4 x 4 at Stephen Friedman Gallery

The Stephen Friedman Gallery is for this exhibition, a gallery of four rooms. Each one of these rooms is home to a movement in Modernism – the first is a haven for Minimalism, the second for Geometric Abstraction, the third a den for female Pop Art and the last a refuge for Neo-conceptualism. 4 x 4 is in short, a tour of Modernism as it was accepted into homes around the world but in full, far more creative and contemporary than an exercise in art and design history.

The concept of the exhibition is streamlined and yet seemingly very original. Each room in the gallery is a recreation of a fictional collector’s home. Minimalist works by Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman and Anne Truitt cushion domestic design by Paul Evans, in a North American home. On the other side of the partition, the structured Abstraction of Manuel Espinosa, Sergio Camargo Gego and Franz Weissman appears relaxed in an avant-garde Argentinean home.

Into the back rooms, Niki de Sainte Phalle’s cumbersome but playful suspended fibreglass nude Lili or Tony (1965) is joined by Evelyne Axell’s fluorescent enamel wall painting, works by Kiki Kogelnik, Christa Dichgans and domestic design by Maria Pergay, in a European reception room. In the final room, Neo-conceptualist works, such as Katshuhiro Yamaguchi’s light sculpture Lighting Object T (1967) encircle Jorge Zalszupin’s paired down Japanese living room.

The pairings are coherent and logical and exceptionally pleasing to the eye. The work, which is independently tactile, converses in such a way that its tactility seems to jump out at you even more. Sergio Camargo’s wood and oil sculptural relief Madiera Pintada No. 288 (1970) and Gertrude Goldschmidt [Grego]’s wirey sitting sculpture Untitled IV (1970) in the Latin American home are emblematic of this.

Perhaps in spite of the brief, the concept of the exhibition and the way it is materialised in its curation, is incredibly contemporary.

Contemporary art is rarely shy of its context, something that was once limited to sculpture – a medium that ‘naturally’ responds to the space in which it resides – but now, exists across most contemporary practices. Marina Abramovic’s 512 Hours (2014) springs to mind, and speaks of performance art’s desire to be driven by its context – the audience. In light of this, installation art could essentially be defined as art in context or context as art.

It’s almost ironic in the case of 4 x 4 that context is what sets Post-modernism apart from Modernism. Placing emphasis on the exhibition of art in its context is a trait of contemporary curatorial thought. That’s not to say art wasn’t purchased and hung in homes in the 60s or 70s, but that the appeal of seeing it displayed in a gallery in this way was lesser.

Moreover, it’s appropriate to experience art in a domestic setting; it reflects the current dynamic of the contemporary art-loving public. In 2014 there is greater accessibility to art collecting for the general public (The Affordable Art Fair for one) and a rising number of art collectors. As such, it seems that exhibition goers are more prepared to experience art away from the ‘white cube’ model of a stark Modernist gallery; they’re intrigued to see it through the eyes of a collector, by taking a look into a [albeit fictional] collector’s home.

Lastly, the curatorial concept fits the contemporary cry for multi-disciplinary creativity. In 4 x 4 furniture meets sculpture, which meets paintings, which meets soft furnishings. The western world loves to see art and design inspiration effectively combined (Pinterest being a prime everyday example) and artists no longer define their work by a particular medium or practice. Bringing art and design’s forms together in one exhibition is a popular concept, but it’s no good when facilitated for the sake of it. But in this case, I can say it’s definitely not. Each room is a delightful construct.

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