Off-Site London: Art as a lived experience – reflections on “Condo”, by David Goldenberg

  • 01.02.2016

This hybrid text, part review and part speculative essay, is a response to 'Condo', a complex of eight exhibitions, informal discussions, and the ambition to challenge how to stage art in London.

I prematurely understood Condo as a festival, which at least two of the galleries call it, others an art fair. To call the event a festival sounds far too grand. It doesn’t have the feel of an art fair or biennial. There is no information or press release offering a concept, theme or curatorial program, and the focus is on galleries themselves rather than the artists. No readymade term describes Condo. Therefore what are the criteria to review it?

Occupying equivalent space to the exhibitions is the website listing galleries and addresses of the London venues and exhibiting artists, although it is not clear how to find information on the artist’s work. You need to spend as much time looking through the website as going around the exhibitions.

In the galleries you are confronted by artworks, and again, no information about the context.

This absence triggers basic questions to build a picture of Condo. At the very least, we can say it is a city-wide event, if only because it literally is distributed across London. However, can you strip away what is normally expected from a city-wide event such as this, and present an event made up of galleries? Can it be that straight forward? Is it legitimate to strip away content and rationale of embedding art in a city, and make an event based purely on the experience of travelling around London? I am not raising these questions because of preconceived ideas of what I am expecting, but because of the sheer physical effort of traveling to see the entire project spread out across twenty miles.

The level of complexity is raised further when the minimal information informs us that each venue hosts international galleries, who present one or more of their artists. Given the quantity of artists and galleries involved, how is it possible to integrate so many works into a satisfactory whole? Just on the practical level, the logistics and coordinating skills to bring this off is considerable.

The galleries and the galleries they are hosting appear as a series of clusters: two galleries in East London – Supplement in Bethnal Green, hosting Truth & Consequences, High Art and Gregor Staiger and Carlos/Ishikawa in Mile End Road hosting Essex Street, Mathew, Freymond-Guth; three galleries in central London – Rodeo, hosting Callicoon Fine Arts and Southard Reid in Soho, hosting Jeanine Hofland and Frutta and Project Native Informant in Mayfair, hosting Antenna Space and Société; then you come across Chewday’s in Lambeth, hosting Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler; before you come across the next cluster in South East London – The Sunday Painter, hosting Jaqueline Martins, Koppe Astner and Seventeen; and, Arcadia Missa, hosting Deborah Schamoni in Peckham; International galleries from Berlin, Glasgow, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Shanghai, New York, Zurich, Geneva, Sao Paolo, Munich.

Under different circumstances, this could be seen as a global project or market. Each gallery is small to mid-scale or laboratorial, as opposed to the new gallery/museum with their new global artist’s that predominate London today. Many of the works are small scale and treated as modular units so different works are integrated together to create new patterns unifying the presentation of formats, materials and styles of works in the gallery space, which seemed to eradicate difference and content. In that respect, many of the works are intimate, establishing a sense of uniformity across the venues.

There is a lot of information to assimilate, especially when traveling through the website, although what you are doing, when randomly straying from one gallery website into another, is mentally making your own exhibition.

Whether this random assembling transfers to the experience when you go around the galleries is unclear but probable. There is a lightness of touch and sensitivity to the information and presentation of the works. The works are effectively displayed and the quality uniform throughout, by concentrating on the basics and avoiding spectacle paid off.

Given that the project avoided conceptualisation and challenges to art conventions, instead concentrating on the viewing experience of the audience leads to the justification in sensing that one of the primary aims is refocusing on art in the gallery, and workable artistic strategies by gallery artists.

This is art you would expect to find in a gallery? And if this is the case, what is the substance of Condo’s challenge?

However, this lack of presenting existing templates of information doesn’t necessarily amount to anti-intellectualist or anti–conceptual methodologies, instead we could see this as an erasure of those models and over-writing of our experience to provide breathing space for something else.

We can see this exercise as a form of reinvention of what a gallery should be doing today and how we are to understand the role of art , the quality of that art, and how to process it.

There are similar trends towards the reinvention of orthodox platforms in Museums, and you could sense this in last year’s Venice Biennial, along with the role of theory, art and politics especially around e-flux. Despite appearances, how a biennial structurally takes place - or integrating art into a city - hasn’t really changed. That is not to say the reinventions aren’t convincing. And probably constitutes no more than repackaging conservative forms and platforms, so that we are left with the material limitations and restrictions of the exhibition format, which appeared to be the message projected by last year’s Venice biennial.

But how do we determine whether this will lead us to merely becoming dumb consumers of art or whether we can use this moment to learn from these disruptions to normalised engagements with our received cultural landscape?

How do we order, process and organise material and information in our minds if there isn’t a plan or overarching concept?

Are we left with a chaotic haphazard manner of organising our thinking and experience? Or can we find the confidence and the sensitivity to our own thinking/feeling processes to build up and assemble new patterns of thinking and new imaginaries?

(In many respects this is something we are already doing when we surf the net and assimilate random fragmented bits of information, ideas and visuals into constant changing unpredictable configurations.)

Arcadia Missa, Carlos/ Ishikawa and project native informant took up this thread, by focusing on the blind spot in presenting groups shows, the exhaustion and poverty of options in curating works, whether individual artists works in individual spaces, or grouped in one space that generates a new unknown work, a weakness repeated in biennials, museum shows, gallery shows today. It seemed to me that those presentations that re-examined this problem are the most interesting.

Finally this text, juxtaposed with captured images from the exhibitions and website, is my answer to the challenge posed by Condo.