Previously at the ICA - Exhibitions
2 Aug 2006
Surprise, Surprise is an exhibition that appears at first glance to be a typical summer 'blockbuster', the stellar cast of artists promising 'wow' factor, familiarity and accessibility.
But the forty high-profile artists taking part will in fact be displaying pieces that are atypical of the work for which they are best known. By reversing expectations through a presentation of the unexpected, the unfamiliar, the unknown and the one-off, Surprise, Surprise offers both revelation and a challenge to the preconceptions we readily impose on exhibitions of contemporary artists' work, often before we have actually seen them.
Contemporary art is certainly not unique in fuelling and trading on expectations through the advance promotion of well-known names. Large-scale group exhibitions - and most typically the annual round of epic summer shows - tend to play most aggressively to this kind of recognition factor, stimulating interest in the show through the promise of familiarity that more established artists' names bring.
As a strategy, such pre-publicity only highlights an increasing reliance on the artist-as-personality, regardless of the qualities of individual pieces
of work. And if what is then exhibited exactly matches our expectations, it might only serve bolster a one-dimensional impression of an artist's work.
Compounding this, artworks are often included in group exhibitions precisely because they are both typical of the artist, and at the same time validate the show's thesis or themes. Perhaps it is inevitable that these tactics - which drive the popular discourse around contemporary art - tend to reinforce preconceptions rather than open up a wider field of discussion, and propose alternative viewpoints.
Surprise, Surprise is a playful but provocative exhibition which, in showing how the apparently familiar can confront us with something less expected, aims to reassert the importance of art's fundamental ability to point out what we do not know, as well as allowing us to recognise what we do.
Surprise, Surprise is accompanied by a publication, available free to visitors to the exhibition. It will contain a text by the curators of the exhibition, images of the works on display, and information on the participating artists.