The only thing the curator Juan Gaitán asked of the artists contributing to “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” was not to consider the gallery “insufficient.” That the only parameter was a double negative hints at some of the wryness the resulting works—and perhaps Gaitán’s curation in general—exhibit. Compared to newer venues, the gallery at the Western Front lacks the spaciousness a contemporary group show requires and could therefore be seen as disadvantageous for a six-person show: hence Gaitán’s injunction. What made the exhibition a success was the way the works didn’t speak to each other.
Sara Mameni’s contribution was India, a humorous four-part sound piece that could be accessed only on the Front’s website. The piece plays out like a radio program about India’s booming economy. It cheekily begins with a promotion for a fictional investment program that encourages its “millionaire” listeners to invest in India, followed by an ad for the largest corporation in India and a report on a (real-life) 27-storey dwelling that Mukesh Ambani, the fifth richest man in the world, is building in Mumbai. It ends with a brief report on the failing health of the “veteran Marxist leader” Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who “slipped into coma.”
For his contribution to the show, Ron Tran literally removed the front door from his apartment. For the show’s month-long run, his door was installed in the Front, the peephole aligned so as to provide a view of the entrance way of the gallery (he tells me the missing door caused him to lose much sleep). Antonia Hirsch presented a lectern on which appeared, in Braille, the passage from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations describing the “invisible hand” of capitalism. Paul Kajander presented a related video piece and performance, while Abbas Akhavan draped curtains from a second floor window, scattered flowers around a lamppost and cluttered shoes around the Front’s entrance way.
In To Experience The Space of the Gallery Without Opaque Mass, A Trajectory of 526 Square Feet, In One Line, Arabella Campbell continued to push the boundaries of her painting practice. The only trace of painting in this work is a frame, a frame that we create by taking a walk. A stack of cards provides a set of directions that leads the viewer to two particular trees in a park about a block away. What distinguishes Campbell’s piece from other work that blurs the line between art and life is the way she contextualizes the walk within the aesthetic criteria of painting (lines, frames, etc.).
The effects of an exhibition that did not consider the gallery “insufficient” grew on me. Perhaps ironically, at first the exhibition itself felt insufficient. But when I began to think about how the works dealt with that insufficiency, the way they allowed for conceptual playfulness and particularly the way the works all considered the same problem in different ways, what became evident was a satisfying degree of wryness, satire and aplomb.