The first time I saw work of Neil Fortune (1983, Georgetown, Guyana) was at the exchange exhibition Paramaribo Perspectives (2010) in TENT in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. A group exhibition as a result of an exchange between artists from Rotterdam and Suriname. Fortune was then still studying at the Rietveld Academie and in fact did not belong in that exhibition at all. He was, for reasons unclear to me, added later on. However, his installation which was without title, turned out to be an added value. He had painted the names of artists he admires on canvases of varying sizes. In a variety of colors and fonts. Some of these artists were Surinamese and were included in the exhibition (Remy Jungerman, Kurt Nahar, Iris Kensmil), and others were international (Lawrence Weiner, Richard Prince, Tracey Emin). The work functioned simultaneously as part of and as commentary on the exhibition. The exhibition drew boundaries, while the work of Fortune especially underlined the borderless nature of the art.
That the work could be interpreted in many ways – it could for example also be read as the ‘selling’ of other artists – , proved to be no coincidence. That aspect would become the point of departure of the works that were to follow.
Fortune makes installations which you could qualify as rough decors to which the viewer has to give his or her own interpretation. They are a kind of set pieces which are being brought to life by the presence and the activities of the ‘actor’. The invitation to the viewer can be hidden in a provocative banner, a text board or a light box (‘What is on the other side of the moon?’ and ‘I don’t understand much about you, just enough to know we don’t see the universe the same way.’), a title of an installation, the way in which the work is lit, the soft sitting mats which have been laid on the floor, or the pronounced incomplete finish. He himself describes those works as models, as phases of a study which is awaiting interpretation or completion. Most of his drawings can, as a result thereof, hardly be seen as anything but sketches.
Lately Neil Fortune paints. Paintings which can be characterized as architectural imaginations. Bare inner- and outer walls, openings in walls, corners, connecting beams etc. He paints them dry, as though it should not cost too much in paint. The linen shows through. His color range is very limited. He makes no effort to bring drops to a halt. They are in fact, two-dimensional variants of his installations. They have no content, they are open to content. They have no fixed meaning; Fortune provokes to give meaning to it. Texts can at times give the incentive thereto, but not necessarily. On one canvas he has even invited visitors at his studio to apply short texts or a catchy word.
The work of Fortune is a variation of the conceptual art of the sixties and seventies of the past century. For the conceptualists it was not about the outward appearance of a work, but about the underlying concept. That is why John Baldessari wrote provocative texts on a piece of wood, why Bruce Nauman recorded his movements in his studio on video and why Stanley Brouwn documented the distances he traveled in Amsterdam. They especially chose for this formless form, because they wanted to make their work ‘unattractive’ for the mighty museum world and for the, in their eyes, too commercial art market.
Neil Fortune also presents a concept. To him it does not matter whether his work has an aesthetic or attractive look to it. Contrary to his predecessors he turns to his viewers to give, and determine how to give, content and meaning to his concept. He puts his own authorship up for discussion.
Many viewers will feel rather uncomfortable about that. They are used to looking at finished works which often give clear guidelines on how to interpret them. With Fortune they are activated to do something. To use their creativity and fantasy (‘What is there on the other side of the moon?’) or occasionally even to literally deliver their own personal input to the work. If they don’t, if in thinking and doing they continue keep their distance, then they will have to make do with the framework of an artwork.
‘What is on the other side of the moon?’, solo exhibition Neil Fortune, Galerie 23 (zit ook op Facebook), SBK KNSM-laan 307-309, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is open from March 24th until April 25th 2013.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Amsterdam, March 2013
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Rob Perrée works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-) American art, African art and art using new media. His work has appeared in countless catalogs, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of the Dutch art magazine Kunstbeeld.
TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld