That beautiful pale face is my fate
26 July, Splendid Vices symposium
Exhibition runs 26 July to 7 September
A process of living
The City Gallery
11 July to 29 August
Nottingham is booming. Cranes are arrayed in serried ranks across the hilltop regenerating what once was the gun crime capital of the UK. As with so many newly confident cities a capital build art gallery, Nottingham Contemporary, will crown its achievements. Actually in Nottingham, there are two new galleries, the other being New Art Exchange, but that project remains sans director and so sans direction. Nottingham Contemporary isn’t opening immediately (Spring 2009), but is announcing its arrival with a selection of offsite projects, symposia and events.
It began with a pretty aggressive manifesto, vaguely masquerading as an exhibition entitled Disobedience. This provided a showcase (designed by Luca Frei) of the Disobedience archive curated by Marco Scotini. There were a lot of films, some by artists, some by activists, related to left wing activism shown in big black plinths. It suggested that 1968 was worth remembering. It suggested that activism and art are related spheres of activity. It suggested a new kind of omnipotence for the curator in which the artist is relegated to role of exhibition designer. It suggested a new kind of exhibition, akin to the archive in which the artwork is totally subsumed into the greater whole of the show.
Disobedience was the first project to emerge entirely from director Alex Farquharson’s Nottingham Contemporary and suggests a suitable aesthetic ambition and appropriately Europhile politics. Equally excitingly it denoted an almost total disregard for local authority art predilections that have previously been the bane of the regions.
Following up this 1968 inspired nostalgia for a better class of political art is a showcase for the mother of all rebels, Lord Byron. His family home, Newstead Abbey, is conveniently close to Nottingham, and has inspired the second major outing for Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition opens on 26 July, under the title of That beautiful pale face is my fate. Including Pablo Bronstein, Linder, Dave Noonan and Goshka Macuga (nominated for the Turner Prize 2008, the invite tells us) the artists have embarked on an ‘artistic séance’ with Byron as their phantom.
Worth flagging up is the associated symposium on the opening Saturday 26, Splendid Vices with Philip Hoare, Sebastian Hoare, and the brilliant Michael Bracewell. One assumes they will be discussing the virtues of bad behaviour. Or Disobedience.
Whilst Nottingham Contemporary broods beautifully over the iniquities of man in Leicester a chipper an optimistic City Gallery has put together an exhibition on education and art. Under the title of A process of living, a quote from an American philosopher (who knew?) it showcases some good and some less good work around ideas of learning.
It has been built around Bruce McLean’s project Primary Space, both physically and chronologically. Bruce McLean has spent a decade involved in the development and realisation of a primary school that opened in Scotland in 2007. It is pretty admirable stuff and the gallery have a range of drawings of his, and his friends involved in the project.
Around this are a series of (mostly) films including works from Copenhagen Free University and United Nations Plaza. The two organisations are both part of a narrative about new institutionalism, though it is a term they both shook off. They reject instrumentalist, governmental structures and attempt to find their way around their inevitable institutionalisation. Copenhagen Free University met the challenge of their own growing significance by closing. Meanwhile United Nations Plaza, which emerged from Anton Vidokle’s cancelled Manifesta in Cyprus, seems to be doing a good job of establishing itself as a leading art world institution. He is the man behind E-Flux, so perhaps this new institution might look a lot like an old institution, but more digital.
The conversation that A Process of Living encourages is between this kind of radical, anti-institutional practice of United Nations Plaza and the practice of Bruce McLean working within the governmental system. This echoes the Enlightenment divide between the Romantic distrust of government (especially monarchy) and the empirical that better governance as the solution to all human woes. This distinction can also be traced between Nottingham Contemporary’s return to high Romantic rebellion and Leicester City Gallery’s exploration of what can be done when working for the system.
When a new director is finally appointed for New Art Exchange they will have to choose how to compromise these two impulses, one hopes for a Romantic pragmatism, should such a thing be possible.