Prototype: Contemporary Art from Joe Friday's Collection

Fall 2004

exhibition guest-curated for Carleton University Art Gallery

[exhibition summary]
Prototype: Contemporary Art from Joe Friday's Collection
Joe Friday's is the most significant private collection of contemporary art in the Ottawa area and among the best in Canada, placing notable Canadian artists in the context of the leading edge of international art. While remarkably coherent, with a particular emphasis on conceptual photography, sculpture and language-based works, this "museum-quality" collection is far from static, revealing something of how the collector's priorities and convictions have evolved over two decades of collecting, as well as his attitude of questioning and reflection. 

I find it admirable that the collection is obviously sophisticated and relies on a refined sensitivity, yet it is built around individual works that express a great deal of doubt. While the immediate outward face of the collection is one of conceptual coolness, many of the works are individually fraught with vulnerability, infirmity, loneliness, and lust. Many may be said to be reckoning with failure, whether immediate or existential, and the shape of the exhibition takes its cue from this shared attitude of uncertainty.  The installation of the collection, as well as the accompanying essay, will draw out relationships between works, with pieces grouped loosely with reference to thematic states such as stumbling, stuttering, waiting, wanting, and doubting. Each of these implies a condition of simultaneous uncertainty, hesitation and resolve that is a useful frame for looking at works in the collection, for reflecting on art-making, and for thinking about how this and other collections do or do not reflect the concerns of their collectors. 

Stumbling and stuttering are physical spasms in which desire overshoots itself. Within the collection, a number of works involve a brute physical negotiation of the world, including Simon Starling's home-made modernist forms, Francis Alÿs' photos of crowds finding provisional physical shelter in Mexico City's zócalo, Alex Morrison's Homewrecker video, Richard Hughes' painstakingly re-created burnt mattress, an ungainly machine by Daniel Olson, and a mistake frozen in space by Elmgreen & Dragset. The linguistic (and filmic) counterpart to stumbling  is stuttering – a sort of involuntary convulsion, a compulsive repetition of difficulty. Certain works in the collection are concerned with complications of communication or with parsing the spasmodic flow of desire in the world. These include Fiona Banner's laborious Corrections to the Text of Apocalypse Now, one of Ken Lum's frustratingly uncommunicative language paintings, Candice Breitz's video dissection of Hollywood narrative, Euan Macdonald's doubled airplanes, and the doubly inexorable ticking of AA Bronson's doomsday clocks.

Waiting and wanting can be thought of as states of simultaneous desire and perceived lack. Within certain works in the collection (David Shrigley, Jonathan Monk) this appears as a kind of existential wistfulness, in others as a sense of seeking and expectation (Ben Judd's video I Miss, Euan Macdonald's House video). Photos by Douglas Gordon and Thomas Ruff and architectural forms by Spring Hurlbut strip down form to reveal lust and bodily want, while in works such as Shirin Neshat's and Jana Sterbak's photos and Joyce Weiland's print, desire is perhaps unexpectedly revealed within socio-political processes.

Doubting. Perhaps the single issue manifest throughout the collection is a concern with making sense of one's efforts in the world. Self-consciousness perhaps inevitably involves wrestling with histories and traditions, and a number of the works in the collection could be said to be concerned with the difficulties of belief systems, in particular the impossible utopian goals of modernism (works by Lynne Cohen, Simon Starling, Ron Terada, Shirley Tse, Ian Wallace, and the N.E. Thing Co. for example).

In the 1500-word essay accompanying the exhibition, the self-consciously uncertain character of many works in the collection will serve as a starting-point for reflection on the development of this particular collection and of Joe Friday's evolution as a collector. The exhibition will include approximately 50 works, representing a good proportion of the collection, with a particular focus on acquisitions of recent years. In many cases it will be the first local opportunity to view works by reknowned and rising international artists (for example, Elmgreen & Dragset, Fiona Banner, Candice Breitz, Jonathan Monk, Shirin Neshat, Kirsten Pieroth, Simon Starling, Shirley Tse). It will also be an opportunity to view significant work by celebrated international and Canadian artists who are also represented in public collections in Ottawa (Douglas Gordon, Thomas Ruff, Francis Alÿs, Ken Lum, among others) and by a generation of artists who are now gaining international attention (for example, Alex Morrison, Mwfanwy McLeod, Ben Judd, Julia Loktev, David Shrigley, Ron Terada, Brian Jungen, and Euan Macdonald).

Germaine Koh
Guest curator
1 April 2004

Artists in the exhibition: AA Bronson, NE Thing Co., Alex Morrison, Douglas Gordon, David Shrigley, Kelly Wood, Brian Jungen, Liam Gillick, Simon Starling, Lynne Cohen, Shirley Tse, Kirsten Pieroth, Elmgreen & Dragset, Euan Macdonald, Myfanwy McLeod, Ken Lum, Joyce Wieland, Jonathan Monk, Shirin Neshat, Roy Kiyoooka, Jana Sterbak, Carol Wainio, Tracey Moffat, Rodney Graham, Richard Hughes, Spring Hurlbut, Benn Judd, Julia Loktev, John Massey, Thomas Ruff, Ian Wallace, Damian Moppett, Francis Alys, Daniel Olson, Mitch Robertson

Texts by Koh: Germaine Koh, Prototype: Contemporary Art from Joe Friday's Collection, 2004. PDF


Germaine Koh, curatorial project Prototype: Contemporary Art from Joe Friday's Collection, 2004, guest-curated for Carleton University Art Gallery.