Not on display

3 wooden tables, Perspex and glass
Object, each: 820 × 1420 × 610 mm, 23 kg
displayed: 820 × 4260 × 610 mm
Presented by Doris Lockhart-Saatchi through the Contemporary Art Society 2005


Adjoining Rooms 1989 is a sculpture made by the British artist duo Langlands & Bell (Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, who began collaborating in 1978), comprising three thin rectangular wooden tables positioned end to end. Constructed by the artists and painted white, the tables each contain an empty display case with a glass top and four side panels composed of transparent coloured Perspex – with the panels of one case coloured blue, one case yellow and one case red. In a 2005 interview with Tate conservators, the artists stated that the order of the three tables is not fixed, although layout instructions inscribed on the bases of the tables suggest that the table with the red case should be placed in the centre. It is intended that the sculpture be positioned within an open space – and not against a gallery wall – so that visitors are able to walk around it in its entirety.

Adjoining Rooms was created after a break of almost a year and a half in the artists’ practice between 1987 and 1989, while their studio – a former clothing factory in Whitechapel, east London – was being refurbished. In works made before this interval, such as Traces of Living 1986, which also features three adjoining tables containing display cases, but with chairs positioned at either end, Langlands & Bell placed found objects and historical artifacts within glass-topped cases. These referenced the role of such cases, or vitrines, as instruments of display. From 1989, however, the structure of display itself became a more prominent concern for the artists. The title Adjoining Rooms may suggest, perhaps in a playful fashion, that the blue, yellow and red cases are ‘rooms’ that might sit within a gallery or museum, despite being empty. As the artists explained in 1994, ‘As soon as you start to display things, what becomes important is the fact that you are “displaying”. In a sense it’s not even what you are displaying that matters. You suddenly realise that you’ve created this mechanism, and that becomes the overriding factor’ (quoted in Germano Celant, ‘The Transparency of Architecture’, in Herzog, Sokolowski, Watkins et al 1996, p.12).

Architectural models and plans have been recurrent features of Langlands & Bell’s practice (see, for example, UNO City 1992, Tate P77929). Given their simple clean lines and the absence of displayed objects, as well as their position within a white framework, the three empty cases, or ‘rooms’, in Adjoining Rooms might be seen as archetypal examples of modernist architecture. Critic Adrian Dannatt has argued that ‘the technical perfection’ and ‘the clean, ascetic authority’ of Langlands & Bell’s work is ‘no parody of modernist austerity, but part of that aesthetic, that dream of dustless perfection never achieved outside magazine photography or the rooms of certain collectors’. The success of their work, he suggests, ‘depends upon the failure of modernism, and our nostalgia for the certainty of its values’ (Adrian Dannatt, ‘Langlands & Bell’, in Valentina Moncada 1991, vol.1, p.5).

The colours used in Adjoining Rooms – blue, yellow and red within a white framework – also hold particular associations with modernist movements in art. The sculpture may evoke the use of primary colours in the paintings of Piet Mondrian, a key member of the Dutch movement De Stijl, founded in 1919 (see, for example, Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937–42, Tate T00648).

Adjoining Rooms was first shown at the Luis Campaña Galerie, Frankfurt, in 1989. It later appeared as part of a major retrospective of Langlands & Bell’s work, which began at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in April 1996 before touring the Kunsthalle Bielefeld and the Grey Art Gallery, New York.

Further reading
Langlands and Bell, exhibition catalogue, Luis Campaña Galerie, Frankfurt, Frankfurt and London 1989.
Langlands and Bell: Works 1986–1992, exhibition catalogue, 6 vols., Valentina Moncada, Rome, London 1991, reproduced vol.2, p.15.
Hans-Michael Herzog, Thomas Sokolowski, Jonathan Watkins et al (eds.), Langlands & Bell, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, and Grey Art Gallery, New York, London 1996, p.12, reproduced no.9, unpaginated.

Laura McLean-Ferris
February 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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