‘You promised me…’ Group Exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery

Laurent Grasso Visibility is a Trap 2012
Not only has she recently landed the role of executive director at boundary-pushing Sydney gallery Artspace, Alexie Glass-Kantor has just put curated a conceptually rich group exhibition of local and international art whose subject matter lies extremely close to her heart.

Alexie Glass-Kantor is a great example of determination and passion taking you a long way. Currently finishing up in her role at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne – where she has acted as director for the past 6 years – Glass-Kantor couldn’t turn down the opportunity to pull together the works of some of her favourite artists around the world, many of whom have created new works specifically for the exhibition, at Sydney’s Anna Schwartz Gallery.

The show, titled You promised me, and you said a lie to me after a line in 19th-century poet Augusta Gregory’s Irish balled ‘Donal Og’, pivots on phenomenological notions of matter and impermanence, psychic transference and the power of suggestion – themes which have been explored through a range of mediums and multimedia. Haegue Yang‘s sculptures of everyday objects, for instance, deliberately distort the perceptions of things we encounter everyday, while Heman Chong‘s 52 paintings drum up narratives of invented protagonists through covers of non-existent books. Laurent Grasso‘s multimedia works explore the epistemology of science; Melbourne-based Australian artist Susan Jacobs‘ new site-specific work explores intuitive interpretations of material and space, British Turner Prize nominees Jane and Louise Wilson use film, photography and sculpture to focus on the resonance of abandoned centres of power and political identity; Dublin artist Jesse Jones explores historical gestures through film; and Ming Wong, based in Singapore and Berlin, uses film to explore gender and the shared experiences of immigrant communities. Dijana Kumurdian spoke to Glass-Kantor about the inspiration behind the exhibition and the talented group of artists who contributed to it.

Dijana Kumurdian: How is your new role going?
Alexie Glass-Kantor: I haven’t actually commenced yet. I don’t start until the fourth of November: I’m still in my existing role in Melbourne. I’m looking forward to coming up to Sydney in the beginning of November and looking forward to the program for next year with that space and getting started with the team up there.

What’s lovely about it is that Art Space has been very important to me over the years: it was a kind of benchmark for me as a student at the University of New South Wales and the College of Fine Arts. I suppose moving to Melbourne and now coming back I’m really looking forward to working in a directorial role in that organisation, and collaborating with the team to think about not only exhibitions, but also studios, partnerships, international networks, publishing programs and expanding a range of auxiliary platforms for the production, presentation and development of contemporary art and ideas.linebreak


VL: How are you feeling about moving back to Sydney?

AGK: It will be great! Artspace is one of the most exciting spaces in Australia. I think there’s an interesting moment occurring in Sydney with the MCA’s expansion, the Art Gallery of New South Wales have had a change of guard and arguably taking a more proactive approach to contemporary art, the opening of the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts gallery spaces, a range of exciting independent spaces like Alaska and new commercial models around Sydney, and indeed spaces like Anna Schwarz and Carriageworks, which are taking much more proactive multi-platform approaches to the production of contemporary art. It’s really signaling this is an exciting moment of change and opportunity in Sydney, which I’m really glad to be a part of.

VL: Definitely. You promised me involves such a great array of artists. Why did you choose this particular group?

AGK:  For me, one of the great things about being a curator is the relationship that you build with artists. These are all artists that I’ve worked with in different contexts, but they’ve never been in one exhibition together before. When Anna asked me to curate this show I asked her if I could show artists that she didn’t represent, artists from overseas, and artists who I knew hadn’t had a substantial example of their work presented in an Australian context – and she said yes. I also wanted to include an Australian because I think it’s important that dialogue exists between Australian and international art. 


It was through relationships that this show came to bear. The title of the show, You promised me, and you said lie to me, is about the complexity of interpersonal relationships, about how you sit within and outside the idea of a promise and a lie and the fallibility of relationships through time. Heman Chong, who I’ve worked with in Singapore, and I share a deep love for books. When I spoke to him about the exhibition, he understood immediately what I was talking about and offered to paint 51 new paintings for the show of books where the protagonist is occupied by the persona of another. When I spoke to Hague Yang, dhe immediately understood the hook: the way that occupation and transference and psychic projections can occur, the idea of the kind of political insider and outsider, and she offered Strange Fruit, which is tied back to the song ‘Strange Fruit’ written by Abel Meerpol, a holocaust survivor, for Nina Simone about lynching in the south of America. This show has really emerged from conversations and exchange. There’s a line in ‘Donal Og’ – “You promised me gloves made of the skin of a fish” – that line really spoke to me and to Susan Jacobs, the Australian artist in the show, because of the impossibility of creating such a thing. So she went away and has created a kind of compass that will sit in the center of the exhibition made of four fish skins, gold and metal. The kind of speaks in a way that we find our own positional access in relationships and other things.

VL: It’s interesting that for artists the constraints of a concept or a brief often lead to possibility and promise.

AGK: Absolutely. I love that risk that’s involved in supporting the creation of a new work, and yesterday when I walked into the gallery and saw everything wrapped up… there’s always a moment when you’re working on a project where you think you know what it might be but you’re not entirely sure. I’m working with contemporary art – it’s all about working with the development of ideas – and what I really like is that entanglement at the front end of both presenting existing work but also working with newly commissioned works. There’s always this interesting moment I think in the process of curatorship for me, and some colleagues and I call it ‘meeting the show’: sometimes you arrive and what you see is sort of what you thought it would be and it looks in many ways how you imagined, and then sometimes you walk in and realise you’ve facilitated the creation of something completely different than what you imagined. It’s those newly commissioned works that can totally recalibrate and re-orientate the creative process.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me is on at Anna Schwartz gallery, Carriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Darlington NSW, until 9 November.

Words: Dijana Kumurdian
Images: Laurent Grasso ‘Visibility is a Trap’ (2012), Jesse Jones ‘The Predicament of Man’ (2010) and Ming Wong ‘Actress Entrance’ (2012)’, all courtesy Anna Schwartz Gallery and the artists


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