Vancouver’s (Canada) Rennie Collection negotiates its first group exhibition

The first ever group show at the Rennie Collection (The Wing Sang Building, 51 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 1S9) ends tomorrow,, Oct. 5, 2013. Luckily, there are still a few spots left in the scheduled 1 – 2:30 pm tour (as of Oct. 4, 2013 at 11:30 am PDT).

Le Cannibale (parody, consumption and institutional critique) (2008) Courtesy: Rennie Collection

Le Cannibale (parody, consumption and institutional critique) (2008) Courtesy: Rennie Collection

Coincidentally (or not), Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery is offering an exhibition (Sept. 13 – Nov. 3, 2013) of Mike Nelson’s work, one of the featured artists in the Rennie Collection’s current group show.

Here’s more from the Rennie Collections July (?), 2013 press release,

Rennie Collection is pleased to present an exhibition of works by a selection of internationally renowned artists: Pablo Bronstein, Aaron Curry, Andrew Grassie, Louise Lawler, Mike Nelson, Roman Ondak and Ian Wallace.

While all of these artists have their own distinctly unique styles and practices, the exhibit creates a unifying dialogue surrounding a conceptual questioning of the museum as an entity and ideas regarding space and movement. These works, pertaining to or involving centers of artistic presentation such as museums or galleries, have been dubbed in the canon of art history as “institutional critique”.

In Six Affordable Neo-Georgian Futures for the Metropolitan Museum (2009), Pablo Bronstein (b. 1977) focuses on the architectural side of institutional technique. His interests lie in how architecture has the ability to intervene in personal identity and inform our movements, behaviours and social customs. Using pen and ink on paper and adopting the styles of various architects and movements, his invented monuments become plausible inventions, both paying homage to and critiquing the emblems of civil engineering.

The critical eye of Aaron Curry (b. 1972) may not at first glance be decipherable. The Monad Has Wheels (Wooden Knight) (2010) is one of the slotted-together plywood sculptures for which Curry is well known. Its surfaces, covered in the same wallpaper pattern that also covers the exhibition room walls and thus camouflaged ineffectually against its background, raises questions and meditates formally on preconceived notions of flatness and volume. Curry draws attention to the symbiosis between gallery space and art itself.

There is a rhythm to Andrew Grassie’s (b. 1966) work that plays on the public and private lives of works of art as they exist in a collection. In his series of small paintings entitled New Hang, Grassie challenges the roles of both artist and anthropologist, personally selecting and installing works from the Tate collection to photograph and subsequently paint as his subjects. His technically complex method of working results in an imagery, such as in Tate: New Hang 10 (2004-05), that questions the very essence of the exhibition.

Louise Lawler’s (b. 1947) delicate photographs subtly mediate on the many different lives of an artwork. Whether displayed on a gallery wall such as One Mondrian: At the Art Institute of Chicago (1982) or resting peacefully amongst a cornucopia of items as in Objects (1984), the meaning of each artwork is refreshed and expanded through each different location. Lawler’s unique perspective allows us to share in the secret life of art, altering and enriching the viewer’s experience.

Mike Nelson’s (b. 1967) Le Cannibale (parody, consumption and institutional critique) (2008) is a burial ground of damaged plinths which serve as a reminder of an exhibition long-since past. The plinths are created from destroyed walls comprising of another artwork that Nelson exhibited at the Hayward Gallery, London in 2008. As Nelson states, “When something is physically broken, we do not forget about it. We are reminded of the memories associated with it”. His work speaks to the ultimate temporality and artifice of the gallery or museum space.

Where the viewers detached in Lawler’s work, Slovakian artist Roman Ondák (b. 1966) utilizes the gallery visitor as a key component. Shown for the first time in Canada, Measuring the Universe (2007) is an interactive piece previously exhibited at Tate Liverpool and MoMA, NY. Over the course of the exhibition, attendants mark visitors’ heights, first names, and dates of the measurements on the gallery walls. The mark making becomes the measure of man. By inviting people to actively participate, Ondák creates a work of art from a prosaic everyday behavior while questioning the roles of art objects and spectators, production and reception.

Ian Wallace (b. 1950) works in a space occupied by both painting and photography, highlighting the discourse between the two mediums. Using abstract painting as a grounding for the photographic image, Wallace presents us with an intersection of images and histories that prompt a reconsideration of how viewers view works of art. In the Museum (Peter Halley Series III) (1989) references aesthetic and social issues through the exchange systems of the studio, the museum and the street.

Now for my impressions of the show. Ondák’s piece which is the first one to be encountered seems to function as a map at least as much as it functions as a set of measurements. In some places names are obscured as multiple names have been written over top of one another while others stand out (toddlers don’t have much competition for wall space).

From Ondák’s piece, visitors proceed upstairs to a room dominated by Mike Nelson’s Le Cannibale. Navigating my way through the room where Nelson’s installation is located was at first intriguing and then weirdly oppressive in what seemed an increasingly apocalyptic environment the longer I stood there.

The next installation and piece was a like a visit to another planet. Given the red colour on the walls and on Aaron Curry’s device/sculpture ‘The Monad Has Wheels (Wooden Knight) (2010)’, the other planet is Mars and they’re having a serious rain storm (grey droplets on the red background which covered the walls and the device). Our guide, Jon (?), had completely different take on this installation and so may you.

Ian Wallace has a single piece (a photograph of the space between two paintings on a gallery wall) in a room shared with Andrew Grassie’s work (two small paintings, executed in tempera, of gallery exhibitions). In their own ways, both artists seems be asking the viewer to re-examine the gallery space and asking the questions, ‘How and what do we see?’

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a strong impression of Louise Lawler’s work and I think that’s partly because our guide, Jon, didn’t discuss it on the tour; i”m not sure why. Forgetfulness? Maybe the pieces weren’t fully assembled? (Other than this blip, Jon was probably the most successful guide (of the ones I’ve experience) at engaging the tour audience and that is difficult to do.)

The basement, which usually signals the end of the tour, featured fantasy architectural drawings (Six Affordable Neo-Georgian Futures for the Metropolitan Museum [2009]) by Pablo Bronstein. The artist developed drawings which could provide a base for a new museum. In the fantasy world where I sometimes live, I’m going to pretend the curator chose the basement in an hommage to Gaston Bachelard and his book ‘The Poetics of Space’ where he celebrated and explored the meaning,  in a very French and philosophical way, of various spaces, including basements and attics) within building structures.

If you do get a chance to see the show, I’d be happy to see your comments about it.

One final and unrelated bit: I wrote an article about visual artists and marketing for the September/October 2013 issue of Preview: The Gallery Guide (which covers British Columbia, Alberta, Washington state, and Oregon). I concentrated mostly on promotion and pricing.

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