Simple Functionalism

Garry Neill Kennedy

November 29 – December 21, 2008

Garry Neill Kennedy, installation view of "Simple Functionalism" (2008). Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre.

For the seminal exhibition Vocation/Vacation in 1981, Garry Neill Kennedy made a spare new installation entitled Simple Functionalism. All that remained in the space was the attendant’s desk, altered to comply with the “Statement of Design Guidelines” issued in 1980 by The Banff Centre Aesthetic Committee. Kennedy’s choice to present an institutional piece of furniture as the only object in the gallery enabled him to reveal the context in which art is produced and displayed. Some visitors were hesitant to enter the installation, doubting whether they were allowed into what appeared to be an empty gallery. Faced with only a transformed desk and its occupant, the audience was confronted with what is traditionally overlooked: the white walls, the flooring, the lighting tracks, and the space itself.

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of The Banff Centre, Kennedy has been invited to recreate Simple Functionalism, providing visitors with a rare opportunity to experience the work again. The apparent void of the gallery was jarring in 1981, and it still takes the viewer by surprise. Kennedy’s intervention challenges the assumption that galleries exist to be filled with art, while the institution itself remains concealed. He and other artists in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Hans Haacke and Daniel Buren, systematically reevaluated the role and function of the art institution through a revision of the processes of making, displaying, and looking at art. Since the first installation of Simple Functionalism 27 years ago, the art world has changed, altering the way in which an ostensibly vacant gallery is perceived today. While Kennedy’s work cannot be separated from its historical context, it refuses to remain immune to the shifts within the institution that it lays bare.