Situating itself alongside residential estates and unassuming offices of north London, the Zabludowicz Collection stands out rather sharply in Chalk Farm’s neighbourhood. As a former Methodist chapel built between 1867 and 1871, the grand façade is reminiscent of a traditional European Kunsthalle. The grandiose columns and plinth-like position (several steps above street level) give the building an impressive and somewhat imposing personality – a perfect fit for the booming contemporary art collection of Zabludowicz.
This summer, Zabludowicz has gone all out to boast their sizeable collection by curating an exhibition that reflects on the organisation’s evolving holding of works since its founding in 1994. Its title, ’20 Years’, publicises a bold yet precise demonstration of what’s in store for the gallery’s three month exhibition display. From the bawdy sculptural work of Sarah Lucas to the witty toppling chairs of Martin Creed, Zabludowicz have done a fine job of navigating through ‘the best-bits’ of their twenty year growth.
Imitating the collection’s age, this exhibition is much like a twenty year old individual – energetic and vivid, yet wise beyond its years with an academic flare for the un-tried and experimental. Choosing from over 3,000 works by 500 different artists could not have been an easy task for the curators. Yet, the finished show crisply presents Zabludowicz’s collection (and ethos) as a celebrated and skilled body, viewed through the lens of several carefully hand-picked fundamental works.
Entering the exhibition and its amphitheatre-like setting, the first work presented close to the entrance is an immersive installation by Heather Phillipson. ‘Zero-Point Garbage Matte’ (2012) is made up of a HD video screen positioned flat above a colourful paddling pool filled with cat litter. Viewers are invited to ascend the steel steps leading to a viewing platform where the film can be watched whilst centred above the sensory installation. Here we see the boundaries between art and viewer breakdown, helping to introduce ’20 Years’ as an exhibition which really puts its audience in the thick of it, cat litter and all.
Rachel Harrison’s ‘Cross Fire’ (2008) accompanies Phillipson’s playful paddling pool, and neatly combines painting, sculpture and installation in one. The bright yellow dividing the dull, earthy grey tones on both the ‘plinth-as-sculpture’ and the resting football bring a certain vivacity to the room, and functions well alongside Phillipson’s bouncy work. Leading on from the initial rooms of ’20 Years’, Zabludowicz summons our presence down a narrow corridor glowing with warm pink lighting. Upon viewing Samara Golden’s ‘Bad Brains’ (2012) installation, it is clear to see the artist’s mesmerising work is one which consumes walled spaces in their entirety. Golden’s installation is both hot and calming, with a fuzzy carpet enticing visitors in and the trickle of running water imposing a sedative effect on those choosing to sit and contemplate the work in full. ‘Bad Brains’ is certainly the spectacle work of ’20 Years’, Golden has managed to captivate anyone entering the room with drooping vase flowers, suspended wall frames and a hot mess of tangled wires and ascending staircases which seem to lead nowhere.
The final room of the first floor comes as a measured celebration of YBAs, a group of artists which would require mention in Zabludowicz’s collection retrospective. Gillian Wearing’s film ‘Dancing in Peckham’ (1994) greets visitors entering the space, Damien Hirst’s butterfly work ‘I Love You’ (1994-95) teases the audience with their distorted reflection in the warm pink frame, whilst Tracey Emin’s neon work ‘I Kiss You’ (2004) and Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Untitled (Convex Bed)’ (1992) assemble in the corner, quiet yet significant within the double decade collection. Sarah Lucas’s ‘Spamaggedon’ (2004) also takes residence in this corner of the exhibition. Her crude and comic sculpture sees stuffed tights draped over a camouflage print chair with helmets attached upon a plinth made of Spam tins. Lucas’s take on contemporary gender and sexuality is both amusing and candid, and is a well-timed display in London juxtaposing her representation for the British Pavilion in the Venice Biennale this summer.
Upstairs an array of eclectic works are shown in the open plan space, each gently looming over the works below. Jim Lambie’s ‘Zobob (Fluorescent)’ (2006) is an explosion of luminous colour across the gallery’s staggered stage seating where visitors are welcome to sit and walk. The glowing installation gives the exhibition an element of chutzpah and emphasises the running theme of interaction within the works themselves. Winner of the 2012 Turner Prize, Elizabeth Price also features in Zabludowicz’s mammoth exhibition, just next to Alexandre da Cunha’s appropriated objects sculpture ‘Velour Series’ (2005-06). In this work da Cunha uses holiday beach towels, mop handles and curtain poles to create an assortment of imaginary flags resting against the white walls of the gallery. His use of existing objects as sculptural installations encourages a social engagement with the work.
Zabludowicz Collection’s ’20 Years’ is a vast exploration into the organisation’s history and its development up to the present day. The curators have managed to maintain a series of themes throughout their display including the subjects of body, object, abstraction and display. With an exhibition like this it would be easy to fall in the trap of selecting and presenting those artists everyone recognises – ultimately playing it safe. However, ’20 Years’ has broken out of this by giving the public a true mixture of art and artists which have been monumental in shaping the type of collection Zabludowicz is in 2015. Avoiding a chronological stance, this exhibition is notable for its playful installation work and its ability to involve the public, thoroughly encouraging visitors to lie down in the thick of the art.