Zéro de conduite: works from Serralves collection
Zéro de conduite is the first exhibition commissioned by João Ribas as director of Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, where he has held exhibitions since 2014. This one displays his in-depth knowledge, not only of contemporary art and its several shapes, at national and international levels, but also the institution’s. Ribas’ defying perspective and thoughts are then displayed, with the collaboration of the well-regarded assistant director Ricardo Nicolau and Paula Braga as curator, who represent the house’s consciousness. This show is striking and reveals how the team is looking at the future, trying to extend and amplify the impact and relevance of Serralves.
The visual, formal, material and plastic heterogeneity displayed in this exhibition is proportional to the works’ authorship plurality, which, from several generations and nationalities, is representative of the vastness and quality of the museum’s collection. Among its countless artists, there are paramount references like Christian Boltanski and Marcel Broodthaers or, at a national level, António Sena and Manoel de Oliveira, the latter with pictures from the well-known movie Aniki-Bóbó (1942). Among the most popular works, such as I will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971) by John Baldessari, and others of which much remains to be discovered, there are seventy contemporary artists.
Like the young students of the movie Zéro de conduite (1933) of Jean Vigo, the pieces of the exhibition move against the rules imposed by the system, in this case, political and social, enlisting several problems and oppressions that result from these contexts and conventions. There are blatant manifestations against racism and sexism, like the piece from Guerrila Girls and, more ambiguously, the work placed in the museum’s entrance hall, signed by João Onofre, marking the inauguration with a performance played by the heavy metal band Holocausto Canibal.
The public space and everyday life were also cornerstones during the exhibition’s development, referred to as places of resistance or vulnerability to today’s gentrification and violence. This is evident in an installation that defies the viewer, Rimbaud’s Spell, by João Louro. Intense and violent, the simulation of a car accident fills the first room with an aesthetic brutishness, both physical and conceptual, invoking the mobility, speed and collapse of contemporary life.
The exhibition echoes the present time and questions several sorts of powers and authorities, political, social, moral, ethical, religious, aesthetic, behavioural, sexual and economical. Regarding the latter, the work of Antoni Muntadas is essential, a rug representing the European flag (The CEE Project , 1989-1998), which questions the relations in the European Economic Community, often motivated by inexcusable goals.
Likewise, one can identify an equally activist trait in the curatorship dynamics. Zéro de conduite questions the “conducts” or practices of cultural institutions, by distributing and gathering irreverent works throughout the space, simplifying the preestablished exhibition concepts, its rules and conventions. Cell-looking iron structures are edified, they trap works and invite the viewer to relate to them under that singular and unusual context. There is a pseudokitsch painting (Untitled, 2014) by Josh Smith, hanging from the ceiling, suggesting new ways of observing and experiencing art, even the primordial artistic expression, which is usually exhibited on the walls.
The quest for several and varied forms to occupy and propel the museums through different dynamics and situations for the public is decreed at the exhibition’s entrance, with the video of Mario Garcia Torres, A Brief History of Jimmie Johnson’s Legacy (2007), based on Jean-Luc Godard’s movie, Band à Part (1964). Suggesting the idea of shifting through the Louvre quickly and carelessly, the work trivializes the visit to one of the world’s largest museums and discusses what it means to see art, the viewer’s experience and the latter’s contact with the objects that are presented to them.
Zéro de conduite is an exhibition that subverts the conceptions of everyday life’s object, the work of art and curatorship, proposing new discourses and languages, through a creation circumscribed to a lack (or failure) of conduct or behaviour. The concepts of “well done” and the “good taste” cannot be applied here and are actually thwarted, culminating in an unique and unmissable exhibition.