Marking the anniversary of a contemporary art museum can be tricky. It requires a delicate balance between past and future, between the writing of a serious, compelling history and the drama of a blockbuster event that proves one still has what it takes to break new ground.
For Tate Modern, an institution that instantly became a landmark in London’s cultural cityscape, the stakes seemed to be even higher when it came to celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
So it was a bit of a surprise when the gallery decided on “No Soul For Sale”—an enormous, bustling “festival of independents” that actually launched with a 2009 event at X Initiative in New York—as its main anniversary program. For it, curators Cecilia Alemani, Maurizio Cattelan and Massimiliano Gioni invited more than 70 independent art spaces, collectives and organizations to take over Tate’s enormous Turbine Hall this past weekend.
The aspirations of this Tate edition of “No Soul for Sale” were (as many noted of the fest’s original New York outing) rather Olympian, claiming to bring together “the most exciting non-profit centres, alternative institutions, artists’ collectives and underground enterprises from around the world” in an “exercise in coexistence.” Indeed, their exhibition spaces were only separated by strips of red electrical tape in a neat checkerboard pattern along the floor of the hall, while a couple of stages were shared for performances, screenings and talks.
At the Friday opening of the fair, the exercise in cooperation seemed to be working. Viewers were greeted on the first floor, for instance, by a two-storey plywood construction, painted bright red and adorned with helium balloons and flashing lights, belonging to the London-based Museum of Everything, a gallery devoted to art by untrained, amateur and unintentional artists where anyone–provided they took a number and waited their turn–could have their work critiqued, professionally photographed and hung on the walls. Across the way, the equally democratic Scrawl Collective, also from London, displayed a collaboratively produced mural that morphed and evolved over the three days of the event.
Though space on the main floor was tighter, there was still plenty of room for audience participation and collaboration. The New York– and Berlin-based e-flux used their space to install a photocopier where visitors could make their own copies of the organization’s journal, for instance, while down the hallway PSL (Project Space Leeds) created The Drawing Shed, a small cabin covered in blackboard paint that became an outlet for viewers’ expressions in chalk throughout the weekend. Nearby, Leeds artist collective Black Dogs took their invitation to exhibit at the fair as an opportunity to explore their complicated and sometimes fraught relationship with large institutions like the Tate, hosting a discussion, How to Not Sell Your Soul at No Soul for Sale, in a miniature bar complete with foosball table, backgammon and an upright piano.
Western Front, one of the three Vancouver-based invitees (along with Artspeak and Or Gallery) which constituted the fair’s Canadian representatives, took a subtler approach, showcasing videos and catalogues by some of their past exhibitors at a table beneath a kraft-paper reproduction of the building’s famous façade. Staff from the gallery, working on their laptops, answered visitors’ questions and chatted with other ARC representatives, but by Friday afternoon executive director Caitlin Jones was already bracing for a long weekend, wondering how they would battle through jet lag and manage to stay awake until midnight (the extended hours for the fair) over the next two days.