What is De/Install?

A ‘de/install’ describes the set of activities taking place in an art gallery between major exhibitions. During a de/install, the current show is removed, the gallery is repainted, walls are smashed down, arguments take place, new walls and facades are erected, and the work for the next show is put up. They’re fast-paced.
Almost without exception, de/installs are shut off to the public, and galleries sometimes hide the process by frosting the gallery’s front windows.
In this show at Modern Art Oxford, artworks in video, sculpture, performance, painting, audio, text and digital media will interrogate this theme, some works focussing on the live de-install of Thomas Houseago’s sculptures happening in the upstairs galleries.

How long did this idea take to come to fruition?

This idea came to us, fully-formed, waiting in vain for James Blake to install himself at the Bullingdon on Cowley Road.

What does Sputnik’s curatorial input involve?

The role of the curator has changed drastically over the last twenty years or so. Traditionally acting as the person that looked after collections, the curator’s market interests and personal aesthetic now sit at the heart of decisions made in a de/install. This is both a good and a bad thing, as it redistributes artistic responsibility and authorship across the field of artistic practices that govern the art market today.  
We have chosen to play the role of co-curators, attempting to highlight our own involvement with the artists rather than hide it. The exhibition poses the following questions: Should galleries be more transparent with the decisions made in a de/install, and should all curators have as much say in this process as they currently do?

Where does this fit in to the temporally and geographically broader happenings of the ‘art world’?
Whereas it would have been laughable to suggest curating an exhibition with the title ‘New art from the Middle East’ a couple of decades ago in Britain, the Saatchi gallery continues to install shows on the basis of ethnographic generalisation, as international and freelance curators have legitimised ‘ethnicity’ as a ‘theme’ to play with. Today, opinions held by artists seem less important than those held by collectors or curators, and more often than not, artists on the international circuit can only become successful if they play up to the themes curators have dictated for that season. It may well be curators and collectors, not artists, who benefit financially from the current economic climate.
This all sounds negative, but the resulting contemporary art (often a response to these conditions) is infinitely more interesting than the dull, self-interested Brit Art of the 90s and early 00s. Artists and (good) galleries are working together already to form exciting projects: the first ever ‘exhibition artwork’ was purchased recently by three international galleries (one of them the Tate); each gallery currently contradicts the other, claiming they own the ‘legitimate’ exhibition. Artworks are pointing towards their installatory means more than ever; in 2009, the Tate purchased a queue as an artwork. It may well be that these artists and galleries will benefit from the economic climate, art-historically speaking.

And does this further relate to the cuts?

Yes, but it has less to do with artists, and more to do with the new relationships held between curator and artist: over the past decade, Curation departments across the major London art schools have gained their autonomy (including the Royal College and Goldsmiths). In the past, experience and social capability were the most useful commodities to hold as a curator. In the future, an extremely expensive degree in curation may be imperative to curating ‘successfully’.
Richard Wentworth, current head of Sculpture at the Royal College, remarked recently, ‘Since the art schools’ boom in the 60s, artists have always treated their education like a commodity’. This history is important to consider: if contemporary curation, a new and fast-growing discipline, begins to value curation-education more and more, the worry is that a rise in fees in this sector may cause the British Art Market to be lead by a very narrow band of curators from an exclusively affluent background.

Do you think exhibitions such as de/install could change how people see the exhibition process altogether? Or is their interpretation of this something that is built up so gradually that a single exhibition won’t change it significantly?

We don’t believe one exhibition can drastically change the opinions people hold on this subject, but it might prompt them to ask new questions. British audiences are still rarely encouraged to form opinions on a gallery’s inner workings: the most one is given are the suspiciously edited films that follow de/installs a long time after they have happened, (more often than not to promote the gallery or affiliate artists, rather than scrutinise its inner workings).
However, we are confident this exhibition encourages individuals to consider a useful proposition: Greater knowledge of gallery processes is necessary if the public is not to be blindly led by curators in the 21st century.

De/Install will take place in Modern Art Oxford’s Basement and Café from Tuesday 22 to Saturday 26 February. Free admission.