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Martin Beck, The Environmental Witch-Hunt, 2008, film still.

Martin Beck, The Environmental Witch-Hunt, 2008, film still.

Installation view

Installation view

Installation view

Installation view

Martin Beck

Panel 2: “Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes…” is Martin Beck's first solo exhibition in London. Using as a backdrop a particular episode of the environmentally-focused 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA), Colorado, Beck has created a show where the presented works, as well as the display system that marks the space of the exhibition, are composed into a conceptual tableau that raises questions of historicity and referentiality. In doing so, Panel 2 continues the artist’s ongoing interest in the history of exhibition systems and their relation to Minimal and Conceptual art, particularly around issues of emancipation and control, the social and its administration, for which his recent engagement with George Nelson’s portable panel-based exhibition system Struc-Tube was only one example.

The exhibition's subtitle quotes from a statement delivered by the so-called French Group at the 1970 IDCA. Written by Jean Baudrillard and partly aimed at the conference’s advisor Reyner Banham, the statement questioned the motives behind the conference's embrace of ecological issues. (1) Since its inception in the early 1950s, the conference had acted as an exchange platform between renowned designers and architects with business leaders and corporate magnates to discuss relations between design and industrial production. The French Group argued that the conference's new found interest in ecology masked the larger political struggles of the time. By diverting ideology “onto rivers and national parks” rather than “class discrimination”, “wars” and “neo-imperialist conflicts”, the conference would bypass the real challenges that society faces.

How historical references are negotiated and translated into visual language has been a recurrent concern in Beck's work. The works in the exhibition – all specifically made for it and in media ranging from print, photography and video, to sculpture and architecture – respond to a number of interrelated narratives and motifs that were directly or indirectly influenced by or came out of the reflections that emerged from the conference and its immediate contexts. Such narratives notably encompass the ecology of the aspen tree and the US military-sponsored hypermedia system known as The Aspen Movie Map, a forerunner of the GPS. With this in mind, Panel 2 creates a setting that sits at the intersection between the interests of the ecology movement, its narratives and visual representation on the one hand, and those of the corporate/business world of the time on the other.

The exhibition is framed by a historical section put together by the artist in the entrance of Gasworks: it includes footage and text drawn from the 1970 IDCA, and documentation of an early use of the Aspen Movie Map. Additionally, a handbook edited by Beck which contains textual and visual material related to 1970 IDCA is free for visitors to take away.

This leads on to the exhibition arranged around a coloured panel which picks up the thread layed out in the previous section and further engages the question of how historical information and references can be communicated and negotiated in the framework of a contemporary art exhibition. Covered in canvas, the panel structures the exhibition space into different zones. In a video work shown “behind” the panel, the camera wanders through the vegetation of a Colorado forest, focuses onto the light and structural details of the leaves of Aspen trees and drifts back towards a group of people rehearsing and presenting Baudrillard’s statement. At the other end of the space, Beck revisits the leaf motif through a series of silkscreen prints and Minimalism with an evolving chrome sculpture.

(1) “The Environmental Witch-Hunt. Statement by the French Group. 1970” in The Aspen Papers: Twenty Years of Design Theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen, edited by Reyner Banham (New York: Praeger 1974), p.208–210.


Martin Beck
is a New York based artist whose conceptually driven exhibitions and projects engage questions of authorship and historicity and often draw from the fields of architecture, design and popular culture. Solo exhibitions include About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe, Casco, Utrecht (2007), The details are not the details, Orchard Gallery, New York (2007), an Exhibit viewed played populated, Grazer Kunstverein (2003) and, in collaboration with Julie Ault, Installation, Secession, Vienna (2006). Beck is the author of half modern, half something else (2003) and, with Julie Ault, of Critical Condition: Ausgewählte Texte im Dialog (2003). He is also a contributor to the Vienna-based Springerin magazine.

Click here for more material related to Panel 2: "Nothing better than a touch of ecology and catastrophe to unite the social classes..." on Pipeline.



Thursday 18 September 2008, 5.30-7pm
At Gasworks

"Aspen: A Specific History”, a conversation between Martin Beck and Emily King (design historian and curator).

3pm Saturday 4 October 2008, 3pm
At Gasworks

Tour of the exhibition led by Christine Takengny (Curatorial Assistant, Gasworks).

Thursday 30 October 2008, 7-8.30pm
At Ian Gulland lecture theatre, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW. See campus map.

Methodology and History”, artist talk by Martin Beck, moderated by Emily Pethick (Director, The Showroom). In association with Department of Art, Goldsmiths.
Free but booking necessary, email


Martin Beck: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe
is co-published by Four Corners Books & Casco, Office for Art, Design and Theory .

A document of Martin Beck's video work of the same title showing the assembly and disassembly of the seminal 1948 Struc-Tube exhibition system by American designer George Nelson. Essays by Emily Pethick, Bill Horrigan and Martin Beck.

64 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9545025-5-3
November 2007
Price: £9.95 / 15 Euros