Review by Shama Khanna
xero, kline & coma, a new project space run by artists Pil and Galia Kollectiv, presents work by The Museum of American Art, Berlin, as its inaugural exhibition. The exhibition comprises newly commissioned wall-based paintings ‘repeating’ key works in art history, allowing audiences to reassess the contemporary relevance of these works out of their original geographical and temporal context. The Museum of American Art (MoAA) is a reiteration of the canonical displays at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with a reorganised chronology occurring within a closed timeline dating from the work of Joseph Kosuth in the 1900s to Manet in the 1960s. The MoAA frames this period in art history as encompassing a key shift from a fragmented discourse of unique artist histories and biographies, to a coherent narrative of characters in an overarching play. They describe how the story of art has come to be presented in a particular way in order to be believed, almost religiously.
The MoAA identifies the unexpected disappearance of Modern art in Europe through the course of the 1930s: subsumed by the rising tide of National-Socialism, the internationalism of avant-garde movements was quickly replaced with an entirely different traditionalist dialogue. Referring to this displaced European tradition on which the MoMA collection in New York was originally based, Walter Benjamin, a self-appointed spokesman for the MoAA, described the collection as ‘a ‘real museum of art,’ a place where art, art history, and the art museum are being remembered.’ The ideals of these early conceptual works of art formed the basic tenets of a specifically American modernism extolling ‘progress,’ ‘individualism’ and ‘internationalism’ - ideas which have diffused seamlessly into mainstream consciousness. The MoAA reclaims the artistic clarity of that early history by entirely inverting the logic of the ready-made, turning a utopian moment, full of potential, into a souvenir re-loaded with the status of a non-art object, destabilising the carefully accepted order of ‘modern’ art history.
The exhibition addresses our own stance in relation to art and its institutions, and whether it is a credible institution in itself - or whether the question of a ‘belief in art’ is really relevant, or helpful in terms of our interaction with it. If it isn’t, then what is it that keeps us engaged with it’ If it is, then what does it mean to have a perspective on art’ And what might we think if we were members of an audience still yet to come’
For this exhibition at xero, kline & coma the MoAA presents a series of catalogue covers entitled ‘Seth Siegelaub: Exhibitions, 2069,’ in black oil paint on un-stretched canvas. The paintings of the book covers, interspersed with exhibition posters and re-painted works by Lawrence Weiner, Douglas Huebler and Robert Barry amongst others, are hung with clear drawing pins, as is the standard for hanging conceptual work of this kind. An iconic photograph of Weiner, Huebler, Barry and Kosuth is particularly ethereal, as if the picture has pre-posthumously deified them all.
Other parts of the collection have been shown at the Van Abbemuseum in Holland and twice as part of Documenta in Germany and the Kollectivs were initially hesitant to show the representative of MoAA their shop-front space, which they had only recently moved into. Unassumingly the guest artist was eager not to try to disguise the readiness of the gallery, and was happy to hang the work along the un-primed walls and over the doors of a fuse cupboard.
The artworks assume the status of relics that have survived the journey out of a collective memory toward an image of the future anterior. The un-everyday reflexivity of this debut show is a promising suggestion of the forthcoming xero, kline & coma programme over the next year.
xero, kline & coma, 258 Hackney Road, London E2 7SJ
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Review by Shama Khanna