What is the role of art publishing today? How have artists adapted modes of publishing as a tool for their practice? How has the notion of artists’ publishing activity changed, given the ever-increasing amount of fairs and an ever-evolving number of book-related collections in contemporary art museums?
Starting from these three simple questions, Kunsthalle Wien proposes a very unusual contemporary art museum exhibition, and it is precisely the structure of this debate that makes this project so special in every way.
Let’s start with the assumption that a museum that nowadays wants to enhance its educational role must first of all be open to new perspectives as well as consolidate the path of one or more artists through a canonical programme. The Kunsthalle Wien does not want to be canonical in anything, and this can be seen as soon as you cross the entrance, where a space dedicated to the merchandising of the institution takes over the ticket office. Here I was waiting for Luca Lo Pinto, curator of the exhibition, having just the time I needed to decide which of the posters with eagles (the museum symbol) would return home with me. With a graphic that distinguishes the entire visual communication of the museum, this edition showing various representations of the predatory bird deserves special mention before the start of the visit.
In order to access the exhibition, coming from the official museum bookshop, we pass through another bookshop, specially created for this occasion, which welcomes the visitor with a series of books, editions, and pamphlets published since the advent of the Digital Era (pinpointed in 1989) until today. The layout of this section is exactly what everyone could expect from a publishing exhibition – a large table gathering all the editions to be manipulated but also to be bought. This approach reflects exactly the limbo between merchandising and the show itself that has always been at play in the hybrid role of publishing for an exhibition – the desire to browse and unveil the content before acquiring the object. Everything can be consulted until you enter the room with the actual exhibition. Here the book acquires the sacred role of work of art and becomes solely an object of display. From the choice of setup we can understand how a common object becomes an artwork in the museological context: The editions are not shown on walls or tables; instead we find a macroscopic display composed of an environmental installation. It recreates an atypical urban horizon, where roofs with red ceramic tiles glazed by hand become the support plan for the contributions of 35 artists (some of the most active artists in the international arena) invited to give their vision on the publishing object. Each artist chose three or four texts that have influenced his or her research and practice. The texts’ themes range from philosophy to literature, without distinction.
A side section of this show is dedicated to Franz West, one of the major actors in contemporary sculpture. Here the viewer finds many texts that have influenced the artist during his life. These are shown as a contribution to a deeper observation of the starting point and as a transformation of a thought into a traditional artwork.
Closing the show there is an extra section dedicated to digital editorial contributions, which can be viewed through an online archive. Furthermore, a panel of interventions is planned and scheduled within the time frame of the exhibition.
As a whole, this is a museological proposal that integrally addresses a possible way to display the work of art, in its existence but above all in its absence: the moment before the creation. It is an exhibition and a reflection on the study that precedes the elaboration of the work. Kunsthalle Wien uses its avant-garde role to offer what is more intimate in a work of art: the research that underlies it.
– Giorgio Galotti