Banu Cennetoglu


at Kunsthalle Basel


How does the ordering impulse of art accommodate itself to the messy contingencies of reality? Banu Cennetoglu’s “products” at first appear as yet another critique of the machinations of the market; but economics is cast as one among many competing systems, all inadequate as tools to comprehend the world’s multiplicity. For Cennetoglu, the “sale” is a metaphor not only for conspicuous consumption but for a spectrum of relativistic positions, like the heterogeneity of a bazaar, all asserting their own means of mediating reality. Her Basel show was an expanded version of Sample Sale/2010 BC, exhibited last November in Istanbul, where she lives: an array of objects, both found and made, hung on a single wall. The gallery assistants’ desk was converted into a sales counter for Cennetoglu’s Catalog 2009 (2009), a travelogue of hundreds of photographs archived under eccentric headings. It is a personal bible, “the world according to B.C.”

Back in November, Cennetoglu allowed her dealer—as she has now allowed Adam Szymczyk, the director of Kunsthalle Basel—to choose her favorite pictures from the book to frame for display (Dealer’s Picks, 2010; Director’s Picks, 2011). As an emblem of art as commerce, deferring to the taste of the dealer seems more appropriate, until you remember that Szymczyk began his career as one of the most successful European gallerists, at Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. In any case, amid even more perverse taxonomical criteria, it does not seem so far-fetched. 14.01.2011 (2011) collects all the newspapers published in Switzerland on a given day, an arbitrary parameter followed through with unironic thoroughness. The work could be an illustration of one of Sol LeWitt’s Conceptual art prescriptions: pursue an “illogical” train of thought “absolutely and logically.” LeWitt appears in the title of SOL in RAL 7037-7038-7039-7040-7042 (2010), five metal shelves painted in shades of gray determined by RAL color system numbers, a sour joke on Minimal and Conceptual art’s control-obsessed industrial fetishism.

The subtext of all these means of counting, editing, cataloguing, controlling (and remembering) is that the world is uncontrollable, unamenable to paraphrase, despite what the arbiters of art might have you believe. John Baldessari’s text piece, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (1966-68), is printed on sweatshirts in all sizes (Baldessari for All, 2010), but rather than chic art accessories they resemble the products of a sweatshop, or something you might wear to work in one. A shelf of Souvenirs from Manifesta 8 (2010) collates fallout from the collision between personal peccadilloes and the impersonal international art world. Images of the various Manifesta 8 sites are on a shelf alongside a pair of men’s shoes, a satiny box out of which a shocking pink dildo peeps, and a photograph of a woman leaning over a pond, her big backside presented to the camera. A submarine, converted into a monument, looms up phallically in the background. Cennetoglu encourages her material to spill over the critical/didactic parameters she sets up. Declaring themselves, at the outset, as no more than humble commodities, her objects proceed from the lowest common denominator, accumulating meaning through cross-referencing. A tiger’s head of colored sequins on black velvet is mere kitsch, but then tigers do bite. Turkish wrapping paper is cursorily transformed into abstraction—and from functional decoration into decorative art—by being placed behind Plexiglas and hung in a gallery. Cennetoglu skips between these knowingly substandard solutions, impatient with the charade of being critical, esthetic or market-viable, as though she were always about to sweep all her carefully archived trivia off the table and march off peremptorily.

Photo Quiz (2010) is a grid of image puzzles—clipped from a newspaper series—of ambiguously photographed objects that challenge you to identify them. This, and a new sound piece, Suzanne Gabriello: Z’avez pas lu Kafka? (1966-2011)—featuring songs by the French chanteuse Suzanne Gabriello, and of her lover Jacques Brel—are the strongest intimations, in all of Cennetoglu’s restless accumulations, of what Vladimir Nabokov called the “Preterist” mode: a dwelling on present-tense relics as signs of a longing for what is unacceptably lost. The deceptive low-resolution images collected in Photo Quiz—of a mousetrap, a thimble, the foreshortened end of a ballpoint pen—appear to hail from another era, as if the objects were not only perceptually elusive but historically unavailable. The artist’s textual gloss on the old chanson recordings included in the work hints at the painful personal histories buried beneath their sentimental flourish. Cennetoglu’s “products”—tawdry, nostalgic, abjectly glamorous—prove to be manifestations of desperation, shopping as a last refuge for the brokenhearted.

Photos: (above) Banu Cennetoglu: Director’s Picks, 2011, six pages from Catalog 2009, each 8 1⁄4 by 11 3⁄4 inches (below) 14.01.2011, 2011, bound newspapers, each page 19 3⁄4 by 14 1⁄4 inches.