It is very difficult to know what Hauser & Wirth is trying to do with his commercial shows dedicated to showcase a collection. In this case we are talking about the collection of Reinhard Onnasch which is curated by Paul Schimmel who is the new partner of what is now Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The exhibition focuses on the period between 1950 and 1970, which, according to Schimmel saw the birth of some of the most important artistic movements of the 20th century. It feature significant works from the Onnasch Collection, including iconic examples of Pop Art, Fluxus, Colorfield, Assemblage, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism from the New York School of Art, many of which have never been presented before in London.
Schimmel opens the brochure by saying that: ‘This is an unusually diverse collection rich in its strong commitment to both American and European art. It shows a uniquely open-minded and exploratory approach to collecting that is incredibly rare and forms a stunningly diverse view of the currents and counter-currents of this era.’ Reinhard Onnasch (born in Germany in 1939) was one of the first Germans to open a gallery in New York following World War II. He introduced German artists such as Dieter Roth and Hanne Darboven to American audiences, American artists such as Morris Louis, Claes Oldenburg and Kenneth Noland to German audiences, and was one of the earliest advocates of the American artist, Edward Kienholz.
To be perfectly honest, I saw the one third of the exhibition that is in the Picadilly branch. It is an exploration of Assemblage, collage and the combine, ‘looking specifically at the quasi-area between sculpture, the performative and the cinematic that these works occupy’. The centrepiece of the presentation at Piccadilly is the work of the self-taught American artist, Edward Kienholz which is monumentalised beyond belief and fails to click.
First and foremost the works look dated and to my surprise that seems to be the point. This opens a series of considerations about the relevance of conceptualism beyond its time. In a way, the same happens with Kusama at Victoria Miro. The works are obviously so stupid that they need to be justified through its historical relevance. So the sales people keep saying while rolling their eyes: ‘This was groundbreaking at the time’. It is just not enough.
I think this show is a failure because there are three forces colliding. Firstly, Schimmel is trying to convince us that these works are historically key to understand our time but they are clearly not and there is no visual evidence of that. Secondly, the works are monumentalised by being showcased in a space that is just too grand for it and they look silly. Thirdly, there is a theatricality injected to the surreal theme that comes across as a joke. I had to climb two set of stairs to find an orange (a real one) and a cane on a chair. I felt really sorry for the guard that had to be siting in front of that pointless assemblage all day. I am sure that working on those conditions must be illegal.
However, this show is not an exception and proves that Hauser & Wirth have transformed their London spaces in ‘museum-like’ opportunities to showcase private collections which are supposed to get dignified by the act of their institutional presentation but, in fact, represente the shift of the focus from the primary into the secondary market which is presented as ‘something new’. It seems that living artist are just not enough to cover such high overheads, at least, according to Hauser & Wirth. I truly and honestly found this exhibition pointless. Just a thought.