Tag Archives: Marcel Duchamp

48 Hours in Hackney (or It All Comes Down to Duchamp)

Do you ever have one of those experiences where seemingly disparate events converge and you unexpectedly go full circle? Well, this weekend was one of those times. I had a heady two days planned of exhibitions and the new Art13 art fair in the capital. I had been desperate to see the Aspen Magazine show at the Whitechapel, and as it closed this Sunday it was my last chance to see it. As it happens, Gerard Byrne was also on display there, which was lucky, as the gallery where I intern has some of his work in their collection and I welcomed the chance to get better acquainted with his work. 

Central to the Byrne exhibition is a multi screen film installation entitled A man and a woman make love.The dated tone of the original text is juxtaposed well against tilted chunky  surfaces onto which the film is projected, on a time delay meaning each clip is framed by fraction of a second of darkness. This is a re-enactment of a well-known surrealist conversation regarding the ‘woman problem’. I had to smile at this. My senior honours Surrealism tutorial at uni had a female to male ratio of something like 20:1, so the token male bore the brunt of our indignation at some of the patronising and amazingly backward chauvinism expressed by Breton and his milieu. I say amazing, because of course so much of the artistic output of this avant-garde was so incredibly ahead of its time. 

Anyway, I digress.  

My artistic six degrees of separation went like this: Byrne (Whitechapel) – Surrealists/Duchamp – Duchamp/Cage/Rauschenberg/Cunningham (Barbican) – Cage/Cunningham (Aspen Magazine, Whitechapel) See? Full twentieth century art-historical circle. 

The complete set of Aspen magazines were on display at the Whitechapel. They were loose leaf publications presented in a box, and were not limited to text or paper.

The celebrated Roland Barthes essay ‘Death of the Author’ was in fact commissioned for this very magazine. All manner of significant artists and writers were involved in this publication, along with an impressive calibre of musicians. What I liked about this exhibition, aside from seeing the entire contents of Aspen spread out before my eyes, was the behind the scenes documentation including recorded interviews (which reveal how haphazardly the publication was actually put together, surprising now when you see how important some of the included work has become) and also editorial drafts by people like Susan Sontag, giving an insight into the organisation and aims of the editors. I have a penchant for archival shows, I think it must be my history background. I get completely engrossed in glass cases full of what is normally deemed ‘support material’, so when it is actually made the subject of the exhibition I find it really interesting. It is a tricky type of exhibition to pull off, however, as visually it can be a little monotonous.

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The Critic Sees

I had an enjoyable lunch hour this week trekking round Kendall Koppe and Transmission galleries in Glasgow. The show at Transmission includes performances, which I missed, so I will write about that once I have caught the performances.

At Kendall’s, meanwhile, there is a two-man show of works by Craig Mullholland and Zachary Drucker. Drucker’s contribution is a film and accompanying light box image of drag artiste Flawless Sabrina, while Mullholland is showing three linen prints on the walls, as well as simulacral box of cigarettes and a ghostly jacket. I say ghostly because it’s puffed out as if being worn by an invisible man.

I’ve no idea if the jacket was ‘readymade’ or not, but it brings me nicely to the Jasper Johns reference in my title. ‘The Critic Sees’ centres on a pair of eyes looking through spectacles, simultaneously mocking the critic by subverting his role from that of onlooker to that of object on display. Crucially, however, it also reminds the viewer of their own relationship to the object: they are external and bring their own ideas and preconceptions to the table.

Mullholland’s Dadaist jacket stands in
for us as we look around the gallery, and temporarily forces us to step outside our physical selves and draw attention to our actions as a viewer. Similarly, his linen prints, with slogans like ‘refresh me’, play on our preconceptions to the nature and traditional method involved in their production. As to the intent behind all this, it’s maybe too simplistic but it could easily refer to the subject matter of Drucker’s film which is after all an exploration of identity and representation in microcosm.

As for the gallery, their accompanying text mentions ‘normative efficient embodiment’. I can’t say if that particular nugget corresponds to my interpretation or not, but maybe it will work for you!

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