Ludlow 38 Archive

In Perspective: MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38 (2011–2019)

Ludlow 38
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About the Display

About the Display

Martin Beck and Ken Saylor

Artist Martin Beck and architect Ken Saylor spoke with editor Sarah Demeuse in August 2020. What follows is a selection of reflections about their display system at Ludlow 38.

 

DESIRE & GRAMMAR

 

MB

Initial conversations with Tobi Maier, the curator at Ludlow 38 who commissioned our intervention, focused on identifying institutional functions rather than forms. We tried to analyze the foundational pillars of this small-scale institution, to identify all possible activities that occur at Ludlow 38: exhibitions, events, conversations, casual encounters, etc. We also asked what Ludlow 38 desires: what functions should an intervention into this space accommodate? The answers, of course, were quite varied and diverse. The resulting task for us was to come up with spatial forms that fulfilled these desires and to develop display devices supportive of the institution’s needs. In addition, we wanted all parts of the intervention to be legible as representations of the institution. 

 

KS

We did not just consider the practical concerns of the space, but also asked how we could produce a grammar of display using a handful of elements that might produce hybrid forms of exhibition space and of display techniques. In that sense, it was not unlike early modernist or constructivist exhibition design, similar to El Lissitzky’s demonstration room, where historical viewing conventions are called into question.

 

Each of the elements that we proposed were hybrid elements. We had a booth / vitrine, and we wanted people to ask: Is that a display case or is that a place where conversation takes place, or is it both? Everything was slightly exaggerated, very evident–—almost, but not quite Pop or super graphic. Our large display case on the wall also functioned as a piece of gallery seating: not only could you display artworks within the case, but spectators could also sit down and display themselves. 

 

MB

Both of these functions responded to the communicative ambition of the institution.

 

KS

Another element between the front and rear galleries was a three-dimensional grid / display system. We physically compressed the space between them to form a kind of passage, with the potential to focus on the Goethe-Institut’s engagement around the world, as an attempt to locate their local activities in relation to larger global initiatives. 

 

MB

That passage held a device for distributing information about the Goethe-Institute’s other activities—an info point and library, so to speak. The idea was to let that information accumulate and have the passage function as an archival display, something like a history-producing container. 

 

KS

In the rear gallery, we designed what we called “a screen,” which could perform any number of things. One side functioned as a projection screen and the other side was an acoustic screen. It could also provide visual privacy.

 

MB

The screen provided a surface for video, film, and slide projections. It was also a paravant for concealing the institution’s storage, to hide crates, artwork packaging, etc. Being on wheels, it was easily movable and allowed for the storage area to grow and shrink according to each exhibition cycle’s needs. 

 

KS

Each of the elements were programmatically, physically, and materially specific to that gallery and institution, while simultaneously referring to larger questions.

 

When we finished that space, the entire shell was painted a very light, almost institutional gray. The display elements were painted white. There was a play of distinction and separation from the institution: you had the space of display, the space of the institution, and spaces for spectators—three active voices. 

 

 

TWO-IN-ONE

 

MB

We wanted each element of the intervention to exhibit the tension between artistic, display, and architectural intervention, keeping them all in balance, which made the process of form-finding an interesting challenge. 

 

KS

In Martin’s work, he often brings a much deeper form of analysis and leaves certain questions open for interpretation. Often what I bring in terms of design, architecture, and particularly exhibition design, is an attempt at a clarity of thought and movement of bodies through space—sometimes producing questions, sometimes producing hybrid forms. In this particular case, our two methods actually built on each other. 

UNREALIZED PARTS 

 

KS

Early iterations of our design schematics for the space indicated a relationship to the street. Our large wall cuts in a very severe angle and literally points outside of the gallery. An element that was never really fulfilled was the potential for an awning inside and outside. The idea was that there would be a real physical relationship to the neighborhood, people passing by, a community gesture of sorts.

 

MB

We proposed different schemes for the seating area in the front, which, in the end, had to be scaled back due to budgetary constraints. Another element that was cut back was a super-graphic treatment for the floor. Tobi thought it was too bold and would interfere with the exhibitions. So we toned it down.

 

The original commission intended for our intervention to last for three years, after which it would be dismantled and another team would be invited to change the space. But that changeover never happened and our intervention stayed in place much longer. 

 

 

RE:MODEL & THE CURATORIAL RESIDENCY

 

KS

At the time, everyone was questioning: what is an exhibition, what is display? Curators were appearing from everywhere. It was the rise of the curatorial class. Once our system had been put in place, we stepped away and said: “OK, institution, OK,  curators, this is now yours. Do what you wish.” Several curatorial fellows came with a preexisting program, which they overlaid onto the space. I wouldn’t say those exhibitions were as effective as more context-specific responses. One exemplary curatorial resident was Eva Birkenstock. She immediately understood our project. Nearly every exhibition that she brought into that space took on a very significant relationship to these “new” elements.

 

MB

We provided a toolbox: it was up to the individual curators how to use it. Each component of our intervention responded to a desire and fulfilled a specific function—all of which were identified in the initial conversations and analysis. Some curators used it very effectively, others worked against it, or simply ignored it. We were looking forward to all of these responses. Re:model was meant to accommodate, resist, and highlight a variety of approaches to exhibition making. The challenge for each curator was to translate their vision into the institutional framework and map the consequent program onto the given space. 

 

KS

It was interesting to see how certain curators really didn’t want to engage with our project. Several just returned to the “white cube,” and then others who were more engaged would either come to Martin or myself and say: “What was this originally? I want to put it back to how you intended this space to be seen and function.” 

 

MB

Ludlow 38 and our intervention was meant as a laboratory. There is success and there is failure.

 

KS

My favorite moment is when I would walk in and there would be people seated within that large wall display, with artworks and/or archival material behind them, they were literally inhabiting that display case. It was also rewarding to see people actually using the table with the vitrine as a meeting place and social space.

 

 

LARGER IMPACT OF THE PROJECT

 

KS

Re:model did strike a kind of unconscious spatial notation for a lot of people. One could say that both Martin and I were always interested in the discourse and histories around exhibition design and display, which has always been an integral part of Martin’s as well as my work. I had been thinking, writing, and working on exhibition design projects basically since the very beginning of my practice. Even now, ten years after the project was completed, when I’m invited for talks, I still show Ludlow 38  because I think there is a fundamental strength to it. I think it was very successful and pertinent; this area of thought is still very active and engaging today. 

 

MB

For many artists now, display is a fundamental aspect of their work and practice. 

 

Hopefully our project added to the discussion, and I hope it stays conceptually relevant as it offers a basic structural analysis of exhibitionary functions. Those foundational elements resonated and, in the first few years, visitors would sometimes contact us to ask for a tour of our intervention. 

 

KS

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that everyone deemed it quite successful.