Spatial Composition 12
Materials: mild steel, printed canvas fabric, paint.
Dimensions: 318 x 83 x 98 cm.
Spatial Composition 12 is a sculpture that also functions as museum seating. The work was developed from research of how seating areas have through time shaped the encounter with artworks, and the nature of spending time in a historical art museum such as the Albertinum in Dresden. Spatial Composition 12 invites an exhibition audience to overcome genre hierarchies between art and useable objects, between what constitutes an ‘(art)work’ and what doesn’t, and places the museum visitor as central to that question.
Materials: existing seatings, printed canvas fabric, padding, velcro.
For her intervention at the Albertinum Museum in Dresden, Céline Condorelli researched how seating areas in the Albertinum have shaped the encounter with artworks over the course of the decades. Some of these had been decommissioned and placed in storage or were rescued by employees for private use from the garbage. Condorelli’s work Ausstellungsliege assembles six of these seating areas as very different witnesses to a rapidly changing aesthetic world of experience and brings them back into the exhibition spaces of the Albertinum. With this alternative collection of benches from different periods, Condorelli not only demonstrates their individual sculptural quality, but also the importance that each specific furniture design ascribes to the viewer. For example, the oldest surviving bench seat, which was used from the 1960s to the early 1990s, was equipped with comfortable upholstery. (Fig. 7) A minimalist oak bench, on the other hand, which has stood in the exhibition spaces from the early 2000s until today, is considerably more uncomfortable because of it its hard-wooden surface. Its reduced form appears to disappear against the parquet of the museum spaces, as these are also made from oak (Fig. 4). The bench’s design exemplifies the conception of the exhibition space as White Cube, as a white cell that removes from the space as many elements as possible that could influence the work of art.1 However, Condorelli does not consider display, a category to which the spatial element of the bench also belongs, as something added to the artwork as a disturbing component, but as something that is present within each work.2 Condorelli counters the notion of the white cube and furnishes the seating with upholstery in her own striking design. Benches that were already upholstered have been re-covered with the fabric, while those that weren’t received an upholstered cushion.
With the work Spatial Composition 12 (2019), Condorelli complements the six modified museum benches with a new piece of seating furniture on which the same textile is stretched over a tubular steel construction of her design (Fig. 1). As a sculpture and seating hybrid, Condorelli creates a moment of irritation: is it an artwork that one isn’t allowed to touch or can one actually sit on the object? In this way Condorelli encourages us to overcome hierarchies between art and use objects and to question the behavior we practice in museums. She envisages the visitor as a central element in her “spatial composition.” Spatial Composition 12 refers to the title of a series of constructivist steel sculptures from the 1920s by the artist Katarzyna Kobro (1898 – 1951) and thereby also ties in with the history of associated ideas. Kobro’s work explored how space can be designed through sculpture. Together with her partner, the artist Władysław Strzemiński (1893 – 1952), she investigated space not only as an aesthetic and theoretical category, but also as a social and political form.
In the choice of the deck chair as the prototype for her composition, Condorelli counters the sacred spaces of the museum with a clearly profane type of chair that, as furniture for leisure, is typically associated with idling in outdoor spaces and was originally developed for cruise ships. The colors of the fabric pattern are inspired by the wall designs of different painting galleries and are also reminiscent of the haptic of the heavy velvet material, with which the seating furniture in these temples of art were often covered, as well as sofas in private interiors. Condorelli thereby also alludes to the transformation of the museum as a place of leisure in the 18th and 19th centuries and questions the sharp distinction between the private and public reception of art and their associated physical needs. At the same time, the arrangement of seats, which alternate the direction they are facing, is reminiscent of the conversation chairs of 18th century English garden architecture. Sitting on it, you can not only contemplate art in a relaxed manner, but also have a pleasant tête-à-tête with the person sitting next to you. This simple, yet effective offer to visitors clearly communicates that the museum isn’t merely a repository for art, but also a space of encounter and exchange. (…) Condorelli’s fundamental questions, which always accompany her artistic and research work are condensed here: how people see and populate a public space with art, under what conditions art is present here, and how it constitutes what an exhibition actually is—an encounter between a person and a work, but to a greater degree a social space. (…)
The design of the fabric that Condorelli used for her seating refers to another current field of discourse of the Western-influenced museum typology. The pattern is inspired by African wax prints, a kind of fabric with bold serial patterns that is primarily produced for clothing. Their patterns often refer to current events and therefore can be read as a kind of textile archive. For example, in Togo, one of the central trading centers for Pagnes (a specific type of wax print), it is said that a woman’s life can be read from the Pagnes she has accumulated over the years. The history of independence throughout Africa can also be traced through this material, as they are often printed with portraits of presidents, national symbols, or party emblems.3 One therefore wouldn’t expect that this typical African fabric is in fact partially produced in Europe for the African market—a practice that continues today. Dutch firms had adapted a particular form of the wax printing technique in order to copy the handmade batik fabric of their Indonesian colonies with a machine and to sell them back at a reasonable price. When this failed, the companies began to sell these fabrics with greater success in West Africa.4 However, a genuinely African adaptation of this technique developed and, particularly from the 1960s to 1980s, unique fabrics emerged in the African textile industries, which had experienced major crises in domestic production through the import of cheap clothing donations for Africa and the fast fashion industry of the last twenty years.5 Even today, the fabric still experiences a global production and trading cycle. For example, the firm Vlisco designs their fabric in the Netherlands before it is produced in Birmingham and then primarily sold on the West African market. Céline Condorelli’s work with this fabric emerges from the artist’s long-term research, particularly on Vlisco’s wax prints. With her conspicuous quotation of this fabric’s design, she hones in on two aspects of this textile’s material culture: the compression of space and time and its relation to the archive. The color scheme refers to the wall design of different exhibition rooms. The pink, which is part of the fabric and also the color of the metal frame for Spatial Composition 12, for example, goes back to Kendleston Hall, the exhibition space in Derbyshire (UK), which was designed by Robert Adam. The light pink colour was chosen in order to allow the contours of monochrome marble sculptures to emerge more strongly. Condorelli brings the different colors together in her pattern and relates them to the exhibition spaces of the Albertinum. The resulting intervention unites different spaces and times. The moon, depicted in different forms, doesn’t only correlate to the slight irregularities within the pattern that is typical for wax prints, but also symbolizes a universally valid cycle of time. This abstract layering of space and time corresponds to an approach that the artist describes as a “Cumulative Gallery.” This means that an exhibition space can never be considered neutral, but is composed of various conditions and historical implications.6 With her reference to the material culture of African wax prints, Condorelli reminds us that the Albertinum came into being as a collection and institution within a Western canon. A central image of Western Modernism comprises an important theoretical construct for Condorelli, namely Herbert Bayer’s famous schematic drawing Extended Field of Vision from 1930, which shows a person’s fields of vision. It shows a male figure standing alone in space whose head is replaced by an over-sized eye. This huge eye seems to equate the reception of art with the head, thinking, and seeing alone. Condorelli comments on the drawing as follows: “Western history is one of ocular-centrism, in which vision and vision alone, disassociated from a material body, serves as the privileged signifier of rationality. The ‘rational man’ is represented alone, standing.”7 The artist’s decision to turn towards the museum bench brings this disembodied abstract rationality of the encounter with art, as suggested by Bayer in his drawing, back to an all-encompassing physical experience. This physical experience takes place through relations—through one’s own physicality, to space, and to the other people who are present. The cycle that the already existing benches go through in their process of renewal can be described through Condorelli’s concept of “support structures.”8 This concept refers not only to the direct physical support the benches offer in the reception of art, but also to networks of support, which are reflected in social connections.
 See Brian O’Doherty: In der weißen Zelle. Inside the White Cube, Berlin, 1996 (Appeared for the first time as an essay in the magazine Artforum in 1976).
 See Céline Condorelli, In Support: a theoretical and practical investigation into forms of display, Diss., Goldsmiths, University of London, 2014, [Condorelli, 2014], p. 2.
 See Nina Sylvanus (Ed.): Patterns in Circulation. Cloth, Gender, and Materiality in West Africa, Chicago, 2016, p. 2.
 See Ibid., p. 4 f.
 See Kerstin Pinther, Alexandra Weigand (Eds.): Flow of Forms / Forms of Flow. Design Histories between Africa and Europe, Bielefeld, 2018. Also the special research project “Mode & Styles / Fashion & Styles in African Cities. Case Studies from Douala and Lagos” at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
 See continuing: Condorelli, 2014.
 Céline Condorelli: Sitting in the Exhibition, Lecture at the colloquium DISPLAY: Aspekte des Ausstellens, on March 29, 2019 at the Albertinum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
 See continuing: Condorelli, 2014.
Excerpt from Demonstration Rooms. Artistic Confrontations with Space and Display at the Albertinum, Spector Books, 2019.