Biennials, Surveys and Retrospectives
frieze asked the following critics and curators from around the world to choose what, and who, they felt to be the most significant shows and artists of 2007
Biennials / Survey Shows
Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK
Hungarian artist Andreas Fogarasi, the winner of one of 2007’s Golden Lion awards at the Venice Biennale (of which I was on the judging panel), made six haunting films about cultural pavilions in the communist era, tracking the doomed flight of their Utopian aspirations. Pigeon-racing, easy-listening protest songs and a swimsuit demonstration were all proposed as forms of activism by artists Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas in the Lithuanian Pavilion. Their Realpolitik-lite offered a wry meditation on civil disobedience in the post-Soviet era. Taking oil as her subject, Isa Genzken reconstructed the German Pavilion as sculpture, using multicoloured plastics and memorabilia of the American space programme to deflate the triumphalism of both. Sophie Calle made the French Pavilion a monument to 107 female professionals, ranging from dancers to judges, who were commissioned to respond to a letter of rejection from the artist’s lover – their work is a tribute both to their creativity and to the alchemy that transforms raw emotion into art.
Chief Curator of Drawings at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
documenta 12 was provocative in good and bad ways. The curatorial premiss seemed muddled and the installation heavy-handed yet it was enlightening to see the repositioning of so many key figures, especially women artists from the 1960s and ’70s, and to see amazing works by Nasreen Mohamedi, Atsuko Tanaka, Eleanor Antin, Charlotte Posenenske and Trisha Brown stealing the show and putting real movement and moving bodies at the centre of it all.
Chief Curator of the New Museum, New York, USA
Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition at MMK in Frankfurt was a charming series of interventions in one of the ugliest museum buildings in Europe. I hadn’t expected the joyously rousing installation of the museum’s permanent collection. It occupied all of the galleries, embracing Cattelan’s work while weaving its elegant way around it. It was, by turns, laugh-out-loud funny, chillingly dark, bracingly sober and as handsome as a 1930s matinee idol. If more exhibitions were as smart and sexy and conversationally gifted as this one, the behemoths would be entering the ice age.
Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Public Programs at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA
The biennials and big survey exhibitions of 2007 were flawed by weakness of curatorial concept, by work that too often lacked intellectual or formal rigour, or by poor presentation. A surprising counterpoint was ‘Fractured Figure – Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection’ at the Deste Foundation in Athens, curated by Jeffrey Deitch with assistance from Massimiliano Gioni and Urs Fischer. Fifty artists were represented by exceptional, relatively recent and brilliantly installed works.
A writer who lives in Tunbridge Wells, UK
‘Whenever It Starts Is the Right Time – Strategies for a Discontinuous Future’, at Frankfurter Kunstverein, themed around the idea of the ‘enacted imagination’, was intriguing for its hang, which was full of uneasy spaces and disjunctions. Not so differently, ‘The Painting of Modern Life’, curated by Ralph Rugoff at London’s Hayward Gallery, mingled outstanding and pedestrian examples of post-photographic painting. It engendered a perpetual, if prickly, alertness.
Director of White Columns, New York, USA
So many people had warned me that it wasn’t worth going to Kassel that by the time I arrived it was inevitable I would end up liking Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack’s peculiar documenta. The show was a wildly subjective curatorial indulgence – which is, perversely, what made it so interesting. Yes, the coloured walls were off-putting, and the temporary Aue Pavilion was a flop, but I can’t help feeling that the curators’ disregard for exhibition-making conventions might come to be seen as an influential watershed of some kind. So what annoyed everyone so much? The lack of marquee names? The fact that 50 percent of the artists were female? The fact that many of the artists were old or dead? The absence of explanatory wall texts or an explicatory essay in the catalogue? I’m not sure, but the fact that documenta 12 had more visitors than any of its previous incarnations – despite the relentlessly bad word of mouth – only deepens the mystery.
Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
In the midst of an overheated art market 2007’s second Performa biennial in New York shifted performance into the limelight. highlights included new work by Yvonne Rainer, RoS Indexical; Francesco Vezzoli’s Right You Are (If You Think You Are), read by a star-studded cast; Adam Pendleton’s heart-wrenching performance with a gospel choir, and the reconstruction of Allan Kaprow’s Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts (1959), which demonstrated Kaprow’s pivotal role in the challenge to the closed circuit of painting.
Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
When Jens Hoffmann called for documenta to be curated by an artist Morgan Fisher answered: ‘I know there are feelings of confusion and disarray about curating and curators, but we are not so confused that the solution is for documenta to be curated by an artist.’ I agree. While an artist–curator would potentially provide a creative, associative and proactive take on the presentation of art this approach would likely bring with it a vast range of arbitrary references. And when an arbitrary curatorial position is adopted, the result is unsatisfactory. Why not make a proper job of celebrating random connections?
Carol Yinghua Lu
A writer and curator living in Beijing, China
It’s been an uninspiring year for art in China. The number of quality exhibitions fails to match the ever-increasing number of new galleries and the growing wealth of the art market. Listening to gallerists talk about their expansion plans, with many having already branched out into regional cities or different parts of Beijing and Shanghai, one wonders how they intend to fill up these seemingly endless new spaces. Thinking big is obviously not enough: concept, it seems, is often given little if any priority in the current hierarchy of art making in China. Since the Beijing and Shanghai Biennales and the Guangzhou Triennial are set to coincide in the autumn of 2008, the Chengdu Biennial was 2007’s only large-scale art event in China. Sponsored by a private property developer, the Biennial was more of a promotional corporate image event than a serious art exhibition. The co-opting of art events as a marketing tool has been a model quickly emulated by many private enterprises and even municipal governments throughout the country, giving rise to an epidemic of loosely organized art events and amateurish art museums, whose existence does little to boost standards in terms of curating exhibitions and running institutions in China.
A critic and scholar based in Tokyo, Japan
Although there were no biennials in Japan in 2007, the Japanese art scene was characterized by a restoration of public interest in contemporary art and the redefinition of its unique identity through a mapping out of the practices of the younger generation, and reappraising the careers of veteran, mid-career and postwar avant-garde artists.
A writer, curator and research lecturer at Glasgow School of Art and part-time Head of Digital Arts & New Media at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow, Scotland
Works from the Lyon Biennial that resonated long after seeing them included The Time Surgeon (2007) by Nathaniel Mellors and a haunting video of a Lithuanian trio by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas. The various circles of curatorial choice atomised the biennial and democratised it. It also had a certain honest recognition of the difficulty in sustaining themes over such large-scale events. documenta 12 was exceptional for the range of conversations it produced. I don’t think I have ever talked so much about an exhibition with so many people.
Director of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland
The most interesting biennial of 2007 was the Riwaq Biennale in Ramallah, a non-governmental organization concerned with the reconstruction of houses and the renovation of historical buildings in Palestine. Curated by Charles Esche, the section of the show devoted to the visual arts took the form of a workshop that focused on finding ways in which artists and institutions could support Palestine’s aspirations to emancipation. Despite the difficulties, nothing can match the satisfaction of participating in a project in which art can become a catalyst for change.
A writer who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa
Travelling to West Africa for the first time deepened my appreciation of South African painter Gerard Sekoto, who after a visit to Dakar in 1966 wrote: ‘But the slow, elegant movement of the people was mostly fairytale-like to me, more especially since I did not speak the language to be able to extract the real feelings of the people in my own way.’ Given the sheer scale of its landmass, it is to be expected that Africans do not really know one another. What irks is the impression Simon Njami and Fernando Alvim give that they do. Their African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale was entirely lacklustre, offering little more than a peek at their Facebook network of chums.
A curator living in San Paulo, Brazil
Porto Alegre’s Bienal do Mercosul should be singled out for its curatorial focus and concision, as should the Istanbul Biennial, for the energy found in the Antrepo venue and for the enlarged and improved catalogue.
ICA Director of Exhibitions, London, UK
documenta 12 was my most rewarding exhibition experience this year, by some distance. Only a portion of the new work was to my taste, but this was more than compensated for by the quality of the historical inclusions, and especially by the stimulation afforded by one’s attempt to navigate the show’s eccentric structure and hermetic logic. It was a project that felt urgent and relevant while repeatedly blocking one’s attempt to read it – and the art it contained – in a reductive way.
Curator in Residence at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, USA
Sculpture Projects Muenster 07 was the biggest let-down of last summer. Too many marginal gestures were arrayed too haphazardly throughout the city and with no clear artistic paradigms the art felt adrift. Over the last decade contemporary art has been characterized by an expansionary drive – in transparency, scale, economics and geopolitics. Maybe the closure offered by this exhibition marks a welcome revaluation of opacity, specificity, secrecy and even confusion.
Editor at Large of frieze. She lives in London, UK
The Grand Tour was exhausting, but Steve McQueen’s new film, Gravesend (2007), in the Italian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, carried me all the way to Pawel Althamer’s Untitled (Path) (2007) at Sculpture Projects Muenster 07. In between, ‘Artempo: When Time Becomes Art’ at Palazzo Fortuny and a selection of early David Hammons works at Palazzo Grassi (both in Venice), plus a revisit of Pierre Huyghe’s fictional celebration of collective experience L’Expédition scintillante, Act II: Untitled (Light Show) (2002) in Art Unlimited at Art Basel, and – in complete contrast – Artur ˘Zmijewski’s exploration of difference and social experiment in Them (2007) at documenta 12 kept me going. The discussions surrounding documenta, combined with the ambition of the curators to pursue such an idiosyncratic agenda, were by far the most interesting social production witnessed.
The John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
Sculpture Projects Muenster 07 was the only exhibition of the summer trifecta that allowed you to feel that your body as well as your mind was getting a work-out. With Bruce Nauman’s depressed concrete square and Hans-Peter Feldmann’s refurbished public toilets representing generational positions, the exhibition made a convincing case for the viability of site-specific sculpture. I also liked the way documenta mixed art from different countries and periods – especially effective at the Schloss Wilhelmshöhe – and avoided explanatory wall texts. At the Venice Biennale the portion of Robert Storr’s exhibition at the Arsenale was particularly resonant, but the entire show, while lacking superficial dazzle, was thoughtful and beautifully installed.
A Contributing Editor of frieze. He lives in Berlin, Germany
Far too often the Conceptual turn in the art of the 1970s is still portrayed as though it was about young men with intellectual predilections superseding old men wielding brushes. Assembling the work of 120 women artists from this decisive historical moment, ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’ not only refuted such narratives but also made clear how central the feminist project of finding new formal means to address the social and to articulate the suppressed was to Conceptualism’s critique of artistic conventions.
A writer, artist and founder of e-flux. He lives in Berlin, Germany
Biennials have been ever more disappointing over the last years, and 2007 was particularly bad. The inflated rhetoric and hype they generate seriously undermine any possibility of a productive cultural exchange while draining local funds from other art initiatives. On the other hand, we have also been witnessing the emergence of a constellation of smaller situations fuelled by a sense of possibility, experimentation, collaboration and leaps of faith. Many of these are informal institutions located outside Europe or North America, such as Home Works in Beirut, Townhouse in Cairo, Platform Garanti in Istanbul, Helena Producciones in Cali, Center for Digital Culture in Tel Aviv or Vitamin Creative Space in Guangzhou, to name a few. They generate change in given environments with the kind of ease not usually afforded by biennials and large institutions.
A Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at the Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Australian artists were unusually prominent on 2007’s Grand Tour. At documenta 12 Juan Davila achieved international headline status with his sexually and politically explicit paintings, while Simryn Gill presented a subtle critique of power relationships between First and Third World nations. At the Venice Biennale, Christian Capurro, Daniel von Sturmer, Susan Norrie and Callum Morton were on display, to varying effect. Closer to home, Damiano Bertoli was the highlight of ‘NEW ’07’ at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Finally, the astonishing ‘Making Space’ project involved 21 artist-run spaces from Melbourne and its regions in a simultaneous programme of exhibitions, forums, performances and workshops, and was backed up with a handsome publication. Hats off to the organizers.
Tate Curator of Contemporary Art/Performance. She lives in London, UK
In its second year, Performa in New York combines the best bits of the big summer shows: the collective activity of seeing art in Sculpture Projects Muenster 07, the interlacing of live performance and its history woven through documenta 12; the ambitious scale of the Venice Biennale and the multiple perspectives of Lyon. RoseLee Goldberg’s reinvention of the biennial format as a series of events was a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous large-scale exhibition, its major strength being that it doesn’t quarantine the work into a temporarily appointed ‘art destination’ but presents it embedded in the machinations of a busy working city.
Louise Bourgeois, Tate Modern. The first room said it all. A series of paintings pictured a woman, partly metamorphosed into a house and semi-naked. In the middle of the room, a free-standing antique glass screen, redolent of 19th-century Paris, enclosed a miniature mansion carved out of marble; hovering over it all, a guillotine. The curtain had opened on the unconscious, on
patriarchy and castration, all key players in Bourgeois’ gripping drama played out in the funny, erotic and anarchic objects and images that comprised her first major retrospective in London.
‘Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Colour’, organized by Mari Carmen Ramirez at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston was a revelatory exhibition. Ramirez is brilliantly repositioning the received narrative of the 1960s with a series of one-person exhibitions, putting Oiticica, Gego and many of their Latin American colleagues in their rightful, radical place as inventors of new form and social thinking. The Robert Gober survey at Schaulager, Basel, organized by Theodora Vischer, was unforgettable – the perfect marriage of patron, curator and artist. It was a pleasure and a privilege to wander through the beautifully conceived rooms and rediscover one of the great artists of our time, who has created such succinct, political and deeply poetic responses to our cataclysmic world. Also worth mentioning was the Takashi Murakami show organized by Paul Schimmel at LA MOCA. Is the ultimate marketing of the market an interesting enough conceptual conceit to sustain the visual production?
Kara Walker’s survey ‘My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love’ at the Whitney Museum was a retrospective of American history (literary, cinematic, indescribably passionate). Kate Chopin’s ‘Desiree’s Baby’ (1893) slipped into Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), took up residence in Ross Lockridge Jr’s Raintree County (1948) and swam in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). Seriously hysterical cinema such as Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Foxes of Harrow (1947) bled into ghastly compost heaps like Mandingo (1975) and Drum (2005). Josephine Baker danced on the razor’s edge, and the waters of Babylon were whipped into the perfect storm. Beware your complicity in the fantasy: this is what blood looks like in black and white.
One of the greatest exhibitions I have seen in more than 30 years of constant looking was the Robert Gober retrospective at Schaulager in Basel this summer. Gober, working with director Theodora Vischer, transformed the monumental and vast spaces of the gallery into a mesmerizing journey through his almost 30-year career. Whole installations, such as the still astonishing work made for the Dia Art Foundation in 1992 or the more recent fusion of art from the Menil Collection with Gober’s own works, lost none of their magic in the transfer. Small drawings and ensembles of discrete sculptures maintained their charged intimacy. Even with this full exposure Gober’s work kept its unfathomable and haunting strangeness.
‘Saul Steinberg: Illuminations’, at New York’s Morgan Library and Museum, was a discreet gem: a cornucopia of visual/verbal conceits by an urbane philosopher who, with democratic intent, expressed himself through cartoons for The New Yorker. Tate Britain’s ‘Hogarth’ offered more nested compositional intricacies and hot bursts of insuperable venom than this viewer could absorb over several return visits.
‘Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure’ looked marginally better at the Whitney than at LA MOCA, but in both it was an Event, the artist revealed simultaneously as tender excavator, tough formalist, idiosyncratic wit and citified mystic. (One particular pleasure: footage of Matta-Clark door-stepping unsuspecting New Yorkers while searching for tiny parcels of property he’d bought up.)
John Latham’s PS1 retrospective ‘Time Base and the Universe’ was both a belated and, as it turned out, posthumous introduction – at least, in the USA – to one the most elusive and influential British artists of the past 50 years. Labyrinthine in its formal and intellectual complexity, Latham’s practice sought both to integrate and to interrogate art, science and philosophy simultaneously. Given its uncompromising status, Latham’s work will probably never be fully assimilated into any conventional art histories – which is as he would have wanted it.
Richard Prince: ‘Spiritual America’, at the Guggenheim Museum, New York cast the artist in a surprisingly classical light, revealing his roots to be as much in Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem De Kooning as in the Marlboro’ ads, bikers and popular culture appropriation that have made him the biggest influence on the current art scene in New York. At the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, there was a rare opportunity to see the wide range of Steven Parrino’s work, superbly curated by Fabrice Stroun of MAMCO in Geneva. The show demonstrated the radicality of Parrino’s investigation of painting, which began at the moment in the 1980s when conventional painting was at its conservative height, and highlighted his importance for the current generation of younger American artists.
I was thrilled by the retrospective of work by the late Steven Parrino at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Covering the years 1981 to 2004, it showed how an approach that focuses on destruction can still be full of vitality. Parrino was fascinated by the cult of the outlaw, in which violence, aggression and anarchy are central themes. But the energy communicated by this retrospective was not based solely on a conceptual idea; it also testified to the artist’s radical dissent with regard to the dominant ‘intactness’ of painting and its conventions.
Carol Yinghua Lu
Although there has been a slight improvement in the way galleries install their shows in China, awareness of site-specificity and of the importance of exhibition design is still low. Aside from Galleria Continua, an Italian import that regularly presents awe-inspiring projects by internationally renowned artists, the other local highlight is Beijing Commune’s consistently impressive program, a testament to its director and curator Leng Lin. One of the most memorable recent examples was a retrospective of work by Song Dong, whose practice has encompassed a broad range of actions, from writing his diary underwater on the same piece of rock every day, to lying in Tiananmen Square and exhaling onto the ground for 40 minutes until the tiny, breathed-upon area became covered with a thin layer of ice. The works on display were carefully arranged in the space, while an introductory text on the walls greeted the visitor. The exhibition had the compact, understated appearance of a book.
In 2007 some strong retrospectives and solo exhibitions won audiences back to major public museums, most notably ‘Landscape – Yukihisa Isobe, Artist and Ecological Planner’ at MOT, Tokyo; ‘Suzuki Risaku: Kumano, Yuki, Sakura’ at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and ‘Yasumasa Morimura: The Classroom of Beauty – Please Listen’ at Yokohama Museum of Art. Isobe’s retrospective, together with the two-person show of Shinohara Ushio and Enoki Chu, at Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, reinforced the fruitful results of careful research into postwar avant-garde practices, re-emphasizing their relevance to the increasingly experiential interests of artists and audiences today.
The Andy Warhol retrospective at the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, battled with the myth of the artist. Sometimes it triumphed – the works from the 1980s were a revelation. Likewise the paintings for children cunningly extended Warhols’ repertoire. The inclusion of a shop brimming with merchandise in the core of the first floor exhibits was less successful in hindsight though nicely provocative. The emphasis on commodity distracted from a more complex argument that could have given more weight to the loss-making radical films of the 1960s. Following the Douglas Gordon retrospective, though, it indicated that the venues’ curatorial teams have new bite.
Blinky Palermo’s retrospective at the Kunsthalle and Kunstverein in Dusseldorf, a city that played an important role in the artist’s formative creative experience (he collaborated with Joseph Beuys at the city’s art academy), was characterised by a subtle choice of works, arranged perfectly both in relation to one another and to the architecture of the buildings – which were erected in 1967, the same period as the works on display. The retrospective was also a wonderful way in which to celebrate the 40th anniversary of both institutions.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Amazing retrospectives in 2007 included: Gustave Courbet at the Galeries nationals du Grand Palais in Paris, Gilbert & George’s ‘Major Exhibition’ at Tate Modern in London and Haus der Kunst in Munich, ‘Richard Prince: Spiritual America’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and Zaha Hadid’s ‘Architecture and Design’ at the Design Museum in London. ‘Flowers and Questions’, the touring retrospective of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, was a fascinating example of a show that accompanied us throughout the year, yet which changed with each incarnation. The best large-scale shows I saw in 2007 were ‘Air Born/Air Borne/Air Pressure’, an exhibition of Paul McCarthy’s inflatable sculptures at the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp, and the experience of observing the installation process for ‘Head Shop/Shop Head: Works 1966–2006’, the contemporaneous retrospective of the artist’s work at S.M.A.K. in Ghent. McCarthy’s display here was as systematic as it was daring: whenever a work did not fit the space he removed walls to accommodate it.
Santu Mofokeng lurches uncontrollably when he laughs, which is often. It is a laughter that rarely punctuates the atmospheric silence of his austere photography. Titled ‘Invoice’, Mofokeng’s mid-career survey at Cape Town’s South African National Gallery was both timely and frustrating. Mofokeng’s fractured narratives merge history and magic, genocide and faith – everything underscored by his poetic nihilism. Also rescuing meaning from the shadowy recesses of history and the subconscious, Roger Ballen’s mid-career snapshot at the Johannesburg Art Gallery was as terse as a novel by J.M. Coetzee, and as sparingly heartfelt as a love poem by Samuel Beckett.
It is rare for a modern art museum to have the chance to introduce a modern master to a public such as New York’s. Even rarer if the museum in question is New York’s MoMA. The retrospective of Armando Reverón, curated by John Elderfield, brought freshness to a conservative programme; it was a pleasure to re-encounter the Venezuelan’s complex landscapes from the 1920s and ’30s. Reverón radicalized landscape painting and infused new (equatorial) light into Modernism.
A series of events in London presented a variety of historic and new projects by COUM Transmissions/Throbbing Gristle. COUM’s infamous ‘Prostitution’ exhibition, held at the ICA in London in 1976, was partially recreated in ‘Panic Attack!’ at the Barbican (of which I was one of the curators). Throbbing Gristle’s collaborations with Derek Jarman in the 1980s were reflected in the soundtrack that they created for an evening of Jarman Super-8 screenings at Tate Modern, while a few days later they staged a three-day open-access recording session at the ICA.
Two of the best survey exhibitions of 2007 were ‘Robert Rauschenberg: Cardboards and Related Pieces’ at the Menil Collection and ‘Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Colour’ at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Serious play lies at the heart of both artists’ work, providing object lessons in making something out of nothing. Much of the collage-based work of our current generation of sculptors seems mannerist by comparison.
‘The Ghost of Songs’, the retrospective of the Black Audio Film Collective curated by the Otolith Group and presented at FACT, Liverpool, and Arnolfini, Bristol, was the first major exhibition devoted to the work of this important group. Both a serious study and a nostalgic homage, it was an astounding testament to BAFC’s diverse activities, which continue to be an ongoing challenge to documentary and avant-garde filmmakers. ‘To the Winged Distance’, a beautiful retrospective of Robert Beavers’ films, curated by Mark Webber and presented under Stuart Comer’s direction at Tate Modern, bore out the artist’s words. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s creation of visual and sonic environments in her retrospective ‘Expodrome’ at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, was important work to witness and a real pleasure to experience.
At the Whitney Museum, Elisabeth Sussman met the challenges of presenting the work of Gordon Matta-Clark. A beautifully balanced installation of film, video, sculpture, photographs and drawings allowed visitors to reconstruct the multifaceted career of this highly influential artist, best known for his radical architectural interventions. Set against the crumbling infrastructure and flight to the suburbs of 1970s’ New York, the exhibition served as reminder of the link between affordable property and a creative subculture. The Matta-Clark show provided a coda to a concurrent exhibition devoted to the legacy of the legendary master builder Robert Moses, who was responsible for shaping the infrastructure of New York City.
Although slightly compromised by the architecture of the venue, the Mary Heilmann retrospective at the Orange County Museum was still most enjoyable. With artists’ artists there is a moment when their work steps through the doors that it has opened for others to receive its dues. Painters such as Tomma Abts and Monique Prieto have attuned us to the sensibility through which Heilmann surpassed the tedious endgames of Postmodernism: as she found her way to live with the ghosts of Modernism, Heilmann’s work is free from the Oedipal angst that bad-boy painters so conveniently draw on, demonstrating instead the courage it takes to invest in an unruly existential optimism.
‘Subtracting of Zeroes/Mladen Stilinovic’, at Platform Garanti, Istanbul. How is it possible for a tiny collage of a cut-up currency bill, playfully adding numerous zeros to a Croatian kuna note, to pack a punch greater than a diamond-encrusted skull? Such strange power is notable in many works included in Stilinovic’s exhibition – a mini-retrospective on the issues of economy with reference to the Platform’s main sponsor, Garanti Bank. One of the artist’s best-known works, a handmade banner bearing the slogan ‘An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist’, is an anthem to many of the younger Eastern European artists, hilariously summarizing some of the darker implications of the post-communist condition.
‘The Fall of Frances Stark’, Stark’s mid-career retrospective at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, set the scene with a title that performed her deflated approach to self-presentation. The show elegantly failed its promise to disappoint with a thrillingly provisional approach to the installation of her beautiful collage, sculpture, text and video pieces. I love Stark’s genius in transforming the dullest corporate medium – the Powerpoint presentation – into a vehicle for self-portraits as ‘artist, mother, ex-wife’. Experiencing Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s exquisitely paced retrospective at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC was also inspiring.
Inspired by the installation of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin, ‘The Studio’, at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, which was curated by Jens Hoffman and Christina Kennedy, took the studio as a subject and object. The visitor was led through a series of environments and images that included the atelier as an arena for mice (Bruce Nauman), a research laboratory (Martha Rosler), a journey (Fischli & Weiss), a celebrity machine (Andy Warhol) or the font of phallus-centric genius (Paul McCarthy).
I liked ‘How to Cook a Wolf’, Kunsthalle Zurich’s year-round project, made with John Kelsey, which dealt with artists collectives and collaborations. Some of the most compelling artists to emerge in the last decade are working this way, including Los Super Elegantes and The Mountain School in Los Angeles, Superflex in Copenhagen, and, in New York, Orchard, Ridykulous and the Bernadette Corporation.
The winner has to be Connie Butler’s once-in-a-lifetime exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’. I’m assuming that others will cite it so that I can also credit a much smaller, left-of-centre exercise. Mitchell Algus, a dealer of great refinement, curated ‘Project for a Revolution in New York’ at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York. Works of dark seductiveness by artists such as Jacques Monory, Lambert Maria Wintersberger and Paul Wunderlich were interwoven with others representing obsessive, diagnostic painting by Konrad Klapheck and Domenico Gnoli. The Gnolis in particular evoke a moment of acute, Pop refinement that happened but once and guttered beautifully.
‘LA Object and David Hammons Body Prints’, at Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Los Angeles, expanded and supplemented the show of the same name and subject from the late autumn of 2006 at the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York. These two exhibitions brought together assemblage works made in LA in the 1960s and ’70s primarily by Black American artists who had been almost completely overlooked by mainstream art history and museums. The array of body prints made by Hammons, who was living and working in LA at this time, was astonishing. This ground-breaking show was startling for both its social and its aesthetic implications.
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno’s exhibition ‘Il Tempo del Postino’ at Manchester Opera House was an absorbing experiment. If curatorial brinksmanship puts artists on stages (literally, in this case) where most of them flounder, who profits? Compare and contrast with another project at the Manchester International Festival: Steve McQueen’s Queen and Country, a proposed run of postage stamps featuring the Iraq war dead. If art is to move into new purviews, let it be with McQueen’s brilliantly economical, politically probing initiative, not on a curator’s whim.
Connie Butler’s exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’ at LA MOCA, reminded us of the absurdity of the term ‘post-feminism’ and of how quietly transformative the work of women artists has been in inching the art world forward, with gems such as Marta Minujin’s mattress installation and works in video, installation, photography, performance, process-based sculpture and other non-traditional media, as well as paintings by under-recognized British artists such as Rita Donagh and Rose English. ‘1, 2, 3 Avant-Gardes: Archives, Film, Art, Experimentation’ at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, curated by Lukasz Ronduda and Florian Zeyfang, showed the richness of Polish art and film’s experimental tradition over the past 30 years.
Gerhard Richter’s stained-glass window in Cologne cathedral is, of course, not a themed show in the usual sense, but conceptually a very interesting project – a piece of public art, integrated into a building. In more than just architectural terms, this location is no ‘neutral’ space or white cube but a place of Christian worship. The art usually associated with such places is figurative but Richter has created an abstract piece using thousands of coloured squares. If one considers what it means to believe in God, however, then one should know that this faith demands an extremely high level of abstract thought.
Carol Yinghua Lu
There is currently a glaring discrepancy in China between the availability of trained or experienced art professionals and the escalating number of art projects that are being devised and implemented. Beijing Commune is probably the only gallery in the city to consistently present idea-driven curatorial projects. One of its most recent offerings was ‘POLIT-SHEER-FORM’, which documented a project that had begun a year previously when curator Leng Lin inaugurated the POLIT-SHEER-FORM Office along with four artists: Hong Hao, Liu Jianhua, Xiao Yu and Song Dong. The collective carried out meetings and discussions over a period of months in trains, airplanes and private homes, restaurants, coffee shops and massage salons. Although photographs recording these discussions had previously been published in a pamphlet entitled ‘Only One Wall’, for the exhibition the process was translated into one slim wall that the group constructed inside the space.
‘All about Laughter: Humour in Contemporary Art’, curated by Mami Kataoka at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, featured a selection of 63 international artists, and successfully demonstrated how artists have made use of laughter to disrupt and push the established limits of social behaviour. At the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, ‘Space for Your Future: Crossing the Genes of Art and Design’, organized by Yuko
Hasegawa, searched for a common denominator amongst various attempts in contemporary design, fashion, architecture and art to project visions of more ‘flexible space’.
‘High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975’, curated by Katy Siegel for the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, was a strong exhibition with a simple theme. It drew on a series of artists who are now often overlooked including Alan Shields, Al Loving, Joe Overstreet, Howardena Pindell and Jack Whitten. It also put up a good argument for revisiting an entire period in more detail. Martin Clark’s ‘Pale Carnage’, at Arnolfini in Bristol and Dundee Contemporary Arts, set up a fascinating visual debate on the subject of fascism, classical beauty and Modernism. There were substantial works by Cerith Wyn Evans, Mark Leckey and Nobuyoshi Araki, but one smaller painting by Gillian Carnegie was the highlight of the year for me.
‘1, 2, 3 Avant-Gardes: Archives, Film, Art, Experimentation’ at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, in Warsaw and the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, presented the forgotten treasures of Polish experimental film. ‘Forbidden Games’, at the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon, was an exhibition of warfare computer games from various Middle Eastern countries. ‘Société Anonyme’ at Le Plateau in Paris explored the phenomenon of the contemporary artistic collective, from Zagreb’s WHW, through Moscow’s What Is to Be Done, to New York’s 16BeaverGroup. ‘Forms of Resistance’ at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven was a fascinating journey through alternative art. Starting with Gustave Courbet, through the Chilean murals of the 1960s to Austrian artist Oliver Ressler and the Grupo de Arte Callejero from Argentina. What moves me most are situations in which art accompanies social change. In 2007, I experienced that in Beirut during my meetings with Akram Zaatari and the other artists involved with the Arab Image Foundation and the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
2007 was the year of artist-run exhibitions, from Philippe Parreno’s ‘.all hawaii eNtrées / luNar reGGae’ at IMMA in Dublin through Franz West’s ‘Hamster Wheel’ at the Venice Biennale to Ugo Rondinone’s more recent ‘The Third Mind’ at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. There is nothing new in this. In the past century some of the most significant exhibitions have been organized by artists. Though each one is unique, these shows share a number of common features: a focus on collaboration, or as Douglas Gordon has called it, ‘a promiscuity of collaboration’, in which decisions cut through red tape.
During the Venice Biennale, Palazzo Fortuny housed a quixotic collection of ancient rubble and modern stuff. ‘Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art’ was irreverently archaeological and avant-garde in its vision, unpretentiously detonating the boundaries between art and uncommon everyday objects. Setting the tone was a large purpose-made wall hanging outside by Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui; it was made entirely from the discarded screw-tops of West African alcoholic drinks.
‘For Sale’, curated by Jens Hoffmann at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Lisbon, caused quite a stir. There were few doubts about the quality of the artists – 26 of them, in a cross-generational group that included Art & Language, Raymond Pettibon, Elmgreen & Dragset, Tino Sehgal, Ryan Gander and Renata Lucas. Most polemical was its commercial structure: the exhibition could be bought only in its entirety, and the collector would have to sign an agreement never to divide it up, besides paying 477,222.33 euros for it.
My most pleasurable exhibition experience was ‘Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art’, at the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice. In a triumph of site-specific curating this already evocative environment was augmented by a mix of stunning works – loosely attached to a temporal theme – by a list of artists groaning with modern greats.
‘Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art’ in the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice was a more richly resolved realization of what the curators of documenta 12 attempted. With novelty trading at such a premium in the contemporary art world, both exhibitions were important reminders that the contemporary is marked not only by the new but also by our choice of how we connect to the past and what we allow to pass slowly out of use.
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno’s ‘Il Tempo del Postino’ at The Manchester Opera House, was a blockbuster event. Featuring Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller and Rirkrit Tiravanija, among others, it felt like the reunion of a mid-1990s’ supergroup, resulting in the curious effect of looking like both a moment in art history and a hammy degree show. Highlights were from younger artists: Tino Sehgal’s conceptually fine-tuned curtain performance and Trisha Donnelly’s oblique distillation of dramatic atmospherics. Piktogram and Dot Dot Dot are also themed shows of sorts, publication projects, magazines, labours of love, fictions and truths made on a shoestring budget but consistently inspiring and informative, exciting and possessing visual magic.
Beginning with El Anatsui’s shimmering scrap-metal tapestry draped over the façade of the Palazzo Fortuny, ‘Artempo: Where Time Becomes Art’ provided a dazzling visual experience with a heady mix of art and artefacts that spanned several centuries. In a totally different vein, Connie Butler’s ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, organized for LA MOCA, courageously attacked a long overdue subject that, by definition, is impossible to encapsulate to everyone’s satisfaction. Despite nitpickers, this ground-breaking exhibition will remain a touchstone for future generations.
The disparity between industrial production and individual expression is usually understood as the key conflict of modern culture. The exhibition ‘Die Blaue Blume’ at the Grazer Kunstverein, Austria, challenged this dichotomy. Curator Søren Grammel presented, for instance, a work by Polish Modernist Katarzyna Kobro from 1921, a small mobile made from a saw blade welded to an elegantly bent metal band (Suspended Construction 2), opposite a wooden partition with an intricate laser-cut radial motif by Florian Roithmayr from 2007 (New Planet). Doubling as potential prototypes for mass-producible designs, these art works pointed to a third space between industrial and individual production: the workshop where art meets craft and handmade Utopianisms emerge.
‘Société Anonyme’, Le Plateau, Paris. Curated by Thomas Boutoux, Natasa Petresin and François Piron, this was one of the most intelligent shows this year. The proposal was deceptively simple: to use the space of a public art gallery as a work residency for a number of artists, curatorial collectives and other groups such as b_books (Berlin), WHW (Zagreb), 16BeaverGroup (New York) and Transit.cz (Prague), for an extensive period of time to research, identify and realize new projects in collaboration with locally based artists and like-minded producers. Such a project is particularly meaningful in Paris, where art exhibitions have become rather formal and stifling. Also of note in Paris was a small commercial gallery show at gb agency curated by Raimundas Malasauskas, entitled ‘The Last Piece by John Fare’.
Highlights of 2007 were ‘Relentless Optimism’ at the Carlton Hotel in Melbourne, curated by Mark Feary, which included the work of 12 artists that addressed happiness and community as an antidote to our more troubled times – sentiments given full expression in ‘Regarding Fear and Hope’, curated by Victoria Lynn at Monash University Museum of Art, which considered themes such as migration, racism and national identity through an impressive line-up of national and international artists. ‘Bird Girls’ at the Victorian College of the Arts, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, brilliantly questioned whether the relationship between women and craft has shifted since the feminist interventions of the 1960s and the present day. Just plain fun was the rambunctious project ‘Substructure’ at Conical, where ten artists took on the cavernous space and their own subterranean psychologies to attempt to collaborate on changing the art works and the exhibition set-up every day of the show.
Bernard Blistène’s ‘A Theatre Without Theatre’ at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona set out a comprehensive survey of historical terrain providing a solid anchor to a number of contemporary shows that used performance to challenge conventions of group exhibition-making in intriguing ways: Pierre Bal-Blanc’s ‘Living Currency’ at the Centre d’Art Contemporain de Brétigny; Emily Pethick’s ‘Imagine Action’ at London’s Lisson Gallery summer show; Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno’s ‘Il Tempo del Postino’ at the Manchester Opera House; Mathieu Copeland’s ‘A Choreographed Exhibition’ at Kunsthalle St Gallen in December; and International Festival’s travelling structure and event ‘The Theatre’, which is on the road after its first high-energy outing in Graz in September.
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