The Assistants

Reviewed by Samantha Roth

photo (43)

Assisting and Resisting 

The Assistants is an attractive, almost-small-enough-for-your-back-pocket publication. It has the papery weight of a Zagat’s Restaurant guide, with the same slightly inconvenient binding that requires you to push the book down at the center, pressing pages into one another to view unencumbered the content closest to the center of the fold. It was published on the occasion of the corresponding exhibition curated by Fionn Meade at David Kordansky Gallery in early 2013, and includes the work of most of the artists who were part of the show, with a small separate section for each.

The interior of the front and back covers of the book include a text by the curator that in a New Novel-ian twist, states a similar poetic statement in varying words three times in a row. This is all the guidance that viewers are given for interpreting this collection of images and words.

 Left to my own devices to correlate the works of Uri Aran, Nairy Baghramian, Matthew Brannon, Andrea Büttner, Rosalind Nashashibi, Adrian Piper, Laure Prouvost, Slavs and Tatars, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and Cathy Wilkesunder under the theme “The Assistants” and given the spartan clues included in the catalog itself, I might assume that this exhibition was meant to demonstrate the varying degrees in which artists depend on the modes they choose to work in; that artist’s themselves are also tools for their mediums, not just the other way around. I might think that Meade’s intention was to curate a group of young and old, under the watchful performative histories of foremothers like Piper and Ukeles who used their bodies/their selves, to demonstrate political cache to physical being and labor, but who also left a material trace object.

Since I saw the exhibition, I also had the informative pleasure of reading the press release, the content of which was not included in the publication. As Meade wrote, “The Assistants explores the transitive potential of art, including how artworks can take on attendant guises and play assisting roles, serving as custodians of memory while also producing resistant gestures and deviant substitutions.”

When I read the word “transitive” in an art context, I can’t help but think of Richard Serra’s use of the term in relationship to his 1960’s work Verb List, in which he enumerated various methods to interact with materials. For me, this idea demonstrates that an object or action can have an equally impactful relevance on the actor, as well as vice versa. There is a push-and-pull, a zig-zag, between artists and their art, it is never simply a matter of subject and object.

The Assistants the exhibition and The Assistants the catalog are two different things, but they also neatly demonstrate another transitive relationship—one that shows the potential for the narrow space between assisting and resisting. The accompanying document to an exhibition is the object we’re left to pick up when we want to revisit an idea, while the exhibition is the demonstration of that concept in real time and space. While we can have one without the other, they are largely informed by one another, and where one lacks another fills.


Fionn Meade, Ed., The Assistants, (Mousse Publishing, 2013) 
Images: Cover and interior of The Assistants