‘No objects, no ideas’ was the guiding principle behind an Exhibit, which was shown at Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery in 1957. Organized by Richard Hamilton and members of The Independent Group, a loose collective of artists, architects and theorists, the installation comprised a display of colourful panels through which visitors had to navigate their own routes. The Generali Foundation’s ‘unExhibit’ uses Hamilton’s project as a point of reference, not only by alluding to the title but also by exploring the dialectical relationship between opacity and transparency. ‘UnExhibit’ aims to investigate various artistic strategies of ‘un-exhibiting’, from obscuration to withdrawal, to address questions of image production and mediation.
The importance of the 1957 work is immediately apparent upon entering the corridor that leads to the gallery space, where two large-scale archival installation shots of an Exhibit are hung (the exhibition booklet even names Hamilton as a participating artist), though the show’s defining features are two works that engage with the architecture of the gallery. Willem Oorebeek’s Dot-Screen-Wall (2011) consists of black-on-white dotted wallpaper covering the enormous concrete wall that runs through the middle of the Generali’s larger exhibition space. Dot-Screen-Wall may be a more or less successful attempt to render an otherwise solid surface visually porous, but it fails to respond to the ideology of the space as effectively as Heimo Zobernig’s intervention, Ohne Titel (Untitled, 2011). Zobernig’s installation comprises a second wall, made out of silver-coloured gauze stretched across a wooden construction, replicating the original gallery wall to scale. The structure is positioned parallel to it, yet shifted so as to dissect the small foyer area, ending in the second, smaller exhibition space. The new structure not only changes the visitors’ perception of the space but, through its semi-transparent materiality, also leaves them with fractional and partial views of the other works.
Displaying a form of hyper-visuality, Karthik Pandian and Mathias Poledna’s 1991 (2010) is a slideshow of 24 images taken from a 35mm film with only one slide being projected each day. Showing the almost floor-to-ceiling-sized portrait of a fashion model, every slide depicts the model with minute changes to her pose. What originally was a moving image is slowed down in such a way that the seriality of the images becomes imperceptible to the viewer, thus denying film its status as a medium based on temporality and movement.
The works in ‘unExhibit’ are displayed without any specially constructed architecture, an aspect stressed by the curators. This ascetic approach to exhibition design can be viewed as a curatorial strategy of deliberately withdrawing from the original exhibition’s visual parameters, in a sense ‘un-exhibiting’ an Exhibit. However, many of the works in the show address the connection between exhibition display and design as well as the context of the institution, occasionally with a nod to the Generali’s history. Zobernig’s choice of material for his spatial intervention, for example, refers to his own project from 1994, in which he stretched gauze with the institution’s logo across the façade of the building. Maria Eichhorn’s Wandbeschriftung Nr.4 (Wall text No.4, 1992), a white-on-white wall text of unrealized projects suggested to the Generali, was conceived for a previous exhibition and is now in the institution’s collection.
‘UnExhibit’ follows in a recent resurgence of interest in Hamilton’s work, including a solo show at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2010, a fabricated version of an Exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts’ recent ‘Modern British Sculpture’ survey and a re-issue of the catalogue for ‘This is Tomorrow’, the seminal exhibition that the Independent Group organized at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956. An Exhibit provides an interesting context for this show but, independent of that, the strength of ‘unExhibit’ lies in its exploration of artistic practices that investigate the potential of artistic media to engender and play with moments of confusion, uncertainty and ambiguity.