Review by Emma Crawley
‘Corner of a Cornfield’ is the current exhibition at the Cubitt gallery, featuring the artwork of Berlin based artist Henning Bohl. Bohl’s first UK solo show challenges the ways in which artworks are traditionally produced and displayed within a gallery or exhibition space. In fact, the visitor may at first wonder whether this is an art exhibition at all. The white space is filled with trestle tables placed against the walls in a formulaic pattern, sometimes stacked on top of each other. They resemble empty desks, and the space becomes reminiscent of a student’s studio that has been abandoned during the holidays.
Just beyond the centre of the gallery are two large canvases displayed on top of the tables. The canvases feature vibrantly coloured collages that seem to refer to the title of the show; graphic lines overlap with circular shapes and can be read as the grains of corn in the cornfield of the exhibition’s title. The stacked trestle tables may also reflect the growth of corn. One table has been specifically set apart from the rest, placed at an angle in the corner of the gallery (or the ‘cornfield’ as it were).
The exhibition title is said to be inspired by William Davis’ 1865 painting ‘View from Bidston Hill’. In this painting, the nineteenth century artist treats the subject of a hunt on horseback as a minor detail in the background of the composition, and here too the canvases become minor details within the main space. Despite the fact that they are placed on a higher level, they are given no more importance than the tables surrounding them. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor is confronted with the back of one of these canvases, which acts as a barrier. Bohl ensures that the work is considered in relation to the space, as in order to see what has been painted onto it, one must deliberately walk around the table it is displayed upon.
Such a restrictive display also challenges the status of the artwork. In traditional gallery curation, the hanging of a painting provides it with an instant authority. Here, however, the canvases seem to float in the space in a way that gives them no permanence. They appear ready to be moved to a larger space, perhaps where they will take pride of place on the gallery walls.
‘Corner of a Cornfield’ is a fascinating exhibition in which the installation and display of the art works is as important and thought provoking as the pieces themselves. The curation of the show cleverly reveals how the reading and understanding of a work of art is dependent on the way in which it is exhibited. The trestle tables become platforms for display yet remain empty, and the canvases hung to the side of the gallery are treated almost as an afterthought. This is, of course, a deliberate ploy, and what at first appears to be a seemingly vacant space significantly challenges our exhibition ideals.
CUBITT Gallery and Studios, 8 Angel Mews, London, N1 9HH
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Review by Emma Crawley