Relaxin’ with “theanyspacewhatever”

The Guggenheim advises viewers to sit down, have an espresso, and enjoy the relational aesthetics.

poster for

"theanyspacewhatever" Exhibition

at Guggenheim Museum
in the Upper East Side area
This event has ended - (2008-10-24 - 2009-01-07)

In Reviews by Matt Schlecht 2008-11-06 print

Liam Gillick sits on a tiny chair in his kitchen, hunched over a laptop. His interviewer, Rirkrit Tiravanija, artist and director of Chew the Fat, currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum’s “theanyspacewhatever” exhibition, comments on his friend’s poor posture before wondering aloud at the image of an art star doing something as mundane as checking his email. “It’s interesting,” Gillick responds after a thoughtful pause, “I’m writing to someone to tell them what to do because they spilled coffee on their computer.”

Gripping cinema this is not. Tiravanija’s film, a documentary of his visits and conversations with friends and colleagues in the art world is sort of an “MTV Cribs” for the gallery set. As the first installation on the Gugenheim ramp, just past Maurizio Cattelan’s Pinocchio, facedown in the museum’s fountain, Chew the Fat sets the tone for the rest to come. The screening room is padded with carpet and soft cushions, encouraging viewers to hang out and get “relational,” but some may find themselves wanting a little more to relate to.

Liam Gillick, '''Theanyspacewhatever' Signage System,'' 2008 and ''Audioguide Bench, Guggenheim, NY,'' 2008 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York. Photo by David Heald.

The ten artists featured in “theanyspacewhatever,” who in the ’90s “claimed the exhibition as their medium, using it as a platform for collaborative projects that reach beyond the visual arts to commingle with disciplines such as architecture, design, and theater,” are, despite the “relational art” moniker, not bound together by particularly strong threads. As I overheard one visitor describe Tiravanija in particular, “He does a lot of communal art. You know, like, he cooks stuff.” Perhaps Phillippe Parreno best captures the spirit of the show with his marquee outside, on the façade of the building. Neon lights are illuminated in dramatic fashion, but the Plexiglass surface is blank. Promotion with nothing to particularly promote.

What does unite these artists, however haphazardly, is an emphasis on multiple points of view. In his landmark text “Relational Aesthetics,” critic Nicolas Bourriaud describes the practice of art as social discourse. In the gallery or museum context, this translates into a focus on the setting or activity, rather than a traditional object. The finest example of this in “theanyspacewhatever” is Douglas Gordon and Tiravanija’s Cinéma Liberté/Bar Lounge, which turns the Guggenheim ramp into an indie cinema, screening films that have historically been censored, complete with a free coffee bar to encourage dialogue.

Douglas Gordon  and  Rirkrit Tiravanija, ''Cinèma Libertè/Bar Lounge,'' First realized 1996 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York. Photo by David Heald.

Even more voices can be found in unusual places. Gillick has installed a new 3D aluminum signage system for visitors with reminders like “ramps one to six” and “disintermediate now,” designed to be read from multiple vantage points. Gordon covers a lot of the museum’s walls (and the floor) in variously sized typefaces with a work called prettymucheverywordwritten,spoken,heard,overheardfrom1989… Here’s a sample: “If only you were hot or cold. But you are neither hot nor cold. I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” Elsewhere, Pierre Huyghe offers a book of iron-on transfers that feature images of the Guggenheim interior, complete with the installed exhibition. Again, the work of art is unfinished until the viewer participates in its creation. To help, or further confuse, Parreno has created an audio guide to the exhibition that focuses on the various artists’ past output rather than the works on display. This is narrated by Boris Konrad, world memory champion, who, we are told, recites the script by heart.

Jorge Pardo’s installation of cardboard screens, which block the natural flow of traffic on the rotunda, seem to mimic the twists and turns of less circular-oriented museum galleries. They drive the guards mad, but visitors will no doubt find themselves bunched up and interacting with the Guggenheim and each other in new ways.

Jorge Pardo Sculpture Ink, 2008 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York. Photo by David Heald.

Carsten Höller, ''Revolving Hotel Room,'' 2008 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York. Photo by David Heald.

For those looking to really get comfortable in the museum, Carsten Höller, whose slide installation at the Tate Modern turbine hall was a huge crowd favorite, is offering up for rent his contribution to the exhibition. The Revolving Hotel Room, on four slow-rotating discs, features a bed, desk and wardrobe, and will be occupied by a paying guest each night. At this point, it’s all booked up. No doubt it was a great option for collectors down in the market who may be looking to rent, rather than own, these days.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster also reconfigures the Guggenheim environment, turning the third ramp into an enclosed white tunnel. On first approach, water sounds trickle out from overhead speakers, but the volume soon increases. As a tropical rainstorm roars, one almost expects a deluge of water to appear from around the bend.

It’s unclear what all these transformations amount to, however. While most of the work on view is new, “theanyspacewhatever” already feels a bit dated, a retrospective for a movement that never really was. The title of the exhibition comes from a concept described by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who used it in cinematic terms as a place for multiple perspectives and pure potential. The loose affiliation of artists who have contributed to the exhibition do a good job of creating new and engaging possibilities with this idea, and there is a lot of potential here, but perhaps “theanyspacewhatever” could have used more of a perspective.

Matt Schlecht

Matt Schlecht. Matt is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn. He is also Co-Director of Horse+Dragon NYC, an organization that provides editorial, publicity and design services for artists and nonprofits. » See other writings

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