May 2011: Dieter Roth @ Hauser & Wirth


Dieter Roth, Reykjavik Slides, 1973-1975 and 1990-1998, #8
Ca. 31'000 slides, 3 wooden shelves, 8 slide projectors on wooden pedestals (detail); Dimensions variable
Copyright Dieter Roth Estate, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

 

Dieter Roth: Reykjavík Slides (31,035) - Every View of a City
Hauser & Wirth
23 Savile Row
London W1S 2ET
17 March through 30 April 2011


Walking into the North Gallery of Hauser & Wirth's new Savile Row space felt as if I had wandered into a factory. The click clack of the projectors, the concrete floors, low lights, warehouse style ceilings and the draftsmen table in the corner added to a sensation of being in someone's workshop. Even the receptionist and gallery attendant were lurking quietly in the corner. The new space at Hauser & Wirth has succeeded in allowing the visitor to encounter the art first so one can take it all in before looking around for further information.

And I am sure this is exactly what Bjorn Roth intended when he curated his late father's work, Reykjavík Slides (31,035) - Every View of a City, for the gallery. Typical of Roth’s varied artworks, the draftsmen's table was where it should be and his systematic collection or 'inventory' as he called it was on display. As I stood amongst the 15 projectors, my head swinging from side to side trying to see which photograph had just made an appearance, I began to try to put together a pattern. As far as I could tell, there was no pattern. Roth took over 31,000 photographs of his adopted hometown of Reykjavík, with the help of his two sons, from 1973-75 and then again from 1990-95. These photographs have been put onto slides, which are labeled and filed in large cabinets near the corner where the desk is being kept. On the desk is a long list of place names and corresponding numbers in which Roth categorised his photographs. When asked, I was told that the slides stored in the cabinet never switch out with the ones on the floor. This was disappointing, as this could have made the exhibition much for fluid and exciting, encouraging people to come back for new images.


Dieter Roth, Reykjavik Slides, 1973-1975 and 1990-1998, #16
Ca. 31'000 slides, 3 wooden shelves, 8 slide projectors on wooden pedestals (detail); Dimensions variable
Copyright Dieter Roth Estate, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

This is not to say the photographs on the wall were not extremely beautiful in themselves, with their muted colours and simple lines. Aiming to take a snapshot of every building in Reykjavík, Roth succeeded in showing stunning landscapes, front lawns, gas stations, shadowed corners, eclectic homes, architecture and old cars. Interestingly, one could not tell which of the images were from the 70s and which were from the 90s, showing that a 15-year gap had not changed the look of this city very much. As Roth says, "real life is art" and in these simple images, he invites us into the daily view of his life, his town.

In the 60s, when Roth began to obsessively document and collect every object that he came into contact with, he started a journey from which he needed never return. This strict cataloguing of his life gave importance to the existence of all things, large or small. He is quoted as saying "I am afraid to select" and this is captured well in Reykjavík Slides in which his only criterion was 'I will take a picture of every building in my city'. This leaves the choice of which images to show, up to the curator or collector, breathing a unique vision of ‘what (or whom) makes art’ into his work.

Reykjavík Slides is a very interesting piece to put on show at a commercial gallery, and a brave choice. 31,000 slides are not easily sellable, but the show encompasses the way Roth works and fits well inside of a space that is much like a workhouse itself. The sheer scale of Reykjavík Slides is evident in the cataloguing and shelving placed inside the gallery, and much of it is left up to the imagination of the viewer. By the time I squinted back into the bright sunshine of London, I had asked many questions, seen hundreds of photographs, and convinced myself that I knew what Reykjavík looked like - cold, barren, pastel, and beautiful. The only question left unanswered was, how could I see the rest of the slides?


Dieter Roth, Reykjavik Slides, 1973-1975 and 1990-1998, #15
Ca. 31'000 slides, 3 wooden shelves, 8 slide projectors on wooden pedestals (detail); Dimensions variable
Copyright Dieter Roth Estate, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth



Dieter Roth, Reykjavik Slides, 1973-1975 and 1990-1998, #19
Ca. 31'000 slides, 3 wooden shelves, 8 slide projectors on wooden pedestals (detail); Dimensions variable
Copyright Dieter Roth Estate, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Chelsea holds an MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She currently resides in London, but hails originally from California. She is Assistant Curator for the Hayward Touring Exhibitions programme and writes about art in her spare time.

Her blog can be read here:
http://www.paintingofmodernlife.blogspot.com/

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