Give & Take Conversations

Article excerpt

Give & Take, a collaborative exhibition in two parts organized by the Serpentine Gallery in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, was displayed concurrently at both institutions from January 30 to April I, 2001. Curator Lisa Corrin conceived the exhibition as a single project at two sites. At the Serpentine, the artist Hans Haacke installed Mixed Messages, his selection of more than two hundred objects from across the spectrum of the V&A's rich collection. At the V&A, fifteen international contemporary artists, invited by Corrin, contributed works-some newly commissioned for this project-that were sited in various spaces throughout the galleries.

The following text comprises edited conversations between Janet Kaplan, the curators, and some of the artists held during press previews of Give & Take in London in January 2001. The participants were Lisa Corrin, curator of the exhibition and former chief curator of the Serpentine Gallery; Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery; and the artists Ken Aptekar, Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, Roxy Paine, J. Morgan Puett and Suzanne Bocanegra, and Yinka Shonibare. The conversation with Hans Haacke took place in New York in April 2001.1

Lisa Corrin

Janet Kaplan: What prompted you to develop Give & Take, this complex pair of exhibitions that required such elaborate and intricate coordination between the Victoria and Albert, a huge historical museum, and the Serpentine Gallery, a small, contemporary kunsthalle?

Lisa Corrin: The V&A is about connoisseurship. It has some of the best examples in the world of so many categories of objects. And then being able to study and replicate them through manufacturing. The museum was founded in the Victorian era at the height of the British Empire, after the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was a period when people were deeply invested in a belief in progress and technology. With its sixty-five thousand vitrines packed with a million items, the V&A says a great deal about the impulse to classify and to present objects from other times. It also speaks volumes about how people understood or defined knowledge. One of my hopes for this exhibition was that it would bring that history to the surface.

As the exhibition curator, I wanted to find a way to get people to see the V&A collection as a source to constantly return to with fresh eyes. I wanted the public to share my passion for objects that are difficult to access because our cultural context has changed so much since they were made. I was deeply concerned that the public not think that this installation was disrespectful to the V&A. But, equally, I wanted people at the V&A, who may think there's nothing to contemporary art beyond a lot of hype, to take very seriously the work that these artists are making.

Placement of the invited artists' pieces in the V&A galleries often did not require altering the existing installations of the permanent collection. For example, photographs by Andres Serrano, such as White Christ ( 1989), were mounted on the walls in the medieval galleries. The vitrines of V&A objects served as looking glasses through which Serrano's image could be viewed. The recent art in this exhibition was foregrounded and the collection was slightly decentered. Although it is true to say that the visitor who wished to focus on the permanenent collection could do so.

I didn't want the V&A collection to receive any less attention than the contemporary work because this project was about dialogue. The fluorescent orange directional tape that was laid on the floor to mark Give & Take installations went through the center of the cases in many rooms. Visitors were forced to look at what was in the vitrines if they wanted to follow the route of the exhibition. For those visitors who were not very interested in contemporary art, Give and Take was gently inserted into their experience. …