39greatjones – the title of the first group show at Galerie Eva Presenhuber since its move to the freshly renovated Löwenbräu Complex – refers to an address in New York’s East Village. The invitation card shows the empty shop window apparently located at this address. The exhibition’s subtitle gives a full list of the featured artists. This strikingly diverse group – including Kes Zapkus, Matteo Callegari and Ann Craven – ranges from the well known, to the forgotten, to young unknown artists. In a refreshing change to common practice, the press release has no ‘curated by’ tag – although a simple online search quickly finds the identity of the artist behind the project. Whereas this label is often used as a mark of ennoblement – especially in the commercial context – this omission highlights the criteria for the show’s selection: Is it subjective and taste driven? Based on a social context? On content? All these questions here appear to be somehow decidedly left in the open.
The original project, as the title implies, is a temporary community at a temporary address. Rather than a conventional exhibition space where the artists feature in a group show, however, the venue in New York is no more than a shop window where a work by one artist has been shown since September 2010, changing every two months. A handwritten label names the artist and the title and year of the work. A simple website with the same name – similarly lacking any reference to curatorial authorship – documents the series.
For this show, the artists involved came together for the first time, each represented by if not the exact same work that was shown in New York, then groups of works that are similar. Many of the pieces are elegiac and contemplative in character – be it the colourful canvas by Alan Shields in a style recalling Hilma af Klint (Single Swing Encounter, 1980–1) or the geometric-minimalist painting by George Ortman (Tales of Love, 1959). In the gallery setting, this common aspect is underlined by the perfunctory, even hang. The majority of the works on show are paintings, the only sculptural work being Anne Chu’s Putto on Horse (2012) assembled out of a wide variety of materials, and a hybrid-organic wall object by Bruno Gironcoli (Objekt, 1965).
39greatjones presents itself here as a project that exists in several, always transient states – shop window, website, white cube – one that encourages viewers to think again about the different ways art makes its impact and about different modes of reception. Whereas in the past the shop window as exhibition format has often been understood as an ‘alternative’ to the white cube, prompting artists to contribute witty or novel works (think The Wrong Gallery), the 39greatjones shop window with its background of white wooden planks is less a ‘curiosity shop’ than a ‘white hole’ that discreetly seduces the viewer. The focus here is on the individual work and its offer of dialogue, and less on a social para-text as in the case of The Wrong Gallery, where reception of the works on show was also shaped by an aspect of surprise and the curatorial authority of Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick.
Besides raising awareness of the ‘subtle intervention’ in the frenzied urban spaces of New York, the show also allowed viewers to discover all of these various positions at once.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell
First published in Issue 9