Art, Compulsion, Concealment

27 January – 15 April

A Secret Service explored ideas and expressions of the secret through the work of sixteen artists and groups, some from the mainstream of contemporary practice, others from more marginal positions, spanning a period of almost a hundred years.  In many cases, the work itself had been hidden and made primarily for the eyes of the artist and their close circle of friends, at other times the artist is revealing information or ideas that are themselves secret, or exploring the concept or idea of the secret itself.

The exhibition was inspired by the work of Kurt Schwitters, whose final creation, the Merzbarn, (1947-48) is among the rare surviving examples of Schwitters’ four Merzbuildings – complex, architectural constructions created from refuse and found objects.  During Schwitters’ lifetime the Merzbuildings were seen only by his most trusted friends, today they remain confounding riddles. The exhibition presented rarely-seen documentation of the Merzbuildings in conjunction with a specially commissioned new work by Turner Prize nominee Mike Nelson whose labyrinthine installations are natural descendants of the Merzbuildings.

A Secret Service explored the practice of other artists who work beyond the mainstream. Reclusive Chicago janitor Henry Darger’s immense body of water-clour illustrations were only discovered at the end of his life while New York artist  Pietro Antonio Narducci founded a private museum filled exclusively with his own work and closed  to visitors until after his death.

Tehching Hsieh’s one-man performances, such as punching a time-clock in his studio on the hour, every hour for a year, are documented here in cryptic statements and short, mesmerising films. Twenty-four year old Roberto Cuoghi, in an attempt to “disappear”, adopted the habits, dress and eventually the identity of his sixty-year old father, while Sophie Calle exploited her position as a hotel chambermaid to rummage through and photograph the guests’ possessions. Mark Lombardi’s elaborate drawings, shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, chart the complex relationships behind the world’s biggest political and financial scandals and were used by the FBI in their investigations into the attacks on the World Trade Center.

The artists exhibiting were : Sophie Calle, Roberto Cuoghi, Adrian Dannatt, Gedewon, Henry Darger, Susan Hiller, Tehching Hsieh, Katarzyna Jozefowicz, Joachim Koester, Paul Etienne Lincoln, Mark Lombardi, Mike Nelson, Kurt Schwitters, The Speculative Archive, Jeffrey Vallance, Oskar Voll

A Secret Service was curated by artist and curator, Richard Grayson.  His recent exhibitions include Intelligence and Messiah at Matt’s Gallery, London.  He was Artistic Director of the Sydney Biennale in 2002 and Arts and Humanities Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle 2003-6. A fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by Roger Cardinal, Clare Carolin and Richard Grayson will accompany the exhibition.

A Secret Service was a Hayward Gallery Touring Exhibition
in collaboration with the Hatton Gallery