Vilma Gold is pleased to present the first London solo exhibition by Michael Stevenson. Entitled The Smiles Are Not Smiles , the exhibition comprises of a major new sculptural installation. The Smiles Are Not Smiles is based on events surrounding the 1978 inaugural exhibition of the Tony Shafrazi Gallery – this gallery began life in Tehran.
In the early 1970’s Tony Shafrazi was better known as the infamous perpetrator of the graffiti attack on Picasso’s Guernica. A few years later Shafrazi had taken on a new role – that of art adviser to the Peacock Throne. With the inflation of oil prices in the 1970’s the Shah had become one of the wealthiest people on the planet. As he began to assemble a 20th century art collection his power expanded into the art market. In Tehran he built a museum to house this collection. The Museum epitomized the Shah’s modern Iranian state, the collection was therefore essentially Western: from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Conceptual Art.
In 1978, on the back of this promising new market, Shafrazi opened his own commercial gallery in a small Tehran shopfront. The inaugural exhibition: Gold Bricks by Zadik Zadikian was, as the title suggests, a piece consisting of stacked, gold-leafed bricks. At the same time the Shah’s grip on the country was loosening. Zadikian’s opening was accompanied by waves of rioting – the onset of revolution.
Looting followed the riots, the bricks were lost and gallery was closed. All that remained as testimony to the exhibition was the invitation card (which unwittingly announces the date of the revolution) and one critic’s observation: ‘The piece glowed like a shattered chain in the Persian sunlight, having no beginning and no end’.
In the 1980’s Shafrazi went on to run one of the most successful galleries in New York, ironically enough championing graffiti art.
The Smiles Are Not Smiles unravels the aspirations of an expanding art market by presenting this earlier example of global free enterprise along with the conditions necessary to underpin it. Set amongst the familiar 20th century art theme of revolution, the piece subjects an ill-prepared sector of the artworld to the larger revolutionary moment.
The Smiles Are Not Smiles will see Stevenson fabricate the Zardikian piece (but in a semi-looted state). Portions of the Tehran shopfront will also be re-constructed, including the door which will be hung at the entry to the Vilma Gold gallery space. As the viewer moves through the foyer towards the door the prop-like construction of the piece will begin to reveal itself.
The Smiles Are Not Smiles can be seen as a continuation of Michael Stevenson’s enquiry into the complexities that underpin the economic life of the art world. In an ongoing project Stevenson tells the little-known tale of the destitute Scottish artist Ian Fairweather who, whilst living in Australia during the 1950s, attempted to return to Britain by non-monetary means. This included a raft voyage and deportation (the latter of which was paid for with hard labor). Through the re-telling of this story, Stevenson’s work drew out the interlaced poetic and economic aspects of so-called ‘primitive’ and ‘developed’ cultures. The art community, as a long standing conduit between public and private interests, will be the basis of Stevenson’s forthcoming project at Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach. Here his attention will be directed toward the founding of the museum – a signature piece of post-modern architecture – and the attempts to convince a significant Italian collector to generously donate his private collection of Minimalist works to the museum. A penthouse apartment in the tower of the museum was the collector’s final request. The dilemma for the museum was then how to render civic architecture without expressing this confusion of public and private space.
Michael Stevenson was born in New Zealand and now lives and works in Berlin. His work has been exhibited widely in both museums and galleries. In 2003 Michael Stevenson represented New Zealand at the 50 th Venice Biennale with his installation, This is the Trekka. Forthcoming solo museum presentations have been scheduled at the NAK, Aachen, Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, CCA Wattis Institue, San Francisco and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia. A publication will accompany the Mönchengladbach project.
For further information or images please contact Martin Rasmussen: +44 (0)20 7729 9888 or: firstname.lastname@example.org