March 2009, Mark Wallinger @ The Hayward Gallery

Renato Giuseppe Bertelli, Continuous Profile (Head of Mussolini) (1933). Pic ©Renato Bertelli, 2008


Mark Wallinger curates The Russian Linesman at The Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Until May 4, then touring to Leeds and Swansea.

Association, Deception, Re-evaluation and Juxtaposition

Mark Wallinger’s The Russian Linesman at the Hayward Gallery is an époque defining exhibition. Taking as its inspiration the story of the Russian Linesman - where a controversial line decision in the 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany changed the course of footballing history – Wallinger has created an experiential show that loosely traces ideas of boundaries, thresholds and arbitrary divides, whether physical, mental or metaphysical.

Wallinger has over the past ten years become one of the most interesting, challenging, and subversive artists on the international scene. Distinguished by his sense of humour and wit, Wallinger’s work provokes, questions society and culture, pushes boundaries, charms, and makes you laugh out loud.

His past exhibits, most notably, Ecce Homo in 1999, a white marble resin sculpture of a human-scale Jesus Christ, wearing a crown of gilded barbed wire; a retrospective at Whitechapel Art Gallery ‘No Man’s Land’ in 2000; and most recently, the controversial exhibit ‘State Britain’ (2007) where Wallinger recreated peace-campaigner Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest for a dramatic installation at Tate Britain, have all contributed to affirm Wallinger as one of the most unpredictable, intellectually engaged, and irreverent contemporary artists.

It has to be noted that for the Linesman, Wallinger has taken on the role of curator as well as that of artist. The show in fact displays an array of works that have informed Wallinger’s practice, and those that syntactically function within the paradigmatic sets Wallinger explores. For all cutting edge music lovers out there, the concept closely resembles that of the famous ‘Back to Mine’ albums produced by DMC, where established artists compile a track-list of influences and favourites. Like in those compilations, most works included in this show are by other artists than Wallinger himself, who has limited his own contribution to the very famous Tardis (a hit) and some smaller and less known pieces (b-sides).

Mark Wallinger, Time and Relative Dimensions in Space or TARDIS (2001) stainless steel, MDF, electric light. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery. Pic © the artist

Here, artworks are juxtaposed in the intent of creating meaning, temporarily dissolving their individual magnetic aura and replacing it with a collective one made of a networking of associations and juxtapositions.

The show is great fun, and at the same time, it involves layers of elegantly delivered subversiveness. However, most important is the appropriation of the curator-role operated by Wallinger. Albeit not a new phenomenon, it is interesting to see what Wallinger makes out of his newly found authority. One most obvious result is that the exhibition itself is a cohesive artwork made of fragments, some originating from Wallinger himself, and others by other artists. From this perspective, the show is an orchestral appropriative manoeuvre, one that inevitably reminds us of the godfather of conceptual, art Marcel Duchamp.

It is then no coincidence that ‘Sturtevant’ by Duchamp is amongst the items included. This choice is intriguing, as Wallinger comes across as a convincing curator and a coherent at that too. ‘Sturtevant’ is not the most popular of Duchamp’s works; however it is one that perfectly (and quite literally) fits with the idea of frontiers, boundaries, and thresholds that the show aims to explore. 

Whilst sticking to the main theme, the exhibition displays clear eclectic tendencies, and borrows from time and space with no apparent discriminatory approach, allowing video and photographic work to sit right next to Albrecht Durer’s woodcuts.

Likewise, the boundaries between artistic media and contemporary approaches are completely broken down. Rarely have, painting, video, projection, large size photography, stereoscopic photography, 3D installation, sound installation, and publishing sat so comfortably together, in what is recognised as a major exhibiting space. High art and ‘low popular culture’ go here hand in hand, weaving together a complex web of associations and juxtapositions in which each work is as valuable as the other (at least from a conceptual perspective).

So the historic photographic experimentation of Eadweard Muybridge can be viewed close to a TV screen playing footage lifted from YouTube showing the daily flag-lowering ceremony conducted on the Indian-Pakistani border, and filmed by an anonymous amateur (wouldn’t Duchamp have loved that?) Likewise, the show finds space for the famous 1933 Profilo Continuo (Testa di Mussolini Continuous Profile, Head of Mussolini, (intriguingly juxtaposed to a marble of a double headed herm once used as a marker), by Giuseppe Bertelli, Dying Gaul by Anon (1823-24), Fred Sandback’s construction lines, Monika Sosnowska’s Corridor (quite simply deceptive, literally), an x-ray of Titian, two identical rocks in a vitrine (one real and one a reproduction) by the Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins, two huge flower arrangements made of fabric and plastic, both identical, sitting on plinths made of MDF looking like costly and durable materials (Mark Wallinger 2008)

Ultimately, the exhibition, like most of Wallinger’s work, is made of rather challenging conceptual art that appears disarmingly simple; the leaps of imagination required to navigate the networks of association, deception, re-evaluation and juxtaposition become integral part of the works on show.

Vija Celmins, To Fix The Image In Memory XII (1977-82), stone and painted bronze. Pic courtesy Mckee Gallery, New York, © Vija Celmins, 2008

Giovanni Aloi

 Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He has curated art projects involving photography and the moving image is a BBC radio contributor, and his work has been translated into many languages. Aloi is Editor in Chief of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

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