Article by Angela Connor // Dec. 12, 2012
We all know that crowds spoil the viewing of art. Since the late 1960’s we have see the various rises and falls of the blockbuster exhibition and there has been much debate in major institutions over the presentation of art to the masses. Unsurprisingly, curators are looking for new ways to present art to the public as to avoid the scrums of viewers gathered around artworks and to diffuse what has been termed by some art critics and museums as ‘gallery rage’.
Curator Susanne Pfeffer addresses this notion in the current exhibition One on One at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in which she creates individual microcosm environments that invite the viewer to experience and participate with art on a one on one level. Through the construction of temporary make-shift individual spaces, Pfeffer’s sets up situations which are, according to the catalogue “immediate and undisturbed”, taking the stance that the best way to enjoy art is alone and in a direct interaction. From Nina Beier’s quirky video installation of a breathing potato; to the subtle minimalistic works of Blinky Palermo; or Renata Lucas’s work of a vinyl record spinning underneath a wall with the song title, ‘Dance across the floor’; or Yoko Ono’s infamous Telephone Piece first exhibited in 1972; One on One challenges the relationships and expectations between the audience and the artist, and the rules of engagement for viewing works of art.
As viewers enter KW they are given a hotel style ‘one on one’ sign to hang on the outside of door handles to notify to other viewers that the room is occupied. With a map of the four levels, visitors must then navigate their own route amongst the no signage white temporary spaces. As swarms of people patiently wait in queues outside of individual cubicles, gallery invigilators encourage the viewer to skip rooms and return to them later, only adding to the hype and anticipation of not being able to view works immediately.
Although time is not constricted in each of the contained spaces there is the weight of the next viewer standing in line. Art goers are generally a passive bunch and unwritten etiquette in galleries includes not interfering or intruding with other people’s experience by spending an ‘inappropriate’ amount of time in front of the art. Canadian-born, Berlin-based artist Jeremy Shaw is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of space. His latest immersive video installation, Introduction to the Memory Personality is a hypnotic video that sucks the viewer into a black vortex of time and reality. The gallery invigilators had warned me that time is warped and previous individuals had spent up to 30 minutes in the space, suggesting that I could be waiting for some time to see the work. My own experience was cut short when another viewer knocked on the door after seven minutes, prompting me to move on.
Pfeffer presents experiences and experiments that push the viewer into confrontational situations that either call for action or contemplation. FORT’s installation The Charmer, is a room containing a small refrigerator. A stifling heat generates an claustrophobic air with a smell not too dissimilar to musty linoleum. The first time I entered the space, the fridge door was open. The second time, the fridge door was closed. I wondered whether this was an intervention by the previous viewer? Did the artist intend for the fridge door to be open or closed? Similarly the viewer is presented with the temptation of eating one of the chocolate bars in Hans Peter Feldmann’s work One on One, in which a box of Milky Way’s sits on a plinth with a plaque stating, “Nein”. Alone in a room, with no one watching, the viewer is free and uninhibited to make choices as to whether to intrude and disrupt the space or not.
Viewers expectations are challenged in Anri Sala’s 112mm/137 Days, a wide angle lens that goes through to Günter K.’s work Margaret. Peering into the tiny lens the viewer is privy to watching how other gallery goers experience Günter K’s work. Additionally, viewers assumptions are toyed with in Annika Kahrs For Two to Play on One where upon entering the room, two piano performers abruptly halt and stare back at you, shuffling papers and whispering amongst themselves causing an awkward silence until the viewer leaves the room again and the performance resumes.
Although this curatorial approach to viewing art as a one on one experience is a unique concept for a major institution, I can’t help but think of all the one on one experiences I have had in Artist-Run-Spaces on a weekday afternoon when I have been the only person in the space. There is no doubt that a crowded gallery is not the best way to experience art, and artworks in museums and institutions have become objects of mass consumption. Now all a curator needs to do is figure out what to do about the queues.
Angela Connor is an Australian writer, photographer and curator currently based in Berlin. She has worked in both commercial and independent art spaces, as well as teaching at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia, as part of the KPMG Tutorship Award. In 2008 she received her Masters of Fine Arts by Research examining the portrayal of blindness in 20th Century photography.