Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell

Galerie Luis Campaña

All architecture reflects hierarchies and social structures. Prisons, theaters, hospitals, museums, or convention centers—their façades and layouts indicate political, social, and cultural positions. Chairs are the lowest common denominator in all buildings. Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, two young British artists, employ a vocabulary of chairs, whose seats reveal architectural models between two glass plates. Passed in the Present, 1987, consists of six chairs, five of them dazzling white and one black. The precise execution of their design wipes out any hint of the construction process. The models seem intrinsic to the chairs themselves, requiring nothing but exposure. In the direct, vertical illumination, the building design is cast as a shadow on the floor. The chair becomes a structure on the floor plan of its own building; the legs of the chair, corner pillars. The art object dominates the architectural object, in a process of subversion and transformation.

The chairs provide a view of public buildings in London: National Gallery, Smithfield Market, St. Bartholomew (Hospital). Instead of placing art in cultural institutions and public areas, the artists have brought these facilities into the art gallery—thereby posing the question of how to define the word “public” (both as noun and adjective). Langlands and Bell also use books and tables to the same end, incorporating structures such as a model of the British Museum in an effort to decontextualize them and change their function.

The artists’ choice of buildings to incorporate always hinges partially on the exhibition space. The wall objects in Museums in Motion, 1989, were produced specifically for this gallery. The pair have chosen three basic forms, as represented by models of three buildings—the square Villa Capra, the round Penitentiary Panopticum, and the triangular Frankfurt Museum of Art. The piece challenges the very concept of the museum, while outlining it in a kind of framework: museum/ objects are shielded under glass, raising the question, What is being shielded and from whom is it being protected? Through their hybridized objects, Langlands and Bell explore the problems of cultural identity and social structure.

Sabine Vogel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.