The Contemporary Human Condition, group exhibition at JD Malat
I entered the gallery on 19th of February, exactly on the day that it is finally open, but am writing about it only now. It attracted my interest because of how it was advertised on Instagram, it seemed to be really promising: ‘The Contemporary Human Condition’ – it is intriguing to say the least.
First thing one sees after entering the gallery is the descriptive paragraph on the wall which includes the names of the artists. It is extremely disturbing that exhibition which claims to present ‘the best of JD Malat Gallery’s international artists’ has exactly zero black artists and only 3 of them happens to be females. What a great start.
The further one goes and allows space to engulf them, the more of disappointment appears: gallery is exhibiting over 9 different creatives, exhibition is planned throughout 2 floors, there are over 25 pieces, however, only 5 or 6 of them have a tiny sticker on the wall which indicates which artist made it and what is the name of the artwork, furthermore, at the time of my visit gallery didn't even have exhibition catalogue either, therefore, I’ve asked them to email it to me, today is 15th of March, and I still don't have it. Finally, they uploaded it on their website at least.
(Andy Moses, R.A.D. 1704, 2017)
(Henrik Uldalen, Fusion, 2019)
This exhibition made me realise (for the first time in my life) how important curator is. It is especially important when it comes to the small places like JD Malat: it requires very smart and scrupulous decisions, and they were definitely not made there. I was not surprised at all when after asking gallery assistant who curated the show I was told that the whole exhibition was curated by ‘ourselves’ and there was no mention of somebody qualified as a curator.
(Katrin Fridriks, Cosmic Star Messenger, 2019)
Curatorial decisions made me feel very confused because of this overwhelmingly disconnected approach towards the topic which was supposed to be talking about 'contemporary human condition' and since the space which was filled with artworks did not provide any visible answers to the question - what does this contemporary human condition actually mean, I have decided to try and look at the press release.
It says in there: 'In an attempt to tackle this series of complex connections, the exhibition is framed by the question; how does this selection of artists explore and express the many facets of the contemporary human condition? To answer this question, this exhibition responds to themes of conflict and escapism by juxtaposing such politically charged portraits of world leaders by Chinese artist Li Tianbing with the atmospheric and ethereal landscapes of Swiss artist Conrad Jon Godly. The Contemporary Human Condition highlights the range of responses from artists dealing with the complexities of contemporary life.'
I do agree with couple of things: the connections that gallerists were trying to make are indeed complex, because it takes quite long for a thought to go from politics to landscapes, if it is not jumping, especially when it is about the matter of contemporaries and human state. I also agree that this exhibition is only an attempt and to be completely clear - it is a failed one.
Press release just goes on and on explaining what artists are exploring and tackling with their practice or artworks overall: 'Li Tianbing and Zümrütoğlu draw upon their personal experiences to reveal the profound impact of global political issues and conflict.' and how 'Turkish artist Zümrütoğlu alerts us to the baseness of the human condition through a powerful and highly expressive display of work'
(Erdogan Zümrütoğlu, Abra Cadaver (3), 2018 and Abra Cadaver (1), 2018)
There are also bits about how: 'The Contemporary Human Condition highlights the range of responses from artists dealing with the complexities of contemporary life.', however, what the whole piece of writing fails to do is to explain what Contemporary Human Condition actually is. It is not clear from the combination of the artworks and it is not clear from the piece of writing either. It is too broad and open for the interpretation and even though it is finally stated in the press release that 'by combining each artist’s unique perspective on the contemporary human condition, this exhibition aims to unveil the artists’ mutual ambition to engage with the pressures of contemporary life through the creative process.', it just simply seems that gallery was putting bunch of different artists together, these artists are creating in the current moment and, therefore, gallery used words contemporary and human because these two words are literally the only thing that unite exhibits. This exhibition is also very elitist and underwhelming - it doesn't tackle any problematic points of human condition in contemporary era: there is nothing about poverty, inequality, social injustice or environmental issues, etc., you name it. Saying that exhibition includes portraits of world leaders (for example Trump) does not stand as equal to the problem of sexism or racism that he brings into the bigger picture and it does not connect to the artwork which shows 'how art can alleviate the afflictions of contemporary society' at all either.
I want to highlight that I am fully aware of how JD Malat is a commercial gallery which aims to produce continuous exhibitions that will lead to profitable result whether it is monetary, public-related, or in any other form, and I am also fully aware of the reasons that stand behind the the making of a group show – combination of the best-selling artists is important for business, etc., but as a professional market/cultural place/space, you should've known better when it comes to the statements such as 'best international artists' when there is massive lack of inclusivity or with the names such as 'The Contemporary Human Condition' and non-existent curator or somebody who writes public release and cannot make any decent correlations among extremely visibly different topics.
The artists whose works were exhibited, individually explore really intriguing and worth-a-while topics, majority of them are also using unique techniques and in their final results show great amount of mental and physical labour, however, this combinatory show made every single one of them shrink and disappear into nothingness, which is a very unfortunate thing to happen.
(Liu Fei, No. 1, 2006)
‘This exhibition attempts to underline the importance of international dialogue focusing in particular on the artistic response to changing global conditions, political events and the impact of contemporary life on the individual.’ – that seems to be a really broad, interesting aim, next time - hopefully.