Magazine article Artforum International

Strange Bedfellows: Mark Godfrey on the Artist as Curator

Magazine article Artforum International

Strange Bedfellows: Mark Godfrey on the Artist as Curator

Article excerpt

IN THE BOOK that accompanies "An Aside," the "exhibition without an idea" that Tacita Dean has curated as part of the Hayward Gallery's National Touring Exhibitions program, Dean tells a story that explains both the formation of her curatorial strategy and her first choice of a work. Two years ago, watching Lothar Baumgarten's There I Like It Better Than in Westphalia, EI Dorado, 1968-76, she was taken by the way Baumgarten had photographed the slides and recorded the sounds over a considerable period of time without knowing what the final form of the work would be. Dean adopted this model for her show, proceeding with her curatorial choices without a finished selection in mind. The slide piece would be the first work in the exhibition, and as for the next, well, Baumgarten led her to it. He told her that the slides were taken in the forest near Dusseldorf, where one day he came upon a dog whose owner turned out to be Gerhard Richter. Baumgarten and Dean noticed an affinity between some of his photographs and Richter's paintings of the time, so Dean tried to track the paintings down as the next work for her show. None could be located, but a different Richter work was later found, and this in turn set Dean on another trail. So, in a manner partly indebted to Andre Breton's notion of "objective chance" and partly resulting from her own circumstances and sensibilities, Dean embarked on "an experimental journey where one work would guide me to the next." Seventy-five works by seventeen artists were collected; the oldest artist, Kurt Schwitters, was born in 1887, the youngest, Thomas Scheibitz, in 1968. The newest work in the show. Thomas Schutte's Hund, 2005, was being fired in a kiln days before the opening, while Paul Nash's seventy-five-year-old photographs of dead trees had been filed away in the Tate archives for decades.

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In the space of the exhibition, though, the narrative of Dean's journey remained undisclosed. Works were not placed in the order in which they were selected nor did text panels explain Dean's choices and groupings. Instead, viewers were left to make their own connections, or perhaps to fail to make them. Just as the key aspect for Dean was the process of curating (rather than the finished result), for visitors it was also the process of viewing that counted, and they were free to navigate the show as they wanted without feeling obliged to trace Dean's own route. A pair of painted stones by Schwitters was placed on a plinth in the middle of one gallery. Behind them hung Nash's painting of a dead tree and a giant tennis ball looming against the cliffs of Dover, as well as a suite of photographs and collages made by Eileen Agar on the Brittany coast in 1936 and a pair of Raymond Hains decollage works from 1952 and 1963. Between the Hains and the Nash but very low to the ground was another pair of objects, two clay heads by Marisa Merz covered with chary dust, facial features indicated by spare and haunting indentations. This constellation was animated by the geographical and biographical stories Dean supplies in the catalogue: Nash's painting shows the English Channel from one side, Agar's photographs from the other: Nash was Agar's lover at the time and the person who introduced her to the concept of the found object. But even if you did not know this, such pairings helped to draw out the complexity of the works on view. From Schwitters's painting on stones we moved to Nash's paintings of cliffs, from Agar's photographs of anthropomorphic rocks to Merz's abandoned and half-described heads to the similarly scratchy gray surfaces of the Hainses back to Schwitters's carefully selected, delicately colored pebbles. You wove the material and conceptual strands of the heterogeneous objects before you until a work like Schutte's Hund stopped you in your tracks, sending thought whirling off in new directions. Wearing a German army helmet and with its front paws coming together in prayer to form labial folds, the dog might even stand as a model for the exhibition--its parts flowing seamlessly into each other yet forming quite unpredictable juxtapositions. …

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