The gallery space of Kunsthaus Graz is infamous for a variety of reasons–its color, its unusual architecture, its capacity to accommodate contemporary art in its versatile spaces. What struck me was a small choice in presentation which ended up making the world of a difference in viewing the art. The information typically found on the wall-label is enlarged and applied directly to the floor a few meters away from the work.
While this seems insubstantial, there is actually something very thoughtful in this. It begins with the question of what a wall label does and is supposed to do in a museum space. Simply put, it identifies the work so that the viewer knows what he is looking at. Said in a slightly more complicated way, it locates work within its historical and autobiographical (relative to the artist) moment. It gives the viewer the vocabulary to refer to the work in a succinct way, rather than through description (for example, “The Sunflowers by Van Gogh” as opposed to “the yellowish painting with sunflowers and the really big vase in the center”). In fact, the label and the work become equal presentations of the same thing, which Joseph Kosuth observed as early as 1965 in the famous piece, “One and Three Chairs.” William Anastasi thematized in a series of works, like “Label” below.
In the Kunsthaus, the label retains its informative authority, but designates itself to a separate plane than that of the work on the wall–a separation of that which places the object, from the space of the object. This permits the viewer to distinguish the experience of observing the work from that of obtaining its factual context, which become inextricable when the label and work are seen together. It also allows a viewer to crop the insitutionality out of his own line of vision of he so chooses. After all, the significance of the label was born with art history, not in the artist’s studio.
Finally, I found myself more aware of an object’s space because of the floor labels. It reminds us that paintings occupy space in the third dimension. I also find it nice to be able to look down and see my own body extend towards the art’s text on the floor. It makes me think of the act of looking as a physical activity, and more aware of a work’s physical threshold.
8020 Graz, Austria
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