by Aoife Donnellan // Mar. 19, 2021
Recent gallery and museum closures have led to the reimagining of exhibition space. Some exhibitions have migrated online, while others offer virtual tours and, in some cases, galleries have become fish tanks into which audiences can peer. Window exhibitions, or displays, position the work in the direction of a street-facing window and people are invited to experience the exhibition from the outside, looking in.
Seeing exhibitions through windows is a strange activity that is not without difficulties. Contending with the glare of the sun and trying to avoid your own gaze in the reflection is an unusual barrier to witnessing works of art. Each location has taken a different approach to this concept, with varying amounts of information available on-site. In some cases, it is clear that you are invited to look and, in others, less so. At times, the act of staring into the window of a closed venue can leave you feeling rather suspicious.
Künstlerhaus Bethanien’s solution to the closure of galleries is their exhibition programme ‘Open Window.’ This series of exhibitions is by artists-in-residence who exhibit in the gallery window, as a supplement to their final exhibitions in the space itself. The latest is ‘Post Impalpable Rites’ by Theodoulos Polyviou and Dakis Panayioutou, curated by Carola Uehlken. Polyviou and Panayioutou have been working together for two years on site-specific responses to space, examining themes like the displacement of ritual and architecture. The exhibition explores the possibilities beyond predetermined patterns of movement in space. Metal arches fill the window, which seem almost like scaffolding, or the frame of a structure not yet complete. Beeswax pressings of iPhones hang from the far wall, as a kind of ex-voto, to be ceremonially burned at the end of the exhibition. The iPhone is being depicted as an extension of the body, as the burning of an ex-voto is typically done to seek salvation for the body-part captured in beeswax form. On the floor, there are VR glasses with minotaur horns, evoking Greek mythology. This straightforward combination of virtual and physical spaces, via tech and myth, is resonant at a time when technology has become a natural extension of our physical reality. Having the barrier of the glass window between audience and exhibition parallels the experience of technology, as our eyes and minds explore that which we cannot physically navigate.
In a different window nearby, Galerie Auslage hosts an exhibition entitled ‘Neutral Scene.’ Typically a curatorial lab for various themes, the gallery frequently exhibits displays on the subjects of literature, politics and art, which are always presented, at least in part, in their window space. Diana Artus is the latest artist to exhibit here, with an installation that draws from her previous works ‘Fotonovelas and Inner Storyboards.’ The central element of the work depicts figures from photo novel magazines from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which the artist collected from flea markets in Istanbul, Barcelona, Beirut, and Paris. The figures are separated from their surroundings by the artist’s use of blackmarker to cover everything except the body of the protagonists. Isolation and loneliness are at the centre of the work, with the speech bubbles of the characters erased, leaving only their facial expressions to decipher the meaning.
Although the artist is exhibiting work made in 2013 and 2015 respectively, the project takes on a new meaning as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. The viewer is separated from the work by the window, as each character is separated from its context. Each element is isolated and silent, while sharing this void of darkness that surrounds the entire narrative. In the display below these framed images, you can find a stack of photo novels, a deserted tea cup with a lipstick stain, two glasses of partially melted ice, two perfume bottles, some flowers, and a ceramic crab. The scene in its entirety speaks of desertion and anticipation all at once. The discarded tea cup beside the ice awaiting a drink suggests that this forced isolation is not the end of the story.
The genre of the window exhibition cannot be separated from the themes of the work on display; the estrangement between audience and exhibition defines the experience. This chapter in the evolution of art-viewing prompts new ways to think about space and its relationship to the city surrounding it.