Domestic Vignettes, the first OFF THE WALL at Contemporary Wing
The heavy-hitting lineup of the current show at Contemporary Wing reads like a cross section from my “Art Since 1980” course in art school. However, the exhibition and intent of OFF THE WALL: ESTABLISHED CONTEMPORARY: EMIN, GOLDIN, HIRST, SMITH, WALKER, WARHOL isn’t quite the lecture hall’s double-slide projections. The artworks are from private collections and were chosen based on their rarity and value. Rather than being thematically tied, the commonality of the art in the show is celebrity.
From the street the space looks like a high-end high-design furniture show room, a little crowded, and the art work almost feels secondary. The intent is to simultaneously showcase design and propose a vision for what this artwork could look like in one’s home. Lauren Gentile, the founder and director of the gallery referred to these arrangements as “domestic vignettes.” This tactic initially felt kind of diminishing to the work that I came to see, rendering their function as centrally interior design. Rather than the sterile white-walls space, devoid of any other signifiers to complicate my experience of encountering the work that I am so used to, regardless of the scale or scope of the artwork or installation, this exhibition design heavily emphasizes their object-value. Duh, this is a commercial gallery, and I’m well aware of my insularity in non-profit and alternative art spaces. Yet there is something that feels more complex than that at hand.
This is the first in a series of OFF THE WALL exhibitions, the next is subtitled simply “Street Art,” and will show some like-wise big names in that scene;Shepard Fairey, Faile, Blek Le Rat, James Marshall (Dalek), WK Interact, Gary Baseman, and Eine- interestingly but maybe insignificant, this name order is directly from the website, perhaps arranged hierarchically rather than alphabetically like the current show. Gentile was very straight-forward about her intent to present the works as autonomous, uninterested in creating a conceptual or theoretical framework for the individual exhibitions, or a conversation between the two shows in favor of letting the viewer determine what they will. Of course, it is very difficult for me to not draw associations between the two shows, and whether she wants to or not, she is articulating meaning by simply making these two shows distinct and establishing a hierarchy. Not that she is putting out anything we don’t already know, the first show is established, and the second is what’s trendy.
We all know and are I hope a little tired of the irony and story of “street art;” the popularization of the de-commercialization of the art object and art experience which was so appealing that it created an incredibly high-demand market. We can rehash that all day. But, to me what’s interesting is the history of these works on a secondary market and showcasing them in correlation to the pieces in the first show. Gentile talked about the appeal of street art as being rooted in its public accessibility through murals, wheat-pastes, stencils, etc. Yet, the works that will be displayed likewise come from private collections and live far from the public realm.
So there is a layered play of different publics and privates. There is a bit of voyeurism with work on the secondary market, the narrative of the piece’s provenance, even if anonymous, adds another something to the work. These works likely actually lived in someone’s home, and they are taken from that private experience to the public gallery, an encounter with something little-seen before it is put back into a collection. Exciting, right? The exhibition’s furniture layout, the “domestic vignette” is meant to help you see that the piece isn’t just this unapproachable museum-like piece, but available, it’s simply merchandising. You can imagine it in your home. (I mean, I can’t.) And the second show shares the context of private collections, but work itself originated in the public, theoretically and literally, and maybe only now borrows on that aesthetic.
Contemporary Wing is carving out a space in DC between the art of the smaller non-profit spaces I adore and the consecrated art in museums and major institutions. Significantly through the choice of works, Contemporary Wing is showcasing the kind of artists that they have access to. Gentile emphasized to me that the pieces were “rare,” the Kara Walker is a small dark gouache, the Tracy Emin is a drawing rather than print, the Andy Warhol is part of his endangered species series, the Nan Goldin prints came directly from her studio in the early 90’s, Shinique Smith was in the 30 Americans show, and the Damien Hirsts are Damien Hirsts.
Formerly Irvine Contemporary, Contemporary Wing renovated the space and expanded into the upper parts of the building. Gentile graciously showed me the upstairs office space and conference room, decorated to feel comfortable and domestic but very sleek, and seemed so hip and expensive I was afraid to breathe. Back downstairs, the gallery is outfitted with awesome sliding and rotating walls- so the structure of the space is flexible, and can easily transform into a more traditional white-cube kind of space. While I was there, the staff was preparing for a meeting and slid a wall to hide the stairs, repositioning the Warhol along with it. I felt like I had intruded on the set of a James Bond movie I’d really like to watch, and will return to.
Thanks to Lauren Gentile for showing me her space and talking to me about the show!
OFF THE WALL: ESTABLISHED CONTEMPORARY will run through this Saturday, August 4. OFF THE WALL: STREET ART will run August 16-25, opening reception on August 16.
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