Adam Nankervis: Vacant Spaces


Art presentation is about more than just exhibiting and showcasing. Australian artist Adam Nankervis' organic approach to curatorship is helping artwork find a voice of its own.


Through empty white space, a gallery can connect an art piece with its viewer, and while it ushers people into the secret world of a creator, the immersion, like the quiet sanctity of an altarpiece, leaves the viewer to find a context or background, through education and art appreciation, that helps him or her understand the piece further.

Adam Nankervis' Museum MAN makes the gallery space part of a broader narrative by connecting it with other art pieces, thereby fitting artworks into the existing stories of objects with a history. He has taken it to different settings and transported the museum to cities around the world.


"Museum MAN was a frame for intervention and remained as such in its various manifests from Berlin to Valparaiso, New York to Liverpool. I was willing to broaden the parameters of what was normally acceptable within the confines of a gallery, democratise the potential to exhibit, and experiment with that outcome," said Nankervis, whose Museum MAN project was born from a fateful flat move in Berlin in 1997. The previous tenant was a dead ex-soldier who left behind a trail of artifacts and personal belongings in the flat. It became apparent that the interacting bric-a-brac of mementos was a record of a life and a dialogue between objects and living things that brought them together. His flat soon became a place to showcase these relics as well as Nankervis's own artwork. It doubled as a museum of his work along with the objects left behind by this "unknown soldier," which included an old helmet and a Brandenburg flag.

With his own work in the collection, along with donated artwork from other artists, the assemblage becomes a cabinet of interweaving histories that presents the continuity between the life of the original tenant and those that have followed. The gallery space may conceptually depart from the contained absorption of "the White Cube," but where it doesn't make an object speak loudly on its own, it allows for collaboration.


"This saw established artists collaborating with lesser-known artists, musicians, performance artists, and DJs," said Nankervis. "It broke very early with conventions of a static gallery space, thankfully now seen practiced in many places, even the established institutions and museums that have embraced the notion of crossing boundaries, finding the links, celebrating, and giving a platform to the unconventional art movements taking place."

Rather than attempt to revolutionise gallery spaces, Nankervis draws attention to the ubiquitous creativity of the worlds we interact with in our living histories. The objects in these everyday spaces map out lives that can be read, and with a rich organic artistry that writes the narrative of our living spaces. Nankervis alludes to the [italicsCabinets of Curiosities] of the 17th century collections of seemingly unrelated objects put together incongruously by scholars and rich amateur collectors in their homes. He also recounts an epiphany of sorts at an early age.

"When I was a boy of around ten years old, I would visit my great grandfather who owned one of the largest tracts of land in Australia," reveals Nankervis. "He was a man built on and of horizons and had moved to a Victorian house with a garden teeming with wild, European and native flowers. In the black shed, he kept his work and gardening tools and scrapbooks. Crudely cut articles were collaged together with letters of prominent politicians and writers.

"They were an inspiration. In every little tobacco tin, Sailor or Player's plain wooden boxes, little marmalade jars, within one and all, were hidden photographs or collectors cards from the teens and 1920's. Girly cards with burlesque ostrich fans were lined and glued to the base of these tins, and a photograph of an unknown soldier and a pearlescent photograph of somber men and women were sandwiched in the little jars hidden by a cacophony of tacks outside. I would spill them onto his workbench and stand them framed as he had must have done for himself. This private pleasure. This hidden gallery. A secret life lived by him of unknown people and the unknown and exotic places they inhabited.

"Pantheon Paris"

"Pantheon Paris"

One of Nankervis' projects, another vacant space, uses the same curatorial language. Conceptually, it implies the idea of emptiness – the other, another, and the silent time – compressed touchstones of the information world we live in. The selected artwork is preoccupied with the lost, unseen or newly discovered. Another vacant space resurrects an old project. In the next exhibition, planned for 2012, artists Ivor Stodolsky and Marita Muukkonen present the Leningrad Conceptual Archives (from the time of the artistic underground cement in the arts during Russia's Perestroika), which lay undiscovered for many years until Stodolsky discovered the minutes and documentation in an artist's cupboard. Another vacant space was first discovered and opened in New York City in 1992. It could be viewed as Museum Man in a commercial space. Nankervis took over a small shop that had gone bankrupt during a recession, and in the labyrinth of vacancies, galleries, and establishments, the streets at the time became glass passages of empty and swiftly abandoned spaces that were embraced by artistic nature, which abhors a vacuum.

"Reliquaries Berlin"

"Reliquaries Berlin"

"We bury the stars"

"We bury the stars"


"The luxury and sometimes necessity of running my own space allows for an organic growth in that I am not inhibited by time and have at most times invited the artist to stay or at least work within the space's site specifically as I see this as an important informant to the results of the exhibition. The site specificity creates a fascinating dialogue."

Words Remo Notarianni

ProfilesDaryl Mitchell