Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it. Jasper Johns
Gifted takes the premise of the seasonally popular tradition of the ‘Secret Santa’ to create a self-reflexive and playful assessment of the gallery and its roster. ‘Secret Santa’ is a way of unifying colleagues in a workplace by obliging them to buy each other Christmas presents with a particular price limitation. The recipient of your gift is randomly assigned, resulting in varying degrees of delight, relief, or anxiety for both parties. The preparation for this show has taken the same approach, with the geographically disparate gallery artists made to play office colleagues participating in a game of seasonal gifting. Each artist was asked to submit one work of art to be randomly assigned to another. Everyone gave, everyone received. These ‘gifted’ works were then altered to whatever extent the recipient wished. Some have undergone only minor changes or none at all – taking the inspiration of the received work as a gift in itself. Others have been transformed almost beyond recognition. In the final stage of the process, ownership of the work has passed to the recipient. As with all the best parlour games, the absurdity of the premise allows for a relaxation of formalities and the revelation of unexpected patterns, kinships and meanings.
A roster of gallery artists creates a kind of virtual community of individuals, united under common approaches and attitudes. Yet that community (like that of the art world as a whole, as well as online communities) is just that: virtual. Divided by geography, these individuals are being asked to think and operate as a corporate body. This exhibition is a way of thinking about the communities in which we all, in some way, participate. Each work in Gifted is a token of a real interaction between constituents of a nebulous community.
A gift is a small impingement into your world by another person. It’s something they’ve left in your life. Its strangeness – the way it doesn’t quite sit with the rest of your stuff – is a reminder of the strangeness of other people, their weird tastes and unusual smells. Making a received gift palatable to you means changing it to suit your world, just as accepting a new friend into your life requires a bit of amiable attrition. That alteration might be tiny (wearing your own smell into a new shirt) or large (dyeing that shirt bright blue). The works shown in this exhibition are a reminder of how objects passed between people accrue a provenance that transforms them into things of unexpected power. It’s through apparently minor personal interactions – playing games, giving gifts – that new meanings and ideas suddenly make themselves known.
Artists Analia Saban, Nick Goss, Sarah Dwyer, Belén, Carla Busuttil, Matthew Musgrave, Rebecca Nassauer, Vicky Wright, Clara S Rueprich, Benedetto Pietromarchi, Michael Huey and Christof Mascher.
Dedicated to Rebecca Nassauer
Ben Street is a teacher of Art History and a lecturer at the National Gallery. He is a former lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York. He writes on contemporary art for Art21, Artnet, Saatchi Online and Artreview.com. He is currently working on a monograph on painter Andrew Sendor and a catalogue essay for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.