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Review: The Idea of No Idea, Curator/Artist: Stefan Bruggemann

Review: The Idea of No Idea, Curator/Artist: Stefan Bruggemann

Stefan Brüggemann, Untitled, 2007

Nicholas Knight

October 11, 2007

Shallow at I-20 Gallery

This is a group exhibition curated by Stefan Brüggemann, an artist represented by I-20. Participating artists are Pierre Bismuth, Stefan Brüggemann, Martin Creed, Miltos Manetas and Malcolm McLaren.

“Curating” is a concept without stable meaning. The motives, techniques, and results are as widely, and wildly, variable as most genres of artistic production. Does this mean that it can elevate to an artform itself? I’m ambivalent about this possibility: on the one hand, artists do the things they do, make the things they make, and then this other caste of artworlders (curators, directors, historians, critics, etc) do the things they do with the artists’ products; on the other hand, great swaths of contemporary artmaking involve slicing away parts of the found world and teasing new meanings out by recontextualizing those slices. Once an artwork enters the world, why shouldn’t it be fodder for re-recontextualizing at the hands of the “curatorial” artist? Wouldn’t that in fact prove that the artwork had succeeded in entering the world, and that it had gained autonomy from its maker (or more importantly, from the strait-jacket of its maker’s intentions)?

I bring this up to give voice to the “scrabbling for purchase” that surrounds Brüggemann’s effort at I-20. As a gallery full of artworks by a handful of artists, there’s no problem. But Brüggemann’s own studio practice casts an interesting and destabilizing pall. Most of his pieces in general operate through a recursive flattening out of the methods of artistic production. They take the widely accepted containers of artistic content and present those containers as unfolded templates…no space, no volume, and, in the words of one of his neon wall signs, “NO CONTENT”.

I take it that this position is the starting point for the logic of his curatorial choices. I have to say, I don’t get very far. When an individual artist produces an array of dissimilar objects, the viewer can still take it on faith that a thread connects them, however knotted or kinked that thread may be. Brüggemann ups the ante in this regard by assembling a group of works that are aesthetically close enough that it would not be far-fetched to think they had been made by a single artist. And yet, we know they were not. So what becomes of the thread?

Since the works were all chosen by Brüggemann, are we to read them primarily in the context of his ideas? That is, have they been re-contextualized into one large, new work? I’m tempted down this path since the individual pieces share a common “emptiness”: colorless; formed by acts of subtraction rather than addition; starkly declarative but irresolvably ambiguous. The title of the show, “Shallow”, points towards the denial of depth so frequently evoked by Brüggemann.

The elusive sense of this curatorial ethos is pushed further by including two artists – co-equals on the list of participants – who are just barely there in any real sense. Martin Creed’s off-hand drawing is slight even by his own remarkably lax standards. And Manetas’ website, well, I never went and looked at it.

The gauntlet thrown down here is provocative. There is no shortage of art today that trades in the flimsy and abject, the “pathetic aesthetic”. Very often one suspects that the boldness of declaring a shabby stack of scrap lumber to be a “finished artwork” has worn off, and the comfort and acceptability of the gesture has put down roots. In this show, emptying-out is pushed back towards its proud, destabilizing history, with no conclusions offered, or even possible. Filed in Art

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