Review of exhibition at Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel, Switzerland
frieze.com, March 1, 2013
‘The function of a work of art has always been to alert people to things they might have missed,’ says Sister Corita Kent in the 1967 documentary about the work of this charismatic nun and artist,We Have No Art. In the exhibition ‘Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault’ – which presents a curated selection from the personal collection of Julie Ault of over 200 works by 45 artists – the video plays among more than a dozen bold, vibrant letterforms and strongly delineated colour-field prints by Kent that recall the compositional tactics of advertising. Works by other artists are interspersed among them: the photographic diptych St. Michael’s Blood (I & II) (1990) by Andres Serrano hangs near Kent’s jesus never fails (1967) and stop the bombing (1967). Untitled (Spirits)(1996) by Jason Simon is installed near enriched bread (1966) – a nod to Simon and Ault’s shared affinity for Kent. In fact, Kent’s prints and text-based works by other artists punctuate the collection of photographs, paintings, videos, sculptures and objects creating a potent interplay of words and images where the exhibition experience becomes akin to reading a text.
Julie Ault is an artist, writer, curator and co-founder of the New York collective Group Material. Active from 1979 to 1996, Group Material – whose members included Doug Ashford, Felix Gonzales-Torres and Tim Rollins, among others – used the exhibition form as a means of artistic production, uniting fine art, printed matter, text and cultural artefacts into a singular critical narrative to pose questions about pressing social and political issues. ‘Tell It To My Heart’ is also a group production organized with a sensitivity toward the presentation of visual and textual material to tell a story. Along with Ault, its curators include Martin Beck, Heinz Peter Knes, Rasmus Røhling, Jason Simon, Danh Vo and Amy Zion. Collaboratively they give shape to an exhibition of work by Sadie Benning, Nayland Blake, Alejandro Cesarco, Moyra Davey, Mike Glier, Roni Horn, Mary Lum, Donald Moffett, Cindy Sherman, Nancy Spero, Paul Thek, Wolfgang Tillmans, Carrie Mae Weems, Martin Wong and others. And the story in this private collection amassed over the course of more than 30 years is about personal exchanges and intimate connections among a pantheon of figures with whom Ault has engaged.
Untitled (Portrait of Julie Ault) (1991) by Gonzales-Torres is a text portrait that includes names, phrases and dates such as ‘Maine Mall 1971,’ ‘Piss Christ 1987’ and ‘Joshua Tree 2000’. Words are painted high on the walls of a gallery, just below the ceiling, around the entire perimeter of the room. In 1991 Gonzales-Torres asked Ault for a list of words she felt denoted formative dates and moments in her life. This work, however, is not a fixed representation of her at that particular moment. In the publication for this show she explains how it remains open and responsive to time: ‘The portraits are not static; they are intended to be modified by their owner. My portrait has had four permutations since the original version.’
Indeed, the publication is an extension of the exhibition taking the form of an expanded checklist with annotations. Photographs by Knes complement the personal recollections. Knes’s majestic images of the interiors of the New York and Joshua Tree homes where Ault currently lives reveal her daily attendance to and life with this art. Works are placed against walls, next to books, atop stacks of papers or above a bedroom doorway, such as the wall textMacho Man, Tell It To My Heart (1989) by Steven Evans. The exhibition and publication show what has been collected by Ault, not with hedge funds or from auctions, but through others kinds of currencies and exchanges: friendships, commitments, collaborations, respect, sharing and love. While these things are immaterial, fortunately, the material things in ‘Tell It To My Heart’ alert us to what we might have missed.