Curated by Gavin Wade (with Céline Condorelli and James Langdon), the first iteration of ‘Display Show’ (it will travel to Eastside Projects, Birmingham, and Stroom Den Haag, the Hague, over the next year) looked anew at avant-garde exhibition-making, whilst simultaneously stressing the politics inherent in its contemporary forms. One important reference point, the De Stijl group, prioritized the synthesis of life and art; another – the Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer – created the ‘Universal’ typeface, which eliminated the need for capitalization. ‘Display Show’ reconsidered these utopian propositions and, by extension, the modernist project more broadly. Its embedded working method, which has been integral to many of Wade’s artistic and curatorial projects at least since ‘This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things’ (2009), works to foreground the possibility of display’s transformative role within a contemporary public sphere.
Throughout, individual but scarcely demarcated works appeared to seep in and out of each other: works by Flore Nové-Josserand (Thoughts on the conceptualization of space and mechanisms of display, relative to subjectivity and emotion, in schematic form, with reference to [Herbert Bayer] [Frederick Kiesler] [Lina Bo Bardi] [Eileen Gray] [Adolf Krischanitz] [El Lissitzky] [Carlo Scarpa] [Franco Albini] among Others. Temple Bar Version, 2015) and Eilis McDonald (Numinous Objects, 2010-2015) were mounted on top of Wade’s Z-Type Display Unit (After Kiesler & Krischanitz) (2015). Wade’s sculpture, in turn, referenced both De Stijl designer Frederick Kiesler’s L+T display units (1924) and architect Adolf Krischanitz’s mobile wall system, created for the renovation of the Vienna Secession in 1986. The size and position of Andrew Lacon’s wall-based work, A Display for Sculpture 07 (2015) was dictated by Wade’s – admittedly counterintuitive – proposal for the location of the gallery’s new entrance, on the internal back wall of the space. One of Condorelli’s pieces, Sound of the Swindelier (2015) comprised a 20-minute ambient recording of her studio, the sounds of work and daily life blurring with the noise from the lively Dublin streets outside the gallery space: a nod to Kiesler’s holistic approach to exhibition-making. Similarly, Christopher William’s Hortenkachel (2013), an abstract representation of a type of brick used in German buildings to eliminate the need for windows, worked in symbiosis with Wade’s luminous Mobile Wall System with two permanent pole positions (After Krischanitz & Kiesler) (For Christopher Williams) (2015) – on which it was hung. Throughout the exhibition, a kind of humility pervaded, with the sense of each component playing a part in an organic whole. Within a dominant culture of individualism – perpetuated by strategies of subjective display – this subjugation of the individual to the whole was refreshing.
The extent to which our sense of self is bound up with forms of display formed an omnipresent motif. McDonald’s digital video work, Numinous Objects (2010–15), reconfigures the subject as an indiscriminate compendium of things: cardboard boxes, buttercups, opals and bottles, alongside other miscellany. Evocative of the rolling advertisements at urban bus stops, the objects slip up the screen, miming our unquenchable – if distracted – parsing of contemporary technology. Similarly, Yelena Popova’s The Collector’s Case (2015) comprised a metal flight case modified so as to extend, snake-like, out over the gallery floor. Stemming from the imagined life of infamous collector Cornelius Gurlitt, its individual compartments are lined with a series of abstract and esoteric canvases. Alluding to the priceless artworks seized from Gurlitt’s unassuming Munich flat in 2012, here the demand that art be seen rubs up against personal desires for its possession and containment.
The work functions almost like an uneasy self-portrait, unravelling somewhere in the gap between public and private space. The work of avant-garde theorists of space, who embraced the museum as an integral site for the formation of a renewed public sphere, is referenced throughout ‘Display Show’. With their legacy in mind, questions of form and function within contemporary space take on a renewed political urgency. As this exhibition showed, the spaces of art might again be instructive in this regard.