Multiple venues, 14 January – 11 February 2017
A circle of blank, wide-eyed faces stares at you, a wooden seating arena filling up the Carlos Ishikawa gallery peopled with puffy, scarecrow-like bodies. They have round, papier-mâché heads painted shades of brown and black with felt hair and eyebrows, most of them outfitted with rubber boots and factory uniforms. The living people sitting on the structure blended in, adding to a sense of unease, then one burly man sauntered in and began to sing in what sounded like a medley of love songs in Spanish. It was as if we had temporarily tuned into a faraway radio station. After a few minutes, he finished, muttered a small thank you, and left. Oscar Murillo’s installation Human Resources, 2016, is one of the highlights of ‘Condo’, if only simply because it is the biggest. As per the usual for the ‘socially engaged’ side of Murillo’s practice when he’s not painting, these figures have supposedly been made by people in his home town in Colombia, as apparent representations of themselves. At the centre of the room was a miniature Aztec ziggurat encircled by a crudely assembled roller coaster. ‘Azteca Ride’, letters on the side of Japanese artist Yutaka Sone’s untitled 2016 sculpture proclaim (brought by Tommy Simoens gallery of Antwerp); here, we were in a sort of South American amusement park, entertained by exotic workers and ancient history. The pairing of works might have been intended as a critique to such fetishisations, but it felt like more a joke at the artists’ expense.
‘Condo’, a ‘collaborative exhibition’ where a handful of London’s commercial galleries hosted counterparts invited from across the globe, was back for its second year. Last year’s was successful in terms of generating a well-attended event in the dead of winter, banding together some of the art-fair circuit’s small and medium-sized galleries; though it also drew some criticism for its lack of focus (critic Orit Gat, writing for art-agenda, called for a curator to be involved) and keeping to fairly conservative presentations of works (see the review in Art Monthly 394). This time it was bigger: with 36 galleries across 15 spaces, there was almost double the number of venues this year and many more galleries taking part. The type of gallery taking part has also shifted, with slightly older and more established organisations getting involved, including London galleries the Approach, Sadie Coles HQ, Herald Street and Maureen Paley, and Glasgow’s Modern Institute stepping in. That shift, if anything, was the main difference in this year’s ‘Condo’, while the event’s issues, and criticisms, have only grown correspondingly.
Hundreds of bones and twisted metal objects encrusted in stone and rust hung from the ceiling of the downstairs space in Rodeo gallery, and thumping electronic music came from a turntable in the corner. It was an odd sort of graveyard, with bits of jawbones, spine and worn bits of blackened wood arranged into macabre mobiles and morbid wind chimes. Franziska Lantz’s expanding arid zones, 2017, presented by Berlin’s Supportico Lopez, was an enchanted forest of debris found on the river bed of the Thames, and as an installation it stood out as one of a few large displays by a single artist – and, like the Murillo, it was a catchy showstopper.
‘Condo’ is, if anything, about that initial oomph, though it doesn’t always pull it off. Last year’s ‘Condo’ was dominated by an art-fair aesthetic, and that was even more the case this year. It is no longer just about small, easily sellable two-dimensional works (though this does dominate the project), but a prioritisation of surface over context, of facility over complexity, and immediacy of impact. Part of the promise of ‘Condo’ has always been the chance to expose the unexpected or unusual, to introduce new work or unlikely couplings. In most cases, though, unambitious works were presented. Some galleries simply kept things separate, giving guest exhibitors their spare showrooms, for example Bridget Donohue from New York showed a few new works by Martine Syms in Sadie Coles’s back room, while Simone Subal showed Sonia Alemeida’s work in a small room at the Approach. Working your way through the breezy Michael Bracewell-curated show at Maureen Paley (which had been on since November), Brussels gallery Dépendance turned a small corner upstairs to their advantage, showing a concise cluster of works from all of their artists on a grey wall with white rectangles offsetting the works hung on top of it, like ghosts of previous pictures. Other galleries took on the fair booth approach wholesale, such as at Emalin (which hosted Gregor Staiger) and the Sunday Painter (which hosted Jaqueline Martins, Seventeen and Stereo) crowding rooms with works that were ill at ease with each other.
A few of the galleries did try to work together, with attempts to create loosely collaborative group shows at Herald Street and Arcadia Missa, and Proyectos Ultravioleta at Greengrassi even designated a theme: ‘These Architectures We Make’. Project Native Informant, which hosted Dublin’s Mothers Tankstation and New York’s Queer Thoughts, managed the most cohesive of these, the gallery’s barely made-up former office setting, with tall, slim windows overlooking the construction of the Goldman Sachs offices next door, providing an ideal backdrop for the series of lightboxes depicting white, empty palatial corridors by åyr, and a set of computer servers, improbably occupied by peculiar objects like miniature shipping containers and a small palm tree, by Yuri Pattison. Noel McKenna’s paintings of empty workshops nearby helped to turn the show into a melancholic, tech-geeky mulling over of how we have got to the situation we are in.
As the title of ‘Condo’ implies, this was mostly about real estate and use of property. But surely, in pooling such resources, there are other, more inventive or interesting ways to allow artists to connect with audiences, curators and collectors. By and large, ‘Condo’ felt like another missed opportunity; the implication being that, in creating a structure in addition to and as an alternative to art fairs, commercial galleries can still only imagine such a system; that given the freedom they would still rather crawl back in their cages. The structure and layout of most of these displays made it apparent: ‘Condo’ isn’t about quality or even content, it is about community building, albeit the specific community of gallerists and their collector clients. In The Inoperative Community, 1986, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy described how much of our obsession with community derives from its idealisation, fixing it in an often fictionalised version of the past. While having thoroughly accepted the feel of the contemporary art fair, ‘Condo’ seems to want to aim for the mid-19th century, the origins of the commercial gallery, when ‘audience’ was synonymous with ‘client’; the rest of the public needn’t bother.
Originally published in Art Monthly, No. 404, March 2017