No Room for the Groom: An Exhibition with Douglas Sirk: Herald Street London July 7 to August 5

By Hunt, Ian | Art Monthly, September 2007 | Go to article overview

No Room for the Groom: An Exhibition with Douglas Sirk: Herald Street London July 7 to August 5


Hunt, Ian, Art Monthly


The trouble, it seemed, was with the 'with'. What business did the exhibition have 'with' Douglas Sirk? Could the art selected survive the contrast, even in memory, with Sirk's generously intelligent melodramas of the 50s, or did the title perhaps admit that such strength of feeling is something there appears to be 'no room for' in contemporary art? David Thomson appraises Sirk as showing 'cinema's great capacity for uncovering the lives of ordinary people. The sensibility is musical but lowbrow. What other medium can pick out the seriousness in vulgarity without condescension?' This makes a tough comparison for art, and framing devices offered for summer exhibitions should be taken more lightly. But isn't the summer also a good time to think about how the rituals of contemporary art look to others unaccustomed, let's face it, to art's sometimes slender rewards?

The work in the show, selected by Gregorio Magnani, was in contrast to the big emotions of Sirk's movies and their powerful social reach. It appeared coded, reticent and polite. Even a Rebecca Warren arrangement of neon, softwood and MDF (and the all-important 'bit of pink fluff', my notes read) can be polite. Although titled after a Sirk movie (All that Heaven Allows)--and therefore allowing the gap of ambition between movies and sculpture to appear--it left you with an emptied set of Martha Stewart's homemaking tips, the abstract side of grunginess. It is the kind of tension between abstraction and materiality that I find satisfying but that in context appeared to represent a retreat from unruly content. The only specific contextualisation of Sirk in the show played quietly through the galleries, and was not a work but a soundtrack of Peer Raben's music for Fassbinder movies. Fassbinder, before Todd Haynes made his more self-conscious homage in Far From Heaven, was the most brilliant cinematic respondent to Sirk's films, and his collaboration with Raben as composer and selector of popular music was a significant part of that achievement. This indirect act of evocation and homage to Sirk through music for unseen films, by a composer who died only this year, functioned as the reassuring warmth of 'No Room for the Groom'. Its Spanish guitars, glockenspiels and sweeps between full orchestration, detail and song conveyed just enough stimulation to memory and feeling to allow some of the other works to be what they were, no more no less.

That was easy for a warm white lightbulb work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 'Untitled' America #2, 1992. The act of collaboration each installation of a work by Gonzalez-Torres requires has the gravity of a contract always renewed, and also a moment of freedom; subtly different from Pauline Daly's hanging Gold Net, 1994, its strands of gold thread carefully arranged in alternating lines as they met the floor, but to what end? Jean-Michel Wicker's Bulles Experientielles, 2007--gouache discs or targets painted on the wall--appeared to have strayed into the exhibition from the territory of 90s pop/design colourism. Local colour of this kind, like that which sells products and competes for attention, is hectic but cold, very different from the chemical warmth of Technicolor. …

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