Curated by Adam Carr and hosted by The Museum of Private Collections, the virtual exhibition 1-31 (pronounced “one to thirty-one”) considers time and how we move through it. Thirty-one artworks by thirty-one artists were assembled and posted on social media once a day for a month, essentially building a calendrical exhibition one piece at a time. Ranging from minimalist-inspired sculptures to satirical conceptual works, 1-31 covers a wide range of thought-provoking approaches to time. At a glance, the exhibition’s artwork seems almost thematically incoherent. A closer look reveals a deep undercurrent of concern for the future and nostalgia for the past, not to mention a certain disdain for the present, certainly relatable to viewers in the age of COVID-19 who wish for this moment to pass.
The Museum of Private Collections, also known as Collecteurs, puts unseen art on view, displaying artwork that would normally be locked in storage or hidden away in private collections. Their exhibitions are completely digital and well-executed from the website development down to the user interface. As the viewer scrolls through the desktop version of 1-31, artwork appears on the left-hand side of the screen while related information appears on the right. Each work remains in place while the viewer scrolls through these materials, making it easy to visually reference the art while reading about it. However, the desktop experience is only half of the exhibition, made to chronicle and neatly display the collection. Instagram is where the real fun happens.
As the world’s first collective digital museum, Collecteurs focuses more on their social media presence than your average art gallery. Their Instagram account (@collecteurs) mingles memes with modern art, offering context on select posts in their descriptions. This back-and-forth tone has gained them a follower base of over 300,000 and thousands of likes on each post. Each artwork in 1-31 was published as a three-piece carousel post. These digital triptychs begin with the artwork, followed by a blue and white illustration of the corresponding calendar date and artist, and sometimes followed by the exhibition logo (a calendar with dates marked off). The captions contain context, labeling information, and hashtags. These captions pay careful attention to each piece’s medium and process to help the viewer understand what they’re seeing, since they will likely never be in the same room as the artwork.
The artwork varies widely, but all were made recently enough to be called contemporary and seem inspired by various strains of conceptualism. The exhibition’s very first artwork, by Adriana Martinez, investigates the global fruit economy and trade. A plastic banana covered in fruit stickers simply titled “Bananas,” Martinez’s 2016 artwork, examines the troubled history of the fruit, specifically reflecting on the Colombian Banana Massacre. Martinez’s ready-made objects point out a dark past behind ubiquitous items and implore the viewer to seek out more information.
While Martinez’s work considers how trade histories impact the present, Simon Denny’s consider the present and future of our global economy. Appearing on day three of the exhibition is Denny’s 2019 work titled Document Relief 3 (Amazon Worker Cage Patent). This piece highlights the mysterious motivations behind the multi-billion-dollar company headed by Jeff Bezos.
Using a 3D paper printer to build up layers and layers of archival paper, Denny sculpts abstract reliefs into the surface of 1250 sheets of the US patent US9280157B2. The patent is for a “human transport device,” or a cage that was designed to transport Amazon employees to previously off-limits areas of their factory, where heavy machinery moves at high speeds. This protective measure has yet to be implemented in Amazon’s warehouses, but the bizarre concept has not escaped notice and critique in the consumer world. Denny’s piece asks: is this metal cage truly meant to solve a safety issue, or is it to establish a hierarchy of power and control in the Amazon warehouse? To what extent will we allow corporations to dominate their low-level employees? To what dark place is the future of work automation heading?
Whereas Martinez and Denny consider the consumer world, Pierre Huyghe’s critique is closer to home in the art world. His 1-31 feature, titled “Timekeeper,” comes in at day twenty-one in the exhibition. The work at first looks like the rings of a tree in technicolor, betraying the passage of time over the tree’s life. If this was your guess, then you weren’t far off. The rings are actually the layers of a gallery wall, each coating of paint evidencing a former exhibition repaint, down to the wall’s concrete core. Huyghe gently sands away twelve years of exhibitions, uncovering layers of spackle, drywall, and paint. Notice the large bands of white between bands of color and black, making for a veritable excavation of the white cube. Huyghe is interested in what is left behind from previous actions, allowing this gallery’s past to intermingle in the present in what Collecteurs calls a “retrospective” of exhibitions.
These works only scratch the surface of 1-31’s diverse message. Some artwork in the exhibition explores calendar iconography, such as Felipe García López’s 8.554 days or Mungo Thompson’s World’s Greatest Mountains 2019 (March). Lòpez’s artwork (day 28) creates a long tear-off calendar beginning on the day of his birth and finishing on the day the artwork was made, examining the unchangeability of the past. Thompson’s artwork (day 31) utilizes an LED Lightbox to illuminate the image of Mount Fuji, overlaid with a reverse and upside-down calendar page, as if the wall calendar is closed on itself but still viewable. These artworks dissect the passage of time in the context of the gallery space as well as in the artist’s own life.
Other works in the show employ numbers to explore time, such as Gabriele de Santis’ artwork To spot the Number can take up to 60 seconds (day 27). This work is a list of famous celebrities who all passed away at the same age, in line so that their names spell the age in question. In a different fashion, Reyes Santiago Rojas uses found objects with digits printed on them to explore number sequences, including carton boxes and wrappers of consumables like cigarettes. Rojas’ Magic Square 24 Mercury (day 24) arranges these discarded numbers into a number series lifted from Buddhist Yantras – a mystical diagram where the number 24 is significant in its relation to the planet Mercury and helps structure how the related ritual unfolds.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic affected so many American lives with each passing month of 2020, we have been struggling to reconcile our relationship with time. While some are plagued by the anxiety of having too much time on their hands, others are more overworked than ever and can’t seem to find enough hours in the day. Either way, most people cannot wait for this current moment to end, even as they may feel guilty for not living in the present or for being nostalgic for the good old (mask-free) days. Adam Carr’s 1-31 highlights this tension between then, now, and soon, and every moment in-between – providing a space to explore one’s own ambivalences and frustrations with time at this challenging moment in history.
Carr, Adam, curator. “1-31.” (2019). https://www.collecteurs.com/interview/1-31
Collecteurs. “About Us.” Accessed September 27, 2020. https://www.collecteurs.com/about-us
Day, Matt and Benjamin Romano. “Amazon has patented a system that would put workers in a cage, on top of a robot.” Seattle Times. September 7, 2018. https://www.seattletimes.com/ business/amazon/amazon-has-patented-a-system-that-would-put-workers-in-a-cage-on- top-of-a-robot/