There was a bed in almost every one of the 20 venues taking part in this year’s curated by. This was the sixth edition of the autumnal multi-venue gallery exhibition and as usual, a principle curator, this time the architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina, set the theme, ‘The Century of the Bed’, that was then dealt with more or less explicitly by a specially invited curator at each of the galleries. Besides beds themselves, the focus was more generally on the relationship between architecture and art, specifically the new centrality of the bed in the design of everyday life, with special attention to work: the internet, social networks, severing the link between what and where. According to Colomina’s theory, the bed is the new office. Rather than corridors full of desks, an armada of networked beds generate supine productivity, horizontal work, flat hierarchies and no distinction between work and leisure.
The variety of approaches to the theme in the individual shows was considerable, ranging from the barely engaged to the overwrought. Wake Up Early, Fear Death, a show of painting by Caitlin Lonegan, Rebecca Morris and Laura Owens, curated by Philipp Kaiser at Galerie nächst St. Stephan, contrived its link to the theme by interpreting the periodic declarations of the death of painting as intermittent sleep. Sabeth Buchmann’s Ready to Sleep (Working Title) at Galerie Mezzanin, on the other hand, centred on a sprawling project by Mina Lunzer exploring the history and present state of sleep research, while Jan Timme’s fantastic Z-shaped take on Warhol’s Silver Clouds floating against the ceiling like a flock of snores (ZZZZZ, 2014) supplied the necessary levity.
Although the bed is a place where we do one thing above all, i.e. sleep, we somehow still end up working (through things) in our dreams. And dream work was the focus of one of the exhibitions’ most impressive shows: Little Nemo curated by Max Hollein at Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman. The gallery’s rooms were wallpapered with the colourful pages of Winsor McCay’s comic series Little Nemo in Slumberland published in the New York Herald between 1905 and 1911. This was the setting for bulging, bombastic and, in this context, suddenly rather surrealist-looking objects by Franz West, Erwin Wurm and Tal R. In the back room, an actual bed featured – as in many shows – in this case a set of three by Walter Pichler (Schlafsaal, Dormitory, 1968) were joined by a brightly patterned Sigmund Freud Couch (1984) by Hollein’s father Hans. The casual knotting together of dream interpretation, amorphous surrealism and father/son references into psychoanalytical paradoxes was quite impressive.
Conspicuously, three exhibitions dealt with the rather general theme of ‘flattening’ via technology that Colomina’s thesis hints towards. Carson Chan’s Surface Modelling at Kerstin Engholm Galerie, for example, included a printed tatami mat by Britta Thie (Sorry, Sun, I stayed up last nite, 2014), pointing to the fact that for centuries, these mats have been used in Japan both to sleep on and as a work surface (making Colomina’s theory look decidedly ‘Western’ by comparison). Over the road at Galerie Andreas Huber, Kristina Scepanski curated Instrumental Assistance, for which Timur Si-Qin melted yoga mats onto aluminium supports and hung them on the wall like paintings (Melted Yoga Mat GAIAM (Gray3), 2013). Flat-screen TVs showed Jon Rafman’s CGI-rendered tours of the Lybov Popova and El Lissitzky Office Complex and the Juan Gris Dream Home (both 2013), as well as Tabor Robak’s hyper-precise and detailed CGI city views (20XX, 2013) that managed to generate depth out of even the thinnest surface (the press release spoke of ‘materiality’). The emphasis here on art that overwhelms via technical precision was not altered by the presence of the obligatory bed – in this case a camp bed by Tom Burr (Notes on Camp, 2011) in the back room with a resting copy of Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation (1966).
The principle of levelling was taken furthest by Luca Lo Pinto at Christine König Galerie. In Real Life consisted of nothing more than a gigantic billboard, already visible from outside through the window, which filled the gallery space immediately inside the entrance. The invited artists (Cory Arcangel, Tobias Kaspar, Adriana Lara, Marlie Mul and Gerhard Rühm, to name a few) each contributed one work, which was then not exhibited ‘for real’ but arranged on the billboard image as in a stylized exhibition space. Levelling was articulated here by the artworks themselves, making a very direct (though perhaps overly flat) comment on the discussion about mediated reception of artworks in the age of blogs like Contemporary Art Daily. To see such pieces, you no longer need to visit a gallery; you can look at them lying in bed, on your iPad. Ironically, this fact undermined Lo Pinto’s curatorial point.
Overall, curated by was at its most interesting (and its most challenging) when considered less in thematic and more in structural terms – as a strangely nested festival of exhibition making where the participating curators spent much time struggling to find the best way of responding to the thematic corset in order to avoid the trap of merely illustrating a predefined theory. In her show at Emanuel Layr, for example, Egija Enzule decided to push the matryoshka doll logic of the curated by concept one step further, presenting miniature versions of previous exhibitions by Josephine Pryde and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster as well as a show she co-curated in 2010 at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. In the back room, things got truly dizzying with a ‘greatest hits’ of Sarah Staton’s SupaStore (a kind of pop-up gallery that Staton ran during the ’90s in London and elsewhere) with work by Stephen Willats, Merlin Carpenter and Fiona Banner: the principle curator (Colomina), a gallery curator and an artist inviting other artists. The opposite approach was taken by Galerie Meyer Kainer: not only were curators dispensed with entirely, but with their focus on ‘Murphy beds’ (the kind that fold up into the wall) the two invited artists, Liam Gillick and Rachel Harrison, likewise made the overarching theme disappear before one’s eyes, until little more remained than Harrison’s strange ghost rooms created by stretching string between lumpy, coloured weights (Framing Devices, 2014). Both exaggeration and refusal can be appealing, or not – cleverly aware responses to the coordinates of one’s own inclusion or permanent hermetic self-mirroring ad infinitum. Either way, such approaches are certainly symptomatic of an event this conceptually overladen. Perhaps we should all just sleep on it.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell