in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 11
Featured in
Issue 136

Looking Back Looking Forward

frieze asked a range of artists, critics and curators from around the world to choose what, and who, they felt to be the most significant shows and artists of 2010 and what they’re looking forward to in 2011

in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 11

Natasha Conland 

Curator of the 4th Auckland Triennial, ‘Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon’, in 2010. She is curator of contemporary art at the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand.

Highlights from the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, included everything from Runa Islam’s Restless Subject (2008) and Hiraki Sawa’s sensorial sound and video installation O (2009) to works from the Mekong Delta region, propagandist painting from the Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea, and Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s hilarious H the Happy Robot (2009). 2010’s rare congruence of Australasian biennial-format exhibitions was a reminder that a geo-political tone still sets the agenda for institutional cultural statements in Australia.

Situated on Pier 2/3 in Sydney, Paul McCarthy’s Ship of Fools, Ship Adrift 2 (2010) was one of the more memorable experiences of the 17th Biennale of Sydney, ‘The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age’. Geared towards anarchy, this unseaworthy ship – with dolls’ masks for sails and a toxic foam substrate – seemed indefinably bored by the romance of the high seas. Also appearing to reverse out of assumed responsibility in relation to themes of distance, survival and folk universalism, Christian Jankowski’s Live from the Inside: Tableau Vivant TV (2010), is a playfully melancholic drama on the making of his work for the Biennale; it was broadcast on Australian television. More sober but no less compelling was Maori artist Fiona Pardington’s suite of photographs depicting the ethnographic castings of Maori and Polynesian heads of the 1840s (‘Ahua: A Beautiful Hesitation’, 2010). These high-definition, large-scale, black and white prints gave a density and weight to the images and their subjects. Exhibitions by Simon Denny and Walid Sadek were also highlights for me. Denny’s show at Artspace, Sydney, was an extension of his interest in the nostalgic apparatus of television, cleverly examined as relic, image-maker and vehicle for mass engagement. Sadek’s solo show at the Beirut Art Center was a judicious pause amidst the persuasive trappings of representation.

Denny’s practice – like that of his New Zealand contemporaries, Nick Austin, Kate Newby and Sriwhana Spong – sits in an arc of influence set by a strongly conceptual contemporary Maori art practice that has prospered since the mid-1990s. Two of these figures, Michael Parekowhai (who is representing New Zealand at the 2011 Venice Biennale) and Peter Robinson, had highly considered solo shows in Auckland in 2010. Each directed their attention towards the modern – its left-overs, bookends, reading matter and storage problems. On the surface, at least, their gesture towards Modernism is less a side-stepping and more a critical re-orientation of their relationship to recent history and cultural politics. Similarly, Mladen Bizumic has analyzed the drift of Austrian postwar architectural Modernism as a set of de-structured sensory effects.

All told, I’m looking forward to one book in 2011: Michael Stevenson will publish a series of fables, co-written with Jan Verwoert, with JRP|Ringier; it will include drawings by the artist and his mother (as moral guide). Stevenson will also be the subject of a retrospective in April 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, which will collect the many strands of his enquiry into one place for the first time. The once precarious Singapore Biennale has another edition; I look forward to its third iteration under the helm of two restrained curators, Trevor Smith and Russell Storer, and the artistic direction of Michael Ngui. The 54th Venice Biennale will see Australia represented by Hany Armanious, who will make clear that the medium is, indeed, the magic.

Simon Denny, Introduction to Video Tutorial, 2010. Mixed media, Installation view. Courtesy: Artspace, Sydney.

Christopher Bedford
Chief Curator at the Wexner Center, Columbus, USA. He curated a survey of Mark Bradford’s work, which is currently on view at the ICA Boston and will travel from there to the MCA Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art and SFMOMA.

I’ve recently been working on an email round-table for the Art Journal about the resonances of the word ‘project’ within contemporary practice today: ‘I’m working on a project’; ‘I’m doing a project with …’; ‘it’s part of an ongoing project’; ‘my project is about etc’. It strikes me that it’s a very freighted term; it seems to place an emphasis on the potential for collaboration between the curator and the artist to produce something, implying some creative agency on the part of the curator, although that’s a hotly contested position. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to a recent article by Anton Vidokle, published in the online e-flux journal, titled ‘Art without Artists’. Vidokle writes about curators superceding art works and artists, and instrumentalizing both for the sake of making exhibitions. His point is very emphatic: that the authorial voice should lie with the artist and the curator should assume a producing/facilitation role.

This issue feels especially pressing right now. In the process of putting together a ‘project’ in a museum – a monographic show or a ‘project’ exhibition, meaning an artist filling a space with work, or a big synthetic view of history – what is the role of the curator? It can be pretty straightforward: if you’re gathering and organizing historical material based on an idea generated by the curator, one in which a story unfolds in space, then clearly that authorial voice is very much the curator’s. But the tension – and I’m not even sure that’s the right word – becomes apparent when it comes to a solo exhibition by an artist. On the one hand, many artists enter the institution with some degree of expectation for a critical exchange with the person in charge of their project, and with the expectation that such an exchange will mark and, ideally, enhance the work. Some artists have no such expectation, meaning that once they have accepted the invitation, the work of the curator is for all intents and purposes done and they (the artist) shepherd the work from conception, through production and into installation with little or no discussion. On the other end of the spectrum, in recently putting together a Mark Bradford retrospective, for example, I worked with an artist who believes deeply in professional expertise or, I suppose, jurisdiction: his work takes place in the studio, and mine in the gallery. The story that develops there is an interpretation of his work – curating as an interpretative act. If you go back to the origins of curating, you were a keeper of sculpture or painting, so you were fundamentally a caretaker or custodian. But when you’re part of a non-collecting institution like the Wexner Center, I think that forces your hand, and you have to think what your professional role is; if you’re not taking care of objects then what are you doing? You’re presenting and interpreting them.

The word ‘project’ also has technocratic resonances, and thinking about it in terms of professionalization is a good way of understanding it. Many of the contributors to the round-table discussion emphasized that the word implies the possibility of failure or irresolution or a non-determined outcome. However, this changes if you look at the broader uses of the term. The Columbus College of Art and Design, for example, recently launched what they call a ‘project-based mfa programme’. I assumed the word ‘project’ here would imply a more free form approach to studio practice, but in fact their course is very corporatized, promoting what they call an ‘entrepreneurial’ model, with proposals for budgets and time management being part of the course requirements. This seems counter to the open-ended sense of the term, yet if you are a freelance person – an artist, curator or writer – your work does involve having to be deeply ‘entrepreneurial’ in order to secure your opportunities. It’s a very corporate model of self-promotion.

This talk of curation, agency, jurisdiction and so on, seems to relate to the other hot topic since Marina Abramovic´’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York – namely the institutionalization of performance. ‘The Artist is Present’ was a heady admixture of approaches to collaboration between an artist and an institutional curator in the telling of a history of actions through objects. The galleries were like an inventory of every single strategy that has been used by curators in the past to historicize performance art: relics, photographs, sculptures made after the fact, film and video, re-enactments and, in a separate space, the artist herself performing a new work. I appreciated how the attempt at historicization read like a form of collaboration between the curator and the artist, raising specific questions about the ontology of performance – does it exist in the present or the past? The retrospective seemed to set off a chain-reaction in discussion about the institutionalization of performance. There are, of course, precedents – for example, Paul Schimmel’s 1998 show ‘Out of Actions’ at la moca was the most important group presentation, although one very much about the aftermath of performance – however, in its use of all variety of approaches to curating performance, ‘The Artist is Present’ will become a landmark show. 

Malik Gaines
Curator at LAX ART, Los Angeles, USA and a member of the performance group My Barbarian.

It’s encouraging to look at Los Angeles, more than a decade after magazines were trumpeting its arrival as an ‘important’ art centre, and see a maturation of the ‘emerging artist’ class. Of course stalwarts such as Mike Kelley, Lari Pittman and Marnie Weber continue to shine. But impressive shows this year from Edgar Arceneaux, Alexandra Grant, Pearl C. Hsiung, Stanya Kahn, Yunhee Min, and many others suggest that an intelligent, technical young practice can evolve nicely over the long term, and that LA’s art culture has produced much more than a sensational moment; there is an art civilization here that feels durable. These artists are producing works that are great to look at, but that resist the encroaching spectacle culture.

This defence is now a necessity. While the LA art world has typically functioned in détente with Hollywood, the lines have blurred. Earlier in the year, University of California performance scholar Jennifer Doyle wrote good analyses (published on of Nao Bustamante on the television reality show Work of Art and James Franco’s and Kalup Linzy’s appearances on the daytime soap opera General Hospital. la moca’s complicity with the latter project drew attention to the institution’s Deitch-ification, which has been a mixed bag. Ryan Trecartin’s recent exhibition at the museum was impressive, mixing a YouTube sensibility with an inheritance of queer cinema and performance, while skillfully presenting the work as an immersive museum installation. There, the mode of entertainment occasionally produced awareness of generic structures and their logic, an effect that entertainment genres themselves only rarely propose. In showing Dennis Hopper with one hand while cancelling Jack Goldstein with the other, moca has also sent some disheartening messages in the last year. Despite contemporary LA’s difference from ’80s New York, one imagines the dissipated ghosts of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring lingering behind some choices, promoting an interest in popular forms that, for example, led to the insertion of a television dance instructor into the institution’s experimental ‘Engagement Party’ series. I’ve heard from a couple of people an idea that the popular approach is more populist; the notion that celebrities, clothes, and fun are for the people, while advanced art is for the elite. Others have argued that this so-called populism is really an elision with corporatism. While there are problems with the old-fashioned museum model, a legitimate fear is that the best parts of what museums do will be subsumed under a celebrity/commodity mandate. It’s clear that ‘celebritocracy’ is a poor form of government. California has produced two movie-star governors in the past decades – Ronald Reagan and the present incumbent, Arnold Schwarzenegger – and they have both been terrible. In politics, the danger is clear. (Need I mention a particular Alaskan politician who recently aired her own reality show?) In art, there can be reasons to entertain, to adapt entertainment forms and content. But let us hesitate before we lay ourselves out for consumption by the entertainment-postindustrial-complex.

A thoughtful approach to mass image production was offered by two wonderful works in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, by New York artists Danny McDonald and Lorraine O’Grady. Both use Michael Jackson as subject matter. In his kinetic assemblage, The Crossing: Passengers Must Pay a Toll In Order to Disembark (Michael Jackson, Charon, & Uncle Sam), (2009), McDonald has a Thriller-style Jackson doll presenting a giant penny in order to gain admission to the underworld, as Uncle Sam lays nearby, penniless and expired. O’Grady, in a series of portraits entitled ‘The First and the Last of the Modernists’ (2010), provides a map of Modernism’s dead-end, while addressing the ways that popular images produce categorical notions of race, age and life itself. In these pieces, the deceased star is used to interrogate the historical situation he symbolizes, reflecting back onto viewers a sense of the mechanics of our imposing image world, leaving this viewer with the insistent impression that there is still meaning to be had, even from such as this. Should I be offered my own television show, that’s the point I’ll try to make.

Robert Breer, Switz, 1965, Loaf 2007. Courtesy: gb agency Paris Float 1972-2001. Courtesy Fundacion A&B Ruiz Picasso, CAPC photoFG (c)Mairie de Bordeaux.

Ann Gallagher
Head of Collections (British Art) at Tate, she is also closely involved in the gallery’s acquisition of Latin American art and in the programme of contemporary art. She is curator of the forthcoming Susan Hiller survey at Tate Britain.

It has been a delight to see the transformation of Madrid’s Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía under the direction of Manuel Borja-Villel and with Lynne Cooke’s curatorial lead. The collection displays have been intelligently re-thought, placing, for example, Picasso’s Guernica (1937) within the context of a historical avant-garde. Recent exhibitions have included great presentations of work by Georges Vantongerloo and Thomas Schütte, alongside a generously installed version of ‘León Ferrari and Mira Schendel: The Frenzied Alphabet’, which travelled from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a fascinating display about experimental artistic practice in Spain, ‘The Pamplona Encounters 1972’. I look forward to seeing Miroslaw Balka’s sculptural intervention in the museum in February (the second part of his project ‘Ctrl’, which began in November 2010). Marina Abramovic´’s ‘The Artist is Present’ at MoMA was one of the most memorable shows of the year, not only as a re-examination of a remarkable career but also for the artist’s epic exhibition-long performance.

It was good to see the São Paolo Biennial back on a firmer footing for its 29th edition. Although brought together by curators Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias and an international team of guest curators in less than 12 months, the exhibition, titled ‘There is Always a Cup of Sea to Sail in’, contained a high standard of work, if mostly already reasonably well known. One of the highlights for me was the projection on one of the main walls of Oscar Niemeyer’s pavilion of a recent restaging in Rio de Janeiro of Lygia Pape’s Divisor (1968), in which a huge white rectangular cotton sheet was animated by participants, whose heads protruded through a grid of holes in the material.

In Edinburgh and London (at the Fruitmarket Gallery and Camden Arts Centre) I loved ‘Eva Hesse: Studiowork’ in which odd, yet seductive, sculptural objects were given space to be examined. The Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Walid Raad: Miraculous Beginnings’ brings together multiple projects by the artist in his various guises, ranging from works by The Atlas Group focusing on the Lebanese Civil War, to more recent work on the contemporary art boom in the Middle East. It was a great opportunity to understand Raad’s inventive and wide-ranging use of the documentary tradition.

British Art Show 7, ‘In the Days of the Comet’, opened in Nottingham in October, and I look forward to seeing it again at the Hayward Gallery in London in February. The show includes some really strong works; it’s unsurprising that Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video The Clock (2010) has been such a hit – it is completely addictive viewing. I also look forward to the second Folkestone Triennial which opens in summer with a wide range of international artists shown in a very local context.

Ryan Gander
An artist based in London, UK. His work is currently on show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA; Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain; ‘Exhibition, Exhibition’, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin Italy; and ‘Publics and Counterpublics’, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain.

It’s nice to be in the right place at the right time. There’s a value in discovering something – or feeling like you have worked to unearth it – rather than having it handed to you pre-packaged. Now I stop to think about it, amongst all the biennials, surveys shows,prizes and art fair projects of the last year, the things I enjoyed the most are the ones that hardly anyone else I know saw.

Artists are constantly preoccupied with discovering the perfect art school or new educational model. This place exists! It’s on a tree-lined hill above Nice; it overlooks the Côte d’Azur and is called Villa Arson. It’s a museum, residency programme, art school and library where magic continually happens and is rarely noted outside of France. Roman Ondák’s show
 at the Villa, ‘Shaking Horizon’, ran from July to October and was like perfect happenstance. It’s not often I see artists I really like showing at spaces I really like. The Villa’s labyrinthine rooms and halls were the perfect setting for Ondák to produce an exhaustive show that presented his practice rather than merely a collection of works. It was an astounding collision.

I’m of the opinion that jealousy is a good measure of an artist’s worth; when I see an art work that I wish I had made, I know that something important is happening to me. The work of the 24-year-old Warrington-born, neo-‘leany-bits’-conceptualist Matthew Richardson (who is greatly championed by my wife, Rebecca May Marston, who runs London’s Limoncello gallery) makes my stomach hurt. I’ve seen three shows by him in the last 12 months: ‘The Bosch Young Talent Show’ at akv St. Joost, in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands; Outpost Members Show, Outpost Gallery, Norwich, UK; and Limoncello. His work in all of these exhibitions made me do a double-take. There’s a kind of independence or idiosyncrasy in what he’s doing that makes me think he’s not looking at what anyone else is making. It also greatly intrigues me that he’s still so young; the work seems to have the kind of privilege of hindsight you usually only get from years of labour. Richardson has just graduated from London’s Slade School of Fine Art; he has moved to Glasgow to start his mfa.

Sarah Robayo Sheridan is curator at Mercer Union, Toronto. Her project ‘Reunion 2010’ was not only one of the events I mostappreciated in the last year, but in my lifetime. It comprised night-long performances and re-enactments of works by Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Alison Knowles, Takako Saito and other Fluxus members at Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre in October. The evening consisted of various chess-related activities, including Wine Chess (1978–ongoing) by the 81-year-old Saito, who flew in from Düsseldorf. Two world champion chess players, Jennifer Shahade (a.k.a. ‘Chess Bitch’) and Pascal Charbonneau, battled it out with chess pieces replaced with various glasses of red and white wine; distinguishing between them was dependent on the players senses of taste and smell. During those 12 dark hours I sat backstage experiencing not only a durational exhibition in the making, but also the unravelling, remembering and forgetting of a part of art history that I would have liked to have lived through first hand.

As for 2011, I am looking forward to Gabriel Kuri’s solo show at South London Gallery; he has a sleight of hand and a lightness of touch that I really appreciate. Although I have been remotely following what he has been doing for the last few years, I haven’t seen anything by him in the ‘real’ for quite a while. This show will be his first institutional solo exhibition in the UK. Should be good ’un.

Konrad Smolenski, Guards, 2009. Video still.  Courtesy: Leto Gallery, Warsaw. 

Brian Dillon
UK editor of Cabinet magazine and a research fellow at the University of Kent. He is the author of Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009) and a memoir, In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005). His novel Sanctuary will soon be published by Sternberg Press.

2010 seemed to divide equally between pleasure and perplexity. Much of the first derived from artists and exhibitions whose reanimation of works and figures from the last century felt dramatically of the moment. Most of the second came from the sinking sense in the UK that the policies of a culturally illiterate Con-Dem coalition government will not only trash arts funding but wreck arts and humanities education. (These last subjects have been explicitly targeted as wasteful luxuries by the new administration.) The two are not unrelated, because if in the late boom years we might have grown tired of recent art’s insistent remaking (especially of Modernist objects and events). It seems in the face of such programmed cultural amnesia that searching for antecedents and inspirations is suddenly charged again with a sense of emergency. It’s one of the paradoxes of contemporary conservatism that its adherents hardly know or care about the past, which means that it might just be fraught anew with possibility.

Gerard Byrne is nobody’s idea of a crudely political artist; the subtlety and wit of his major film and video works is such that History (one of those ‘big words which make us so unhappy’, as James Joyce put it) is always wryly displaced via some resonant specific such as the advent and afterlife of Minimalism, as explored this year in the four films he showed at Glasgow International and at Lismore Castle Arts in Ireland. In the case of Images or Shadows of Divine Things, the photographic installation that Byrne has been making and showing since 2005, the expanded moment in question is that of American consumerist over-confidence in the postwar period: an era of pristine artefacts and architecture that have survived well past the future they seemed to predict. The devious laconism of Byrne’s black and white images – all taken in the last six years but recalling the work of, among others, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank and Walker Evans – suggests that we live today among the ruins of a dated Utopia, but also more pressingly that this future past is still extant and waiting to be invoked, for better or worse.

Tacita Dean is of course also a connoisseur of knotty timescales, her films often mining exactly this sense of a dream rising into ruin. But lately her camera has also been in thrall to certain inspirational figures (Mario Merz, W.G. Sebald via the poet Michael Hamburger) whose physical presence, late in life, is both melancholic and filled with energy and openness to the future. Dean’s Craneway Event (2009) is a portrait of sorts of Merce Cunningham, directing rehearsals at a disused Ford assembly plant in Richmond, California, just months before he died. It’s a miracle of concentration – Cunningham’s and Dean’s – and a gorgeous study of urgency in the face of time’s running out. The year’s other great reflection on late style – as well as on drawing and chance and an entire inspirational oeuvre – was ‘Every Day is a Good Day’, Hayward Touring’s exhibition (devised by artist Jeremy Millar) of the prints and drawings John Cage began to make in the 1970s.

Among the canonical and still radical figures of the 20th century who have an energetic afterlife in recent art is Bertolt Brecht. (A number of Byrne’s early works refer to him, and Anja Kirschner and David Panos’ 2010 film The Empty Plan is concerned with Brecht’s time in Hollywood.) This year, it was Jesse Jones’ film The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany (2009), which I saw in the autumn at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, Ireland, that most successfully repurposed his legacy. Filmed in the Australian outback with a whispering chorus of placard-bearing actors, Mahogany is in part a meditation on Brecht’s predictions at the start of the 1930s regarding the ideological opportunism that easily fills an economic vacuum in post-boom times.

As I write this, the UK media is still exercized by the ‘violence’ (in reality, mostly assaults on property at the Conservative Party’s headquarters) that marked the end of a student protest in central London against education cuts. As ever, the same images circulate of glamorous ‘thugs’ kicking in windows, and the spirit of 1968 is invoked in conservative and liberal press alike. Ordinarily, that would sound as inflated and unlikely as it always does when the events of May ’68 are positively invoked in an art-world or academic context. Except that something felt different among the 50,000 on the streets that day – some sense of precedent and history was in the air, if only in the certainty that this was just the beginning.

Elena Filipovic
An art historian and Curator at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, Belgium. She curated the travelling exhibition ‘Félix González-Torres: Specific Objects Without Specific Form’ and co-edited The Biennial Reader: An Anthology on Large-Scale Perennial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art (Hatje Cantz, 2010).

One could say it has been the year of the exhibition. There weren’t necessarily more shows – blockbusters, biennials or others – than in preceding years, but there seemed to be an apotheosis of ‘the exhibition’ as a subject for examination and discourse. As with any apotheosis, preludes paved the way. Among the more recent, all of which emerged in 2008, were the first of the two mega-volumes of Bruce Altshuler’s From Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions That Made Art History; Hans Ulrich Obrist’s A Brief History of Curating, which included interviews with trailblazing curators; and Ivo Mesquita and Ana Paula Cohen’s 28th São Paulo Biennial, nicknamed the ‘biennial of the void’, which emptied an entire exhibition floor and initiated discussions about biennial exhibition practice in its stead.

Yet a history of art that includes the ephemeral phenomenon we call an exhibition as much as it does a pantheon of images and objects is only – slowly – starting now to be written about more widely. For example: the foundation of a journal entitled The Exhibitionist by curator Jens Hoffmann (its first issue of January 2010 almost self-consciously heralding the new decade); the recent appearance of other exhibition-focused publications such as The Biennial Reader, which is about the history and practice of biennial-making (as one of its co-editors, I can’t claim not to be guilty of participating in the phenomenon); and the apparent increase in symposia on the subject, including the ‘Are Curators Unprofessional?’ symposium at The Banff Centre, Canada, signalled 2010 as a period that focused more than ever on what exhibitions might mean as aesthetic, historical and ideological entities. 

An artist friend speculated that this seemed to signal curators’ increasing fascination with themselves and with what they make, to the detriment of the art that exhibitions actually present. The statement stayed with me, although I’m not so sure that critical talk about one occludes attention to the other, or that it should. By the time artist and e-flux founder Anton Vidokle published his essay ‘Art Without Artists’ in the May 2010 issue of the online e-flux journal, vehemently condemning the encroaching power of the curator, it seemed that the year had already yielded a certain anxiety about display regimes and the players that organize them (the article was followed by 11 responses published in its September issue). But if the magnified authorial and creative function that some want to theoretically claim for the curator, even to the point of coining new terms like ‘the curatorial’ to describe the ‘expanded’ practice (yes, Irit Rogoff, I’m talking to you), merits the worry of artists and conscientious curators alike, little seemed to indicate that curators truly risked taking over the sovereignty of artists. Nor did it seem that the art work’s distinctive role was in jeopardy, even when an artist opted for it to be an exhibition.

As if underscoring this, artists waged some of the most percussive and far-reaching interrogations of the exhibition as a convention, often precisely by confusing the line between an art work and the exhibition that holds it. Not long after the year began, Tino Sehgal’s solo show at the Guggenheim in New York began coaxing viewers up Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiralling (and notoriously art-unfriendly vortex) with the various guided conversations that were part of the piece This Progress (2006). Everyone in New York was talking about it. Few critics, however, commented on the numerous other gestures, such as the removal of all exhibition signage, including wall texts, the absence of a catalogue and press release, and the clearing out of the entrance area (with the requisite ticket booth thus placed outside the building). In short, Sehgal’s aesthetic and ideological reordering of the institution’s way of presenting exhibitions (and the curators’ typical means of expression) became part of his project.

Another example is Willem de Rooij’s ‘Intolerance’ at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, a brilliantly Minimalist insertion into Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Modernist icon, which presents the artist as curator and the art work as a curated exhibition. Confusion about the nature of his project is first mobilized when you are greeted by the artist’s name in a booming typeface (as any artist’s name, but no curator’s, would usually appear), only for this to open onto a group of paintings by 17th-century Dutch painter Melchior d’Hondecoeter presented together with a group of Hawaiian ceremonial objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. It was what the exhibition brochure called a ‘three-dimensional collage’, an object lesson in ‘the triangular relationship between early global trade, conflict and mutual attraction’. What struck me most, however, was the project’s questioning of the ideological underpinnings of ‘the exhibition’ in the process. What was the difference, after all, between an (autonomous) artwork and an exhibition made of others’ art works? If artists have, as we know, been long involved in curating, rarely have they presented their exhibitions as signed art works so explicitly as this. Neatly ending on 2 January 2011, De Rooij’s exhibition-as-art will thus have carried us to the end of a year which, indeed, might have been the year of ‘the exhibition’, but perhaps because artists themselves so thoroughly troubled what an exhibition is to begin with. 

Honza Zamojski, Iskry, 2010. Offset print and paint on book cover, 17 x 26cm. Courtesy: Leto Gallery, Warsaw.

Laura Hoptman
Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA.

So long, Marcel. Well that’s over. It has been a truism of the past 100 years, since Marcel Duchamp re-presented an everyday object as a work of art, that the most interesting, the most relevant, the most advanced art grappled with its place in the world and as part of that world, whether on the level of intention or consumption. 2010 was the year when the most visible, talked about, written of, bought and sold contemporary art took flight from the vicissitudes of the everyday, and definitively separated itself from the urgencies of life on this planet. It was the year of the triumph of Life Into Art over its opposite, a time of re-performance of ephemeral events, and the ethos of Everything As an Object of Connoisseurship, and concomitantly, the monetization of connoisseurship. 2010 saw the re-valuation of less-known work by well-known artists, as well as well-known work by unknown artists made famous for their prices at auction, or for winning a game show. 2010, fittingly, but oh so sadly, saw the loss of Merce Cunningham. 2010 tested us sorely on the question ‘why do we need art in our lives?’ Luckily, retorts came from Rosemarie Trockel at Kunsthalle Zürich (we need art in our lives to see through codes, to break rules and to achieve ecstasy wrestling with a lump of clay); Alan Shields – posthumously – in a small gallery called the Drawing Room in East Hampton (we need art to cast spells that cause revelations); Shannon Ebner at Wallspace on 27th Street in Manhattan (we need art to give substance to language) and Trisha Donnelly at Casey Kaplan on 21st (we need art to carve marble to create oracles); Ugo Rondinone at Kunsthaus Aarau (and also to induce a poetic and perhaps a dream state); Robert Breer at capc Bordeaux (we need art to let us know who we are in relation to it) and Isa Genzken at Museion Bolzano (we need art to understand our gross humanity). Art that addresses the vital issues in the lives of many rather than the lifestyle of a very few might be more clearly than ever a 20th-century notion, but art that we can use in a broader sense, to see and also transcend ourselves thankfully, lives on into this millennium. 

Sunjung Kim
A Seoul-based independent curator and professor at the Korea National University of Arts. She was the artistic director of Media City Seoul 2010.

I was happy to see ‘Walid Raad: Miraculous Beginnings’ at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. Works included range from his early video and photo pieces, which he produced as founder and ‘member’ of The Atlas Group, to Sweet Talk: Commissions (Beirut) (1987–ongoing) – self-imposed assignments exploring 20 years of changes to the city of Beirut – and Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World (2008–ongoing). The show highlights the way Raad expertly develops new contexts and meanings for the material he works with by re-using it. Having followed his work over the years, I have always appreciated his ability to portray perspectives and histories neglected in the media representations of the wars in Lebanon. In surveying Raad’s practice, curator Achim Borchardt-Hume created an opportunity to read the artist’s work in a way that extends beyond how conflict inscribes itself into the bodies and psyche of individuals as well as the cities they inhabit. Raad’s juxtaposition of fact, fiction and memory remarkably redefines the relevance of the photographic genre and highlights the complexities of history. The presentation of the scaled-down models of his work on the second floor is a particularly striking way of conveying how his work transitions from one mode of display to another. Coming from South Korea, which also has an experience of conflict and division, this presentation of Scratching on Things I Could Disavow made me reflect on the types of possibilities and constraints such circumstances, be they traumatic or seemingly positive, bring for artistic practice and how that affects culture in a wider sense.

The most thought-provoking biennial of 2010 was the 17th Biennale of Sydney, ‘The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age’, curated by David Elliot. I visited it during my research for Media City Seoul 2010 and was inspired by the way it eschewed marginalization to establish relationships among modernity, contemporary art and works of native and diasporic peoples. The Biennale team’s research into the artistic production in locations where these aspects of art co-exist was truly remarkable and it showed: great works by traditionally under-represented artists were abundant. ‘Hydrarchy’ at Gasworks in London was a remarkable group for the way it intertwined art with discourse spanning cultural, political, sociological and economic issues. The way the selected works alluded to ships and the power relations associated with navigating the sea was an unusual and refreshing premise for a group show, while allowing other layers in the works – or associated to the issues – to emerge. 

Lars Bang Larsen
An art historian, critic and curator who works at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His book on Palle Nielsen’s Utopian children’s playground, The Model. A Model for a Qualitative Society (1968), was published by MACBA, Barcelona, in 2010.

In the 1960s she lived in a tree in Central Park, imported hippy articles from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to Argentina for an art project and got expelled from Uruguay for creating a stadium happening involving helicopters, prostitutes and live chickens. Then the drugs changed and she started doing Pop art. It is unforgivable to have missed the retrospective of Marta Minujín – the master of the monumental gesture – at Museo de Arte Latinoamerciano de Buenos Aires. I was there in my mind, though (it’s all in the mind).

Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica are gods rather than artists, and other Brazilian practitioners of the same generation who inhabited the same artistic terrain are often overlooked. However, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona was on the case with their Anna Maria Maiolino retrospective, presenting her urgently playful, organic-constructivist poetics. Time to expand the pantheon.

At Hollybush Gardens in London, artist Andrea Büttner curated ‘The Angel of History’, an exhibition of works by the artist and publisher H.A.P. Grieshaber – a shameless revision of postwar art pedagogy and Kunsttherapie, replete with woodcuts and religious overtones. Finally somebody says it out loud and proud: humanism is back! And rarely has it looked this ambivalent and so strangely sensual.

The dark audio highlight of 2010 was Ektro Records’ official release – three decades after their recording – of filmmaker and musician Mika Taanila’s teenage bedroom experiments Tulemme sokeiksi (We’re Becoming Blind). A testimony to the post-punk diy ethos from the Finnish underground, but executed with the cassette recorder rather than guitars: ‘While mum and dad carried on with their household routines, I closed the door and pushed the “rec” button.’ A portrait of the artist as a young dissonance.

In the autumn of 2011 køs Museum of Art in Public Spaces in Copenhagen is putting on an exhibition about the public works of 1960s feel-good Concretist Poul Gernes (1925–96), an artist reappraised through his participation in documenta 12 (2007) and a recent retrospective at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. Gernes’ works will be filtered through the camera of his former collaborator the artist Finn Thybo Andersen, who has photographed all 150-plus of Gernes’ public works in schools, prisons, hospitals etc.

As soon as they graduate from the Städelschule Academy, they’re usually off to Berlin. With ‘New Frankfurt Internationals’, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt tries to lure them back again to stay a little longer than it takes to change planes at the airport. This first instalment of what is planned as a recurring exhibition format will pay tribute to young artists who were formerly active in the Hesse region, featuring Adrian Williams, Maria Loboda, and Anny and Sibel Öztürk, among others.

Eva Hesse, Untitled, 1967. Latex, cotton and rubber, 8 x 9 x 9cm. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth, London. Courtesy: The Estate of Eva Hesse.

Michał Wolinski
A critic and curator living in Warsaw, Poland, he is a founding editor of the magazine Piktogram and the associated Bureau of Loose Associations.

Sometimes exhibitions are imaginary trips into the unknown, but they can also be good reasons for travelling for real. For me, 2010 was a year when imaginary and real journeys became intermingled.

Last summer – when it was hot in Poland – I went to freeze in Iceland. The occasion was ‘Villa Reykjavik’, an invasion of the financial crisis-struck island by a dozen commercial art galleries, organized by Warsaw’s Raster gallery. To get there you had to overcome an active volcano with an unpronounceable name and a bad effect on aeroplane engines. We landed in the middle of a moonscape and, besides seeing shows in Reykjavik, went to the place where Jules Verne’s protagonists started their journey to the centre of the Earth, to the fjord where Dieter Roth lived and to Roni Horn’s project, Library of Water. We also entered a state of delirious daydreaming during the white nights that we spent in bars, at concerts organized by the galleries, and at the foot of a volcano – where it was harder to get a drink. One of the best exhibitions took place in a bar, organized by Tulips & Roses gallery from Brussels, although its minimal, subtle and funny interventions were hard to notice, especially as the opening reception coincided with the final of the football World Cup, which turned the bar into a geyser of enthusiasm and booze.

On my way to South Korea I was stopped by a typhoon. Despite this, I managed to get to Gwangju for the Biennale, the theme of which was the overproduction of images – I heard the lyrics of a 1980s Polish hit in my overloaded head: ‘Thousands of faces, hundreds of mirages.’ I continued my journey to see Media City Seoul 2010, entitled simply ‘trust’. The exhibition welcomed the visitor with a bouquet of fresh pink flowers (an installation by Willem de Rooij) – can you trust anyone’s intentions after such a welcome? The biennial was refreshing, attractively packaged and politically subtle.

But you can also travel in your own city, which I learned during ‘Warsaw Under Construction II', a festival organized by the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. I started the excursion at the main train station, where, thanks to archival photos, I took off into the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the decades when Polish architect Arseniusz Romanowicz built Warsaw’s train stations (one resembles a flying saucer and now houses a trendy club). Virtually next door, in a Modernist pavilion, an exhibition was held about another ground breaking architect, Stanisław Zamecznik, who, unable to build cities, experimented on a smaller scale designing art exhibitions. I made further trips to ‘Villa with a View on Beirut’, a micro-show in a street lightbox about the architect Karol Schayer, and ‘prl™’, an exhibition documenting the export of architecture and urban planning from the People’s Republic of Poland to then developing countries. The numerous lectures and debates held on the occasion of the exhibition were unforgettable. The show that followed at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art is a retrospective of the late artist Włodzimierz Borowski (1930–2008) and includes a reconstruction of his 1972 exhibition Playing Field, one of those exhibitions-cum-art works that should have been collected in their entirety.

Young Polish artists come from Poznan today. Let me name just a few: Honza Zamojski, who besides cutting and scorching other people’s books creates and publishes his own; Konrad Smolenski, who also likes fire, as well as throwing bangers, shooting rifles and making noise with instruments; and Wojtek Bakowski, who sculpts words, draws on film tape and creates dark holes in which we can watch his series of Spoken Movies (2007–ongoing).

While I’m hardly looking forward to the 7th International Caribbean Biennial in 2011, I am full of anticipation for the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012, to be curated by Artur Zmijewski – will it be a genuine political tool for such a committed artist? I’m also waiting for ‘Villa Tokyo’, the event’s third edition after Warsaw and Reykjavik. Above all, however, I’m looking forward to the imaginary trips that I’ll be sent on by the space I’m planning to open in Warsaw (because Warsaw is still under construction).

Translated by Marcin Wawrzynczak 

Jochen Volz
Curator and Artistic Director of the Instituto Inhotim, Minas Gerais, Brazil, he was co-curator of the 2010 Aichi Triennial in Nagoya, Japan, and in 2009 artistic organizer of ‘Fare Mondi Making Worlds’, the 53rd Venice Biennale, Italy.

Cultural life in Brazil in 2010 was marked by the rebirth of the São Paulo Biennial Foundation. Under its new presidency the institution pulled off its 29th edition, claiming back the importance and international relevance of the exhibition, which was founded in 1951. If indeed the curatorial project by Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias and their international team of guest curators under the title ‘There is Always a Cup of Sea to Sail in’ – a line from the Brazilian poet Jorge de Lima’s major work Invenção de Orfeu (Invention of Orpheus, 1952) – was successful is another discussion. But the strength of the collective effort that made the exhibition possible was remarkable; it had access to a budget and supportive network that other editions could only dream of. This came after years of disastrous management, which climaxed in 2008 when curator Ivo Mesquita chose to keep the entire second floor of the biennial’s traditional home, the Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo, empty – a strategy that provoked a public debate about the role and responsibility of the institution. 2010’s endeavour, however, demonstrated how administrative and artistic directions, private and public funding entities, backers and partner institutions were unified – there was also substantial strategic support from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Furthermore, it was great to see a notable international audience at the exhibition, demonstrating Brazil’s indubitable importance within the international circuit.

The Biennial’s new strength is, of course, as much a result of the hard work of Brazilian institutions and galleries over past years, as it is, historically, a catalyst for art in Brazil. This has been evident in the large number of exhibitions in São Paulo during the Biennial months, creating a city-wide context for art-making, and also the debates on the relationship between art and politics proposed by the Biennial. Two group shows, ‘Sempre à vista (miragem)’ (Always in Sight [Mirage]), curated by artist Rodrigo Matheus at Mendes Wood gallery, and ‘Primeira e última, notas sobre o monumento’ (First and Last, Notes on the Monument), curated by Rodrigo Moura to inaugurate Galería Luisa Strina’s new space were highlights, as was an unexpectedly delicate show produced by Videobrasil at sesc Pompéia of more than 200 posters designed by Joseph Beuys, many famous and some previously unseen, from the collection of the Italian Luigi Bonotto.

While this past year has clearly been dominated by enthusiasm in the arts in Brazil, 2011 will be decisive for the culturally active parts of society to demonstrate continuity and in-depth engagement, which has to lead to long-term commitments to institutions and initiatives throughout the country. All of us will have to prove whether last year’s zeal can be maintained, persistently pursuing new experimentation.