Nina Beier and Marie Lund

This first show at Croy Nielsen by Danish artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund was a tough case. Not because the four works they presented under the title “Permanent Collection” came off as particularly difficult to decipher. On the contrary, it’s because everything was presented so openly and was so easy to read. Everything seemed slick, superficial, too effortlessly digested. But this was precisely the exhibition’s appeal.

Take, for instance, Autobiography (If These Walls Could Speak) (all works 2009), a site-specific piece for which Beier and Lund asked the gallery’s owners to remember all the holes drilled in the walls of this young exhibition space for previous shows and excavate as many of them as possible, allowing the spackling compound scraped out of the holes to form small piles of dust on the floor. This trick comes straight out of the toolbox of institutional critique, but it is nonetheless effective, since it seems to casually fill the ahistorical ambience of the white cube with a sort of memory, making the previous exhibitions visible as a collection of their powdery traces. (Calling) Loss and Cause, on the other hand, takes the opposite tack. Immediately before the show opened, the two artists fashioned a series of rough clay miniatures of various stolen and missing sculptures and mounted them on white pedestals: Crude copies of Donald Judd boxes, a bronze apple by Mark Dion, or a reclining woman by Henry Moore, for example, serve as temporary placeholders for the actual works. Anyone who buys one of these remakes must agree to destroy the model if and when the original resurfaces.

The remaining two works displace the question of absence from the level of material presence to that of content. “The Points,” a series of collages (thirty-seven in this show) for which Beier and Lund derived graphic elements from the jackets of books in fields such as social science, law, and philosophy, offers the viewer titles and attrac- tive covers to look at but withholds the text, the meaningful content. New Novels, New Men (Jealousy, Jalousi, La Celosia, Die Jalousie oder Die Eifersucht) uses a similar tactic. A simple wooden bench holds five translations of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel La Jalousie (1957). Beier and Lund asked five native speakers to come by during the show and silently read the book in their own language. And so all that finally remains of Robbe-Grillet’s text is a gesture: the act of a young man reading.

In the end, it seemed that that’s exactly what this show was—a gesture toward autonomy without deeper meaning. In “Permanent Collection,” Beier and Lund exhibited merely standardized tools of Conceptual art. And yet their work is not quite so simple. The maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover” appears curiously apposite when considering a show that put book jackets on display as purely decorative elements. And the young men reading in the front room acted out the principle of the pure gesture so provocatively that one suspected Beier and Lund of having created a “false bottom” in this exhibition, effectively pointing to the emptying out of meaning in contemporary art—an art that no longer has much more to offer than perfect textbook imitations of the conceptual and formal strategies of the last forty years.

Dominikus Müller

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.