Behind the curtain: ’Artificial Realities’ at the Courtauld Institute, London

Behind the curtain: ’Artificial Realities’ at the Courtauld Institute, London

Featuring a drawing by Anthony Gormley and a monoprint by Tracey Emin, alongside work from 29 other international artists, student curators at the Courtauld Institute have pulled out all the stops for this year’s East Wing biennial, boldly titled ’Artificial Realities’.

Founded in 1991 by art impresario Joshua Compston, the biennial continues to celebrate contemporary and emerging artists. The Courtauld’s East Wing  usually houses the working art school, and the exhibition offers a rare insight into the backstage spaces of the Institute, including the basement, staircases and seminar rooms. These cleared-out, threadbare areas are now filled with a jumble of contemporary sculpture, art works and installations.

Pungent scent installations by Anastasia Brozler add to the immersive, bohemian effect. The scent in Seminar Room 1 is the most interesting – and arguably the most unpleasant. Dubbed Courtauld 1932, it imagines how the seminar rooms might have smelt at the time of the Institute’s conception, with notes of damp walls and ancient brickwork – largely evoking student digs.

The ramshackle nature of the space provides a contrast to the polished, minimalist quality of many of the works; in particular, the delicate paper and bamboo sculptures by Jacob Hashimoto, and the slim porcelain vases of Edmund de Waal.

The exhibition’s transitional spaces mark another highlight. Winding staircases display in-situ commissions from Venice Bienniale representative Marco Maggi. Blink and you’ll miss these micro-paper creations, which provide reason to pause between seminar rooms. The creations are stuck directly to the paintwork; some are already peeling off. This approach offers a reprieve from the West Wing Gallery opposite, with its tightly organised chronology and no-touching glass cabinets.

The show’s philosophical title, along with the names of each room (’Traces of Memory’, ’Falsehood & Fiction’, ’Selected Paths’, ’Alterations in Light’) could be seen as over-reaching, with tenuous links to what is actually displayed. But if anything, this adds to the joy of the exhibition: that progressive, high-end artworks are held-up inside rooms where usually they would only have appeared in textbooks.

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