Magazine article Art Monthly

Dematerialised: Jack Wendler Gallery 1971-1974

Magazine article Art Monthly

Dematerialised: Jack Wendler Gallery 1971-1974

Article excerpt

Dematerialised: Jack Wendler Gallery 1971-1974

Chelsea Space London 13 May to 13 June

Between December 1971 and July 1974 the Jack Wendler Gallery held 26 exhibitions in five London locations, and you could probably fit the combined physical evidence of most of those shows into a small suitcase. Advanced art in the early 1970s, as we know, moved from a common suspicion of stolid traditional formats to a brinksmanship of insubstantiality and evanescence. In November 1972, for example, Robert Barry produced an invitation to Wendler's gallery, the second in a monthly series of eight that comprised Invitation Piece (other gallerists involved included Leo Castelli and Yvon Lambert), and that was the entirety of the artwork. In this retrospective of the gallery's activities curated by Teresa Gleadowe, pinned up near to photocopies of these invites are two A4 sheets: one of them testifies that Wendler had purchased 'a discussion' with Ian Wilson in August 1972; the other, signed by Wilson, asserts that 'There is discussion'. This is puritanically purgative, reactively hygienic stuff, and unfortunately too physically slight to fling at fans of Tino Seghal.

Wendler, an American in London who had published the celebrated Xerox Book (which gave artists including Barry, Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt 25 pages each to play with) in collaboration with Seth Siegelaub in 1968, wanted to exhibit his friends from New York. He also, it seems, wanted to leverage their immaterialist approach and work on the fly, making shows by phone and by telegram. Accordingly, the opening corridor's nostalgic welter of typed and scribbled letters from John Baldessari, signed 'yours in art kids', Douglas Huebler and Hanne Darboven, among others, are physical evidence of a concerted paring-back of physicality. When artists did travel over, their work often resisted any imputation of recherche escapism by spotlighting the gallery itself. So David Askevold, as his 'London version' of his video Learning About Cars and Chocolate, 1972, shows, chose to interview Wendler about the cars passing in the street below the latter turning out to be well versed in the relative suspensions, mileage and versatility of numerous vehicles) and to muse intermittently on the chocolates he was eating to fuel himself. Daniel Buren, meanwhile, elected to show a video in which, speaking to camera, he reminded viewers that their perception of art is contingent--coloured by the architecture and by earlier shows in the gallery, just as his show would tilt readings of later ones--and told them that Wendler would bring out Buren's paintings if asked (otherwise, they remained folded away). Art, under the Frenchman's auspices, becomes a proto-relational coalition of the willing.

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The low-key achievement of this show, in reconstructing part of a history that can feel hard to see anew, is less to make the historical dismantling of illusions sing again than to uncork something of the excitement of economy. The efficient display is filled with ephemera and video footage--the only wall-based artwork per se is a Lawrence Weiner text which, as a poster, inaugurated the gallery's programme--but because the show consists almost entirely of copies or multiples, it registers as airy and fleet. It feels wholly in keeping with Wendler's fetish for pragmatism to use, for example, laser prints of Marcel Broodthaers' nine-part text work featuring the names and lifespans of English writers, his English Series, 1972. …

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