1.16 / Review

We Have as Much Time as it Takes

By Jessica Brier June 2, 2010

It’s rare that a group exhibition so aptly reflects and augments the quality and conceptual rigor of the work it showcases. “We have as much time as it takes” (WHAMTAIT), the current exhibition at the Wattis Institute and the collaborative master’s thesis project of CCA’s second-year Curatorial Practice students, might best be summarized by the title of one of the works it features: Unlimited Promise (2010; Christine Wong Yap). This exhibition is as much about future potential as it is about the products of the past. It’s a show that reminds us that really great art is living; it is past, present, and future all at the same time. It’s a much-needed reminder of the best possibilities of collaboration—between both artists and curators—at a time when this methodology has been co-opted as a trend.

This exhibition is, first and foremost, a very specific response—conceived by Jacqueline Clay, Nicole Cromartie, Courtney Dailey, Emily Gonzalez, Jacqueline Im, Kristin Korolowicz, Sharon Lerner Rizo-Patrón, Katie Hood Morgan, María Elena Ortiz, Arden Sherman, Joanna Szupinska and Josephine Zarkovich—to the requirement of CCA’s Curatorial Practice program to collectively curate and mount an exhibition culminating their graduate experience together. Speaking as someone who, two years ago, alongside seven colleagues, was tasked with this same challenge, I can attest that this working premise is, in fact, as crazy as it sounds. Curatorial collaboration is arguably always challenging, but this is a task undertaken within the confines of the academic calendar, the pressures of graduate course work, and the stress of an impending job search. In their eloquent introduction to the show’s modest catalogue, Clay and Korolowicz explain their unique approach: “The show’s strategy is to invert the expectations, as we understood them, that we were asked to meet, highlighting in various ways notions of performance, productivity, and established systems of assessment.”[1]

The curators have done this by creating an exhibition that resists completion and forces its way out of the aforementioned constraints, all the while showcasing artworks that do the same, in relation to the expectations assigned to them. The exhibition’s title is a line borrowed from the film Twelve Angry Men, uttered by Henry Fonda as a sly bargaining chip amidst the painstaking deliberations of a jury. But unlike a jury tasked with rendering a verdict, these twelve curators can—and have—chosen indecision and incompletion as an end result, what they describe as a Zen-like “pause.”[2]

The works in the show certainly exude the aura of pause and incompletion, giving it the feel of a work-in-progress The first piece we encounter upon entering the Wattis is Roman Ondák’s Untitled (2005), a small, blank gallery space roped off by a sign that reads, “DEADLINE POSTPONED UNTIL TOMORROW.” This piece sets a tone for the rest of the show in important ways: it is visually austere; contains a tension in reference to both the deadline of an exhibition opening and the assignment of the Curatorial Practice course; and has a wry sense of humor conveyed through wordplay. These qualities foreground relationships between works in the show (specifically in their various states of completion) and locate the show within the history of contemporary exhibition making.

The next space features Zachary Royer Scholz’s large custom-made installation, Shared holding pattern (2010), and the collective Red76’s Counter-Culture as Pedagogy: Pop-Up Book Academy (2010-2011), both of which involve the artists’ relationships with materials and the way these materials become imbued with meaning. This room has by far the most stuff in it but still feels spacious and open.

This openness allows the viewer to notice the subtle but poetic (and, the curators tell us, “key”) work, Autobiography (If these walls could speak) (2009‑2010), by Nina Beier and Marie

Zachary Royer Scholz. Shared holding pattern, 2010; mixed media. Image courtesy of the Artist, the Curators, and the Wattis Institute, San Francisco. Photo: Parker Tilghman.

Roman Ondák. Untitled, 2005; plastic sign and cotton cord. Image courtesy of the Artist, the Curators, and the Wattis Institute, San Francisco. Photo: Parker Tilghman.

Lund, who have asked the gallery’s staff to reconstitute nail holes made for Wattis exhibitions past, according to their own memories.[3] The featured works of Beier and Lund, Red76, and Scholz are all either custom-made for the exhibition, are ongoing projects, or have the natural potential to be. The title of Scholz’s coffin-like installation acts as another reminder of the forever-deliberating state of the exhibition as a whole. The temporal and material relationships between these works make this one of the show’s strongest sections.

Christine Wong Yap. Unlimited Promise, 2009; foil, paper, thread, light and shadow. Image courtesy of the Artist, the Curators, and the Wattis Institute, San Francisco. Photo: Christine Wong Yap.

The exhibition continues with poetic and gentle transitions between mediums, artistic modes, and concepts. Some works are easier to absorb, such as Christine Wong Yap’s clever and moody Unlimited Promise, while others, such as David Horvitz’s two untitled works, involve complex backstories. Untitled (Gift) (2010), documents a project for which the Wattis sent a framed photograph and a flower to eight other Bay Area art institutions. Included are letters sent in response, either thanking the Wattis or declining the gifts. This work’s intent(to “humanize art institutions while exposing their bureaucratic hierarchies” is more interesting in its elaborate context.[4] The Wattis is a gallery within a college that has partnered with the Curatorial Practice program to realize an exhibition that is simultaneously a class assignment and a stand-alone show. From a visitor’s perspective, one of the most interesting (or at least, most visible) aspects of this collaboration between the Curatorial Practice students and the Wattis is that the curators must both staff the exhibition as gallery sitters and perform works by Tino Sehgal.[5] Although Sehgal’s work is considered its own project, unconnected to this exhibition, it is inextricable from it—not only because it must be performed by the curators of WHAMTAIT, but also because of its clear relationship to the lineage of dematerialization, which the curators reference in their catalogue introduction and demonstrate through works like Lawrence Weiner’s A 36” X 36” REMOVAL TO THE LATHING OR SUPPORT WALL OF PLASTER OR WALLBOARD FROM A WALL (1968/2010).

The sparseness of the exhibition, combined with the inclusion of Weiner’s instructional piece alongside works by contemporary artists working in a conceptual vein, pays homage to seminal shows like Mel Bochner’s Working drawings and other visible things on paper not necessarily meant to be viewed as art, an exhibition at SVA in 1966 that simply consisted of three identical notebooks filled with photocopies of Bochner’s work in an otherwise empty gallery. While WHAMTAIT is not completely empty, it maintains a certain austerity in accordance with the mandate of Tercerunquinto’s commissioned piece, Ejercicio Museográfico (Museographic Exercise) (2010 ) to keep half of each gallery empty. The end result is a show that pushes forward dialogues around site-specificity and institutional critique; these curators and artists are not so much at odds with the institution, but rather in serious dialogue with it. They have used the occasion of this show to engage with the gallery as a site, in both tangible and theoretical senses. As a promise and a pause, this engagement is well worth a visit.

 

“We Have as Much Time as it Takes”  is on view at the Wattis Institute through July 31, 2010.

 

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NOTES:
[1] We have as much time as it takes. Exhibition catalogue produced by the California College of the Arts Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice in partnership with the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2010, 7.
[2] Ibid, 11.
[3] Ibid, 8.
[4] We have as much time as it takes, exhibition brochure, 2010.
[5] Those who are regular visitors to the Wattis know that Sehgal’s work is performed by gallery sitters as part of the gallery’s long-standing commitment to showcasing Sehgal’s dematerial performance work, under the direction of Jens Hoffmann.

 

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