Gerard Byrne at the Whitechapel Gallery


The Whitechapel Gallery presents the first major UK survey of Irish artist Gerard Byrne. Byrne is renowned for his films which revisit historic moments and conversations, ranging from an interview with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre; science fiction writers Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov discussing the future; and articles from Playboy magazine. The exhibition traces Byrne’s work from 2003 to today and includes seven major film installations, a series of photographs and the UK premiere of his latest multi-screen installation, A man and a woman make love (2012).

Byrne’s work explores the way we build our understanding of the present through reconstructing the past. His diverse subjects have encompassed stories around the Loch Ness monster, the location of a Samuel Beckett play, or the history of Minimalist art. Using actors, Byrne reconstructs conversations and events from high to popular culture, approaching them in a humorous, playful way and often in a consciously artificial style.

Gallery 1 shows his latest multi-screen installation, A man and a woman make love (2012). The work recreates a discussion held in the 1920s by the Surrealist group of artists and writers, including André Breton, Jacques Prévert and Yves Tanguy, in the form of a TV play with a live studio audience. The film unfolds across five large screens spread throughout the darkened space of Gallery 1, the story appearing and disappearing from one to the next.

This gallery also presents the UK premiere of A thing is a hole in a thing it is not (2010). Taking its title from a statement by sculptor Carl Andre, this five screen work re-stages key moments from 1960s art history, including Robert Morris’s performative sculpture Column (1961), in which an upright square column after a few minutes on stage falls over, and a radio interview between US minimalist artists Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin in 1964. At different points during the day across the same screens, Homme à Femmes (Michel Debrane) (2004) is shown, where French actor Michel Debrane re-enacts an interview in which philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre discusses his lifelong relationship with feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir as first published in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1977.

Works shown in Galleries 8 and 9 include 1984 and beyond (2005-7) which features a restaging of a discussion between twelve well-known science fiction writers, including Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, about their vision of the future. First published in Playboy magazine in the 1960s, the conversation shows the optimistic views of the writers at a time of political unrest in the United States.

Gerard Byrne’s ongoing series of photographs are shown alongside his film installations. The exhibition includes Newstands (2007- ongoing), photographs which capture magazine displays in newsagents, offering a snapshot of social-political history over the years.


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