Curator Kelly Large Talks To Artlyst About The Zabludowicz Collection, Appropriation, And The Body

Kelly Large

The Zabludowicz Collection presents a major exhibition featuring over 30 leading international artists, including eight Turner Prize winners, to celebrate 20 years of the collection. Bringing together significant works, many never before seen in the UK. The exhibition reflects the attitude of bold experimentation that defines the Zabludowicz Collection.

The collection was founded in 1994 by Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, and has rapidly grown to become one of the world’s leading independent contemporary art collections, containing over 3000 works by over 500 artists and is an entity that continues to grow and evolve. ‘Zabludowicz Collection: 20 Years’ celebrates the roots of the collection in 1990s London and the artists who transformed the landscape of contemporary art at the time. The exhibition includes seminal works by Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Michael Landy, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin; Artists from outside the UK such as Sigmar Polke and Isa Genzken rub shoulders with those from a younger generation such as Rachel Harrison, Guyton/Walker and Pamela Rosenkranz.

Kelly Large, the Curator of Public Programs at the Zabludowicz Collection was kind enough to give Artlyst a tour of the highlights of the exhibition, explaining the complexities and relationships presented in this cross-section of an immense collection.

“The collection was founded twenty years ago, by the Zabludowicz family, and they are still involved in collecting work with the Director Elizabeth Neilson. The collection is known predominantly for acquiring emerging artists – artists at an early stage of their career – to give you a sense of the size of the collection there are over 3000 artworks by over 500 artists; it’s a very international collection and there are three main territories that we focus on, North America, the UK, and Europe – and in particular Germany – as artists based in Germany feature a lot, including Isa Genzken, and Sigmar Polke, that’s the international element of the collection.

I think at any one time only 10 percent of the collection is on view, we loan works out to various institutions. The collection has been in existence for 20 years, but this space in Chalk Farm has only been in operation since 2007 when we opened it as an art gallery, and all the activities, the shows, commissions, events, performances, the talks – all the programs that happen here – ultimately comes out of the collection. So it’s either exhibitions of artist’s in the collection – sometimes we’ll show non collection works in relationship with collection artists – but I guess it was an opportunity to open the collection up to the public in a bigger way, and also allow the collection to be reformulated, re-thought by curating it in a sense, instead of it being this dead, dusty thing. This was about having a space where it could be reinvigorated and explored in lots of ways.

This show has been a couple of years in the making, we really had to consider how do you distill a collection of 3000 works that spans 20 years into a small chapel. This is not a chronological version of the collection, neither does it really show the development of the collection, it’s meant much more as a kind of series of moments from the collection. It’s meant to be very visual and very experiential, and if you’re walking through something then waves of experience come upon you in a way, because in lots of way that’s how the collection was developed, it’s not a systematic collection, it doesn’t have a particular conceptual or thematic drive, it doesn’t have a particular material or disciplinary drive. The thing that contains it, is that we in the main, support emerging practitioners. It means that this show is diverse, and it was meant to be diverse and is a very visual and enjoyable experience.

There are four loose anchor-points or themes that you can approach the show through. One of those is the body, one of those is appropriation, and modes of display, and how artists work with display. We haven’t organised the show around those themes, but I think what people find is that many of the artworks touch on all those themes with a set of visual and conceptual relationships.

The first space has lots of artists from the international art world of today, lots of North American artists. lots of German artists, lots of UK based artists all existing in this space together. And thinking about some of those thematics, we are standing in front of Isa Genzken’s work ‘Skyscraper For New York’ – which is an installation incorporating 3 elements, 2 sculptural pieces, and a 2-D wall piece – but together it makes an environment. She’s a German-based artist who lives in Berlin, but has spent a lot of time in New York, and is quite enthusiastic about the city as a built environment. One of the things she talks about is walking around New York and experiencing architecture in relationship to her body which has made the artist think about architecture as a sculptural form, and this is something that she plays with in her practice.

So in a way the two columns in the work you could read as plinths for artworks – because on the right you do have a plinth with a bust of Nefertiti on the top – but they are also potentially models for skyscrapers. The artist is very interested in the value of materials and how you might transform that, so on the one-hand they are these sort of skyscraper environments and on the other-hand they are very provisional in that they are made from very low-fi materials. Everything is ‘propped’ – it’s quite a precarious piece – so you have a kind of cityscape but along side that she does insert the idea of the body, the female body rather than the male body, so she troubles this neutral idea of space – a city that is a space built by men, for men – by inserting the female body, with the bust Nefertiti, a powerful historical figure, this bust is also one of the most reproduced busts in history. On the adjacent plinth. the roof of the skyscraper is actually the scan of a body; so there’s a play on ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, which also comes through in the way the artist surfaces things, with these low-fi domestic kind of tiles and grids.

In relationship to Isa Genzken and that notion of the body and appropriating materials, in that we have three other bodies that explore appropriation, but are very focused on the male body as opposed to the female body: with a work by Julia Wachtel, who has been very influenced by pop art and pop culture, and also how pop culture has been mediated through mechanical reproduction. Here classically, we have a triptych; two of the panels are screen-prints of an appropriated photograph from a newspaper or magazine, definitely print rather than digital. What she is doing in the work is contrasting this everyday version of a classical figure, this body-builder guy who desperately wants to look like a Greek god, with a humorous cartoon version of a little leprechaun, and also in contrast to the mechanical reproduction of the appropriated photographs, the cartoon figure is a painted figure, so she’s bringing these two different approaches to her art-making together. One that is conventional and traditional next to something that now we don’t blink an eye about; the idea of screen-printing being an art practice, but there was a point when that was quite radical.

Next to Wachtel we have Mark Leckey as UK-based artist who won the Turner Prize in 2008, he’s a very established practitioner now but is one that many of the younger British artists in this show would cite as a reference. Next to him is Ed Atkins who has talked a lot about how Mark Leckey is relevant. So this idea of a pedagogy, or a how an older generation of artists might influence a younger generation artists kind of exists in the relationships between things. So this work explores the appropriation of cultural material and the body, but this time the masculine body. Leckey always appropriates things that he ‘desires’, so rather than it being a very dry institutional critical use of appropriation, he works with the things that he actually wants around him and maybe he’s of a generation of artists that thinks about the idea of consumption as a productive force. So there’s a mass-reproduced poster of Little Richard – one that Leckey had in his kitchen, he says it is the equivalent of a religious icon – against that is propped a cut-out of the figure of Prince Albert from the Albert Memorial in Kensington – and against that is propped a printed photograph of a particular breed of pigeon with a very puffed-out chest, called a Pouter. In the way that Julia Wachtel puts together two versions of masculinity, this work also explores the idea of the male figure in the history of art, and perhaps maybe pokes fun at the ceremony of masculinity and how it’s reproduced in popular culture.

Christopher Wool, an American artist, is very interested in how graffiti might operate as gestural mark-making in cityscapes. The hand-made mark in the city, but also the mechanically reproduced mark, so the work is a painting that’s a combination of spray can marks, graffiti taken from various cities which has then been screen-printed onto a large canvas, and you can see the screen-printing process, the appropriation of a gestural mark with the mechanical mark. It’s interesting in relation to Pamela Rosenkranz’s work that also has a very gestural quality to it, with the body-sized sculpture, set to her scale, made out of a hard acrylic that’s formed roughly to the shape of her body, over the top of which she has used her hands to make these marks. The artist often works with materials that reminds us of the colour of make-up. I think she’s really interested in the colours of the body, skin tone – and how those might relate to painting in some manner.”

Artists: Ed Atkins / Laura Buckley, Haroon Mirza and Dave Maclean / Martin Creed / Alexandre da Cunha / Dexter Dalwood / Tracey Emin / Isa Genzken / Samara Golden / Guyton\Walker / Rachel Harrison / Andy Holden / Damien Hirst / Jim Lambie / Michael Landy / Maria Lassnig / Mark Leckey / Sarah Lucas / Josephine Meckseper / Albert Oehlen / Heather Phillipson / Sigmar Polke / Elizabeth Price / Pamela Rosenkranz / Wolfgang Tillmans / Keith Tyson / Julia Wachtel / Gillian Wearing / Rachel Whiteread / Christopher Wool.

Zabludowicz Collection: 20 Years of Collecting: Between Discovery and Invention – Zabludowicz Collection – until 16 August 2015

Part Two Next week only on Artlyst

Words: Kelly Large with Paul Black. Photos: courtesy of the Zabludowicz Collection © 2015 Artlyst all rights reserved


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