Installation view of “Cold Intimacy” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney, 2014. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific

Cold Intimacy

Anna Schwartz Gallery

“Cold Intimacy” at Anna Schwartz Gallery is worth seeing—not so much for what it shows, which is actually very little considering the vastness of the exhibition space, but for what it signifies regarding the history of the Sydney- and Melbourne-based gallery.  

The exhibition, held at Anna Schwartz’s Sydney branch, was organized by 32-year-old Melbourne gallerist Melissa Loughnan, who was recently appointed the curatorial director of both spaces in hopes of steering the gallery in a new generational direction. “Cold Intimacy” is her curatorial debut.

Loughnan is young, vibrant and clearly has her finger on the pulse of what the younger generation wants from contemporary art. For eight years she ran the Melbourne contemporary art space Utopian Slumps, firstly as a nonprofit and then as a commercial gallery showing exhibitions that challenged viewers to expand their horizons. It is a criterion that Schwartz has great empathy for, as she herself has never been one to shy away from shows that challenge her audience. “Cold Intimacy” is no exception; it is dense, obtuse and minimalist.

Schwartz’s raison d’être over the years (she opened her gallery in Melbourne in 1982 and Sydney in 2008) has been one that has allowed artists, and to some extent curators, to more or less do what they want in her galleries. This, it seems, will continue under Loughnan. For “Cold Intimacy,” she has brought to the gallery ten works by four Berlin-based artists—Nina Beier, Alicia Frankovich, Simon Denny and Marlie Mul; although the large gallery space makes it seem as though there are fewer works on display. According to Loughnan, the artists in the exhibition all attempt to “explore the nature of emotions in the age of the internet,” a notion that also serves as the thesis of Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz’s 2007 book Cold Intimacies, from which the show’s title is derived. In her book, Illouz suggests that a shift has taken place in society in recent years—in the face of rampant capitalism and constantly advancing technology—which has allowed for the proliferation of “self- exposure and self-exploitation.”

At the exhibition’s opening, Loughnan explained that the show “needed to be super contemporary and ‘young gen.’ It is about the digital image, and the coldness of the digital image, and how the internet has changed the way we communicate professionally and personally.”

The artists in “Cold Intimacy” set out to examine this societal shift, with which we are all too familiar—bombarded as we are with endless photographs, text messages and emails and an accretion of virtual friends courtesy of social media, which provide faux realities and a false sense of security. Fortunately, none of the exhibiting artists fall into the easy trap of using such mediums directly in their works, preferring instead to follow a more challenging philosophical path to arrive to their understandings of the phenomena.

ALICIA FRANKOVICH, Defending Plural Experiences: MOCAP Creation, 2014, single-channel hi-def video: 36 min 28 sec. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific

There are two artists that stand out in the exhibition. One is New Zealand’s Simon Denny, who manages to inject a sense of humor into his large wall work, Disrupt Peter Thiel Sweet Spot (2014). The work plays with the theory that an intersecting point exists between very good and bad ideas—a “sweet spot” that is considered to be ideal for technology startups. The other piece is Alicia Frankovich’s video Defending Plural Experiences: MOCAP Creation (2014), which is based on the physicality of human interaction. It introduces a disruptive digital avatar into a group of real people, who appear as awkward and embarrassed (as one could imagine) having to act as though they are interacting with the virtual character.

In the exhibition there is very little intimacy or comfort on show, which engenders a sense of emotional vacuity and the feeling that this is a show without a soul. Perhaps this is what it is all about; the internet is, after all, soulless.

Thematic exhibitions like “Cold Intimacy” have an inbuilt problem in that they demand an intellectual leap of faith on the part of the viewer, as they search to discover the conceptual meaning of the work. One wonders what the younger generation will make of this show, or indeed if any of them would really care?

“Cold Intimacy” curator Melissa Loughnan next to SIMON DENNY’s Disrupt Peter Thiel Sweet Spot, 2014. Photo by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific

Cold Intimacy” is on view at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney, until December 20, 2014.