CCS Bard Presents: Helen Marten – No borders in a wok that can’t be crossed

May 22, 2013

On View June 22 through September 22, 2013 in the CCS Bard Galleries

Opening reception: Saturday, June 22, 2013 from 1:00 – 4:00pm

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY, May, 2013 This summer The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) presents the first U.S. museum exhibition of British artist, Helen Marten.  Titled No borders in a wok that can’t be crossed, Marten’s exhibition is curated by Beatrix Ruf. It is the first major collaboration between CCS Bard and the Kunsthalle Zürich, a configuration of which was presented as part of the inaugural program of the Kunsthalle’s newly expanded Löwenbräukunst complex in 2012.

For No borders in a wok that can’t be crossed, Marten has created a group of works, which interweave the diversity of her work in terms of media – from sculptures to wall pieces and videos – in a comprehensive installation including many new works created specifically for the CCS Bard exhibition.

Marten’s work offers a disconcerting experience of material, symbolic and linguistic collapse.  Entwining real surfaces with implied linguistic scenarios, Marten pokes humorously at questions of ownership and dishonesty in materials, the relationship of object to artifact, and of package to product. Interested in the grammatical approximations made in workmanship, Marten’s exhibition weaves constant conversations between counterfeit and camouflage. The idea of tracing around the outlines of substance – of hinting at recognizable information through disrupted form – is one that gives authority to the wonky, to the drunken and the misaligned. Image is continually tripped up by language, by a deliberateness of error that postures with all the concrete certainty of cultural re­cognizability. All plausible facets of the gallery space are treated with equal consideration, with emphasis on the thought that the speed of delivery of an object might reveal different formal relationships.

Marten assigns importance to physical reality and craftsmanship in her work. In her selec­tion of materials she explores the questions as to how expectation can be translated into material language: how material could be used for its specific location in a narrative; which materials are associated with which characteristics; and, correspondingly, already “belong” to a fixed set of as­sociations. She selects everyday materials from the “warehouse” of the present – walnuts, particle­board, steel or chicken bones – and turns their intended roles on their heads. The idea of touch (or lack of it) is visible in every work: drippy glue, improvised joints and split seams hold equal pace with perfect corners or obviously mechanized labor. Stone and metal can be given a humorous levity or shy weakness, whilst a raw surface that has been welded at a high temperature is made well behaved through the additional treatment of powder-coating. 

Marten handles reality codes, visual idioms, and their exaggeration with a freedom that lends con­ventionally humble or overlooked ideas a new symbolism and grandeur: carbohydrate, pasta, or the pavement are all inflated to newly meticulous study. The uncanny is lent familiarity and vice versa; where there is failure, it is cultivated; models and expectations are stripped bare, or given new levels, new meshes of meaning; things are too big, too flat, too lethargic. There is com­edy, but it is thrashed out, analyzed and deeply sincere.  With many of the works in the exhibition, there is tension in the surface, a seething erotic play where the electrifying forces come from the missing or the overwrought: puffy pretzels, droopy bronze entrails, swollen bundles of matches, off-cuts and out-takes. Raw surfaces meet edge to edge with hi-gloss polish, flat dry wallpaper holds oily suggestion, and the wipe-clean or static free are forced into a reactive agency. 

The titles Helen Marten gives to her works are also pervaded with puns. The series Hot Frost (2012) plays with the paradox of “hot frost” but also with the label “hot”, of the complications of posture, and the collision in temperatures between pace in making and consuming. This work consists of multiple male profile silhouettes made in Corian, a calcareous, heavy, and seductive ma­terial conventionally employed in the production of kitchen worktops. Colored in frosty pale blues, pastels, and cold whites, all figures are adorned with hats, spectacles, or beards. Caricatures, their foreheads morph into the outlines of mountains and become snow-covered peaks, while the oversized heads are made to falter under threat of melting from the heat of the matches blobbily bundled onto their surface. There is something erotic in this absurd elongation of the heads into engorged peaks, a pictographic suggestion of desire, of a bodily swell in a statically slapstick action of melting and freezing, pooling in and out of legible shape. 

Helen Marten (born 1985, Macclesfield) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Evian Disease, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Dust and Piranhas, ‘Park Nights’, Serpentine Gallery (2011); Take a stick and make it sharp, Johann König, Berlin (2011) and Wicked Patterns, T293, Naples (2010). Marten will participate in the 2013 Venice Biennale and the 2013 Lyon Biennale. Recent group exhibitions include New pictures of common objects, MoMA PS1, New York (2012); March, Sadie Coles, London (2012); The New Public, Museion, Bolzano (2012); Standard operating procedures, Blum and Poe, Los Angeles (2012) and Hasta Mañana, Greene Naftali, New York (2011). Marten received the Lafayette Prize in 2011 and the LUMA Award in 2012.

This exhibition is the third and final iteration of a joint project with the Kunsthalle Zürich (September-November 2012), the Chisenhale Gallery, London and CCS Bard.  In Zürich the exhibition was titled Almost the exact shape of Florida and at the Chisenhale, Plank Salad (November 2012-January 2013).

The exhibition is accompanied by Marten’s first monograph with texts by Michael Archer, Ed Atkins, Kit Grover, Aaron Flint Jamison, Beatrix Ruf, Polly Staple and Richard Wentworth, presented by Kunsthalle Zürich and CCS Bard in collaboration with Chisenhale Gallery and published by JRP/Ringier.

Helen Marten’s exhibition at CCS Bard is made possible with support from the Marieluise Hessel Foundation, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the Board of Governors of the Center for Curatorial Studies, and the Center’s Patrons, Supporters, and Friends.

Also on view is once again the world is flat., an exhibition by Haim Steinbach, in the Hessel Museum of Art through December 20, 2013. 

Guided public tours every Saturday at 1pm during the summer – for more information please contact or 845.758.7598. 

Free bus from NYC to the opening reception – for reservations please contact or 845.758.7598.

To download the full press kit click here.

About the Center for Curatorial Studies
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard) is an exhibition, education, and research center dedicated to the study of art and curatorial practices from the 1960s to the present day.

In addition to the CCS Bard Galleries and Hessel Museum of Art, the Center houses the Marieluise Hessel Collection, as well as an extensive library and curatorial archives that are accessible to the public. The Center’s two-year M.A. program in curatorial studies is specifically designed to deepen students’ understanding of the intellectual and practical tasks of curating contemporary art. Exhibitions are presented year-round in the CCS Bard Galleries and Hessel Museum of Art, providing students with the opportunity to work with world-renowned artists and curators. The exhibition program and the Hessel Collection also serve as the basis for a wide range of public programs and activities exploring art and its role in contemporary society.


General information on the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College can be found on its website at:


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