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Ger van Elk, ‘Apparatus Scalas Dividens’ (Apparatus to Divide Stairs), 1968, in the exhibition Op Losse Schroeven ETC

“Exhibition Histories is Afterall’s new research and publishing project focussing on key exhibitions of contemporary art that have taken place since the first Documenta in Kassel in1955. Each book in the resulting series will bring together archival material and newly commissioned essays, exploring and analysing those exhibitions that have shaped the way art is experienced, understood and made today.

The first book, is dedicated to two exhibitions from 1969: When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern and a lesser known show that opened a week earlier at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Op Losse Schroeven . Both exhibitions grappled with how to present the new art being made in North America and Western Europe at the time, and included many of the same artists and united strands of practice such as arte povera, post-minimalism, land art and conceptual art. Christian Rattemeyer’s essay addresses the genesis of these shows and their similarities and differences, challenging assumptions about the historical significance of one over the other. This essay is accompanied by texts from the time by Harald Szeemann, Wim Beeren and Charles Harrison, plus recent interviews with artists including Piero Gilardi and Jan Dibbets. Talking to some of the artists involved has been a highlight of the project so far—so many have helped with our research. Complementing these words is an extensive picture section, giving detailed visual representations of the two exhibitions. We have some great photographs that have never been published before, including a sequence showing Richard Serra and Philip Glass throwing molten lead against the outside of the Stedelijk Museum, making Serra’s ‘Splash Piece’.

Future books in the series will consider Lucy Lippard’s ‘number shows’, 1969–74, the Parisian exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, 1989 and, from the same year, the third Havana Biennial.

We are currently busy with an ongoing programme of public symposia that provides a means of framing and developing our research, fuelling the selection of exhibitions for further study and shaping the resulting books. Of course the findings, narratives and analyses we choose to present are by no means exhaustive or conclusive. We aim to spur further research into exhibition form, and ultimately contribute to a better understanding of contemporary art’s role within society.”

Exhibition Histories is developed by Afterall in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven