The prospect of visiting and writing about an exhibition on art and stupidity fills me with a little dread. What if I don’t get it? What if I am stupid when confronted with the curatorial concept of stupidity? Having visited and (thankfully) not been too intimidated, how can I now write about or better critique the exhibition’s theme of stupidity without putting myself in a position of intellectual superiority that for its lack of criticism exposes itself as stupid in turn? My anxiety around being too knowing and not knowing enough is a complex ambiguity that is inscribed in any reflection of the term ‘stupidity’ and an ambiguity that is openly embraced by the exhibition’s curators.
The difficulty of the subject is tackled with a display of work from twenty-five artists. With a gathering of diverse artists’ works the exhibition presents a number of different takes on the title theme. Stupidity as a means to critique the intellectual language of supposedly high art culture is evident in Kim Schoen’s ‘The Horseshoe Effect’. As the artist walks around a room full of white fireplaces she discusses the proposed effect with language that invokes academic and theoretical discourse yet, on concentration, is a senseless abundance of long words legitimized by her authoritative delivery style. Schoen has also developed a text for the exhibition. Displayed behind the reception desk, the text covers the gallery wall akin to an information panel. Reading Schoen’s text the informative language of the standard exhibition introduction morphs into a nonsensical mass of ‘’intellectual’’ words.
A critique of language continues in BANK’s ‘Fax-Back’ series from 1998-99 in which the artists annotate press releases from commercial galleries before marking them out of ten. BANK’s annotations point out the clichés, empty rhetoric and vague terminology of ‘’art world’’ language. These marked up press releases increase my initial anxieties about writing a review of the show. Am I going to get Fax-Backed? The twisting complexities of the term stupidity come back to haunt me as I type - I don’t want to come across as full of waffle, but the subject is a difficult one to wrestle with on simple terms. The task of writing becomes a little dizzying as I attempt to avoid tying myself in the knots the exhibition predetermines and is itself caught up within.
For all the anxiety the show creates it invites you to take pleasure in simple, basic or lets say ‘’stupid’’ humour. The comedy show ‘Archie & Edith Bunker, All In The Family’ from 1973 runs on repeat in the gallery entrance and the feature film ‘Femroc’ has a number of slap-stick moments. Stupidity and humor also emerges in Erik van Leishout’s ‘Rotterdam-Rostock’. Housed in a shopping container on the public square outside the gallery Van Leishout’s work entails documentary footage of his bike ride from Rotterdam to Rostock. Squeezed around a carpeted table in the small cold container we view proclamations of beauty and updates on the colour of the artist’s urine as he befriends a number of different characters directly engaging with neo Nazis, the unemployed and anti-Semetic and anti-homosexual communities. Amidst shots of late night drinking, hanging around in empty playgrounds and humorous banter, uncomfortable extremist views bubble to the surface. Here, playing the fool or being ‘’stupid’’ as a strategy for building trust with the economically and politically marginalized turns from an initial humour to uncomfortable viewing.
‘’Playing stupid’’ as a means to critique and subvert normative identities, particularly in relation to gender is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition. From the fluffy ‘’feminine’’ neon design of Lilly van der Stokker’s ‘Nothing’, to the fast paced montage of unicorns, huge breasted animations, pink blinking dolls and naked women in Clunie Reid’s video installation ‘In Pursuit of the Liquid’, the works playfully site the language of pop culture to expose its derogatory representations of pre teen and young womanhood.
Having made my way through the exhibition without feeling painfully ‘’dumb’’ but never knowingly secure, my impression of the selection of works on show is one of multiple different interpretations of the title theme. Rather than simply describing intellectual inability or lack of understanding, the show’s curators demonstrate that stupidity can be used as a constructive mode of critique employed to reveal, reframe or subvert standard modes of thinking. Yet, in adopting such a complex interpretation of stupidity, the curators and artists unavoidably become ‘’clever’’. However this complex ambiguity and my own anxieties of how to deal with it, foregrounds the problematic of how does one curate a show about stupidity in the first place. Duh?’s solution is to not shy away from its own contradictions and to productively pose questions instead of providing ‘’clever’’ answers.