BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 05 MAR 14
Featured in
Issue 161

The System of Objects

BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 05 MAR 14

‘The System of Objects’, 2013, installation views

The publication that accompanied ‘The System of Objects: The Dakis Joannou Collection Reloaded by Andreas Angelidakis’ consisted of a page-by-page facsimile of a worn copy of Jean Baudrillard’s seminal 1968 guide to consumer capitalism, The System of Objects, photographed with an iPhone 5 under blue Aegean skies. The reader encounters phrases underlined (among them ‘Man is not “at home” amid pure functionality’), in the midst of what might be smears of sun-cream, 3D architectural plans of the DESTE’s galleries and hundreds of low-res images superimposed upon the text in the manner of a Tumblr or Pinterest page, all of which correspond to a work of art, fashion or furniture design acquired over the last three decades by Greece’s foremost collector of such things. With this palimpsest, the exhibition’s curators, Angelidakis and Maria Cristina Didero, describe a mutation in our relationship with objects since the first publication of Baudrillard’s book. While 20th-century consumer behaviour, for the French philosophe, was essentially fetishistic in nature, in the 21st century capitalism’s sympathetic magic does not always depend on the ownership of a commodity – sometimes merely tacking it, or rather its weightless image, onto the fabric of one’s digital life is enough. Such practices are not so much collectorly as they are curatorial. With ‘Reloaded’ (the term recalls part two of the 1999–2003 Matrix trilogy, which drew with much breathless pomp on Baudrillard’s writings), Joannou’s holdings were also in a sense re-blogged, thumbed-up, ‘liked’.

The economy of ‘liking’, of course, is all about the successful performance of discernment. Channelling the spirit of both the scrupulous archaeologist and the internet-enabled hipster, ‘The System of Objects’ focused overwhelmingly on what Angelidakis described as ‘forgotten’ items from the DESTE founder’s collection, among them Cypriot antiquities, a 1972 Franco Mello & Guido Drocco ‘Cactus’ coat stand, a pair of red vinyl American Apparel tights and Meyer Vaisman’s Neo-Geo-canvas-turned-communal-commode, The Whole Public Thing (1986). Eschewing the conventional curatorial logics of period, place and genre in favour of groupings that resembled the results of a manic Google search – an exemplary juxtaposition brought together the antiseptic pagan rumpus of Jeff Koons’s painting Antiquity (Farnese Bull) (2009–12), a series of 17th-century plaster figurines of a disarmingly adult infant Christ, and a pair of Alexander McQueen devil’s hoof heels – the curators also reconfigured the DESTE’s usually pristine white spaces. Walls were knocked through, routes were reversed, temporary rooms were fashioned from cement board and raw studding, and traces of the DESTE’s previous show were preserved in vinyl texts that still clung to the galleries’ paintwork.

Here and there, spaces were fitted out to resemble loading bays and furniture showrooms, prison yards and industrial-chic nightclubs, while the pairing of Haim Steinbach’s shelf of ebony medicine balls and cookware (One Minute Manager No.3, 1989) and John Armleder’s Installation with Chair, Bookcase and Painting (1985) in a bijou berth suggested the apartment of a (very ’80s) ascetic. Elsewhere, Achilleas Drongas’s eye-searing hotel room painting Untitled (Peacock) (1982), complete with real plumes, was installed beside Gianni Ruffi’s sculpture-cum-couch La Cova (1972), a giant felt nest filled with polyester eggs. Above this hung a black and crow-like gown that Louise Bourgeois had apparently intended to repurpose as an art work. (Towards the end of her life, it was included, unaltered, in Helmut Lang’s 2009 ‘Capsule Collection’ project for the DESTE.) This was a high-wire curatorial act by Angelidakis and Didero, in which the status of the exhibits – as art, as design, as grave goods, as kitsch, as things liked and ‘Liked’ – always trembled on the edge of rebirth.

Featuring some 214 named artists and designers, many of whom showed multiple works, ‘The System of Objects’ was an essay in, and about, excess. Not the excess of collecting art (this could be amply suggested by an exhibition of a single work, were it chosen well enough), but rather of the world, and of its digital Siamese twin. Angelidakis and Didero’s achievement was not only to use the online protocols of search-and-post to pattern their beguiling, brilliant show, but to use them to reflect on the way in which we now live with things that are in and out of our reach. In his catalogue essay, Angelidakis writes: ‘As we float down the river of the internet, and by internet I mean real life, we bump into myriads of objects floating alongside us. Are they new objects or objects we have seen before?’ Experiencing his and Didero’s ‘Reloading’ – with its unexpected collisions, its rococo algorithms – the Joannou Collection felt both familiar and utterly fresh.

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze, based in Rochester, UK.