An Introduction © Christina Mitrentse & Jonas Ranson 2011.
The Project itself:
LINEAR B initiated in 2009 when its theoretical framework was presented at the annual symposium of Stephen Lawrence gallery in November 2009. Since then, the project passed through various stages of negotiation with Benaki Museum and KIPOS, Nikos Alexiou private foundation Athens, until its realization as the core project of the Stephen Lawrence gallery programme for 2011-2012, anticipating the Olympic Games.
LINEAR B creates an environment within the Stephen Lawrence Gallery that utilizes selected contemporary works from the private and idiosyncratic collection of Greek artist Nikos Alexiou. The works, by both emerging and established practitioners,dialect with new work produced by invited London based artists in an unequivocal and explicit response, creating new poetical communions and exchange.
The distinctive location of Stephen Lawrence Gallery is an ideal space and context, that of the educational institution, which allows for multiple readings of this exhibition. The circumstances of the Greenwich University educational environment are suggestive of a pedagogical approach, signifying notions of study,research and reflection. In this instance though, the didactic setting is subtlety subverted.
The exhibition features selected international contemporary artists who have been asked to enter a process of contemplation and envision, to create works in response. In so doing, an act of rumination of the artworks have been established, towards the production of a number of new art works in a gesture of riposte.
By creating a dialogue between not only collector and artist, but artist and artist, as well as exploring the ideas of artist-as-collector and artist-as-curator, the show attempts to explore the ways in which a collection can exist as an entity in and of itself. Incorporating various readings, the show will play on this fusion and the dialectical relationship among international contemporary artists and their art production. What as artists do we (the curators) feel are the significant areas to be read that can then be used as a basis to make further work.
In addition, the exhibition addresses the ways in which an alternative space to that of the traditional ‘museum’ or gallery space can be approached, to one that incorporates the works with a more architectural, structural and domestic implication. (Refer to Nikos Alexiou (artist/collector) house and working space as well as the Naxos Tower -Tower exhibition in Greece 2009, the tower as beacon etc…)
Each of the 7 artists invited to react to specific works that they could choose from a selection of over 200 the complete collection which is presented as a footage material in the exhibition. The task for us has been to select artists whose work somehow dovetails with the contents and significance of the collection.The collection used to exist by being incorporated into the décor of the artist/collectors living/working space, before its been donated to Benaki Museum Athens just before Alexiou dies.(see photos by Panos Kokkinias on the website ) It does not attempt to reform or classify the works and present them in some systematic fashion, along with the separation of disciplines that continues to dominate academia.
The artists involved begun to enter into a period of creative dialogue with our guidance and subsequent production in an attempt to make sense of and respond to the selected works, creating an open platform where different stories and testimonies can come together. The notion of the artist working with a gallery collection is not new. Historically, artists have drawn inspiration from collections and their heterogeneous works, including archaeological, ethnographic, medical, botanical and zoological items, as a basis for academic study and starting reference for art making. but those works which the artist is expected to respond are often of a previous era, and not those of his generation. In our case, the artists are given the opportunity to look at contemporary works, previously selected by an artist/collector also of his/her contemporaries.
The conception of a creative dialogue with the chosen works embraces a variety of activities: contemplation, time out from preoccupying themes, and deeper engagement with the chosen works. Research can be oriented to a specific or it can be a dialogue with art historical phenomena that the work represents. It should be seen also as offering opportunities for the reinvention of one’s imagery and ideas, new paths of inquiry and stylistic departures. The artists taking part in this exhibition are not just letting us see the work they have produced as a result of the invitation and as a respond to the particular painting, but in the process they can allow us to look again at pictures the collector thought he knew well.
De-contextualising the Collection
Collecting art is an art form in itself, a highly sophisticated means of self expression responding to profound inner desires and operating as all art, on a subconscious level. Although certain quantifiable factors, such as market value, exert a strong influence, in Alexiou’s collection the personal messages perceived by the collector are ultimately the most persuasive in determining what to acquire. These attributes contained in the art work serve as the collector’s medium to form his statement.
Whatever motivates the collector, the selection of a work is generally prompted by an overriding connection. Aesthetic or personal. Alexiou’s approach is in direct resistance to the commodity Fetishism usually associated with art Collecting. The very duality of use value and exchange value of the objects, in which social relationships are transformed into apparently objective relationships between commodities and money is denied.
Nikos Alexiou collection is a small but diverse anthology featuring contemporary work from a diverse assemblage of international artists. Viewing his collection has been likened to the viewer feeling as though he is diving into a numinous atmosphere, or within the layering of a secret. Nikos Alexiou has said: ‘I used to say to my friends that I will become an artist because i do not have the money to become a collector.”
The collection exists as a set allegory of the collective character, the character that exists through his own artistic practice. This process is the apotheosis of his work In this way we deal with a peculiar strategic collector and a quiet archivist of contemporary art.
It is difficult to distinguish between the domestic space, the personal collection and the artwork itself. In all cases, the point lies in the production of the inner process. The real subject is the connection, the link and their fusion In this sense, the actual work is the interior of his house where he used to live, which is the epitome of his collective process, a way for someone to live within chaos and to transform it temporarily in meaning.
This ‘mixed’,but infinite character of the collection gives a holistic and aesthetical atmosphere of a very particularized theater, quite literally Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in which it also creates an empathy to the viewer.This then generates the possibility to withdraw into the emotional experience or the inner world of the artist/collector. What we are concerned with in this project is to give some insight into the relationship of a contemporary art collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection. The collection is something entirely arbitrary.
The relationship between private collectors and public collections is one of numerous issues which emerges from this exhibition. Museum directors and curators tend by tradition to be cautious and even conservative collectors for their institutions, whereas private collectors can challenge consensus and are in a better position to pursue the unfashionable and take risks. Performative collecting is about being involved, it is about a real personal commitment to artist and art. It is not a passive form of collecting, someone buying from an auction catalogue or from slides. Performative collecting is about art as appreciation and as a way of life. It is part concept, part process, part belief, being both an emotional and an intellectual procedure. The performative collector is a new species and a species and of whom we wish to deal with in this project.