On July 5, 1989 the show Seinfeld premiered and introduced a new form of philosophy to the TV sitcom. At its base level, Seinfeld explored the relationships of a small group of individuals and investigated the complex dynamic that can form therein. In early 2014, Suplex organized this exhibition with the idea that the physical show would inherently be representative of these relationships - the dynamics between these artists, whether they turned out to be comedic, dramatic, or collaborative.
In his 1997 article “Sein of the Times,” Geoffrey O’Brien argued that Seinfeld broke new ground as a sitcom by avoiding social commentary. O’Brien read the show in a manner that stripped it of context. Throughout the run of the series, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David alike purported that Seinfeld was a show about nothing. While Parmenides, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, stated that nothing does not exist and as such, nothing can really be said about it, Seinfeld’s nothingness centered around the daily lives of four New Yorkers without focusing on a specific plot.
Yet despite being a show about nothing, Seinfeld has proved to be one of the most iconic TV programs in the history of its genre - perhaps because in its portrayal of nothing in particular, it addressed a series of cultural milieus prevalent to its time. People have studied the philosophy of the show, the inner workings and relationships between the characters, asserting that there is indeed meaning in the show. However forced, people have interpreted Seinfeld in different ways, comparing the characters to great philosophers or finding the “perfect marriage” in Jerry and George’s relationship.
During our meetings with these artists, curators Max and Rachel presented prompts to guide the conversations in the form of questions. While the questions pertained mainly to group exhibitions and the role that identity plays, through these questions the artists shared stories of their lives, coming into the arts, what it means to them, and how they practice. Not knowing many of the artists personally in the beginning, I observed the interactions as they unfolded. Old friendships, new bonds, impending familial connections - the artists quickly became more and more familiar with each other on personal levels as the curators sat back and allowed the conversations to flow.
Group shows tend to come about as the result of a curator selecting a specific message and choosing pieces or artists to present that represent this idea, this message. In allowing the artists to determine the subject matter of the show and the work to be displayed, the message was left to them. In observing, and later participating in, these artists’ conversations, it quickly became clear that, in lieu of a message, they would work individually and collaboratively to put on a show that reflected their conversations, pulling ideas from the meetings and putting together a show representative more of a single group. But in the context of contemporary art, what does this, a message-less show, mean? How much importance does an audience place on the theme of a group show compared to the work?
Television is never a neutral instrument, and neither is an exhibition. Both are organized in particular ways, with particular intentions and particular efforts. While Seinfeld remains in the eyes of many to be a show about nothing, it will forever be interpreted by philosophers and bloggers with too much time on their hands in unimaginable ways. In a much humbler manner, Everything we want it to be… presents a similar opportunity within the scope of the contemporary arts for viewers to explore the dynamics of the relationships between the artists and interpret them as they please.
This essay is featured in the exhibition catalogue for the upcoming exhibition Everything we want it to be... at all times, opening at Rice University Media Center Gallery on September 11. For more information about the exhibition visit splx.org/suplex-presents-a-group-show.