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theanyspacewhatever: Collapsing Institutional Spaces, or Having Fun Trying

The once-distinct boundaries that separated artist from viewer, and producer from consumer, are being tested, challenged and even transgressed in a recent string of exhibitions that frame interaction and participation as central themes in contemporary art practice. These projects—like Nuit Blanche–inspired art festivals of site-specific interventions, Vancouver’s upcoming PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and the National Gallery of Canada’s show of interactive installations titled “Caught in the Act: The Viewer as Performer”—aim to disrupt the gallery visitor’s everyday experience and prompt reaction and participation. Now, New York’s Guggenheim Museum is upping the ante in this reinvestigation of the legacy of relational aesthetics by inviting 10 internationally renowned artists to collectively create an exhibition that not only occupies the gallery space, but also actively appropriates and alters it in order “to engender a kind of activated spectatorship” on the part of the viewer.

The result of this experiment in collaboration is “theanyspacewhatever,” a wacky assemblage of sculpture, installation and video that transforms the gallery into a testing ground for a variety of social interactions. Taking over the Guggenheim’s usual didactic panels and banal signage, Liam Gillick’s minimalist texts adopt the exhibition title’s strange syntax to create new signs that function as equal parts information and commentary. While some signs provide practical directions to washrooms and reading rooms, others, such as “mmmmmmmm” and “fish or cut bait,” are more cryptic, offering self-reflexive interpretations of the exhibition and gallery architecture.

Using the Guggenheim’s already disorienting architecture to his advantage, Jorge Pardo’s Sculpture Ink installation likewise riffs on the idiosyncrasies of the exhibition space by creating a maze of patterned cardboard walls that interrupt the viewer’s movement and gaze through the gallery. Punctuated by art-themed posters created by other artists in the show using kitschy slogans like “I went to the Guggenheim and all I got was this Richard Print,” Pardo’s intervention creates a provisional exhibition within the exhibition: a microcosm of “theanyspacewhatever” produced with simple means and everyday materials.

Maurizio Cattelan, best known for his tongue-in-cheek sculptural reproductions of iconic figures like Hitler and the Pope John Paul II, contributes a more explicit intervention into the exhibition space with Daddy Daddy: a life-size plastic version of Disney’s Pinocchio character that lies face-down in the gallery’s fountain, seemingly the victim of either a sinister cartoon homicide or an escape plan gone tragically awry.

Rikrit Tiravanija, who famously bricked up the entrance to the OCAD Professional Gallery last year, offers a more subdued model for gallery intervention with Cinéma Liberté/Bar Lounge, a collaboration with film artist Douglas Gordon where movies that were once censored in American cinemas are screened free of charge in the gallery space while beverages are served at a nearby bar. Perusing the list of screenings offers an insightful overview of the way viewers’ definitions of what is considered taboo and offensive has changed over the decades, prompting questions about how art practices have also responded to these shifts in public perception. Just as many of the banned films have gone on to be accepted as mainstream classics, “theanyspacewhatever” proves that a similar shift has occurred in our definitions of artistic practice, allowing interventionist works that once presented a challenge to institutional gallery space to take centre stage in one of North America’s largest arts institutions. (1071 5 Ave, New York NY)

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