“Strike” by La Galerie des Locataires
Can an exhibition take the form of a postcard? For Ida Biard and La Galerie des Locataires (Tenants’ Gallery) postal communication was crucial for establishing networks among artists, critics and curators from Budapest to Canada. Founded in 1972 in the rented Paris apartment of the Zagreb art historian and critic Ida Biard, La Galerie des Locataires (Tenants’ Gallery) was a self-organized curatorial project dedicated to “communicating” the works of artists who, in line with the credo of the new, dematerialized art, privileged “ethics over aesthetics.”[1. See the discussion of La Galerie des Locataires in Ivana Bago, “Dematerialization and Politicization of the Exhibition: Curation As Institutional Critique in Yugoslavia during the 1960s and 1970s,” in Museum and Curatorial Studies Review, vol. 2, no. 1: 7—37; (link) and Ivana Bago, “A Window and a Basement: Negotiating Hospitality At La Galerie Des Locataires and Podroom — the Working Community of Artists.” ARTMargins 1.2-3 (2012): 116-46.] Artists from all over the world were invited to send their works by mail, to be exhibited in the window of Biard’s apartment, or realized, according to artists’ instructions, in public spaces of different cities, and in the framework of various exhibitions and projects.
La Galerie kept close ties with the Yugoslav art scene, especially through Biard’s collaboration with artist Goran Trbuljak on the French Window project, as well as different programs realized in collaboration with the Student Center galleries of Zagreb and Belgrade. At the same time, based in Paris, Biard collaborated with artists such as Daniel Buren, Annette Messager, Christian Boltanski, and Sarkis, who were to become among the most well-known protagonists of the international art scene.
La Galerie held a strong anti-commercial and anti-establishment stance, and believed in the potential of conceptual art to overcome the material and ideological confines of traditional, bourgeois, object-based art. However, by the mid-1970s, it became clear that the old patterns were only being re-affirmed, with conceptual artists becoming part of the mainstream institutional and commercial art scene. In order to protest this development, Ida Biard sent a card to all the artists she had collaborated with, specifically those in France, declaring a strike and announcing that La Galerie des Locataires would no longer “communicate the so-called works of art” in order to express its “disagreement with the conduct of artists/so-called dissenters and the avant-garde within the current system of the art market.” [2. My translation from the French original.] Inverting the logic according to which artists are expected to rebel against the system, while curators and critics secure their positions within its hierarchies, here it is the curator/gallerist who protests against the behavior of artists being integrated into the commodity system and betraying the ‘essence’ of conceptual art and their own earlier practice. [3. The strike lasted until 1981, when the Galerie resumed its activities, although with less intensity, occasionally entering into new collaborations and initiating new projects.]
This gesture of a curator’s strike, of a refusal to exhibit art if that implies perpetuating the status quo, was also an experiment with the form of curatorial communication — the exhibition. Strike could be interpreted as a mail-exhibition, a translation of artists’ usage of post and the emerging “genre” of mail art. Crucial for establishing and maintaining networks, postal communication here served to declare a dissolution of the network, as an expression of protest and, implicitly, a declaration of the failure of “dematerialized” art to radically transform the art system.
Guide for the chronology (Ivana Bago: Something to think about: values and valeurs of visibility in Zagreb from 1961 to 1986)
Concept by: Ida Biard & La Galerie des Locataires