Art on art; this autonomous and masturbatory stage of art making has been pronounced especially since 1960s, while the foundations of Today’s Art was mostly being built. Starting with artists like Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers and many others, a different leg of art making, mostly referred as Institutional Critique, emerged in an attempt to investigate, examine and analyze the ruling dynamics of the art world–these dynamics being museums, galleries or collections. Artworks commenting on the structures of these institutions as well as the conventions that they are built on presented an usual understanding of aesthetics. Loan forms, de-acquisition agreements or museum maps became the artwork itself by decoding and repurposing the systems of the art market.
The newly opened Sophie Calle exhibition Absence at Paula Cooper Gallery presents an alternative yet hospitable exhibition experience in a salon-style setting to its visitors. The title Absence refers to two types of absence in the frame of the show.
One of them, which also links to Institutional Critique, is a group of famous artworks stolen from their equally famous museums/homes. Calle visited these museums where these artworks were stolen and asked the security guards to describe these missing paintings. Later Calle turned these written descriptions into ‘paintings‘ by framing them in the same size of the specific stolen painting. Next to each inscribed painting Calle placed a photo of the paintings that replaced the stolen works.
With works all hung in salon style on red painted gallery walls, the artist is making an ode to those gone Picasso’s or Titian’s (all of them however found later according to the descriptions) by almost humanizing them as if they were a relative or a famous influential personality. She is also questioning the ways we, art lovers, code art works in our perceptions by putting these impressive but also subjective descriptions from the security guards. This way Calle is decoding and rearranging the set circles of art institutions, a priceless painting in an internationally-known museum with a silent security guard standing next to it. Through these limited descriptions by the security guards, the artist is testing our pre-designed imagination for visual art, especially for paintings that have also turned into visual phenomenons.
There is a second type of absence that is being referred by Sophie Calle in her exhibition. The inevitable absence of her mother following her death is revisited by the artist through photographs, texts and different arrangements that are waiting for their visitors behind two lace curtains at the gallery entrance.
This Bataille in psychoanalytic journey is tortuous enough to be the topic of another article. We will save that one for another opportunity.