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Issue 60 June-August 2001 RSS

3 in 1 Curatorial Mutiny, Part 4

Nylon, London, UK

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It’s a bit like a pyramid selling scheme. A gallery gets a curator; this curator gets two other curators; they get some artists to make or further curate some work; these works appropriate other artist’s works; and these works themselves further invoke yet other artists’ works. Or something like that. At least until a formal complaint is made, and the whole thing comes crashing down
- and whoever started it, now working on their tan at the side of a swimming pool, gets arrested.

There was a certain deliberate vagueness about this show’s origin - why, for example, it was ‘Part 4’ was never clarified. Its curators were Goshka Macuga, Gavin Wade (the author of a number of how-to-be-a-curator books) and Per Hüttner - the ‘3 in 1’ of the title. Wade seemed to be the prime mover, although it cannot be said that he originated the show’s premise, as there are precedents elsewhere. It’s the system itself that counts in pyramid selling, and the quality of any actual product - herbal pills, timeshare apartments or art
- is not the point.

The show’s ostensible device was the reciprocal relationship between the curators, each of whom provided a specification for all three to create
a work of art. Hüttner’s, for example, required that a work should be made which ‘visualises/makes problematic the relationship between macropolitics and fitness’. On this basis, he showed Who’s Living in the Past (1999?2001), a photograph of himself jogging in the opposite direction to a left wing demonstration; Macuga, with Heidi Kilpelainen, responded with Healthy Spirit in Healthy Body (2001), a parody of a fitness video; and Wade painted Speculative Fitness Chart No. 1 (2001), a sort of medical observation tracing the imagined relationship between art and society.

This apparent power sharing between equals was contradicted by the more vertical axis of the show
? a hierarchy of perpetuating power relations - over which the curators were less willing to spell out the details. Wade’s specification required the making of new support plinths to replace those of certain Constantin Brancusi sculptures. As there is nothing in the history of art that requires a new base less than a Brancusi does, this was, of course, a deeply artificial contrivance. Hüttner’s response, A New Support Structure for Princesse X (1) (2001) celebrates such artificiality. A large and unpleasantly egotistical photograph shows his penis sticking ludicrously through the sole of a shoe, on which rests a mirror reflecting the image of Brancusi’s sculpture - a joke on Pablo Picasso’s observation that the Brancusi looks phallic.

The whole effect is wilfully dumb and corrupt, and so, by Hüttner’s criteria, presumably a great success. This chain of highly affected mannerism was concluded, however, by Brancusi having appropriated something himself - the ‘primitive’. Even though faint and far away, the presence of such primary sincerity disturbed the self-conscious surface of Hüttner’s work like a troubling atavism.

It was such sincerity that threatened the show’s otherwise confident mannerism. Macuga and Kilpelainen’s technique was to poke it into submission using comedy. Polish and Finnish respectively, the two glittering stars have an excellent mastery of incorrect English and make ‘bad art’ very well. This, combined with Macuga’s failed attempts to stand on her head, makes for some thrilling TV. After jumping around like idiots and showing us how to make inept sculptures with Play-do, Macuga announces ‘You can even make your [art] into a pot and put flowers into it. So not enough it is a sculpture of healthy spirit, it always has flowers to celebrate the healthy spirit.’ Which, bearing in mind this is a piss take, is true - let’s hope the artworld takes their advice.

Macuga asked that everyone build an iceberg. Wade employed a number of artists to help him build his, and it looks like the cover of the Stone’s Beggar’s Banquet album, remade by a committee - actually, not so bad. Hüttner made a video, and Macuga made Iceberg (2001), a ten-foot pile of collapsed white paper displaying contemporary Inuit drawings within it. Nylon’s elegant new space, Macuga’s iceberg and its drawings all complemented each other well, with the pristine iceberg as the centrepiece of the show. The uncomplicated sincerity of the drawings - like the honesty of William Noah’s Fish Drying on Line (2000) - was not diminished by the usual insincerity, although, true to form, a certain curatorial aggrandisement was present. Macuga borrowed the Inuit drawing collection from Sheila and Jack Butler, who had included their own works amongst those of the Inuit.

Lowest down the curatorial food chain, then, the Inuit artists provided the show’s sustenance, nourishing everyone else - curators, subcurators, collectors, frieze reviewers and all manner of other circling predators.

Neal Brown

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First published in
Issue 60, June-August 2001

by Neal Brown

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