Nina Beier, Jiří Kovanda, Marie Lund: Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Boba Dylana curated by Edith Jeřábková (27.1 to 28.3.2011) DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Prague, Czech Republic by Tereza Stejskalová

Nina Beier, Shelving for Unlocked Matter and Open Problems (2010)

The exhibition Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Boba Dylana is the result of a friendship between two Danish artists, Nina Beier and Marie Lund, and the Czech artist Jiří Kovanda as well as a sense of connection among their works. As is well known, Beier and Lund made their early career working together as a duo, and have, as such, collaborated Kovanda on various occasions, a factor which in turn led to this larger collaboration. Curated by Edith Jeřábková, the exhibition itself is interested in non-dominating relationships, even friendships. The title, for instance, originated in a conversation between the three artists, in the amazement of Beier and Lund over the Czech declination of Dylan’s name in the title of one of Kovanda’s pieces.

Jeřábková invites one to search for various relationships between the individual oeuvres or between the individual works without imposing a decisive interpretive scheme. The exhibition is strictly structured (three artists, three floors, three times Bob Dylan); it takes into account the repetitive floor plan of the tower so that the works relate to each other not only horizontally but also on a vertical basis. The visitor receives a guide describing the context of each artwork pointing out the most apparent meanings as well as possible connections with other objects. Despite being gently manipulated by the curator, one feels the burden of freedom to arrive at one’s own idea of what the exhibition about. One misses a clear curatorial statement, an argument with which one is forced to come to terms with, argue with, agree or disagree.

According to the curatorial text, the predominant theme of the exhibition is the problem of the object and its materiality and, interestingly, all of the three artists approach this issue with a peculiar subtlety. What takes place in this exhibition is, in fact, a strangely inconspicuous attack on the supposed dignity of the object.

installation view

Kovanda’s ironic interventions undermine the status and the function of the object with a simplicity for which he is famous, aiming at a moment of surprise on the part of the audience. For his installation One Hundred Czech Crowns (2006), Kovanda allegedly hid 99 crowns inside the wall behind a coin that remains the only one visible. The work betrays the title; where we expect a fair amount, we find next to nothing. A bicycle seems to be leaning against the wall (Untitled, 2009) but when we come closer, we realize that a small section of the handlebars has been inserted into the wall. Two white pillows have been attached to a wall like two paintings (Two Pillows, 2008) and a column of bricks contains one layer of snails (Untitled, 2009).

Unlike Kovanda’s straightforward interventions, Beier’s works demonstrate a great deal of sophisticated thinking. She works with the negative; the pieces are strictly self-referential while being self-evasive. The object steps down from its pedestal to give way to its own absence, yet this absence becomes an object in its own right. This character of Beier’s work demonstrates itself most clearly in her Shelving for Unlocked Matter and Open Problems (2010), a collection of various sculptures which function as bearers of glass shelves and are, for that reason, cut down to a desired height. The shelves are empty but the sophisticated arrangement of the piece (its new “objecthood”) somehow betrays this emptiness. In The Broken Ear Restored (2010), a torn poster of the eponymous 1937 Tintin book is glued back together; yet the traces of its previous destruction remain. The white spots reflect the absence that hunts the original story but they can also be perceived merely as a decorative pattern.

Jiří Kovanda, Untitled (2009) and Nina Beier, The Broken Ear Restored (2010)

Lund’s work seems to function as a bridge in between Beier’s more intellectual and Kovanda’s more intuitive approach. Her work is poetic in its choice of titles (The Weeper, 2010; Marine Painting, 2010) and romantic in its interest in contingency, in fracture. This is evidenced by works such as Floor Based Wall Piece (2010) or Marine Painting (2010), a sheet of marble left on the ground in the way in which it broke down into two pieces so that the fracture resembles horizon separating the sea from the sky.

In their polemic with the object, there is a striking difference between the two Danish artists and Kovanda. The latter’s works consist of everyday objects of cheap material, the production of which seems if not coincidental then just uncomplicated. Most of the work by Beier and Lund is either produced out of expensive materials or it is formally elaborate. Their art, even if it questions the object by being focused on its incompleteness, fragmentariness or even absence, affirms rather its artefact-like essence than otherwise. As with many post-conceptual artists, dematerialization as a critique of art as commodity no longer works for the two. This applies also to the institutional critique. Beier’s and Lund’s work merely point out the institutional space but there is no trace of criticism. At the same time, in their obsession with the negative (as the negation of the old for the sake of the new), the nostalgia for the belief in profound aesthetic and political transformation is clearly perceptible. One feels a sense of resignation in the air.

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