The Exhibition is Dead
By Jon Keppel
Many times we may think of an exhibition as a presentation of physical objects or phenomena placed in a brick and mortar space, a room of some kind, usually either at a museum or gallery. However as art history has taught us, art, especially over the last hundred years, has become increasingly untethered to a premeditated location for its dispersal, or perhaps more rightly stated, its emergence. It is no longer a static, plastic presentation of things in a sort of ordained and curated shell but rather a cueing-in to information, an encounter with the ephemerality of lived events and simply ways of thinking. So why do we still generate exhibitions or at least the exhibition of the white cube or a cube of any sort for that matter?
The loosening of the art object away from being a plastic experience began at least as early as 1917 when Marcel Duchamp forged, through the act of conception, rather than the laborious and somewhat clunky act of physical construction, the nature of the readymade. Duchamp’s genius emerged not only in his conferring of art status on everyday objects but also in the way he treated and invited us to engage mentally and philosophically with everyday objects. Since Duchamp it is not just that a urinal in a museum or gallery is art but that as a trace of his mental massaging of such phenomenon, we can start to understand such objects in life to be art as well.
Starting in the 1950’s, John Cage similarly teased our consciousness out of a rather dated and stogy matrix that placed art as that which emerged in an institution. Cage, like Duchamp, brought our understanding of art out into the world of everyday life and the ceaseless flow of physical, psychological and spiritual experiences to be had there. Music was no longer strictly or simply instruments being played on a stage in a concert hall, music came from the sound of the audience as well and also from everyday occurrences such as traffic. Music had become a way of listening rather than that which is listened to, arranged or not. This shift in understanding is key to the evolution of art so much so that we can say that the way we understand something is in fact a prominent if not key component of its production. Understanding, in essence, produces.
The Happenings of the 1960’s followed this trend of bringing art and our understanding of it outside of the gallery and into everyday spaces. Land art too, with a sweeping gesture, drew our consciousness out of so many rooms, both figuratively and literally and into the growing expanse of nature, the great outdoors and beyond. Perhaps what we call outer space will be the next site so to speak for our consciousness. In many ways it already is. The point however is that it is the liberating quality of thought itself that is truly the delimiting factor and the seed bed by which all that is around us begins to fully emerge. Producing, in art and in life, has become less about constructing physical arrangements of plastic parts, as with paintings and sculptures of time immemorial, and instead a process of revealing key attributes that are already present in the world that are reflected both within and around us (consider the shift that has taken place from a dynamic of industrialization to that of information) .
The limitlessness of what we call outer space is mirrored in the boundless nature of the internet which has become another prominent quasi-place to reveal art as such. Net art and sound are two major iterations of this evolution of art as an experience that erupts rather spontaneously, sometimes in many places at once and without the bureaucratic web that comes with much of the conventional art world’s pillars and platforms. Perhaps the matrix of the art world itself, its parameters and constructs are being transcended. The role of the artist in this rather limitless expanse is rapidly changing. Trends that have artists moving towards political office is one such example of this. Roles of what it means to be a curator and a director are also being brought into question as we consider more and more that the locus of art is a spontaneous, ephemeral experience that is had in everyday life. The rooms, so to speak, that the art of 2017 and beyond will take place in will be that of the heart and the head rather than any museum or gallery. We will look now within to see where we and art are going. For the exhibition as such is dead. We and art are alive!
All Rights Reserved © Jon Keppel 2017