Annie Gentils Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium
The first room of Wesley Meuris’s exhibition ‘Collection Rooms – Constants and Variables (R-03.Q GC.4896)’ features a series of architectural floor plans (a sculpture garden, a mosque, a museum) along with two large, empty vitrines embedded in the gallery space. Each detail is perfectly designed to align with the manufacturing standards of industrial craft – the building plans, the printing technique, the frames, the display case, the woodwork, the paint finish and the lighting system. The gallery could easily be mistaken for an architect’s showroom to promote exhibition design for museums.
Although Meuris was educated in the sculpture department at Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design, he was also trained as a carpenter in a prefabricated-building company, where he later learnt to master engineering techniques, management strategies and architecture software. This practice allowed him to build and customize full-scale sculptural replicas of manufactured and regulated environments in his Antwerp studio, starting in 2004 with sanitary furniture (urinals, swimming pools, aqua-theatres) and, from 2006, zoo cages.
Using the conceptual tropes of bureaucracy and the sculptural austerity of minimalism, Meuris’s exhibition brilliantly escapes the usual lineages of art history by employing his own ‘irrationally rational’ classification methodology, which he has been developing since 2004 in his ‘Zoological Classification System’ series. All the exhibited items in the show are branded under the name of a curious organization called FEAK (Foundation for Exhibiting Art and Knowledge), described in an accompanying publication as ‘the enterprising loan program that makes art available for everyone’ – in other words, a company that collects, lends and promotes exhibitions instead of art works. Even more disorientating for the audience are a series of computer-generated renderings depicting the building structures of thematic exhibitions organized by FEAK, such as ‘Art in Belgium after 1977’ or ‘Highlights of Constructivism’, including a legend of the facilities, the art works and the exhibition team.
The code mentioned in the exhibition title – ‘R-03.Q-GC.4896’ – belongs to the Exhibition Classification System (ECS) of FEAK, which Meuris also created. According to a chart provided in the publication, R-03 stands for ‘monographic exhibition’, Q-GC refers to ‘commercial gallery’ and 4896 was a random serial number that Meuris assigned to this show. The FEAK foundation began to absorb the artist’s own production on the occasion of his spectacular solo project last year at Casino Luxembourg, ‘R-05.Q-IP.0001’ (2012). The publication on FEAK edited by Meuris as part of his academic research on the relationships between exhibition and knowledge provided an in-depth study of the organization’s activities – its magazines, seminars, fairs and biennales along with charts, floor plans, advertisements and theoretical interviews with well-known exhibition historians such as Mary Anne Staniszewski and Charlotte Klonk.
The last part of the exhibition focused on the marketing strategy of FEAK – posters and entrance tickets for exhibitions such as ‘Glories of Ancient Greece’, ‘Sex at the Museum’ or ‘The Great White Journey, the first open air biennial on the seventh continent at minus 30°C’. Although Meuris’s classification system and institutional apparatus look strict and rigorous, there is always an ‘administrative funkiness’ that is tempting to relate to a Belgian tendency toward eccentric conceptualism promoted by artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, the Agence collective and Jasper Rigole. Meuris exhibits the systems of knowledge as such, concentrating on the architectural patterns that shape our gazes and behaviours. The replicas of museum vitrines in the show (Collection Rooms, 2012) are left empty, with only labels referring to absent artefacts taken from historical exhibitions. Behind the display case, a large green wall is mounted atop the original one to look fully integrated within the gallery space – a ghost in the museological shell suggesting a fresh departure from post-institutional critique.
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