The Camden-based Zabludowicz Collection boasts an impressive façade and interior space. Once a church, the building is now an impressive home to a new type of reverence – the worship of art. Andy Holden, founding member of MI!MS (Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity), has thus taken over this space with one large immersive sculpture-cum-installation piece, to preach the morals and self-mythologize the origins of his movement.
MI!MS, occasionally written as M!MS, is thrown to the viewer in the form of a manifesto – complete with the stress, exclamation marks, quotes and bold font that characterized many a cock-sure modernist manifesto. With a nod to art history, MI!MS declares a sincerity in irony, a need to end the cynicism of postmodernism, and to reclaim the cliché. As a manifesto, however, this text need never have existed: signed in 2003, it echoes and usurps the prominent and academic New Sentimentality discussion (originated in the late 1980s and early 1990s) and hints towards an adolescence in MI!MS and its creators. David Foster Wallace's call for artists to "risk accusations of sentimentality" (from E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, 1993) in their work to overcome the cynicism of postmodernism is basically the MI!MS manifesto, but earlier and less referential in form.
The center of Andy Holden, Maximun Sincerity 1999-2003: Towards A Unified Thoery of MI!MS is a feature length film about MI!MS, its purpose and its founders, split into seven parts and shown across a large sculpture made to replicate the settings of the film. A utility room, a teenage bedroom, a café – the Zabludowicz Collection is cut up and fragmented by this monumental-sized work. However, a decision has been made in this space which highlights the difficulty of curating a feature-film based show – there are three headphones per film fragment. To avoid sound bleed, headphones, I concede, are frequently necessary; however the enjoyment of MI!MS and the desire to learn about their ethos is severely disrupted when waiting for your chance to listen. Only the last fragment has audio through speakers, causing a discussion about film, music and cliché to reverberate and echo around the sculpture.
In the second room is the mesmerizing and quite scary Last Stop for the Good Old Times (after The Age of Innocence) (1999–2003). A group of around 300 printed images of childhood popularized in the 1970s and 1980s means that statistically, everyone's grandparents own at least one of these. The hideously sentimental Bubbles by Sir John Everett Millais, which has been reprinted many millions of times, is hung next to works by Bruno Amadio (painter of The Crying Boy, famed for a supposed curse) all depicting an idealized and yet frequently haunting image of childhood. The proclivity for images of weeping children and puppies makes the youth of these images one of adorable sadness. Clearly representing obsessive collecting, memory and (importantly for MI!MS) an ironic look on sentimental nostalgia it is a bizarre feeling seeing these works in such an overwhelming number.
Overall, however, MI!MS is perhaps not the important artistic movement that it aims to be: irony and sentimentality are already overtly discussed and manipulated in every facet of popular culture. Perhaps the exhibition is best thought of as too late to have any impact: are we really "drown[ing] in the belly of the ironic whale that swims in the sea of postmodernism" anymore? Indeed, would anyone be willing to be called a postmodernist in the 21st century?