Towards Infinity at Simon Lee Gallery London presents us with a delicious slice through the mid-1960s to early ‘80’s. I don’t say delicious with any sense of irony given that this congregation of artists would probably be the basis of a show that I would have loved to have curated.
This group exhibition takes us from Acconci’s performative wordplay in The Lay of the Land via the mischievous Roule Moule of Broodthaers’ to the daring work of the oft underrated and under narrated Stanley Brouwn.
This may be something of a collection of conceptual art’s/arte povera’s greatest hits from the greatest hitters, but without wishing to become too sentimental or accusative, when I see this work I wonder whether the spirit of educated rebellion, so intensely present here, hasn’t been lost? As something of a provocation, I might offer that wit and ingenuity in the visual arts succumbed two decades ago, drowned in a deluge of social media mediocrity, and adrift alongside it the bloated corpse of art theory, buoyed by the gaseous mix of half-understood French philosophy and no new ideas to bring to a symbolic last supper table. What do you think?
Well perhaps this is harsh, and inversely, one could argue that the works in Towards Infinity are of, and fixed by their time, reflecting a naive optimism which artists would find spiritually unsustainable in the present context. But there are indisputable visual and material ideas embodied by the works in this show that sit at the core of abstract thinking and give articulate voice to important perceptual, temporal and spatial themes through the miraculous organ of the object.
The works in the show have a sense of authenticity that only genuine endeavour and time can bestow, whither through the portentous, surveillance-like photography in Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Time Series or Gilbert and George’s absolutely staggering, Staggering (1972-3).
The exhibition is positioned against, but within the Canon of Art History and predictably, the pre-eminent narratives around dematerialization, attitudes, form and the (rutted) disquieting backdrop of Vietnam, all abound in a valorous attempt to bring unity to a collection of works whose central functions remain largely unaltered by the passage of time; these were artists who made/assembled collisions of material in order to disrupt, obstruct, defy and usurp the timeline and inevitability of an art that, through Modernism and Minimalism, reflected a narrowing societal fixation with over-refinement and aesthetics. To characterize the collated works in this show as ‘conceptual art’ offers a reassuring ‘ready-to-wear’- but ultimately lazy - solution to the problem of how to attach explanations/meaning to this riotous assembly. The job of explaining the inexplicable in art seems to me to be, and always has been, a pointless mediation driven by a mixture of intellectual sloth and categorical spin.
My overriding message in terms of enjoying this show is to leave the art historical baggage and attendant insecurities at the door of the gallery and address each work as an individual moment without the lens of language or the burden of storytelling. It is in this moment, for instance that one can truly delight in the spatial conundrum that is Anselmo’s Infinito (1971-73).
If you think my rant here is something of an avoidance strategy to dodge describing the work or failing to offer corollaries between the salient moments in the lives of the artists and the advent of key outputs, then you’re absolutely right. But I am also arguing that the custom and practice of dialectical research, leading to the inevitable presentation of evidence-based thesis and antithesis toward synthesis, is not the only way to view or to enjoy this art. Look at it and have a think for yourself.
Vito Acconci, Giovanni Anselmo, Art&Language, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Alighiero Boetti, Marcel Broodthaers, Stanley Brouwn, Daniel Buren, André Cadere, Luciano Fabro, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Gilbert&George, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Paul Thek, Keiji Uematsu.