Group Material: Democracy,
Dia Art Foundation

Group Material: Democracy
Curated by Group Material
Dia Art Foundation, New York

This four-month exhibition by Group Material—which I didn’t personally experience—was a collaborative effort with many, including Dia’s then-curator Gary Garrels and the artist Yvonne Rainer. (The collaborative Group Material at the time consisted of Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.) The show grew out of a two-year project, eventually adopting the pace of a commercial gallery in organizing four exhibitions and related town meetings addressing subthemes of timeliness and civic urgency: Education, Politics and Election, Cultural Participation, and, finally, AIDS and Democracy: A Case Study. The related publication, as well as the installation documentation featured in the invaluable recent book Show and Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material, give an initial sense of what Doug Ashford has eloquently written about as the Group Material curatorial method: “To defend the notion of an artwork as an encounter with a person and then display this encounter in the context of new politics was Group Material’s contradictory innovation, the design of a place where the self expands by rupturing in relationship to others. . . . It meant that we would have to try to invent visual solutions (to argument) that would be able to question themselves.”1 Group Material’s curatorial example of institutional collaboration (including the implications for collecting practices), democratic yet agonistic processes, and countless innovations to both timeline- and chronicle-oriented historiographic formats of display (both inside and outside the gallery space) is legendary, and deservedly so. Group Material: Democracy shows a collaborative curatorial model in need of more extended institutional presentations and critical reconsideration.

––Fionn Meade

1 Doug Ashford, “An Artwork is A Person,” in Show and Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material (Four Corners Books, 2010), p. 225

Published in The Exhibitionist, Issue 9 (March 2014)
Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated