The works on show at the Camden Arts Centre are the latest in their series of artist-selected shows at the North London gallery. Somewhere between a curatorial exercise and art-by-proxy, these shows have revealed both the personal and vicarious aspects of artist curation/selection. The work selected by Simon Starling comprises works by 30 artists and designers, revisiting the history of the Camden Art Centres programmes over the last 50 years. By-and-large the works occupy the position they were originally allocated and somehow create a collage of the history of the space varied across several decades as well as new works that speculate about the future of the space.
Rather like a Disney theme park the dislocation between different periods is overwritten by the spatial wholeness of the exhibition. The notion of synchronising works that suppose themselves to be from different periods is nothing new and Starling readily acknowledges his indebtedness to Jorge Luis Borges and George Kubler for the premise, which forms the framework of the exhibition. It is largely the case that the chosen works deal with aspects of time. The “modernist” impulse of the Isokon Furniture display with Marcel Breur takes on an a bizarre air of modernist critique completely at odds with the sincerity and optimism with which it was first exhibited.
By bringing together works based solely on the fact they were once exhibited in the same room Starling is able to make extraordinary oppositions. I can think of few other opportunities to place William Morris and Francis Alys together in a space. One cannot be impressed by the shear logistical nightmare that must have been presented by procuring the work. Upon close inspection the labels of each piece reveal the trajectory of the work after it’s original showing at Camden. The label to a Francis Bacon painting reads:
Francis Bacon: Figure Study II, 1945-46, originally exhibited as part of narrative painting at the Camden Arts Centre, 1970, courtesy of the Kirklees Collection: Presented to Batley Art Gallery by the Contemporary Art Society, 1952.
As the title of the show suggests, Starlings selection and positioning of works helps us to look at the probable pasts of the objects, implying that the works on display were never predestined to become influential works but were forced to partake in many rites of passage that Starling hints at.
I look forward to the possibility of seeing the same exercise in another 50 years reviewing a reworking Starling's strategy for a second time.
-- Mike Tuck
All images courtesy the artists and The Camden Arts Centre
Images: Mike Nelson, Studio Apparatus, 1998, Courtesy and copyright the artist; Francis Upritchard, Sloth with Roman Plastics, 2005, Courtesy and copyright the artist.