The first question that comes to mind when entering ‘Naming Rights’ at Thomas Dane Gallery is this: is the gallery open or is there a change over? The exhibition kicks off with a room filled with artworks stacked against the walls and placed on crates, one next to the other. It feels like walking into a busy warehouse, rather than a shiny West End commercial gallery.
‘Naming Rights’ is a unique exhibition that discloses the arcane mechanisms of an artist run project space, converting the gallery into a place for artistic research and experimentation. The result is a distinctive presentation of works by international artists such as Juliette Blightman, Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Matthew Collings and Emma Biggs, Liz Craft, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Charles Gaines, Jennifer Moon, Jeff Ono, Simon Popper, Lari Pittman, Mike Rogers, Dean Sameshima, Paul Thek and Milly Thompson. For the first three weeks, each artist will exhibit their works in turn in the main gallery for one day. From 13 September, all the works will be displayed in a group show in the main gallery. The exhibition’s studio, located in the back gallery, is conceived as a publicly accessible working space. Any work not on display is kept in an open warehouse between the galleries.
Founded in 2015 by Dustin Ericksen, Naming Rights is a non-profit, privately funded art association, which promotes the work of local and international artists. Located in a housing estate in Central London, Naming Rights’ exhibition space is an artwork itself. Artist Phyllida Barlow has called it a ‘nothing space’ that fosters different forms of artistic expression. Openly focussed on social engagement, Naming Rights reflects upon the problems that arise when both art and the way it is presented become aestheticised, supporting instead more personal interactions between the audience and individual artworks. This method allows us to reconsider the relationship between aesthetics and language systems. What connects the works on display and the exhibition itself is the simple rule to unveil the most intimate dimension of an art exhibition in relation to the artists’ personal experiences.
Exemplifying this is the work of Abraham Cruzvillegas, who is best known for his ‘autoconstrucción’ (self-construction). Cruzvillegas’ practice relies on the appropriation of objects found in surrounding environments. Having grown up in Mexico City in a house entirely built by his own parents, Cruzvillegas’ inspiration is rooted in this extemporaneous domestic building fully dependent on the available resources. In 2012 he broadened this theory, reaching ‘autodestrucción’ (self-destruction). The work ‘autodestrucción4: demolition The Sound of Sinners’ (2014), displayed in the exhibition, is made of concrete blocks that the artist strategically appropriated from a demolished wall of the Naming Rights’ building. ‘autodestrucción4: demolition The Sound of Sinners’ highlights the artist’s intent to show that works can be modified, adapted and even destroyed, according to temporary, specific needs.
In a similar manner, Liz Craft’s practice draws from ordinary materials to whimsical objects. Often, the spark seems to happen when she meshes multiple aesthetics together, as in the sculpture ‘Less Than Zero’ (2017). Consisting of wall-hung rectangles incorporated in a metal grid, Craft has combined a familiar image, drops of water in a bath-tub, with Minimalist geometric abstraction, reminiscent of Robert Morris’ 1960s cubic works. However a closer look reveals more domestic and intimate traits: the speech bubbles are indeed a reproduction of Craft’s own bathroom’s floor. The thick materiality of the ceramic and plywood conveys a mesmerisingly organic effect.
‘NIGHT/CRIMES: Taurus’ (1995) belongs to the earliest series of works that Charles Gaines began in 1994. Photographs of constellations juxtaposed with homicide scenes and mugshots of criminals are accompanied by text that identify the locations of the crimes and sections of the sky. These associations are entirely incidental, the murderers are not the ones who have committed those crimes. These images depend on pre-existing facts. It seems that Gaines aims at establishing that the causal link we instinctively establish is false, in the same way that art and its presentation is sometimes deceiving.
Throughout the show, there’s a sense of artists playing around by pulling at the threads of formality and artistic language. The result is a bold, visually striking exhibition, where a few simple rules have a major part to play. In order to fully understand what the show is about, one needs to understand what the space itself is about. The space becomes a generator of artworks and Naming Rights a machine for making art.