Monday, June 24, 2013

Inside the outside in

A great thing about New Zealand's Walters Prize in addition to the great artists who have won it, is the extraordinary line-up of curators who the Auckland Art Gallery have convinced to fly in to select those winners. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who in 2012 curated one of Documenta’s most thoughtful and dynamic outings was one, so too was Robert Storr who articulated MoMA’s collections for last decade of the twentieth century. But the first Walters Prize judge was the greatest of them all, Harald Szeeman who virtually invented the contemporary form of art curation with large scale exhibitions on ambitious themes. And of course it was Szeemann who memorably awarded the Walters Prize to Yvonne Todd.

Szeemann’s defining exhibition When attitudes become form held in the Bern Kunsthalle in 1969 has been re-presented this year during the Venice Biennale by the Prada Foundation. This complex venture was a collaboration by the architect Rem Koolhaas, artist Thomas Demand and the Foundation's director Gemano Celant. Their huge challenge was to convincingly present the Bern exhibition in Prada's eighteenth century palazzo Cá Corner della Regina. They did it by laying the floor plan of the kunsthalle over the spaces of the palazzo and creating something like a movie set.

To do this they built walls and recreated Bern details like skirting boards, doors and numbering systems but also left elaborate palazzo details as evidence of the overlap. The works were a mix of loans, reproductions, allusions and in a couple of cases, substitutions. This was not the expansive kind of installation we have become accustomed to but a spirited clamour of works and ideas in a compressed space.

The effect was extraordinary: something like the original exhibition, but with knowing references to the forty years that separate us from it. It was also refreshingly experimental, provocative and intriguing. To top it all there is a terrific (although expensive) publication which draws on the rich Harald Szeemann archives in the care of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Szeemann was famously a passionate recorder and keeper of the record. Given the enthusiasm over the material presented in the Prada exhibition we can probably count on the Getty publishing more of the Szeemann archive in the future.

Images: Top, Harald Szeemann’s drawing of the layout for the exhibition. Bottom left, Richard Serra’s Sign Board Prop installed on a huge photograph of the original Kunsthalle’s tiled flooring printed on vinyl and right, visitors cross Carl Andre's 36 Copper square to see the rest of the show.

You can read a less favourable response to the exhibition on EyeContact along with more pics of the installation.