in the Category: art

It certainly makes us ponder how we are used to look at art in an exhibition space and how it stares back at us

With It Never Ends, John M. Armleder brings the last show to KANAL – Centre Pompidou before the building is closed for four years for renovation.
The Swiss artist and curator invited several artists to present their work next to his in the former Citroën garage. Armleder takes the visitor on a tour filled with shimmering lights, everyday objects and unbridled irony. Despite its sometimes grand gestures, the show certainly urges you to think. 

Text by Camille Bladt 
Photos shot in KANAL by Pommelien Koolen

It Never Ends presents itself as a site for ‘experimentation and openness’ to create a ‘vast interdisciplinary project’. The exhibition – which spreads itself over 6 floors –  is  accompanied by a wide range of activities: workshops, live concerts, performances, thematic weekends, interactive visits, and more. The two lower floors are even turned into a ‘public space’, accessible seven days a week which provides access to a library and coworking space, among others. This sure is a generous act, expanding the possibilities of the visitor from the classical wandering through rooms filled with art and facilitating interactivity, discussion and learning. It is also a welcome act, considering the isolation we have been living in for the past few months (and will probably continue to do so for a while). A pinch of extra hospitality and interactivity might just be the necessary ingredients culture lovers have been longing for.  

When entering the exhibition on the third floor, we immediately face the golden walls (Untitled, 2020) of an on-site created exhibition box. This alleged ’radical exhibition experience’ referred to as None of the above, 2004-2020 (2020) is indeed highly intriguing. When Armleder commissioned this gathering of small scale pieces back in 2004 for the Swiss Institute in New York, he gave his invitees the instruction to make something that would not be bigger than a stamp, perhaps even immaterial. For this restaging in Brussels, he combined the established names of yesteryear such as Christian Marclay and Olivier Mosset with some more recent ones like Yaima Carrazana and Ludovic Bourrilly. Entering this seemingly empty room, the visitor is forced to go on a hunt for the several tiny creations that are scattered around. Although some effort is required – this work definitely combats museum fatigue by challenging our bodies to move towards the ground and up again, and our minds to fight the unpredictability – I found myself pleasantly captivated by this encounter. 

 

Although some effort is required – this work definitely combats museum fatigue by challenging our bodies to move towards the ground and up again, and our minds to fight the unpredictability

Going up one floor, we find ourselves in front of a similar architectural construction and idea. For All of the above, 2011-2020 (2020), the curator chose the work of 36 artists, awkwardly arranging them on three platforms, one behind the other and closed off by a wire. The act of organising them in this way initially feels like looking at a window display in a shopping mall. By combining arrogance and bravery, it denies both the conventions of giving the space and autonomy those works of art deserve, and of respecting their unique sightlines. It certainly makes us ponder how we are used to looking at art in an exhibition space and, in this case, how it stares back at us. Somehow it is both frustrating and fascinating to realize you are supposed to be looking at some incredible pieces, without actually seeing them in their entirety. 

 

Somehow it is both frustrating and fascinating to realize you are supposed to be looking at some incredible pieces, without actually seeing them in their entirety. 

 

Quicksand 3 (2020) consists of racks filled with all kinds of daily commodities, as well as objets trouvés that once belonged to the original decor of the garage - yes, I hear you thinking, very Fluxus indeed. While wandering along these structures, it is striking to realize how an audience is compelled to believe that these ordinary things are actually considered to be art when chosen and arranged by an artist or curator. This truly is the force of Armleder: making you reflect on the nature of art and the stereotypical image of what an exhibition should be. Nevertheless, I can't help but imagine him sitting somewhere in a control room, chucklingly watching his visitors trying to understand what they have to make of the sequence of jars, plastic parakeets and traffic cones. Again, this bears witness to a great amount of humour and irony, which I grow more fond of the more I think about it. 

By times, Armleder delivers a highly instagrammable show, with huge disco balls, upside down fake Christmas trees and Dan Flavin-like neon lights. This is not necessarily a bad thing and it certainly attracts people of all generations – during my visit several kids were ecstatically rushing around the wide showrooms. However, despite the fact that some of these pieces are visually appealing and work perfectly in their rugged setting, I wonder what they try to convey.

Take, for instance, the work Yoga (2020) – the one with the upside-down plastic Christmas trees. Instead of the original work, which showed real, wilted trees collected after the holiday period and was installed in a yoga studio, we are served plastic versions. In this reproduction, the piece is barely able to deliver the critique and intensity the piece originally intended. As a visitor, you could ask yourself why you should settle for less than the original work.

While going back down the large slopes of the KANAL building, heading to the entrance again, and thus visiting the exhibition for a second time, one has the opportunity to reflect on the whole project. It Never Ends offered us both highs and lows. One could for instance doubt Armleder’s method placing almost all his invited artists in a closed box, while giving his own work the chance to breathe in the large spaces of KANAL. Yet, interestingly, this conveys a message of its own: it makes us think. The exhibition makes us reflect on the many choices curators make in presenting works and forces us to rethink the role of the visitor in an exhibition. It also makes us wonder why we should even care about these works. This, in its simplicity, might be the biggest accomplishment of the exhibition(s). 

 

Thanks, John. You ensured us that reflecting upon exhibitions - and art in general - indeed never ends. 

It Never Ends - KANAL
The exhibition is free for members until 27/12.
Registration is not required, members can show up at the entrance