Zooming in and zooming out: ‘XANADU!’ and ‘Inside installations’ (SMAK)

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Sometimes I don’t get my dear colleagues. I’ve read numerous reviews of XANADU!, the new exhibition at SMAK (Ghent), whereas I’ve barely found a review of Inside installations, running at the same time, at the same museum. And just why is this so puzzling to me? Because it’s the joy of experiencing both exhibitions ánd especially the contrast between them that make SMAK a place to go to, these months.

It’s the contrast between the restrained and the exuberant. Between zooming in and zooming out. Between small-scale and large-scale. I’d almost say between a more cerebral and a more joyful approach to art, but that, of course, would be taking it a step too far. But do go and walk through those rooms on the ground floor and the first floor and you’ll see what I’m hinting at.

For XANADU! SMAK asked Flemish critic and curator Hans Theys to assemble a collection presentation. It is his view on SMAK’s collection of contemporary art, which contains more than 1.800 works. But Theys didn’t restrict himself to that SMAK-collection. As he is an advocate of the creation of a grand Belgian collection of contemporary art, he asked other Flemish museums (such as M HKA and Mu.Zee) for some artworks too, whenever he felt that was necessary to give a better insight in the artistic development of an artist he wanted to present.

You have to admire Theys for the almost austere set-up of XANADU!. He didn’t opt for the quick win you so many contemporary art exhibitions aiming for: a mishmash of artworks that tries to impress by the sheer contrast of all the styles and artists involved. Theys neatly gave each artist the space he or she deserved and made sure the presentation of the work is impeccable. You’ll find, for instance, entire rooms devoted to Panamarenko, Raoul De Keyser, Thierry De Cordier, Walter Swennen and Dirk Braeckman. But there’s plenty of other names as well, such as Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd and Tamara Van San. One tiny example of how well this is done? Let’s see if you get fooled too by that one Braeckman painting. It’s hanging at exactly the right place, with the spot on the ceiling hanging exactly where it needs to hang to make you believe that…

Inside installations, on the first floor, is a completely different ballgame. It shows 11 mostly large-scale installations from the SMAK collection, by Dennis Oppenheim, Jason Rhoades, Paul Thek, Andreas Slominski, Mark Manders and Joëll Tuerlinckx. By doing so it wants to raises questions linked to collecting, archiving and presenting these works. How does a museum deal with installations that were made for a specific site? How do you document installations? Honoré d’O will, for instance, rearrange his Draaiboek voor de schatbewaarder (1996) in five different ways, during the course of this exhibition. Inside installations is an offshoot of or a reflection on a Europe-wide research project on installation art which took place between 2004 and 2007 (www.inside-installations.org). Don’t bother, if all of this sound too scholarly, just go ‘inside’ and enter the specific worlds those large-scale installations try to evoke. And notice how different this feels, from walking through those rooms on the ground floor.

XANADU!, through October 3; Inside installations, through December 3, SMAK.

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