What happens to art and the artist when their work is exhibited outside a traditional gallery space? And do unusual venues and experimental curations set culture free to be explored and experienced in new and exciting ways, and by a public way beyond the original borders? What are the limits and the possibilities?
I put this to Neil Wenman, partner and global creative director at Hauser & Wirth, the leading commercial gallery which has been exploring unusual spaces to present art since opening the Somerset gallery on an old farm in 2014.
At the entrance to “Tomás Saraceno in Collaboration: Web[s] of Life,” we are politely asked to surrender our phones. There is no apparent judgment; instead, the act is more performative as our gadgets are safely slotted in what appears like an old wooden shelving unit and exchanged with an oracle card, “Arachnomancy Card,” with a personalized message (mine read: “planetary drift”). We are free, of course, to choose not to give away our phones. Yet it seems a missed opportunity: to truly immerse in the lively and layered world created by Tomás Saraceno for London’s Serpentine Galleries requires this small sacrifice.
Later, I reflect on what a relief it was not to reach out for my iPhone at every photo opportunity (and there are plenty), to be in the moment and absorb the chapters that unfold in each room and onto the surrounding Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. As Saraceno’s first major exhibition in the UK, “Web[s] of Life” takes on a lot. Ultimately it aims to observe how different life forms, technologies and energy systems are connected in the climate emergency. Art, for Saraceno, has active agency.
Artists have long turned to science fiction, to worlds of the imagination, to understand what it is to be human. This general concept forms the overarching theme at the 2023 Gallery Weekend Berlin— the annual event which sees independent galleries around the city open their doors to all — with mixed results.
“Human Is”, a group exhibition at Schinkel Pavillon, for instance, proposes a series of alternative futures, questioning the reality of being human, its weaknesses, fears and limitations. It asks if the distinctions between dystopia and reality are collapsing due to technological and ecological upheavals.
Working on a similar theme is Cao Fei’s “Duotopia” at Sprüth Magers. For over two decades, the Chinese multimedia artist has been investigating what it means to be human within our rapidly changing twenty-first-century landscape. Visiting the artist at her studio in Beijing a few years ago, I was struck by her work’s originality and how alive it is, constantly moving and evolving to be in conversation with our time.
In this significant exhibition, she has transformed this lovely Berlin gallery space into a visually cinematic, performative and highly engaging series of multi-media exhibits that take the viewer on a journey into multiple worlds here on earth and in the multiverse.
In ‘Rites of Passage’ published in 1909, the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep spoke of the concept of liminality, and how we mark critical transitional events through ceremonies with a ritual function that transcend cultural boundaries.
The idea forms the premise for an interesting exhibition currently at Gagosian Britannia St. London. Borrowing the book’s title, it explores the idea of liminal space through the lens of nineteen contemporary artists, primarily based in the UK, who share the story of migration.
The work on display come in various mediums, for a lively discourse challenging linear narratives and fixed concepts of identity.
It’s good to see such complex and varied conversations around movement, migration – really relevant themes that have to be explored further and further, and through multiple voices and lenses.
Last Friday I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park to meet with the American artist Leonardo Drew as he unveiled his latest commission, Number 360 for the YSP’s eighteenth-century Chapel (on until October 2023).
In his abstract work Drew avoids working with found material, instead treating objects to appear found, and with the material almost acting as instruments making symphonies, in the case of Number 360 creating tension and turbulence but also this lovely sense of peace. It really looks special in the meditative Chapel and surrounded by early spring park life.
Drew’s work carries weight and meaning, yet he purposely numbers his work, instead of naming, so to encourage the viewer to make up their own mind, for the artwork to become a mirror, and for it to continually evolve with each interaction.
There’s a lovely sense of freedom to this. Of letting go.
Our conversation went from the process of art making, to the meaning of art, politics, religion and what it means to be human.