When Attitudes become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013

Fondazione Prada, Venice, 1 June – 3 November 2013

By Mark Rappolt

When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013, 2013 (installation view). Photo Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy Fondazione Prada, Venice

Curated by Germano Celant in dialogue with artist Thomas Demand and architect Rem Koolhaas, this restaging of an oft-called ‘legendary’ curator’s most ‘legendary’ show, Harald Szeemann’s 1969 exhibition Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form, presents the viewer with many challenges. Chief amongst these is that it offers, as the object of study, the contemplation of an exhibition rather than individual artworks. Plus, the ground floors are devoted to displays of documents related to the preparation of the original exhibition and contemporaneous video interviews with Szeemann and the artists involved, most of them now established historical figures – Beuys, Heizer, Nauman, Merz, Serra, Morris, etc – but who were then the new kids on the block. (Most entertaining among these is Lawrence Weiner, sitting on a staircase and clutching a beer whilst chipping plaster off a wall to create Removal To The Lathing Or Support Wall Of Plaster Or Wallboard From A Wall (1968), a square of wall with the plaster removed.) These videos do, at least, give a sense of the reactions to a then-shocking exhibition. Related to that, though, we are asked to understand a show that took place in the modernist spaces of the Bern Kunsthalle in 1969, transplanted to the baroque spaces of Ca’ Corner della Regina in Venice, 44 years later.

When Attitudes Become Form, presents the viewer with many challenges. Chief amongst these is that it offers, as the object of study, the contemplation of an exhibition rather than individual artworks

Silhouettes of works from the original show that, for whatever reason, could not be presented here are outlined in white on the floor, like the clichéd white outlines around murder victims’ bodies, adding to the sense that there is a zombie aspect to the show, while the floorplan of the Kunsthalle is ‘overlaid’ onto the Venetian palazzo, with artworks shown in their ‘original’ constellations (Szeemann’s concept for the exhibition had been to explore the mindset of a generation by placing works in dialogue with each other) as far as the particular arrangement of the rooms in the 2013 venue allows. And beside the question of how far some of these (primarily site-specific) works can be ‘remade’ for a new venue, there are times when this becomes more than a little confusing.

I’m too young to have seen the original (it felt good to say that) and that, of course, affects how I see this restaging. Largely because I’m seeing many of the individual artworks for the first time. But in the interests of playing according to the rules of the game set here, I’ve avoided writing about this show as the experience of individual works encountered for the first time. That’s not to say, however, that this exhibition falls short in conveying the strength and force of those works – many of which deal with themes of ecology and environment that have a tremendous force and relevance today. It’s a strength of this extraordinary project that the individual voices of the artists remain heard. Yet, above all else, there remains the nagging (but not uninteresting) question as to what exactly we are being asked to look at here (and it’s easy to tie yourself up in knots over this). A self-serving display of the importance of curators as, so to speak, the flypaper to whom everything sticks? Ultimately – and particularly in the context of the Biennale that is being celebrated along the canals surrounding Ca’ Corner – it’s also a question of the instrumental power of art. When it comes to connecting art to life, is it the curator or the artist who holds the key? On the evidence of this show, it’s a bit of both. 

This review originally appeared in the September 2013 issue.