Friday, July 27, 2012

Viewers contemplate the display space as much as individual works

‘Parcours’, on view in the Modern Wing’s Bucksbaum Gallery courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago, is the result of a collaboration between artists Liz Deschenes (American, b. 1966) and Florian Pumhösl (Austrian, b. 1971), in dialogue with Matthew S. Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography.

It takes inspiration from an unrealized exhibition proposal of the 1930s by Austrian-born Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer, who wanted a series of parallel walls that would turn the gallery space into a maze, with text and the works of art themselves serving visitors as a guiding thread. Expanding on that didactic premise, Deschenes and Pumhösl have chosen just a few photographs from the permanent collection of the art institute and placed them like route markers on temporary walls modified expressly for this show.

The artists’ own works, a set of specially tempered glass panels by Pumhösl and lustrous photograms by Deschenes, will reflect these works and the surrounding space. Interestingly, the show has changed a great deal since the curator, Matt Witkovsky, began discussions for a project with Liz Deschenes and Florian Pumhösl in the first half of 2011. In Matt’s mind, initially, it was to have featured a number of artists and been structured on the model of a collectively produced film, tentatively titled Immaterial Desires. Trisha Donnelly, Walead Beshty, Josiah McEIheny, Christopher Williams, Moyra Davey, Janice Kerbel, and Florian were all considered for participation,

Several of these artists were consulted as well in spring and early summer 2011. After meetings in May and late July, however, a decision was made to have Liz and Florian conceive the exhibition in dialogue with each other and Matt. An undecided number of older photographs would accompany their works, along with just one other contemporary piece, by Kerbel: a sound piece entitled Ballgame that could be placed (with her agreement) in a garden courtyard located directly outside the exhibition space.

Many ideas were tested and discarded along the way. The group show became a two-person show, with the work by Kerbel kept in the mix because it would be knowable from within the space (via an exhibition label) but only audible outside the space. In the end, even Kerbel’s work has been eliminated (Ballgame and other pieces will instead be featured in a solo show at the nearby Arts Club of Chicago, in September.) The title changed entirely, and uses of the space as well as ideas about the other photographs to be placed alongside the works of Liz and Florian have undergone important mutations.

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