Francis Alÿs / Per_forming a collection (Intermezzo) / David Robbins

Francis Alÿs / Per_forming a collection (Intermezzo) / David Robbins

Madre Museum

Francis Alÿs, REEL-UNREEL(video still), 2011. Film, Kabul, Afghanistan, with Julien Devaux, Ajmal Maiwandi. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

June 9, 2014

Francis Alÿs
REEL-UNREEL(Afghan Projects, 2010–14)

June 13–September 22, 2014

Per_forming a collection (Intermezzo)
David Robbins: TV FAMILY
June 13, 2014–ongoing

Museo d’arte contemporanea
Donnaregina –
Madre, Napoli
Via Settembrini 79
80139 Naples

The largest solo exhibition by Francis Alÿs (b. 1959, Antwerp) in an Italian public institution to date, REEL-UNREEL (Afghan Projects, 2010–14), will premiere in Italy the film REEL-UNREEL, 2011, alongside a constellation of related paintings, drawings, collages, postcards, documents and a series of ephemeral objects, which constitute what the artist calls the Afghan Projects. Configured together as an archive/storyboard, whose documentary and narrative structure recalls a travelogue made up of images and annotations, the Afghan Projects works like a board on which, posting thoughts and memories, ideas and comments, encounters and suggestions, interpretations and projects, allows the artist to dissolve and identify these works with his own experience in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. Produced in 2011 at dOCUMENTA (13), REEL-UNREEL is not only the centerpiece of the exhibition but also the symbolic culmination of Alÿs’s artistic practice, by its radical reinvention and re-presentation of the medium adopted, in this case film, its performative matrix and, finally, its combination of critical engagement and aesthetic practice. The title refers both to the action presented in the film and the film itself, which reels on and off the film projector, with a further assonance between the terms reel/real and unreel/unreal adopted by the artist to indicate the fictional, or simply unreal, knowledge in the West of the reality of contemporary Afghanistan. Inspired by the classic street game of rolling a hoop or wheel, an exercise in dexterity that consists of keeping it going with a stick for as long as possible without letting it fall, in the film we witness two children who “reel and unreel” two spools of film through the streets of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The whole city is transformed into an improvised movie set, and the gesture of playing into a three-dimensional projection of a film, which gets covered in dust and detritus, bearing with it—in the material impression on the film—the multiple memory of a community suspended between memory and forgetting, disintegration and reconstruction, past and future, drama and play. All the works in this exhibition thus, each in its own way, challenge and come to terms with the specifics of the medium in which they are expressed (whether sculpture, painting, drawing or film), leaving the interpretation open to the viewers for completing them, like a kaleidoscope in which embedded reality of the news and imaginary reinvention, attempt and failure, politics and poetry are all combined. Hence the seemingly surreal phrase which concludes REEL-UNREEL gains in significance, after evoking the Taliban’s destruction of thousands of reels of film in the square in front of the Afghan Film archives: “Cinema: everything else is imaginary.”

MADRE and Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle will co-produce a monographic catalogue (Italian/English edition published by Electa), including extensive research materials, essays by Francis Alÿs, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Ewa Gorzadek, Ajmal Maiwandi, Michael Taussig, Robert Slifkin and testimonies by Mario Garcia Torres, Mariam Ghani, Amanullah Mojadidi, and Andrea Viliani.

Per_forming a collection (Intermezzo), the third event, following Per_forming a collection #1 (opened on June 21, 2013) and Per_forming a collection #2 (opened on December 20, 2013), expands and continues the ongoing project devoted to the progressive constitution of the permanent collection of the MADRE museum in Naples. The choice of the subtitle, Intermezzo, of this intermediate chapter, which precedes the following ones scheduled in autumn 2014 and spring 2015, indicates a rethinking of the identity and function of the museum collection as an instrument of multiple storytelling shared with the artists and the public. The museum collection is in fact comparable to a symphony listened to as it is played, a film being screened or a play being performed in a theatre, in which the intermezzo is the interval that recapitulates the transitions and defines the method, before introducing new chapters. Per_forming a collection (Intermezzo) confirms the two main lines along which the MADRE’s collection is developing: on the one hand as an account of the history of the avant-garde culture of Naples and Campania (including visual arts, theater, cinema, architecture, music and literature) and on the other as a research into the present and a prospect for the future, through the inclusion of artists who respond with their new works to this history, producing new stories. Alongside displaying works by Vito Acconci, Marisa Albanese, Gianfranco Baruchello, Henri Chopin, Francesco Clemente, Tony Cragg, Robert Filliou, Cyprien Gaillard, Mark Manders, Marisa Merz, Dennis Oppenheim, Nam June Paik, Gianni Piacentino and Vettor Pisani, MADRE invited American artist David Robbins to produce, as a reflection on the museum collection topic, a TV show with actors from Neapolitan theater groups—a far cry from the usual artistic statements and museum projects about the dominant structure of entertainment culture. In his TV FAMILY, 2014, curated by Andrea Viliani, Robbins has applied the “power of an institution of high culture to produce pop culture that the pop culture system isn’t making.” Working this way, Robbins repositions the museum’s function while at the same time imbuing entertainment with the ambitions he wishes it to have. In TV FAMILY Robbins generates a fascinating hybrid that combines art’s experimentalism with entertainment’s accessibility, an approach he terms “high entertainment,” made possible by the current digital revolution as well as by the adoption of a wider idea of what museums could achieve in our contemporary media field to implicate and resonate with audiences at large. As a TV show frequently has an accompanying theme song, Robbins thought an art exhibition featuring a TV show should get a cool, cleanly produced, catchy, and accessible pop song too. Recorded with musicians in Milwaukee, Theme Song For An Exhibition is a natural step in Robbins’s 30-year career of cross-pollinating the art and entertainment contexts, initiated in his seminal work Talent (1986).

To share this concept and thereby undertake an open, communal experiment in concept-art distribution, the artist and MADRE invited an international array of art institutions to participate in launching from June 13 the song project via a groundbreaking experiment in inter-institutional cooperation: ARC/Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris Boston Center for the Arts, Boston; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Genève; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; IKON Gallery, Birmingham; MOCAtv, Los AngelesMuseu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Serpentine Gallery, London (list in progress).

Francis Alÿs at Madre Museum
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June 9, 2014

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