An exhibition curated by Mihnea Mircan with works by Agency, Nina Beier and Marie Lund, Pavel Büchler, Etienne Chambaud, Luc Deleu, Alison Gerber, Hilario Isola and Matteo Norzi, Ian Law, Alon Levin, Jill Magid, Benöit Maire, Navid Nuur, Jonas Staal, Mladen Stilinovic.
Developed over the last year, Mihnea Mircan’s group exhibition History of Art, the, addresses art history, and more explicitly how contemporary artists navigate and inscribe themselves in a future art history and how they negotiate their future interpretation and their translation as history. The exhibition brings together practices that explore the symbolic transactions, institutional protocols and historiographic disconnections between contemporary art and the discourse of art history. The works in the exhibition range from sculpture and installation to photography and video, and include new pieces especially commissioned by the David Roberts Art Foundation.
History distinguishes between objects and proposals that ‘stand the test of time’ and art that does not extend beyond the present it inhabits, that is captive to it, and hence unworthy of historiographic attention. But what happens when art is itself ‘the test of time’, if resilience or efficacy of works is to be measured in the time the works create, against a future they envision for themselves? The exhibition proposes that the future available to art is not the futurism of doom or the futurology of gridlock, not an allegory of ecology or technology, but the future of interpretation.
The exhibition suggests a time, right after ‘the contemporary’, when art and history, the present and its transcription as an art-historical past, unfold in simultaneity. The curator invites us to ask the questions: How will contemporary art works be recuperated, as indispensable to an understanding of our present artistic moment? How can they ensure their own relevance to art history and question its capacity to imagine the future? From the point of view of what they will mean, how and to whom, can works of art administrate themselves – and therefore become quasi-institutions?
The exhibition seeks to map the positions from which art-historical assertions – about the continuities between objects and subjects, institutions and selves, pasts and present – are made. Specifically, to do so across a spectrum of conditions that define the existence and legibility of the artistic object, from its intuitive possibility or inception to its disappearance from the artworld circuit. It inquires into the ways in which these links and reciprocities operate temporally or historiographically, and might define, imagine or fabricate a future. Beyond the symbolic transactions, institutional protocols and disconnections between contemporary art and the discourse of art history, the exhibition suggests a territory where separate timelines converge, a vanishing point where they can be reconciled interpretively, a time, right after ‘the contemporary’, when art and history, the present and its transcription as an art-historical past, unfold in simultaneity. Finally, the exhibition argues that the future that art has indeed access to is not an allegory of ecology or technology, but the future of interpretation. A future art history occurs in response to the conceptual instigations, interpretive claims, consequences and afterlives of present artistic objects.
Alison Gerber. Artists’ Work Classification, 2006. “There has been little systematic research on the daily labor of artists and, as a result, it has been difficult to say what it is that artists do. While individual artists have occasionally documented their activities, there has never been a standardized, comprehensive list of artists’ work practices that artists may use to describe their work. This classification fills that gap. (…) It is hoped that with future research and development the classification will become easier to use, more accurate and generalizable to artists working in more areas of the world.” – Preface to Artists’ Work Classification. The book uses standard social science research methods to document the everyday activities that artists engage in to produce their work. The entire print run was sent to 500 public, academic, and institutional libraries for shelving. For this exhibition, Artists’ Work Classification was loaned from Manchester City Library together with all the books it shares a shelf with according to the indexing system used by this library.
Hilario Isola and Matteo Norzi. Large Glass, 2010. The video presents a prologue to the artists’ project, for their exhibition at Art in General New York, running from April 23 to June 4. This scenography for a yet unrealized art work converges an invocation of Marcel Duchamp, and his explorations of “seeing through” the work, and a reference to Jacques Yves Cousteau’s project of livable underwater architecture, specifically his experimental underwater aquarium-cum-observation capsule off the coast of Sudan. On this stage, the action happens in the future anterior: the work for Art in General will have materialized as a double obstruction, via an interruption of the normal cleaning process in a fish tank at NY Aquarium in Coney Island, leading to an accumulation of algae on both the “screen” and the transparent polyhedron, and the invisibility of figure and ground in the “flooded museum”.
Alon Levin. Or Why Not Celebrate the Past Before the Future Will Come (account of a happening I). Or Why Not Celebrate the Past Before the Future Will Come (account of a happening II). Or Why Not Celebrate the Past Before the Future Will Come (account of a happening III), 2010. The work is an expansive visual archive, a database of protruding shapes that organize themselves according to covert systems and in the absence of the textual props that would anchor them to specific cultural or political narratives. The installation organizes and painstakingly classifies distinct geometries that flirt with plural interpretive possibilities, that evoke banners and emblems, abandoned meanings and reconfigured ideas, or that could simply serve to produce an infinite collection of monochrome paintings and sculptures. As the artist notes, “there is no defined front, back or side to the work. If seen as a timeline on the wall, it repeats and mirrors in all directions. Some surfaces are painted on both sides, other expose a back, but as a complete unit it does not face any direction in particular. The varying tones of color could read as inbuilt shadows, or, more significantly, as decay from exposure to light.”
Nina Beier and Marie Lund. The Remains (The Making of), 2010. A scale model of the gallery space in chalk stone is carved, over the duration of the show, into an image – a sculptural copy or model – of the exhibition, reproducing the topography of works and gallery furniture. The work seeks to locate the possible effects or afterimages of an exhibition across two categories of imprints: on one hand, a kind of retinal persistence, a blur of works and texts that vie for preeminence in recalling the experience of the exhibition, and, on the other hand, the mode of the archive that exhibitions of contemporary art in general gesture towards, the database where they would like to register. It materializes a question about the often unspoken links between curatorial ideas or aspirations and the discourse of art history, indirectly inquiring into a historicization of the present, with the exhibition as instrument.
Nina Beier and Marie Lund. (Calling – The Sunbathers) Loss and Cause, 2010. (Calling – Necktie and Navel) Loss and Cause, 2010. Belonging to an ongoing series, the two works are temporary replacements of sculptures that have disappeared from public and private collections: Jean Arp’s Necktie and Navel, 1931, present whereabouts unknown, and Peter Peri’s The Sunbathers, lost after being exhibited at the Festival of Britain 1951. The unfired clay models will be destroyed as soon as the originals resurface. The sculptures are made just before the exhibition opening and exhibited on the plinths upon which they were modeled, making the traces of their production emphatically visible. The project pursues Beier and Lund’s interest in cultural heritage, authorship, ownership and mediation: Calling… fills gaps in history with objects that can be understood as makeshift props or conservation models for an utopian archive of everything, or as artifacts in a growing museum of destruction, loss and entropy. They activate a complex discussion of the lost Original, functioning as neither its replicas nor its copies; they can only be temporarily owned, as the Original is temporarily unavailable to History.
Pavel Büchler. Bulgarian Group Portrait, 1999-2010. Palindrome No. 21 (After Sol LeWitt), 2009. The Bulgarian Group Portrait is a composite of all the compositional diagrams from the book Dutch Group Portrait: Compositional Characteristics, by Gregori Kostov, 1993. The palindrome is made up from a fragment in sentence 21 from the German translation of Sol LeWitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art: “Perception of ideas leads to new ideas.” Both works seek to define and locate a central point of experience, organizing themselves around an empty core – the point from where the artistic idea might surge, setting in motion the art-historical methodology and mythology that attends to this episode in the production of artistic work. Staging yet absent ideas, they question the paradoxical discipline (and rhetorical machinery) whose fundamental preoccupation has been to isolate the spark of artistic inspiration from the mass of historical material.
Etienne Chambaud. Counter-History of Separation (The Naked Document), 2010. The work bridges between History of Art, the and The Sirens’ Stage, Etienne Chambaud’s exhibition at the David Roberts Art Foundation between 19 March – 24 April 2010. Oscillating between “previous” and “current” show, and functioning as a layered afterimage of the former, the photograph documents a performance staged in Chambaud’s installation, one pregnant with art-historical implications. The glass covering the photograph has been treated to replicate the work To be titled (On Separation): the partial covering of the windows at DRAF for The Sirens’ Stage. It therefore conflates into one object two missed experiences, the performance not seen through the mediation of a work no longer there, and suggests an anteriority that keeps ramifying and advancing towards the future, as opposed to quietly awaiting historical investigation.
Ian Law. Prelims (2010). “Two interrelating units are installed across the gallery space, recasting the conceptual ground and physical dimensions of a previous installation, Prelims (2008). A painting made to fit the previous architecture is here edited; cut and repainted in relation to a new work that is itself made to fit the gallery space. Smaller works documenting the shift in scale and a specific transformation accompany each unit. These documents point to the ambulant nature of the working materials and latency of the painted elements fixed in the exhibition. Prelims (2010) investigates the space between surfaces through a system of associations that are reasserted upon the work. Painting is utilised as activity and the resulting works are installed in relation to formats of documentation that suggest other congruent activities.” – Ian Law
Mladen Stilinović. An Attack against My Art Is an Attack against Socialism and Progress, 1977. The work – a banner turned into a quasi-painting – claims to ally itself with the repression and censorship of Croatia in the 1970s. It attempts to insulate itself against criticism, even the criticism of said censorship, in the way totalitarian regimes do, by continually unmasking the enemy and portraying its vile nature. It sardonically emulates the existential and interpretive conditions of its own age and context and thus survives them, as a document of their brutality.
Benoît Maire. The Spider Web, 2006. The video documents a discussion the artist had with art historian and philosopher Arthur C. Danto. The screen remains blank, inviting viewers to imagine the scene, as Danto patiently begins to pull meaning from what appears to be an arrangement of objects in front of him: a mirror, a clock, a book, a reproduction of a Veronese painting. When Danto accidentally upsets the Vanitas, Maire suggests that this does not affect the work, which resides in encounter and exchange, in doubling and imagination, in testing the adherence of contemporary practices to the larger spider’s web of art history. This narrative of proliferating signification, referring the trope of the ‘unknown masterpiece’, the notion of iconography as a system of encrypting messages to the astute viewer, and the strategies used by contemporary art to disrupt these epistemological scripts, hinges on Danto’s own work, his thesis of the “end of art”: the termination of the Hegelian narrative of dialectical reconciliation and the beginning of art as philosophy.
Portrait of Alex Cecchetti, 2009. The work looks at the tradition of artists making the portraits of artist friends, as a site for double, indirect aspirations to be recuperated by history. The portrait of the artist is understood as a disguised generational self-portrait, as the assertion of a form of communality, transformed here into a disjointed discourse that flirts with illegibility and that resembles a code.
Mladen Stilinović. Work Cannot Not Exist, 1976. Using a strategy complementary to that of the banner, the prints articulate a refusal – and its reversal – of the conditions for the existence and interpretation of the art work. The double negation and its graphic negation operate at two levels: a question, after Duchamp, as to the possibility of making a work of art that is not a work of art, and a political reflection on what the converse of artistic work might be, on how work can evade non-work – that which discourages it to exist – or can exist as a permanent negotiation with that which threatens to obliterate it. Work and non-work are conflated into a definition that accepts its antonym, into the dispute between disjunctive rules.
Jill Maggid. Auto Portrait Pending, 2005. A contract signed by Jill Magid and Lifegem Corporation to turn the artist’s cremated remains into a one-carat diamond, in addition to an empty ring setting and a beneficiary contract – these constitute, for now, the work Auto Portrait Pending. The beneficiary contract hinges between the life of the artist and the post-mortem crystallization of her body in a way that affects both: Jill Magid is expelled of her body to the same extent that the beneficiary of the diamond-to-come is separated from the object of desire. The literalness of possession, gesticulating awkwardly toward its object, engulfs a work that belongs to no one, whose operation is to resist ownership. While the collector buys the simultaneity of non-body and non-diamond, the possibility of ownership and its interruption, the art historian is given an ellipsis of all tropes of inspired artistry, legally disarticulated and recreated, concomitant with the rest of the artist’s practice: between them, congruence will need to be written, or confabulated.
Luc Deleu. The Last Stone of Belgium, 1979. The work is both a manifesto etched in stone and a tombstone for monumentality. Declaring the closure of commemoration – or perhaps the inauguration of a “post-metaphysical” commemorative practice and its “nonumental” correlates –, it not only challenges the validity of subsequent monuments, but draws attention to what lies underneath the flurry of current memorial culture: in this case, Belgium’s colonial history, divisions and disparities, then and now. In relation to these issues, and the monuments designed to silence them, Deleu’s work functions as a permanent epilogue, one that can adhere to and upend any constructed timeline of commemoration.
Agency. Thing 001254 (For Pok), 2010. In 1979, Victor Vasarely instructed his assistant Valluet to enlarge the painting For Pok and to reproduce it on a grayscale from 1 to 10. After a dispute over payments arose between Valluet and Vasarely, Valluet claimed to be the author of the new painting. The matter was settled in court in 1983. At Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, the judge debated the authorship of the painting For Pok, trying to discern if the instructions given by Vasarely were just an idea for an artwork or already its expression; whether the instructions given by Vasarely were vague enough for the possibility of various interpretations to exist. The Tribunal ruled in favor of Valluet, and For Pok was deemed the work of the assistant alone. The work is here remade on the basis of the same instructions that Valluet received from Vasarely, proposing a discussion of how a judicial interpretation of a work might diverge from an artistic one.
Jonas Staal. Art, property of politics, 2010. Jonas Staal’s preference for a mode of artistic and political engagement that pursues the ultimate, most troubling and impure consequences of its own embeddedness, translates into a curatorial investigation of seven art collections, belonging to Dutch political parties. This reverses the classic institutional critique scenario, and engages the complicity between art and politics at the other end, by treating the political party as an art institution. The project inquires into the correspondences between the art collected and the ideological self-perception of the collector, and asks how this art will figure against the unfolding of our political future. On show here are works belonging to the Christian Democratic Appeal (a small clay figurine representing the importance of family values and faith), the Labor Party (a piece of a new kind of asphalt, more endurable under extreme temperatures, connoting stability, employment and freedom of movement for the working class), the Socialist Party (photos of a protest by harbor workers in Rotterdam that went on strike in 1979 to demand higher salaries), and Leefbar (“Livable”) Rotterdam (an image of tolerant multiculturalism, at odds with the ideological identity of the owners.)
Unless otherwise noted, the interpretation texts have been written by curator.
The exhibition is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam and the Ratiu Foundation. The Foundation would also like to thank the Romanian Cultural Institute for their support and assistance. The David Roberts Art Foundation is proudly supported by the Edinburgh House Estates group of companies.
Guest Curator for Curators’ Series #3. History of Art, the:
Romanian born Mihnea Mircan (b. 1976) curated the exhibition ‘Sublime Objects’ and the ‘Under Destruction’ series of interventions at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in Bucharest, Romania, as well as mid-career surveys of artists such as Jaan Toomik and Sean Snyder. He was the curator of ‘Low-Budget Monuments’, the Romanian Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennial (2007). His latest project is the exhibition ‘Since we last spoke about monuments’ at Stroom Den Haag. He contributes regularly to international publications, having recently written for monographs of Plamen Dejanoff, Mircea Cantor and Deimantas Narkevicius. History of Art, the is his first exhibition in London.
Mihnea Mircan is editing a publication, titled The Impresent, to accompany the exhibition. It is based on Nina Beier and Marie Lund’s The Imprint and is designed and sponsored by Åbäke.
Download exhibition leaflet here.