With the title “unExhibit,” the Generali Foundation gestures toward the legendary 1957 exhibition an Exhibit, as it takes up the question of the “display as exhibition.” The show, which features works by the international artists Maria Eichhorn, Richard Hamilton, Ann Veronica Janssens, Willem Oorebeek, Karthik Pandian and Mathias Poledna, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, and Heimo Zobernig, not only examines the “display” as a material surface and resonating body for visual and spatial experience, but most importantly, also studies artistic methods of not-showing and withdrawing - of “un-exhibiting.”
The point of departure for the exhibition at the Generali Foundation leads back to the year 1957, to a loose association of artists, designers, architects, and theorists called the Independent Group; some of its members were Richard Hamilton, Victor Pasmore, and Lawrence Alloway. The premise of an Exhibit was to show “no objects, no ideas”: a show that consisted of colorful panels loosely suspended in space so that visitors could amble freely between them. This formal decision to do without exhibits and make the display itself the subject of the show can be traced back to a series of attempts in modern art to expand painting into space, as in the case of El Lissitzky or Mondrian, or to elevate the display to the status of a subject in itself, as in the case of Frederick Kiesler or Herbert Bayer.
an Exhibit is relevant also as a form of interrogation of the institutional space and the roles played by authorship and the position of the beholder: composed of modular elements, the space enables forever different subjective experiences of spatiality as the visitors become authors who “conceive” the space in forever new ways. The translucent panels, finally, mark a play with the experience of transparency and opacity that is of decisive importance to the subject’s perceptions in a world defined by media.
unExibit raises the question in a slightly different way than an Exhibit did: the point is now not only to present “no objects, no ideas” but instead the medium or “display”; it is, rather, to employ different forms of withdrawal, encryption, obfuscation, or obscuration to display the conditions on which media surfaces and their production of imagery rest. Only this tension between displaying and concealing makes it possible to experience the difference between the real and what is imaginary or generated by media.
The concrete exhibition space at the Generali Foundation serves as the frame of reference for a transformation in which the displacement of spatial coordinates brought about by the use of certain materials - mirrors, wallpapers, lighting, fabrics - as well as techniques of reproduction and surface treatments - lithography, xerography, newspaper clipping, grid patterns - not only evacuates the space, but also recodes it. To this end, the architecture of the exhibition room will be reduced to its original state, and no exhibition architecture will be built that would act as a presentation surface in the service of the art on display.
Heimo Zobernig reduplicates the minimalist concrete wall - an essential feature of the existing architecture that marks its longitudinal axis. Turned into a wooden scaffold covered with an iridescent fabric resembling construction site safety netting, it is reborn in a glamorous guise, ready for a variety of projections and ‘mirroring.” The quotation of the concrete wall reduplicated and displaced in the room is not a mere architectonic intervention; it has implications for the entire constitution of the space and the works of the artists that must stand their ground in it. Willem Oorebeek, by contrast, applies wallpaper bearing a dot matrix to the multiply coded concrete wall. Oorebeek uses the matrix dot, whose career culminated in the “Ben-Day dots” of Pop art, in shades of black and gray as the reproductive mark par excellence of the technology of printing.
The loss of authenticity becomes manifest not only as a consequence of ongoing reproduction and repetition, as in Willem Oorebeek’s Vertical Club, but paradoxically also by virtue of the heightened visibility of perfect surfaces that engender an utterly impenetrable space, as Karthik Pandian and Mathias Poledna’s 1991 illustrates. Visibility and withdrawal are interdependent, as is also evident in the light projections, ‘aquariums,’ and ‘laboratory’ examinations in the work of Ann Veronica Janssens.
The ‘exhibited’ aspect of models or other motifs from the world of ‘consumer culture’ is first removed from the process of its deauratization by a process of obfuscation: thus in Willem Oorebeek’s Blackouts, where a media image seems to be altogether effaced by a lithographic process of inking so that it can, upon closer inspection, become truly visible in the first place precisely by virtue of this process of invisibilization. The same holds for Willem Oorebeek and Joëlle Tuerlinckx’s work BLACKOUT-Screen (2005) and for Maria Eichhorn’s Wandbeschriftung Nr. 4 (1992) or her Die ungeöffnete Post des Max Foster (1996).
Other strategies of non-exhibiting, of refusal and withdrawal draw not only on fashion, but also on the cinema - Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Roehr, Georges Perec, Maya Deren - and on literature - Jean Genet, Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Raymond Roussel: where things are subject to ongoing reproduction, the double creeps in, and with it the empty, iridescent, overdetermined surface, in equal measure coldly repellent and replete with projections of loss and desire.