Helen Molesworth explains what curators (should) do

The art of hanging pictures, to steal a phrase from Kerry James Marshall, is a bit like the craft of using words to make sentences, which in turn cohere into paragraphs, which accumulate in the service of an idea. It is part didactic instruction, part ineffable feeling about what things work well together. Both rely on the principle that the space between pictures is not neutral, that the pictures themselves are not autonomous (unless they are placed in a way to suggest that), and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts….

…the arrangement of pictures, to steal another phrase, this time from Louise Lawler, … was also inextricably tied to the primary methodology of art history: that of “compare and contrast.” …the underlying idea was that meaning is built through syntax, that syntax requires difference, and that difference is something to be staged or spatialized or, at the very least, invoked through the act of adjacency.

Too many recent exhibitions have taken their installation cues from art fairs and the like, more prone toward leveling than toward difference, more inclined toward the presentation of opinion than toward the dexterity of argumentation. Is there no way that we can imagine holding on to the productive syntactic function of compare-and-contrast?

Helen Molesworth, review of the Whitney Biennial, Artforum, May 2014.

(HT @forwardretreat)

Art & Development

Eliasson on spectatorship and perceptual experiences in galleries

One of the predominant tropes of the artists in Il Tempo del Postino is their assertion of the socialising and empowering agency of art, which has long been an aim of theatre of the left, from Brecht to Invisible Theatre, developed by Augusto Boal in the 1970s, when social-issue plays were staged in public places, such as shopping centres, often drawing nonperformers, or ‘spect-actors’, into the debate….

The efforts of a number of these artists to orchestrate socialising contexts have been criticised in recent years for being patronising or for actually stultifying exchange.

[Stultifying? See Ranciere.]

A distinguishing factor of Eliasson’s work, though, is that he doesn’t consider language the primary socialising agent. His installations and events operate on the audience’s sensory perception, prompting not a conversational exchange but a subjective psychophysical experience. Although, as Eliasson points out, there is no unmediated neutral state of perception in a gallery, as by definition any aesthetic proposition demands sensory manipulation, he tends to expand effect beyond optical or linguistic cognition. Utopian claims for art creating solidarity through authentic communal discourse become redundant when the subjectivity of perception becomes the means as well as the subject of an artwork. Collectivity, suggests Eliasson, is more about the production of difference, and yet there remains a misperception that representation in the form of language creates a productive space, when in fact it simply describes a space that remains uninhabited. As it was for eighteenth-century romantic ironists, such as August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, for Eliasson it is the employment of the gap between representation and the actual world, between the sun and the evocation of a sun or an audience and their reconstruction, that generates poetic effect.

Sally O’Reilly, “Olafur Eliasson: Time is on his side,” Art Review, September 14, 2007