pretty vacant



In days gone by, before students became customers, the main function of London art schools was to prevent as many people as possible from becoming artists. This was achieved primarily by ignoring the implications of the major theoretical propositions of modernism including – anything can be art – in favour of promoting hard labour in pursuit of the “hard-won.”

When Art in Ruins were invited to do some teaching in an art school 1 we talked to the students of Byam Shaw about collaboration; about art as project and critical practice; and about site analysis and intervention. 2

At the time, Art in Ruins was interested in the idea of re-presenting Yves Klein’s ‘Void’ – not as a ‘spiritually transcendent’ empty white gallery space, but instead to foreground operating system art.

Some time later we received an invitation to the opening of an exhibition by two of the students. The show was in the exhibition gallery of the college and featured blank unprimed canvases, text, office filing cabinets, photocopying machine, etc.

Although both professional and public, David Pugh and Toby Morgan were threatened with failure at the end of the year for this collaboration … which convinced them to continue working together as Critical Décor.


When we moved into Gray’s Inn Buildings Clerkenwell was a cultural wasteland. This came to an end in the eighties when Air Gallery moved into a ‘loft space’ at the bottom of Rosebery Avenue right opposite the entrance to the Buildings.

We went to a number of openings and it seemed to us that along with the move came a reluctant recognition that the 70s were over and that the gallery needed to be more hip, more like the ICA; leaving an audience of anxious regulars to reassure each other that this transition to a new era was proceeding smoothly.


Business as Usual - Critical Décor

Business as Usual
Critical Décor
Air Gallery, London 1992


Sadly, this was not the case and one day we went out into Rosebery Avenue to find the gallery gone. The building stood empty for a few months until one day we noticed that squatters had moved in. We went into the building and discovered that they were living on the top floor. As they did not seem to be occupying the gallery space we had the bright idea of asking them whether they would be happy if it was used for an exhibition. They were, and before long Critical Décor were organising a show there.

As they were clearing out the space, David and Toby found some Air Gallery material left behind. When we received an invitation for the show the card was stamped with the gallery logo and the press release was on headed notepaper … like just another Air Gallery exhibition.

At the opening, all the regulars turned up looking suitably uncomfortable with being there, unsure if the exhibition was legitimate and whether it was, as the work by Critical Décor claimed, … Business as Usual. 3



Vacant Possession: Review
Building Design 16 November 1990
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