27 Oktober — 26 November 2017
Georgia Gardner Gray: CONCORDE
SUNDAY 29 OCTOBER
Talk by Dieter Roelstraete on Georgia Gardner Gray at Kunstnernes Hus: 2pm
Supported by Fritt Ord
*All tickets for CONCORDE – The Play are free and available on a first-come-first-served basis at Kunstnernes Hus from 2 hours before the play begins.
Commencing in autumn 2017, a series of UKS solo exhibitions employs both UKS’ grounds and a part of the neighboring venue, Kunstnernes Hus, enabling the simultaneous exploration of different corners of the artistic production in question, from the main streams to the fissures and crevices. First in this series of double exposés is the American, Berlin-based painter, sculptor, and occasional playwright Georgia Gardner Gray (b.1988).
In her dual exhibition, CONCORDE, Gray transforms the ground floor of Kunstnernes Hus into a black box display for an approximately life-size model of the iconic sculptural bodywork of the turbojet, Concorde, simultaneously forming the stage-set for a live play taking place on the opening weekend. UKS’ brightly lit premises, on the other hand, offer a contrasting context for a new series of paintings and a larger installation of silver-wrapped furniture and Plexiglas vitrines carrying collectibles.
CONCORDE at Kunstnernes Hus
With its slim body and elegantly curved wings, Concorde is iconic: the epitome of aerodynamic design. Traversing the Atlantic in under three-and-a-half hours at twice the speed of sound, it was the acme of air travel, a living vestige from the space age: at once retro and from the future. A French national pride, it boasted top-of-the-line service, only available to the mega-rich and celebrity clientele. While exceeding any standard, Concorde sagged under the weight of exorbitantly high maintenance costs: living out its last days on heavy government subsidies. September 11th and a tragic crash at Charles de Gaulle shut down Concorde for good.
The sculpture-cum-stage-set CONCORDE at Kunstnernes Hus is a literal image of this emblematic plane, an accelerated vessel in an uncertain territory between bloated localized ambition, overheated transit, and trans-global disaffection. Performed in this scenario on the opening weekend of the exhibition, Gray’s play involves nine international performers acting CONCORDE’s solitary captives. The play follows a series of absurdist DIY-satires written and directed by the artist—among them Precious Provincials, which premiered at Kunstverein, Hamburg earlier this year and Schaumstoffladen at Acud Macht Neu, Berlin in 2016—using untrained friends and colleagues as actors. In the play, the utopian transatlantic transit of Concorde is followed from takeoff in Paris as it accelerates en route to New York, hosting a crew of celebrities and art stars on the edge of the atmosphere.
CONCORDE at UKS
The display at UKS revolves around Gray’s playful relation to painting as a place to perform and amuse with her often hysteric, grotesque, and decadent contemporary subjects figuratively depicted in deep hued colors. A resonating theme is one of status and loneliness. While accelerated neoliberal money flows create vast disparities between the super-rich boarding Concorde and the rest of us, in Gray’s both somber and extravagant painterly world affective economies saturate even amicable or intimately loving relationships. This in turn creates a self(ie)-reflexive detachment and narcissism that is continuously perpetuated via the high (Concorde-) speed spin of fame and persona within the visual arts.
At UKS, glittery, tin-foiled elements, a heater, a dressing room locker, a dada-clock, and a work table, allude to the American 20th-century artist-icon Andy Warhol’s famously silver-wrapped NYC studio, industrial-scale art fabrication, and high-profiled hangout, The Factory. In Gray’s reshuffling of this image, the factory is no longer inhabited by a coked-up collective but by a single entrepreneur. One pair of hands operates in Gray’s installation, as testified by remnants of a solitary male character: his work-fetish pants are hung in a changing cabinet while his isolated labor of repetitious paintings are propped next to a ticking metronome on his work desk. Outlining the regimented, timed painting routine of a robotic, automaton persona, the male painter repeats the discount supermarket ALDI’s emblematic pattern—originally designed by German op-artist Günter Fruhtrunk—as if trying to follow a Warholian dictum of creative work free of personalized touch or romantic trace. Yet, as Gray notes, in her vision of this worker’s attitude, “He does not come close to Fruhtrunk’s precision, his attempts are a bit pathetic and lacking in discipline. He only finishes a few small panels and many cups of tea.”
Adjacent to this narrative tableau hangs a billboard blow-up of a photograph by the artist’s mother. The view is from the window of her family home in New York, Roosevelt Island, which happens to overlook a factory. Resonating with questions of (industrial) labor and commodity, the personal image—both artwork and appropriation, private memory and prop—functions as backdrop for the exhibition and as an alternative view to UKS’ Oslo street windows.
One of two Plexiglas stands—appearing like something between clunky air-cargo (of Concorde) and postmodernism design—holds absurd collectibles. A Jeff Koons edition from the cynical 1980s, an original mail art piece by Ray Johnson, and a watch with the inscription “toujours en retard” (always late) by Ben Vautier are all staged behind a yellow screen, itemizing past gestures by artists whose oeuvre engages specifically with the subject of self-reflexivity and commodification. Playfully appropriating these gestures, Gray makes these assorted male personas available for the viewer like products in a shop display case.
In the second Plexiglas trolley, which can be readily moved around the floor, lies a painting—a horizontal still life imitating a tabletop. The supine picture carries the sober declaration, “I Solemnly Swear to Tell the Truth”, signed and dated by the artist, tongue-in-cheek; meanwhile another painting, vertically hung on the back panel of the deep-blue display case, shows an austere woman closely scrutinizing the signing of such contracts as if overseeing ongoing attempts at interpersonal sincerity. Between realism and cartoon, the intensity of the silhouette on the glowing patterned background creates a lineage spanning from psychedelic 1970s designs by Pucci via Gustav Klimt to Lucas Cranach’s earnest protestant portraiture.
The psychedelic and fin de siècle-inspired canvases depict Gray’s signature libertine subjects and their gawky relations. Two works, entitled Twinnings, show entangled androgynous twosomes, closely connected yet simultaneously at odds. In one, a couple of tennis players push or pull each other. Its sister painting shows a couple clinging together in a leisure nature scene. The female distractedly gazes away, as Gray notes, “at a fuzzy caterpillar”. The stylized markers of high-end sports outfits, eccentric clothing, and design items allude to a constantly self-mediated pecking order: how these subjects always perform and manipulate, distinguish and classify, whether subtly or bluntly, even in the closest of relations. Meanwhile, as if having used too much perfume, the colorful density of the work and intimacy of the couples equally invokes nausea. The use of pink, orange and contrasting bright greens and dark blues gives away a contradiction pointing to the gross darkness of the individuals’ desire to become alike.
The largest work in the exhibition, Bahnhof Zoo, is a self-portrait set in the eponymous train station in Berlin which is notoriously burdened by homelessness and drug-trafficking. On this large-scale canvas, subjects circulate in the 24/7 supermarket. Behind the foreground of a screaming orange peel, people stroll while the artist’s face, painted in blue shades, lurks in the lower left corner of the scene. Immersed in her flâneuring in the raw cityscape, the oscillation between personal investment, voyeurism, and detached desire creates continuous tension.
The exhibition is supported by the Goethe-Institut Oslo and Croy Nielsen.