GABRIEL KURI "Offering"
3 June - 8 July 2021 - Vernissage on Thursday 3, 6:00pm
A Neighborhood of Things
I don’t worry about rhyme. Two trees,
One next to the other, are rarely identical.
Where, in the sculptural oeuvre of Gabriel Kuri, do “form” and “content” meet – other than at the intersection of the Rue de Flandre and Rue Léon Lepage where Saint-Martin Bookshop is currently located? Indeed, we could think of this very juncture as an intertwining of long-standing conceptual concerns (related to questions of circulation, exchange, trafficking and valuation) with the artist’s tried and tested arsenal of signature sculptural gestures and moves (balancing, nestling, propping, wedging): an art of both assembly and juxtaposition in every sense of those words.
“Iuxta” is a Latin preposition meaning alongside, or side by side. Adjoining, or neighboring: much of Gabriel Kuri’s three-dimensional work consists of such exact exercises in conjoining and connecting – of oftentimes incongruous materials, in as diplomatic and/or organic a fashion as possible. Not entirely frictionless, but tending to the approximating, converging and harmonious – what the artist has conceived for Saint-Martin Bookshop is in essence a neighborhood of things that resonates with the subtle affective charge of the very notion of neighboring: Gabriel Kuri himself used to live around the corner, once upon a while ago, and this work does seem to function like a situationist homage to the Mexican-born artist’s long-time European home. (I do not mean to dwell on this but it is worth noting, in passing, that the word “thing” is rooted in an early Germanic term for assembly – assemblage? – or gathering.)
The artwork on view, titled “Offering”, consists of a mid-size open crate with a custom-made foam interior in which a wide array of objects (commodities, items, products, props – things) have been fitted. Some of these objects were bought, some found, some made by the artist himself; some might look familiar to visitors of the store’s former commercial occupant, some we will recognize from everyday Brussels street life or as amusing allusions to local art history, some seem alien, foreign: “works of art” in the true and trusted sense of some primal, enigmatical thingness – or might they just be devices whose function or goal will only be revealed at a later date? Seeing this work come into being from afar, one association that was quick to establish itself in my mind was with that of a traveling magician’s treasure trove of prestidigitating props – the archetypal tools of the artist trade so to speak, which lends the project as a whole the character of an elusive reflection on art’s complicated relationship, so central to the very notion of sculpture, with the idea of semblance and illusionism. The crate, in fact – with all the memories of art transportation and the global trade in mystery valuables that it invokes – is a “home of things”: every week, a handful of items contained within it are awakened from their slumber and put on display on a nearby table in impromptu constellations visible to passing pedestrians – modestly scaled exercises in the artist’s aforementioned signature idiom of basic spatial relating: objects at rest in each other’s casual company. (After which they are returned to their dormant crated state.) A third element, finally, consists of an edition conceived on the occasion of this aptly named Offering – facsimiles of abstracted everyday objects made from so-called joss paper, the flimsy incense paper sheets used to fashion papier-maché items burnt in traditional Chinese worship: objects at ease in the hoax of likeness, gaily partaking in the Charade of Art.
Allow me to conclude on a personal note: it has been exactly twenty years since I first met Gabriel Kuri – an occasion enabled by the great late Jan Hoet, who invited the Mexican artist to participate in Sonsbeek 9, the public art extravaganza that took place in the Dutch city of Arnhem in 2001. This was the beginning of an ongoing creative conversation that, shortly after Kuri’s moving to Brussels in 2003 (we were, in fact, for a brief time actual neighbors, a mere couple of blocks away), led to my featuring his work in my first ever museum show, at the Antwerp museum of contemporary art M HKA, in which the artist (under the project title “Start to Stop Stopping”) smuggled a number of everyday use objects into the museum’s permanent collection – one such item being a functioning closet full of cleaning supplies used by the museum’s maintenance staff. “Flow” and “flux” were two obvious key words in making sense of this work’s presence in a museum noted for its holdings of Fluxus paraphernalia, but looking back at this project from the perspective of twenty years of Kuri-watching, I now realize that this too may have been an exhibition about “neighborship” – the edge of the world where real art and real life abut.
Chicago, May 2021
Dieter Roelstraete is curator at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago, where he currently also teaches. He was previously a curator for Documenta 14, MCA Chicago and the Antwerp museum of contemporary art M HKA. He has curated survey shows and special projects by Chantal Akerman, Liam Gillick & Lawrence Weiner, Goshka Macuga, Kerry James Marshall, Pope.L, Martha Rosler, Simon Starling and Cecilia Vicuña, among many others. He has published extensively on contemporary art and related philosophical issues in journals such as Artforum, ArtReview, e-flux journal, Frieze, Metropolis M, Mousse Magazine, and Texte zur Kunst.
Gabriel Kuri "Offering"
3 June - 8 July 2021
Offering is a multi part sculpture commissioned by Saint-Martin Bookshop. This will stem from an array of sculptural props (some found, some purchased, some fabricated by the artist) snugly nestled in a crate lined with customised foam.
Every week over a period of one month, two or more of these elements will find their way out of the device, and onto the display tables, visible from the street through the shop windows. These elements will be used by the artist to compose an unscripted series of pieces, light in touch and involving gestures such as wedging, balancing or holding. These weekly artworks will spark from the contrasting informational content of the elements, or else result from the consonance of their rhyming forms.
These forms could be seen as references to systems of coding, accounting, valuation and exchange, tokens of fortune and desire shifting in scale and wear, and never far from the artist´s hands.
Like in much of Kuri’s work, offering is a sculptural exercise in which material qualities and semantic implications become actively engaged in one circular statement.
Offering (to Saint-Martin), 2021
On the occasion of Kuri´s presentation, Saint-Martin Bookshop will launch a special edition by the artist. Edition of 200, signed and numbered.
Inspired in joss paper offerings widely used in funerals in Hong Kong, Kuri´s also contains realistic volumetric paper renderings of material objects of aspiration, desire and status. These paper boxes with depictions of commodities and consumer articles -ranging from the generic to the brand specific- are ceremonially burned in order to rise up and accompany the deceased onto the afterlife, providing everlasting wealth or that which the individual may have wished for but could not afford. Like these traditional offerings, Kuri´s is also adorned with words and phrases that set the mood for transcendence.
Kuri has shown sustained interest in producing books over the years, with particular interest in paper for both its materiality, and its properties as a carrier of information and value. Parallel to the echo or representation of artworks in the book form, offering provides its light-weight and scaled down portable version of an otherwise larger presence, further rendered vulnerable in its potential transformation into ashes and smoke.