MARIANA ROQUETTE TEIXEIRA: When motion gives way to motionlessness – Recollecting exhibitions and events

Over the last few years, we have seen an increasing number of exhibitions that “revive” past exhibitions. The variety of cases shows different displaying strategies developed according to the overall goal of each exhibition. Some of them intend to highlight the historical, cultural or artistic relevance of a particular event. Gerhard Richter’s “Volker Bradke” exhibition (Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, 1966) was, for example, recreated in “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2009), showing the way Richter explored different media and answered to American Pop art. The re-enactment featured some of the works exhibited in 1966 and an accurate reproduction of Konrad Lueg’s floral pattern that covered the walls of the gallery as part of “Hommage an Schmela”, a tribute to the gallery owner, in which Otto Piene, Sigmar Polk, John Latham, Heinz Mack and Joseph Beuys also participated. By recalling this one-day show, the curators Stephanie Barron and Eckhart Gillen alluded to the “Capitalist Realism” demonstrations and tried to present a wider picture of the Düsseldorf art scene, but the atmosphere around this series of events that one can feel through the photographs is unrepeatable and therefore, absent in the reconstruction.

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Reconstruction of Gerhard Richter’s “Volker Bradke” exhibition in “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures”. LACMA, 2009. © 2009 Digital Image Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource NY/Scala, Florence

 

The same occurred with “When Attitudes become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013” (Fondazione Prada Ca’ Corner della Regina – Venice, 2013), in which Germano Celant attempted “to resurrect”[1] an iconic exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann in 1969, by “transferring (…) [it] as an entity in its entirety”[2] to another place and time. When recalling his visit to the “original” exhibition, Hans-Joachim Müller stated: “(…) what we remember most of all is the general impression, the unmistakable Attitudes picture, an art arena that, even after the matador had left, did not seem to cool down, and in which the things left behind were a testament to unspent energy.”[3] It seems that Szeemann had achieved his aim: “(…) to bring the intensity of the experience with the artists into the framework of the museum without a loss of energy”[4]. However, this major feature is not “transferable” or possible to “resurrect”, as Celant “version” proved.

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Opening of the exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013” exhibition at Fondazione Prada’s Ca’ Corner della Regina, Venice, 2013.

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Installation view of “When Attitudes Become Form”. Kunsthalle Bern, 1969. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Photo: Balthasar Burkhard © J. Paul Getty Trust

In 2011, the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam) presented “Recollections” (2011-2012) a self-reflexive project that aimed to fully exploit the potential of its archival materials. It remembered William Sandberg’s and Edy de Wilde’s tenures as directors of that institution, by revisiting some groundbreaking exhibitions, including “Bewogen Beweging” (1961), “Dylaby” (1962) and “Op Losse Schroeven” (1969). In these shows the archival materials were displayed together with a number of artworks from the Stedelijk’s collection, as well as remains of some ephemeral works.

Meaning and value questions arise when remains of live events and participatory projects conceived for a single presentation are displayed as a way to recall them.

An early example of this practice can be found in the section “Hommage à New York” of the exhibition “Paris-New York 1908-1968” held at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1977. This great show brought to light the importance of the exhibition as medium and event to the understanding of modern and contemporary art by reconstructing and evoking past exhibitions.[5]

In order to evoke the 27 minutes performance that took place in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (March 17, 1960), there were gathered, for the first time, three preparatory drawings and six fragments from “Hommage à New York”. Those inanimate pieces were initially kept as mementos by Tinguely as well as Billy Klüver and Robert Breer, who have also worked on the project. They were elements of what Jean Tinguely had defined as “(…) a machine that makes spectacle, (…) a sculpture”, something that “(…) makes pictures, makes sounds (…), a poet, a declaration”, in sum, “a situation”.[6] Thus, the artwork and its first and unique appearance, once it self-destructed, were inseparable. The most obvious way to recall this event would be the presentation of photographs and films, however Pontus Hultén and his team of curators decided to experiment a different way.

The remains of the “machine that makes spectacle” were displayed at the Centre Pompidou side by side on a plinth as relics. They were no longer part of the ever-changing reality as Tinguely expected. Instead of being dismantled, they entered the museum and become fossilized. The result was a subversion of the artist’s original intention. The cycle was broken and those dead mechanisms take on a new meaning and a new value.

The preparatory drawings functioned as elements of birth and the inanimate pieces as elements of death. Together they were a testimony of an “existence”. Were they able to evoke the energy, the movement, the life, in sum, the essence of that work and past event?

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Fragments of Jean Tinguely’s “Hommage à New York”. © Pôle Archives du Centre Pompidou

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Jean Tinguely’s “Hommage à New York”, Museum of Modern Art in New York (17 March 1960).

Three decades later, in the exhibition “Recollections” (2011), this practice was explored once again, but this time differently. In this case a self-reflexive analysis about past exhibitions was combined with a discussion on the ways of remembering exhibitions and the processes of archiving.

Photographic material along with a number of remains, kept by the former Stedelijk curator Ad Petersen, were used to evoke Niki de Saint Phalle’s contribution to “Dylaby – Dynamic Labyrinth” (1962). Her environment consisted of a shooting range with a group of three-dimensional prehistoric monsters and plaster mannequin heads, which trembled and rotated slowly. The movement was generated by an electric mechanism conceived by Tinguely. A number of bags full of paint were suspended from the upper part of the environment and the viewers were invited to fire air guns at them. Everything was white in order to be coloured by chance and gunfire.

Time has passed and the gun used by the visitors in former times to shoot at the bags is displayed in a museum showcase, and a plaster head become a motionless remain hung on the wall. These conventional modes of displaying reinforce the distance between past and present.

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“Dylaby: Dynamisch Labyrint” catalogue. Stedelijk Museum, 1962.

How to present objects not as art or relics, but as references to a particular event? According to Harald Szeemann the solution is to find what he called “the right position of reference”[7]. But that is not an easy task.

The Stedelijk Museum assumes the fragilities of this kind of presentation by raising the following questions: “Are these elements artworks or archival material, now that the original piece no longer exists?”, “What do they tell us today about the exhibitions of which they were once a part?”.

One can find the answers to these questions in one of Saint-Phalle’s statements: “The result doesn’t really interest me except as a document or a photograph. The only thing which really interests me is the spectacle, the event itself.”[8] That is no doubt that those remains kept as mementos are archival materials, but are they being displayed as such? How far can a curator go with this kind of material?

One thing is for sure: every little curatorial choice is crucial to avoid misinterpretation.

 

Mariana Roquette Teixeira


Notes:

[1] Germano Celant, A readymade: When Attitudes Become Form, 2013. http://www.prada.com/assets/cacorner/donwloads/press/en/08/2013_FP_4_WABF_Essay%20Germano%20Celant.pdf [accessed 10.11.2013].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hans-Joachim Müller, Harald Szeemann: exhibition maker. Translated by Leila Kais. Ost ldern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2006, p.16.

[4] Katharina, Hegewisch ed. lit., L’Art de l’exposition – Une documentation sur trente expositions exemplaires du XXe siècle. Paris: Editions du Regard, 1998, p.372.

[5] About this issue you can read more here: Mariana Roquette Teixeira, History of Exhibitions on display: Paris-New York (1977) and the beginnings of a new practice. In Histoire(s) d’exposition(s) – Exhibitions’ stories (ed. Bernadette Dufrêne, Jérôme Glicenstein). Paris: Editions Hermann, 2016.

[6] D. A. Pennebaker’s film about the installation of Jean Tinguely’s “Hommage à New York”, http://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/design/100000000761945/tinguely.html [accessed 10.11.2013].

[7] Harald Szeemann, Zeitlos auf Zeit: Das Museum der Obsessionen. Regensburg Lindiger und Schmid, 1995, p.134.

[8] Niki de Saint Phalle, letter to Harry Mathews, 1961. Quoted in MALONE, Meredith Malone – Precarious Practices: Chance and Change in Nouveau Réalisme and Fluxus. In Chance Aesthetics. St. Louis: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University and University of Chicago Press, 2009, p. 54.

 

 

 

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