art-agenda has a thematic examination of gallery spaces online every two months, with the current feature being underground spaces.
Not so underground… Vienna Sezesion CC-NC 2014 Rob Shields
Barbara Sirieix notes that underground galleries include purpose built spaces such as the Städel Museum in Frankfurt as well as parking garages and appropriated and converted basement spaces where many artists also work because of economic considerations. These spaces often become part of artworks and installations.
The current exhibition at Large Glass Gallery, London, features a unique collection of 20th century art avant-garde ephemera. Posters, invitations, announcements, memo cards and photographs remind us of the networks of relationships between generations of artists and between exhibitions, performances and even commercial work. “DON’T FORGET” reads a page from Richard Hamilton’s block of notes, signed by Marcel Duchamp, elevating the slip to the status of art and confusing the boundaries between oeuvre and ephemera. Assembled by Arnaud Desjardin from numerous collections, these mementos of Marcel Broodhaers, Eileen Gray, Sol Lewitt, Yves Klein, Volf Vostell and many others are re-presented in a fine catalogue and accompanying poster.
We live in a time when ephemera has gone digital in the form of tweets and posts. At “DON’T FORGET,” the signature wit of twentieth century art, such as Hamilton’s a large paintbrush embossed “Hamilton Perfection” and tagged “Happy New Year Rita + Richard” neatly reminds us of not only remnants but the physicality of artistic media up until now. At the same time, the intangibility of artistic gesture is not just in the performance but also in the relations set up by the artist between ideas, words, everyday gestures and places. Scraps and notes, like the unsorted contents of a desktop, are not displayed as mere scraps nor as ethnographic fragments of past events. While some works are clearly art—prints, preparatory sketching and grey literature—other items expose rather the frames and scaffoldings around art, including lists, left-overs and envelopes.
The success of this exhibition is its ability to make us rethink the status of ephemera as art. Is this exhibition a history museum display, or is it an art show? Even the nostalgic will find that Desjardin’s show reveals art and the exhibitions themselves always were boundary objects. Looking back through the “Oculist Witness” of Large Glass Gallery, the geometric clarity of the twentieth century institutional definitions of art, collection, exhibition, curating, appear in a new perspective, in new relations to each other and to the artist and viewer. What is art? What are ephemera? What is exhibition? These are the enduring questions still confronting the new avant-garde.
Andrew Higgott and Timothy Wray, in their edited collection of essays on photography and architecture notes that In Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Vilem Flusser (review in progress) argues that humankind has been fundamentally altered by the advent of photography:
‘man forgets that he produces images in order to find his way in the world; he now tries to find his way in images.’ (Flusser p.7) Everything in the world now desires to be recorded, ‘to flow into this eternal memory, and to become eternally reproducible there. The result is that every event or action loses its proper historical character; tending to becomea magic ritual, an eternally repeated motion.’ (Flusser p.18) Photography and the modes of discourse that it institutes pervade contemporary architectural practice. At its most profound, the conception and practice of architecture has been fundamentally altered by the mode of seeing instituted by the camera. At its most superficial, much contemporary architecture can be seen to be conceived of, designed and then evaluated almost solely in terms of photographic imagery, whereby through digital imaging, buildings are designed around photo-realistic simulations of how they will eventually be made to appear in almost identical photographs.’ (p.3)