Guillaume Bijl

Secession: Galerie Hubert Winter

There are few exhibitions that can be described as easily as “Der Mensch überwindet Distanzen”(Man overcomes distances). Everyone can imagine a historical exhibition on the subject of transportation and by extension, communication. Structured into individual sections such as paths and streets, shipping, railroads, bicycles, automobiles, air travel, and telecommunication, this subject was treated here with historical objects, accompanying texts, and video documentation. Guillaume Bijl, “curator” of this exhibition, was concerned with all the production details, from the elegant gold letters on a dark-red background in the entrance hall to the subdued atmosphere and spotlights, the proper gray curtains that covered the room, the plush carpeting that muffled sounds, and even the plants that gave the space a lived-in feeling.

This perfectionism is perhaps the only element that differentiates seeing this exhibition from writing about it. This is true for only one part of the audience who knows this is a Bijl exhibition. But the Secession is frequented more by visitors who are interested in the building itself; usually the exhibitions of contemporary art are consumed almost touristically. Bijl targeted this “walk-through” audience. Thus there was no artist’s name at the entrance but, rather, the name of the main sponsor, the office of tourism, thereby heightening the show’s claim to authenticity. It would take a survey of the visitors to determine the reactions of the Intended audience. From my own observation, it ranged from a general disappointment that there was no art, to joy that there was an informative historical exhibition with rather obscure objects. This interplay between the two groups of viewers was important for Bijl’s work. The informed public projected its values onto the unknowing viewer: whoever entered this exhibition found his opinions confirmed, and here lay the exhibition’s failing: it did not go beyond simply recognizing reality. Bijl has certainly done this in previous exhibitions at Documenta or the Venice Biennale.

The situation was quite different in the gallery part of this show. The audience and the place changed the work. His “Compositions trouvées” (Found compositions) also deal with reality; however, they are not simulations but, rather, fragments from antique stores, frame shops, or shops that deal in African artifacts. The “compositions” repeat not only the form but also the function of the original objects. They are consumer-oriented arrangements of wares. The deceptive nature of Bijl’s work is much more difficult to realize in a gallery than in a public space—although in his previous show here he was eminently successful. In this show, Bijl did not create the feeling that one was in the wrong place; and the Secession installation did not have the evocative power of his other works.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.