On “Installation View”

Photo by Sevim Sancaktar.

Installation View: Streaming Live from a Private New York Collection is a curatorial project by US-based artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy that explores “the private lives of artworks.” For their investigation, the McCoys have gained access to an extensive private contemporary art collection, and have selected works by William Eggleston, Fischli & Weiss, Susan Hamburger, Louise Lawler, Abelardo Morell, Gabriel Orozco, Richard Serra, Stephen Shore, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Jeff Wall. Installation View has been initiated at 601Artspace in New York City before being shown simultaneously at Collectorspace in Istanbul. In the second installation of the project, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy used twelve small screens mounted on a wall in Collectorspace’s storefront gallery in İstanbul—making the live streaming of the selected artworks available to passersby twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Through exhibitions and off-site events, Collectorspace aims to activate critical discussions on contemporary art collecting, and to provide reference points for new generations of art collectors. This dialogue between Merve Ünsal, an artist, and Özge Ersoy, Program Manager at Collectorspace, is an extension of that discursive approach.

In late December, a visitor who came to see Installation View at Collectorspace immediately raised a concern. She said, “I don’t see artworks here, I only see the event of an artwork being displayed.” For her, it seemed that the McCoys had too much control over the mediation between the viewer and the art, turning the artworks on display into props. In contrast to Louise Lawler’s works, which are solidly grounded in institutional critique, she argued that the images in Installation View were bounded by a very singular gesture—making a private collection open to the public without moving the artworks themselves. Merve and I decided to begin our dialogue where that conversation left off. —Özge Ersoy

(This text was commissioned for and originally published in Installation View, a publication by 601Artspace, 2012.)

Photo by Sevim Sancaktar.

Özge Ersoy: Merve, I believe you had a similar opinion of Installation View. By contrast, I think the McCoys’ framing is deliberate, as in Lawler’s work. The McCoys’ position might not be an indirect form of institutional critique, but I think it is precisely their interest in the act of watching and the act of display that allows the viewer to discern the multilayered readings of the work. Through the inclusion of the tripod in Wall’s Diagonal Composition (#1) (1993) and the wrapping and electric conduit in Sugimoto’s South Bay Drive In, South Bay (1993), among other examples, the McCoys are not simply reproducing images of artworks in a private collection, but rather placing artworks in specific contexts. Showing what lays beyond the frame complicates these readings. What we have is a transformation of an immediate experience into a mediated experience. I would argue that Installation View goes beyond a live documentary or representation of artworks in a private collection. This complexity was what made the project appealing for the Collectorspace team. Some of the questions it raises for me, include: who gets to mediate the act of watching in a private collection as opposed to a public institution? And do we think about value differently when we view artworks within the context of a private collection?

Merve Ünsal: Regarding the term of “prop,” I’d like to discuss the idea of theatricality in relation to the McCoys’ work. By theatrical, I’m not referring to the setup of the exhibition at Collectorspace, slightly above the sidewalk, in a storefront. Rather, I’m referring to the definition of the term, as first suggested by the late modernist Michael Fried. He discounted Minimalism by arguing that it was theater rather than art because it required the presence of the viewer to complete it, to give it meaning, which was contrary to the Modernist conception of the artwork as self-contained entity. The McCoys further complicate the notion of theatricality by setting up artworks as their own work or their artwork. Depending on how one sees McCoys’ practice, this transformation from art to theater can only exist by turning the existing artworks into props.

ÖE: I believe that theatricality is being used here as an interpretive strategy. One could say that the works are displaced and altered from the originals, creating ambiguous, displaced or even empty images. I would rather argue that the theatricality of the McCoys’ work evokes the qualities of plurality, process, and playfulness. Installation View unsettles conventional interpretations of works when they are encountered in a private home, warehouse, or artist’s studio; and it multiplies this experience by displacing the exhibitions across two venues.

To me, what counts as theatricality is the live-time quality of the mediated experience. Regarding the video format, we are used to think the viewer as temporarily and spatially removed from the subject in the image. In real-time projection, though, there’s an instantaneous compression of time and space. In Installation View, the idea of simultaneity is doubled by the fact that the images are streaming into two locations 6000 miles apart, collapsing these far-flung places. It’s intriguing that the McCoys’ images are updated every second yet remain as a hybrid of still and moving imagery. Very small details, like the trees that shiver next to Richard Serra sculpture or the elevator door that occasionally opens and closes beside the Stephen Shore photograph, reveal that we are looking at live feed images. Here we can think about the private collection as a database—a theme that recurs throughout the McCoys’ practice. A database image can be reproduced infinitely whereas in Installation View, the live-feed images are temporary. The question then becomes: what’s the difference between this mediated reality and the database, the collection itself?

Private collections are most often understood in a way that they remove artworks from circulation. How then do we open them up to the public? When we make a selection of works available for public viewing—what does that say about the collection or the collector? Temporary, ad-hoc interventions have the potential to question the ways in which we think of making private collections public. Does public access to the collection really make it ‘public’ in the same way as a government-run institution? It is an especially relevant question in İstanbul, where private contemporary art collections are evolving into museum collections with the potential of canonizing certain contemporary practices over others, in a place where there are no public contemporary art museums.

Photo by Sevim Sancaktar.

MÜ: “Removing from circulation” is an apt description of how collectors are viewed by the larger community. This conception views collectors as a wedge, a blockade between the eager public and the artwork. As an artist, I find this perspective quite troubling. Private collectors at their best can provide the intellectual rigor, context, and community necessary for an artist to grow. At their worst, collectors simply provide the means by which artists sustain themselves. After all, it is only a small percentage of emerging or even mid-career artists that are collected by institutions, and with museum resources dwindling, these numbers are down worldwide. Thus, I see Collectorspace as a gesture to re-contextualize the role of private collectors. Collectorspace functions at this very permeable layer of artists, collections, public and institutions, and within this gesture, the McCoys’ work acts as an institutional critique, exposing the permeability of these various layers.

In Installation View, the relationship with the McCoy’s work with the work of other artists is uttlerly co-dependent; the work exists only as long as the cameras are streaming and capturing these other works. Despite the fact that the live streaming cameras place it in the here and now, I situate Installation View in the canon of institutional critique, with the likes of Hans Haacke, Sherri Levine, and Louise Lawler’s. In particular, I am thinking of Sherri Levine’s After Walker Evans, which derives meaning from its co-dependence with Walker’s originals, bringing up questions of authorship, craft, aura, and obviously, gender. Thus I perceive Installation View to be more in line with this period of post-modern art history than with the McCoys’ other works and I wonder why this kind of critique is happening now: Have private collections replaced public art institutions to the extent that they invite the same approaches and critiques as public institutions did forty years ago?

ÖE: This is surely one of the major questions we have been contemplating at Collectorspace. Now, with Installation View, we take this question one step further by asking: How can a private collection turn into an object for artists to experiment on and create new works? From here, I believe we could start complicating the idea of collecting as accumulation of objects, and also think, along with artists, about how to expand the models we have for exhibiting art.

Photo by Sevim Sancaktar.

Jennifer McCoy (b. 1968) and Kevin McCoy (b. 1967) have been artistic collaborators since 1990. The McCoys completed their MFAs in Electronic Art at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York in 1994. Jennifer McCoy currently works as a Professor of Art at Brooklyn College, and Kevin McCoy is an Associate Professor of Art at New York University. Their work has been part of numerous exhibitions, including SITE Santa Fe Biennial–The Dissolve, Santa Fe, NM (2010); Automatic Update, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2007); and Soft Rains, FACT Liverpool, UK (2003). Solo exhibitions include Abu Dhabi Is Love Forever, one step past the airport, Postmasters Gallery, New York (2011); Soft Rains #6: Suburban Horrors, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Film Festival, Toronto, Canada (2010); Constant World, Beall Center for Art + Technology, University of California, Irvine, CA (2008); Tiny, Funny, Big and Sad, British Film Institute Galleries Southbank, London, UK (2007). The McCoys live and work in New York.