The Well Fair is a natural extension of our early works that dealt with questioning institutional structures. In the early 2000s, we made a number of installations and performances that centred on the ‘white cube’ as the accepted format for viewing and presenting art. We played with this so-called neutral architectural structure by placing it upside down or underground, to look at it in another way. At that time, it was such a relevant topic for us, since we were both sort of outsiders, not coming from art academic backgrounds. And now, with the seemingly exponential spread of art fairs around the globe, we wanted to create an exhibition that would set the stage for opening up a discussion about this current phenomenon, in a more complex manner than how it is debated in most media. The title, The Well Fair, references our 2006 exhibition The Welfare Show at the Serpentine Gallery in London, which was about the disappearing welfare state in the wake of neo-liberalism.
We aim to call attention to the standardised format of art fairs and we want to see how people will adapt their behavioural patterns when entering our fictional art fair within the context of the museum. We’re currently working on the catalogue that accompanies the show; it’s an extension of many of the convergent elements we’d like to address, with contributions from several art fair directors, a sociologist, an art historian and a psychologist. We have selected people from all these different fields to provide many different perspectives on the driving forces that have made art fairs what they are today.
In terms of our own works in the show, this is one of the largest shows we’ve done, with over 80 individual works as well as performative elements, so it’s different in that it gives such an extensive look at what we’ve been making over the past 20 years. The exhibition is also not only about the art market and the fair architecture. Each booth displays a small solo show where the viewer will be confronted with recurrent themes from our productions during the past 20 years—questions about identity, childhood and wider sociocultural topics.
It is also challenging to step out of one’s normal context and experience reactions from new audiences with other cultural backgrounds and starting points for viewing art. In Europe and the US, you often know beforehand who will like what and who won’t. We have also had some production of the site-specific works included in this show done in China, so we have had to oversee that part of the process remotely, which of course poses challenges now and then. We’re looking forward to being there in person for the installation period. Funnily enough, the installation process for this show reminds us a bit of the ‘magic’ of installing a real art fair: there is a condensed period of intense activity, unpacking, building walls etc and then it all comes together for the opening. But with our fair, there will be some works that are still uncrated or semi-wrapped, since we wanted to give the feeling that you’re not sure if the fair has just ended or not yet begun, in order to create a sort of disorienting atmosphere.
We always consider the context of our exhibitions and the perception of it [the work] by our audience, not just with this particular show, but with any show we do anywhere in the world. On a thematic level, we think our work will connect with a wide range of visitors, as enduring questions of identity and shared history are present throughout. We’re really also curious about how this exhibition fits into and comments on the Asian market, which has developed so quickly in the past few years. One could maybe even claim that the contemporary art scene boom in China derives from private collectors’ interest in the scene. But when compared to Europe and North America, art fairs are a relatively new occurrence in the region.
We’re never aiming for a definite ‘takeaway’ message to the audience. Visitors to an exhibition are as complex and different as we are as artists, and we ourselves don’t like to feel that the author has been calculating to elicit certain reactions from us when we see a show or read a book or watch a movie. That’s simply too arrogant and too Hollywood-like, we think. This show has so many layers—but of course we hope we managed to create a platform that allows people to consider the spatial settings for fairs, the value assigned by the art market today and how we present art in general.
For us, the most interesting aspect is how these narratives can serve as a means of communication about broader issues—we choreograph the exhibition, almost as though it would be a film set, to give visitors clues about a story or a situation, or to show details of an implied plot that points to a bigger picture. For example, our show The Old World at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong dealt with the clash of the outdated traditions of ‘Old Europe’ in relation to modern society; in The Collectors at the Venice Biennale in 2009, we talked in part about social status, about the desire of collecting, and family dynamics; and Tomorrow at the V&A questioned how ageing and failure fit into today’s society obsessed with youth and success. We find it interesting to investigate how a space can be transformed into something else by only altering a few architectural features and design codes, and in these new settings, to mix our own works with found objects, ready-mades, and sometimes works by other artists, and from that to construct the storyline.
It’s always a mediation. We don’t divide it between us in clearly defined ways; rather, we both lead meetings with our production team and weigh in on aesthetics to reach a decision together. All the works we make arise from the ongoing dialogues between us that take place in so many different places: at the studio, over the phone, on a plane, in a bar late at night etc. Often when we do a show we’ve already got the idea for the next project. We have worked together for 20 years now, so we have almost turned into a two-headed monster. —[O]