Hauser & Wirth Invents Teleportation Device: Beams Gallery Patrons from Chelsea to Museum Mile

What I found most tedious about Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition was not its contents, but its seemingly lazy and tactless installation. As I advanced through each of the gallery space’s eleven purpose built, white-wall rooms, so boringly categorized by decade and artistic movement (Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Fluxus, and so on), I could not help but feel my Contemporary Art History textbook coming to life. Each piece was accompanied by a label that not only detail the work’s artist, title, medium and date, information that commonly accompanies any work of art, but also offered a description of the work’s corresponding movement and history. While informative, these were not typical components of any other gallery experience I had had in recent memory. Had I unknowingly been teleported from a Chelsea gallery to the MET, Guggenheim or MoMA?

Walking through the exhibition oddly mirrored a funeral procession. I was mourning the death of everything I had learned about the diversification of art in the decades that followed World War II. Perhaps I sound melodramatic, but the exhibition’s unimaginative layout left me bored. If it were not for the labyrinth of walls that commanded me to march through a linear art historical plotline, I probably would have left earlier. Upon leaving Hauser & Wirth, I felt as though I had been robbed of the joy I experience when I attend gallery exhibitions. In my mind, galleries are meant to be spaces where patrons experience art without the weight of museum institution-induced democracy (re: the age-old questions of how many non-male artists should a museum represent? How many non-white artists? And so on) or the intellectual pressures of wall texts and the chatty docents who recite them. Here, I was told what to think and the logical order in which I should think it. The four decades that followed World War II are not definable by a linear trajectory and were laden with artistic progress: more female artists, more nonwhite artists, more new media – things that appear absent from Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition. While the pieces represented in the Onnasch collection are paragons of the artistic movements with which they are associated, together they bring little, if not nothing, new to the table.  If anything, the title of the exhibition speaks for itself. “Re-view: Onnasch Collection:” a life-size review for my upcoming Art History midterm.

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