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Polly Brown’s Provocative Parody of Contemporary Art

In her new series, Performances, the photographer affectionately teases the art world by disrupting its gallery spaces

Disturbed, Remains of performance, Sadie Coles, Kingly St, London, 2017, Photography by Polly Brown

“Some of the sanctity of the church, the formality of the courtroom, the mystique of the experimental laboratory joins with chic design to produce a unique chamber of aesthetics,” critic Brian O’Doherty writes, in a series of essays on the ‘white cube’ gallery, written for Art Forum in 1976. To this day, in the ‘aesthetic chambers’ that O’Doherty so pertinently describes, contemporary art is displayed in an immaculate state, set against the backdrop of clinical white walls. In a new series titled Performances, photographer Polly Brown disrupts the pristine façade of such a gallery.

Brown’s project riffs upon the photographic documentation of performance art, each image captioned as though it were a commissioned work in and of itself. A discarded pair of headphones, either found or placed there by the photographer, lie underneath an explicit Wolfgang Tillmans on show at Tate Modern. At Marian Goodman, the ubiquitious Helvetica gallery signage directs a visitor to nowhere in particular – another of Brown’s interventions, perhaps. And at Hauser & Wirth, the snapshot of a bored invigilator caught scrolling through his phone, is wryly named Sitting, Durational performance (Variation on position). 

Released as a photo-book to coincide with Frieze London 2017, a set of accompanying texts have been constructed from the cut-up press releases outlining the exhibitions in which each photograph was taken. Affectionately poking fun at the verbosity of ‘art speak’ – and contemporary art’s propensity for the ridiculous – Brown’s latest work is a welcome addition to her roster.

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Breath #1, Breathing performance on glass, Tate Britain, London, 2017, Photography by Polly Brown
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Pause, Varying location, date and time, The British Museum, London, 2017, Photography by Polly Brown
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Frontier #3, Rope arrangement for performance, Tate Britain, London, 2017, Photography by Polly Brown
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Hide, Rehearsal for performance, Marian Goodman, London, 2017, Photography by Polly Brown