also contains the last unpublished interview with Philippe Thomas, which provides an understanding of the profound coherence of his artistic project. Includes also texts by Paul Bernard and Emeline Jaret. Published by MAMCO in 2021 in both French and English version.