Art: Don Celender Surveyed, Arnolfini

Don Celender | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Whilst the sun was shining down on Bristol's harbourside this afternoon I headed to Arnolfini for Surveyed, an exhibition of the works of conceptual artist Don Celender. Curated expertly by Sacha Waldron, it is a concise presentation of the surveys Celender conducted in the name of art. Producing thought-provoking and eccentrically abstract requests in mass-mailed surveys, Celender made studies of every day life, personalities and motivations.

As I took in the words from the white walls I was struck by the confidence and humour in Celender's approach. Many of the questions were fairly simple – from tombstone epitaphs, to dining with deceased artists – but what emerged from the variety in the answers was the artform's incredible ability to reveal so much of a persons character (both from what the say and from what they leave unsaid). 

Art Movements (1969-70) was Celender's first mail survey project and with it he aimed to 'make a CEO or a fireman into an instant artist'. By sending heads of industry, social organisations and businesses abstract tasks for which he demanded a solution he revealed a huge variety of responses. CEO's of oil companies treated his suggestions of replacing whole piping systems with new materials with the words 'juvenile' and 'pathetic'; artists performed their prescribed tasks 'mentally' for Celender; modern art museums agreed to have the Statue of Liberty relocated to their premises. Responses were anything from bullet-pointed to poetic, and when collected into a body of work are a rare and beautiful art.

My favourite part of the exhibition was Celender's 1990 project What Critics Said, a revealing and somewhat omniscient collection of quotes on new developments in art taken from contemporaneous reviews. What Celender shows us is amusing and rather prophetic.

Don Celender realised the potential of informal mass communication and retaining humour in art, and Surveyed is a perfect reflection of the power of the written word to convey infinite worlds.

Don Celender | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Affluent Art Survey, 1971 | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Surveyed is being shown at Arnolfini, Bristol until Sunday 28th April.



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