The best, most boring works in Nina Beier’s solo exhibition at Charlottenborg belong to the series The Demonstrators. Beier has spread wallpaper paste on posters and hung them to dry on different pieces of furniture. The posters themselves feature bland images taken from image banks. The Demonstrators (Balancing Potato) consists of a large conference table over whose edges hangs a poster with a picture of a potato. The Demonstrators (Broken Rope) consists of a white radiator on which hangs a poster with a picture of a rope that is about to rip. In other works in this series images of telephone receivers and light bulbs hang over ladders and lounge chairs.
Everyday items combining with each other in unexpected ways – the 20th century created a series of concepts in order to describe such objects: assemblage, combine, assisted ready-made. Beier’s work in this exhibition makes one think of Nouveau Réalisme in particular. For the Noveaux Réalistes, as Pierre Restany explained in the group’s second manifesto from 1961, “The ready-made is no longer the height of negativity or of polemic, but the basic element of a new expressive repertoire.” The group’s artists put together the objects of their modern reality in new configurations in order to create critical dislocations of meaning or to uncover the internal poetic and emotional force of things.
But if Beier’s work is located near the assemblage practices of the New Realists technically and formally, she distinctly circulates in a contemporary sphere of symbols and references. In The Demonstrators, we encounter the familiar culture of the late-capitalist corporate world: generic office furnishings and meeting rooms, images that seem to strive to be as bland and unoriginal as possible so as not to alienate any particular audience. In this respect, Beier creates a new new realism: she reveals and creates subtle shifts in the aesthetic and economic logic that controls the design of the spaces we today inhabit.
This, one could argue, is both her asset and lack. The New Realist object was based on the notion that critical effects could arise when worlds of meaning collided, that things had hidden poetic and emotional power that the artists’ décollages and tableaux-pièges could reveal. With Beier’s assemblages we are at a semantic degree zero: the worlds that collide with each other are already emptied of all meaning, things are drained of all poetic potential and the only artistic or critical value is the vague disorientating power of the actual displacements themselves. Faced with such a realism – irrespective of how new it is and which art-historical legacy these techniques and tactics carry on – one remains indifferent: in Beier’s work everyday objects and images do combine and confront each other in unexpected ways, but it still means nothing.
Translation from the Swedish by Jeff Kinkle.