The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart

Filip Noterdaeme


Book, 20.2 x 12.5 cm, 351 p, language: English, publisher: San Francisco, CA: Outpost19, ISBN 9781937402488.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2025/523).

Literary synopsis

Technically a novel, but written in the wry memoirish prose of Gertrude Stein’s famous The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart traces the paths of two expat artists, Filip and Daniel, from their original countries of Belgium and Germany to New York City and fuses their destinies as lovers and partners in aesthetic crime and delirious invention in the city’s art world and nightclub scene. It is a portrait of a vanishing but never quite vanquished world: of conceptual artists, performance artists, patrons, art dealers, phonies, freaks, and drag queens. Part Bildungsroman (both come of age together as rather disabused but unbeatable believers in themselves and each other) and part Picaresque (taking us to after-parties, rich people’s happenings, and seedy Lower East Side burlesques), The Autobiography doubles as a permanent resting place for the author’s vagabond Homeless Museum of Art, a pastiche of the contemporary art museum that the couple housed inside their rental apartment in Brooklyn, New York. The result is a mixed-media distillation of love letter, homage, and farce.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart both repeats and completes Filip Noterdaeme’s Homeless Museum of Art (New York, 2003), a Gesamtkunstwerk that, like Marcel Broodthaers’s Museum of Modern Art (Brussels, 1968), transposes the language of museums into a lower key in order to make the muses dance anew. Appropriating one of the most famous autobiographies of the last century, The Autobiography uncovers a history of artistic thefts, from Marcel Broodthears to Gertrude Stein, that each in their own time contributed towards Noterdaeme’s propensity for permanent creation. Anyone familiar with Stein's writings will recognize that Noterdaeme’s book owes its title, structure and syntax to Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein’s original approach to the genre serves thus as a template for the creation of a thoroughly new reworking of the autobiographical genre, turning her modernist anti-biography into a postmodernist sequel.

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