Peggy Guggenheim Dossier

 

 

 

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Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Art-collecting trailblazer

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

American art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim played a major role in promoting influential modernist art in the first half of the twentieth century

Born in 1898, Jewish American Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim hailed from a wealthy New York mining family of Swiss origin on her father’s side, while her mother came from a prominent banking family. Tragically, her father, Benjamin, was one of the ill-fated passengers who died on the Titanic in 1912.

In her early twenties, Guggenheim began working at a book shop, the Sunwise Turn, where she was swiftly embraced by a wide circle of intellectual and artistic types. It was in these circles that she met her first husband, Laurence Vail, a writer and Dada sculpter whom she married in 1922 and had two children with. From 1921, Guggenheim lived in Paris, mixing with bohemians, avant-garde artists and American expats. Among these acquaintances were artists Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp and poet and journalist Djuna Barnes, who would become her lifelong friends.

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Said to have a voracious sexual appetite (particularly for artists), Guggenheim left her husband Vail in 1928 for an English intellectual John Holms, who died tragically young in 1934 and is said to have been the love of her life. In January 1938, she opened an art gallery in London – Guggenheim Jeune – and began a career that would nurture some of the most prominent post-WWII artists of the time. Case in point: her first art show featured prolific French playwright, artist and director Jean Cocteau, while her second featured Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky.

In 1939, tiring of her gallery, she began purchasing contemporary masterpieces by artists like Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí and Piet Mondrian. Seemingly oblivious to the war around her, Guggenheim continued acquiring works until she was forced to flee Nazi-occupied France in 1941. After returning to New York with soon-to-be second husband Max Ernst (a German artist), Guggenheim began scouting for a site for her modern art museum, while continuing to collect Cubist, abstract and Surrealist art. By the time Art of This Century opened in 1942, Guggenheim’s collection and exhibition rooms were viewed as the most extraordinary and forward-thinking in New York.

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Guggenheim went on to champion American Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 1947, Peggy returned to Europe and in 1948 her by-now impressive modern art collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. She soon bought and moved into Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, the space that now houses the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Opening her house during summer to the public from 1951, Guggenheim continued to exhibit her works in Europe and New York until her death, aged 81, in 1979. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is considered one of the most important museums in Italy for its collection of European and American art from the first half of the twentieth century.

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The New York Times
March 1, 1987

PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE DARING OF PEGGY GUGGENHEIM

When Peggy Guggenheim started her gallery, ”Art of This Century,” in the wartime year of 1942, no one was standing on line to buy avant-garde art. But that didn’t faze this flamboyant apostle of the new, who at the gallery’s opening wore one earring by Calder and one by Tanguy to demonstrate her equal regard for abstraction and Surrealism.

In the dramatically innovative arena on West 57th Street, created by the architect Frederic Kiesler, she counterpointed the work of such European stars as Arp, di Chirico, Giacometti and Picasso with that of then unknown American talents: Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. She was the first and prime patron of the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement, and her gallery thus played a key role in New York’s displacement of Paris as the capital of modern art. During its five-year run on 57th Street, ”Art of This Century” mounted more than 50 exhibitions. Among them was a show devoted to collage, for which Peggy invited Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes to submit work. Neither Pollock nor Motherwell had made collages before; Motherwell today credits the ”identity” he found in the collage medium to her initiative. Two exhibitions were devoted entirely to women artists (among them the ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, who contributed a self-portrait); one show explored the relationship between insane and Surrealist art, and no less than four solo shows were devoted to the gallery’s rising star, Jackson Pollock. He had been working at the Guggenheim Museum as a carpenter, and came to Peggy’s attention through Howard Putzel, one of her close advisers, and the Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta. In her autobiography, ”Out of This Century,” she wrote that Pollock ”immediately became the central point” of her gallery. And until she returned to Europe in 1947, settling in Venice, she devoted herself to promoting the work of the artist who, in her eyes, was ”to become, strangely enough, the greatest painter since Picasso.”

Now, 40 years after the closing of ”Art of This Century” in 1947, the Guggenheim Museum – founded by Peggy’s uncle Solomon – is paying tribute to her ”profound influence on the art world of her time.” On Friday it will open ”Peggy Guggenheim’s Other Legacy,” (through May 3) a show of some 60 works of painting and sculpture originally exhibited at ”Art of This Century,” or given by her to institutions across the country in an effort to spread the gospel of modernism. (The ”other legacy” in the show’s title refers to these works, as distinct from Peggy’s own collection of modern paintings ensconced in her Venetian palazzo and given to the Guggenheim Museum. at her death in 1979.) It’s not easy to realize today the impact of the gallery – and Peggy’s donations – on the public acceptance of modern art in this country. At a time when – despite the inroads made by the Museum of Modern Art – the avant garde was still considered suspect by most right-thinking people, even in Manhattan, ”Art of This Century” was a vigorous outpost for the new and controversial. Harboring a rich mix of refugee artists from Europe and ambitious local vanguardsmen, its ”erratic setting” – recalls Fred Licht, adjunct curator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and co-organizer of the exhibition with Melvin P. Lader – provided ”a recklessly liberal point of encounter and discussion. One never knew which artist would be arguing loudly with what other artist or critic.” The idea was conveyed, he adds, ”that contemporary and indeed all art was not simply to be enjoyed, respected, admired and studied. It could and should give rise to further adventures, to polemics, to the expression of still more, still newer ideas.”

Not content with showing new work in New York, Peggy tried to extend the gallery’s sphere of influence from 57th Street to the rest of the country. Among other works, she gave away some 20 Pollocks, which she later regretted. One of her more difficult bestowals was that of a 1943 Pollock mural 23 feet long and 6 feet wide, painted for the entrance hall of her apartment. ”It consisted of a continuous band of abstract figures in a rhythmic dance painted in blue and white and yellow,” she writes, ”and over this black paint was splashed in drip fashion.” When she decided to donate it as a ”seed gift” to the University of Iowa in 1948, university officials jibbed at the shipping and insurance costs of $100, and wondered whether they could find a suitable place for it. Finally they concluded it would be ”useful for teaching purposes.” Yet a decade later, in 1961, they politely refused Peggy’s bid to exchange the mural for a Braque still life.

Other gifts went to such places as the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Seattle Art Museum. When the Seattle museum’s curator, Edward B. Thomas, visited Peggy at her palazzo in 1954, she took to him immediately. Turning away from a pompous visitor who was considering a work for purchase, Peggy said to Thomas in a stage whisper, ”Stick around, honey, and I’ll give you one.” When the visitor left, she offered the curator his pick of five Jackson Pollocks. Later Thomas noted that this gift and others from Peggy helped ”underline the need to expand the museum’s modern holdings,” and that their quality and the prestige of the giver provided ”an excellent inducement to other collectors to become involved in the museum.”

When she unveiled ”Art of This Century” here in 1942, Peggy was in effect a wartime refugee from Europe, where she had cavorted wildly for more than 20 years. As the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, the copper-mining heir – he died in the Titanic disaster of 1912 – she had grown up in considerable luxury on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But, rebelling against the longueurs of life amid New York’s Jewish upper crust she fled to Europe in 1921, a well-heeled Bohemian ripe for love and adventure. She fell in with such glamorous expatriates as Djuna Barnes and Man Ray – who took a famous photograph of her – and married a tempestuous young painter, Laurence Vail, by whom she had two children.

Several liaisons later, in the late 1930’s, Peggy was in London, free for the moment of husbands and lovers, and rather bored. Neither ”creative” nor terribly intellectual herself, but surrounded by people who were, she took up a friend’s suggestion that she open a gallery of modern art. She was undaunted by her minimal knowledge of the subject, since she had as a mentor no less than the artist Marcel Duchamp, whom she had met in Paris. Though the London gallery – called Guggenheim Jeune – only lasted for a brief time, it mounted some vivid shows, among them the first presentations in England of Kandinsky and the Surrealist Yves Tanguy. It put on sculpture and collage exhibitions that included the work of Pevsner, Moore, Picasso, Schwitters and Miro. And it also paid attention to young, unknown English artists such as the abstractionist John Tunnard.

Duchamp, as Peggy noted, not only taught her the difference between Surrealism, Cubism and abstract art, but introduced her to artists and more or less took charge of the show’s arrangements and installations. And willy-nilly, Guggenheim Jeune spurred her into collecting. ”Gradually I bought one work of art from every show I gave, so as not to disappoint the artists if I were unsuccessful in selling anything,” she wrote. ”In those days, as I had no idea how to sell and had never bought pictures, this seemed to be the best solution and the least I could do to please the artists.”

Concerned over the gallery’s money losses, Peggy opted out, after a year and a half, to involve herself in a far more ambitious project – a museum of modern art. She asked Herbert Read (later Sir Herbert), then editor of what Peggy saw as the ”stuffy” but highly respected Burlington Magazine and the leading authority in England on modern art, to become its director. ”He treated me the way Disraeli treated Queen Victoria,” Peggy reported. Together, the two drew up an ideal list of artists whose works they would try to borrow for an opening show. The project came to a halt with England’s entry into World War II. But Peggy kept Sir Herbert’s list (later revised by herself, Duchamp and Nellie van Doesburg, widow of the Dutch abstractionist Theo). With the money she’d set aside to establish the museum, she embarked on an art-shopping spree in Paris. ”My motto was, ‘Buy a picture a day,’ and I lived up to it,” she wrote.

The splendid collection that Peggy thus acquired, despite the onset of the war (”The day Hitler walked into Norway, I walked into Leger’s studio and bought a wonderful 1919 painting from him for $1,000,” she has noted) is today on view, under the auspices of the Guggenheim Museum, at Peggy’s Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in Venice. But back in 1940, as the Nazis marched toward France, Peggy realized that her acquisitions would be regarded as ”degenerate” art. She shipped them off to a friend’s barn near Vichy; then three days before the occupation of Paris, she left with her children and some friends for a house near Annecy. The pictures were forwarded to her, and stored for a year in the museum at Grenoble by its reluctant director. Finally, in the spring of 1941, packed as ”household goods,” they were shipped to New York. Their owner arrived shortly after, on a Pan American clipper with an entourage of 10 fellow refugees, including the painter Max Ernst, with whom she was shortly to share a brief and tumultuous marriage.

With Ernst, his son Jimmy, and her daughter Pegeen, she traveled all over the country trying to find a proper place for the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Disappointed, the party came back to New York, where in 1942 she commissioned Kiesler to design ”Art of This Century,” a combination ”museum” and commercial gallery which would display her collection as well as temporary shows of European and American art. The results were suitably spectacular. A gallery for Surrealism had flashy lighting and concave walls with wooden arms projecting from them on which to hang pictures. In the Cubist gallery, there was cooler illumination and a system of ropes and wedges to support the pictures and sculptures. Displayed in this manner, the works from Peggy’s own collection served as a background for the new American art she sought out and promoted. ”The only trouble,” Peggy complained, ”was that the decor rivaled the pictures. Kiesler told me I would not be known for my collection in the future, but for his installation.”

She saw the gallery, she wrote in its first press release, as ”a center where artists will be welcome and where they can feel that they are cooperating in establishing a research laboratory for new ideas.” And as New York became the temporary home for such creative refugees as Breton, Tanguy, Mondrian, Duchamp, Lipchitz, Ernst, Chagall, Matta, Archipenko, Masson and others, ”Art of This Century” became a magnet for the avant garde. The presence of the European elders, Peggy noted, greatly stimulated the young American talents who came to the gallery. Some of the first works by ”unknowns” were represented at the collage show in 1943, and Motherwell and William Baziotes had their first sales, to the Baltimore collector Sadie May.

At the first of three annual spring salons, judged by among others, Duchamp, Mondrian and Peggy, Pollock scored with the jury, and became the first and only artist to whom Peggy offered a contract. The penniless young artist got $150 a month, plus a settlement at the year’s end determined by the sale of his paintings. His monthly stipend was later raised to $300, and soon Peggy had so many Pollocks she didn’t know what to do with them. Not forseeing the enormous sums his work would eventually bring, she gave many of them away. ”Now it all makes me laugh,” she wrote in her autobiography. ”I had no idea what Pollock paintings would be worth. I never sold one for more than $1,000. When I left America in 1947, not one gallery would take over my contract. And so now Lee (Pollock’s widow) is a millionaire, and I think what a fool I was.” In the 1960’s, she sued Mrs. Pollock for $122,000, on the grounds that the artist had defaulted on his promise to give her all works produced during the contract period. But the suit was finally dropped.

Preferring life in Europe, where she had lived for two decades before the war, Peggy closed the gallery in 1947 and settled in Venice. To house herself and her collection, she bought the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, built by the Veniers, a patrician Venetian family whose lineage included two doges and who, legend had it, kept lions in the garden. Eventually, she soured on the art scene, its frequenters and its products, writing shortly before her death in 1979, ”I do not like art today. I think it has gone to hell, as a result of the financial attitude. People blame me for what is painted today because I had encouraged and helped the new movement to be born. I am not responsible. In the early 1940’s there was a pure pioneering spirit in America. A new art had to be born – Abstract Expressionism. I fostered it. I do not regret it. It produced Pollock, or rather, Pollock produced it. This alone justifies my efforts.”

Although she was a pioneer, her efforts did not go unheralded at the time. Reviewing Peggy’s closing show in 1947, the burgeoning critic Clement Greenberg wrote: ”In the three or four years of her career as a New York gallery director, she gave first showings to more serious new artists than anyone else in the country. I am convinced that Peggy Guggenheim’s place in the history of American art will grow larger as time passes and as the artists she encouraged mature.” He was not wrong.

Drawings

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 THE INDEPENDENT LONDON

The priceless Peggy Guggenheim

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In just eight years, Peggy Guggenheim changed the face of 20th-century art – and her life, both public and intimate, was as radical as her collection. John Walsh salutes a true original

It was said that she had a thousand lovers in her life, and that she received her most thorough grounding in modern art when she spent a night and a day in bed with Samuel Beckett, interrupted only by her demands that he go out and find some champagne. People murmured that Peggy Guggenheim went to bed with so many men (and occasionally women) because it boosted her self-esteem and made her less conscious of her huge, potato-shaped nose. She loved art and sex in about equal measure, but she was also turned on by fame. Asked why she loved Max Ernst, the great Surrealist painter whom she married in 1941, she replied: “Because he’s so beautiful and because he’s so famous.”

In the high-rolling, modern-Medici world of 20th-century art patronage and art collecting, Peggy Guggenheim was unique. She collected art like nobody else, picking up items that didn’t sell, and works for which there was, as yet, no market, just because she loved them. She bought art, not as an investment, but because she saw something that her own eyes told her was great. She discovered Jackson Pollock when he was a humble carpenter in Solomon Guggenheim’s museum, and gave him his first exhibition in 1950 at the Museo Correr in Venice. But her years spent in actual acquisition were, in fact, few: about 1938 to 1940 in England and France; and 1941-46 in America.

“Eight years collecting in a lifetime of 80 years,” wrote her biographer, Anton Gill, “is not much, especially when one looks at the career of Edward James, or Walter Arensberg or the Cone sisters or Katherine Dreier … Had her private life been less colourful, would what she did for art seem less interesting?” Seldom has a figure in the art world appeared so schizoid about her commitment to the actual work. When her autobiography Memoirs of an Art Lover was published, critics noted with disapproval that, in its 200 pages, art doesn’t get a mention until page 110.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Solomon R Guggenheim’s fabled New York art gallery, and this autumn marks the 80th anniversary of the very first museum to bear the Guggenheim name. Solomon, Peggy’s philanthropist uncle, rented a large automobile showroom on New York’s Park Avenue and called it the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Within a few years, he was looking for a more permanent venue for his collection of modern art, and signed up Frank Lloyd Wright to design a “temple of spirit”. The result, a fantastic, spiral-curved building now called the Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York, opened to gawping tourists on 21 October 1959, the first permanent museum to be built (rather than converted from a private house) in the United States. Since then, sister museums have been built in Bilbao, Berlin and Las Vegas. But it’s the smallest of them, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, that continues to capture the imagination of art lovers. And 40 years after the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was opened to the public, on the death of its owner, as the Venice Guggenheim, she remains both an enigmatic and a melancholy figure.

Peggy Guggenheim was the original poor little rich girl, born in 1898 to fabulous wealth in New York City. Her father Benjamin was one of seven brothers of Swiss-German provenance who, along with their father Meyer Guggenheim, made a fortune from smelting metals, especially silver, copper and lead. Peggy’s mother Florette Seligman, came from wealthy banking stock.

Peggy’s education in modern art began in New York in 1920. She was 22, and had inherited from her dead father (who went down with the Titanic in 1912) enough money to supply her, via a trust fund, with an income of $22,500 a year. Anxious to find a job that took her outside her immediate circle of rich friends, she found a job at an avant-garde bookshop, The Sunwise Turn on 44th Street. She swung the job via a family connection, a cousin called Harold Loeb, a fair-to-good painter, writer, man of action and womaniser who was in Paris with the “lost generation” of American émigrés about whom Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises. Through Loeb, Peggy met several members of the generation, including Scott Fitzgerald – and was introduced to Alfred Steiglitz, the photographic pioneer and impresario of the avant-garde.

His gallery on Fifth Avenue was where she encountered the work of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse: it was their first exposure to the American public. There Peggy also had her first sighting of the work of Steiglitz’s future wife, Georgia O’Keeffe – and met Laurence Vail, a writer who was part of the new boho swing of Greenwich Village.

In the 1920s, Peggy went travelling in Europe, discovered Paris and stayed there, on and off, for 22 years. From the start, her predominant interests were art and sex. “I soon knew where every painting in Europe could be found,” she wrote in her autobiography, “and I managed to get there, even if I had to spend hours going to a little country town to see only one.” She also took to acquiring lovers at a ferocious rate. In her autobiography she explains that, when she was young, her many boyfriends were too respectable to have sex with her; but she had discovered (at 23) photographs of frescoes from Pompeii: “They depicted people making love in various positions, and of course I was very curious and wanted to try them all out myself.” Laurence Vail was startled by her forwardness. He visited her at home in Paris, when her mother was out, made a sexual pass and was taken aback by how readily she said “Yes”. He backtracked, saying that, since her mother might come home at any moment, it might be better if Peggy came to his hotel sometime. She fetched her hat and said: “How about right now?” They married two years later and had two children, Sindbad and Pegeen.

In Paris they immersed themselves in arty circles, befriending Djuna Barnes, the lesbian author of Nightwood, published by TS Eliot at Faber & Faber, Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor whose work she collected, and Marcel Duchamp, the great Surrealist. But the marriage broke up in 1928 when she met an English intellectual called John Holms, a one-time war hero turned writer, who suffered from severe creative blockage and published only one story in his career. Theirs was a tempestuous and short-lived marriage: their home in Bloomsbury was often riven with furious rows, drunken harangues and accusation of infidelity, during which, Peggy writes in her autobiography, “he made me stand for ages naked in front of the open window (in December) and threw whiskey into my eyes”. (She was remarkably unlucky with her lovers. Laurence Vail was similarly theatrical. “When our fights worked up to a grand finale,” she reported, “he would rub jam into my hair.”)

Peggy Guggenheim’s annus mirabilis was 1938. Inspired by the groundbreaking, indeed earthshaking, surrealism exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936 – derided by the British press but unexpectedly popular with the general public – and the encouragement of her friend Peggy Waldheim (“I wish you would do some serious work – the art gallery, book agency – anything that would be engrossing yet impersonal – if you were doing something for good painters or writers … I think you’d be so much better off … ”) she hit upon the idea of starting a gallery dealing in modern artists. She’d met many artists through her first husband. Her uncle Solomon had put together a priceless collection of Old Masters, but she could collect new work for a much more modest outlay. And she genuinely loved the company of artists and writers. She began to look for a suitable space, helped by Humphrey Jennings, the documentary-maker who filmed Auden’s “Night Mail” for the GPO Film Unit, and Marcel Duchamp. As they fixed on No 30 Cork Street, Duchamp gave her some basic lessons in modern art. “Peggy had to be shown the difference between what was Abstract and what was Surrealist,” writes her biographer Anton Gill, “and between the ‘dream’ Surrealism of, for example, Dali or Di Chirico and the ‘abstract’ Surrealism of, say, André Masson. She was an eager and quick learner, showing a natural affinity and sympathy for what she saw.”

Also helpful was Samuel Beckett, who was then living in Paris as secretary/amanuensis to James Joyce. He and Peggy met on Boxing Day 1939 at Bosquet’s restaurant, at a dinner thrown by Joyce. Beckett escorted Peggy home to her apartment in St Germain-des-Pres, came in, lay on the sofa and asked her to join him. It’s one of the few recorded instances of the Beckett seduction technique. They were thrown together for 12 days, in which he persuaded her to stop worrying about Old Masters and concentrate on collecting modern artists.

So the marriage of money and art came together. Duchamp’s friendship supplied a heady throng of top-class artists for Peggy to meet: he introduced her to Jean Cocteau, who wrote the introduction to his exhibition. Beckett translated it and introduced her to Geer Van Velde, the Dutch artist. Meanwhile, Beckett revealed an unexpected |love for driving fast in her whizzy sports cars. And the society heiress was gradually |transformed into the boho queen of the European art world.

The gallery, christened Guggenheim Jeune, opened on 24 January 1938, with 30 drawings by Jean Cocteau. Two large linen sheets, sent over from Paris, displayed a group of figures with their genitals and pubic hair on display: they were confiscated and detained, of all unlikely places, in Croydon airport until Peggy and Duchamp could hurry to south London to have them released.

As the year rolled by, Peggy’s gallery grew in stature. She gave Wassily Kandinsky his first-ever London show, then an exhibition of contemporary sculpture featuring works of Henry Moore, Hans Arp, Brancusi, Alexander Calder and Anton Pevsner.

Despite the speed of her gallery’s success, Peggy grew tired of temporarily showcasing the work of certain artists. Inside a year, she became excited by “the idea of opening a modern museum in London”, and organising it on historic |principles. She would decide in advance which artists and schools would feature in it, and then go out and acquire them. As her guiding influence, she turned to Herbert Read, the art critic, and asked him to draw up a wish-list of all the artists he thought should be represented. As the whole of Europe trembled on the brink of war, Peggy Guggenheim set out on her tremendous cultural crusade. She boldly resolved to “buy a picture a day”. She bought Surrealist works by Dali, Cubist works by Braque and Picasso, geometric designs by Mondrian and Fernand Léger (whose Men in the City she bought on the day Hitler invaded Norway. The painter said he was “astonished by her sang froid”.) In the winter of 1939 and spring of 1940 she bought work by Miro, Picasso and Max Ernst in dizzying succession. She patrolled the ateliers of Paris, snapping up minor masterpieces for a song. She bought Brancusi’s soaring sculpture Bird in Space in Paris, even as the German army advanced on the capital.

The invasion effectively closed down her operations. With the über-Surrealist Max Ernst (whom she later married and divorced in two years), she finally fled occupied France in July 1941 and headed for her beloved New York. She lost no time in finding a new home for her purchases.

In October 1942, her museum-gallery, Art of This Century, opened in Manhattan, exhibiting all her Cubist, Abstract and Surrealist acquisitions. For the opening night, she wore, according to Anton Gill, “one earring made for her by Calder and |another by Yves Tanguy, to express her equal commitment to the schools of art she supported”. The work of leading European artists flowed through her gallery, along with unknown young Americans: Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Janet Sobel, Clyfford Still – and the gallery’s star attraction Jackson Pollock. In Ed Harris’s 2000 film Pollock, in which Guggenheim was played by Amy Madigan, it was suggested that artist and patron had an affair; in fact he’s a rare sighting of an artist who slipped through Peggy’s fishnets; she didn’t fancy him because he drank too much. But she supported him with monthly handouts and sold his work: she commissioned his largest painting, Mural, and gave it away to the University of Iowa. Without Peggy’s generous patronage, it’s doubtful whether the American abstract Expressionist movement would have survived as it did.

Then, after the war, she discovered Venice. In 1948 her collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale – the first time that Pollock, Rothko and Arshile Gorky had been seen in Europe. The fact that she’d brought them together with all the European masterpieces bought in the early years of the war made her complete collection a paradigm of Western modern art.

A year later, she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, and held an exhibition of her sculptures in the gardens. The |reputation of her collection grew as it was toured across Europe, and shown in Florence, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels and Zurich, before setting up its permanent home in the Palazzo. |From 1951, she opened her house and collection to the general public every summer, though |she kept adding to it over the next 30 years. She donated the palace and her collection to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, but the |collection remains where it is, a cynosure for |art-loving tourists.

She died on 23 December 1979. Her ashes are buried in a corner of the Palazzo garden, near where her 14 beloved Lhasa Apso dogs are buried. The dogs were a vestigial emblem of the flamboyant, rich-bitch socialite she could so easily have remained, with her family inheritance and ritzy Manhattan haut-monde. But Peggy Guggenheim was something more than that: an art collector who believed that some works are worth keeping safe in the collective cultural memory, protecting them against obscurity, as if it were a noble cause.

Art world: The Guggenheim empire

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Best known for its building, Bilbao’s Guggenheim is an astonishing architectural feat designed by Frank Gehry. Its series of curved, interconnected shapes are clad in shimmering titanium, while the interior is designed around a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country. Opened in 1997, the museum has provided a home for large-scale, site- specific works and installations by contemporary artists, such as Richard Serra’s 340ft-long “Snake. Guggenheim Bilbao makes a point of supporting the work of Basque artists, as well as housing a selection of works from the Foundation’s extended collection.

Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin

Opened in 1997, the Deutsche Guggenheim is a joint venture based in the ground floor of the Deutsche Bank building in Unter der Linden, a grand boulevard in the historical centre of Berlin. The 510sq m gallery inside this Twenties sandstone building was designed by Richard Gluckman to provide a clean, clear space for artworks that belong to both the Guggenheim Foundation and the bank itself, which holds the largest corporate art collection in the world. The gallery presents major thematic exhibitions, as well as site-specific commissions by new and established contemporary artists, including John Baldessari, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, and Rachel Whiteread.

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

Opened on 21 October 1959, the New York Guggenheim building is an artwork in its own right: a white spiral structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Inside, the museum brings together several private collections, including the “non-objective paintings” belonging to Solomon R Guggenheim, who established the Guggenheim Foundation that still owns the museums that carry its name. Up to 1,150,000 visitors flock each year to the Fifth Avenue museum, which is also home to his niece Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of Abstract and Surrealist works; art dealer Justin K Thannhauser’s masterpieces; and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s large selection of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist and Conceptual art.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, Saadiyat Island, United Arab Emirates

Currently under construction, the latest Guggenheim will also be the biggest. Another innovative design from the California-based architect Frank Gehry, with clusters of block and cone-shaped connected galleries seemingly piled on top of each other, the 450,000sq ft museum is situated on a peninsula at the north-western tip of Saadiyat Island, adjacent to Abu Dhabi. It will house its own modern and contemporary collections, with a special focus on Middle-Eastern contemporary art, as well a presenting special exhibitions from the Guggenheim Foundation’s main collection.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Solomon R Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy, bequeathed her collection, and the 18th-century palazzo house in which she had lived since the late 1940s, to the Foundation in 1976. Much smaller in scale than its New York counterpart, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni nonetheless houses an impressive selection of modern art. Its picturesque setting and well-respected collection attract some 400,000 visitors per year. The museum reflects Peggy Guggenheim’s personal interest in a variety of modern styles and schools, from Cubism to Expressionism to Surrealism, and is home to major works by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Piet Mondrian, and Jackson Pollock.

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April 1986

Peggy Guggenheim as history

by Hilton Kramer

 

There is no figure in the history of twentieth-century art more difficult to keep in proper focus than the avid collector—the kind of collector, that is, who specializes in the acquisition of contemporary art. To this strange, hardy breed—more often ridiculed and maligned than admired or understood— we obviously owe much. Without collectors who take an interest in new art and who are willing to lavish significant sums of money on it, the entire life of art in our society would be a very different thing. It would be a much poorer thing, in my opinion, and not only in the strictly financial sense. It is upon such collectors, after all, that artists and their dealers largely depend for their living; and it is to dealers’ exhibitions, let us remember, and to the donations and bequests which collectors make to the museums, that the rest of us owe a large portion of what is important to us in our aesthetic experience. We are all, in a way, the beneficiaries of the collecting enterprise—a fact of cultural life which, except on ceremonial occasions, is seldom accorded the acknowledgement it deserves.

Why, then, is it more or less to be expected that these same collectors will be regarded with considerable suspicion and resentment in their lifetime? There are many good reasons, alas. For one thing, in a buyers’ market—which, despite all the changes that have overtaken the art world, is still the kind of market which the majority of living artists are obliged to deal with—it is not uncommon for collectors to drive very hard bargains. What is worse, collectors often boast about them, too, even while claiming the role of generous and disinterested patron. For another, there are the collectors who clearly invest in contemporary art largely in the hope of making a financial killing at some later date. (The activities of the auction houses in recent years have provided abundant evidence of this practice, and the auction houses represent only the tip of the iceberg in this matter.) Then, too, there are the collectors who are guided less by their aesthetic interests than by their social ambitions, their sexual proclivities, their political affinities, or their fixation on some other extra-artistic obsession. Collectors—even the most enlightened and adventurous among them—tend to be arbitrary in their decisions, fickle in their tastes, and impure in their motives. Their interests are subject to sudden shifts which are seldom purely aesthetic in origin. And it doesn’t add to their appeal that, once their collecting activities are accorded a certain degree of public attention, their egotism is often found to rival and even surpass that of the artists themselves. The grounds for suspicion are indeed not wanting.

Collectors with sufficient money and drive constitute a power, moreover, and power of the particular kind which they are in a position to wield inevitably induces feelings of powerlessness—and thus of resentment, envy, and even outright hatred—among those who are excluded from its immediate benefactions. Around almost every significant collection of contemporary art there sooner or later accumulates a sizable accretion of bruised feelings, failed hopes, and broken promises waiting to be avenged. Like every manifestation of power, that of the collector is therefore a natural object of paranoia, and there is never any shortage of people, both inside the art world and out side it, who are given to nursing their grievances (real or imagined) and plotting their revenge.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for the collectors who are the targets of all this free-floating paranoia and revenge to come to believe that it is they who have been ruthlessly exploited. They aren’t always wrong, either. Human nature being what it is, gratitude tends to be of short-term duration in a rising art market. For all of these reasons, we shall harbor fewer misconceptions about collectors and the role they play in the history of their time if we recognize straightaway that they are not in any sense to be construed as angels.

Some collectors, of course, are in less danger of being misunderstood in this respect than others. Consider the late Peggy Guggenheim, who is now the subject of two very different books. One is a biography by Jacqueline Bograd Weld which leaves no sensational anecdote, no matter how distasteful or repugnant, unrecounted.[1] The other is a vast, scholarly catalogue by Angelica Zander Rudenstine which, while rigorously ignoring the personal affairs of the collector, concentrates with an almost superhuman objectivity on documenting the collection of works of art which Peggy Guggenheim acquired during a particularly crucial period of our history.[2] Peggy Guggenheim was, of course, a notorious character in her day. (She died in 1979 at the age of eighty-one.) Her collection is now preserved as a museum in Venice, Italy, where she lived during the last three decades of her life. Taken together, these two books neatly encompass the twin aspects of her career—the scandalous and the serious—neither of which can be ignored in any attempt to understand the place she once occupied in American cultural life.

In her own lifetime Peggy Guggenheim was praised for her sagacity and courage in recognizing important new talent—most especially, of course, Jackson Pollock’s— while at the same time she was reviled for her stinginess, her pettiness, and her utter lack of anything that could be described as personal morals. That as a collector and a dealer she played a significant role in the formation of the New York School is now universally acknowledged, and her distinction in this regard is in no way diminished by the fact that she availed herself of some excellent advice—what important collector hasn’t?—or that she drove some very hard bargains with the artists she benefited. That she was also, for much of her life, a selfish wretch who left a trail of broken lives wherever her power over others was complete is not to be denied, either. In many respects she was the very archetype of the heiress as a mad egomaniac, using what money she had —in Peggy Guggenheim’s case, it turns out never to have been a huge fortune—to gratify her wayward appetites and impose them on others. In Jacqueline Bograd Weld’s biography we are spared very little in the way of sordid detail about these matters. Yet whatever our judgments may be on Peggy Guggenheim as a woman—and they are bound to be pretty harsh, I think—she was nonetheless one of those people who made a difference in the life of art. What that difference was and how she came to play the role in the life of art that she did is, from our present historical perspective, quite the most interesting thing about her. After all, the world has never lacked for nymphomaniac heiresses or monster egomaniacs of either sex wreaking havoc on those around them; but the art collector represented in Mrs. Rudenstine’s 842-page catalogue remains a rarity even today when, it sometimes seems, every collector of contemporary art seeks to emulate one or another aspect of the Peggy Guggenheim role.

Interestingly, her career as a collector, dealer, and patron was of far shorter duration than the size and fame of her collection might lead one to suppose. Its major phase lasted about ten years, from 1938 to 1948. After that she continued to add works to the collection—Bacon, Boccioni, and Gonzalez in the Fifties, for example, and Dubuffet and Kupka in the Sixties, and slews of Italians during the entire term of her residence in Venice—but, with some notable exceptions, these were not the kind of acquisitions which added real luster to her holdings. Sequestered in Venice in these later years, she was no longer in touch with the most vital artistic currents, and she had begun in any case to think of herself as an historical personage—which in itself is probably fatal as far as taking a continuing interest in new art is concerned. For all practical purposes, then, Peggy Guggenheim’s role as a power in the art world was pretty much limited to a single decade. But what a decade it was!

What also has to be borne in mind is that as an American she belonged to the generation which expatriated itself to Europe in the period between the two world wars. She had gone to Paris in the Twenties, and had quickly become part of the American expatriate community of artists and writers there. If not for the Second World War, it is unlikely that she would have ever returned to the United States to live. The bohemian milieux she frequented in Paris and London clearly suited her, and so did the distance they provided from the oppressive family atmosphere in New York which she had fled as soon as she was able to do so. When she did return to New York in the summer of 1941, she was in some respects as much a foreigner—at least in regard to its art scene —as any of the artist-emigres whose arrival so decisively altered that scene.

In Paris in the Twenties she had met, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Brancusi, Kay Boyle, Jean Cocteau, Malcolm Cowley, Nancy Cunard, Janet Flanner, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, Tristan Tzara, and Virgil Thomson.[3] This was her entrée into the world of the international avant-garde, and it stood her in good stead when, years later, she set up as a serious dealer and collector. She opened her first gallery, called Guggenheim Jeune, in January, 1938—not in New York, however, but in London—with Duchamp as her principal advisor. Its inaugural exhibition was devoted to the work of Jean Cocteau— which was not, perhaps, a happy augury. But the gallery’s second exhibition was, for it brought to London the first show ever to be devoted to the paintings of Kandinsky in the British capital. Because nothing in the show was sold, Peggy Guggenheim felt obliged to buy one of the pictures herself, and it was this purchase which marked the beginning of her career as a collector.

Guggenheim Jeune proved to be a shortlived enterprise—it opened on January 24, 1938, and closed on June 22, 1939—but not because of any diminution of interest on the founder’s part. On the contrary, she had quickly decided that a gallery was not sufficient for her ambitions. What she now wanted to establish in London was nothing less than a Museum of Modern Art. Inspired by the existence of the Museum of Modern Art in New York—which had been founded ten years earlier and was just then moving into its first permanent quarters at 11 West Fifty-third Street—she set about this daunting task with that combination of demonic energy, shrewd calculation, and madcap insouciance which was to carry her through some very odd adventures in the years ahead. She persuaded Herbert Read to quit his job as editor of The Burlington Magazine so that he could serve as the director of the new museum, signing him to a five-year contract, and she arranged to rent the London residence of Kenneth Clark for both her own and the museum’s use. The inaugural event was to be a loan exhibition of modern masterworks starting with Cubism and abstraction and ending with Surrealism and other contemporary works. Read was asked to draw up an appropriate list of artists to be represented in this show, and when, owing to the imminence of the war, the project had to be abandoned, she paid Read half the money due him on his five-year contract and set off for the Continent to acquire the proposed list for her own collection.[4] She assumed that sooner or later she would have a museum somewhere.

Was she slightly mad or was she merely an innocent as far as the true political and military situation in Europe that summer was concerned? Probably both, I suspect. About politics Peggy Guggenheim appeared to know nothing and care nothing. What is certain is that, in this matter as in others dear to her heart, she was determined to have her own way—and amazingly, despite Hitler and the expected invasion, she did. Her whirlwind adventures in France, which she did not leave until the summer of 1941, certainly add up to one of the most extraordinary stories of the time. Her goal, or so she claimed, was to buy a work of art every day, and she pretty much did—going to galleries and to the artists’ studios, and seeking out collectors who were eager to sell. And as soon as the word got around, there were plenty of people seeking her out. All in all, she spent about forty thousand dollars, and came away with a staggering hoard of superior works by Brancusi, Giacometti, Léger, Miró, Ernst, Dali, and sundry other members of the School of Paris. Not everyone was charmed by the spectacle, of course. As Jacqueline Weld writes:

One painter . .. from whom Peggy got nothing “but rude remarks” was Pablo Picasso. When Peggy arrived at his studio with her shopping list, hoping to buy one of his most recent pictures, the painter arrogantly ignored her, pointedly talking instead to some other guests. Then, ambling over to Peggy, he said contemptuously, “Lingerie is on the next floor.”

All the same, she managed sooner or later to acquire some very fine Picassos, too, though not from him, and for the most part she did very well indeed.

Was she taking advantage of the artists in a difficult situation? Sensitive to the charge, she afterwards claimed that “I didn’t know anything about the prices of things. I just paid what people told me.” But this was not the whole story, of course. She had, after all, been a dealer—even if she hadn’t sold much. She certainly pressed her advantage where Max Ernst was concerned, acquiring an important cache of pictures for relatively little money. On the other hand, the sale undoubtedly saved his life, enabling him to escape arrest by the Nazis. If the prices she paid for things now strike us as absurdly low, they were not all that different from the prices which such works of art fetched in the peacetime market in the Thirties. It was inevitable that Peggy Guggenheim’s wholesale assault on the French avant-garde art market at that dire historical moment would be resented, yet the whole story is rather wonderful, all the same, and I see no evidence that she caused anyone any injury in the process. She even outsmarted the French authorities by getting her whole collection shipped to America as “household goods” only months before the United States entered the war. The entire episode is like something out of a Henry James novel reinvented by Evelyn Waugh. Unfortunately, Jacqueline Weld isn’t really equal to either the high drama or the real comedy of this bizarre episode, but the essentials of the story are nonetheless recounted in a straightforward manner, and it remains a riveting one in any telling.

Within six months after her return to New York, Peggy Guggenheim was planning the new gallery which proved to be her most celebrated accomplishment. Called Art of This Century and designed by Frederick Kiesler in a highly eccentric style, it quickly established itself as the principal center for the international avant-garde in New York. It was also the place where the New York School made its debut.

Again, she had excellent advice. As Mrs. Weld writes, “Peggy credited men like Alfred Barr and James Johnson Sweeney as her primary influences during those whirlwind days of the 1940s.” Duchamp was also on hand, of course. And by all accounts a now forgotten figure named Howard Putzel, who had already been of help to her in Paris and now came to work at Art of This Century as secretary, advisor, and general factotum, played a major role. He was a real connoisseur of the new art. It was Putzel who recommended Frederick Kiesler to Peggy Guggenheim, and it was he who persuaded her to show Mark Rothko and Hans Hofmann—two painters whose work she really didn’t much care for. Not that she always followed his advice—she refused to give Adolph Gottlieb a one-man show, for example. Opinion appears to be unanimous about her treatment of Putzel: it was wretched. She picked his brain, relied on his judgment, paid him a pittance, made impossible demands on his time and attention, and in general drove him crazy. In the end he left her, of course. He got someone to back a gallery of his own, and it too was distinguished—but it survived for only a season, and he died soon after, probably a suicide. By and large, those who were completely dependent on Peggy Guggenheim did not come to a happy end.

In any event, within three years of opening Art of This Century, the gallery was solidly launched as the flagship of the new American avant-garde.

Many of Howard Putzel’s protégés [Mrs. Weld writes] exhibited in the autumn salon at Art of This Century, opening the 1945 season on October 6: William Baziotes, Julian Beck (who went on to fame as founder of the Living Theater), Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Jim Davis, John Ferren, David Hare, Lee Hersch, Peter Busa, Robert de Niro (the father of the actor), Jerome Kamrowski, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still….

Writing to Herbert Read at the time, she singled out Pollock as “the best of all these new young people,” and added that he “may sometime be as well known as Miró.” She had then been acquainted with Pollock’s work for little more than two years.

Mrs. Weld tells an interesting story about Peggy Guggenheim’s first encounter with a Pollock painting, and—who knows?—it may even be true. If it is, it would give us a clue— though not, I think, the clue—to whatever perspicacity she brought to her artistic judgments. In the spring of 1943, Art of This Century organized a “Spring Salon for Young Artists,” and one of the jurors was Piet Mondrian.

As Peggy and Mondrian waited for the other jury members to arrive, Peggy began to set out the works around the gallery. She noticed Mondrian looking at a picture in the corner—one submitted by Pollock. “Pretty awful, isn’t it?” she asked. “That’s not painting, is it?” Mondrian made no reply, but stood staring. Peggy continued, “There is absolutely no discipline at ali. This young man has serious problems .. . and painting is one of them. I don’t think he’s going to be included. . . and that is embarrassing because Putzel and Matta think very highly of him.”

When he finally spoke, Mondrian told Peggy that it was the most exciting painting he had seen—in Europe or New York—in a very long time. “You must watch this man.” Peggy was stunned. But, she said, “You can’t be serious. You can’t compare this and the way you paint.” “So, don’t compare this,” he replied.

Jimmy Ernst, who claimed to have witnessed this scene, said of Peggy Guggenheim: “She was willing to listen, she was willing to be told, she was willing to see …. You know, there was nothing phony about it. And it was shocking to see those paintings.” Duchamp also served on the jury for that “Spring Salon,” and he disapproved of Pollock. Clearly some instinct told her that Mondrian was right and Duchamp was wrong. So Peggy Guggenheim came around, and soon put Pollock under contract—a rare thing for an American artist at the time, and virtually unheard of for an artist of Pollock’s generation. To be sure, she was characteristically stingy about it, and paid him too a pittance in return for quite a few pictures. But she launched him, all the same.

How are we to account for it? It simply won’t do to claim that she was merely following good advice. The advice, after all, was conflicting, and there was no shortage of artists under recommendation from one or another advisor. Also, it is clear that Peggy Guggenheim didn’t particularly like Pollock as a man, and she liked his wife, Lee Krasner, even less. (The feeling was mutual, to say the least.) So there was no question of a sentimental attachment. Unlikely as it seems from everything else we know about Peggy Guggenheim, I think we must conclude that her decision to back Pollock was based on a disinterested artistic judgment. But even to say this does not quite explain it, either. The only persuasive observation I have ever heard on this subject is one which Mrs. Weld quotes from Clement Greenberg. “Her taste. . . was often erratic and unsure,” Mr. Greenberg remarked. “But she had a flair for life, a sort of smell for life that made her recognize vitality and conviction in a picture. It was surer ground in selecting the new than taste.” It is, I think, the principal flaw of Mrs. Weld’s biography that in a book running to almost five hundred pages she really adds little or nothing to this observation. On the entire question of Peggy Guggenheim’s real relation to the art of her time—the art she exhibited, promoted, and sometimes acquired for herself—Mrs. Weld provides no answers. The subject remains as much an enigma on the last page of Peggy as it is on the first.

Compounding the enigma is the fact that when we turn to Mrs. Rudenstine’s catalogue we find that with the exception of the Pollocks there is really very little of the art of the New York School represented in the Peggy Guggenheim collection. The collection, which contains a great many first-rate works of the European avant-garde, is pretty skimpy on American art. Besides Pollock, only Alexander Calder and Joseph Cornell are represented in any serious way—and Calder and Cornell are closer to the Europeans in spirit than any of the painters of the New York School. For Peggy Guggenheim, clearly, her brief adventure on the New York scene was an enforced furlough, and she quit that scene to return to Europe as soon as it was possible for her to do so. I doubt whether she was then fully aware of what she had accomplished in New York. Later, of course, as the fame of Pollock and other members of the New York School prospered and the prices of their paintings began to skyrocket, she began to feel a little bitter— she felt she had been cheated by the Pollocks and even brought a legal action. Yet in the end her fundamental judgment on the New York School is to be found in the collection. Except for Pollock, she obviously regarded most of it as inferior to her beloved European masters. As a dealer, she is rightly considered a champion of the American avant-garde. When she closed Art of This Century in 1947, Mr. Greenberg wrote in The Nation:

[Peggy Guggenheim’s] departure is in my opinion a serious loss to living American art. The erratic gaiety with which Miss Guggenheim promoted “non-realistic” art may have misled some people, as perhaps her autobiography did too, but the fact remains that in the three or four years of her career as a New York gallery director she gave first showings to more serious new artists than anyone else in the country …. I am convinced that Peggy Guggenheim’s place in the history of American art will grow larger as time passes and as the artists she encouraged mature.

And he was absolutely right, of course. But as a collector Peggy Guggenheim was actually much closer to the other well-healed American collectors of her generation in preferring the work of the Europeans. About this curious paradox, too, Mrs. Weld has little or nothing to tell us. Indeed, one wonders whether she is fully aware that there is a paradox to be pondered in this matter.

In Mrs. Rudenstine’s mammoth catalogue, on the other hand, no issue or fact or document pertaining to the collection is allowed to go unexamined. Not only is every work of art meticuously scrutinized, but Peggy Guggenheim’s entire career as a dealer and a collector is painstakingly documented. Every exhibition and its catalogue is described; many of the most important reviews are excerpted; and in general we are given a vivid and detailed archive of a sort rarely attempted in the field of twentieth-century art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice is a work of exemplary scholarship and intelligence. With its attention so firmly focused on works of art and their history, moreover, this fine catalogue recalls us to what is finally the real basis of our interest in Peggy Guggenheim—not the scandals and sexual escapades and broken lives, but the art in which she seemed to find an identity that eluded her in every other realm of experience. Is it this, perhaps, that offers us a clue to the mystery of the avid collector?

 

  1. Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim by Jacqueline Bograd Weld. Dutton; 493 pages, $24.95. Go back to the text.
  2. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice by Angelica Zander Rudenstine. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., & The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; 843 pages, $85 (after June I, $95). Go back to the text.
  3. It was in the Twenties, long before she thought of buying paintings, that Peggy Guggenheim began her career as a patron. It was then that she gave Berenice Abbott, who was working as Man Ray’s assistant, the money which enabled her to set up as a photographer on her own. Money was also given to Jane Heap for the Little Review. And it was in the Twenties that Peggy Guggenheim began providing the writer Djuna Barnes with a regular monthly check—a practice which was continued for the remainder of both their lives. Go back to the text.
  4. About this list Mrs. Rudenstine writes: “The list itself has not, thus far, been located—either among the papers of Herbert Read or among those of Peggy Guggenheim, who believed that the list was lost during World War II. By the 1970s she was unable to recall a single specific work that had been on the list, and it has not been possible to reconstruct it. Indeed, it is not even clear whether the list enumerated individual works or merely artists’ names, although the latter seems more likely.” Go back to the text.

Hilton Kramer (1928-2012) was the founding editor of The New Criterion, which he started with the late Samuel Lipman in 1982.

more from this author

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Addicted to Art: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

  • Joanna McFarlane

    Uploaded by
    Joanna McFarlane
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531 dedicated herself in the 1940s.
15
 Her influence in Italy functioned in several ways. She presented a full repertoire of pre-war avant-gardes at the Biennale, and introduced the Italians to artists such as Pollock and Kandinsky. The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is modest in size, and in its intimacy is unlike any other. The walls are packed with large canvases surveying Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism and many other movements that Peggy came to love and patronise. Arguably her most successful patronage would be that of Jackson Pollock, the American Abstract Expressionist that Peggy helped in many ways, both financially and also by bringing his works centre stage in both New York and Venice.
16
 There is a special, rather tiny room, in the Venetian museum that features six priceless Pollocks, which entirely envelop the viewer in his frenzied and swirling world of paint. It has been said that it would be hard to find a more sexist bunch than the male artists who flourished between 1900 and 1960, yet Peggy managed to collect and preserve a boldly avant-garde and collection that is still of great cultural significance. She has been recorded as retaining a sense of calm naïveté and openness to all art that she was shown, and selected an incredible range of contemporary art. In 2010 the Art Gallery of Western Australia housed an exhibition of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as part of their series on museums and galleries.
 17
 The exhibition served to celebrate her achievements in the collection and patronage of arts, and formed a retrospective of Peggy Guggenheim and her collection. Seemingly, in this exhibition the works acted as bi-products of her success.
Peggy’s gallery and collection
form the manifestation of her life. As seen in this quote from an interview in 1970;
15
 Rylands & Subelyt
ė
, Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice, p.28
16
 Gill,
Peggy Guggenheim: Life of an Art Addict 
, p.290
17
 
Rylands & Subelytė,
 Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice
, p.7
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531
“I worry what will happen to
my paintings after I am gone. I dedicated myself to my collection. A collection means hard work. It was what I wanted to do and I made it
my life’s work. I am not an art collector. I am a museum.”
18
 
Peggy claims that the collection is her life’s work, and
that she herself is a museum. Her
grave lies in the garden, alongside a plaque remembering the Peggy’s ‘beloved babies’ –
 fourteen little dogs.
19
 The museum pays homage to her and her lucky streak of timing, fortune and open-personality that made this collection possible. The location is her old home, a grand unfinished palace in the heart of Venice, and does in fact act as a self-portrait, defining the lifetime and work of one very special lady. Her passion for collecting and patronising the arts that she loved, which has even been described as an
‘addiction’, has led to the preservation and display of an incredible range of art
examples from the early to mid twentieth century, overshadowing her colourful personal life.
18
 Dortch (ed.),
Peggy Guggenheim and her Friends
, p.15
19
 The dogs were pure-bred
Lhasa Apsos, which in a series of generations shared Peggy’s life in the palace, they could be interpreted as yet another aspect of her ‘collecting’.
 
Detail of Peggy Guggenheim on her bed with Alexander Calder’s
Silver Bedhead,
c.1960, photo by Roloff Beny
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531
Bibliography
 Dearborn, Mary V..
Mistress of Modernism
: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004. Dennison, Lisa.
‘From Museum to Museums: The Evolution of the Guggenheim.’
 Museum International. Vol.55. Issue 1. 2003. pp.48-55 
Edlin, Nick.‘The Other Guggenheim’.
Fields, Jill. ‘Was Peggy Guggenheim Jewish?: Art Collecting and Representations of
Jewish Identity In and Out of Post-
War Venice’.
Indiana University Press: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues. No.25. 2013. pp.51-74. Gill, Anton.
Peggy Guggenheim: Life of an Art Addict 
. London: Harper Collins Publishers. 2001. Guggenheim, Peggy (ed).
 Art of This Century 
: Objects, Drawings, Photographs, Paintings, Sculpture, Collages 1910
 1912. New York: Art Aid Corporation. 1942. Guggenheim, Peggy.
Out of This Century 
: Confessions of an Art Addict. New York: Universe Books. 1979.
Higonnet, Anne. ‘Self 
portrait as a Museum’.
 RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. No.52: Museums: Crossing Boundaries. 2007. pp.189-211
Mastandrea, Stefano. Bartoli, Gabriella. Bove, Giuseppe. ‘Preferences for
 Ancient and Modern Art Museums: Visitor Experiences and Personality Characteristics
’.
 American Psychological Association: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Vol.3. No.3. 2009. pp.164
173.
 
Rylands, Philip. Subelytė, Gražina.
 Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice
. Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia. (Organised with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York). 2010.
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ANOTHER MAGAZINE

Fashion & Beauty / Vintage Style

Peggy Guggenheim

— March 26, 2012 —

“We’ve dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentleman,” were the parting words of Peggy Guggenheim’s father on deck of the Titanic. Peggy, aged 14 at the time, would go on, for better or for worse, to be one of the most notorious

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, late 1950s

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, late 1950s

“We’ve dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentleman,” were the parting words of Peggy Guggenheim’s father on deck of the Titanic. Peggy, aged 14 at the time, would go on, for better or for worse, to be one of the most notorious figures of the twentieth century: a devotee to Surrealism and a crusader for the beau monde, she amassed one of the world’s most notable collections of modern day art. She knew Jackson Pollock as a carpenter, Samuel Beckett as a secretary and bought Berenice Abbott his first camera.

Guggenheim was haunted by a lonely and suppressive childhood and suffered great insecurities, often using her wealth and wardrobe as a shield. An extravagant flapper, she was famously photographed by Man Ray in a oriental Poiret dress, worn with a hairband given to her by Stravinsky’s girlfriend. Other favourites included an Elsa Schaparelli cellophane zipper, a black and gold Ken Scott dress and a collection of tricorn hats and ethnic jewellery.

Her clothing reflected her state of mind. On wearing two mismatched earrings, she declared: “I wore one of my (Yves) Tanguy earrings and one made by [Alexander] Calder in order to show my impartiality between Surrealist and Abstract Art.” When first husband Laurence discovered her infidelity on a skiing trip in Switzerland, he found her drunk with a lipstick red-cross marked on each cheek. “She was remarkably ugly,” the painter Jean Helion would comment, “in such a pleasant way.”

“Like her choice in art, her style was avant-garde and daring – she wore flamboyant earrings and illustrative eye make-up, most often covered by her iconic butterfly glasses”

Like her choice in art, her style was avant-garde and daring – she wore flamboyant earrings and illustrative eye make-up, most often covered by her iconic butterfly glasses, designed for her by Edward Malcarth in 1966. As a teenager she assisted in a bookshop, where she would sweep floors wearing pearl necklaces and a fur coat.

Guggenheim was an exhibitionist. Sexually, it is claimed she had close to one thousand liaisons, controversially including most artists that she supported. She married twice: Dada sculpturist Laurence Vali, an abusive alcoholic known to hold her head under water and rub jam into her hair; “he particularly enjoyed throwing my shoes out of the window and attacking chandeliers,” Peggy recalled. Violence was a common thread within her relationships: long-term lover John Holms, a Scottish writer and alcoholic, would make her stand naked in front of an open window while he threw whiskey in her eyes. Her second husband was Max Ernst. She rescued Max and his paintings from the Nazis but their marriage was short-lived, and he left her after five years of turbulent marriage and infidelity.

A botched nose job at 21 left her with what would be referred to as the “Guggenheim potato”. Painter Theodore Stamos would call it “an eggplant,” while John Holms would tell her, “I would like to beat your face so that no man will ever look at it again.” Jackson Pollock famously said that “To f*ck her, you’d have to put a towel over her head. And she did want f*cking.”

Like so many of her kind, Peggy was as extravagant as she was tragic. Tortured and exploited, she eventually settled in Venice in 1949, where she spent the remainder of her life exhibiting her treasures. She died aged 81, her Venetian palace by then a ruin, muddy and overgrown with leaking holes.

She too, dressed in her best, echoed an end somewhat similar to her father’s.

Suggested reading: Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gil.

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PEGGY GUGGENHEIM


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Life history of the character from the painting.)

Peggy Guggenheim’s career belongs in the history of 20th century art. Peggy used to say that it was her duty to protect the art of her own time, and she dedicated half of her life to this mission, as well as to the creation of the museum that still carries her name.

Peggy Guggenheim was born in New York on 26 August 1898, the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim and Florette Seligman. Benjamin Guggenheim was one of seven brothers who, with their father, Meyer (of Swiss origin), created a family fortune in the late 19th century from the mining and smelting of metals, especially silver, copper and lead. The Seligmans were a leading banking family. Peggy grew up in New York. In April 1912 her father died heroically on the SS Titanic.

In her early 20s, Peggy volunteered for work at a bookshop, the Sunwise Turn, in New York and thanks to this began making friends in intellectual and artistic circles, including the man who was to become her first husband in Paris in 1922, Laurence Vail. Vail was a writer and Dada collagist of great talent. He chronicled his tempestuous life with Peggy in a novel, Murder! Murder! of which Peggy wrote: «It was a sort of satire of our life together and, although it was extremely funny, I took offense at several things he said about me.»

In 1921 Peggy Guggenheim traveled to Europe. Thanks to Laurence Vail (the father of her two children Sindbad and Pegeen, the painter), Peggy soon found herself at the heart of Parisian boheme and American ex-patriate society. Many of her acquaintances of the time, such as Constantin Brancusi, Djuna Barnes and Marcel Duchamp, were to become lifelong friends. Though she remained on good terms with Vail for the rest of his life, she left him in 1928 for an English intellectual, John Holms, who was the greatest love of her life. There is a lengthy description of John Holms, a war hero with writer’s block, in chapter five of Edwin Muir’s An Autobiography. Muir wrote: «Holms was the most remarkable man I ever met.» Unfortunately, Holms died tragically young in 1934.

In 1937, encouraged by her friend Peggy Waldman, Peggy decided to open an art gallery in London. When she opened her Guggenheim Jeune gallery in January 1938, she was beginning, at 39 years old, a career which would significantly affect the course of post-war art. Her friend Samuel Beckett urged her to dedicate herself to contemporary art as it was “a living thing,” and Marcel Duchamp introduced her to the artists and taught her, as she put it, “the difference between abstract and Surrealist art.” The first show presented works by Jean Cocteau, while the second was the first one-man show of Vasily Kandinsky in England.

In 1939, tired of her gallery, Peggy conceived “the idea of opening a modern museum in London,” with her friend Herbert Read as its director. . From the start the museum was to be formed on historical principles, and a list of all the artists that should be represented, drawn up by Read and later revised by Marcel Duchamp and Nellie van Doesburg, was to become the basis of her collection.

In 1939-40, apparently oblivious of the war, Peggy busily acquired works for the future museum, keeping to her resolve to “buy a picture a day.” Some of the masterpieces of her collection, such as works by Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Salvador Dali and Piet Mondrian, were bought at that time. She astonished Fernand Leger by buying his Men in the City on the day that Hitler invaded Norway. She acquired Brancusi’s Bird in Space as the Germans approached Paris, and only then decided to flee the city.

In July 1941, Peggy fled Nazi-occupied France and returned to her native New York, together with Max Ernst, who was to become her second husband a few months later (they separated in 1943).

Peggy immediately began looking for a location for her modern art museum, while she continued to acquire works for her collection. In October 1942 she opened her museum/gallery Art of This Century. Designed by the Rumanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler, the gallery was composed of extraordinarily innovative exhibition rooms and soon became the most stimulating venue for contemporary art in New York City.

Of the opening night, she wrote: “I wore one of my Tanguy earrings and one made by Calder in order to show my impartiality between Surrealist and Abstract Art». There Peggy exhibited her collection of Cubist, abstract and Surrealist art, which was already substantially that which we see today in Venice. Peggy produced a remarkable catalogue, edited by Andre Breton, with a cover design by Max Ernst. She held temporary exhibitions of leading European artists, and of several then unknown young Americans such as Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Mark Rothko, David Hare, Janet Sobel, Robert de Niro Sr, Clyfford Still, and Jackson Pollock, the ‘star’ of the gallery, who was given his first show by Peggy late in 1943. From July 1943 Peggy supported Pollock with a monthly stipend and actively promoted and sold his paintings. She commissioned his largest painting, a Mural, which she later gave to the University of Iowa.

Pollock and the others pioneered American Abstract Expressionism. One of the principal sources of this was Surrealism, which the artists encountered at Art of This Century. More important, however, was the encouragement and support that Peggy, together with her friend and assistant Howard Putzel, gave to the members of this nascent New York avant-garde. Peggy and her collection thus played a vital intermediary role in the development of America’s first art movement of international importance.

In 1947 Peggy decided to return in Europe, where her collection was shown for the first time at the 1948 Venice Biennale, in the Greek pavilion. In this way the works of artists such as Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko were exhibited for the first time in Europe. The presence of Cubist, abstract, and Surrealist art made the pavilion the most coherent survey of Modernism yet to have been presented in Italy.

Soon after Peggy bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, where she came to live. In 1949 she held an exhibition of sculptures in the garden curated by Giuseppe Marchiori, and from 1951 she opened her collection to the public.

In 1950 Peggy organized the first exhibition of Jackson Pollock in Italy, in the Ala Napoleonica of the Museo Correr in Venice. Her collection was in the meantime exhibited in Florence and Milan, and later in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich. From 1951 Peggy opened her house and her collection to the public annually in the summer months. During her 30-year Venetian life, Peggy Guggenheim continued to collect works of art and to support artists, such as Edmondo Bacci and Tancredi Parmeggiani, whom she met in 1951. In 1962 Peggy Guggenheim was nominated Honorary Citizen of Venice.

In 1969 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York invited Peggy Guggenheim to show her collection there, and it was on that occasion that she resolved to donate her palace and works of art to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The Foundation had been created in 1937 by Peggy Guggenheim’s uncle Solomon, in order to operate his collection and museum which, since 1959, has been housed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous spiral structure on 5th Avenue.

Peggy died aged 81 on 23 December 1979. Her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, next to the place where she customarily buried her beloved dogs. Since this time, the Guggenheim Foundation has converted and expanded Peggy Guggenheim’s private house into one of the finest small museums of modern art in the world.

New Contemporary Art Centers in Miami Make it a Global Art Destination

 

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The new ICA Miami, backed by the Braman family of Miami, who themselves own a collection of modern and contemporary art worth well over a billion dollars, will literally be next door to the de la Cruz Collection in Miami’s white-hot Design District when it debuts in 2016. The ICA Miami joins upcoming Faena Art Center from Buenos Aires in Miami Beach and the nearby Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Warehouse, the Perez Art Museum and the Cisneros Fontanals (CIFO) (all in Miami) making the city into an instant international leader in the exhibition of modern and contemporary art. The Bass Museum in Miami Beach is expanding its exhibition space by several thousand square feet. No other city in North America outside of New York and Los Angeles has expanded its cultural infrastructure in the arena of modern and contemporary art exhibition making in the U.S. Already the existing powerhouse players have made Miami a world-class destination, especially during the annual new edition of Art Basel Miami Beach. Its been my experience that the volume and tremendous quality of 20th and 21st century contemporary art shown in Miami is a special not-to-miss treat every December, as several world-class exhibitions are held simultaneously and are open during the crush of the Art Basel Miami Beach tidal cultural tidal wave.

We can’t wait for all the construction dust to settle to see the fireworks begin  as these new venues bring even greater depth of exhibition capabilities than ever to Miami.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.

http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com

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faena forum by OMA to open in miami beach in december 2015

image courtesy of faena/OMA

Dec 11, 2014

faena forum by OMA to open in miami beach in december 2015

original content
dec 05, 2014

it has been announced that ‘faena forum‘, a groundbreaking new center for arts and culture designed by rem koolhaas of OMA, is to open in miami beach in december 2015. the 50,000 square foot institution will be dedicated to the development of cross-disciplinary cultural programing, intended to encourage collaborations across artistic, intellectual, and geographic divides.

Rendering of the Latin American Art Museum

Latin American Art Museum, Miami | Scheduled opening: 2016

Wynwood art gallery owner Gary Nader revealed his plans for the $50 million museum, designed by Fernando Romero Enterprise. The 90,000-square-foot museum will feature permanent and rotating exhibits, space for emerging artists and a top floor restaurant.

ICA Miami Sculpture Garden

ICA Miami’s New Building in the Design District!

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami will build its new, permanent home in Miami’s Design District, on land generously donated by Miami Design District Associates. Located on NE 41 Street, the new 37,500-square-foot building is being designed by the Spanish firm Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos, marking their first US project to date.

Featuring more than 20,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, and a 15,000 sq ft public sculpture garden, the new building enables ICA Miami to expand its reach and programs, dedicated to promoting the exchange of art and ideas throughout the Miami region and internationally.

Global Conceptualism articles – Part 2 (2015)

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POST – MOMA – THOUGHT ON MODERN & CONTEMPORARY ART AROUND THE GLOBE – 3 ESSAYS

Luis Camnitzer looks back: thoughts on Global Conceptualism

post asked the artist and critic Luis Camnitzer, one of the project directors of Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, to respond to some basic questions about the exhibition. In this interview he talks about how the show evolved. He also addresses how the organizers dealt with critical issues such as the differences between “Conceptual Art” and “Conceptualism” and the always-blurry frontier between art and politics.

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Luis Camnitzer looks back: thoughts on Global Conceptualism

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La Familia Obrera (The Working Class Family), Oscar Bony, 1968, Gelatin silver print, Gift from the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, MoMA Collection.

1. How did you get involved in the exhibition? I was writing something about the blurry borderline between art and politics, particularly in regard to the Argentinean “Tucumán Arde” group, which in 1968 shifted from art to politics, and the Tupamaro guerrilla movement in Uruguay, which from the early sixties on staged creative and spectacular events that had an aesthetic surplus way beyond military efficiency. Both examples show that the traditional restrictive categories had stopped being operative. The text was prompted by the exhibition The Bride of the Sun, which Catherine de Zegher co-curated at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp in 1991. The writing eventually ended up in a book, but in discussing it with Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss, it also inspired the show. Jane, Rachel, and I were close friends and had worked together on other projects. Jane, at the time, was the chief curator at the Queens Museum, and Rachel had been involved in the organization of several shows (among them the landmark Ante America, also at the Queens Museum). In that context, I was the least professional—not to mention kind of a slacker. Since we wouldn’t receive funding for a Latin American exhibition, we decided to make the exhibition global; and since we wouldn’t receive funding for an exhibition focused on politics, particularly one in which the politics of the U.S. might be questioned, we decided to focus more on art practice. One important guiding point for the project was Jane’s suggestion to use 1968 as a flexible time paradigm. In writing for the catalogue of a Korean exhibition at the Queens Museum, she had compared the 1980 Kwangju Rebellion to the Paris riots in May 1968. This is what made us think of writing history based on local timelines instead of a hegemonic one. We conceived of the exhibition as a decentered federation of localities, each addressing its own crisis within its own corresponding timeline. Although there was information leakage among these localities, the noxious imperial concept of derivativeness lost its usual importance. The traditional hegemonic 1965–75 time frame for Conceptual Art was revealed as being self-interested and exclusionary, and designed to promote a local Euro–North American formalist style (any earlier manifestation was called “proto-conceptual” and anything after, “post-conceptual”). By bringing in Gutai and Situationism of the late fifties, together with Chinese art from the late eighties, we broke with narrow classifications. All this led us to assemble a team of eleven curators to cover a maximum of regions. The title Global Conceptualism came about later, after the show was more or less organized. It did not try to promote the idea of one “global art,” but rather the global scope of localities in geographic terms, with the intention of getting rid of any centric arrogance.

2. How did you approach the label “Conceptualism”? Peter Wollen, who was in charge of the North American section, made a big point about the difference between Sol LeWitt’s and Joseph Kosuth’s visions of Conceptual Art. This led us to differentiate between “Conceptual Art” and “Conceptualism.” “Conceptual Art” became the term that covered the stylistic period in the U.S. and to some extent Europe between 1965 and 1975; “Conceptualism” referred to a set of strategies that emerged in periods of crisis and rupture, and it favored the transmission of ideas over any formal speculation about or search for a mystical essence of art after dematerialization. This difference was important. It put Conceptual Art into a broader and more meaningful context in which seeing was one of many manifestations. It revealed that radical expressions were better seen in communication than in formal changes. And it showed that Conceptualism, in being a strategy, was not bound to the time cycles proposed by traditional art history. While Conceptual Art continues the tradition of contemplative art, Conceptualism more directly addresses the issues of erosion of information during transmission, the efficiency of communication, and the flexibility needed when time isn’t owned by either the artist or the viewer, when instead it has to be recovered from the repressive structures that usurp its ownership.

3. Would you have done anything differently? If I were to redo the exhibition (and to get funding without strings attached), I would probably go back to one of our initial ideas, which was to present works of art mingled formally and indistinguishably with documentary material in such a way that art and politics are not seen as the results of different disciplines, but rather as cultural consequences affected by political conditions. I would emphasize the ownership and control of time to study the effects it has on all of our activities—both subversive ones and those that aim to maintain a status quo. These changes would inevitably make for a different exhibition today, and so, fortunately, I’m not a curator. Looking back, it was fantastic that the exhibition took place at the Queens Museum, which is an institution on the periphery, yet as close to the center as any “periphery” could be. How threatening that can be was reflected in the bad reviews the exhibition received from the local press, confirming our point that the center is just another province. What we did lack, however, was space. We were unable to show everybody we would have wanted to show or should have shown. The real show would have needed to be twice as big and in a larger space—someplace like the Pompidou. As it was, we were limited to certain examples that had to stand as such and to serve as much as references to other works as works in and of themselves. So, it was a microscopic version of what we wanted. And yet, although I did much less than Jane and Rachel, I ended up exhausted and would not want to go through the process again.

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Thinking Back on Global Conceptualism

Rachel Weiss, curator, writer and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to MoMA to speak about the exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, which she co-organized in 1999 with Jane Farver (who also came to talk on the subject), Luis Camnitzer, and an international team of curators: Okwei Enwezor, Reiko Tomii & Chiba Shigeo, Claude Gintz, László Beke, Mari Carmen Ramírez, Peter Wollen, Terry Smith, Margarita Tupitsyn, Sun Wan-Kyung, Gao Minglu and Apinan Poshyananda. Weiss and Farver (whose talk can be accessed here) were asked to reflect on the exhibition—its challenges, failures and successes—fifteen years after it was seen at the Queens Museum in New York.

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Installation view of the Global Conceptualism exhibition with works by Sung Jeung-keung, Gu Wenda, Wu Shan Zhuan and Geng Jianyi, Queens Museum, 1999. Image courtesy of Queens Museum

I think the most basic issue that we dealt with in organizing Global Conceptualism is one that hasn’t changed much in the years since—how to reconcile the process of exhibition-making with the messy assembly that any project with global reach necessarily entails. Curating usually has a premise of connectedness—series, progressions, resonances, echoes—meaning that an exhibition narrates something and adds up to something. It’s about asserting why things should be seen together. But curating globally—at least the way we experienced it—meant accepting a very different kind of aggregate. This was exacerbated, more then than today, probably, by the fact that there’s a natural tendency to read something unfamiliar in terms of its likeness to something known: so our primary task was to present a lot of unfamiliar work as much as possible on its own terms, rather than as a corollary to the conceptualist history that was already well established.

Our basic starting point was the sense that Conceptualism had been an extremely supple cultural tool, able to contend with the volatile social and political circumstances that existed in many parts of the world in the postwar period. Therefore what we wanted to do with the exhibition was look at a broad array of places and moments in order to see how art had answered those circumstances. The show argued that there were many different modernities in all those different places, and that Conceptualism arose variously across those locales and from those modernities.

Underlying all of this was an intuition about the particular suited-ness of Conceptualist practice to undertake such ambitious tasks. We suspected that this came from Conceptualism’s interest not only in ideas, as is often claimed, but in their transmission. Ideas in themselves could be just another version of the object of art, even if a dematerialized one: but ideas in motion immediately pushed to the fore questions about who receives them, and what happens as a result.

The Term “Conceptualism”

However, those ideas—especially their transmission and the people to whom they were conveyed—were very different from one place to another, dependent on obvious factors like cultural and political histories but equally on the facts of infrastructure (communications technologies, for instance, or means of travel and transport—something as basic as air routes—or information sources and channels) and so even the one connective tissue in the project—namely, the idea of Conceptualism—had to be an extremely accommodating container. There was no unanimity on how the word was used, if it was even used at all: it sat differently in relation to artistic and aesthetic precedent and in relation to the “mainstream” (in some cases artists were eager for affiliation, in some cases they were adamantly opposed to it, and in others they were indifferent to the whole question). This was no less complicated a landscape than the one in which we ask questions about art overall; in a global context are we on any kind of solid ground if we assume that the term carries enough intrinsic meaning to make “art” comprehensible as art, no matter the context? We had an intuition about Conceptualism, and we had another one about what it might look or feel like if so many different and often-unconnected strands of artistic activity were brought together, but I think that was about all that we had any solid sense of when we decided to do the show.

We started out with a pretty basic premise—we could call it anti-colonialism 101, rejecting the geographical limitations of how Conceptual art was usually mapped. As we got further into it we shifted into a more postcolonial position, no longer centrally focused on simple dynamics of exclusion and more interested in difference. This happened basically because the works that the curatorial team were bringing to us didn’t fit any unitary definition. For instance, we had begun with an assumption that Conceptualism, as a protagonistic force, did its most important work in public space, retaking control there against the repression of military rules, etcetera. But it became clear very quickly that our understandings of public and private space—derived almost entirely from experiences in the US and Latin America—didn’t hold for lots of other places. We knew about apartment art in Moscow, but we also knew about the bulldozer show,1 and so when I was doing preliminary research in Prague and Budapest, one question I asked a lot was about works in public space. I quickly realized that the question was irrelevant for most of the artists I was talking to since they had viewed public space as totally coopted and corrupted, and for them the space of dissent had been private and hermetic.2 So gradually our position as the conceptualizers of the project became less about the map and more attuned to particularities.

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Installation view of the Global Conceptualism exhibition with works by Antonio Dias, Hélio Oiticica, and Oscar Bony, Queens Museum, 1999.

It was certainly argued at the time that what we wound up with was a compendium rather than an exhibition—meaning, I guess, that the show was too baggy to make any clearly focused point. And that’s probably the basic disagreement about it on a meta-level anyhow, because we were pretty clear from the get-go that a sharply thematized exhibition just wasn’t a viable approach and that attempting to make everything fit into any kind of neat schema would fail, by definition, to capture the diverse range of practices, aesthetics, meanings and ambitions that Conceptualism had been the site of. Some recent comments by Victor Burgin are useful here to understand the idea we had about the exhibition as narrative: “A historical event,” he says, “is a complex of fragmentary and often contradictory representations—archival, fictional, psychical, and so on. Hollywood depictions of historical events tend to coat such representational complexes in a sticky layer of unifying ideology, a mix of consensual categories, stereotypical crises and predictable narrative conclusions. To show the event ‘as it really was’ is not an alternative. It never ‘really was’ any one thing—past and present alike are sites of contestation where radically different perspectives collide.”3

Structure of the Curatorial Team

This brings me to the question about the structure of the curatorial team. The horizontality of the team—an approach that was then taken up in some other big international shows in the next years—was a completely obvious choice for us. We did it that way for a couple of reasons. First, the three of us felt that it was basic to the ethic of the show and the whole idea of the project that there should not be a strong centralized narrative. If our goal was to look at how Conceptualism worked in all those places, then we had to allow each narrative to take its own shape. We saw our role as, first of all, convening, then looking for the threads that developed between the various sections—looking after the emerging shape of the whole. But it was always clear that the show would be a loose confederation rather than a unified body. The other reason for the collaborative curatorial structure was simply that the three of us had no expertise in a lot of the ground we wanted to cover, and it was obvious that others were much better suited to the job. So the structure of the team was our way of building an exhibition that did not, in its form, betray its political commitments.

The decision we made to install the show by geographic section rather than thematically was a related structural/philosophical issue. It boiled down to the same question: was our point to assert that conceptualism grew into a shared language, or that it was the specificities in how it arose and played out that mattered most to us? Because so many of those “local” histories were still basically unknown—both in NY and even in their home sites—it would have been premature to install the show according to thematic or topical affinities, which inevitably would have reinforced the dominance of the work that was already known, with all the new material being consigned to some kind of offshoot status.

The Global

It’s worth talking a little about the word “global” here. We debated a lot about using it because, if I remember correctly, at the time globalization was being talked about as a process that produced ubiquitous sameness when, in fact—and especially in the cultural sphere—that sameness was real only on the most superficial levels. The alternative would have been “international,” but that word was still too weighted down with colonial and imperialist connotations—for example, as in “international style.” Both terms seemed to indicate a kind of geographical flattening that was the opposite of what Global Conceptualism was meant to be about. We wanted to signal a different kind of relation, which was neither made up of vectors all pointing from the same few places out to all the other places, nor fatally relativist—and although we were uncomfortable with its implications of comprehensive coverage, “global” seemed the better compromise.

Global Exhibitions after Global Conceptualism

It might be useful at this point to reflect on some of the projects that have taken up from where we left off, to see how they’ve pushed further and begun to work out some of the cans of worms that we left open. Those challenges are—to list the most important ones—how to go beyond simply expanding the map, to work through what it actually means to have all those different models on the table and accept that they don’t fit together neatly but that they still do belong together; to look at the interconnections—both interpersonal and temporal—among the various artists and works and moments; and finally, how to deal with the inevitable canonization effect when fresh bodies of work enter the international, not global, exhibition system.

The first issue, namely, of curating all that difference, turns out to be a challenge to the idea of an exhibition, at least of an exhibition as an essay or a thesis. It also suggests a more fragmented kind of expertise and authority on the part of the curator. The second, about linkages, begins to create a more dynamic mandate for the exhibition, as opposed to the more static portrait that we were able to construct. And the third one suggests a need for a further iteration of institutional critique, in which the trajectories or life cycles of works and histories themselves become more transparent. I’ll try to address these three questions by looking at a few shows that I’m aware of, which start from a premise related to our own.

These go in two different directions— exhibitions interested in sketching a ‘global’ picture, and ones committed to re-reading recent art histories—and, especially, conceptualist ones— in the name of rescuing neglected but crucial legacies. Of the former, the general approach seems to be—as it was for us—to define “a globalism which acknowledges global links, but insists on the differences among movements ‘spurred by local conditions and histories.’”4 And with regard to the latter, these are projects that arise from an urgent sense of loss, and of the need to recover, reclaim, or reactivate histories that have been systematically lost or hidden. Not surprisingly, those projects have cropped up in places still very much impacted by the societal traumas of the second half of the 20th century—dictatorships, malignant state socialisms, totalitarian regimes, the forced amnesias of neoliberalism in Latin America, and so on.

Century City, at the Tate [Modern] in 2001, argued for the centrality of cities in the emergence of modernity, and therefore selected nine cities in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe that have “acted as crucibles for cultural innovation.”5 Each of the sections of the exhibition focused on “flashpoints generated by artists and other cultural practitioners.”6 Century City’s curatorial structure was like what we used in Global Conceptualism, framing each city as the site of “one of many modernisms” and assigning each to a curator who could work from firsthand knowledge of it. Because they were looking at cities rather than art movements, I think they had a more aerated platform, which in turn made it possible to move more easily among a lot of different kinds of cultural production—artworks, sure, but also posters, books, photojournalism and documentary, and so on. It seemed to me at the time that that kind of flexibility gave a less preconditioned kind of space for looking at global complexity and particularity.

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Catalogue of the exhibition Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, edited by Iwona Blazwick (London: Tate Publishing) 2001

There also seems to be a connection to the Walker Art Center’s 2003 How Latitudes Become Forms, which was a kind of remix bringing together Szeemann’s “Attitudes” with Global Conceptualism’s approach to latitudes. The central trope in that show was what Philippe Vergne called “the reinvention of difference,” taking up Saskia Sassen’s idea that the world of so-called global cities is one in which the shape of the world economy and the influence of new communications technologies have “not only reconfigured centrality and its spatial correlates, but have also created new spaces for centrality.”7 So what we shared in this case was a core interest in developing a different kind of map—not just a more expansive one, but one in which the parts related to the whole in a different way— in order to understand artistic production.

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Catalogue of the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age, edited by Philippe Vergne with Douglas Fogle and Olukemi Ilesanmi for the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center) 2003

That show, like Global Conceptualism, also presupposed a broadly political investment as its baseline. Vergne asserts that “The key idea of Szeemann’s exhibition was without a doubt liberation. . . . echoing the liberation movements that emerged across the world at the end of the 1960s.” Vergne situated the works within “an aesthetic of thirdness [a term associated with film and cultural theory] that explores how cultural practices driven by political and cultural emancipation can equally commit to aesthetic strategies.”

I didn’t actually see Latitudes, so I’m working off the catalogue here, but there were a few things that seem worth noting. First, the language around global differences and political baselines felt a lot more confident—like these were no longer nearly such contentious things to claim as they had been a few years before. And like Century City, Latitudes looked much more broadly across genres than we ever did, incorporating film, performance and online works to, again, sketch difference across multiple dimensions and expressive orbits.

In both cases, it seems that curating happened in a kind of constellation—something that has become much more common since then—in which there were relatively distinct areas of expertise that were applied to relatively distinct areas of the exhibitions—even to the point that there weren’t extensive primary essays in either catalogue.

The other direction I mentioned is that of shows that have set out to build counter-narratives that recapture lost art histories. Okwui Enwezor’s 2001 project The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994 is key here, bringing a little-known “local” history to light—that of Africa—and situating it very pointedly in relation to dominant accounts. Eric Hobsbawm’s book The Age of Extremes was a key text for us. Hobsbawm reads the global history of what he called the “short century” with an eye to the cultural dimensions of the massive political and economic upheavals that it saw. Okwui’s show adopted a similar methodology, using the format of an exhibition to narrate a broadly cultural history of African liberation movements in the second half of the 20th century. In The Short Century, he developed the arguments he had sketched in Global Conceptualism, exploring different forms of African modernity, contesting the claim that it was simply a variant of Western (and colonial) modernity. He also tied those modernities intimately to the independence and liberation struggles, and the revolts of that period, identifying them as the “twin projects from which the text of African modernity after WWII was fashioned” and which contributed to “an African critical subjectivity that is both a political ethic and a cultural ideology.” The heterogeneity of material that he included in the exhibition mirrored his larger point about the complexity of African modernity and also asserted linkages between aesthetic, ideological, political, and other sectors.

From 2006 to 2008, Florian Zeyfang and Lukasz Ronduda’s 1, 2, 3…Avant gardes project was shown in different iterations in Warsaw, Stuttgart and Bilbao. It looked at experimental Polish films and their influence on different generations since the 1920s and was spurred by the curators’ belief that those works, which had been the subject of bannings and prohibitions and were mostly unknown because of that, could form an important historical platform for a lot of the work that they saw being produced in Poland more recently. This, incidentally, seems to me one of the richest parts of their curatorial project, since it was so committed to putting historical works into dialogue with the present while preventing the inadvertent canonization of those historical works—by “canonization,” I mean their de-activation by prematurely settling on a definitive interpretation. I’ll say a little more about this issue of canonization in a moment.

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Catalogue of the exhibition 1,2,3 …Avant-Gardes: Film / Art between Experiment and Archive, edited by Łukasz Ronduda and Florian Zeyfang (Warsaw: Centre for Contemporary) 2007

So that was one way they pushed the question further. Another was by looking closely at interactions and networks among artists—which they structured in such a way as to illuminate “local references in an international network of ongoing cooperation.”8 This was something we had struggled with: how to present the various links among artists as a way to contextualize their work beyond the simple fact of national or regional origin. We were interested in the many anomalies that we came across—for instance, the fact that Petr Stembera and others working in Prague were in close communication with Chris Burden in California but were hardly connected at all to their counterparts working underground in Budapest or Warsaw. That was an aspect of “globalism” that proved really difficult to translate into an exhibition format, since it was much more of a hypertext than a text.

A related project, with some of the same team members, Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression: 60s–80s. South America/Europe, was organized in 2009 by the Würtembergisher Kunstverein. Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ led a curatorial team that worked prismatically on the various sites included in the show in order to create a multiperspectival whole. This, again, was a project inspired by the disappearance of a past, focusing on Conceptual art practices from the 1960s to the ’80s that were generated under conditions of military dictatorship and of Communist and Socialist regimes in South America and Europe. It explored artistic practices that not only called into question the traditional conception of art, the institution, or the relationship between art and the public, but that were simultaneously posited against the existing political systems of power, emphasizing the “heterogeneity and divergence of resistive artistic practices.”9 This show was an outgrowth of the “Vivid Radical Memory” project based in in Barcelona (2006–7), which was an attempt to catalogue and digitize information on “politicized” Conceptualism in the same two regions.10

Subversive_practises

Catalogue of the exhibition Subversive Practices: Art under Conditions of Political Repression: 60s-80s / South America / Europe, edited by Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz) 2010

One aspect of “Vivid Radical Memory” that seems really important to me was the fact that curators, researchers and artists from different generations participated—some who had been active in the ’60s and then a lot of young scholars. It was pretty evident in the dynamic at the VRM meeting that the histories being reclaimed functioned differently for different parts of the delegations. For the “historical participants,” there was a heavy dose of vindication attached to the occasion, while for the younger contingent the project felt much more forward-directed, allowing for more open-ended thinking about what those pasts might have to offer to the present.

“Vivid Radical Memory” and Subversive Practices traced their genealogies through a line of efforts to broaden the historiography of Conceptual art. Those efforts mattered to them because they saw in them a strand of dissent that was little known and which provided an important alternative to the classic profile of “the dissident” that had been constructed in the West and internalized in the East. In that sense, their most important contribution is probably the archiving function that both put at the center of their projects. Much of the documentation of the works they studied had been lost, or was in precarious condition, or was forgotten in individual artists’ archives. And meanwhile, after 1989 the growing interest among institutions from the West in procuring some of those works had begun a process of transfer of whatever archival materials there were into the hands of those institutions and therefore out of reach for researchers in those regions. So, both projects expended a lot of effort to “exhume” archival holdings, conserve and stabilize and digitize them—even reconstructing some works that had been lost.

The repercussions of Global Conceptualism that I’ve been most aware of are in Latin America, where there has been a succession of projects which have built on each other.

This line began with _La era de la discrepancia: arte y cultura visual en México 1968–1997 The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico 1968–1997, organized by Cuauhtémoc Medina and Olivier Debroise in 2007. The period covered in the show began with the massacre of student protestors at Tlatelolco, just before the Mexico City Olympics. The curators chose that as their starting point because, as they saw it, 1968 inaugurated a period of greatly increased cultural repression and much more intense resistance to it on the part of artists.

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Catalogue of the exhibition The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico 1968 – 1997, edited by Olivier Debroise (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México: Turner) 2006

The show ended with the Zapatista uprising, which, as the curators put it, “proposed a creative form of ethnic resistance to global capitalism.”11 But unlike 1968, 1994 didn’t have immediate ripple effects on cultural production. That took a couple of years, so the show’s purview extended to 1997, when the “cultural outcome of the crisis of 1994”12 had become visible. So the bookends were periods of heightened creative dissent, moments with historic implications for Mexico.

Like the other shows I’ve mentioned, The Age of Discrepancies was a project of recovery, insisting on the importance of a lost national history of art—a project made even more necessary in that moment, the curators argued, because of the insertion of Mexican artists into globalized circuits. In their words, it was “a renegotiation of peripheral genealogies,”13 by which they meant both internal and external “peripheralization,” since the works they were interested in had been sidelined first of all by the heavy-handed nationalist writ of Mexican state cultural policy. Their goal was to effectively counter what they called the “reigning ignorance of local cultural histories,”14 reflected in the absence of important local artists from even local museums and collections.

As I mentioned, the curatorial team of The Age of Discrepancies did extensive archival work, locating and rescuing artists’ archives. After extensive debate, they also decided to reconstruct key works that had been destroyed. The overall idea of the project was that it should serve as a broad platform, assembling and making accessible an archive of documents, images, and videotaped interviews, for use by future artists/scholars. It’s worth noting that this project, alone among the ones I’ll mention, was organized under the aegis of a university, so it was able to take on a much more expansive educational role than any of the others.

As with Global Conceptualism, the curators of The Age of Discrepancies looked at “political, aesthetic and ideological dissent” as a unified field, thereby closely tying Mexican Conceptualism to leftist politics, especially in the aftermath of 1968. The history of independent groups was a central axis of the show, featuring the mechanisms of production and distribution that had been invented by the artists themselves. This meant that they paid a lot more attention to networks among artists—including both national and international collaborations—adding to the complexity of the argument they were making about that period of “Mexican” production.

It’s also worth noting that Mexico barely figured in Global Conceptualism, and that The Age of Discrepancies was partly a retort to that exclusion from our own supposedly inclusive project.

The other large-scale project about Latin American Conceptualism I should mention is Perder la forma humana: una imágen sísmica de los años ochenta en América Latina, organized by the Network of Southern Conceptualisms for the Museo Reina Sofia in October 2013. The network is a self-organized collective of around 25 researchers spread across South America and Mexico. They’ve been in existence for several years, having grown out of the Vivid Radical Memory project in Barcelona, but this was their first major exhibition.

Perder

Catalogue of the exhibition Perder la forma humana : una imagen sísmica de los años ochenta en América Latina, (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) 2012

Perder la forma humana was not about Conceptualism per se, but rather about responses—mostly artistic, but not entirely—to the military dictatorships, states of siege and internal wars throughout South America during the 1980s. The title references the fact that the recourse to the body was a primary artistic and political support. They started with the 1973 coup against Allende in Chile, which inaugurated an era of genocidal politics that reached across the continent and brought to a brutal close an era of revolutionary hopes and expectations. The end point was—as with The Age of Discrepancies—the 1994 Zapatista uprising, which marked the opening of a new era of mobilizations and activisms on a global level. Again, these were histories that had been suppressed or badly distorted over time: it was significant that many of the researchers on the team were actually the children of people who had lived firsthand the realities of that brutal period that they were recovering.

The show made a couple of main arguments—first of all, about the centrality of the new kinds of self-organized congregations, assemblies, affinity groups, collaborations, and so on that emerged at the time in response to the closure and militarization of public space. They also contended that, in the face of rampant, state-sponsored violence, those artists devised new ways of doing politics, with much of the project of devising new subjectivities taking shape around some form of an unruly self, What interested them were the ways that work in the 1980s, unlike earlier periods of artistic resistance, had rejected the traditional structures and discipline—both ideological and aesthetic—of left-wing politics in order to develop a more expansive, affective, and polyglot aesthetic register.

I think that Perder la forma humana solved a couple of important problems that had plagued Global Conceptualism. First of all, and like some of the other shows I’ve talked about so far, they were not so exclusively attached to the idea of art, such that everything in the exhibition had to be defensible in those terms. They were more interested in the experiences that those societies had had, and how people had responded. Art was important to them as a way in which people fought back, but it was not the only way they were interested in—and hence their inclusion of Paraguayan arete guasu ritual masks, which have been continually updated for centuries by Guaraní Indians to reenact the various depredations, since the conquest, that the tribe has endured, resisted and survived. The show also included the work of a Chilean photojournalism collective, which provided an important, alternate source of information about the realities of the Pinochet regime. So the universe they sketched in the show was one in which the artists were not separated out from the very broad coalitions that were actively strategizing ways to resist. In fact, one of the most interesting points in the show was the disagreement between artists and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo over the visual strategy of the siluetas—which set out pretty clearly the sharp political difference between visualizing presence versus absence.15 In the case of iconic images like the siluetas, which persisted in several iterations over the course of many years, the exhibition organizers also undertook to show the shifting forms that those images took over time, which in turn indicated the ways that the political discourse was evolving.

The curatorial strategy was also sensitive to the different statuses of the objects presented across the spectrum: from art to politics, from planned to improvised, from art to information, from authored to collective, from public to private spaces, and so on. In view of this, the organizers decided that the display should make continual shifts in scale, density and medium, offering a viewing experience that created a real sense of restlessness. It was a kind of visual corollary to the overall geography of the exhibition content—at once episodic and atomized, comprised of small disturbances that happened sometimes with very little concrete presence, and at the same time there was a kind of buzzing, ongoing continuity that formed a tentative but politically significant sense of common purpose. This is something that might have relevance also in thinking about what might be different in exhibitions wanting to be global in nature—recognizing that art exists differently in different places, has different relations to non-art objects, that sometimes there may be much less distinct or determinate boundaries around it.

Perder la forma humana’s organizers were also very tuned in to the affective registers of the works, probably in part because these histories were so personal and vivid for them—and this affected their approach to materializing them in the form of an exhibition. So they thought about the progression of the exhibition’s narrative in almost theatrical ways, attentive to the rhythms they set up between the traumatic works, for instance, and the defiant ones—slowing down the pace of viewing at some moments and speeding up in others, working with contrasts in lighting and sound and, I think maybe most importantly, avoiding any shallow triumphalism about what any of those interventions had actually accomplished. The show’s subject was societies that had been profoundly traumatized, and while the artistic interventions that had been conceived and staged at the time—and then recuperated in the exhibition—provided spaces of possibility, or protagonism, or refusal, the show was being organized some decades on from that time, and acknowledged that its job of reflection also had some mourning work to do.

Canonization And finally, I want to go back to what I called the “canonization” issue. Some years ago, art historians in the southern cone were becoming increasingly unhappy with the fact that Tucumán Arde, which was included in Global Conceptualism, had become the obligatory (and often, sole) reference for artistic activism during the 1960s in Latin America.16 Subsequent to Global Conceptualism, it was also included in numerous other exhibitions, including Documenta XII. The historians’ concern was basically that a project that had been a complicated and highly contextual political action had been compressed and truncated into the status of an artwork in order to be translated into an exhibition context. As Miguel López, one of the curators of Perder la forma humana, put it, this created a gradual erosion of its real meanings, part of a “standardization of radical experiences in order that they may establish an appropriate exchange with centralized discourses.”17 In light of this phenomenon, López, Ana Longoni, and some others organized Inventario 1965–1975: Archivo Graciela Carnevale, a show that “introduced itself as a questioning of the process of legitimization and institutionalization of ‘political art.’”18 Maybe the most important thing to signal here with respect to all this is that, as these local histories are gradually incorporated into the ones that are not considered to be minor—minor, that is, in the sense of minor literatures—it’s crucial to keep the historicization of those works in continual dialogue with practitioners on both sides of that divide, because their legitimization and institutionalization keeps raising new sets of questions in both settings.

It’s interesting to me that Global Conceptualism has resonated in these two pretty distinct directions—on the one hand global shows, and on the other the recapturing of histories— and that those track to particular preoccupations in different sectors of contemporary arts discourse. In places where there has been extreme insecurity of legacy, loss or evacuation of pertinent histories, and so on, it opened a door for reconsidering certain radical legacies in the context of a present that is mightily interested in those as living heritage. On the other hand, in places that have confidently narrated the histories of their own choosing, it seems that Global Conceptualism might have been useful for its experiment in who gets the rights of authorship. For me, personally, I think the most powerful lesson has been about how intensely it can matter to people, even so many years later, that we took a chance and made an exhibition with so little certainty and so much elasticity—for better and for worse. Maybe that’s the real takeaway: that these accounts of the past are received in such various and unforeseen ways might be, in itself, reason enough to continue devising new ways to tell them, to see what can be sparked in the process.

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Global Conceptualism Reconsidered

In the fifteen years since the exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s was on view at the Queens Museum, the term global has become ever more thoroughly entrenched in the lexicon of contemporary art. Although one might therefore draw a direct line between the 1999 exhibition and the ever-present “global contemporary” of the art world, texts by two of the exhibition’s curators—Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss—which are published here, underscore an understanding of the global that has little in common with the market-driven associations the term has today.

In presenting a pre-1990s regionally defined globalism, Global Conceptualism did not attempt to blur the geographical boundaries despite the fact that a nascent transnationalism was evident in networked art, even in the 1950s. In the last fifteen years, much has changed in the ways that globality is thought about in museums, not least because of rapid changes in communication. As contemporary art traces similar paths to those of transnational financial flows, the emphasis on the global is rendered suspicious because of its deep entanglement with capital. Although neoliberal forces are certainly at play, the impetus for researching art from outside the traditional purview of US institutions must be understood as much more complex, in that it is also an attempt to understand the history of art scenes and movements that are growing ever more connected. Not only an impetus then, but also an imperative.

The term conceptualism has also been contested in recent years. If using the label makes available widely disparate works that respond to very different contexts, it is also guilty of flattening out the unique nature of propositions made by artists around the world. What can be learned today from an exhibition such as Global Conceptualism? How can the incommensurability of artworks created in different places be considered productively? Is the “global” exhibition defunct or do new curatorial practices that cast aside curatorial values such as coherence or chronological linearity (as Weiss suggests in her text) need to be developed? What alternatives might be sought to this model of exhibition?

This Theme, Global Conceptualism Reconsidered, offers an opportunity to think about these questions. It also offers the chance to reposition some of the materials published by post over the last few years. In addition to the two texts by Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss and an interview with Luis Camnitzer, the project directors, we asked the curators of different sections to reflect on their involvement in the exhibition, and republished here some of the reviews and installation shots of the exhibition.

Zanna Gilbert

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Global Conceptualism: Reflections

Jane Farver, curator and former Director of Exhibitions at the Queens Museum, was invited to MoMA to speak about the exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, which she co-organized in 1999 with Rachel Weiss (who also came to present on the subject), Luis Camnitzer, and an international team of curators: Okwei Enwezor, Reiko Tomii & Chiba Shigeo, Claude Gintz, László Beke, Mari Carmen Ramírez, Peter Wollen, Terry Smith, Margarita Tupitsyn, Sun Wan-Kyung, Gao Minglu and Apinan Poshyananda. Farver and Weiss (whose talk can be accessed here) were invited to reflect on the exhibition—its challenges, failures and successes—fifteen years after it was seen at the Queens Museum in New York.

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Installation view of the exhibition

Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin 1950s-1980s was an exhibition that originated at the Queens Museum of Art, New York in 1999, when I was the Director of Exhibitions there. It was on view there from April 28–August 29 and then traveled to the Walker Art Center (December 19, 1999–March 5, 2000), the Miami Art Museum (June 23–August 27, 2000), and the List Visual Arts Center at MIT (October 24–December 31, 2000). As project leaders for the exhibition, Luis Camnitzer, Rachel Weiss, and I worked with a team of 12 international curators representing 11 geographic areas.

Global Conceptualism happened 14 years ago, but it continues to elicit strong opinions. However, I hope we are not here to retry this exhibition, but to think about how curators and museums might go about creating exhibitions on a so-called global scale today. For this reason, perhaps some background information about the show might be helpful.

As I remember it, the project began sometime in 1994, when Rachel Weiss and Luis Camnitzer invited me to lunch to ask about the possibility of the Queens Museum organizing an exhibition of Latin American conceptualist art. As discussions ensued, it became clear that each of us knew of conceptualist practices that had emerged and flourished in other parts of the world and that were generally unknown or unacknowledged by the New York art world. These movements of course were connected by a complex system of global linkages, but the important fact was that they clearly had been spurred by urgent local conditions and histories.

Although an exhibition of Latin American conceptualism was badly needed in New York, we decided instead to organize a broader show that would include conceptualist art from around the world, including North America and Europe. From the beginning we understood the territory of “globalism” as having multiple centers in which local events were crucial determinants.

Each of us had our own reasons for wanting to do such an exhibition. When I recently asked Luis to tell me his reasons, he wrote to me that he wanted “to decenter art history into local histories and put the center in its right place as one more provincial province” so that other areas, and particularly Latin America, could, as he says, “do local analysis to help assume local identities that were unmolested by the hegemonic watchtower.” Rachel had a strong desire to demonstrate conceptualism’s political capabilities.

Luis wanted “to decenter art history into local histories and put the center in its right place as one more provincial province”

I had been frustrated by the repeated presumptions by New York art critics and curators that conceptually based, or experimental, if you will, works by international contemporary artists were simply derivative of Western art. There seemed to be a lack of interest or a disregard for the fact that these artists could well have inherited and were responding to their own important local histories.

While New York in the 1990s had seen an influx of contemporary artists from around the world, many of whom were engaged with conceptualist practices, exhibitions of modernism or earlier conceptualism from other parts of the world were still uncommon. Alexandra Monroe’s remarkable 1994 exhibition Scream Against the Sky: Japanese Art after 1945 had sketched out Japanese modern and contemporary art history for audiences in Yokohama, New York, and San Francisco, and there had been a number of exhibitions about Soviet art, including Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism at Boston’s ICA and The Green Show at Exit Art in 1990, and, in 1991, Perspectives of Conceptualism at the Clock Tower. However, New York had yet to see a museum survey exhibition of conceptualist art from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and many other parts of the world. Information about such work was difficult to obtain, particularly in English, and this void made it easy for New York critics and curators to assume that little that was innovative in conceptualist art was being produced outside of the so-called center.

Until then, the most international museum exhibition of Conceptual art ever staged in New York had been Kynaston McShine’s Information, held at MoMA in 1970. The show included works by more than 150 artists from 15 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Yugoslavia. I hoped to expand the dialogue around conceptualism, including North American and Western European conceptualism, and to build on what had been presented elsewhere in several earlier exhibitions.

When we began to work on Global Conceptualism, the movement already possessed an almost 30-year history. One large survey exhibition of Conceptual art: L’art conceptuel, une perspective had taken place at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1989; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles would mount Reconsidering the Object 1965-1975 in 1996. However, neither of these shows included many works by non-Western artists. There was a third important exhibition, Paul Schimmel’s Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1998. I will return to this exhibition later.

Rachel, Luis, and I well understood that organizing an exhibition about how conceptualism had developed world-wide would be fraught with problems, not the least of which were the prevailing views. In addition, the physical size and awkward shapes of the Queens Museum’s galleries, the likelihood and eventual reality of a tight budget—although it was larger than those for most Queens Museum exhibitions—and the museum’s small staff were other problems.1

The thought of how to begin to organize all of the material we potentially wanted to include was a daunting one. One strong influence that soon emerged was the work of historian Eric Hobsbawm. His book about the 20th century, Age of Extremes, offered us a way to think about and sort out how conceptualism had developed in different areas according to what Luis called “local clocks.” The last two chapters of Age of Extremes describes two periods of what Hobsbawm called the “Short Century.” He stated that the “Golden Age” of 1947 to 1973 was a period of both political standoff in the Cold War and unprecedented economic growth; whereas he called the years 1973 to 1991 the “Landslide” period, a time when “the world had lost its bearings and slid into instability and crisis.”2 These time periods and events seemed to correspond to when and why artists turned to conceptualist strategies in various places, and we decided to use these demarcations as a loose framework for the exhibition.

One strong influence that soon emerged was the work of historian Eric Hobsbawm. His book about the 20th century, Age of Extremes, offered us a way to think about and sort out how conceptualism had developed in different areas.

As we began to think about doing such a show, another reason became increasingly compelling for me. The events that Hobsbawm outlined in his “Golden Age” and “Landslide” periods were echoed in the history of the Queens Museum’s building, which had served as a pavilion in two world’s fairs and from 1946 to 1950 had been the home of the General Assembly of the United Nations, where the independence of a number of emerging nations had been recognized.

The Queens Museum and other New York City borough museums were created in the early 1970s, when activists advocated for the creation of cultural institutions outside Manhattan. This happened while staggering changes were taking place in many parts of the world. The rise of urbanization, the abandonment of an agricultural way of life, and the proliferation of repressive governments, and radical changes in US immigration laws, attracted millions, to the US and to the Borough of Queens. The histories that were outlined in Global Conceptualism were not abstract to our Queens constituents; they were their histories, and it seemed important to present at least a portion of these histories through art, to the best of our ability.

Because we did not want one grand narrative for the show, we wanted to invite a team of international curators to work with us. Since information about artistic production in many parts of the world was hard to access—the Internet and JStor were in their infancies, and Google would not even be incorporated for another three years—we relied on exhibitions we had seen, what we had read, and recommendations from colleagues to put together our team. The geographical demarcations now may seem haphazard, but at the time we were interested in putting forth information about the conceptualist activities of which we were aware, and in inviting curators we knew were working with this subject.

The curatorial team would choose 240 works by more than 130 artists to trace three decades of the history of conceptualist art through two relatively distinct waves of activity. The first, from the late 1950s to about 1973, included works from Japan, which were selected by Reiko Tomii and Chiba Shigeo; from Western Europe, selected by Claude Gintz; from Eastern Europe, selected by Lásló Beke; from Latin America, chosen by Mari Carmen Ramírez; from North America, selected by Peter Wollen; and from Australia and New Zealand, chosen by Terry Smith. The second part examined the emergence of conceptualism from the mid-1970s to the end of the ’80s. Margarita Tupitsyn chose artists from the Soviet Union; Okwui Enwezor made the selections from Africa; Wan Kyung Sung from South Korea, and Gao Minglu from China. Stephen Bann wrote the introduction to the catalogue and Apinan Poshyananda contributed an essay on conceptualist activity in Southeast Asia, much of which fell outside the show’s timeline and was not included in the exhibition.

Most of our invited curators were obvious choices because of their previous work on the subject. Finding a curator for the Eastern European section proved to be the most difficult. The very term “Eastern Europe” was highly contested, and while a number of curators we talked with were familiar with conceptualist activities not only in their own areas but also in the US and Europe, most could not speak about what had taken place in regions neighboring theirs. Fortunately, the Hungarian curator Lásló Beke agreed to take on this task. Probably the most controversial invitation was the one extended to the organizer of the North American section. It was offered to Peter Wollen because of a mutual interest in exploring North American Conceptual art in relation to Situationism and activism. I will always be grateful to this remarkable group of curators, and I continue to be amazed by how prescient their work was for the time.

The budget for the project was, as we had imagined, very modest, but the Andy Warhol Foundation gave its first-ever planning grant to the Queens Museum to get the project started, and the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds for a meeting of the curators, which took place midway through the project at the Bard Center. It is unfortunate that there were no funds for multiple meetings, or that something like Skype did not exist then, as additional contact would have helped to tease out links and networks among artists in various areas. As it was, the meeting at Bard was fairly successful. It has often been my experience that when curators are exposed to new artists and works, they begin to incorporate them into their own practices, and so we went into the meetings with eleven wildly different shows, and emerged with eleven mildly different shows, but we never really expected all of this to gel into one harmonious vision.

…we went into the meetings with eleven wildly different shows, and emerged with eleven mildly different shows

Other funds for the exhibition came from numerous smaller grants: AT&T provided one, as did Shisheido, but contrary to what has been written, there were no huge multinational corporate donations.3

The project was plagued by a customs strike that delayed the arrival of works from Latin America until the very day of the opening. Our book editor left us mid-project. Exhibition designer Michael Langley generously helped us determine where to build walls, but we did not have the budget for a full exhibition design, so each curator decided on the placement of works within the spaces they were allotted. I was taken aback recently when I was contacted by a young art historian intending to write a thesis on the exhibition’s layout and design.

The show opened to mixed reviews, mostly negative if they were by US critics and better if the critics resided elsewhere. James Meyer criticized us in Artforum for “jumping on the global bandwagon” and for “funding the show through the support of multinational corporations,”4 although, as I mentioned earlier, this was hardly the case. I wish he had simply asked about the budget; I probably would have told him, as there was nothing to hide.

Many critics longed for a thematic rather than geographical and chronological organization of the show. Art in America critic Marcia Vetroq thought that concentrating on grouping similar themes and strategies would have animated the show, and she also called the North American section “intellectually dishonest.”5 In his New York Times review, critic Ken Johnson also wanted to group similar types of work together, enabling the viewer to more easily compare works from widely separated places.6 Joan Kee, writing in Parachute, thought it might have made more sense to group works according to formal similarities and wanted to see Algerian Rachid Koraichi’s work next to text-based works from Europe and Japan, in order to, as she put it, “suss out the issues of using text in art.”7 However, Ana Tiscornia, writing in Art Nexus, seemed to understand the value of providing histories, “regardless of the degree of thoroughness,” and applauded the show for making works known “beyond the sphere in which they were created.”8

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Installation view of Global Conceptualism exhibition, Queens Museum, 1999 showing the hanging of Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg’s Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism (1963). Courtesy Queens Museum
131b

Oscar Bony. La familia obrera (The Working Class Family). 1968. Installation views in Experiencias 68, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella. Courtesy Carola Bony

A number of critics quibbled with the geographic delineations, which would not have been so apparent in a thematic hanging. And there were many instances in the exhibition where works could have been grouped thematically. Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg’s Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism (1963) might have hung next to Oscar Bony’s 1968 work, La familia obrera (Proletarian Family),9 and been joined by Alberto Greco’s Vivo dito (1962) and Happsoc’s declaration that the inhabitants and buildings of Bratislava were an artwork (1965). Perhaps Akasegawa Genpei’s elaborate 1963-66 Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident and Cildo Meireles’s 1975 rubber-stamped Brazilian currency Who Killed Herzog? might have been placed near Yves Klein’s Sale of a Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility: Sale to M. Blankfort and Miklos Erdély’s Unguarded Money. These could have been seen as works dealing with money, currency, and value, or artists’ insertions into existing methods of distribution, in which case they could have been joined by works by Eduardo Costa, Antonio Manuel, and Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Tamás Szentjóby and Kendall Geers both employed bricks in their works to very different ends. One could have brought together written paintings by Ono, Leon Ferrari, Willem Boshoff, and Rachid Karaichi. However, it would have been doubly important to provide context for these works, since, for instance, artists working under so many different systems, both socialist and capitalist, may have created works with formal resemblances but with unrelated sources of inspiration, or which considered the public and the private in vastly dissimilar ways. Dematerialization can be inspired by many disparate sources: Buddhism influenced the works of Matsuzawa Yutaka (Independent ’64 Exhibition in the Wilderness, 1964) and Song Dong (Water Diary, 1995, evaporated calligraphy made with brush and water), while North American Conceptual art drew upon the ideas of Duchamp and various Western philosophers.

Ah01a_01_300dpi

Miklós Erdély, Unguarded Money on the street, between the end of October and beginning of November 1956 Photograph from the Collection of Miklós Erdély Foundation, Budapest. Courtesy of the Heirs of Miklós Erdély, and the Miklós Erdély Foundation (Ed. note: There are many photos about the action of 1956, most of them are to be found in museums and archives. This action was not meant an artistic action. Miklós Erdély came up with the idea, but the gathering of money happened under the aegis of the Hungarian Writers’ Association. On the photo you can read the sentence (in English): “The clearness of our revolution allows us to collect money to the families of our martyrs in this way. Hungarian Writers’ Association”. Erdély later declared it an artistic action and named it „Unguarded Money on the street”.)
Sc115_1993_vw2_cccr

Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits, 1970. Rubber stamp, printed on both sides of a Brazilian cruzados novos bill 21/2 x 51/2″ (6.4 x 14cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Paulo Herkenhoff

Originally, I had wanted to organize the show thematically and had asked each curator to choose 10 representative objects, hoping for a show that was manageable in size and budget. However, the curators rebelled, feeling it was important to try to present short histories of each region, however imperfectly. Some felt that taking a thematic approach and comparing a few lesser-known, so-called peripheral artists and works with much better-known examples would again privilege the mainstream and fail to provide necessary context. In the end I agreed, and we organized the show geographically and chronologically.

Even so, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight complained that American and European Conceptual art had been born in reaction to very specific artistic traditions unique to Western culture, and that bringing together under the umbrella of global conceptualism Xu Bing’s nonsensical Chinese calligraphy (the pseudo-calligraphy he referred to was in fact the work of Gu Wenda, pseudo characters of “still” written by three men and three women, 1986), Antonio Caro’s Colombia Coca-Cola, and Joseph Kosuth’s dictionary definition of Meaning tended to homogenize them.10

Many critics complained about the disparate texts and labels in each section, which was a consequence of the many voices participating in this conversation. Writing them in one soothing museum voice would probably have made it much easier for the viewer but may have taken away the voice of the individual curators. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to have more comprehensive and uniform labels. This is one of my regrets about the show.

A problem that was pointed out by a number of critics is one that is inherent in presenting historical Conceptual art. Unavoidably, one makes sacred icons out of art and ephemera that were made for the street. Joan Kee regretted our inability to reproduce the freshness of the immediate gesture through photography, and others thought the show seemed gray, but many of these works had been made under difficult circumstances by artists who had very limited means. We were working with what our curators could find.

Katherine Hixson, writing in the New Art Examiner, took the show to task for not making more apparent the fact that conceptualism was, in her opinion, but another futile avant-garde utopian effort.11 However, I think that claim is contradicted even by our choice of images for the catalogue covers. The front cover featured Japanese artist Hikosaka Naoyoshi’s Floor Event of 1970, an optimistic invitation to the Revolution, while depicted on the back was an image from Wei Guangqing’s Suicide Series, which was shown in the China Avant-Garde exhibition in Beijing in February 1989, an event that many now see as anticipating the tragic events that occurred in Tiananmen Square in June of that year.

Gc_cover

The front cover of the Global Conceptualism catalogue featuring Hikosaka Naoyoshi’s Floor Event of 1970
Back_cover

The back cover of the Global Conceptualism catalogue featuring Wei Guangqing’s Suicide Series, 1988

In spite of the scathing reviews the show received when it was on view, it soon began to appear on “best show” lists, beginning with the best shows of 1999 and moving on to the best of the previous five and even 10 years. Such citations appeared in Flash Art _(Michael Cohen); _Bijutsu Techo; Artforum (Dan Cameron); Time Out New York (Tim Griffin); the New York Observer (Marjorie Welish), and others. The exhibition will be included in Jens Hoffman’s soon-to-be-published book Show Time: The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art.12 Global Conceptualism has taken on a life of its own. Frankly, I am pleased but puzzled by the attention the show itself continues to receive. My fear is that attention that should be focused on the many remarkable artists and works in the exhibition is being directed to the show itself. However, it is exciting to see that this research has begun to happen at MoMA and beyond.

We were asked to address how we would go about creating a show like Global Conceptualism today. If we can assume that there already will have been historical surveys—even abbreviated ones like those in Global Conceptualism—then I would imagine a thematic rather than a geographic hanging. I would still opt out of a grand overall narrative and choose to work with a team to attempt to explicate differences. It would be important to pay keen attention to the artists’ biographies, to where they lived or studied and who they knew, and trace links and networks in a way that we were not able to do in Global Conceptualism.

I said that I would return to Out of Actions, the 1998 exhibition organized by Paul Schimmel for LA MOCA in consultation with an international advisory team that included Guy Brett, Hubert Klocker, Shinichiro Osaki, and Kristine Stiles. It included nearly 150 artists and collaboratives from approximately 20 countries in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Japan, and North and South America. I regret that I did not actually see this exhibition, because it, like the others mentioned earlier, did not come to New York, and I had no real travel budget at the Queens Museum. Out of Actions was organized primarily in chronological order, placing artists associated with different movements and countries in proximity to one another and thus allowing connections to be drawn among works that in many cases have not previously been viewed as related. I think this might work, although, as I mentioned above, care must be taken not to iron out the differences too smoothly. Educational programs and information would also be of great importance. It is unfortunate that we did not have the means to conduct video interviews with the artists in Global Conceptualism or to do extensive public programs beyond a symposium that we held in conjunction with the New School.

In her introduction to Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966-1972, Lucy Lippard wrote:

There has been a lot of bickering about what Conceptual Art is/was: who began it; who did what when with it; what its goals, philosophy, and politics were and might have been. I was there, but I don’t trust my memory. I don’t trust anyone else’s either. And I trust even less the authoritarian overviews of those who were not there.13

Although I am of nearly the same generation as Lucy, I was not there either, but these words seem an apt description of the discourse around this exhibition. In the end, I think it was accomplished by sheer good will on the part of hundreds of artists and a team of 15 curators, project directors, catalogue essayists, and one adventurous museum director, all of whom were not only willing but eager to take part in this important conversation.

 

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Last updated: December 13, 2008 1:38 am
Indian art defies global conceptualism

Jackie Wullschlager By Jackie Wullschlager

 

Two London exhibitions, the Serpentine Gallery’s Indian Highway and Aicon’s Signs Taken for Wonders, are the UK’s most ambitious attempts yet to distil coherence into the chaotic rush of art emerging from the Indian subcontinent.

The marriage between the conceptually minded Serpentine and Indian art – whose overriding characteristics are narrative drive, flamboyant figuration and sensuous colour – is interesting because it is so unlikely. Recent memorable Indian installations have been sprawling, direct and often rooted in the animal motifs of folklore: Bharti Kher’s “The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own”, a collapsed fibreglass elephant adorned with bindis (female forehead decorations) at Frank Cohen’s Passage to India, or Sudarshan Shetty’s bell-tolling aluminium cast of a pair of cows, now at the Royal Academy’s GSK Contemporary. Nothing like that is in Indian Highway; with conceptual aplomb, the Serpentine turns the accessibility and energy of Indian art into a taut cerebral game.

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The highway of the title refers both to the literal road of migration and movement, and to the information superhighway, which together are propelling India to modernity. Dayanita Singh’s wallpaper-photographs of Mumbai’s central arteries illuminated at night introduce the theme in the first gallery, and a crowd of sober documentary films worthily continue it – but a pair of installations catch the symbolism best. One is Bose Krishnamachari’s celebrated “Ghost/Transmemoir”, a collection of a hundred tiffin boxes – widely used to convey home-cooked lunches to workers across cities – each inset with LCD monitors, DVD players and headphones, through which everyday Mumbaikars regale audiences with their stories, accompanied by soundtracks evoking the high-pitched jangle and screech of Mumbai street life.

The other, towering upwards to the North Gallery’s dome like a beating black heart at the core of the show, is Sheela Gowda’s “Darkroom”, consisting of metal tar-drums stacked or flattened into wrap-around sheets, evoking at once the grandeur of classical colonnades and the ad hoc shacks built by India’s road workers. Inside, the darkness is broken by tiny dots of light through holes punctured in the ceiling like a constellation of stars; yellow-gold paint enhances the lyric undertow in this harsh readymade.

Opposite is N S Harsha’s “Reversed Gaze”, a mural depicting a crowd behind a makeshift barricade who tilt out towards us – making us the spectacles at the exhibition. All Indian life is here in this comic whimsy: farmer, businessman, fundamentalist Hindu, anarchist with firebomb, pamphleteer, aristocrat in Nehruvian dress, south Indian in baggy trousers and vest, tourist clutching a miniature Taj Mahal, and an art collector holding a painting signed R Mutt – linking the entire parade to the urinal, signed R Mutt, with which Marcel Duchamp invented conceptual art in 1917.

Essential to the meaning of “Reversed Gaze” is that it will be erased when the exhibition closes – a slap in the face for the predatory art market. So will the pink and purple bindi wall painting “The Nemesis of Nations” by Bharti Kher, who recently joined expensive international gallery Hauser and Wirth. And a canvas of drawings greeting visitors as they enter is all that is left of Nikhil Chopra’s performance piece “Yog Raj Chitrakar”, in which the artist this week spent three days assuming the persona of his grandfather, an immaculately dressed gentleman of the Raj, and lived and slept in a tent in Kensington Gardens, entering the gallery only to daub the canvas that stands as an art of aftermath – a memory drawing.

Painting here is a vanishing act. Maqbool Fida Husain (aged 93) has made 13 bright poster-style works – red elephants, a tea ceremony after a tiger shooting, a satirical Last Supper with dapper businessman, umbrella, briefcase, body parts – to surround the exterior of the Serpentine. MF Husain is India’s most respected artist; with these billboards, executed in his standard style of forceful black contours, angular lines and bright palette, he returns to his career origins as a painter of cinema advertisements.

In the catalogue, curator Ranjit Hoskote argues that “transcultural experience is the only certain basis of contemporary practice” and that “the chimera of auto-Orientalism, with its valorisation of a spurious authenticity to be secured as the guarantee of an embattled local against an overwhelming global, has been swept away”.

But Husain, godfather to generations of Indian artists, and indeed every piece in Indian Highway – from feminist painter Nalini Malani’s looping fantasy figures intricately inked on bamboo paper in “Tales of Good and Evil” to Jitish Kallat’s photographic series “Cenotaph (A Deed of Transfer)”, chronicling the demolition of slum dwellings – proves the opposite: however hard a western gallery tries to make Indian art talk a global conceptual language, its local strengths speak louder. Indian art, on this showing, is visually arresting and thoughtful, but nothing here is formally or conceptually innovative, or aesthetically provocative. We thus respond to its distinctive idiom and themes as cultural tourists.

This is the context in which Aicon, London’s leading commercial gallery of Indian art, opened last year. Signs Taken as Wonders is a Christmas selling show but is also intelligently structured around the perennial subject of India’s shifting identities, with misrecognition the trope: out-of-focus photographs of buildings and anonymous steel workers in RAQS Collective’s “Misregistration”; deconstruction of stereotypes in Vivek Vilasini’s “Vernacular Chants” prints; the contrast between questioning pose and expression and monumentality in Riyas Komu’s cropped, close-up “Borivali Boy II”.

This show complements the Serpentine’s by emphasising the painterly, such as the fragmented textures and touches of surrealism in Husain’s veiled “Women of Yemen”. In particular, the swirling abstract patterns and slabs of twisting colour in Krishnamachari’s “Stretched Bodies” – portraits of disintegration and change that deny the possibility of single truths, and the delicate ink-on-silk drawings of his “Mumbiya” depiction of a typical citizen, which seems to fade into elusiveness as you draw near – add layers to the vision of chaotic, vibrant Mumbai in the artist’s “Ghost” installation at the Serpentine. Krishnamachari describes the average Mumbaikar as “an ocean of anxieties that have arisen from the everyday question of acceptance”. Flitting between these shows, you feel most of all that uneasiness, both in the creation of Indian art and in our uncertain response to it.

‘Indian Highway’, Serpentine Gallery, London to February 22 . ‘Signs Taken for Wonders’, Aicon Gallery, London, to January 24

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AFTERALL

How Do We Know What Latin American Conceptualism Looks Like?

Miguel A. López

Tags: Gerardo Mosquera, Luis Camnitzer

 

‘Tucumán Arde', 1968, third phase of the campaign: poster calling for the 1st Bienal de Arte de Vanguardia. Image courtesy Archivo Graciela Carnevale

‘Tucumán Arde’, 1968, third phase of the campaign: poster calling for the 1st Bienal de Arte de Vanguardia. Image courtesy Archivo Graciela Carnevale

A piece that is essentially the same as a piece made by any of the first Conceptual artists, dated two years earlier than the original and signed by somebody else. – Eduardo Costa1

I

On 28 April 1999 the exhibition ‘Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s’ opened at New York’s Queens Museum of Art. Organised by Luis Camnitzer, Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss, consisting of eleven geographically defined sections and curated by a large, international group of art historians and researchers, the exhibition formulated one of the riskiest and most controversial interpretations of so-called Conceptual art at an international level. The show was ambitious. Its structure created a geographical spill-over that called into question the lesser or secondary place to which certain critical productions had been consigned. The framework of analysis was the global set of social and political transformations that have taken place since 1950, and the emergence of new forms of political action that formed the backdrop to a renewed repertoire of visual language. Such a scope allowed the curators to gather aesthetic proposals not defined in the exhibition by a Conceptualist ‘aesthetics of immateriality’, but instead by their capacity for intervention.2 This approach, without doubt, shifted the very rules according to which the history of Conceptual art had been written. Those radical changes of the modes of producing and giving value to art exposed by ‘Global Conceptualism’ reveal complex processes in which political subjectivities oppose the consensual organisation of power and its distribution of places and roles, mobilising singular and collective resistances and dissenting energies.

Ten years on, the shockwaves can still be felt, perhaps even more intensely than at the time. In different ways, ‘Global Conceptualism’ updated some of the debates that had been attempting to raise the issue of subjectivity in social practices from a post-colonial perspective, disputing the geographical and temporal orders of a modern or colonial Occidentalism.3 Hence, it was no surprise that the show became one of the most quoted (and most questioned) referents of the revival of 1960s and 70s critical production that has taken place over the past decade in exhibitions, seminars and publications around the world.

While much has been said about the decentralising virtues of ‘Global Conceptualism’, in retrospect its most significant legacy appears not only to be the broadening of the Conceptual art map (a move that had a bearing on several subsequent curatorial projects), but the way in which the exhibition questioned the identity of a Conceptual art with universal aspirations. The curatorial operation of ‘Global Conceptualism’ started from a categorical distinction between ‘Conceptual art’ – understood as a North American and Western European aesthetic development associated with a formalist reduction inherited from abstraction and Minimalism – and ‘Conceptualism’, a term denoting a critical return to an ‘ordering of priorities’ that made visible certain aesthetic processes on a transnational level, allowing for diverse historical, cultural and political narratives to be set in place.4 Conceptualism was presented as a phenomenon that took place in a ‘federation of provinces’, with the ‘traditional hegemonic centre [being] one among many’, drawing a multiplicity of points of origin and questioning the privileged position claimed by Western modernity and its politics of representation.5 The exhibition seemed to work as a performative apparatus determined to re-politicise, reconfigure and rewrite the memory of those decades. As a result Conceptual art, which from the perspective of the United States and Western Europe had until then been an unavoidable prism for reading other critical productions, appeared fractured.

The shrewdness of the ‘Global Conceptualism’ gesture no doubt managed to effectively dominate the critical framework from which one would contemplate and validate those antagonistic practices. But more importantly, and perhaps without intending to, it allowed for the reconsideration of Conceptualism as the effect of a discourse (or multiplicity of discourses) that had itself caused breaks and a major questioning of the fabric of certain local memories – albeit in some cases at the expense of reinforcing lineages and typologies. These are complex manoeuvres, and their political implications must be addressed. What do we achieve today by reflecting on Conceptual art’s radical dimension from the perspective of the ways in which it has been historicised? How should we assess the political impact of such histories, and their effect on possible forms of recognition? Furthermore, how might we assess this effect on the production of certain forms of subjectivisation and sociability?6

II

The struggle of Latin American historiography to place local episodes within global narratives, in an attempt to counter the dominant geographies of art, has been successful. For some time now, artists such as Hélio Oiticica, León Ferrari, Lygia Clark, Alberto Greco, Luis Camnitzer, Cildo Meireles, Oscar Bony and Artur Barrio, or collective experiences such as ‘Tucumán Arde’ (‘Tucumán Burns’, 1968) and ‘Arte de los medios’ (‘Art of Media’, 1966), have become unavoidable references in virtually all recent accounts that trace the so-called inaugural landmarks of Conceptualism on a transcontinental scale. Today, however, this apparent expansion of discourse seems to demand renewed reflection, as it is no longer a matter of tirelessly continuing to accommodate events in the endless container we believe history to be, but of questioning the ways in which they reappear and the roles they play within it. Such reflection will enable us to examine the anachronisms and discontinuities of historical discourse – its fragments, snippets, shreds – and activate their ability to disrupt once again the logic of the ‘verified facts’.

In the recent essay ‘Cartografías Queer’ (2008),7 the theorist Beatriz Preciado discusses the formation of historiographic models of the so-called sexual difference from the perspective of a queer epistemological critique that could be very useful for us in this task. Considering the political scope of the historical exercise, Preciado avoids the taxonomy of places, situations or individuals and instead proposes, in direct dialogue with Félix Guattari’s ‘schizoanalytic cartographies’, a map that gives an account of the technologies of representation and modes of production of subjectivities.8 This map makes explicit how certain dominant diagrams of representation of sexual minorities come dangerously close to becoming mechanisms of social control and discipline. Can we envision a way of reading and representing that does not result in an illustrative exercise of description, but that instead allows for the perception of variations and displacements that appear as forms of subjectivisation, or even as machines of political transformation that disrupt previously established arrangements?

Preciado brings into play two antagonistic historiographic figures: the conventional model of ‘identity cartography’ (or ‘cartography of the lion’, as she terms it), concerned with seeking, defining and classifying the identities of bodies; and a ‘critical cartography’ (‘queer cartography’ or ‘cartography of the bitch’), which sidesteps writing as a topography of established representations in order instead to ‘sketch out a map of the modes of production of subjectivity’, observing the ‘technologies of representation, information and communication’ as genuine performative machines.9 These two models are divergent not only in their modes of producing visibility, but also in their ways of battling the technologies that mediate the political construction of knowledge. These issues are pervaded by the relationship between power and knowledge, and even to a greater extent by biopolitical modes of production linked to the codes of representation and the allocation of places in social space.10 Such crucial issues must be considered at a time when ‘dematerialised’ logic has begun to strike up an effective dialogue with the dynamics of global capitalism on immaterial goods.11

Following (or perhaps perverting) Preciado’s reflections, it may not be difficult to acknowledge that until recently most historiographies of modern and contemporary art have been ‘cartographies of identities’. Among these, ‘Conceptual art’ surfaced as a sanctionable identity, and the historiographic task resembled that of a detective tracking down the still unfound remains of Conceptualism in order to introduce them into the topography of the visible. It strives to offer a genealogy and geography of that which is totally representable – bringing those experiences into historical account, dispelling the mists that surrounded them, and clarifying a place apparently recovered.12

But let’s try the opposite exercise too. Let’s imagine a cartography not interested in seeking out the fragments of Conceptual art, one that even doubts the existence of such pieces. Let’s imagine a map that instead aims to explore the label itself, observing its uses and noting how it produces identities in different contexts; a map that, before attempting to function as a technique of representation, tries to expose power relations, ‘the architecture, displacement and spatialisation of power as a technology for the production of subjectivity’.13 Here it would no longer be a question of establishing formal resemblances between works, or of dating those that can effectively guide us in recognising the ‘Conceptual’ or ‘Conceptualist’ category (and its regional derivatives such as ‘Argentinean’, ‘Brazilian’ or ‘Latin American’) but, rather, of finding out how those narratives have determined the materiality and forms of visibility of what they hoped to describe, how they have negotiated their place within and without the institution and distributed it after having transformed these critical art forms into received knowledge.

Taking that tension between the cartographic models in their identitarian and queer versions as a starting point, I would like to pose a series of questions concerning some of the recent cartographical representations of Conceptual art: first, by revisiting one of the most influential accounts of so-called Latin American Conceptualism and the re-inscription of the ‘ideological’ as a category from which to consider aesthetic trends in the region; and second, by analysing a recent, almost unnoticed Argentinean exhibition that proposed a strategy for reflecting politically on how it is possible to reassess the ruptures triggered by 1960s avant-garde movements and the ‘Tucumán Arde’ episode. The show, notably, put forward an approach to the archive that refuses to treat this event as a chapter in the history of art and instead reactivates the anachronistic heterogeneity of meanings borne by the documentary remnants.

III

It was not until the early 1990s that one of the first programmatic essays of Latin American Conceptualism was published, and its ideological reverberations have accompanied many of the considerations on the subject since. Art historian Mari Carmen Ramírez wrote the essay ‘Blueprint Circuits: Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America’ (1993) for the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century’, curated by Waldo Rasmussen and organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1992.14The exhibition, which was first opened to the public in Seville and produced in the context of the celebrations commemorating the fifth centenary of the ‘discovery of America’ – a controversial exhibition on account of its perceived condescending and stereotyping discourse15 – was one of the culminating stages of the boom of Latin American art that began in the mid-1980s and fostered a depoliticised representation of Latin American culture and history, which was strongly associated with private promotional and funding interests both in the US and Latin America. The political landscape at that time included the re-establishment of democratic governments throughout the subcontinent, the internal crisis of the Left and the introduction of neo-liberal policies following the Washington Consensus.16 For several of the intellectuals who were symbolically mediating the cultural production between North and South America at the time, such as the Cuban art historian and curator Gerardo Mosquera, the Chilean feminist cultural critic Nelly Richard or Ramírez herself, it was clear that what was at stake were the mechanisms of representation of the American continent at the end of the Cold War, and therefore a totally renewed political economy of signs catalysed by a sequence of exhibitions of Latin American art outside of Latin America – exhibitions that effectively were beginning to draw a new exotic, formalist and neo-colonial framework of interpretation.17

The very title of the text – ‘Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America’ – announced Ramírez’s focus on disruptive aesthetic forms and their socio-cultural conditions, something that was not in Rasmussen’s exhibition. The essay attempted to provide a unitary legibility to radical experiences that had until then been in large part unrelated (some of which not only had remained indifferent to the nomenclature but even rejected it),18 and by doing so it gave the label ‘Latin American Conceptualism’ one of its first major concrete manifestations. Ramírez’s intention was to challenge the then common assumption that Latin American Conceptual art was a poor, late imitation of Conceptual art ‘from the centre’, and hoped to politicise its readings by means of an argument that assigned positive value to an apparent Latin American difference. In opposition to the limited North American and British ‘analytical’ or ‘tautological’ model, the Latin American model was presented as ‘ideological Conceptualism’. Ramírez traced this binary distinction back to 1974, when it was discussed by the Spanish critic Simón Marchán Fiz, but did not go as far as to question it.19

Ramírez believed the dichotomy revealed the prominence of the ideas of a sadly self-referential Kosuth, heir apparent to the positivist legacy of Modernism. ‘In Kosuth’s model the artwork as conceptual proposition is reduced to a tautological or self-reflexive statement. He insisted that art consists of nothing other than the artist’s idea of it, and that art can claim no meaning outside itself,’20Ramírez says, echoing – voluntarily or not – some of the criticism that art historian Benjamin Buchloh had put forward fiercely just four years before, 21 and indirectly playing down the political dimension implicit in the linguistic turn and its break with late-modern formalism. She thereby created an interpretative formula repeated almost to the letter in several of her subsequent essays, opposing, in general terms, a ‘depoliticised’ North American canon with a ‘political’ Latin American Conceptualism that subverts the structure of the former and actively intervenes in social space. The assertion, though somewhat provocative, traces a particularly narrow and dichotomous path of analysis, indebted to essentialist nuances that fail to establish a genuine antagonism.22

However, our intention here is not to denounce an ‘incorrect’ reading of Conceptualism, to dispute labels or to reduce Ramírez’s discourse to the use of such categories (conversely, her work puts forward noteworthy observations on the political use of communication and the ‘recovery’ of the mass-produced object in these processes). Rather, it instead is to note how that ‘difference’ shaped a specific visibility and morphology, making the distinction part of many of the debates surrounding the interpretations of the situation and, surprisingly or not, part of the ‘central’, dominant narratives, where it functions as a mystifying cliché in a process of categorisation and normalisation. Returning to some of Ramírez’s ideas, the philosopher and art theorist Peter Osborne observes:

‘Ideological content’ is the key term of Latin American Conceptual art. In distinction from the more formal ideational concerns of most US and European Conceptual art (the act/event, mathematical series, linguistic propositions or the structures of cultural forms), this was an art for which ‘ideology itself became the fundamental “material identity” of the conceptual proposition.’23

Along similar lines, though without circumscribing the ‘analytical-linguistic’ to North American Conceptualism, Alexander Alberro repeats the argument:

[T]he most extreme alternatives to models of analytic Conceptualism in the late 1960s and early 70s are those that developed in the deteriorating political and economic climate of a number of Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile.24

And in a more recent book, formulated as a Conceptualist ‘census’ of Spain with categories such as ‘poetic’, ‘political’ and ‘peripheral’, the historian Pilar Parcerisas revisits Ramírez’s thesis,25 scorning ‘the premises of the analytical orthodoxy of Conceptual art in English-speaking countries’ by attempting to elaborate on the political character of the ‘periphery’. From a range of perspectives in Latin America, that difference has been repeatedly recovered, with variations, in several recent accounts of the 1960s and 70s.26

Rather than objecting to the use of the term or any of its related epithets, what I am attempting to do is underline the need to deploy it as a diagram of power, to assess which meanings and distinctions, and which processes of normalisation and resistance are concealed in such consensual representations. This reconsideration demands a different articulation to the other concepts used by critics and artists when considering their own positions: minor expressions (to paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari),27 the gradual erosion of which has contributed to the standardisation of radical experiences in order that they may establish an ‘appropriate’ exchange with centralist discourses.

For example, it would be provocative to consider the term ‘dematerialisation’ in the context of Argentina’s experimental art scene in the 1960s as the Argentinean theoretician Oscar Masotta proposed in 1967 – independently from Lucy Lippard – as deriving from El Lissitsky and his plan to integrate artists into the publishing industry of revolutionary Russia of the 1920s.28It also would be challenging to rethink a term such as ‘no-objetualismo‘ (non-object-based art), coined in Mexico by Peruvian critic Juan Acha around 1973, as part of a Marxist approach to counter-cultural protest and collective artistic experiences of the Mexican ‘grupos’ (Proceso Pentagono, Grupo Suma and No-Grupo, among others), but most significantly to indigenous aesthetic processes, such as popular art and design, that question Western art history.29 Or to re-examine concepts that artists employ to reflect on their own practice: Argentinean Ricardo Carreira uses the term ‘deshabituación‘ (‘dishabituation’) to refer to an aesthetic theory based on the political transformation of the environment through estrangement.30 In the early 1960s Alejandro Jodorowsky spoke of ‘efímeros‘ (‘ephemerals’) in reference to his series of improvised and provocative actions confronting conventional theatre, halfway between psychotropic mysticism and fantastic esotericism,31 while Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s ‘revulsive’ aesthetic agenda pledged to destabilise the roles of the artist – on other occasions Vigo defined himself as an ‘un-maker of objects’.32 These are but a few of the entries in the critical repertoire still in the shadow of the hegemonic rhetoric. Such subterranean theoretical constructs pose a latent conflict, a multitude of not-yetarticulated and potential genealogies. Beyond mere naming, these words appear as proof of the fact that there is something irreducible – a discordant crossing of stories that point to divergent ways of living and constructing the contemporary – its capacity to unfold other times.

IV

Forty years after ‘Tucumán Arde’, the exhibition ‘Inventario 1965-1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale’, organised in 2008 in the Argentinean city of Rosario, offered one of the sharpest readings among the host of curatorial approaches that have explored the episodes of radicalism and rupture in Argentina in 1968.33 That year, several groups of artists, film-makers, journalists and intellectuals organised a series of experiences that connected cultural and artistic production with dissenting forms of political intervention – often with revolutionary claims – in collaboration with militant sectors of the workers’ movement. These collaborations dramatically modified artistic and cultural practices, resulting in progressively radicalised experiences in several contexts. In this context, a group of artists – invited to the exhibition ‘Experiencias ’68’ that was organised by the pre-eminent Instituto Di Tella – broke with the institution, exhibiting in ‘Experiencias’ politically critical artworks. When the police banned one of these – an installation of a public toilet, in which the public wrote slogans critical of the military dictatorship – the artists protested, destroying their works in the streets and distributing a text denouncing the increasing repression in the country. This incident became the trigger for a major rethinking of their commitment to the artistic avant-garde, formulating a new programme of action that comprises the ‘Tucumán Arde’ episode. Once outside of the institution, the artists began a process of documentation and social intervention aimed at generating counter-information about the causes and consequences of the crisis that was affecting the Tucumán province after the closure of several sugar mills, and then mounting two public displays in the labour unions in Rosario and in Buenos Aires, which was closed by the police. The project connected artists with sociologists, journalists, theorists, unions, the workers’ movement and others in a process of dispute and intervention in which aesthetic and political strategies were interchanged.34

The ‘Inventario’ exhibition tried to re-assess the celebrated entry of ‘Tucumán Arde’ into the canonical historiography of international art,35 as well as its recognition as a foundational episode of Latin American, even global, ‘ideological Conceptualism’ (or ‘the mother of all political works’, as artist and sociologist Roberto Jacoby has ironically called it).36 The project introduced itself as a questioning of the process of legitimisation and institutionalisation of ‘political art’ that in recent years had focused on the 1968 events, in particular on ‘Tucumán Arde’, and resulted in a global tour that took it, among other places, to documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007.37 What is won and what is lost in the process of ‘Tucumán Arde’ becoming a legend? How should we approach the complex and heterogeneous weft of political subjectivities inscribed in the rupture of the Argentinean avant-garde of the 1960s? Is ‘Tucumán Arde’, as a landmark, a watershed moment, capable of giving an account of the most intense and radical moments of that process?

The exhibition took the transformation of ‘Tucumán Arde’ into an artwork as its starting point, approached through a selection of photographs and documents from the Carnevale archive in an attempt to visually compose a chronological micro-narrative that would describe the events of 1968. The adoption of this origin not only implied returning to the several narratives in which the Argentinean event had been inscribed over the past decade, but also exploring the documentary framework, the material background from which those reconstructions seemed to appear and disappear. The archive was put forward as capable of disrupting all narrative certainty. The exhibition had four sections, and its focus was on the display of the Carnevale archive, the most comprehensive archive of Argentinean art in the 1960s. The installation made the archive freely available (providing desks and the possibility of consulting and copying documents), enabling the circulation of conflicting accounts coming from other people involved at the time. If the fetishising logic had managed to fix the image of ‘Tucumán Arde’, reducing its complexities to mere forms with seemingly immediate meaning, this exhibition attempted to suggest a totally different cartography based on the analysis of the processes of institutional legibility, their discursive production, exhibition formats, economic transformations and publishing products, uncovering their interrelations and tensions.

‘Inventario’ opened with a long, empty corridor in which beams of light were aimed at the walls and floor. At the end of the tunnel a large number of archival images (many of them photographs taken by the group of artists from Buenos Aires and Rosario in 1968) were projected, accompanied by audio fragments of interviews held in the 1990s with trade unionists, artists and student leaders, protagonists and witnesses of several of the actions.38 The entrance thereby presented an empty architecture that both revealed its own modes of display and suggested the impossibility of establishing a single story, disrupting, implicitly, the idea of the singular official version.

A second corridor presented a substantial part of Carnevale’s archive on walls and tables: photographs, posters, catalogues, writings and manifestos of the various Argentinean avant-garde events, alongside graphic work, pictures and other documents of experiences that connected art and politics in other contexts (from silkscreen prints by Taller 4 Rojo in Colombia to posters of the Brigadas Ramona Parra made before or during Salvador Allende’s socialist government in Chile, and others of the Encuentros de Plástica Latinoamericana in Havana). A panel in a third corridor traced the numerous events and exhibitions in which ‘Tucumán Arde’ had been recovered, quoted, exhibited or referenced, including information about the political and economic protocols in place in each institution, and photographs of how it was installed on each occasion. Materials related to the exhibition venue of ‘Inventario’ and the catalogue of the project (a detailed inventory of all the material in Carnevale’s archive) were displayed on several of the tables, where each publication, catalogue and edition referenced in the gallery was made available. Finally, a space presented the contributions of two recent archives generated by Argentinean activist-artists more recently involved in local experiences, posing questions about the different ways of granting visibility to those practices in an exhibition space.

The show was constructed as a series of interludes that paradoxically reformulated the collisions that had initially configured the history of the archive. The passage between one space and another acted as a distancing effect that rejected any possible teleology of facts. While the first gallery had seemed to point out the impossibility of a narrative through the random polyphony of voices and images, the third gave an account of an ‘excess of narratives’ on ‘Tucumán Arde’ and on its own construction (historiographic, curatorial, institutional, economic and social) through its recognisable trajectories and the multiple ways in which it was activated.39 Conversely, in the second gallery, the archive appeared as a potential story, an exhibited archive in use that offered its own migratory movements, its excesses and absences, its revolutions to come.

Put to use, the archive not only attempted to misplace ‘Tucumán Arde’, but to question its simple narration, re-enacting its original misidentification (its initial refusal to describe its practice as art but also its dissolution as an event driven by urgency), opening and exposing the layers of sedimentation it had accumulated. Unlike some recent interpretations that have tried to make it legible as a work of art either by taking a small number of documents and images accompanied by comments, a system of marks and footnotes for illustration purposes, or else by a total lack of comments or stories (dangerously verging on aestheticisation, as in documenta 12), this mise en scène brought fragments together according to their differences, including everything that was usually excluded from the consensual art-historical configurations that repeated its name. The installation of this exhibition rejected from the start all ‘reasonable’ understanding, showing, as Georges Didi-Huberman would say, not only the direction of its movement but the locus of its agitations.40

By presenting the actual archive, ‘Inventario’ also fell into contradictions: in spite of an attempt to present a multiplicity of times and events, as reflected by the heterogeneous archival material presented in the second tunnel, the inclusion of images of some of the most recognisable actions within ‘Tucumán Arde’ contributed to a repetition of the excessive prominence that ‘Tucumán Arde’ had already been given in written accounts of the late 1960s experiences. The photographs displayed throughout the gallery space, which had been enlarged for previous exhibitions in which they had been shown, provided an imposing presence themselves, at times even offering an unwitting chronology, especially if compared to the assemblage of documents that pointed to the complexity and impossibility of offering full descriptions. And yet, is it possible to escape from this already constructed significance?

V

In his most recent book, Luis Camnitzer establishes two key events for the reading of Latin American Conceptualism: the Tupamaro guerrilla group of the late 1960s in Uruguay, and the experience of rupture that led to ‘Tucumán Arde’ in 1968.41 What is important for me here is the invocation of the Argentinean experience in relation to politics from the point of view of militants, or even armed conflict. Despite the possible good intentions behind its attempt to politicise historiographic accounts, we should ask ourselves whether the twosome Tupamaros/’Tucumán Arde’ and the idealised image of ‘resistance’ in which it places the Latin American Conceptual art history implies a pre-established consensus that reaffirms a certain stereotype of subversive art. If that is the case, does this point to a dead end for the politicisation of Conceptualism, and for its criticism? To what extent has an experience such as ‘Inventario’ managed to suggest an alternative representation of the usual story, to fracture narrative certainties or to dispute its stereotyped places? Is it possible to establish a topography of that which cannot yet be named, an index that refuses nomenclatures and stands alone, only to become disorder and pure unpredictability?

I have followed two clues in what I consider the cartographic or diagrammatic forms of critical reading that operate in tension with recent processes of historicisation of ‘Latin American Conceptualism’. The first is an open question that speculates on the interpretative categories stabilised and legitimised in a specific order of discourse, and other secondary notions subsumed in that particular configuration of the ‘Latin American’ which presents itself as a uniform fabric – decentred concepts that would otherwise distort the usual flows of meaning and expose us to dissenting testimonies. The second is the gap between the conventional exhibition formats of ‘Tucumán Arde’, between the individuation of a set of documents that present the chronology of what is considered the artistic ‘episode’, and the presentation of the archive that disrupts and dismantles the order of this appearance. Besides its obvious limitations, the return to the archive is also a misidentification of an event countless times named – classified, arranged, defined – and whose name and materiality are repeatedly questioned in an attempt to bring difference to the surface. On display are merely temporary installations that enable us to return to those operations as a potential space from which to redefine relations between spaces, words and bodies.42

Forty years ago the Argentinean artist Eduardo Costa made a piece in which he proposed a counter-history of Latin American Conceptualism, one based on mixing up the dates: A piece that is essentially the same as a piece made by any of the first conceptual artists, dated two years earlier than the original and signed by somebody else. In this short text, written for the exhibition ‘Art in the Mind’, Costa suggested stealing history as a political activation of Conceptual practice, challenging ‘reasonable’ consolidations by historical narrative – a historiographic practice deliberately formulated around error.43 His work seemed to insist on the possibility of thinking that rationalist history has been permanently mistaken – that there is no possible story, but merely a circumstantial sum of paradoxes, trades and sleights of hand, and that an erratic alteration in its diagram of successions simply adds to its most joyous (in)coherence, celebrating its impossibility.

Costa’s work reminds us that history is never neutral, and if there should be any pending task it is precisely to be unfaithful to it, to betray it. This does not mean giving up on historical reflection, but rather corrupting whatever degree of Christian fidelity and Calvinist obedience history still inspires, unravelling its destiny and ultimate causes. Looking back at those events consigned to oblivion should allow us to recover their salutary force, their emancipatory thrill and at the same time to activate a nostalgia for the future. We do not recover the past in order to make it exist as a bundle of skeletons, but to disturb the orders and assurances of the present. The task of reintegrating the subversive component of whatever we happen to be historicising can’t be resolved by communicating as truth what we apparently know. It is neither a question of producing exhibitions or books on a certain theme, nor of drawing up lists, directories or summaries. It is a question of making the event spill over and break down established modes of thinking about the past and the future, and generating ways of allowing for whatever is excluded to eventually challenge the consensus and bring back the parts of an unresolved conflict.

Footnotes
  1. Eduardo Costa, quoted in Athena T. Spear (ed.), Art in the Mind (exh. cat.), Oberlin, OH: Allen Memorial Art Museum, 1970, n.p.
  2. The term ‘dematerialisation’, introduced by Lucy Lippard and John Chandler in 1968, for a long time was used as the key term to identify Conceptual art in North America and Western Europe. See Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler, ‘The Dematerialization of Art’, Art International, vol.12, no.2, February 1968, pp.31-36 and Lucy R. Lippard (ed.), Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, New York: Praeger, 1973.
  3. In Latin America those discussions happened around the Bienal de La Habana, which, since its creation in 1984, has become an important forum of discussion disengaged from the international art market. Another significant moment at an international scale is the coinciding in 1997 of documenta X, curated by Catherine David, and the second Johannesburg Biennial, curated by Okwui Enwezor.
  4. Luis Camnitzer points out that ‘while “conceptual art” is an anecdotal little label in the history of universal art, “conceptualism” as a strategy created a rupture in the appreciation of all art and in the behaviour of artists, regardless of their location’. Fernando Davis, ‘Entrevista a Luis Camnitzer: “Global Conceptualism fue algo intestinal e incontrolable, al mismo tiempo que presuntuoso y utópico”‘, Ramona, no.86, November 2008, p.29. See also Rachel Weiss, ‘Re-writing Conceptual Art’, Papers d’Art, no.93, 2007, pp.198-202. Translation the author’s.
  5. F. Davis, ‘Entrevista a Luis Camnitzer’, op. cit., p.26.
  6. This last question was put forward by theoretician José Luis Brea in his considerations of the political effects of visuality. See J.L. Brea, ‘Los estudios visuales: por una epistemología política de la visualidad’, in J.L. Brea (ed.), Los estudios visuales: La epistemología de la visualidad en la era de la globalización, Madrid: Akal, 2005, pp.5-14.
  7. Beatriz Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer: El flâneur perverso, la lesbiana topofóbica y la puta multicartográfica, o cómo hacer una cartografía “zorra” con Annie Sprinkle’, in José Miguel Cortés (ed.), Cartografías disidentes, Madrid: SEACEX, 2008, n.p.
  8. See Félix Guattari, Cartographies schizoanalytiques, Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1989.
  9. B. Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer‘, op. cit.
  10. As Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt remind us, these biopolitical modes of production do not only involve the production of tangible goods in a purely economic sense, but ‘affect all spheres of social, economic, cultural and political life, at the same time as they produce them’. A. Negri and M. Hardt, ‘Preface’, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2001, p.xi.
  11. Boris Groys has clearly expressed some of the effects of this paradox in art: ‘If life is no longer understood as a natural event, as fate, as Fortuna, but rather as time artificially produced and fashioned, then life is automatically politicised, since the technical and artistic decisions with respect to the shaping of the lifespan are always political decisions as well. The art that is made under these new conditions of biopolitics – under the conditions of an artificially fashioned lifespan – cannot help but take this artificiality as its explicit theme. Now, however, time, duration and thus life too cannot be shown directly but only documented. The dominant medium of modern biopolitics is thus bureaucratic and technological documentation, which includes planning, decrees, fact-finding reports, statistical inquiries and project plans. It is no coincidence that art also uses the same medium of documentation when it wants to refer to itself as life.’ Boris Groys, ‘Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation’, Documenta 11_ Platform 5: Exhibition (exh. cat.), 2002, p.109.
  12. The issue also involves the critical modes of working around the concepts that sustain these historiographic exercises. It is possible to say, for instance, that to a certain extent ‘Global Conceptualism’ adopted the task of the ethnologist, raking up experiences in different geographies and marking its affinities and Conceptualist identities, and yet, paradoxically, its strategy facilitated the mise-en-critique of identity itself. An acritical example of the identity discourse is provided by Álvaro Barrios’s book Orígenes del arte conceptual en Colombia (1999), which offers a narrative made up of interviews in which several leading figures of the 1960s and 70s guide the story’s main character (Barrios himself), who appears increasingly convinced of his ability to truly recover the unrecognised Conceptualist element. Álvaro Barrios, Orígenes del arte conceptual en Colombia (1968-1978), Bogotá: Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá, 1999.
  13. B. Preciado, ‘Cartografías Queer‘, op. cit.
  14. Mari Carmen Ramírez, ‘Blueprint Circuits: Conceptual Art and Politics in Latin America’, in Waldo Rasmussen, Fatima Bercht and Elizabeth Ferrer (ed.), Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century (exh. cat.), New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993, pp.156-67.
  15. The exhibition presented Latin American art production as a tame continuation of modern Western aesthetic movements, avoiding any type of political reflection on the colonial history of the subcontinent. Most critics agreed in characterising it as a blatant attempt to ‘maintain a total control of the ideological and aesthetic premises […] and of their interpretation’ from categories projected from the outside. Shifra M. Goldman, ‘Artistas latinoamericanos del siglo XX, MoMA’ (trans. Magdalena Holguín), ArtNexus, no.10, September-December 1993, pp.84-89.
  16. Drawn up in 1989 and promoted by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Treasury Department, the Washington Consensus is a list of measures for economic reform that presented itself as the ‘best’ programme to face the crisis and ‘underdevelopment’ of Latin America, among which were liberalisation of trade and investment, deregulation and a general withdrawal of the state from economic matters.
  17. Some of these debates, from a Latin American cultural perspective opposed to European and North American dominance, can be found in Gerardo Mosquera (ed.), Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America, London: The Institute of International Visual Arts, 1995.
  18. Juan Pablo Renzi, a driving force in ‘Tucumán Arde’, was emphatic about this. In a work titled Panfleto no.3. La nueva moda (Pamphlet no.3. The New Fashion, 1971), which he contributed to the ‘Arte de Sistemas’ exhibition organised by the Museo de Arte Moderno/Centro de Arte y Comunicación in Buenos Aires in 1971, he stated: ‘What is in fashion now is Conceptual art […] and it turns out that (at least for some critics like Lucy Lippard and Jorge Glusberg) I am one of those responsible for the onset of this phenomenon (together with my colleagues from the ex-groups of revolutionary artists in Rosario and Buenos Aires from ’67 to ’68). This assertion is mistaken. Just as any intention of linking us to that aesthetic speculation is mistaken.’ And he concludes: ‘REGARDING OUR MESSAGES: 1. We are not interested in them being considered aesthetic. 2. We structure them according to their contents. 3. They are always political and are not always transmitted by official channels like this one. 4. We are not interested in them as works but as a means of denouncing exploitation.’
  19. The same reference to Marchán Fiz’s ‘ideological Conceptualism’ had already been made one year earlier by the North American critic Jacqueline Barnitz in the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Encounters/ Displacements. Luis Camnitzer, Alfredo Jaar, Cildo Meireles’, curated by Ramírez and Beverly Adams. However, Ramírez’s voice was the one that consolidated and furthered the argument most effectively, making it an indispensable reference for many subsequent interpretations. A decisive factor in this consolidation was the repetition of the line of argument in the catalogue of ‘Global Conceptualism’ and later on in two large-scale international surveys of Latin American art she was also in charge of: ‘Heterotopías. Medio siglo sin lugar 1918-1968′ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid in 2000; and ‘Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2004. Marchán Fiz doesn’t quite completely confine the ‘ideologisation’ to Conceptual art from Latin American nor self-referentiality to European/North American work. See J. Barnitz, ‘Conceptual Art in Latin America: A Natural Alliance’, in M.C. Ramírez and B. Adams (ed.), Encounters/Displacements: Luis Camnitzer, Alfredo Jaar, Cildo Meireles (exh. cat.), Austin: Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, 1992, pp.35-47; M.C. Ramírez, ‘Tactics for Thriving on Adversity: Conceptualism in Latin America, 1960-1980′, in L. Camnitzer, J. Farver and R. Weiss (ed.), Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s (exh. cat.), op. cit., pp.53-71; Simón Marchán Fiz, Del arte objetual al arte de concepto, Madrid: Alberto Corazón Editor, 1974 [1972].
  20. M.C. Ramírez, ‘Blueprint Circuits’, op. cit., p.156.
  21. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ‘From the Aesthetic of Administration to Institutional Critique (Some Aspects of Conceptual Art, 1962-1969)’, in l’art conceptuel, une perspective (exh. cat.), Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1989, pp.41-53.
  22. Historian Jaime Vindel has also noted the contradictions in responding to the centre/periphery relationship through an equally binary opposition: ‘By basing their position on an antagonist with no real voice, these discourses run the risk of making their publicity dependent on the centre/periphery logic against which they declare they stand and to which they are still yielding.’ J. Vindel, ‘A propósito [de la memoria] del arte político: Consideraciones en torno a “Tucumán Arde” como emblema del conceptualismo latinoamericano’, lecture given at the 5th International Conference of Theory and History of the Arts – 13th CAIA Symposium, Buenos Aires, October 2009.
  23. Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art, London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2002, p.37.
  24. Alexander Alberro, ‘Reconsidering Conceptual Art, 1966-1977, in A. Alberro and Blake Stimson (ed.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1999, pp.xxv-xxvi.
  25. Pilar Parcerisas, Conceptualismo(s) Poéticos, Políticos, Periféricos: En torno al arte conceptual en España. 1964-1980, Madrid: Akal, 2007, p.27.
  26. In a 1997 text Camnitzer celebrated Ramírez’s argument, which he found enlightening for its understanding of the regional differences of Conceptualism, which emphasised the relationship between Duchamp and the modern tradition of Mexican muralism, starting from its foray into the social sphere with communicative goals. Broadly speaking, however, Camnitzer shares Ramírez’s view of North American Conceptual art, which he brands ‘a quasi-mystical search for the imponderable’. L. Camnitzer, ‘Una genealogía del arte conceptual latino-americano’, Continente Sul Sur, no.6, November 1997, p.187. Other historians who have used the expression ‘ideological Conceptualism’ more or less critically over the past few years include Andrea Giunta, Ana Longoni, María José Herrera, Ivonne Pini, Miguel González, Cristina Freire and Alberto Giudici. Due to problems of space, this text will not compare the conflicting meanings and the implications inscribed in their uses.
  27. ‘A minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language. […] The second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political. Minor literature is completely different; its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics. […] We might as well say that minor no longer designates specific literatures but the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established) literature.’ Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (trans. Dana B. Polan), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp.16-18.
  28. See Oscar Masotta, ‘Después del pop, nosotros desmaterializamos’ (1967), in O. Masotta, Revolución en el arte: Pop-art, happenings y arte de los medios en la década del sesenta, Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2004, pp.335-76. For Lucy Lippard’s use of the term, see L.R. Lippard, Six Years, op. cit.
  29. As yet, there is no study dealing with Juan Acha’s critical thinking of the 1960s and 70s, and the political process that led to the emergence of ‘no-objetualismo‘. For a first, partial attempt, see Miguel A. López and Emilio Tarazona, ‘Juan Acha y la Revolución Cultural. La transformación de la vanguardia artística en el Perú a fines de los Sesenta’, in Juan Acha, Nuevas referencias sociológicas de las artes visuales: Mass-media, lenguajes, represiones y grupos [1969], Lima: IIMA – Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2008, pp.1-17.
  30. Ana Longoni, ‘El Deshabituador: Ricardo Carreira in the Beginnings of Conceptualism’, in Viviana Usubiaga and A. Longoni, Arte y literatura en la Argentina del siglo XX, Buenos Aires: Fundación Telefónica, Fundación Espigas and FIAAR, 2006, pp.159-203.
  31. See Cuauhtémoc Medina, ‘Recovering Panic’, in Olivier Debroise (ed.), The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1968-1997, Mexico DF: UNAM, 2007, pp.97-103.
  32. In October 1968, in a newspaper and on local radio Vigo made the surprising call for his first ‘señalamiento‘ (‘appointment’) titled Manojo de Semáforos (A Handful of Traffic Lights). The proposal called for people to look at an ordinary object for its aesthetic potential to cause ‘revulsion’. See F. Davis, ‘Prácticas “revulsivas”: Edgardo Antonio Vigo en los márgenes del conceptualismo’, in C. Freire and A. Longoni (ed.), Conceitualismos do Sul/Sur, São Paulo: Annablume, USP-MAC and AECID, 2009, pp.283-98.
  33. ‘Inventario 1965-1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale’, Centro Cultural Parque de España, Rosario (3 October-9 November 2008). The team working on the show was made up of the artist Graciela Carnevale, historians Ana Longoni and Fernando Davis, and Ana Wandzik, an artist from Rosario. This project constituted the first curatorial experiment in political activation by the Red Conceptualismos del Sur group.
  34. For further discussion of the experiences of 1968 in Argentina, see G. Carnevale et al. (ed.), Tucumán Arde. Eine Erfahrung: Aus dem Archiv von Graciela Carnevale, Berlin: b_books, 2004.
  35. While its earliest mentions date back to the late 1960s, its incorporation within the canon since the late 1990s, through a series of essays, exhibitions and publications, quickly multiplied its visibility. International exhibitions include I Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul in Porto Alegre, Brasil in 1997; ‘Global Conceptualism’ in 1999 and ‘Heterotopías’ in 2000; ‘Ambulantes. Cultura Portátil’ curated by Rosa Pera at CAAC, Seville; ‘Inverted Utopias’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2004; and ‘Be what you want but stay where you are’, curated by Ruth Noack and Roger M. Buergel at Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2005.
  36. Roberto Jacoby, ‘Tucucu mama nana arara dede dada’, Ramona, no.55, October 2005, pp.86-91.
  37. Even though the most prevalent reading of ‘Tucumán Arde’ places it within the ‘Conceptual’ genealogy, others have tried to relate it to a history of political intervention, collective production or militant research. Examples of this are the dossier ‘Les fils de Marx et Mondrian: Dossier argentine’, published in Robho magazine (nos.5-6, 1971, pp.16-22) or anthropologist Néstor García Canclini’s discussion of ‘Tucumán Arde’ in the context of the process of integration of artistic avant-gardes with popular organisations. See N. García Canclini, ‘Vanguardias artísticas y cultura popular’, Transformaciones, no.90, 1973, pp.273-75. More recently, Brian Holmes has noted the impact this experience had on several activist groups operating in Europe in the late 1990s. See A. Longoni, Daniela Lucena et al., ‘”Un sentido como el de Tucumán Arde lo encontramos hoy en el zapatismo”: Entrevista colectiva a Brian Holmes’, Ramona, no.55, October 2005, pp.7-22. Similar readings are proposed by exhibitions such as ‘Antagonismes. Casos d’estudi’, curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and José Lebrero at MACBA, Barcelona, 2001; ‘Collective Creativity: Common Ideas for Life and Politics’, curated by What, How and for Whom at Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel in 2005 and the project ExArgentina, organised by Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmman.
  38. The interviews were conducted by Mariano Mestman and A. Longoni; some of them were eventually published in their book Del Di Tella a ‘Tucumán Arde’. Vanguardia artística y política en el ’68 argentino, Buenos Aires: El cielo por asalto, 2000.
  39. See F. Davis and A. Longoni, ‘Apuntes para un balance difícil: Historia mínima de “Inventario 1965-1975. Archivo Graciela Carnevale”‘, unpublished text presented at the 2nd Red Conceptualismos del Sur Reunion, Rosario, October 2008.
  40. ‘Politics are only displayed by exposing the conflicts, the paradoxes, the reciprocal clashes that weave history,’ says Didi-Huberman in his considerations of the Brechtian notion of montage. ‘[M]ontage appears as the procedure par excellence in this exposition: its objects are not revealed when taking position but once they have been taken apart, as is said in French to describe the violence of a “unbridled” storm, wave against wave, or as is said of a watch “dismantled”, i.e. analysed, explored and therefore spread by the passion of knowing applied by a philosopher or a Baudelairian child.’ G. Didi-Huberman, Cuando las imágenes toman posición, Madrid: A. Machado Libros, 2008, p.153. Editors’ translation.
  41. See L. Camnitzer, Conceptualism in Latin American Art: Didactics of Liberation, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007, pp.44-72. Camnitzer, however, points at alternative coordinates, such as the writings of nineteenth-century Venezuelan writer and educator Simón Rodríguez, who taught Simón Bolívar. For Camnitzer, the Tupamaros’s use of ‘aestheticised military operations’ and Rodríguez’s ‘ideological aphorisms’ contribute to what he calls a ‘didactics of liberation': communication process aimed at generating actual changes in society.
  42. ‘Politics is a specific rupture in the logic of arche. It does not simply presuppose the rupture of the “normal” distribution of positions between the one who exercises power and the one subject to it. It also requires a rupture in the idea that there are dispositions “proper” to such classifications.’ Jacques Rancière, ‘Dix thèses sur la politique’, Aux Bords du Politique, Paris: Gallimard, p.229.
  43. A.T. Spear, Art in the Mind, op. cit. Translated by Josephine Watson.——-
    Global Conceptualism and the Conditions of Chinese Contemporary Art Thoughts on the Documenta XI Curators¡¯ China Visit
    By Xu Jiang and Gao Shiming
    Translation by Wang Yiyou
    April 2000Globalization has stimulated many critical responses in the West. In order to establish ¡°Global Conceptualism¡± in its true sense and to critique Western modernity, especially all forms of universalism, people begin to re-examine concepts including the particular, the local, and difference.

    In the framework of multiculturalism and global conceptualism, people tend to use post-colonial cultural theory to examine contemporary art and culture in China. This misinterpretation is strategically placed.

    Chinese art is in a place where unprecedented opportunities and challenges, complexities and paradoxes co-exist.  In the world¡¯s rich and diverse cultural landscape, Chinese artists need to be imaginative creators rather than producers of stereotyped and iconic images of the cultural Other.

    In late April 2000, at the invitation of the China Art Academy, the artistic director of the Documenta XI Okwui Enwezor visited Hangzhou with six renowned curators and critics. Sponsored by the Liang Jiehua Art Foundation, this visit was their first stop in China. This ¡°star¡± curatorial team¡¯s China visit was highly significant. Since 1955, the Documenta has launched ten exhibitions (once every five years) in succession. The Documenta X was under the curatorship of the French Catherine David, whose explicitly Western-centric approach provoked a great deal of criticism in the international art world. As a strategic response to the previous Documenta, Okwui, a curator with Nigerian descent was selected as the artistic director of the Documenta XI. He became the first curator with African descent in the history of the Documenta, probably even in the history of art exhibitions in the West. His appointment signaled the multicultualistic tendency in the international art world. Okwui expounded his art research theme, ¡°Global Conceptualism¡± in the Queens Museum in 1999, which inspired many non-Western artists.

    In their brief visit to Hangzhou, Okwui and other curators had lively discussions and exchanges with artists and students at the China Art Academy. The three-day discussions highlighted several important issues.

    The Concept of the ¡°West¡± and ¡°Global Conceptualism¡±
    What is the West? What do we mean when we use it so often and so casually? It is exactly the question that Okwui raised when he first arrived in Hangzhou. It is also the question being discussed repeatedly throughout the three-day discussions. In fact, this difficult question is deeply rooted in China¡¯s history in the past century. The beginning of China¡¯s modern history is marked by the unforgettable ¡°contacts¡± between China and the West in 1840. The arrival of the Western powers forced China to awaken and to modernize itself. From then on, every issue in China was considered and dealt with in terms of the China-West relations. The notion of the West is laden with complex meanings and feelings. Over the past century, China¡¯s embracing of things Western always went hand in hand with its resistance to the West. China fought against the West while expecting the recognition from the West. This dual relationship between China and the West found its expressions in art; from the beginning, Western art was a constructed notion, as well as a complex and paradoxical ideal and discourse in China.

    Beginning with the 1979 Star Exhibition, the New Wave Art Movement in China quickly experimented with almost every school/ movement in Western art history. Modern art from the West was received as a mix of certain styles, an established artistic model, or a rebellious way of life. Its reception in China had little to do with China¡¯s rich cultural tradition. Western modern art as a complex whole became a symbol of modernity, and the Chinese artists¡¯ use of Western modern art became an important statement of the intellectual liberation movement in China. In the 1980s, the concept of modernity in China differed significantly from its Western counterpart. It is perceived as a slogan for the revitalization of the Chinese nation.

    The early 1990s saw paradigm changes in Chinese contemporary art scene, as some critics described, the transitions ¡°from idealism to eclecticism, from ideology to humanistic concerns about individuals and current conditions¡±. This statement might be applied to the field of painting.  But in general, this view overlooks an important element in these shifts, that is, the introduction of new media to China. In the 1990s Chinese artists began to discover possibilities of new art forms, such as installation, video, film, and multimedia. On the one hand, contemporary art in China seemed to devote more attention to the current life in China, which often had no direct references to the West. On the other hand, it is important to note that after the 1989 China/Avant-garde Exhibition, Western art institutions and market discovered Chinese contemporary art; Chinese contemporary art was exhibited, collected and studied with growing enthusiasm. This tendency helped the audience to gain more knowledge about Chinese contemporary art, which has emerged as a significant force in the international art community.

    It is against this background that Okwui and other curators visited China and on their first day in China the question was raised: what does the West mean?

    What does the West actually mean? Does it mean the hateful Western powers that left painful wounds in our national memories in China¡¯s modern history? Does it mean the scientific and rationalistic spirit that inspired the Chinese when the nation was decaying? Does it mean the dominant powers that looked down upon the Chinese, or the evolutionary ideas and values that have infiltrated into our societal life and ways of thinking in this global village. Indeed, We can find in China¡¯s past and present many complicated and heavy answers to this question. This simple question from the curator with African descent from the most important Western contemporary art exhibition reveals something about the West: Western intellectuals are seriously concerned with the issue of globalization.

    The notion of globalization has a long history. From the mid-1950s onwards, it became a widely recognized reality, as indicated by the inclusion of the word ¡°globalization¡± by the Webster Dictionary in 1961 and the Oxford dictionary a year later. In the past two to three decades, the advancement of science and technology has resulted in the entry of certain developed nations into the Information and Post-industrial Era. Globalization was further materialized. After the end of the Cold War, transnational have been promoting the idea of establishing a new world order/system. ¡°Globalization¡± became their propagandist catchword. In 1992 the Club of Rome published The First Global Revolution, stating that we are at the initial stage of a new global society.

    The initial stage of globalization or post-national globalism impacts us in two ways. First, globalization can be seen as a tendency toward economic integration. In view of the world economic imbalance, globalization often means developed nations¡¯ infiltration into developing nations, or Westernization. According to the evolution theory (or the anti-evolution theory at certain points in history), Westernization has become a process in which differences are to be eradicated. George Soros states in the book The Crisis of Global Capitalism that market fundamentalism today is a threat much greater than any forms of authoritarian ideology. Second, in the process of globalization, the Western discourse has received reactions from a variety of forces, primarily forms of cultural resistance from non-Western nations, including indigenization, nationalism, even fundamentalism. Under the influence of those counterforces, the anti-Western-centric discourse such as  post-colonialism, Orientalism, multiculturalism came into being within the West. Since the late 1960s, the anti-Western-centric voices have been growing in the West, as the Others intensified their intervention, for example, the African-American Civil Rights Movement and Feminist movements. The West in fact is becoming a cultural sphere with increasing diversity and complexity (In other words, cultural pluralism has undoubtedly become a reality). There has been a de-centralizing tendency in the West where more and more cultural Others are playing an active role. Okwui is one of them. As a curator with African background, he devotes himself to researching and exhibiting African contemporary art. His idea of ¡°global conceptualism¡±, to a large extent, can be viewed as resistance to the kind of ¡°globalism¡± that privileges integration. Except the female American curators Susanne Ghezt and Lynne Cooke, other members in Okwui¡¯s curatorial team came from places outside of what we usually called developed countries or the first world.  For example, Sarat Maharai was born and educated in South Africa. Sebastian Lopez is a native of Argentina, currently a Dutch citizen. Chris Dercon is Belgian and Jessica Bradley, British-born Canadian. It seems that the structure of this curatorial team suggests a different West, a pluralistic, non-Western West.

    Roots and the Cultural Concept of Post-Colonialism
    Okwui¡¯s notion of ¡°global conceptualism¡± counters the Western-centric discourse of globalization. Global conceptualism has another dimension: non-Western cultures need to be engaged in the dialogues in the global context, as Okwui remarked, ¡°The goal of this Documenta is to build a platform on the foundation of global conceptualism. It is a place where all kinds of cultures can have dialogues, and where we can display a pluralistic scene.¡± For this reason, Okwui placed great emphasis on artists¡¯ identification with their own national cultures as well as the articulation of such identification in their works of art. In his view, this is the way to build a pluralistic scene on this platform. Okwui and his team members were concerned about the Westernizing tendencies in the Chinese art community. After many rounds of discussions on the meaning of the West, Okwui delivered a lecture at the China Art Academy on April 15. He quoted a passage from Alex Harley¡¯s novel Roots, a touching story about the protagonist who traced back his family history back to his ancestor¡¯s African village, where he was treated as an alien.

    ¡°¡­the seventy-odd other villagers gather closely around me, in a kind of horseshoe pattern, three or four deep all around; had I stuck out my arms, my fingers would have touched the nearest ones on either side. They were all staring at me. The eye just raked me. Their foreheads were furrowed with their very intensity of staring. A kind of visceral surging or a churning sensation started up deep inside me, bewildered, I was wondering what on earth was this¡­then in a little while it was rather as if some fullgale force of realization rolled in on me: Many times in my life I had been among crowds of people, but never where every one was jet black!

    Rocked emotionally, my eyes dropped downward as we tend to do when we¡¯re uncertain, insecure, and my glance fell upon my own hands¡¯ brown complexion. This time more quickly than before, and even harder, another gale-force emotion hit me: I felt myself some variety of a hybrid¡­I felt somehow impure among the pure; it was a terribly shaming feeling.¡±

    Roots can be viewed as a modern version of Odyssey against the background of the Western-centric discourse and colonial history. After over three hundred years of drifting in modern culture, the main character Alex H. came back to his land of origin, only finding himself in a worse situation than that of Odysseus, who came back in the disguise of a beggar to avoid being recognized. But Alex H. had no such a choice; he had been altered by the modern culture. When the African villagers surrounded him and watched this ¡°American with black skin¡±, Alex has nothing to say but few words in his ancestor¡¯s language¡­This scene must have created deep resonance in the African-American Okwui. Can we use this touching story as a metaphor for the conditions of Chinese contemporary art?

    Okwui¡¯s use of the story in Roots reflects the cultural identity of the Other in contemporary Western society. When looking at Chinese contemporary art, Okwui, like other Western scholars, easily fell into a common trap, that is, to use post-colonial theories to analyze and interpret the complex contemporary art and culture scene in China.

    Chinese contemporary art, especially experimental art, such as new media art, was largely generated in the process of Westernization. But Westernization in China encompasses multilayered, multi-dimensional artistic practices. Whiling adopting new art forms and media in the international art scene, Chinese artists are creating a process of non-Western Westernization, which differs considerably from anti-Western Westernization that one often sees in Africa and Latin America. Anti-Western Westernization is closely related to the tumultuous colonial history in those regions. The central issues in ¡°roots¡± are human rights and racial tension, which have resulted in post-colonialism and indigenization movements. Although China had a difficult semi-colonial history, the inner vitality of the Chinese culture persisted. This vitality is manifested not only in all kinds of anti-modern currents past and present, but also in the fact that from the very beginning, Chinese intellectuals and artists embraced the West with the goal of critiquing and revitalizing Chinese culture. Even the foremost advocators of Westernization like Hu Shi believed that the introduction of Western knowledge to the East will contribute to ¡°China¡¯s Renaissance¡±.  Although there have been anti-modern currents such as nationalism and essentialism, China has taken modernization as its major path. Due to the lack of the colonialism-imposed modernization process, China does not embrace resistant-modernity, or fundamentalist ideologies, which are prevalent in many colonized countries.

    Modernity in China can be defined as ¡°critical modernity¡± rather than ¡°defensive modernity¡±. The essence of this critical modernity is to critique and re-examine China¡¯s indigenous culture, which gives this modernity an intellectual dimension in China. This is also the essence of China¡¯s contemporary culture. Accordingly, the root of tradition plays two roles in our culture; it is no longer a legendary in the past, and Chinese artists are not the people who are fated to return to their native land after drifting in foreign places.

    A Common Epistemological Foundation and a Silent Voice
    In the text above, one can detect certain tension at the initial stage of globalization. On the one hand, it creates a tendency towards integration. On the other, it results in pluralism to certain extent. But only when globalization entered into certain stages, would appear the voice of the Other. These conditions reveal the paradoxical and relative nature of globalization. In the West, globalization has stimulated wide interest in creating a real ¡°global conceptualism¡± by rediscovering the particular, the local, and difference, and by critiquing Western modernity, especially various forms of universalism. Western culture is at a special point of transition from Achille Bonito Oliva¡¯s ¡°cultural nomadism¡± in the 1980s, to the much discussed ¡°identity and the Other¡±, and to various kinds of multiculturalism today. Difference, identity and identity politics have been buzzwords in the international art community. Under the spell of these trendy Western ideas, Chinese theorists  (or intellectuals in general) use terms such as post-colonialism, indigenization, Orientalism, etc. with growing enthusiasm. Aware that these terms were created in the West with reference to the third world¡¯s painful colonial history, we need to ask: Is it appropriate to use these terms to analyze Chinese culture?

    During his stay in Hangzhou, the Indian-British critic, professor of Art History and Theory at Goldsmith College Sarat Maharaj repeatedly raised the critical issue in the international art community: ¡°In the context of globalization, how can we find and establish a common epistemological foundation for the world¡¯s new art in the twenty-first century?¡±  This seemingly theoretical question has practical implications. Like the question ¡°What does the West mean?¡± it derives from the notion of ¡°global conceptualism¡±. The answer to Maharaj¡¯s question lies in the story of Roots, as well as in another issue that Maharaj raised, that is, from the perspective of global multiculturalism, the growing exchanges have made it possible to share cultural resources (Small doubt that the shared cultural resources here are exactly what Maharaj described as the epistemological foundation). It is noteworthy that during such exchanges, something must have been repressed. An example is Chinese art in the 1980s, when artists embraced and explored modern art from the West. What is the hidden, silent voice? It is rather clear that the silent voice that Maharaj referred to that of the Chinese indigenous culture, which is often viewed as the Other from the Western perspective.

    In fact, this kind of voice can often be heard among critics and artists in China. Classic examples are works by those overseas Chinese artists who ingeniously use Chinese signs and political iconographies. In the essentialist and nationalistic criticism of Westerners¡¯ taste for exoticism, we can detect traces of post-colonialism. The issue of identity is critically important in the extremely complex art arena. At the moment when people in the West start to critique their own culture, and when the post Anglo-Saxonism is gaining currency, the identity of the Other (or the identification oneself with the Other) becomes an important issue.

    The questions that Okwui and Sarat raised are well intended. As the Other in the Western cultural system, they hope that Chinese art (as the Other too) can act as an active participant in the scheme of ¡°global conceptualism¡± that they constructed.  Their proposals, however, have two pitfalls.

    First, if we overemphasize the Other¡¯s differences and its one-sided images, it is possible that global conceptualism and multiculturalism will result in ¡°global cultural imaginaries¡±. The danger is that under such circumstance, pluralism and globalism will not be much different from cultural separatism. This separatism and fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin.

    Second, with the notion of the Other in mind, a group of non-Western curators have been interpreting Chinese art from certain cultural perspectives for a long time. Before the mid-twentieth century, many Chinese art objects were viewed from anthropological point of view. In today¡¯s world as picture (It is interesting to note that Martin Heidegger¡¯s philosophical expression is translated literally in China as ¡°The whole world as a show¡±.), the world itself becomes a colossal showroom filled with images and meanings.  Cultural reading, or reading based on anthropology and epistemology, is inevitable. Due to the lack of adequate knowledge about Chinese history and culture, and more importantly, the lack of Chinese experience, this kind of cultural reading can easily become a symptomatic one, in which one searches only cultural icons or other marks of identification on the surface level. Sometimes, this kind of reading places Chinese art into a preconceived ideological schema. It is unfortunate that this is the way in which many international scholars, critics and curators look at Chinese contemporary art. What they identify is ¡°China¡±. To put it more precisely, what they see is not Chinese art, but various kinds of imaginaries about China (Of course, their imaginaries about China are part of the global cultural imaginaries.)

    It is rather unfortunate that the market¡¯s demand-supply rule plays a prominent role in the artistic production in China. The power of the Western discourse derives from art institutions¡¯ deep pockets, which have attracted or forced many Chinese artists to participate in this massive-scale cultural production in a country with a unique political system. Thanks to China¡¯s economic development and its special status in the international community after the Cold War, this artistic production has become an indispensable resource for the operation of the transnational capital. As part of the global system after the Cold War, China¡¯s politics, folklore, and related artistic and cultural products gain immense popularity on the market as manifestations of China¡¯s Otherness.

    We must ask: in the system of the global conceptualism, what is the concealed, silent voice in the conception of China?

    Apparently, Chineseness is a set role on the stage of the global conceptualism. It wears a distorted mask of the Other. This mask is Westernized, and even anti-West. We may even use the term anti-West Western to define it. Chineseness, however, does not lie in its non-Westernness. The time-honored artistic tradition in China was built by innumerable creative geniuses throughout the ages. This tradition is rich and unique. It is true that its uniqueness cannot be seen unless we compare China with other countries. Over the past hundred years, we have established a notion of Chinese art by using the West as our frame of reference. This fixed concept of Chinese art is concealing; China has been referred to as the East as opposite of the West in modern history. Compared to the progressive, dynamic Western civilizations, Chinese civilization was considered static. In contrast to the representational, rational, analytical, and realistic Western art, Chinese art was often seen as abstract, metaphysical, sensory, intuitive, and idealized. In the Post-Cold War and globalization era when Western culture is transforming itself, China¡¯s non-Westernness conceals its true Chineseness.

    Chineseness and Chinese Contemporary Art
    In our attempt to discover the hidden voice, we need to be aware that a nation¡¯s culture is not monophonic whether it says yes or no. It has deeper and richer meanings. As a driving force behind the growth of a nation, it fosters communities. More importantly, it shapes the character and intellect of the community member. The past century witnessed China¡¯s struggle to redefine its culture in turbulent times. Although China attracts growing international attention today, there are potential crises. On the one hand, how can we claim that we are an Eastern power in the international cultural arena if we do not have any towering figures who contribute to the world culture, or if we do not have any epoch-making events or creative cultural forces.  On the other hand, Western discourse including globalism takes a keen interest in China¡¯s contemporary art; Chinese art was seen as a mirror in which the West can find its own image, or as an exotic appetizer in the dinner table of the global culture. Even for those artists who are brave enough to look critically at the current craze for Chinese art, they might not be able to resist the temptation of fame and profit.

    The twentieth century was extremely eventful. China went through upheavals, including the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, numerous struggles against feudal rule and foreign powers. Today China faces issues such as economic integration and globalization. One tendency deserves our attention in this long process: the gradual disintegration of power discourse and the presence of pluralistic discourse. In fact, the characteristics and essence of Chinese art are formed in its struggles against those non-art factors and ideologies imposed on it. An open environment is necessary to encourage exploration, reflection and creativity in China¡¯s cultural circle. This relies on our critique of China¡¯s cultural heritage, as well as our understanding of current cultural conditions and the world¡¯s diverse cultural resources. Under these circumstances, people began to borrow or appropriate artistic vocabulary from other cultures. In my view, a more important question is: how to use those borrowings to deal with Chinese issues and to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese life. This approach requires the above-mentioned epistemological foundation as well as the experience of current cultural life in China. This experience has more to do with the source of artistic production. Culturally speaking, it is the concealed ¡°silent voice¡±.

    The interaction between Chinese art and the international community has reached its peak in history. As the recent ¡°China boom¡± in the international art world indicates, the amount of world¡¯s attention to China is unprecedented. Chinese art faces both great opportunities and challenges in an extremely complex and paradoxical cultural environment. We are confronted with a critically important question: how to create a healthy, interactive relationship between Chinese art and the international art world? Before we can deal with this question, we must give serious consideration to another question: in the world¡¯s diverse cultural arena how to make a more imaginative and creative Chinese art instead of a specimen of the stereotyped cultural Other?

    For Chinese artists, the issue of identity is of primary importance. One¡¯s identity is self-explanatory. We never really lose our deeply-rooted Chineseness, which can be viewed not only as history¡¯s long shadow, but also as the our life here and now. Chineseness may also be viewed as a future, an aspiration that nourishes our heart and stimulates our creative mind.

    1.It refers to the 1840 Opium War, after which China began to have frequent contacts with Western countries.
    2.Some of the quotations in this essay are translated literally based on the Chinese text.
    3.Alex Haley. Roots; The Saga of an American Family. (New York: Vanguard Press) 2007, pp.873-874.

On Walter Hopps: Interviews and Reviews

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BOMB MAGAZINE

Bruce Conner

by Walter Hopps


Bruce Conner, Frankie Fix, 1997, photocopy on Bristol paper and mixed media, 48 × 40″. Courtesy of Curt Marcus Gallery.

I’d never seen Bruce Conner’s work and had no idea what to expect, when all of a sudden a small San Francisco gallery advertised a show of his. I went up to see it (this was in the late 1950s, when I was running the old Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles with Ed Kienholz). I could see the work through the gallery’s windows, but on the glass there was a notice that said “Presenting the work of the late Bruce Conner”—as though, sadly, he had died, and the work was being put up regardless. On exhibit were a few of the early Ratbastard-type assemblages. Everybody figured, Well, whoever the hell Bruce Conner was, he’s already dead. It was all fake, of course—he hadn’t died. But Bruce was living in the Midwest at that point, and although we’d heard about him through the poet Michael McClure, who was a friend of his, nobody on the West Coast really knew what he looked like. So Bruce got to see how people reacted to his work assuming that he was deceased. Later, after we became friends, he attended an opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as me. After that, I sort of took the cue from him and went to social events as someone else on occasion, and once sent someone else out to California as me.

We started showing Bruce at Ferus in 1959. In 1961, he moved with his wife down to Mexico, and shortly afterward I joined him there. I wanted to go down to where my relatives were in Mexico City. (My grandfather, Walter Hopps Sr., went to Tampico to seek his fortune in 1880. He was a character much like the old man in Treasure of the Sierra Madre—except tall instead of short.) While Bruce and I were there, ruins were discovered on my relatives’ property outside of Puebla, south of Mexico City, on the side of a mountain. We wanted to go down and excavate with some workmen and see what we could find. We dug up some old pots and artifacts—nothing spectacular, no gold or anything. It was dusty and difficult work, but quite an adventure. Bruce had been on an expedition once when he was in college, in North Dakota or someplace, trying to excavate Native American relics, so he was really interested in doing this. You could say he generally wanted to be in touch with the old. We found a human skeleton, which we ended up giving to my relatives who owned the property. There was an old stone building and we slept in there in sleeping bags. It wasn’t always easy to get a normal night’s sleep with Bruce around. Stoned, he had visions and thought strange things were going on in the night sky, winged beings coming after him and so on.


Bruce Conner, still from Cosmic Ray, 1961. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

I stayed with him at his place in Mexico City for a while, and during that time I helped him edit Cosmic Ray, the movie he made about Ray Charles. He had me cutting up pieces of film. He was quite fun to work with, but he could be crazed as well. One Sunday, we went to my aunt and uncle’s house for an afternoon soiree. We had a late lunch, and then people played croquet in the garden. Bruce refused to play croquet like a normal person, and he was driving everybody nuts by going around and hitting the wrong balls and goofing off.

While he was in Mexico, Bruce was finding things—really raggedy stuff—on the streets. The work he made there took a different turn; it was certainly influenced by the scene in Mexico City and what he was finding. It looked more handmade than the earlier assemblages, a little more crude. Wherever he is, Bruce somehow gets connected with what’s going on. I get the feeling that in certain periods of his work, even when it’s changing, he has a strange instinct for what it is he’s looking for. In terms of the work he made in Mexico, there is a kind of fragile quality to a lot of the materials he used; an almost fugitive quality—fugitive in the sense of being impermanent. Fabrics, cardboard, melted wax—these are vulnerable materials. And in his very best work he tends to use a lot of that, giving things a mellow, often rather dreamy surface—in the assemblages, the inkblots and also the Angels series of photograms, which are life-size versions of what Man Ray had done on a much smaller scale; silhouettes of objects on light-sensitive paper.


Bruce Conner, Guadalupe, 1962, assemblage, 27 × 20 x 5″. Courtesy of Curt Marcus Gallery.

Some of Bruce’s drawings from early on are also very faint—strong, but not bold. The more bold graphic works are these strange Rorschachs and repeating patterns, which are mysterious and unclear but nonetheless beautiful abstractions; inchoate symbols or emblems that, if they can be compared to anything else, they would remind me of the French Symbolist Odilon Redon.

Bruce Conner is an original. His art has a quality and a look all its own—even in its several different ways. Bruce has always had a certain mystique, and he’s a terrific contradiction. He’s from Kansas, and when you meet him he can seem like the most normal Midwestern man—like a classically constructed Kansan house. But then there are all these odd corners and nooks; he’s got quite an attic stuck on him, and there are strange things going on in it.


Bruce Conner, stills from A Movie, 1958. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.


Bruce Conner, The Mutants, 1978, black-and-white photograph #1 of 3, 9 × 13″. Courtesy of Curt Marcus Gallery.


Bruce Conner, stills from Cosmic Ray, 1961. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

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Feature

Reflections on Walter Hopps in Los Angeles

Ken Allen

Ed Kienholtz, Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps, 1959.

With Walter Hopps’ passing in late March of 2005, the art world lost one of its keenest curatorial minds.1 Hopps was an iconoclastic figure who embodied the free-wheeling climate of the “culture-boom” years of the early 1960s in which American artists and American museums seemed to carry the mantle of modernism as well as renew the avant-garde experiments begun in Europe earlier in the twentieth century. Hopps ended his career as curator of 20th century art and the founding director of the Menil Collection in Houston and as adjunct senior curator for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, but in approach and attitude he was the product of the sparse cultural landscape of postwar Los Angeles. Born in Glendale in 1932, Hopps grew up in a period in which artistic modernism was a kind of secret history in Los Angeles, a city that saw a series of conservative backlashes against progressive ideas of many stripes during the early Cold War from abstract painting to public housing. It was this atmosphere that contributed to Hopps’ lifelong commitment to cultivating a public for new and ambitious art in a way that both increased and intensified its audience. Responsible in large part for drawing attention to the burgeoning Los Angeles art world beginning in the late 1950s, Hopps’ special talents might be best defined by looking back at his early career as it shifted from promoting a number of artist friends to participating in a “scene” which exemplified the particular combination of creativity and commodification that characterized the 1960s.

According to Hopps himself, he attempted to carve out a unique position within the tradition of curators and “museum men” from the beginning of his career at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon) in the early 1960s. As he told an interviewer in 1987, “even in the Pasadena days, as I got to know Michael Fried, he would curse me, saying, ‘You just aren’t part of the profession at all. You’re a damned anthropologist.’ And I would say, ‘You’re damned right I am.’”2 Hopps explained that he cultivated relationships with artists of different backgrounds and temperaments, and while he was always conscious of their distinct visual languages he attempted to remain above the fray of the kinds of value judgements often made by critics, dealers and the artists themselves. He combined a closeness and loyalty to artists with a kind of participant-observer role remarked upon by Fried, a forceful critic at the start of his career at the time.

But Fried’s comment also gets at a part of Hopps’ character, which grew out of his education in the sciences. Born into a family of physicians, he was home-tutored before attending the Polytechnic School in Pasadena and Eagle Rock High School, where he excelled at math and science. In 1950, he enrolled at Stanford, but left shortly thereafter to study microbiology at UCLA. His aptitude in the sciences did not limit his curiosity about the arts, however, and it was during a high school trip to see the best collection of modern art in the area, at the home of Walter and Louise Arensberg in Hollywood, that his interest was seriously piqued. Hopps made several return visits to see the tremendous examples of surrealism, cubism, the sculpture of Brancusi and especially the work of Marcel Duchamp, which particularly intrigued the young student and could be conceived as a series of experiments about the nature of art and aesthetics. As Hopps would later demonstrate when he mounted the show he was most noted for, the first career retrospective of Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, the sense of an exhibit as a finely-tuned experiment, as an occasion in which bring together sensitive visual material and then to observe the interaction between art objects, ideas, artists and the public, was central to Hopps’ approach. But the results of this show–a galvanized Los Angeles art world and international media attention–were preceded by a number of earlier activities in which Hopps honed his skills as an arts organizer.

Hopps’ transition from college science major to arts impresario in the mid-1950s is marked by his interest in jazz and his earliest attempts to bring a wider audience to contemporary art in Los Angeles.3 As young students, Hopps, Jim Newman (later director of the Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco) and the artist Craig Kauffman organized jazz concerts in the early 1950s under the name Concert Hall Workshop. In the summer of 1954, Hopps and Newman spent time together in San Francisco exploring the work of a group of artists, most of whom came out of the abstract expressionist milieu that had developed at the California School of Fine Arts (which became the San Francisco Institute of Art).4 These artists, such as Hassel Smith, James Kelly, Julius Wasserstein, Roy De Forest, Sonia Gechtoff, Wally Hedrick, and Jay DeFeo, exhibited at a few dynamic galleries in San Francisco committed to new, local work, such as the King Ubu Gallery (which later became the “6” Gallery) and the East & West Gallery. Inspired by the creative energy and dadaist spirit of these galleries and fascinated by the work of the artists they represented, Hopps wanted to bring what he found in San Francisco to Southern California. While attending UCLA around this time, he had founded a gallery in Los Angeles called Syndell Studio, which he operated with his first wife Shirley and the poet Ben Bartosh. In a bizarre building in Brentwood constructed of old telephone poles painted white, Syndell presented a mix of San Francisco and Los Angeles artists. As Hopps has remarked, Syndell functioned for him “like a discreet laboratory. I didn’t care if four or five people came, as long as there were two or three that were really engaged.”5

But along with this rather private endeavor, Hopps was inclined to try to bring this work to a larger public and conceived of a large survey of West Coast abstract painting called Action. Held in May of 1955 under the auspices of the Concert Hall Workshop group, the detailed exhibition announcement reveals Hopps’ interest and struggle to secure a public place for the exhibit. Originally conceived for a super market space on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, then slated for the Frank Lloyd Wright Pavilion (the Hollyhock House) at Barnsdall Park, the announcement states that “because of pressures of certain groups in Los Angeles who have always been in opposition to contemporary art we found the usage of the Wright Pavilion unfeasible.”6 After proposing to use outdoor theater spaces also controlled by the city, the Action show was finally mounted on the Santa Monica Pier, in the merry-go-round building rented by Hopps for $80 for the week and therefore “subject to no pressures.”7 Because the Concert Hall Workshop was the main sponsor of the “merry-go-round show,” as it is often called, it is not surprising that recorded jazz music was playing throughout the show, adding to the unusual mix of abstract art within the amusement park atmosphere of the pier. The flyer text states that this combination of music and visual art “implies only aesthetic compatibility, not a reciprocal relationship.”8 Because this was the first large-scale exhibit of California “action painting” in a public venue, the show is described in the text as “an attempt to begin to provide the concepts and facilities for the exhibiting of indigenous contemporary works.”9 The fact that this show was followed by Action 2 (“Action squared”) the following year, which included many of the same artists but in a more refined venue, is proof that these “concepts and facilities” were beginning to take root in Los Angeles.10

Action 2 was the result of the collaboration between the “6” and the East & West Gallery in San Francisco and the two galleries in Los Angeles that had established themselves as places for local, avant-garde art in the year since the first Action show, Syndell Studio and Edward Kienholz’s Now Gallery in the Turnabout Theater on La Cienega, where the exhibition was actually held. The two main organizers of Action 2, Hopps and artist and poet Robert Alexander met through Alexander’s friend Wallace Berman, a central figure among a number of artists working in collage and assemblage outside of the network of art schools and annual city shows that constituted the most visible aspect of the Los Angeles art world at the time. The change in the size and location of the second Action show, and the lack of any accompanying music, marks a further refinement of the presentation of the avant-garde in Los Angeles and an interest in the attracting a different public. From the work of twenty-three artists installed in the spectacular display context of an amusement park building on a public pier to the presentation of the work of twelve artists hung in a gallery space located on La Cienega in West Hollywood — a street that was to become known as “gallery row” in the mid-1960s — Action 2 marks a renewed ambition to carve out a new space for vanguard art within the cultural landscape of Los Angeles.11

Charles Brittin, Ferus Alley (Bob Alexander, John Reed, Wallace Berman, Juanita, Walter Hopps), Los Angeles, California, ca. 1957.

The exhibition brochure for Action 2 was designed and printed by Robert Alexander in collaboration with Hopps and includes tipped-in, black and white photographs of paintings by Craig Kauffman, Jay DeFeo, Sonia Gechtoff and a collage by Alexander himself. These images are accompanied by a series of short, poetic statements that tellingly illuminate the spirit in which Hopps conceived of his activity in this period. As he remarked on the conception of these texts, Hopps recalled that he and Alexander “just talked it through,” echoing the improvisational style of many of the works on display.12 The introductory text, following the title page, encapsulates the mix of serious intent and bohemian attitude that surrounded the Action shows:

WE CAN MAKE, HANG, WRECK, SHOW, sell or enjoy them, but it’s “….almost impossible for us to measure the efficacity [sic] of a work of art which we have written or painted, since true admiration…..is almost always accompanied by an insurmountable uneasiness”[ellipses and capitals original].13

Hopps has admitted that he invented the portion of the passage within the quotation marks, but it is printed in such a way to suggest an authoritative text has been excerpted, although the uneven ellipses and use of the incorrect “efficacity” lean toward parody. 14 Another cryptic message declares:

paintings (the other works too) demand being seen (under a variety of circumstances); sometimes they’re good to trade for other things.
observe, & involve even yourself.15

Hopps and Alexander may be referring to Kienholz’s penchant of bartering art work for services here, but the last line emphasizes the kind of democratic, open-ended aesthetic experience which the show was designed to offer. The most radical aspect of the show was a gesture of pure dadaist aggression performed by Alexander when he knocked a hole in the gallery wall clean through to the alley behind the building and pulled in the tall weeds and vines that were growing there, leaving them sticking into the exhibit space.16 This piece, a precursor to later alterations of museum and gallery spaces of the 1960s, was surely meant to represent the anarchical spirit of the “outlaws,” as he liked to identify Wallace Berman and himself, and one with which Hopps still identified years later.17

But these two shows preceded the endeavor for which Hopps is most remembered in the LA art world, the founding of the Ferus Gallery with Edward Kienholz in 1957. Kienholz’s 1959 piece, Walter Hopps, Hopps, Hopps, is a cunning assemblage portrait of his business partner, but one which literally embodies the contradictions that Ferus quickly came to represent as the contemporary art market developed in Los Angeles. In this piece, Kienholz altered a popular gas station advertisement of the time, the Bardahl Man, to make a unique contribution to the modernist tradition of dealer portraits. Hopps is represented as a street hustler hawking paintings from under his jacket as if they were hot merchandise. He shows off mini-paintings by Willem deKooning, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock, in order from top to bottom. The reverse of the figure reveals a series of compartments containing various notes and items pertaining to Hopps’ work as a dealer. In the box behind his head, for instance, can be found a long list entitled, “Major Artists I Want to Show,” which doesn’t include a single local artist, but consists of puns on the names of major New York artists such as, “Willem de Conning,” “Franz Climb,” “Jasper Cans,” “Adolph Gothis,” “Robert Nothingwell” and “Jackson Potluck.” Other compartments are labeled “Important People w/influence or money” and “Competitors and Other Un-informed Types.” According to Hopps, Kienholz was criticizing his preference for New York School painters over any of the Los Angeles artists he represented, including Kienholz himself.18

The piece is striking in its indictment of the local and national art worlds within which Los Angeles artists such as Kienholz had a stake. As Hopps’s founding partner in the Ferus Gallery, only Kienholz could make such a biting caricature and perhaps only he was willing to challenge the shift in the gallery’s direction, from a cooperative arrangement devoted to the California avant-garde to a commercial endeavor positioning itself to represent New York artists in Los Angeles. As a new partner and director of Ferus, Irving Blum imposed a vision of the gallery that was resisted by many of its artists. He urged Hopps to streamline their operation by reducing the roster of California artists and to widen the scope of the enterprise by utilizing his East Coast connections in order to arrange joint representation for New York artists in Los Angeles. In this, Ferus would be competing with other local galleries that showed New York painting, but the cache and notoriety the gallery had developed through its support of local avant-garde artists gave it an edge that would be fully exploited as the 1960s unfolded. Ultimately, Blum’s blueprint made the gallery into the centerpiece of the rapid rise of a new Los Angeles art market in the 1960s. So the figure in Kienholz’s dealer portrait, although unmistakably Hopps in his horn rimmed glasses and black coat and thin tie, can also be seen as a representation of Irving Blum’s influence on the gallery. Shortly after this piece was made in 1959, in fact, Ferus opened the 1960 season with a show entitled 14 New York Artists that included works by deKooning, Kline, Pollock, Newman, Rothko, Hoffman, Motherwell and others. This was the first time Ferus had shown work other than that by Los Angeles and San Francisco artists. By this time, the gallery had moved across the street in a new, more professional space designed by Blum. As Hopps remarked at a recent museum talk, the new Ferus space “was slicker than deer guts on a door knob.”19

Kienholz’s portrait ultimately represents Hopps’ greater ambitions as a new Los Angeles art scene got off the ground in the early 1960s. It shows him as the tireless promoter of contemporary art which he was, carefully cultivating a collecting public through art history courses he gave at UCLA Extension, that helped introduce the avant-garde to collectors such as Betty Asher, Monte Factor, Fred and Marcia Weisman, and Ed Janss. After leaving Ferus and consulting at the Pasadena Art Museum where he officially became a curator in 1962 and then director in 1964, Hopps went on to mount many groundbreaking shows, including an early survey of pop art, New Paintings of Common Objects and the Duchamp retrospective in 1963. Picked to curate the U.S. section of the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1965, one of the first extensions of the international art fair beyond Europe, Hopps’ earlier efforts were beginning to pay off. He would continually face resistance from more conservative members of museum boards, however, and never alter his idiosyncratic working hours and sometimes autocratic management style which lead him to leave jobs in Los Angeles and later Washington D.C.. In a 1965 column in Frontier magazine, Philip Leider (then editor of L.A.-based Artforum) provided a sense of just exactly how valuable Hopps was to the Los Angeles art community in this period:

The Duchamp exhibition climaxed almost a decade of the most intense activity on behalf of the contemporary art scene by Hopps. Practically living in studios in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hopps acted as a kind of one-man liaison between avant-garde artists in the three cities. His friendship with countless artists, including Rauschenberg, Johns, Conner, Diebenkorn, Kienholz, et. al., extends to the earliest days of their careers, and as curator at the Pasadena museum, he exhibited young artists such as Ruscha and Goode before they had ever been seen in commercial galleries. He was instrumental in the development of many private collections of contemporary art in Los Angeles, and to this moment he can be credited, by coaxing, cajoling, teaching and demanding, with bringing more important contemporary art into Southern California than any other single figure.20

Having returned to the area for his first local project in decades, Hopps passed away shortly after celebrating the opening of a tremendous survey of the assemblage work of George Herms he curated at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in March. As Doug Harvey noted in his LA Weekly review of the show, “It isn’t very often you get to orchestrate your own requiem, but Walter Hopps–who once compared curating to conducting a symphony–has managed it neatly.”21 Herms was one of Hopps’ oldest friends and a member of the original group of “outlaws,” who pushed the boundaries of the Los Angeles art world in the 50s and 60s with gritty and poetic, found-object sculpture that embraced the lived experience of the jazz, drugs, sex and love which defined the era. As a tribute to the spirit in which Hopps began his career in Los Angeles, nothing could have been more fitting.

Ken Allan received his Ph.D. in Art History at the University of Chicago in June 2005 with a dissertation on the relationship between artistic practice and social space in postwar L.A. entitled, “Making the Scene: Assemblage, Pop Art and Locality in 1960s Los Angeles.”

Footnotes

  1. Support for the preparation of this article was provided by an ACLS Dissertation Fellowship in American Art, with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation.
  2. “Pasadena Art Museum: Walter Hopps,” Joanne L. Ratner, interviewer, October 11, 1987, Department of Special Collections, Oral History Program, University Research Library, University of California Los Angeles, 1990, p. 36.
  3. For a more detailed reading of Hopps’ activities and his collaboration with Robert Alexander and Wallace Berman in this period, see my “Creating An Avant-Garde in 1950s Los Angeles: Robert Alexander’s Hand-Printed Gallery Brochure in the Archives of American Art,” Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 42, Nos. 3-4, 2002.
  4. Much of this account of the history of the period leading up to the Action show is drawn from the “James Newman Oral History Interview,” Paul Karlstrom, interviewer, May 13, 1974, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  5. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps hopps hoppsoart curator,” Artforum, February 1996.
  6. Action exhibition flyer, Craig Kauffman papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution,
    Washington D.C.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. The artists included in Action were James Kelly, Sonia Gechtoff, Adelie Landis, Paul Wonner, Bill Brown, Robert Craig Kauffman, Hassel Smith, James Bud Nixon, Relf Case, Madeleine Diamond, Gilbert Henderson, Larry Compton, J. DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, David Stiles, Richard Diebenkorn, Roy De Forest, Richard Brodney, Julius Wasserstein, Jack Lowe, Paul Sarkisian, Phil Rober, and James Corbett.
  11. The artists included in Action 2 were Fred Wellington, Paul Sarkisian, James Kelly, Gilbert Henderson, Sonia Gechtoff, Elwood Decker, Julius Wasserstein, Gerd Koch, Robert Craig Kauffman, Wally Hedrick, J. DeFeo, and i.e. alexander. Robert Alexander often signed his poetry and artwork with the name “i. e. alexander.”
  12. Walter Hopps, telephone interview with the author, March 25, 2002.
  13. Action 2 exhibition brochure, Sonia Gechtoff papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  14. Walter Hopps, telephone interview with the author, March 25, 2002.
  15. Action 2 exhibition brochure, Sonia Gechtoff papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  16. Walter Hopps, telephone interview with the author, March 25, 2002.
  17. Robert Alexander quoted in Sandra Leonard Starr, Lost and Found in California: Four Decades of Assemblage Art (Santa Monica: James Corcoran Gallery, 1988), p. 82.
  18. Walter Hopps, Kienholz: A Retrospective (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996), p. 32.
  19. Walter Hopps, “Walter Hopps and George Herms in Conversation,” March 8, 2005, Santa Monica Museum of Art.
  20. Philip Leider, “Culture and Culture-Boom,” Frontier, April 1965, p. 25.
  21. Doug Harvery, “Herms the Messenger, Hopps Down the Rabbit Hole,” LA Weekly, April 15-21, 2005, p. 38

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Correction to This Article
The March 22 obituary of art curator Walter Hopps gave an incorrect name for the Smithsonian Institution museum where he worked in the 1970s. The correct name is the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Walter Hopps; Curator Of 20th-Century Art

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page B06

Walter Hopps, 72, the self-taught curator who specialized in 20th-century art and gained an international reputation for his innovative exhibitions, died March 20 at a hospital in Los Angeles after falling and breaking three ribs earlier in the month.

In a career that spanned from Los Angeles to Washington to Houston, where he most recently was 20th-century art curator at the Menil Collection, Mr. Hopps was known for a renegade spirit that attracted much attention in the art world.


Walter Hopps, known for a renegade spirit, was director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art from 1967 to 1972. (Gary Cameron — The Washington Post)

 


 

He showcased the work of leading abstract expressionists as well as emerging pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Among his landmark exhibits was the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp, the first museum exhibition of Frank Stella and “The New Painting of Common Objects,” a 1962 exhibition that signaled the rise of American pop art.

He also was art director of Grand Street, a New York-based literary magazine.

Jean Stein, the publication’s editor, said Mr. Hopps surpassed his job description. She said his vision guided the magazine, which combined art, literature, science and political thought and published works by internationally known artists and writers.

“He influenced so many people in the art world to care for artists the way he did,” Stein said. “He cared for them and nourished them.”

Mr. Hopps relished doing “small exhibitions” — photo layouts in the magazine — particularly when it became more difficult for him to get around, Stein said.

His last full-scale exhibition was for Beat generation artist and poet George Herms, one of the figures from Mr. Hopps’s early days in Los Angeles. “George Herms: Hot Set” opened March 4 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in California, and Mr. Hopps and Herms held a talk March 8.

In a 1991 New Yorker magazine interview, Mr. Hopps was described as “a tall, imposing man with flowing hair and with Mephisto eyebrows that form bushy circumflex accents over blue eyes.”

In the article, Mr. Hopps compared his work to one of his other passions: music. “I think that the closest analogy to installing a museum exhibition is conducting a symphony orchestra,” he said.

This was a fair analogy, wrote Calvin Tompkins in the New Yorker story: “Like some artists, he has the visual equivalent of a musician’s perfect pitch.”

Mr. Hopps was born in Eagle Rock, Calif., on May 3, 1932. In high school, he started a photographic society and organized exhibits. During this time, he also met the influential art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, which further spurred his direction. He attended Stanford, Harvard and Yale universities but never earned a degree.

In 1957, he and artist Edward Kienholz opened the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, a legendary spot where Warhol exhibited his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans.

In the 1960s, he became director of the Pasadena Art Museum in California. He left Pasadena in 1967 and later became director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington until 1972. He reportedly was fired from the Corcoran because of his habit of disappearing for hours, among other eccentric behavior.

He then was curator of 20th-century American art at what is now the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and served in 1972 as U.S. commissioner of the Venice Biennale exhibition in Italy, where he featured artists such as photographer Diane Arbus and painters Richard Estes and Sam Gilliam.

In 1979, he settled in Houston and soon became founding director of the Menil Collection.

In 2002, he was named adjunct senior curator of 20th-century art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. There, he organized a traveling retrospective of the American pop artist James Rosenquist, one of his many path-breaking exhibits.

Guggenheim director Thomas Krens once called Mr. Hopps “one of the preeminent curators of his generation” and said that he “redefined how we look at art of the modern era.”

The Menil Foundation established the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement in 2001 to recognize and encourage a continuation of Mr. Hopps’s “spirited tradition of innovation and excellence.”

A colleague once said Mr. Hopps merely “wanted the world to see what he saw.”

Survivors include his wife, Caroline Huber of Houston.

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 Current Issue Cover

The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps

What Is a Curator?Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the 14 regions of Rome. And the curatores aquarum took care of the aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the role of the curator shifted to the ecclesiastical, as clergy having a spiritual cure or charge. So one could say that the split within curating—between the management and control of public works (law) and the cure of souls (faith)—was there from the beginning. Curators have always been a curious mixture of bureaucrat and priest.

That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world—
—Shakespeare, King John1

Portrait of Harald Szeemann. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

For better or worse, curators of contemporary art have become, especially in the last 10 years, the principal representatives of some of our most persistent questions and confusions about the social role of art. Is art a force for change and renewal, or is it a commodity for advantage or convenience? Is art a radical activity, undermining social conventions, or is it a diverting entertainment for the wealthy? Are artists the antennae of the human race, or are they spoiled children with delusions of grandeur (in Roman law, a curator could also be the appointed caretaker or guardian of a minor or lunatic)? Are art exhibitions “spiritual undertakings with the power to conjure alternative ways of organizing society,” or vehicles for cultural tourism and nationalistic propaganda?

These splits, which reflect larger tears in the social fabric, certainly in the United States, complicate the changing role of curators of contemporary art, because curators mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take “a curving and indirect course” between them. Teaching for the past five years at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, I observed young curators confronting the practical demands and limitations of their profession armed with a vision of possibility and an image of the curator as a free agent, capable of almost anything. Where did this image come from?

When Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps died in February and March 2005, at age 72 and 71, respectively, it was impossible not to see this as the end of an era. They were two of the principal architects of the present approach to curating contemporary art, working over 50 years to transform the practice. When young curators imagine what’s possible, they are imagining (whether they know it or not) some version of Szeemann and Hopps. The trouble with taking these two as models of curatorial possibility is that both of them were sui generis: renegades who managed, through sheer force of will, extraordinary ability, brilliance, luck, and hard work, to make themselves indispensable, and thereby intermittently palatable, to the conservative institutions of the art world.

Each came to these institutions early. When Szeemann was named head of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961, at age 28, he was the youngest ever to have been appointed to such a position in Europe, and when Hopps was made director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1964, at age 31, he was then the youngest art museum director in the United States. By that time, Hopps (who never earned a college degree) had already mounted a show of paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, and many others on a merry-go-round in an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier (with his first wife, Shirley Hopps, when he was 22); started and run two galleries (Syndell Studios and the seminal Ferus Gallery, with Ed Kienholz); and curated the first museum shows of Frank Stella’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, the first U.S. retrospective of Kurt Schwitters, the first museum exhibition of Pop Art, and the first solo museum exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, in Pasadena in 1963. And that was just the beginning. Near the end of his life, Hopps estimated that he’d organized 250 exhibitions in his 50-year career.

Szeemann’s early curatorial activities were no less prodigious. He made his first exhibition, Painters Poets/ Poets Painters, a tribute to Hugo Ball, in 1957, at age 24. When he became the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern four years later, he completely transformed that institution, mounting nearly 12 exhibitions a year, culminating in the landmark show Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, in 1969, exhibiting works by 70 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman, among many others.

While producing critically acclaimed and historically important exhibitions, both Hopps and Szeemann quickly came into conflict with their respective institutions. After four years at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps was asked to resign. He was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1970, then fired two years later. For his part, stunned by the negative reaction to When Attitudes Become Form from the Kunsthalle Bern, Harald Szeemann quit his job, becoming the first “independent curator.” He set up the Agency for Spiritual Guestwork and co-founded the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) in 1969, curated Happenings & Fluxus at the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, and became the first artistic director of Documenta in 1972, reconceiving it as a 100-day event. Szeemann and Hopps hadn’t yet turned 40, and their best shows were all ahead of them. For Szeemann, these included Junggesellenmaschinen—Les Machines célibataires (“Bachelor Machines”) in 1975-77, Monte Veritá (1978, 1983, 1987), the first Aperto at the Venice Biennale (with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1980), Der Hang Zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Europaïsche Utopien seit 1800 (“The Quest for the Total Work of Art”) in 1983-84, Visionary Switzerland in 1991, the Joseph Beuys retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, Austria in a Lacework of Roses in 1996, and the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. For Hopps, yet to come were exhibitions of Diane Arbus in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972, the Robert Rauschenberg mid-career survey in 1976, retrospectives at the Menil Collection of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, and exhibitions of Jay DeFeo (1990), Ed Kienholz (1996 at the Whitney), Rauschenberg again (1998), and James Rosenquist (2003 at the Guggenheim). Both Szeemann and Hopps had exhibitions open when they died—Szeemann’s Visionary Belgium, for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Hopps’s George Herms retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum—and both had plans for many more exhibitions in the future.

What Do Curators Do?

Szeemann and Hopps were the Cosmas and Damian (or the Beuys and Duchamp) of contemporary curatorial practice. Rather than accepting things as they found them, they changed the way things were done. But finally, they will be remembered for only one thing: the quality of the exhibitions they made; for that is what curators do, after all. Szeemann often said he preferred the simple title of Ausstellungsmacher (exhibition-maker), but he acknowledged at the same time how many different functions this one job comprised: “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” I have heard curators characterized at different times as:
Administrators Advocates
Auteurs
Bricoleurs (Hopps’ last show, the Herms retrospective, was titled “The Bricoleur of Broken Dreams. . . One More Once”)
Brokers
Bureaucrats
Cartographers (Ivo Mesquita)
Catalysts (Hans Ulrich Obrist)
Collaborators
Cultural impresarios
Cultural nomads
Diplomats (When Bill Lieberman, who held top curatorial posts at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in May 2005, Artnews described him as “the consummate art diplomat”)
And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet. When Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Walter Hopps to name important predecessors, the first one he came up with was Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, “for his unrelenting rigor.” He continued, “Fine curating of an artist’s work—that is, presenting it in an exhibition—requires as broad and sensitive an understanding of an artist’s work that a curator can possibly muster. This knowledge needs to go well beyond what is actually put in the exhibition. . . . To me, a body of work by a given artist has an inherent kind of score that you try to relate to or understand. It puts you in a certain psychological state. I always tried to get as peaceful and calm as possible.”3

But around this calm and peaceful center raged the “controlled chaos” of exhibition making. Hopps’ real skills included an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that made them sing,4 the personal charm to get people to do things for him, and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art and then account for his experience of it, and articulate this account to others in a compelling and convincing way.

It is significant, I think, that neither Szeemann nor Hopps considered himself a writer, but both recognized and valued good writing, and solicited and “curated” writers and critics as well as artists into their exhibitions and publications. Even so, many have observed that the rise of the independent curator has occurred at the expense of the independent critic. In a recent article titled “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” Mark Spiegler opined that “on the day in 1969 when Harald Szeemann went freelance by leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, the wind turned against criticism.”5 There are curators who can also write criticism, but these precious few are exceptions that prove the rule. Curators are not specialists, but for some reason they feel the need to use a specialized language, appropriated from philosophy or psychoanalysis, which too often obscures rather than reveals their sources and ideas. The result is not criticism, but curatorial rhetoric. Criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, while the inflationary writing of curatorial rhetoric is used to obscure fine distinctions with vague generalities. The latter’s displacement of the former has a political dimension as we move into an increasingly managed, post-critical environment.

Although Szeemann and Hopps were very different in many ways, they shared certain fundamental values: an understanding of the importance of remaining independent of institutional prejudices and arbitrary power arrangements; a keen sense of history; the willingness to continually take risks intellectually, aesthetically, and conceptually; and an inexhaustible curiosity about and respect for the way artists work.

Portrait of Walter Hopps. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

Szeemann’s break away from the institution of the Kunsthalle was, simply put, “a rebellion aimed at having more freedom.”6 This rebellious act put him closer to the ethos of artists and writers, where authority cannot be bestowed or taken, but must be earned through the quality of one’s work. In his collaborations with artists, power relations were negotiated in practice rather than asserted as fiat. Every mature artist I know has a favorite horror story about a young, inexperienced curator trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating a seasoned artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s grand plan or theme. The cure for this kind of insecure hubris is experience, but also the recognition of the ultimate contingency of the curatorial process. As Dave Hickey said of both critics and curators, “Somebody has to do something before we can do anything.”7 In June of 2000, after being at the pinnacle of curatorial power repeatedly for over 40 years, Harald Szeemann said, “Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.”8

When contemporary curators, following in the steps of Szeemann, break free from institutions, they sometimes lose their sense of history in the process. Whatever their shortcomings, institutions do have a sense (sometimes a surfeit) of history. And without history, “the new” becomes a trap, a sequential recapitulation of past approaches with no forward movement. It is a terrible thing to be perpetually stuck in the present, and this is a major occupational hazard for curators.

Speaking about his curating of the Seville Biennale in 2004, Szeemann said, “It’s not about presenting the best there is, but about discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future.” But moving the ball up the field requires a tremendous amount of legwork. “The unpredictable path of art” becomes much less so when curators rely on the Claude Rains method, rounding up the usual suspects from the same well-worn list of artists that everyone else in the world is using.

It is difficult, in retrospect, to fully appreciate the risks that both Szeemann and Hopps took to change the way curators worked. One should never underestimate the value of a monthly paycheck. By giving up a secure position as director of a stable art institution and striking out on his own as an “independent curator,” Szeemann was assuring himself years of penury. There was certainly no assurance that anyone would hire him as a freelance. Anyone who’s chosen this path knows that freelance means never having to say you’re solvent. Being freelance as a writer and critic is one thing: The tools of the trade are relatively inexpensive, and one need only make a living. But making exhibitions is costly and finding “independent” money, money without onerous strings attached to it, is especially difficult when one cannot, in good conscience, present it as an “investment opportunity.” Daniel Birnbaum points out that “all the dilemmas of corporate sponsorship and branding in contemporary art today are fully articulated in [‘When Attitudes Become Form’]. Remarkably, according to Szeemann, the exhibition came about only because ‘people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Ruder Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom.’ Indeed, the exhibition’s catalogue seems uncanny in its prescience: ‘As businessmen in tune with our times, we at Philip Morris are committed to support the experimental,’ writes John A. Murphy, the company’s European president, asserting that his company experimented with ‘new methods and materials’ in a way fully comparable to the Conceptual artists in the exhibition. (And yet, showing the other side of this corporate-funding equation, it was a while before the company supported the arts in Europe again, perhaps needing time to recover from all the negative press surrounding the event.)”9 So the founding act of “independent curating” was brought to you by . . . Philip Morris! 33 years later, for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02, Szeemann designed a pavilion covered with sheets of gold, containing a system of pneumatic tubes and a machine that destroyed money—two 100 franc notes every minute during the 159 days of the exhibition. The sponsor? The Swiss National Bank, of course.
When Walter Hopps brought the avant-garde to Southern California, he didn’t have to compete with others to secure the works of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, or Jay DeFeo (for the merry-go-round show in 1953), because no one else wanted them. In his Hopps obituary, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight pointed out that “just a few years after Hopps’s first visit to the [Arensbergs’] collection, the [Los Angeles] City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.”10 In 50 years, we’ve progressed from banning art as Communist propaganda to prosecuting artists as terrorists.11

The Few and Far Between

It’s not that fast horses are rare, but men who know enough to spot them
are few and far between.
—Han Yü12

The trait that Szeemann and Hopps had most in common was their respect for and understanding of artists. They never lost sight of the fact that their principal job was to take what they found in artists’ works and do whatever it took to present it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this meant combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know, but to show the public. As Lawrence Weiner pointed out in an interview in 1994, “Everybody that was in the Attitudes show knew all about the work of everybody else in the Attitudes show. They wouldn’t have known them personally, but they knew all the work. . . . Most artists on both sides of the Atlantic knew what was being done. European artists had been coming to New York and U.S. artists went over there.”13 But Attitudes brought it all together in a way that made a difference.

Both Szeemann and Hopps felt most at home with artists, sometimes literally. Carolee Schneemann recently described for me the scene in the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, when she and her collaborator in “Happenings and Fluxus” (having arrived and discovered there was no money for lodging) moved into their installations, and Szeemann thought it such a good idea to sleep on site that he brought in a cot and slept in the museum himself, to the outrage of the guards and staff. Both Szeemann and Hopps reserved their harshest criticism for the various bureaucracies that got between them and the artists. Hopps once described working for bureaucrats when he was a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts as “like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal.”14 And Szeemann said in 2001 that “the annoying thing about such bureaucratic organizations as the [Venice] Biennale is that there are a lot of people running around who hate artists because they keep running around wanting to change everything.”15 Changing everything, for Szeemann, was just the point. “Artists, like curators, work on their own,” he said in 2000, “grappling with their attempt to make a world in which to survive. . . . We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors, sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here where the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.”16 The society of the obsessed.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Although Walter Hopps was an early commissioner for the São Paolo Biennal (1965: Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Richard Irwin and Larry Poons) and of the Venice Biennale (1972: Diane Arbus), Harald Szeemann practically invented the role of nomadic independent curator of huge international shows, putting his indelible stamp on Documenta and Venice and organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997, and the first Seville Biennale in 2004, as well as numerous other international surveys around the world.

So what Szeemann said about globalization and art should perhaps be taken seriously. He saw globalization as a euphemism for imperialism, and proclaimed that “globalization is the great enemy of art.” And in the Carolee Thea interview in 2000, he said, “Globalization is perfect if it brings more justice and equality to the world . . . but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computers or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.”17 And globalization of the curatorial class can be a way to avoid or “transcend” the political.

Rene Dubos’s old directive to “think globally, but act locally” (first given at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972) has been upended in some recent international shows (like the 14th Sydney Biennale in 2004, and the 1st Moscow Biennial in 2005). When one thinks locally (within a primarily Euro-American cultural framework, or within a New York-London-Kassel-Venice-Basel-Los Angeles-Miami framework) but acts globally, the results are bound to be problematic, and can be disastrous. In 1979, Dubos argued for an ecologically sustainable world in which “natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications.” At their best, the big international exhibitions do contribute to this. Okwui Enwezor’s18 Documenta XI certainly did, and Szeemann knew it. At their worst, they perpetuate the center-to-periphery hegemony and preclude real cross-cultural communication and change. Although having artists and writers move around in the world is an obvious good, real cultural exchange is something that must be nurtured. Walter Hopps said in 1996: “I really believe in—and, obviously, hope for—radical, or arbitrary, presentations, where cross-cultural and cross-temporal considerations are extreme, out of all the artifacts we have. . . . So just in terms of people’s priorities, conventional hierarchies begin to shift some.”19

The Silence of Szeemann & Hopps Is Overrated

‘Art’ is any human activity that aims at producing improbable situations, and it is the more artful (artistic) the less probable the situation that it produces. —Vilém Flusser20

Harald Szeemann recognized early and long appreciated the utopian aspects of art. “The often-evoked ‘autonomy’ is just as much a fruit of subjective evaluation as the ideal society: it remains a utopia while it informs the desire to experientially visualize the unio mystica of opposites in space. Which is to say that without seeing, there is nothing visionary, but that the visionary should always determine the seeing.” And he recognized that the bureaucrat could overtake the curer of souls at any point. “Otherwise, we might just as well return to ‘hanging and placing,’ and divide the entire process ‘from the vision to the nail’ into detailed little tasks again.”21 He organized exhibitions in which the improbable could occur, and was willing to risk the impossible. In reply to a charge that the social utopianism of Joseph Beuys was never realized, Szeemann said, “The nice thing about utopias is precisely that they fail. For me, failure is a poetic dimension of art.”22 Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time.

If he and Hopps could still encourage young curators in anything, I suspect it would be to take greater risks in their work. At a time when all parts of the social and political spheres (including art institutions) are increasingly managed, breaking out of this frame, asking significant questions, and setting the terms of resistance is more and more vitally important. It is important to work against the bias of the world (commodity, political expediency). For curators of contemporary art, that means finding and supporting those artists who, as Flusser writes, “have attempted, at the risk of their lives, to utter that which is unutterable, to render audible that which is ineffable, to render visible that which is hidden.”23

This essay will be included in the forthcoming Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating
Edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, published by Apex Art. It will be available by January 2007.

Endnotes

1 Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John, Act II, Scene 1, 573-74. Cowper: “What Shakespeare calls commodity, and we call political expediency.” Appendix 13 of my old edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 1639-40, reads: “Shakespeare frequently used poetic imagery taken from the game of bowls [bowling]. . . . The bowl [bowling ball] was not a perfect sphere, but so made that one side somewhat protruded. This protrusion was called the bias; it caused the bowl to take a curving and indirect course.”

2 “When Attitude Becomes Form: Daniel Birnbaum on Harald Szeemann,” Artforum, Summer 2005, p. 55.

3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews, Volume I, edited by Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), pp. 416-17. Hopps also named as predecessors exhibition-makers Katherine Dreier, Alfred Barr, James Johnson Sweeney, René d’Harnoncourt, and Jermayne MacAgy.

4 In 1976, at the Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C., Hopps announced that, for thirty-six hours, he would hang anything anyone brought in, as long as it would fit through the door. Later, he proposed to put 100,000 images up on the walls of P.S. 1 in New York, but that project was, sadly, never realized.

5 Mark Spiegler, “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” The Art Newspaper, no. 157, April 2005, p. 32.

6 Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators (New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001), p. 19.

7 Curating Now: Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility: Proceedings from a symposium addressing the state of current curatorial practice organized by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, October 14-15, 2000, edited by Paula Marincola (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2001), p. 128. Both Szeemann and Hopps passed Hickey’s test: “The curator’s job, in my view,” he said, “is to tell the truth, to show her or his hand, and get out of the way” (p. 126).

8 Carolee Thea, p. 19 (emphasis added).

9 Daniel Birnbaum, p. 58.

10 Christopher Knight, “Walter Hopps, 1932-2005. Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.

11At this writing, the U.S. government continues in its effort to prosecute artist Steven Kurtz for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail, even though the agents were harmless and intended for use in art pieces by the collaborative Critical Art Ensemble. Kurtz has said he believes the charges filed against him in 2004 (after agents from the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depeartment of Defence swarmed over his house) are part of a Bush administration campaign to prevent artists from protesting government policies. “I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history,” Kurtz has said. “A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.” For the latest developments in the case, go to caedefensefund.org.

12 Epigraph to Nathan Sivin’s Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

13 Having Been Said: Writings & Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968-2003, edited by Gerti Fietzek and Gregor Stemmrich (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), p. 315.

14 Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps—Art Curator,” Artforum, February 1996.

15 Jan Winkelman, “Failure as a Poetic Dimension: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann,” Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over Hedendaagse Kunst, No. 3, June 2001.

16 Carolee Thea, p. 17 (emphasis added).

17 Carolee Thea, p. 18.

18 With his co-curators Carlos Basualdo, Uta Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya.

19 Hans Ulrich Obrist, p. 430.

20 Vilém Flusser, “Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion,” in Writings, edited by Andreas Ströhl, translated by Erik Eisel (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 52.

21 Harald Szeemann, “Does Art Need Directors?” in Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art, edited by Carin Kuoni (New York: Independent Curators International, 2001), p. 169.

22 Jan Winkelman.

23 Flusser, p. 54.

Copyright

Contributor

David Levi Strauss DAVID LEVI STRAUSS is a scholar and writer living in New York. He is the chair of the graduate program in Art and Criticism & Writing at the School of Visual Arts. The author of several books on photography and politics, his recent collection Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow was published last year by Aperture.

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A final farewell to Menil Collection’s Walter Hopps

A final farewell to Walter Hopps
PATRICIA C. JOHNSON, Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle | May 1, 2005

Walter Hopps, founding director of the Menil Collection, was buried in a private ceremony on April 23 in Lone Pine, Calif., a breathtaking site at the foot of Mount Whitney. His coffin was a marvelous Duchampian assemblage crafted by California artist Richard Jackson: A pine box with a lid made from a five-panel mahogany door from Hopps’ Pasadena, Calif., house, complete with round brass knob and metal plaque with Hopps’ signature.

Hopps, who died March 20 at age 72, began his long career as a brilliant if unorthodox curator in 1957 when he and artist Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles to spotlight progressive art by then unknown artists such as Robert Irwin, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.

His 50-year career as museum director started at the Pasadena (Calif.) Art Museum, where he introduced the work of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell to the American public. He moved on to direct the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and then to the Smithsonian Institution as curator of 20th-century art. He came to Houston in 1981 at the invitation of Dominique de Menil to direct the museum she was building. In recent years he was also adjunct curator for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Hopps not only championed art, but also the artists.

He died in California, where he curated a retrospective for the Santa Monica Museum of Art of West Coast assemblagist and art-world comrade George Herms. The artist gave the eulogy, a loving remembrance that also captured Hopps’ brilliant connoisseurship and his penchant for “stealing” art to make a point.

(Hopps “stole” an early assemblage from Ed Kienholz’s studio to prevent the artist from destroying it. Years later, to make a point about security, he stole a painting by Julian Schnabel from an exhibit at the University of Houston‘s Blaffer Gallery.)

Herms told the mourners that when artists enter heaven’s gates, instead of signing St. Peter’s book, they make drawings. After Hopps went through, Herms joked, St. Peter noticed that all the drawings were gone.

He added that the curator in Hopps is now looking around at cumulus clouds, saying, “We only need three clouds, and I know which three are the best!”

Another celebration of Hopps’ life will be held 6-8 p.m. May 17 at the Menil Collection. The Santa Monica Museum of Art honors him, as well, with a gathering this Wednesday.

Caroline Huber Hopps, Hopps’ wife, requests that in lieu of flowers, anyone wishing to make a gift in Walter’s memory make a donation to the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement, established in 2001 by the Menil Foundation (1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400).

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 DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS

Hopps, Walter C

Date born:  1933

Place Born:  Eagle Rock, CA

Date died: 2005

Place died: Los Angeles, CA

Seminal curator of 20th-century art and founding director of the Menil Collection in Houston. Hopps hailed from a family of California physicians. A chance visit to the modern art collection of Walter Arensberg (1878-1954) and his wife Louise Arensberg (1879-1953) in Los Angeles piqued his interest in modern art.  He became close friends with the Arensbergs. He attended Stanford, Harvard and Yale universities without ever securing a degree.  As a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, Hopps and two friends opened a gallery space called Syndell Studio. In 1955 Hopps married a University of Chicago graduate student in art history, Shirley Neilsen [see Shirley Neilsen Blum], in a ceremony at the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. The Studio’s one-person shows included Craig Kauffman and Ed Kienholz. In 1957, he and Kienholz opened another gallery, Ferus Gallery showing the work of a new generation of artists Ed Ruscha, Ken Price, Robert Irwin and Billy Al Bengston. Hopps, however, lacked the presentation skills to market art to wealthy collectors. He encountered Irving Blum (b. 1930), who became a gallery partner, and the two made Ferus a seminal space for modernist art in California.  Hopps organized exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum (today the Norton Simon Museum) in 1959,  joining the staff in 1962.  He rose from curator to director. At the Pasadena Art Museum, he was responsible for the first American retrospectives of Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp (1963) and Joseph Cornell as well as featuring the art collection of the California art historian Kate Steinitz. He was selected to be United States commissioner for the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1965.  Hopps’ wife began an affair with Blum, divorcing Hopps and marrying Blum in 1967. He joined the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1967. Again he identified and showed cutting-edge modern art, such as Gene Davis, street art from Los Angeles, and Chicago’s Hairy Who group.  Hopps was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art where he featured Paolo Soleri’s architecture and an installation of David Smith’s extending outside the building.  Hopps was fired from the Corcoran in 1972, reportedly because of his habit of leaving for extended periods of time without notifying staff, in part due to his mental illness.  He worked at the Smithsonian American Art Museum under Joshua C. Taylor, acting as the U.S. commissioner for the Venice Biennale in 1972.  Dominique de Menil (1908-1997), the visionary Houston collector, hired Hopps in 1980 to assist in building a museum for the collection of art that she and her late husband assembled. Hopps urged the selection of Renzo Piano, assigning the architect to design flexibly lit galleries, resulting in the innovative system of roof shutters which the Menil is today. He married a third time, to Caroline Huber in 1983. Hopps was director of the Menil from its opening in 1987 until 1989 when he became curator of solely 20th-century art. He mounted retrospectives of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol and Max Ernst. His closeness with Kienholz resulted in a retrospective of that artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996.  The following year he organized a Rauschenberg retrospective with Susan Davidson at the Guggenheim Museum which traveled to the Menil.  In 2001, the Menil established the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement. In 2002, he was named adjunct senior curator of 20th-century art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. There he and Sarah Bancroft mounted a James Rosenquist retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2003.  He died of pneumonia after having sustained a fall in 2005.

An eccentric personality, nearly every person who worked with him remarked he would disappear for hours or days at a time, sometmes later being found in contemplation, other times simply unexplained.  Hopps, according to many, had an inate sense of what modern was. Los Angeles was practically without modern art representation, overwealmed by New York. Hopps tapped into indigenous southern-Californian modernist art movements, exploiting them to the fullest and developing a serious contemporary art presence in Los Angeles. LS

Home Country:  United States

Sources:  McKenna, Kristine. The Ferus Gallery: A Place to Begin. Steidl, 2009; Cool School [documentary video]; [obituaries:] Richard, Paul. “Walter Hopps, Museum Man With a Talent For Talent.” Washington Post March 22, 2005 [see correction], p. C01;  Lamb, Yvonne Shinhoster.  “Walter Hopps; Curator of 20th-Century Art.” Washington Post March 22, 2005,p. B06;  Smith, Roberta. “Walter Hopps, 72, Curator With a Flair for the Modern.” New York Times March 23, 2005 , p. C15.

Bibliography: Marcel Duchamp: a Retrospective Exhibition. Pasadena, CA: Padadena Museum of Art, 1963; The Art Show [of Ed Kienholz].  Washington, DC: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 1968;

Sujbect’s name: Walter Hopps; Walter C. Hopps

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WALTER HOPPS | 1932-2005

Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists

March 22, 2005|Christopher Knight | Times Staff Writer

Walter Hopps, an art dealer and museum curator who was instrumental in bringing the first generation of postwar Los Angeles artists to international prominence and whose 1963 retrospective of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp ranks as a seminal event in modern museum history, died Sunday in Los Angeles after a brief hospitalization. He was 72 and lived in Houston.

Frail and in ill health for some time, Hopps had pneumonia, according to artist Ed Moses, a longtime friend. Hopps was in Southern California for a 45-year survey of assemblage art by sculptor George Herms, which he organized for the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Artist Larry Bell said that he had unexpectedly encountered Hopps in the coffee shop of a Venice hotel last Tuesday and that he insisted on taking him to see his doctor.

Bell said Hopps had fallen earlier and broken several ribs, which contributed to a buildup of fluids in his lungs. On Saturday, Bell and Moses had hoped to visit Hopps at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but Hopps had been moved to intensive care and was in a coma. He died there Sunday morning.

At the time of his death, Hopps was curator of 20th century art at the Menil Collection in Houston, where he had been founding director, and an adjunct senior curator at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. When the surprise dual appointment was made, Ned Rifkin, then director of the Menil, described Hopps as “a giant among his peers in the arena of modern and contemporary curators.” He organized a large retrospective of paintings by American Pop artist James Rosenquist for the Guggenheim in 2002.

Hopps’ most celebrated exhibition was the 1963 Duchamp retrospective, held at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in its original home on Los Robles Avenue. Hopps was in his first year as curator. He had been introduced to the French expatriate’s iconoclastic work in the late 1940s, during a high school visit to the Hollywood home of art collectors Louise and Walter Arensberg. Their formidable collection of Cubist, Surrealist, Dadaist and other modern art, now a centerpiece of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, included such classic Duchamp works as “Nude Descending a Staircase” (1912).

During the Pasadena show, Hopps arranged two chess matches with the impish artist — one for himself and one for the young writer Eve Babitz, who famously played her match nude.

The Duchamp exhibition was typical of Hopps’ modus operandi as a curator. He had come upon the artist by accident as an impressionable and inquisitive youth, and he was determined to follow his instincts; he knew from his conversations with young artists that their interest in Duchamp’s art was far ahead of the museum establishment’s. A Duchamp retrospective was not mounted in New York, where the artist lived, until 1973, five years after his death. The Pasadena show entered the realm of legend as a symbol of a more freewheeling, less tradition-bound artistic climate in Southern California.

Hopps’ first exhibition, organized with his first wife, Shirley, in 1954, was itself unorthodox. Dubbed “The Merry-Go-Round Show,” it arose from his concern that a new generation of Abstract Expressionist painters was not being seen in L.A. Hopps rented the merry-go-round at the Santa Monica Pier for $80, stretched tarp around the poles and hung nearly 100 paintings by 40 artists, including Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Jay De Feo. All were for sale, none for more than $300. Nothing sold.

Hopps and his wife regularly held informal exhibitions in their Brentwood apartment, where occasional sales helped keep them afloat. He briefly operated a gallery housed in a small structure built from used telephone poles. Called Syndell Studios, it was named in memory of a farmer who was killed in a freak accident while Hopps was driving cross-country. At Syndell Studios, Hopps showed the seminal Beat generation artist Wallace Berman, and he met Herms.

In 1957 he and artist Ed Kienholz, who would become an important figure in the development of assemblage art on the West Coast, opened Ferus Gallery. Ferus, the first professional space in L.A. to be principally devoted to the Southern California avant-garde, rapidly became the most adventurous and influential contemporary art gallery west of Manhattan.

In addition to showing the work of established Abstract Expressionist painters, Ferus introduced young L.A. artists to the growing scene, including Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Craig Kauffman and Robert Irwin. Moses had his first exhibition at Ferus while still a student at UCLA. Hopps once told The Times that the name Ferus — Latin for “uncivilized” or “wild” — was “borrowed from an anthropological description of an aboriginal tribe with subhuman, irascible, possibly dangerous tendencies.”

The implied link between science and art came naturally. Hopps was a native of Glendale, born in 1932 into a family of prominent surgeons. He was home-tutored until junior high school, when he entered the private Polytechnic School in Pasadena. From there he went to Eagle Rock High School. After so many cloistered years, he described high school as “the most exciting time of my life; all of a sudden kids, boys, girls — friends.” It was with a class of Eagle Rock students that he first visited the Arensberg collection, to which he later returned on his own. The work of Duchamp, Picasso, Brancusi, Dali, Miro and many others made a profound impression on him.

“That was the clash,” Hopps later told a Times reporter. “I thought of myself as a rational positivist. And I couldn’t figure out why this seemingly nice, intelligent man [Arensberg was a prosperous businessman] had devoted his life to this collection. I started reading.”

The Arensbergs had been the unofficial center of the European emigre Dada movement when they lived in New York; in Hollywood, where they moved in 1927, their role changed to that of keepers of its history.

Duchamp had been the primary advisor in the development of their collection, and for them he was the center of that legacy. It was a legacy that encountered much hostility in Los Angeles, where, just a few years after Hopps’ first visit to the collection, the City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.

In 1950, Hopps enrolled at Stanford; a year later he switched to UCLA to study microbiology. He also studied art history. Shortly after opening Ferus, he began to teach at UCLA Extension; over the next four years he helped to cultivate a group of art collectors informed about the avant-garde, including Betty Freeman, Monte Factor, Ed Janss and Fred and Marcia Weisman.

Kienholz made a witty 1959 assemblage-sculpture portrait of his early partner at Ferus, the title of which, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps,” suggested his peripatetic energy. Its allusion to Beat era slang for illegal drugs also described a problem that followed Hopps for many years.

Part homage, part satire, the sculpture was made from a gas station advertising sign that featured a cutout of the Bardahl motor oil man. Kienholz turned the clean-cut image into a picture of a slippery salesman of Modern art. Hopps, with his trademark horn-rimmed glasses, black suit and skinny necktie, is shown pulling open his jacket as if he were a sidewalk slicker hawking hot merchandise to unsuspecting passersby. Instead of jewelry or watches, however, he reveals vest-pocket pictures of paintings by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline.

Turn around the sculpture — at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, appropriately just larger than life — and the back features a spine made from animal vertebrae, a rotary dial telephone and annotated lists of important people in the L.A. art world.

Kienholz left the gallery to pursue his own work, and Irving Blum, a Knoll furniture salesman, became Hopps’ partner in Ferus. Conflicts between them — which later resulted in Shirley Hopps’ becoming Shirley Blum — led to Hopps’ departure. In 1962 he was hired by Thomas Leavitt to become curator of the Pasadena Art Museum. In addition to the Duchamp retrospective, Hopps organized the first museum show of Frank Stella’s paintings, a landmark survey of box assemblages by Joseph Cornell and “The New Painting of Common Objects,” a groundbreaking 1962 survey that heralded the emergence of Pop art. When Leavitt departed the museum in 1964, Hopps was elevated to director; at 31, he was the youngest art museum director in America.

He was asked to resign four years later, the first of many times that jobs ended badly or in a cloud of complications. He was celebrated for his curatorial abilities and his working relationships with artists, but was a notoriously poor administrator.

Perhaps the most famous art-world story about Hopps concerned his chronic lateness. During his tenure at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the staff made lapel buttons that said, “Walter Hopps will be here in 20 minutes.”

“He didn’t like museum bureaucracies,” Moses said. “All his files at the Pasadena Art Museum were kept under the carpet. When he left there, he didn’t let anybody know about the files. Later, when they rolled up this giant carpet, they found very careful files and letters.”

Hopps was named director of the Corcoran in 1970 and fired in 1972. His seven years at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the National Museum of American Art) were marked by chronic absenteeism, which prompted Director Joshua Taylor to pay his curator only for the time he spent inside the building. Hopps joined Houston’s Menil Foundation in 1980 — artistically an excellent fit, given the collection’s strength in Surrealism — and became founding director of its celebrated museum in 1987; but patron Dominique de Menil despaired of her director’s administrative failings. He was made chief curator and a new director was hired. In 2001 the Menil Foundation inaugurated the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement, a $25,000 prize bestowed biennially by an international jury.

Hopps once estimated that he organized more than 250 museum shows during his career. Most were well received. Among his great successes was a pair of Robert Rauschenberg surveys — one for the National Museum on the occasion of the 1976 American Bicentennial, the other, in 1991, for the Menil. Among his rare failures was 1984’s “The Automobile and Culture,” a show for L.A.’s then new Museum of Contemporary Art that ironically ended up demonstrating what little influence automotive imagery had on Modern art.

“With him goes a certain breed of unorthodox curator,” said painter and Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens, who lived in Los Angeles during Hopps’ heyday at Ferus and the Pasadena Museum. “Museums now are much more business-based and focused on the bottom line. There are fewer margins for error, so you don’t have guys like Hopps who are not organization people — much to their credit. He might have been the last of the breed.”

Hopps is survived by his second wife, Caroline Huber. A memorial service is being planned.

Times staff writer Suzanne Muchnic contributed to this report.

==

Walter Hopps Obituary
by gary c. (2005)

Billy Name: “Walter Hopps was a surprisingly brilliant and very well-liked and admired curator as a young man. He had a magic-like inspiring air like enlightened, creative people have. He was very engaging and easily knowable. I liked him a lot, as did everyone in the art scene.”

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Walter Hopps
(Photo: Gary Cameron)

Walter Hopps died on March 20, 2005 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 72 years old and had been suffering from pneumonia. The last exhibition that he organized for a museum was George Herms: Hot Set at the Santa Monica Museum of Art from March 5 – May 14, 2005.

Hopps made several important contributions to Pop. He was one of the original owners of the Ferus Gallery which was the first gallery to show Warhol’s Soup Cans in 1962 and during the same year he organized what is generally regarded as the first Pop exhibition in a museum, New Painting of Common Objects, at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum). The following year he organized the first U.S. retrospective of Marcel Duchamp at the same museum.

Walter Hopps:

“Here’s how it all began. By 1959 I had bought out my partner, Edward Kienholz, and taken over Ferus Gallery. I shopped around for another partner because I was supposed to still be going to U.C.L.A. When Irving Blum came into Ferus Gallery, I gave him a third of the stock to act as its director… In 1960 in New York, I met a man named David Herbert who worked for Betty Parsons, then Sidney Janis… Herbert knew Andy Warhol, whom we had never heard of in California. Herbert said ‘You’ve got to meet this artist, Andy Warhol,’ and this finally happened in the fall of 1961. Herbert’s friends hung out in this trendy Manhattan store called Serendipity. Herbert arranged the meeting there and finally Warhol showed up. Irving Blum and I went to Warhol’s studio on Lexington Avenue in the Upper East Side.” (PK43)

Among the works that Warhol showed him were the Pop paintings of comic strip characters and newspaper advertisements that Warhol had displayed in the window of Bonwit Teller in April 1961. Hopps also recalled being shown an unstretched canvas of a work “that has since disappeared” of Superman flying through the air with Lois Lane in his arms. Although Hopps was “blown away” by Warhol’s work it wasn’t until the Soup Cans that an exhibition was arranged. (PK44)

Walter Hopps:

“At some point, we may have also seen, in Warhol’s studio, work in progress that included one of his first Campbell’s Soup cans. Blum was running Ferus Gallery, but I still had ownership stock and had stayed involved. I said to Warhol, ‘Absolutely, I want to take some of this work for a show in Los Angeles.’ Warhol, who had never been to California, answered with some excitement, ‘Oh, that’s where Hollywood is!’ In the sea of magazines and fanzines scattered on the floor, so deep it was hard to walk around, were all those Photoplay and old-fashioned glamour magazines out of the Hollywood publicity mill. So a show in L.A. sounded great to Warhol. He agreed, and thus the multiple-image soup can show came to Ferus in 1962. Warhol missed that first exhibition of his Pop images, but he finally made it to California in September 1963 for the opening of the Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum and his own second Ferus show.” (PK44)

The now historic exhibition of Warhol’s 32 canvases of individual soup cans took place at the Ferus Gallery from July 9 – August 1, 1962. New Painting of Common Objects opened the following month at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum). Hopps organized the New Painting show as curator for the museum .

Walter Hopps:

“By the time the Warhol show hit, I was working full time as curator and then director at the Pasadena Art Museum. I had started doing some shows there in 1960, never having thought of my future as being a gallery dealer. Somebody asked once why I did the gallery work and it was like when Max Ernst was asked why he painted. He replied, ‘So, I have something I like to look at.’ In a way, I did the gallery work because the art that the California artists and I wanted to look at, we couldn’t see in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, early 1960s.” (PK48/9)

The New Painting exhibition featured 8 artists each of whom were represented by three works. Warhol’s contribution was Campbell’s Cream of Chicken, Campbell’s Pepper Pot and Green Stamps. The exhibition catalogue consisted of mimeographed pages contributed by the artists. The show’s poster was designed by Ed Ruscha – by telephone.

Walter Hopps:

“… we couldn’t afford a full catalogue, so instead we created a special portfolio – copies are rare now. What I was able to do – we didn’t have photocopiers or fax machines in those days – was crank out a checklist and my gallery notes by hand from a mimeograph stencil. Then I got every artist in the show to do a page as a stencil, and we ran off these line drawings. We put the whole package in a white envelope with a gummed label, red on white. I had a rubber stamp made that I stamped on the label in blue ink: New Painting of Common Objects. Edward Rusha designed the poster by calling up a commercial printer who made posters for concerts and boxing matches. Ruscha dictated all the copy over the phone, and his only directions on the type and style were to ‘make it loud!’ The poster came back with bold red and black type on a bright yellow background. Our limited budget dictated the portfolio and poster, though the off-the-shelf look fit right in with the show’s aesthetics.” (PK45)

In an art world still suffering withdrawal pains from Abstract Expressionism, the critical reaction to the show was mixed. It wasn’t until Pop was embraced in the general press that it was accepted by many old school art-tellectuals.

Jules Langsner [Art International, September 1962]:

“This critic finds himself in the unfamiliar (and vaguely uneasy) position of being cantankerously at odds with a serious effort to fashion a new mode of vision in the pictorial arts. That effort is the attempt to invest commonplace objects with a hitherto unsuspected significance, usually in painting with a straightforward presentation, on a magnified scale of things characteristic of our machine way of life. To be sure, this tendency, variously described as New Social Realism, Common Object Painting, and Commonism, currently is receiving the endorsement of the more zealous enthusiasts of “Pop” Culture as well as the shrill acclaim of the more chic circles of the art world… The Pasadena Art Museum’s current exhibition – New Painting of Common Objects – has brought this emerging tendency into sharp focus… A can of Campbell Soup by Andy Warhol, or a Travel Check by Dowd, initially rivets the viewer’s attention by the simple expedient of removing the mundane object from its ordinary surroundings and enormously increasing its scale. The initial shock, however, wears off in a matter of seconds, leaving one as bored with the painting as with the object it presents.” (PC33)

Walter Hopps:

“Langsner championed abstract art. He literally coined the term ‘hard-edge painting’ to describe the refined geometric renderings of John McLaughlin, for example – I will give him credit for that. He also wrote the first positive reviews of the young Abstract Expressionists in California such as Craig Kauffman.” (PK46)

The following year, Hopps organized the Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum. Warhol, who was in Los Angeles to see his second show at the Ferus (the Elvis paintings), also attended the opening party of the Duchamp exhibition. It was during that trip that Warhol filmed Elvis at Ferus and shot footage for Tarzan and Jane Regained…. Sort of.

Andy Warhol:

“Marcel Duchamp was having a retrospective at the Pasadena Museum and we were invited to that opening… I talked a lot to Duchamp and his wife, Teeny, who were great, and Taylor [Mead] danced all night with Patty Oldenburg – she and Claes had been living in California for a year ‘to get the feel of a new environment,’ she said, so they could send back a ‘bedroom’ for a group exhibit at the Sidney Janis Gallery in early ’64… They served pink champagne at the party, which tasted so good that I made the mistake of drinking a lot of it, and on the way home we had to pull over to the side of the road so I could throw up on the flora and fauna. In California, in the cool night air, you even felt healthy when you puked – it was so different from New York.” (POP43)

Two years after joining the Pasadena Art Museum as a curator, Hopps was promoted to director of the Museum at the age of 31 – making him the youngest director of a museum in the U.S. at the time. (AI) Other exhibitions that he presented there included the first Joseph Cornell retrospective and the first American retrospective of Kurt Schwitters. (MP) He left the museum in 1967 to become the director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. where he remained until 1972. From 1972 – 1979 he was the curator of 20th Century American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where he organized the mid-career retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg during the American bicentennial in 1976. (PG)

Hopps’ success as a curator was exceptional for someone without a college degree. Although he attended various universities he never earned a degree. His unorthodox approach to his curatorial duties generally endeared him to artists and his staff although he was reportedly fired from the Corcoran because of the hours he kept – or didn’t keep. According to one account of his days there, he was fired “because of his habit of disappearing for hours, among other eccentric behaviour.” (WPL) James T. Demetrion, who worked as a curator for Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum, recalled Hopps hanging a Jasper Johns exhibit the night before it opened: “He said he’d show up at 9 pm, though, of course he didn’t. He strolled in after midnight, and we were there all night. Still, the show looked great.” (WPR) Hopps’ boss at the Smithsonian, Joshua C. Taylor, sometimes remarked, “If I could find him, I’d fire him.” The staff at the Smithsonian produced a badge which ironically read, “Walter Hopps will be here in 20 minutes.” He never was. (WPR)

In 1980 Hopps joined the Menil Foundation in Houston and became the Founding Director of The Menil Collection in 1987. He organized the Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s exhibition for The Menil Collection and in 1996 was responsible for the Edward Kienholz retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The following year he organized a survey of Rauschenberg’s work at the Guggenheim which traveled to several museums in the U.S. and Europe. In 2001 the Menil Foundation created a biannual award in his name – the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement – and he also became Adjunct Senior Curator of Twentieth Century Art at the Guggenheim. In 2003 he organized the James Rosenquist retrospective at the Guggenheim with co-curator Sarah Bancroft.

In addition to his curatorial work, Hopps also served as the art director for Grand Street, a New York literary and arts magazine edited by Jean Stein, the author of Edie: American Girl. Warhol stars Gerard Malanga and Brigid Berlin were both contributors to the magazine. Issue no. 55 included reproductions from Brigid’s Cock Book and an article about Brigid by Anne Doran; issue no. 68 featured a piece written by Brigid on sweets; and issue no. 63 included Gerard Malanga’s poem, Leaving New York.

Hopps’ life was celebrated at two memorial events – one at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on May 3, 2005 and another at The Menil Collection in Houston on May 17th. He is survived by his wife, Caroline Huber, of Houston.

gary c.
Warholstars 2005

===

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Walter Hopps, 72, Curator With a Flair for the Modern, Is Dead

By ROBERTA SMITH Published: March 23, 2005

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Bill Cunningham/The New York Times

Walter Hopps, left, with the sculptor John Chamberlain in 2003.

ARTICLE TOOLS

Walter Hopps, a leading curator of 20th-century art and founding director of the Menil Collection in Houston, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 72 and lived in Houston and Los Angeles. The cause was pneumonia, a spokesman for the Menil Collection said. In the museum world, Mr. Hopps was famous for groundbreaking exhibitions, inspired installations and an empathy with living artists, many of whom he helped push to the forefront of the art world, including Ed Ruscha and Edward Kienholz. His career coincided with the coming of age of postwar American art and contributed significantly to the emergence of the museum as a place to show new art. His exhibitions included the first American retrospectives of Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell, and the first museum survey of American Pop Art, all organized at the Pasadena Art Museum, where he worked as a curator and then as director from 1959 to 1967. He also organized the first midcareer survey of the work of Robert Rauschenberg (in 1976 at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and in 1997 organized an exhibition of Mr. Rauschenberg’s early work at the Menil that traveled to four other American museums. He once likened installing exhibitions to conducting a symphony orchestra. Mr. Hopps was born in Los Angeles in 1933 into a family of doctors. His aptitude for science and math was sidelined by a chance visit to the formidable modern art collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg, with whom he became close. While he was still in his teens and was studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, Mr. Hopps and two other friends opened the Syndell Studio, a free-form exhibition space in which they gave one-person shows to Craig Kauffman and Kienholz. In 1957, with Kienholz, he opened the Ferus Gallery, which became a crucial force in the Los Angeles art scene and showed the work of a new generation of artists, including Mr. Ruscha, Ken Price, Robert Irwin and Billy Al Bengston. Mr. Hopps also began organizing exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum two years later and joined the staff in 1962. He served as United States commissioner for the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1965 and the Venice Biennale in 1972. In 1980 he began working for Dominique de Menil, the visionary Houston collector, who wanted to build a museum for the extraordinary collection of modern, ancient, African and Byzantine art that she and her late husband, John, had assembled. Mr. Hopps helped select the architect Renzo Piano to design it and, according to a 1991 profile in The New Yorker by Calvin Tomkins, requested flexible galleries “where you can turn daylight on and off.” Mr. Piano complied with an innovative system of roof shutters and a design that over all is among the most admired museum buildings in the world. Mr. Hopps was director of the Menil for two years after it opened in 1987 and then became its curator of 20th-century art. At the Menil, his exhibitions included a retrospective of the French artist Yves Klein as well as exhibitions of the work of John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol and Max Ernst. He organized a Kienholz retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1996; a second Rauschenberg retrospective (with Susan Davidson) at the Guggenheim Museum and the Menil in 1997; and a James Rosenquist retrospective (with Sarah Bancroft) at the Guggenheim in 2003. In 2001, the Menil established the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement, with a cash prize of $15,000. Throughout much of his career Mr. Hopps was also known for his eccentric work habits, his mysterious disappearances and an autocratic manner that caused conflicts with museum boards, even while his curatorial imagination inspired fierce loyalty in many of his colleagues. But detractors and admirers alike agreed that the quality of his curatorial work rarely faltered. Mr. Hopps’s first marriage, to Shirley Neilsen, ended in divorce, as did a brief second marriage. He is survived by his wife, Caroline Huber, whom he married in 1983; and his brother, Harvey Hopps of Amarillo, Tex.

== http://www.egglestontrust.com/hasselblad_hopps.html Eggleston’s World by Walter Hopps ‘I think of them as parts of a novel I’m doing.’ These were the first words William Eggleston uttered when I asked what he felt he was accomplishing with his photographs. Another fine photographer from the South, William Christenberry, had brought Eggleston to meet me at the Corcoran Gallery of Art around 1970. The three of us had looked through a box of Eggleston’s 8 x 10 chromogenic coupler prints in silence. By the time I went through the prints a second time, I believed them to be the finest work in color photography I’d seen. In 1974 while serving at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art, I was planning an exhibition of Eggleston’s work which would have been that institution’s first exhibit of photography as fine art. When I learned that John Szarkowski, the distinguished curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York wanted to make the first museum presentation, I deferred my plan. To accompany the exhibition, Szarkowski edited a selection of Eggleston’s color photographs, largely people and places in the Mississippi delta published as Eggleston’s Guide. His essay, the first important text addressing Eggleston’s work and to this day perhaps the best, emphasized in a positive light the way Eggleston made his seemingly documentary photographs carry the enriched reverberations of fiction. Eggleston’s color is always naturalistic. If the color print seems lurid, that’s the way the subject was found. Calm, subtle, uncolorful subjects are photographed in just this way. Nonetheless, the subjects would mean far less if they were presented in black and white. However, over the years Eggleston has done bodies of work in black and white photography and videotape. With each shift in medium, the kinds of compositions and nature of the images somehow changes to fit his vision. Eggleston’s home is Memphis, Tennessee, on the northern edge of the Mississippi delta. The places, parts and people of the region comprise the center of Eggleston’s world just as they had for the great American novelist William Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi in the eastern part of the delta. Both of these men have had the ability to imbue seemingly modest subject with extraordinary moral weight and dignity. Over the past forty years Eggleston has exposed an enormous amount of film for someone who does not work on assignment. Perhaps his only contemporary, Gary Winogrand is as comparably prolific. Eggleston’s editing process is rigorous. To date, a relatively small portion of his finest work has been exhibited and published. Eggleston, working with Caldecot Chubb, has chosen original prints to be presented in four bound books and five unbound portfolios. In 1991 the Barbican Art Gallery in London staged the most recent important survey of Eggleston’s photographs: William Eggleston: Ancient and Modern. In the introduction, Mark Holborn concludes: ‘His prodigious output has barely been seen, yet he is only in mid-stride. He continues to cut to the heart of the ordinary, probing at those things which constitute tangible dimensions, like some concrete explorer. Or, as a great exotic, he can be in the kitchen or in Zanzibar, staring at the dirt by his boot or looking up at the sky. – Walter Hopps ====== BROOKLYN RAIL

The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps

What Is a Curator?Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the 14 regions of Rome. And the curatores aquarum took care of the aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the role of the curator shifted to the ecclesiastical, as clergy having a spiritual cure or charge. So one could say that the split within curating—between the management and control of public works (law) and the cure of souls (faith)—was there from the beginning. Curators have always been a curious mixture of bureaucrat and priest. That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world—
—Shakespeare, King John1

Portrait of Harald Szeemann. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

For better or worse, curators of contemporary art have become, especially in the last 10 years, the principal representatives of some of our most persistent questions and confusions about the social role of art. Is art a force for change and renewal, or is it a commodity for advantage or convenience? Is art a radical activity, undermining social conventions, or is it a diverting entertainment for the wealthy? Are artists the antennae of the human race, or are they spoiled children with delusions of grandeur (in Roman law, a curator could also be the appointed caretaker or guardian of a minor or lunatic)? Are art exhibitions “spiritual undertakings with the power to conjure alternative ways of organizing society,” or vehicles for cultural tourism and nationalistic propaganda? These splits, which reflect larger tears in the social fabric, certainly in the United States, complicate the changing role of curators of contemporary art, because curators mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take “a curving and indirect course” between them. Teaching for the past five years at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, I observed young curators confronting the practical demands and limitations of their profession armed with a vision of possibility and an image of the curator as a free agent, capable of almost anything. Where did this image come from? When Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps died in February and March 2005, at age 72 and 71, respectively, it was impossible not to see this as the end of an era. They were two of the principal architects of the present approach to curating contemporary art, working over 50 years to transform the practice. When young curators imagine what’s possible, they are imagining (whether they know it or not) some version of Szeemann and Hopps. The trouble with taking these two as models of curatorial possibility is that both of them were sui generis: renegades who managed, through sheer force of will, extraordinary ability, brilliance, luck, and hard work, to make themselves indispensable, and thereby intermittently palatable, to the conservative institutions of the art world. Each came to these institutions early. When Szeemann was named head of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961, at age 28, he was the youngest ever to have been appointed to such a position in Europe, and when Hopps was made director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1964, at age 31, he was then the youngest art museum director in the United States. By that time, Hopps (who never earned a college degree) had already mounted a show of paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, and many others on a merry-go-round in an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier (with his first wife, Shirley Hopps, when he was 22); started and run two galleries (Syndell Studios and the seminal Ferus Gallery, with Ed Kienholz); and curated the first museum shows of Frank Stella’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, the first U.S. retrospective of Kurt Schwitters, the first museum exhibition of Pop Art, and the first solo museum exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, in Pasadena in 1963. And that was just the beginning. Near the end of his life, Hopps estimated that he’d organized 250 exhibitions in his 50-year career. Szeemann’s early curatorial activities were no less prodigious. He made his first exhibition, Painters Poets/ Poets Painters, a tribute to Hugo Ball, in 1957, at age 24. When he became the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern four years later, he completely transformed that institution, mounting nearly 12 exhibitions a year, culminating in the landmark show Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, in 1969, exhibiting works by 70 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman, among many others. While producing critically acclaimed and historically important exhibitions, both Hopps and Szeemann quickly came into conflict with their respective institutions. After four years at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps was asked to resign. He was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1970, then fired two years later. For his part, stunned by the negative reaction to When Attitudes Become Form from the Kunsthalle Bern, Harald Szeemann quit his job, becoming the first “independent curator.” He set up the Agency for Spiritual Guestwork and co-founded the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) in 1969, curated Happenings & Fluxus at the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, and became the first artistic director of Documenta in 1972, reconceiving it as a 100-day event. Szeemann and Hopps hadn’t yet turned 40, and their best shows were all ahead of them. For Szeemann, these included Junggesellenmaschinen—Les Machines célibataires (“Bachelor Machines”) in 1975-77, Monte Veritá (1978, 1983, 1987), the first Aperto at the Venice Biennale (with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1980), Der Hang Zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Europaïsche Utopien seit 1800 (“The Quest for the Total Work of Art”) in 1983-84, Visionary Switzerland in 1991, the Joseph Beuys retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, Austria in a Lacework of Roses in 1996, and the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. For Hopps, yet to come were exhibitions of Diane Arbus in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972, the Robert Rauschenberg mid-career survey in 1976, retrospectives at the Menil Collection of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, and exhibitions of Jay DeFeo (1990), Ed Kienholz (1996 at the Whitney), Rauschenberg again (1998), and James Rosenquist (2003 at the Guggenheim). Both Szeemann and Hopps had exhibitions open when they died—Szeemann’s Visionary Belgium, for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Hopps’s George Herms retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum—and both had plans for many more exhibitions in the future. What Do Curators Do? Szeemann and Hopps were the Cosmas and Damian (or the Beuys and Duchamp) of contemporary curatorial practice. Rather than accepting things as they found them, they changed the way things were done. But finally, they will be remembered for only one thing: the quality of the exhibitions they made; for that is what curators do, after all. Szeemann often said he preferred the simple title of Ausstellungsmacher (exhibition-maker), but he acknowledged at the same time how many different functions this one job comprised: “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” I have heard curators characterized at different times as: Administrators Advocates Auteurs Bricoleurs (Hopps’ last show, the Herms retrospective, was titled “The Bricoleur of Broken Dreams. . . One More Once”) Brokers Bureaucrats Cartographers (Ivo Mesquita) Catalysts (Hans Ulrich Obrist) Collaborators Cultural impresarios Cultural nomads Diplomats (When Bill Lieberman, who held top curatorial posts at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in May 2005, Artnews described him as “the consummate art diplomat”) And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet. When Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Walter Hopps to name important predecessors, the first one he came up with was Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, “for his unrelenting rigor.” He continued, “Fine curating of an artist’s work—that is, presenting it in an exhibition—requires as broad and sensitive an understanding of an artist’s work that a curator can possibly muster. This knowledge needs to go well beyond what is actually put in the exhibition. . . . To me, a body of work by a given artist has an inherent kind of score that you try to relate to or understand. It puts you in a certain psychological state. I always tried to get as peaceful and calm as possible.”3 But around this calm and peaceful center raged the “controlled chaos” of exhibition making. Hopps’ real skills included an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that made them sing,4 the personal charm to get people to do things for him, and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art and then account for his experience of it, and articulate this account to others in a compelling and convincing way. It is significant, I think, that neither Szeemann nor Hopps considered himself a writer, but both recognized and valued good writing, and solicited and “curated” writers and critics as well as artists into their exhibitions and publications. Even so, many have observed that the rise of the independent curator has occurred at the expense of the independent critic. In a recent article titled “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” Mark Spiegler opined that “on the day in 1969 when Harald Szeemann went freelance by leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, the wind turned against criticism.”5 There are curators who can also write criticism, but these precious few are exceptions that prove the rule. Curators are not specialists, but for some reason they feel the need to use a specialized language, appropriated from philosophy or psychoanalysis, which too often obscures rather than reveals their sources and ideas. The result is not criticism, but curatorial rhetoric. Criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, while the inflationary writing of curatorial rhetoric is used to obscure fine distinctions with vague generalities. The latter’s displacement of the former has a political dimension as we move into an increasingly managed, post-critical environment. Although Szeemann and Hopps were very different in many ways, they shared certain fundamental values: an understanding of the importance of remaining independent of institutional prejudices and arbitrary power arrangements; a keen sense of history; the willingness to continually take risks intellectually, aesthetically, and conceptually; and an inexhaustible curiosity about and respect for the way artists work.

Portrait of Walter Hopps. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

Szeemann’s break away from the institution of the Kunsthalle was, simply put, “a rebellion aimed at having more freedom.”6 This rebellious act put him closer to the ethos of artists and writers, where authority cannot be bestowed or taken, but must be earned through the quality of one’s work. In his collaborations with artists, power relations were negotiated in practice rather than asserted as fiat. Every mature artist I know has a favorite horror story about a young, inexperienced curator trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating a seasoned artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s grand plan or theme. The cure for this kind of insecure hubris is experience, but also the recognition of the ultimate contingency of the curatorial process. As Dave Hickey said of both critics and curators, “Somebody has to do something before we can do anything.”7 In June of 2000, after being at the pinnacle of curatorial power repeatedly for over 40 years, Harald Szeemann said, “Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.”8 When contemporary curators, following in the steps of Szeemann, break free from institutions, they sometimes lose their sense of history in the process. Whatever their shortcomings, institutions do have a sense (sometimes a surfeit) of history. And without history, “the new” becomes a trap, a sequential recapitulation of past approaches with no forward movement. It is a terrible thing to be perpetually stuck in the present, and this is a major occupational hazard for curators. Speaking about his curating of the Seville Biennale in 2004, Szeemann said, “It’s not about presenting the best there is, but about discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future.” But moving the ball up the field requires a tremendous amount of legwork. “The unpredictable path of art” becomes much less so when curators rely on the Claude Rains method, rounding up the usual suspects from the same well-worn list of artists that everyone else in the world is using. It is difficult, in retrospect, to fully appreciate the risks that both Szeemann and Hopps took to change the way curators worked. One should never underestimate the value of a monthly paycheck. By giving up a secure position as director of a stable art institution and striking out on his own as an “independent curator,” Szeemann was assuring himself years of penury. There was certainly no assurance that anyone would hire him as a freelance. Anyone who’s chosen this path knows that freelance means never having to say you’re solvent. Being freelance as a writer and critic is one thing: The tools of the trade are relatively inexpensive, and one need only make a living. But making exhibitions is costly and finding “independent” money, money without onerous strings attached to it, is especially difficult when one cannot, in good conscience, present it as an “investment opportunity.” Daniel Birnbaum points out that “all the dilemmas of corporate sponsorship and branding in contemporary art today are fully articulated in [‘When Attitudes Become Form’]. Remarkably, according to Szeemann, the exhibition came about only because ‘people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Ruder Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom.’ Indeed, the exhibition’s catalogue seems uncanny in its prescience: ‘As businessmen in tune with our times, we at Philip Morris are committed to support the experimental,’ writes John A. Murphy, the company’s European president, asserting that his company experimented with ‘new methods and materials’ in a way fully comparable to the Conceptual artists in the exhibition. (And yet, showing the other side of this corporate-funding equation, it was a while before the company supported the arts in Europe again, perhaps needing time to recover from all the negative press surrounding the event.)”9 So the founding act of “independent curating” was brought to you by . . . Philip Morris! 33 years later, for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02, Szeemann designed a pavilion covered with sheets of gold, containing a system of pneumatic tubes and a machine that destroyed money—two 100 franc notes every minute during the 159 days of the exhibition. The sponsor? The Swiss National Bank, of course. When Walter Hopps brought the avant-garde to Southern California, he didn’t have to compete with others to secure the works of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, or Jay DeFeo (for the merry-go-round show in 1953), because no one else wanted them. In his Hopps obituary, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight pointed out that “just a few years after Hopps’s first visit to the [Arensbergs’] collection, the [Los Angeles] City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.”10 In 50 years, we’ve progressed from banning art as Communist propaganda to prosecuting artists as terrorists.11 The Few and Far Between It’s not that fast horses are rare, but men who know enough to spot them
are few and far between.
—Han Yü12 The trait that Szeemann and Hopps had most in common was their respect for and understanding of artists. They never lost sight of the fact that their principal job was to take what they found in artists’ works and do whatever it took to present it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this meant combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know, but to show the public. As Lawrence Weiner pointed out in an interview in 1994, “Everybody that was in the Attitudes show knew all about the work of everybody else in the Attitudes show. They wouldn’t have known them personally, but they knew all the work. . . . Most artists on both sides of the Atlantic knew what was being done. European artists had been coming to New York and U.S. artists went over there.”13 But Attitudes brought it all together in a way that made a difference. Both Szeemann and Hopps felt most at home with artists, sometimes literally. Carolee Schneemann recently described for me the scene in the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, when she and her collaborator in “Happenings and Fluxus” (having arrived and discovered there was no money for lodging) moved into their installations, and Szeemann thought it such a good idea to sleep on site that he brought in a cot and slept in the museum himself, to the outrage of the guards and staff. Both Szeemann and Hopps reserved their harshest criticism for the various bureaucracies that got between them and the artists. Hopps once described working for bureaucrats when he was a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts as “like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal.”14 And Szeemann said in 2001 that “the annoying thing about such bureaucratic organizations as the [Venice] Biennale is that there are a lot of people running around who hate artists because they keep running around wanting to change everything.”15 Changing everything, for Szeemann, was just the point. “Artists, like curators, work on their own,” he said in 2000, “grappling with their attempt to make a world in which to survive. . . . We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors, sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here where the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.”16 The society of the obsessed. Where Do We Go from Here? Although Walter Hopps was an early commissioner for the São Paolo Biennal (1965: Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Richard Irwin and Larry Poons) and of the Venice Biennale (1972: Diane Arbus), Harald Szeemann practically invented the role of nomadic independent curator of huge international shows, putting his indelible stamp on Documenta and Venice and organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997, and the first Seville Biennale in 2004, as well as numerous other international surveys around the world. So what Szeemann said about globalization and art should perhaps be taken seriously. He saw globalization as a euphemism for imperialism, and proclaimed that “globalization is the great enemy of art.” And in the Carolee Thea interview in 2000, he said, “Globalization is perfect if it brings more justice and equality to the world . . . but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computers or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.”17 And globalization of the curatorial class can be a way to avoid or “transcend” the political. Rene Dubos’s old directive to “think globally, but act locally” (first given at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972) has been upended in some recent international shows (like the 14th Sydney Biennale in 2004, and the 1st Moscow Biennial in 2005). When one thinks locally (within a primarily Euro-American cultural framework, or within a New York-London-Kassel-Venice-Basel-Los Angeles-Miami framework) but acts globally, the results are bound to be problematic, and can be disastrous. In 1979, Dubos argued for an ecologically sustainable world in which “natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications.” At their best, the big international exhibitions do contribute to this. Okwui Enwezor’s18 Documenta XI certainly did, and Szeemann knew it. At their worst, they perpetuate the center-to-periphery hegemony and preclude real cross-cultural communication and change. Although having artists and writers move around in the world is an obvious good, real cultural exchange is something that must be nurtured. Walter Hopps said in 1996: “I really believe in—and, obviously, hope for—radical, or arbitrary, presentations, where cross-cultural and cross-temporal considerations are extreme, out of all the artifacts we have. . . . So just in terms of people’s priorities, conventional hierarchies begin to shift some.”19 The Silence of Szeemann & Hopps Is Overrated ‘Art’ is any human activity that aims at producing improbable situations, and it is the more artful (artistic) the less probable the situation that it produces. —Vilém Flusser20 Harald Szeemann recognized early and long appreciated the utopian aspects of art. “The often-evoked ‘autonomy’ is just as much a fruit of subjective evaluation as the ideal society: it remains a utopia while it informs the desire to experientially visualize the unio mystica of opposites in space. Which is to say that without seeing, there is nothing visionary, but that the visionary should always determine the seeing.” And he recognized that the bureaucrat could overtake the curer of souls at any point. “Otherwise, we might just as well return to ‘hanging and placing,’ and divide the entire process ‘from the vision to the nail’ into detailed little tasks again.”21 He organized exhibitions in which the improbable could occur, and was willing to risk the impossible. In reply to a charge that the social utopianism of Joseph Beuys was never realized, Szeemann said, “The nice thing about utopias is precisely that they fail. For me, failure is a poetic dimension of art.”22 Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time. If he and Hopps could still encourage young curators in anything, I suspect it would be to take greater risks in their work. At a time when all parts of the social and political spheres (including art institutions) are increasingly managed, breaking out of this frame, asking significant questions, and setting the terms of resistance is more and more vitally important. It is important to work against the bias of the world (commodity, political expediency). For curators of contemporary art, that means finding and supporting those artists who, as Flusser writes, “have attempted, at the risk of their lives, to utter that which is unutterable, to render audible that which is ineffable, to render visible that which is hidden.”23 This essay will be included in the forthcoming Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating
Edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, published by Apex Art. It will be available by January 2007. Endnotes 1 Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John, Act II, Scene 1, 573-74. Cowper: “What Shakespeare calls commodity, and we call political expediency.” Appendix 13 of my old edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 1639-40, reads: “Shakespeare frequently used poetic imagery taken from the game of bowls [bowling]. . . . The bowl [bowling ball] was not a perfect sphere, but so made that one side somewhat protruded. This protrusion was called the bias; it caused the bowl to take a curving and indirect course.” 2 “When Attitude Becomes Form: Daniel Birnbaum on Harald Szeemann,” Artforum, Summer 2005, p. 55. 3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews, Volume I, edited by Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), pp. 416-17. Hopps also named as predecessors exhibition-makers Katherine Dreier, Alfred Barr, James Johnson Sweeney, René d’Harnoncourt, and Jermayne MacAgy. 4 In 1976, at the Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C., Hopps announced that, for thirty-six hours, he would hang anything anyone brought in, as long as it would fit through the door. Later, he proposed to put 100,000 images up on the walls of P.S. 1 in New York, but that project was, sadly, never realized. 5 Mark Spiegler, “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” The Art Newspaper, no. 157, April 2005, p. 32. 6 Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators (New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001), p. 19. 7 Curating Now: Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility: Proceedings from a symposium addressing the state of current curatorial practice organized by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, October 14-15, 2000, edited by Paula Marincola (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2001), p. 128. Both Szeemann and Hopps passed Hickey’s test: “The curator’s job, in my view,” he said, “is to tell the truth, to show her or his hand, and get out of the way” (p. 126). 8 Carolee Thea, p. 19 (emphasis added). 9 Daniel Birnbaum, p. 58. 10 Christopher Knight, “Walter Hopps, 1932-2005. Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005. 11At this writing, the U.S. government continues in its effort to prosecute artist Steven Kurtz for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail, even though the agents were harmless and intended for use in art pieces by the collaborative Critical Art Ensemble. Kurtz has said he believes the charges filed against him in 2004 (after agents from the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depeartment of Defence swarmed over his house) are part of a Bush administration campaign to prevent artists from protesting government policies. “I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history,” Kurtz has said. “A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.” For the latest developments in the case, go to caedefensefund.org. 12 Epigraph to Nathan Sivin’s Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968). 13 Having Been Said: Writings & Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968-2003, edited by Gerti Fietzek and Gregor Stemmrich (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), p. 315. 14 Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps—Art Curator,” Artforum, February 1996. 15 Jan Winkelman, “Failure as a Poetic Dimension: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann,” Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over Hedendaagse Kunst, No. 3, June 2001. 16 Carolee Thea, p. 17 (emphasis added). 17 Carolee Thea, p. 18. 18 With his co-curators Carlos Basualdo, Uta Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya. 19 Hans Ulrich Obrist, p. 430. 20 Vilém Flusser, “Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion,” in Writings, edited by Andreas Ströhl, translated by Erik Eisel (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 52. 21 Harald Szeemann, “Does Art Need Directors?” in Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art, edited by Carin Kuoni (New York: Independent Curators International, 2001), p. 169. 22 Jan Winkelman. 23 Flusser, p. 54.

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Frieze Fair New York 2015: Images, Reports and reviews + Satellites

 

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 THE DAILY BEAST /LILLIE CROCKER
Frieze Art Fair in New York City
Price Point05.16.156:55 AM ET
Welcome To Frieze, The Art Fair That Drives The Rich Insane
The wealthy and well-dressed flock to Frieze, New York’s most glamorous contemporary art fair. But do they know, or care, what they are buying?

The annual Frieze New York art fair is generously stocked with women in their 50s and 60s, shouting out three figure prices and authoritatively mispronouncing artists’ names.

They mill around the tent on opening day, buzzing and squawking at the thrill of spending their husbands’ money.

Dressed in their finest, their faces nipped and stretched taut like a snare drum, they look more labored over than most of the art on display.

“I love this. How much? Around $60K?” one woman shrilly asks a gallery attendant, eyeing an aluminum sculpture by a Danish art collective. The attendant quietly and politely corrects her: $100K.

“In New York people steal everything,” the prospective buyer remarks half-heartedly, seeking reassurance about her purchase. “They’re not going to steal this,” the attendant promises, securing a sale.

It’s a Kobuki dance I’ll witness again and again at Frieze. Indeed, there’s an amusing tension between the unbearably pretentious art world natives and the Real Housewives, who don’t speak the language of art.

They point at works on display like children in a toy store, referring to artists’ methods and materials as “this” and “that.” These clueless collectors have democratized art fairs, where there are fewer snobby intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals.

But then they would never be allowed in without oversized Birkin bags.

In a clear indication that Frieze knows its audience, the fair is distributing free copies of the Financial Times. The booths themselves are prohibitively pricey: $815 per square meter.

At the Parisian gallery Mon Charpentier, installed in one of the fair’s smaller, peripheral booths, a young foreign woman is assured that she’s looking at a “very, very important piece.”

The buyer cares less about its cultural significance than she does about how it will look in her living room. “Can it be built on site?” she asks.

But she cares less about its cultural significance than she does about how it will look in her living room. “Can it be built on site?” she asks.

Meanwhile, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise—one of the larger booths and more well-known galleries—artist Jonathan Horowitz was commissioning Frieze visitors to participate in his work, 700 Dots.

Fair attendees are asked to paint a black circle eight inches in diameter on a 12-by-12 inch white canvas, instructed on their technique and told to spend at least 30 minutes on their masterpiece. Each square is then mounted on the wall in groupings of 100, priced at $100,000.

Participants are paid a $20 profit, but their black dot is worth $10,000.

When I pressed Brown about the artist’s vision, he mumbled that Horowitz was “exploring a way to make a painting,” and that each dot is a “self-portrait.”

“High art is labor,” he adds, begrudgingly. “And here he has distilled a painting down to its elemental particles. Despite the very straightforward, reductive template, each one is unique. “Inevitably, when you ask someone to make a perfect geometric circle, it’s not going to be perfect.”

By Thursday afternoon, they had already sold three or four groupings, Brown told me.

Collectors are quite literally paying for the Frieze 2015 experience. But in contemporary art, the concept is never as impressive as the Gavin Browns of the world make it out to be.

It’s the interactive art that draws the most attention at Frieze, along with the most shocking, the largest in scale, and the most of-its-time. Gagosian reserved its entire booth for Richard Prince’s uninspiring, $90,000-a-piece New Portraits—blown-up ink on paper screenshots of other people’s Instagram posts that he has commented on.

Gallery owners like Gavin Brown, aloof and enigmatic, are sought after by both artists and collectors.

In the contemporary art world, there is no benchmark for what’s “good.” There is only a social structure, an attitude, that determines which works and names are most valuable. And, of course, all that taut skin, decoratively clothed, pointing at “this” and “that”—the women knowing not what they want, but that they want something. They’re shopping, after all.

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LUXURY

  • GIUSEPPE PENONE, Verde del bosco, 1986

    Picture: Marian Goodman
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Frieze New York 2015: old, new and some participation too

Frieze New York has come of age with some heavy-hitting, historical art; without losing its contemporary and participative roots, says Louisa Buck

By Louisa Buck

May 15, 2015 18:01
Richard Prince instagram picturesRichard Prince instagram pictures
Giuseppe Penone, Albero di 10 m, 1989 and Verde del bosco, 1986Giuseppe Penone, Albero di 10 m, 1989 and Verde del bosco, 1986
Emily Mortimer and the staff of Madrid gallery Travesia CuatroEmily Mortimer and the staff of Madrid gallery Travesia Cuatro
American artist Jonathan Horowitz asks Freize attendees to paint a freehand, eight-inch circleAmerican artist Jonathan Horowitz asks Freize attendees to paint a freehand, eight-inch circle

It is only in its fourth year but Frieze New York has already become a Big Apple fixture. Even the notoriously bridge-averse Manhattanites have stopped moaning about its rather remote (for them) location on Randalls Island between Harlem, the Bronx and Queens and everyone now agrees that the fair’s trademark long, curving, naturally lit tent is a triumph, showing off the 190 participating galleries to their best advantage. The fact that visitors are also serviced by pop-up versions of some of the city’s favourite eateries – from Dimes in Chinatown to Frankies Spuntino from Brooklyn – also helps.

And then there’s the art. Proof positive that the Frieze NY has come of age is the fact that, for the first time, New York heavy-hitters Pace Gallery, Matthew Marks and Acquavella have all deigned to take part, with the latter presenting a booth bedecked with top-notch Picassos. Overall, the fair feels lucid, elegant and considered, with more galleries putting on solo artist shows as well as an increasing tendency to enrich the mix by combining the contemporary with the historical. This can take the form of a clutch of Philip Guston paintings on the McKee Gallery stand, or Alison Jacques from London showing vintage feminist works by Lygia Clark, Hannah Wilke and the little-known Czech artist Maria Bartuszova alongside a pair of show-stopping surrealist paintings by Dorothea Tanning, the last wife of Max Ernst.

Embracing the past with the present has been actively encouraged by the fair itself. Harnessing the popularity of London’s Frieze Masters, Frieze NY has cannily inserted one of its mature sister fair’s most popular sections, Spotlight; in which galleries present a significant 20th century artist who is ripe for a new airing. Notable inclusions in this category are the octogenarian Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi – the first African artist to be given a retrospective at Tate Modern – showing his distinctive fusions of modernist abstraction and Arabic calligraphy on Vigo’s stand, and Carolee Schneemann: influential pioneer of bodily performances who has a classic New York action of 1966 documented in photos, drawings and film on the booth of Hales Gallery.

Another stand-out historical highlight is David Zwirner’s inspired pairing of recently-deceased sculptural maverick Franz West with Minimalist John McCracken. Also extraordinary is a solo show by Italian Arte Povera giant Giuseppe Penone, whose wall of fragrant dried bay leaves, along with tree-bark rubbings, tree trunk carvings and an astonishing billboard-sized graphite work based on his own wrinkled skin, all combine to transform Marian Goodman’s stand into an uncanny glade that is worth the trip to New York alone.

But Frieze New York is first and foremost a fair devoted to the contemporary, and this year finds even the most high-end galleries prepared to let their hair down and take some risks. Hauser & Wirth is hanging its costly wares on walls vividly roller-painted by Martin Creed in green, red and blue crosses and stripes; while Gagosian has an entire booth devoted to a procession of Richard Prince’s giant, vacuous prints of Instagram portraits, against which a constant stream of fair visitors are in turn busily Instagramming themselves.

Audience participation seems to be all the rage this year. In one of the fair’s bespoke art projects, Mexican artist Pia Camil persuades visitors to parade through the tent in her specially designed ponchos (which they can take home afterwards). A more restful site-specific project comes in the form of Bangkok-born artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s massage chairs, upholstered in his trademark tie-dyed denim, which are dotted throughout the fair, doling out gentle pummellings to prone and weary visitors. On the opening night even the celebs were put to work, with actress Emily Mortimer on the stand of Madrid gallery Travesia Cuatro handing out flowers from the exuberant sculptural ceramic containers of Mexican artist Melana Muzquiz.

But Gavin Brown took visitor involvement to a new level with all the art on his booth created in situ by the visiting public. Over the first two days of Frieze an eager throng of fairgoers were given a 12-inch square canvas and some black paint to carry out the task set by the American artist Jonathan Horowitz: painting a freehand, eight-inch circle (not as easy as it sounds) in return for a $20 cheque signed by the artist. Each piece then formed part of a collective grid of 700 black circles lining the booth; but what each batch of 100 was ultimately selling for the gallery would not disclose. It was certainly more than the $2,000 labour charge; although the individual cheques are already likely to be worth more uncashed as artworks in their own right.

This participatory tendency has been given official endorsement with the best booth prize for Frieze New York 2015 being awarded to Galeria Jaqueline Martins, a young gallery from Sao Paulo for its solo project by Martha Araujo entitled “Para un corpo nas suas impossibilidates” (For a body in its impossibilities). This involves intrepid Frieze visitors donning special jumpsuits patched with Velcro and then launching themselves onto a Velcro-covered skateboard ramp and attempting (but often unsuccessfully) to adhere. And who said that the art world was stuck up?

Frieze New York runs until Sunday 17 May

Frieze New York
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by Andrew Stefan Weiner

May 15, 2015

Frieze New York

FRIEZE ART FAIRNew YorkMay 14–17, 2015

Far above the North Atlantic, a plane is flying from Venice to New York. Most of the passengers in business class sleep comfortably in their lie-flat seats, but one stays awake sipping complimentary champagne. His voice barely audible above the jets’ white noise, he muses: “Is there even any difference between biennials and contemporary art fairs?” The knee-jerk answer to his question would be, Of course. Biennials are typically organized by curatorial teams who engage in protracted research to stage thematic arguments. Whereas they ask their visitors to look and think, art fairs tell them to buy, or at least window-shop. Venice notwithstanding, most biennials exist in relatively peripheral locations and often target non-art audiences, while fairs are built to serve the needs of the global 1 percent who comprise their clientele. But another, more pertinent answer might be, Less and less, or even, Was there ever? As the sociologist Olav Velthuis has shown, aesthetic and commercial modes of exhibition have been indissociable throughout the history of the Venice Biennale. For its first 70 years, the Biennale had a sales office that worked on commission. Following the protests of 1968, it adopted new practices that spawned what Velthuis has called “the Venice effect,”(1) wherein the putative independence of the Biennale comes to serve the needs of the market. The pretense of purity is often a smokescreen for covert business arrangements, even as it is belied by many artists’ dependence on dealers to finance their production costs. In a perverse but perfectly logical twist, the symbolic capital accrued by a biennial’s “autonomous” validation of an artist can readily be converted into increased exchange value.

More recently, the inverse of this dynamic has taken hold as prominent art fairs strive to resemble biennials. In what might be called “the Frieze effect,” fairs have increasingly incorporated discursive or participatory elements; they have also emphasized site-specific commissions and educational programs. The most obvious explanation for this shift is that it functions as a fig leaf, politely disguising the shameless promiscuity of the ever-tumescent contemporary art market. Yet as with biennials, the semblance of autonomy is a potent means of value production. Biennial-icity adds a veneer of intellectual sophistication, allowing work to be marketed as “critical.” It also allows a fair and its exhibitors to align their brands more strongly with the global contemporary, a now-ubiquitous category that invokes an abstract, near-empty universality. Given that this universality is in many ways indistinguishable from that of neoliberal capital, we might conceive of the global contemporary as a potent aesthetic ideology. Within this fantasmatic structure, the fair assuages its patrons’ fear of missing out even as it indulges their desire to discover (then flip) the next Oscar Murillo. The links between these imagined affinities and the conventions of pricing are at once indirect and indisputably real.

While the commercial success of Frieze New York is sometimes ascribed to the moribundity of its competition, it likely also derives from its canny application of the biennial formula. Though New York still fancies itself the center of the global art world, its connections to the biennial and fair circuit have been rather belated and indirect. Such conditions have surely increased the appeal of the Frieze brand, with its cosmopolitan, sophisticated connotations. The 2015 edition traded on this cachet by convening a team of international curators, a number of them with biennial experience. Not surprisingly, the majority of the fair’s more impressive offerings were in the stalls that had effectively been pre-curated. Shanghai’s Antenna Space exhibited a sharp suite of works by Liu Ding, “Karl Marx in 2013” (2014), one of which turned on the artist’s confrontation with Chinese tourists at Marx’s grave in London. Warsaw’s Le Guern Gallery showed compelling selections from C.T. Jasper’s photomontage series “In the Dust of the Stars” (2011). The Spotlight section, advised by Adriano Pedrosa, was a quiet revelation amidst the overweening vulgarity of the fair. Some of the artists shown there, like the marvelous Sudanese modernist Ibrahim El-Salahi, presented in London’s VIGO booth, have received major shows in Europe but remain largely unknown in the U.S. Others, like Geta Brătescu, whose drawings and collages were on view at Bucharest’s Ivan Gallery space, spoke to the formidable, largely uncharted range and depth of Eastern European conceptualisms. Such practices are still often treated as isolated curiosities despite their exposure to (and transformation of) Western models; one fascinating example of such an encounter was Natalia LL’s series of performance photos from 1977, “Natalia LL at LGBT Demonstration in New York,” shown by Warsaw’s lokal­_30.

Elsewhere, and despite its more high-minded aspirations, Frieze New York is largely a crass spectacle of predictably conspicuous consumption. Finance bros in Gucci loafers rubbed shoulders with fashionistas, fashion victims, and the occasional celebrity; walking through the fair was a numbing, enervating experience rather like speed-reading the ads in Artforum. It became clear that “the global,” at least in this context, is a site of massive structural imbalance, even if exhibitors tended to revert to a much more superficial conception of global contemporary art: oversized photos of airport runways; displays of time-zone clocks; countless map collages and globe sculptures. Prominent displays were given to veterans of the biennial circuit, like Isaac Julien and Yinka Shonibare MBE; the most affecting was Allora & Calzadilla’s Intervals (2014) at Paris’s Galerie Chantal Crousel, which refashioned transparent plastic lecterns into odd plinths for dinosaur bones. Numerous galleries seemed intent on selling NYC-themed art to international buyers; the most diligent of these was New York’s Skarstedt, with iconic works by Warhol, Sherman, Holzer, and Haring, any of them perfect for your new luxury Tribeca pied-à-terre. With a fittingly gargantuan display of Richard Prince’s obnoxious Instagram paintings, Gagosian ventured the depressing proposition that global is just a fancy word for “lowest common denominator.” In fact the overwhelming majority of exhibitors were from the North, with hardly any from the MENASA region, Africa, or the Pacific. Those from the center could choose, though few did, to showcase their cosmopolitanism, as with Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, which brought works by Slavs and Tatars, Guan Xiao, and Katja Novitskova. In contrast, it was as if the galleries from the periphery were expected to showcase their own difference in a kind of compulsory self-exoticization. Athens’s The Breeder was outfitted with carpets, columns, and Byzantine-esque icons for Andreas Angelidakis’s Crash Pad (2015). Madrid- and Guadalajara-based Travesia Cuatro set itself up as a kind of tropicalist flower shop by Milena Muzquiz, complete with gallerinas in matching floral dresses. The one exception to this tendency was Mumbai’s Project 88, with Sarnath Banerjee’s “Liquid History of Vasco da Gama,” a group of 36 drawings by that incisively satirized Western stereotypes of postcolonial provincialism.

The few exhibitors who tried to resist this pervasive tendency did so by combining historically and geographically specific work with analogous contemporary practices. Paris’s Galerie Frank Elbaz assembled a stellar showcase of art from the former Yugoslavia, with memorable contributions from Josip Vanista, Mladen Stilinović, and Julije Knifer. Bogota-based Casas Riegner showed subtle, thoughtful contributions by Carlos Rojas, Bernardo Ortiz, and Johanna Calle. Berlin’s Galerija Gregor Podnar paired terrific, seldom-seen 1970s work from Ion Grigorescu, Irma Blank, and Goran Petercol, with strong recent pieces by Tobias Putrih and Anne Neukamp.

I left the fair with the impression of a massive embarrassment of riches, in both senses. On the one hand, it was possible to see more good art in a few hours than in a typical season in Chelsea. On the other, it was impossible to ignore the glaring contradictions of its very existence. These were perfectly encapsulated in the fair’s site: a multimillion-dollar bespoke tent with multiple VIP sanctums, located next to Icahn Stadium (named after the 1980s pioneer of corporate raiding, leveraged buyouts, and “asset stripping”) and just across the river from the South Bronx, home to the poorest congressional district in the U.S., where over 250,000 live in poverty. Inside this stylish white bubble, members of the global elite could be entertained by Amalia Pica, John Bock, and Geoffrey Hendricks’s reconstruction of George Maciunas’s Flux-Labyrinth (1976/2015), originally an attempt to develop an anti-capitalist aesthetics. Many eagerly lined up to participate in Wearing-watching (2015), a commissioned project by Pia Camil, in which they could don smocks modeled after Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolés from the 1960s (first designed in conjunction with residents of Rio de Janeiro’s Mangueira favela). Upon leaving the bubble, visitors were whisked back to lower Manhattan by a private water taxi. With the South Bronx quietly receding from view, they were free to ask themselves whether they had just been to a fair or a biennial, when and where the next big event might be, and whether such questions were even worth worrying about.

(1) Olav Velthuis, “The Venice Effect,” The Art Newspaper Magazine (June 2011): 21-24.

Andrew Weiner is Assistant Professor of Art Theory and Criticism in the Department of Art and Art Professions at NYU-Steinhardt.

View of Frieze New York, 2015.

1View of Frieze New York, 2015.

View of Antenna, Shanghai, at Frieze New York, 2015, with Liu Ding's “Karl Marx in 2013,” 2014.

2View of Antenna, Shanghai, at Frieze New York, 2015, with Liu Ding’s “Karl Marx in 2013,” 2014.

View of Galeria Le Guern, Warsaw at Frieze New York, 2015, with C.T. Jasper's "In the Dust of the Stars," 2011.

3View of Galeria Le Guern, Warsaw at Frieze New York, 2015, with C.T. Jasper’s “In the Dust of the Stars,” 2011.

View of Vigo Gallery, London at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Ibrahim el-Salahi.

4View of Vigo Gallery, London at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Ibrahim el-Salahi.

View Ivan Gallery, Bucharest at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Geta Brătescu.

5View Ivan Gallery, Bucharest at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Geta Brătescu.

Natalia LL, "Consumer Art" series, 1974.

6Natalia LL, “Consumer Art” series, 1974.

View Gagosian Gallery at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Richard Prince.

7View Gagosian Gallery at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Richard Prince.

View of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin at Frieze New York, 2015.

8View of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin at Frieze New York, 2015.

Andreas Angelidakis,  Crash Pad, 2015.

9Andreas Angelidakis, Crash Pad, 2015.

View of Travesía Cuatro at Frieze New York, 2015 with Milena Muzquiz's, Untitled, 2015.

10View of Travesía Cuatro at Frieze New York, 2015 with Milena Muzquiz’s, Untitled, 2015.

Sarnath Banerjee, “Liquid History of Vasco da Gama,” 2014.

11Sarnath Banerjee, “Liquid History of Vasco da Gama,” 2014.

Josip Vanista, "Déposition," 1986.

12Josip Vanista, “Déposition,” 1986.

Anne Neukamp, Untitled (Transfer #3), 2015.

13Anne Neukamp, Untitled (Transfer #3), 2015.

Geoffrey Hendricks, Upside Down Forest, 1975/2015.

14Geoffrey Hendricks, Upside Down Forest, 1975/2015.

Pia Camil, Wearing-watching, 2015.

15Pia Camil, Wearing-watching, 2015.

  • 1View of Frieze New York, 2015. Photo by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
  • 2View of Antenna, Shanghai, at Frieze New York, 2015, with Liu Ding’s “Karl Marx in 2013,” 2014. Photo by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
  • 3View of Galeria Le Guern, Warsaw at Frieze New York, 2015, with C.T. Jasper’s “In the Dust of the Stars,” 2011. 26 pairs of framed magazines, 80 x 56 cm each. Courtesy Galeria Le Guern, Warsaw.
  • 4View of Vigo Gallery, London at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Ibrahim el-Salahi. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery, London.
  • 5View Ivan Gallery, Bucharest at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Geta Brătescu. Courtesy of Ivan Gallery, Bucharest and the artist. Photo by Matt Grubb.
  • 6Natalia LL, “Consumer Art” series, 1974. Original color print, unique piece, 51 cm x 61.5 cm each. Courtesy of lokal_30, Warsaw.
  • 7View Gagosian Gallery at Frieze New York, 2015, with work by Richard Prince. © Richard Prince. Photography by Robert McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
  • 8View of Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin at Frieze New York, 2015. Left to right: Slavs and Tatars, Guan Xiao, and Katja Novitskova. Image courtesy of the artists and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin. Photo by Matthew Boot.
  • 9Andreas Angelidakis, Crash Pad, 2015. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of The Breeder, Athens.
  • 10View of Travesía Cuatro at Frieze New York, 2015, with Milena Muzquiz’s, Untitled, 2015. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of Travesia Cuatro, Madrid and Guadalajara.
  • 11Sarnath Banerjee, “Liquid History of Vasco da Gama,” 2014. Series of 36 drawings. Charcoal and pastel on A4 sheets, 8 x 11 inches each. Courtesy of Project 88, Mumbai.
  • 12Josip Vanista, “Déposition,” 1986. 12 black and white photographs on archival paper, 24 x 24 cm each. Edition of 3. Courtesy of galerie frank elbaz, Paris. Photo by Zarko Vijatovic.
  • 13Anne Neukamp, Untitled (Transfer #3), 2015. Acetone transfer on paper, 100 x 70 cm. Courtesy of Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin.
  • 14Geoffrey Hendricks, Upside Down Forest, 1975/2015. Tribute to George Maciunas’s Flux-Labyrinth (1976/2015), Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
  • 15Pia Camil, Wearing-watching, 2015. 800 pieces assembled and sown by hand, made from leftover fabrics or discards from local factories in Mexico City and distributed freely to fair visitors. Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Photo by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
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T MAGAZINE, NEW YORK TIMES

At NADA, a Fresh Crop of Young Talent

  • The Los Angeles-based M+B Gallery is among the spaces exhibiting at this year’s NADA fair, featuring photographic works by Mariah Robertson (left wall) and Phil Chang. Courtesy of M+B
  • “Salton Sea,” 2015, is one of several new photographic works by the artist Matthew Porter at the Invisible-Exports booth. Courtesy of Invisible-Exports
  • In conjunction with NADA’s opening, Daata Editions launched its web-based platform dedicated to the promotion of artists who work specifically with sound, video and the Internet. In addition, limited-edition works, such as Ilit Azoulay’s photographic still “Object #1,” pictured here, will be for sale. Courtesy of Daata Editions
  • For his space, the Cologne-based gallerist Berthold Pott chose to exhibit works by two artists, including Max Frintrop’s “Untitled (‘Seeworld’),” 2015. Courtesy of Berthold Pott
  • The triptych of paintings that make up Josh Reames’s installation at the Johannes Vogt Gallery booth.
  • The Berlin-based gallery Duve is exhibiting works by Maximilian Arnold, Vera Kox and Roman Liska.

With all the commotion of Frieze New York playing out uptown on Randall’s Island, it might be easy to overlook the action unfolding at the decidedly downtown New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) fair. Now in its fifth year, the New York arm of NADA (the other fair takes place in Miami) once again returns to Pier 36, exhibiting 100 galleries in a cavernous warehouse space bordered by the Lower East Side and the East River. Billed as a nonprofit arts organization with the aim of promoting new and emerging artists, NADA has gained a reputation as a go-to destination for art world insiders and collectors looking to take the pulse of the next generation of artists.

Fair highlights include the exhibition mounted by the New York-based Johannes Vogt Gallery, a series of three paintings by Josh Reames. With images of cigarettes, an erotically tinged neon light and a grinning skeleton, Reames’s choice of imagery channels the über-cool aesthetic of the fair’s attendees. “Introducing new artists is what the spirit of NADA stands for,” Vogt, a longtime veteran of the fair, says. A similar sentiment was expressed by his fellow NADA alum Risa Needleman, the co-founder, along with Benjamin Tischer, of the Lower East Side gallery Invisible-Exports, which is exhibiting works including vibrant photomontages by Matthew Porter — sure to please NADA visitors who, as Needleman is keenly aware, “expect young and exciting work.”

For first-timers, the fair is a unique opportunity to gain exposure — and importantly, access — to an often-exclusive segment of the art world. “The best way for young European galleries to enter into the U.S. market is through NADA,” Berthold Pott, owner of his namesake Cologne-based gallery, says. Among Pott’s exhibited pieces, large-scale ink-based gestural works by Max Frintrop call to mind the likes of the Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler and her watery fields of color. Meanwhile, another first-time gallery, the New York-based Queer Thoughts, looked to be in for the ultimate NADA experience. Having just arrived at the fair, the megawatt curator and writer Hans Ulrich Obrist and the Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf were overheard declaring the gallery’s exhibition of Darja Bajagic’s “Ex Axes – Larissa Riquelme (2015),” an ax bearing the photograph of a despairing young woman, to be the highlight of NADA. Talk about making the cut.

NADA New York is on view through May 17 at Basketball City, 299 South Street, newartdealers.org.

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Opening day of Frieze New York 2015 – in pictures

Now in its third year, the art fair has arrived at Randall’s Island in New York City, with the world’s most eminent artists showing their wares in a giant tent

Frieze New York review – navigating the maze of art fair’s eccentric fun
Just how well dressed are New York’s art lovers?

 

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HYPERALLERGIC

Galleries

Painting According to Frieze New York

Wilhelm Sasnal, “Untitled (car)” (2015), oil on canvas, 40x40 cm at Foksal Gallery Foundation

It’s been about a hundred years since Kazimir Malevich supplanted all imagery in painting with iconic shapes that point not to this world but to one he thought would come. It was around the same time Marcel Duchamp put a handlebar mustache on the Mona Lisa and titled the work “L.H.O.O.Q.” — or “She is hot in the arse.” It was a time of agitation that proved critical to painting’s history as methods of filling up the canvas split, for the most part, in two directions: one of abstraction or non-objectivity; and another that held ground representing “things of the world,” however absurd or beautiful. This year’s Frieze New York art fair on Randall’s Island shows artists using both methods in collision or collusion in a struggle to find firmer artistic footing.

The need for footing comes from a growing restlessness with riffing on 20th century abstraction and the inability to sustain irony, a once-dominant theme in recent representational painting, since it is more of a pretense of not caring rather than a risk of vulnerability. These methods may be losing their effectiveness, and, since painting never dies, new ways of pushing forward emerge.

Patricia Treib, “As-of-yet-untitled” (2015), oil on canvas, 66 x 50 inches at Wallspace Gallery

Patricia Treib’s “As-of-yet-untitled” (2015) in Wallspace Gallery‘s booth either is abstractly figurative or figuratively abstract — complete and without tension. The relaxed, abled gestures and colors of Matisse suggest a sense of place and life of leisure, without giving us the goods or robbing us of their pleasure. Paul Heyer’s “Burnout,” an acrylic and oil on silk painting tucked around the corner of Night Gallery‘s booth, presses ordered black splotches against a facile rendering of flowers painted in watery pastel colors. The bold and abstract interruptions provide both a tension between types of picture-making and compositional stability, a structure holding all elements into place.

The multiple ways in which artists at Frieze mine the languages of both the abstract and representational traditions, in their multiple iterations however broadly conceived, remind us that every mode of working has a time, place, and specific motivation. From sublime geometries and Freudian dreams to fits of anxiety seeking universal expression and commercially-produced homogenous batches, all artistic fabrications have a context. So when today’s artists seek stability, erasure, or obfuscation by combining image-based content with abstract impulses, these visual inheritances and borrowings are transparent enough to put in high relief the strengths — and weaknesses — of artists’ imaginations.

Johannes Kahrs, “OT (green fingernails)” (2015), oil on canvas, 44.4 x 48.2 cm at Zeno X Gallery

Johannes Kahrs’s “OT (green fingernails)” (2015), in the booth of Antwerp’s Zeno X Gallery, is sexy without substance. The reproduced image, sourced from a photograph or video, uses seediness in the lives of others to convey a sense of raw experience, like a short-cut search for authenticity. Figuration or “the real” is here depleted through cropping and blurring, a splicing effect that flirts with obliteration. George Shaw’s painting “She Had an Horror of Rooms” (2014–15) in the Wilkinson Gallery booth, of wood scraps resting in leaves, could be the remains of a discarded project or hobby, or a realist painter’s examination of failed Bauhaus ideals.

George Shaw, “She Had an Horror of Rooms” (2014–15), Humbrol enamel on board, 56 x 74.5 cm at Wilkinson Gallery

In the Taro Nasu booth, Simon Fujiwara’s “Fabulous Beasts” brings “the real” into abstraction, sewing and stretching together swaths of shaved fur coats for a result that’s close enough to painting for me. Possible associations include Dadaist sculpture and linear abstract painting. Jens Fänge’s assemblage on panel in Galleri Magnus Karlsson‘s booth recalls early Cubism and mid-century photomontage.

Portia Zvavahera, “I Can Feel It in My Eyes [16]” (2015), oil-based print ink and oil bar on canvas, 209.5 x 163.5 cm at Stevenson

The most accomplished paintings at this year’s Frieze are by Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera. Her “I Can Feel It in My Eyes [16]” (2015) is one of several beatific visions of corporeal entanglement nearly lifting themselves off Stevenson gallery’s booth walls. With the strength of Marc Chagall’s spiritual interiority, she envisions a world of romantic longing hardly seen since Gustav Klimt.Anna Bjerger, “Halo” (2015), oil on aluminum, 50 x 40 cm at Galleri Magnus Karlsson

Anna Bjerger’s “Halo,” also hanging in Galleri Magnus Karlsson’s booth, features luscious, buttery paint that in its own right commands attention. But in the painting’s facile slips and turns, a remarkable articulation of a woman, lit from the back, appears with the same sense of seduction. More cold in feeling, but likewise straddling the abstract-representational divide, is Wilhelm Sasnal’s “Untitled (car)” in the Foksal Gallery Foundation booth.

Kon Trubkovich, “A heart with an iron lining” (2015), oil on canvas, 72 x 60 in at Marianne Boesky Gallery

The most prominent example of strategic collision is Kon Trubkovich’s “A heart with an iron lining” (2015) at Marianne Boesky‘s booth. Rather like video and paint in conflict, the work, all in oil, is more cerebral than enticing. Zhang Hui’s “Pearl 2” (2015) at Long March Space is more tactile, inviting touch and wondrous questions. Like the modernist method of “all-over painting,” whereby the entire canvas is covered and never lets the viewers’ eyes rest, Mircea Suciu‘s “Iron Curtain” (2015) at Zeno X Gallery covers the “subject,” all over, in suffocating plastic.

Peter Davies, “Come Hither” (2015), acrylic on canvas, 59 13/16 x 48 in at The Approach

Peter Davies’s “Come Hither” (2015) at The Approach‘s booth is geometric abstraction waving its hand or growing from the ground and reaching into the air. The black masses, all joined, fill the canvas plane to create a sense of activity within the flattened space. In the Modern Institute‘s booth, Urs Fischer channels Willem de Kooning to confront an aged photograph of a stool and magazine rack, setting a replica of mass produced images and articles — light fare — against the self-serious ethos of Abstract Expressionism. A comparatively older work at the fair, yet one that is resolutely contemporary, is Larry Bell’s “Big Mirage Painting #53” from 1991. By introducing to a reductive abstract composition various reflected lights, kaleidoscopic and variant in intensities, Bell gives represented “materials” a sense of non-objectivity, a kind of constructed non-space. That White Cube chose to show the piece here highlights the singularity of Bell’s work.

Exceptions prove the rule at Frieze, even though there are no rules in what artists here are doing. That openness to potential, space, and means ready for invention — or possible lapses into pastiched mimicking — makes the fair exciting and gives reason to believe that painting around the world is turning a corner.

Larry Bell, “Big Mirage Painting #53” (1991), mixed media on canvas 89 9/16 x 70 3/8 in at White Cube

Urs Fischer, “Free advice is usually worth what you paid for it” (2015), aluminum panel, aramid honeycomb, two-component polyurethane adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint, 96x72 inches at The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd

Mircea Suciu, “Iron Curtain” (2015), oil, acrylic, and mono print on linen, 156 x 121.8 cm at Zeno X Gallery

Zhang Hui, “Pearl 2” (2015), acrylic on canvas, 180 x 116 cm at Long March Space

Jens Fänge, “The Inner Wedding” (2015), assemblage on panel, 112 x 75 cm at Galleri Magnus Karlsson

Simon Fujiwara, “Fabulous Beasts” (2015), shaved fur coat, 115 x 65 cm at Taro Nasu

Frieze New York continues in Randall’s Island Park (Randall’s Island) through May 17.

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HYPERALLERGIC

Photo Essays

Close Readings from a Cozy Art Fair

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As part of the frenzy of Frieze Week, Zürcher Gallery is hosting Salon Zürcher, a more intimate fair featuring both emerging and established artists. In its tenth edition, the Salon once again positions itself in opposition to the other large–scale, superstore–style fairs and offers a two–room gallery filled with unique and thoughtfully curated pieces. Six galleries are present: Galerie L’Inlassable, Galerie Mathias Coullaud, and Galerie Isabelle Gounod from Paris; Cathouse FUNeral from Brooklyn; Amsterdam outfit The Merchant House; and hosts Zürcher Gallery. Below, I’ve collected some of the highlights.

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French artist Éric Rondepierre has been using movies as his medium of choice for many years, and recently made the transition from working with traditional celluloid film to digital film. These four images are video screenshots from classic movies that Rondepierre streams on his computer; he stops and captures moments where the file is buffering due to poor connections, freezing the image as it struggles to resolve, sometimes caught between two different frames. In Rondepierre’s screenshots, the pixels and eerie colors become reminiscent of painterly strokes, recalling the gas–lit figures of Degas’s interior scenes.

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Marcella Barcèlo, a 22–year–old artist, creates “embedded collages” by layering Japanese paper; she covers up her drawings with successive sheets, sometimes sandwiching other elements like printed paper, until the pieces become thick and sculptural. Ghostly drawings of mythological characters, like the devil, a drowning woman, and religious icons, are trapped under paper. Behind swathes of watery colors, the barely perceptible lines of her underdrawings add dimension and depth, and, on the outermost layer of paper, disembodied arms grasp and gesticulate as if tenderly and anxiously holding the paper sheets together.

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Farideh Sakhaeifar who had a solo show at Cathouse FUNeral earlier this year had two series on display in the gallery. In “ISIS/NASA” she culls images from ISIS bombings and NASA spaceship launches, using Photoshop to conflate the two, and thus explores the dual themes of spectatorship and nationalism (and of course the similar formal appearance) present in the two types of images. The postcard–sized images are seemingly arrayed as tourist souvenirs.

In her other series, “Workers are taking photographs,” Sakhaeifar had 200 Iranian, male, working class laborers take their own photos. She stood directly behind them, holding up white backgrounds that framed their heads and upper bodies. The white background decontextualizes their bodies, catapulting them into the space of the sterile, white gallery.

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For each of her pieces in “The Folds Series,” André De Jong spends years building the thickness of the paper through successive applications of ink, gesso, and charcoal. When the paper is ready, he shapes it, folding it to produce cracks and reveal the white paper underneath the color. The folds read as expressive, white chalky lines, producing sculptural drawings, and as De Jong told The Parool, “The destructive act [of the fold] is necessary to infuse life into these works. A remarkable thing about this type of object is that it retains the traces of this act, and that they are in fact decisive in determining its beauty.”

Form, as articulated through the handling of paper, is essential to De Jong’s cracked paper just as it is to Barcelo’s translucent drawings, while Rondepierre and Sakhaeifar grapple with the production and dissemination of the digital image. With these pieces, the ones that stood out to me at Salon Zürcher, the viewer can leave an art fair having contemplated the act of artistic creation.

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Salon Zürcher continues at Zürcher Gallery (33 Bleecker Street, SoHo, Manhattan) through May 17.

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VOGUE

New York City is Frieze-ing! What’s Happening at This Year’s Fair

While half the art world is still coming down from the magnificent high of the Venice Biennale, the other half is reveling in the first billion-dollar week of sales at Christie’s. And right on the heels of both high points comes Frieze New York, which has better food, better lighting, and better ponchos (more on that later) than any other annual fair in this city. Here, a rundown of the interesting things happening out on Randall’s Island this weekend.

Frieze New York Art Fair
Solo booths are looking good
Bringing one artist’s work to a fair usually makes for a more compelling booth than a random assortment. Showings from David Kordansky and Pace Gallery are evidence enough, but Gladstone Gallery’s T. J. Wilcox takeover is the best example. In addition to a reworking of “In the Air,” Wilcox’s 2013 Whitney show, Gladstone is showing his specially commissioned video for the Metropolitan Opera’s The Tales of Hoffmann. A combination of stop-motion animation and more traditional cartoons—think an operatic version of Space Jam—it is a total delight.
Photo: Courtesy of Gladstone Gallery
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Articles

HYPERALLERGIC

A Contemporary African Art Fair Arrives in New York

The entrance to 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

It may at first thought seem odd that the newest addition to Frieze Week in New York is a fair devoted to contemporary African art. How could one expect to cover the ground of a whole continent in a single art fair, and an exceptionally small one at that? Is “African art” a useful category?

But the bigger problem may be that it doesn’t seem all that strange, accustomed as we are, in the US, to seeing the many countries of Africa stereotyped and lumped together as one big, general place. That contradiction is in fact built into the name of the art fair: 1:54, whose numbers stand, respectively, for the one continent of Africa and the 54 countries it contains. “To share and give visibility to the diversity of the African art scene,” is how 1:54 founder Touria El Glaoui described the goal of the fair to Hyperallergic — “to be a player in the international scene.”

The fair seen from above (click to enlarge)

El Glaoui, the daughter of Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui, founded 1:54 two years ago in London, timing the first edition to Frieze Week there. She is now testing the waters of New York, though it sounds like it was something of a last-minute decision: El Glaoui told me she had six months to plan the fair’s trans-Atlantic voyage. 1:54 landed on the shores of Red Hook and is moored for the weekend at the multipurpose arts center Pioneer Works.

The fair features only 16 galleries, half of them from Africa and half from other countries but showing work that falls under the admittedly vague rubric of “African.” The layout is standard, as far as fairs go: big, tall white walls carve up the cavernous industrial space into pristine booths. These mini-showrooms are quite big, a decision that gives the art plenty of room to breathe but also has the unfortunate effect of eating up any potential free space on the building’s ground floor — so that you may end up feeling (as I did, at times) like you are little more than a murine aesthete lost in an art market maze.

Happily, the art you’re trapped with is largely very good and largely by people whose names are not yet well worn in the art world. “It’s also about where the artists are in their career,” El Glaoui told me. El Anatsui, for instance, isn’t at 1:54 because he “doesn’t need to be here.” William Kentridge is, his work greeting you immediately upon arrival (at the booth of David Krut Projects), but along with Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta (two of the most famous photographers in African history, both at Magnin-A gallery), Kentridge is an exception. 1:54 is mostly focused on bringing new artists to the attention of New York audiences.

Peter Clarke, "Black Cowboy" (1982), gouache collage on paper, 50.5 x 65 cm

New doesn’t necessarily mean young, though, and one of my favorite discoveries of the fair was the work of Peter Clarke, a towering South African artist who died last year at the age of 85. Clarke, who was forcibly uprooted from his home when he was young because of apartheid, made art his whole life but only received recognition “later, due to the political situation,” explained Marelize van Zyle, associate director of SMAC Gallery. “He depicted Cape Colored life, life in that community.” Zyle brought two pieces of Clarke’s work that she thought would resonate with American audiences: one, a gentle gouache showing a branch of KFC in a poor Cape Town neighborhood in the 1980s (the company was one of the only international chains that did not pull out of the country during the economic boycott), the other a brighter imaginary scene inspired by Spaghetti Westerns. Featuring a stylish black cowboy painted in gouache, the work also contains a collaged Jack Daniels label at the center, on which Clarke hand-wrote a text that ends: “Only, the westerns never show that in real life the cowboy hero was sometimes a Black Man … ”

Wall of photos from Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall's studio at Axis Gallery's booth (click to enlarge)

Perhaps predictably, questions about identity ripple through the fair, connecting much of the work on view and coloring many of the conversations I had when I visited. Axis Gallery‘s wall of dazzling photographic portraits by Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall — who established what Axis curator Gary van Wyk called “the first color photography studio in Africa” in 1961 in Durban, South Africa — resonates with a number of more contemporary works at the booth of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, among them Fabrice Monteiro‘s sumptuous photograph of a woman dressed as a signare, as the lawful wives of colonizers in the 18th and 19th centuries were called. These little-remembered women were “covered with fashion and jewelry” and “extremely emancipated,” said Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt, the gallery’s director. Hanging catty-corner in her booth is an arresting black-and-white, composite self-portrait by Ayana V. Jackson that features six versions of the artist dressed in different Victorian outfits and posed together as in a family photo. “If, at the time of slavery, it were egalitarian and equal — if there were no slavery, what sorts of costumes would the black body be wearing?” Ibrahim-Lenhardt asked, by way of explaining the impetus for the work.

Work by Fabrice Monteiro at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery's booth, showing a signore

Work by Ayana V. Jackson at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Billie Zangewa, "Ma vie en rose" and "Homecoming" (both 2015), silk tapestries, at Afronova's booth (click to enlarge)

Both of these pieces, in turn, seem to be distant cousins of a couple of beautifully assured silk self-portrait tapestries by Billie Zangewa, at Afronova’s booth, and more closely related to a series of costumed self-portraits by Omar Victor Diop at Magnin-A. For the project, Diop researched “Africans sent to various parts of the world, either as slaves or as representatives of their kingdoms,” many of them since “left out of the history books.” He then found images of them and photographed himself modeled after them, adding the occasional contemporary touch like a soccer ball or a whistle. The series is indebted in equal parts to Kehinde Wiley and to Keïta, but the results possess a potent agency that the works of Diop’s predecessors lack.

Omar Victor Diop's series at Magnin-A's booth (click to enlarge)

“As African artists, of course we don’t want to be locked in an African ghetto,” Diop said when I asked him about the idea of an African art fair. “But if you don’t speak, you let others define what an African artist is. You’ll always be from somewhere. You can’t change your Africanness, but you can change the perception.”

Those remarks contrasted sharply with the words of Lavar Munroe, an artist showing disturbing and surreal collaged renderings of animal and human figures with NOMAD Gallery. “I’ve always resisted the label” of African artist, he said, explaining that he initially refused to participate in the fair but was persuaded by his dealer. “Why the fascination [with African art]?” Munroe asked. “I think it has to do with the notion of the other, exhibiting the other.”

Work by Lavar Munroe at NOMAD Gallery

Most of the gallerists I spoke with (who were almost exclusively white) seemed far more at ease with the label, probably because they know that successful selling generally requires successful branding. But perhaps one of benefits of using such a broad term as “African” to describe a category of art is that it can be widely applied, so that Voice Gallery founder Rocco Orlacchio — who told me, “I don’t like very much labels” — could show work made in Kenya by a Japanese artist living in Morocco (a country that itself raises more questions of identity because of its location in the north of the continent and its uniquely hybrid identity).

“In the most ideal world, you would have no 1:54,” El Glaoui acknowledged, “but the truth is 0.05% of African artists are represented anywhere at any given moment.

“The best death of 1:54 will be that you don’t need it anymore.”

A sculpture by Nidhal Chamekh at Primo Marella Gallery

Lawrence Lemaoana, "I didn't join the struggle to be poor" (2015), fabric and embroidery, 155 x 110 cm, at Afronova's booth

Conrad Botes drawing his installation at Bennett Contemporary

Olu Amoda, "Medium Sunflower iii" (2014), blind revert, steel belt, mild still pipe, 52 x 52 in, at the booth of Art Twenty One

Work by Eric van Hove and Younes Baba-Ali at VOICE Gallery

Work by Edson Chagas at A Palazzo Gallery's booth

Looking down on one of the booths

Sammy Baloji, "Raccord #5," at Axis Gallery's booth (click to enlarge)

The entrance to 1:54 art fair

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair continues at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn) through May 17.

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FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON

The Art Market: big spenders in the Big Apple

  •   New York ‘Auction-tigue’; Frieze looks to the past; Giacometti show for Shanghai
‘Swamped’ (1990) by Peter Doig©Christie’s

‘Swamped’ (1990) by Peter Doig

“Fair-tigue” gave way to “auction-tigue” this week in New York, with a logjam of evening sales triggered by the changes in Venice Biennale dates this year. Crammed into the week were four evening sales plus a swathe of day sales: as we went to press, nearly $2bn had been splurged on the art of the 20th and 21st century in a seemingly unstoppable paroxysm of spending. Records tumbled across the categories: Peter Doig’s Swamped (1990) sold for $25.9m at Christie’s; Polke ($27.1m at Sotheby’s); Christopher Wool ($29.9m at Sotheby’s) or Soutine ($28.2m at Christie’s).

Christie’s emerged the clear winner, having clocked up an eye-popping $1.36bn by Wednesday night in two evening sessions alone. In a knockout blow to the opposition, its curtain-raising Monday sale scored $705.9m for “Looking Forward to the Past”, a “curated” sale of 34 lots which mixed categories, from early 20th century to contemporary art. Picasso’s “Les femmes d’Alger (Version O)” (1955) sold for an estimate-pulverising $179.4m (presale expectations were $140m; estimates don’t include fees: results do), while Giacometti’s “L’homme au doigt” (1947) made $141.3m — setting auction records for a painting and a sculpture.

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However, the sale was heavily guaranteed with half of the lots backed by Christie’s or third parties — which was the case for the Picasso but not for the Giacometti. As a result, the auction was curiously unexciting, with most bidding on the telephone and little action from the room — except to applaud the prices. “It was like watching a piece of theatre because ultimately so much was presold,” said one dealer. Guarantees also littered the catalogue at Sotheby’s the following night, but to a lesser extent, with 19 of the 65 lots so covered. Six of them were irrevocable bids announced during the sale, presumably because guarantors were encouraged by Christie’s results. That Sotheby’s sale made $379.7m with a Rothko taking the top spot at $46.4m; one disappointing result was for Lichtenstein’s “The Ring” (1962), which made just $41.7m, going to a private Asian buyer. It was estimated at about $50m and guaranteed, meaning a possible loss for the auction house. Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale had been held the previous week, raising $368.3m.

Then Christie’s blasted back on Wednesday night with a sale of contemporary art that racked up another total of $658.5m, led by a Rothko which made a stunning $81.9m. And a record was set for Lucian Freud, when his fleshy “Benefits Supervisor Resting” (1994) just topped its high target at $56.2m.

. . .

‘L’homme au doigt’ (1947) by Alberto Giacometti©Christie’s/Alberto Giacometti Estate

‘L’homme au doigt’ (1947) by Alberto Giacometti

The interest in mixing modern with contemporary art, as exemplified by Christie’s Monday night sale, was also evident at the Frieze New York fair, which opened this week on Randall’s Island. The organisers had sought out “blue-chip” dealers and encouraged them to bring more traditional art — “contextualising”, as this is called. So among the newcomers this year are a clutch of blue-chip galleries. They include Skarstedt, McKee, Pace, Matthew Marks and Acquavella — with some showing more established names alongside their contemporary artists. Pace is holding a solo show of Richard Tuttle, while Acquavella has a couple of million-dollar Picassos along with Brice Marden and Ed Ruscha. “I have clients who started with contemporary art, and now their attention is being taken by earlier works,” says Michael Findlay of Acquavella, “and the prices are so high for contemporary now.”

Among the successes of the fair was Vigo gallery, with Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi: New York museums bought a number of his works (priced between £250,000 and £650,000) and the collector Beth DeWoody another two. Frieze finishes on Sunday.

. . .

The $141.3m paid for Giacometti’s “L’homme au doigt” is a just reflection of the significance of the Swiss sculptor. And now that peace has broken out between the previously warring Giacometti foundation and association, the foundation’s new director Catherine Grenier is pressing ahead with a number of projects.

This week she and the Chinese/Indonesian collector and museum owner Budi Tek announced that they will stage the biggest exhibition yet of Giacometti’s work, from March next year in Tek’s Yuz Museum in Shanghai. It will comprise 240 works, including drawings, original plasters, sculptures and paintings, all from the foundation and displayed in a 2,000-sq metre gallery. “Giacometti has influenced Chinese artists for a long time,” says Tek. “And yet this is the first exhibition of his work in China.” Grenier says she has known Tek for some years, and that the project “was born very quickly after my nomination”. Tek is supporting the Institut Giacometti, an outpost of the foundation to be used for research and exhibitions, due to open next year. This Friday, “Beyond East and West”, a talk between Tek and Alexandre Colliex, development director of the Giacometti Foundation, will be held at Art15; the fair opens on Thursday in London’s Olympia.

. . .

‘Untitled’ (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat©Christie’s

‘Untitled’ (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which realised $13.6m at Christie’s on Monday

“Filthy Lucre” is the title of an immersive new work by contemporary artist Darren Waterston which goes on show in Washington’s Freer Gallery of Art from Saturday. The installation is a reinterpretation of Whistler’s Peacock Room, originally designed in 1876 for the London home of the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland.

The commission proved poisonous: Whistler and his patron had a bitter falling out, both because the artist gave full rein to his creativity while Leyland was away and because he demanded the vast sum of 2,000 guineas for the work. Leyland paid just half that, and Whistler finished the room by painting battling peacocks on one wall — with a poor artist/bird being attacked by the patron/bird. Whistler exacted further revenge by painting vindictive portraits of Leyland — one entitled “The Gold Scab — Eruption in Filthy Lucre”.

Waterson’s work recreates the room in a state of disrepair, its porcelains cracked and broken, shelves sagging, its central female portrait decaying and disfigured.

Georgina Adam is art market editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

Photographs: Christie’s; Christie’s/©2015 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Vaga and ARS, New York

 

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INTERVIEW MAGAZINE

Josh Faught, Issues, 2015. Photo courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley Gallery.

Faught’s large-scale quilt is not the kind you’d receive from your grandmother. Although it might seem haphazard in construction, there is a method to his madness: Faught references themes that touch upon domesticity and sexuality, resulting in charged works that are, ironically, very much home-spun.

 

Jonathan Horowitz, 700 Dots, 2015. Photo: Marco Scozzaro, courtesy of the artist, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, and Frieze.

Audience participation is one prevalent theme throughout this year’s fair. For his installation, Horowitz paid visitors 20 dollars each to paint black circles on white canvases. A clever inversion of the fair business model or a fantastic advertisement to draw in new collectors? Your choice.

Dashiell Manley, It and Another Other, 2015. Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery.

Manley’s minimalist works first caught my eye at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. The young Los Angeles-based artist engages with the environments in which his works are staged, referencing the movement of the viewer while also playing with light and reflection.

 

Tom Sachs, Big Tits, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.

Ever since Sachs took over the Park Avenue Armory in 2012 for his mega-installation Space Program: Mission to Mars, a staged DIY NASA-inspired expedition to the titular planet, we’ve been a huge fan. A common characteristic of Sachs’ creations, as with this boom box, is his use of bricolage- the incorporation of found objects and everyday materials in the construction of works. Fully functioning, it also happens to play the intro sample from Dre and Snoop’s hit “The Next Episode.”

Jordan Wolfson, Untitled, 2015. Photo courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ.

Wolfson’s masked dancing anamatronic stripper that was exhibited last year at David Zwirner freaked us out, but in the best way possible. Living up to his reputation as an artist who shocks his audience, Wolfson’s work this year somehow reminds us of the once ubiquitous tabloid fixture, Bat Boy.

Giuseppe Penone, Albero di 8 m, 2000 and Albero di 10 m, 1989. Photo: Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery, and Frieze.

If we’re going for sheer size, nothing seems to rival Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s installation. Works include a wall of mesh-encased panels containing laurel leaves, as well as denuded tree trunks. The monumentality of Penone’s works beg the viewer to pause and marvel amidst the madness of the fair.

Richard Prince, New Portraits, 2014. Photo: Robert McKeever, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

One of the biggest names from one of the biggest galleries, Prince’s appropriation of Instagram posts belonging to other users is representative of several high-profile artists at the fair this year. Many works on view engage with issues surrounding social media and the Internet. Make sure that selfie looks its best; your feed may be next.

 

 

 

 

GUARDIAN LONDON

Frieze New York review – navigating the maze of art fair’s eccentric fun

There are massage chairs and the opportunity to stick to the wall in a Velcro suit – but the real thrill is discovering great artists beyond the blue-chip names

An artwork at Frieze New York made with hundreds of crushed beer cans.
Kader Attia’s Halam Tawaaf, an artwork at Frieze New York made with hundreds of crushed beer cans. Photograph: ddp USA/REX Shutterstock/ddp USA/REX Shutterstock

There was a new ingredient on the first day of this year’s Frieze New York: the sun came out. Three years in a row it rained at the opening of the American cousin of Britain’s most important art fair, and I’d grown used to the very English grey sky over the art fair’s custom tent, a cunningly sinuous thing designed by the Brooklyn firm SO-IL. It looked better than ever this year with light streaming through, and still affords better sightlines than any fair this side of Paris’s FIAC, which has the unfair advantage of being housed in an Art Nouveau masterpiece.

Frieze New York is ticking along – the fair that once seemed a British invasion is now a major Big Apple event, as much a pleasure palace as an art fair. The ferry up the East River to Randall’s Island, the fair’s unlikely home, is an indulgence for locals and foreigners alike. The aisles are clogged as ever with dealers, curators, hangers-on. The food is still a major draw – chia pudding from a popup version of Chinatown hangout Dimes seems to be the big ticket, to be washed down with a $7 latte with a Brooklyn pedigree. Real art fair pros, though, bring their own granola bars.

In its first edition, in May 2012, galleries went out of their way to establish Frieze New York’s commercial bona fides. It’s not that blue-chip trophies are not in short supply this year: multiple Anish Kapoor discs are yours for the taking. But even the largest galleries are playing a little faster and looser than before. Hauser and Wirth has mounted a winningly anarchic booth whose walls have been painted by Martin Creed in various patterns of blue and black stripes – against which paintings by Rita Ackermann, sculptures by the late Juan Muñoz, and photographs by Roni Horn look positively groovy.

Art therapy at the Gavin Brown stall.

Pinterest
Art therapy at the Gavin Brown stall. Photograph: Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze

Over on Gavin Brown’s booth has the look of an art therapy class: long folding tables, which fairgoers are hunched over in uncommon silence. Have a seat and someone will offer you a canvas, some brushes, and black paint. Your task, as set by the American artist Jonathan Horowitz: paint an eight-inch circle at the centre of your canvas. For your effort you’ll be paid $20 (a handsome price, if your technical skill is as pathetic as mine), and your black dot will take pride of place in a collaborative grid whose irregularities surpass any coloured circles from the Hirst factory.

Then there is the stand of uber-gallery Gagosian, given over, I’m afraid, to Richard Prince’s ho-hum prints of Instagram screenshots. Prince is a great artist when he wants to be, but lately he’s been leaving comments on cute girls’ selfies, then reproducing the image and the comment at wall-holding scale. (When they first appeared last year, the New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl heroically described his response as “something like a wish to be dead”.) How dull are they? So dull that they are outshone by the floor that Team Gagosian has custom installed: a plywood deck that proves even the cheapest materials can turn luxe with the right framing.

Martin Creed’s wall paintings at the Hauser & Wirth

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Martin Creed’s wall paintings at the Hauser & Wirth. Photograph: Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze

As always, the best reason to come to the fair is to see art from galleries outside New York, and ideally from outside the big-ticket western consensus. The Zimbabwean painter Portia Zvavahera has been given a solo presentation by Cape Town gallery Stevenson, and her churning, disquieting paintings of couples embracing or asleep seem haunted by public history as much as private nightmares. Galerie Frank Elbaz, from Paris, has put together the most impressive group presentation under the big top: a showcase of Croatian avant-garde artists pushing the boundaries of fine arts in the midst of the cold war. The painter Julije Knifer embraced stark abstraction in the form of meandering fat lines; the trickster Mladen Stilinović took white out to a dictionary page, then added in, over and over, the word “pain”.

Galeria Jaqueline Martins, a young gallery from São Paulo, deservedly netted the fair’s best booth prize for a solo presentation of Martha Araújo, whose 1985 project Para um corpo nas suas impossibilidades (For a body in its impossibilities) consists of a quarter-pipe, the sort of thing you see in skateboarding parks, covered in black Velcro. The gallery proves jumpsuits covered in Velcro straps, allowing participants to clamber to the top or hang upside down. For you, reader, I suited up. I bounced to the top of the quarter-pipe, smushing the front of my body against the wall. Naturally I came crashing down. Someone took a photo. I jumped up again, this time in the other direction, but instead of sticking all I did was hurt my back. More photos. The dealers were laughing at me, but I got the hang of it on my third go, and clung to the wall like a not very ambulatory spider.

The funhouse atmosphere continues in the noncommercial section of Frieze New York, for which half a dozen invited artists have created new works. Korakrit Arunanondchai, best known for belting out Thai rap music while sucking on light-up e-cigarettes, has installed a bunch of massage chairs upholstered in bleached denim and speckled with paint; an easy gesture, and a forgettable one. Rather better is a choose-your-own-adventure maze created by the young Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto, an absurdist personality test in three dimensions. Hanging from two white doors are baskets full of coffee or tea – pick your preference. I’m American; it was coffee for me, and walked through that door to a chamber with another pairing, and then another, until at last I had to choose between two toilet rolls, one unspooled from above, the other from below. I picked the first one, and a kind young man was waiting for me behind the door, proffering a pin with my personality type on it: “Into Big”. And this before they asked any questions about my sex life.

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Our Mega Guide to all the Fun at Frieze New York
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We hope you’re well rested, because this is one incredible week for art fans in New York City.  The FRIEZE art fairhas been building momentum for the past three years, and this year’s edition on Randall’s Island won’t disappoint.  Plus there are tons of satellite fairs — including an “invasion” of our turf by the folks from Art Miami — and gallery openings, auctions, pop-ups and much more.10168c4eddbc0ae503e4dc07366af2ee4c92e650.jpgFRIEZE New York opens for “invite only” VIPs and collectors on Wednesday, May 13th, and then it’s open to the public for four days starting on the 14th.  Over 190 galleries are exhibiting in 2015 and, as usual, there are cool side-projects including a “Tribute to Flux-Labyrinth 1976/2015″ where contemporary artists will construct a maze of narrow corridors and obstructed spaces for you to explore.  Elsewhere, look for several “clandestine rooms” by Aki Sasamoto and “underground environments” by Samara Golden.  If you need to chill after these mysterious challenges, look for one of the free massage chairs placed around the venue by Korakit Arunanondchai.  There are also daily talks including one called “Ask Jerry” with New York Magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz on Saturday at noon and a talk-show panel hosted by the artist/comedian and 2015 Paper Beautiful Person Casey Jane Ellison on Friday at noon.  A single day ticket is $44 and the hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except Sunday, when things shut down at 6 p.m. The full schedule is HERE.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 4.18.21 PM.pngMaripola X

For the first time, the folks behind Art Miami – that city’s longest running art fair — will host a New York spin-off on Pier 94 (12th Avenue at 55th Street) with over 100 galleries showing works from May 14th (VIP Preview) to May 17th.  FRIEZE VIP cardholders get in free and there’s also a courtesy shuttle service from the FRIEZE ferry dock on East 35th Street.  It’s open from noon to 8 p.m. daily, except Sunday until 6 p.m. A single day ticket is $25.  On Saturday, May 16th, 3 to 6 p.m., photographer and designer, Maripol, will sign copies of her limited-edition book MARIPOLA X  in booth #B19.  The book includes unreleased photos and poems chronicling the early-80s NY underground. Also: NYC’s Keszler Gallery is showing several works by UK artist Banksy and The New York Academy of Art has a special exhibition of alumni work curated by Natalie Frank.

Gerard-Quenum-La-Cour-du-Roi-2013-acrylic-on-canvas-130-x-170-cm.jpgGérard Quenum, ‘La Cour du Roi’, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 170 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Art Twenty One

Another fair making it’s NYC debut this year is the “1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair
happening out in Red Hook at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Brooklyn) from May 15th through May 17th.  The fair was founded in London in 2013 by Touria El Glaoui to showcase emerging contemporary African art. Sixteen galleries will be on hand with works by over 60 artists.  The award-winning London architecture and design studio RA Projects will do the lobby and exhibition spaces for the fair.  A single day ticket is $10 and it’s open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. (6 on Sunday).

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 4.42.08 PM.png

NADA returns to Pier 36, Basketball City (299 South Street), for the fourth edition of their New York fair. The not-for-profit collective offers a great mix of global galleries and special projects including a fashion show on Thursday, May 14, 7 p.m., featuring limited-edition clothing designed by artists including Cheryl Donegan, Amy Yao, Sarah Braman, Bjorn Copeland and Daniel Heidkamp.  Richard Haines will be on-hand to document the show with his drawings.  This is a collab between NADA and Print All Over Me and was curated by Sam Gordon.  Admission to this fair is free and it’s open to everybody, so check it out on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., or Friday thru Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (5 on Sunday).

The fifth LIC Arts Open runs from May 13th to May 17th with tons of open studios, exhibits, music etc. happening throughout Long Island City.  The complete list is HERE. Flux Factory (39-31 29th Street, LIC) is participating with a BBQ, artist talks and an exhibition by Roopa Vasudevan on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Sixty-one exhibitors are showing at the Spring Masters New York art and design fair at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue).  This fair opened last week, but you still have a chance to check it out before it closes at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12th.  Tickets are $25.  Acclaimed architect Rafael Vinoly did the booth layout.

4928h.jpgBerndnaut Smilde,”Nimbus”

NeueHouse (110 East 25th Street) is once again the official VIP partner for FRIEZE and will host the VIP lounge with music, food and cocktails; plus artist talks including David Salle in the fair lounge on Sunday, May 17, 11 a.m., and Stephen Posen and his son, Zac, on Tuesday, May 12, 7 p.m., in their 25th Street location.  Also at 25th Street, on Wednesday and Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde will present “Nimbus,” creating artificial indoor clouds.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 4.51.08 PM.pngThe local auction houses are hosting their contemporary art auctions this week with Bonhams on May 11, Sotheby’s on the 12th & 13th,  Doyle on May 12, Christie’s on May 13 and Phillips on May 14th & 15th.  Swann Auction Galleries (104 East 25th Street) hosts theirs at 1:30 p.m. on May 12th and it includes several items in what we like to call the “never throw anything away” category.  There’s a 1984 invitation to Keith Haring and Larry Levan’s “Party of Life” at the Paradise Garage that’s estimated to go for between $1,000 and $1,500.  Haring printed the invite on a cloth handkerchief.  Also up for bidding is a leather jacket from the collection of a “door girl for the Danceteria VIP room Congo Bill” that includes tags by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Futura 2000, Fab Five Freddy, Ad-Rock and many other downtown notables.  It’s estimate is $5,000 to $8,000.  You can check out all the cool items in this auction HERE.

FRIEZE week also overlaps with NYC X DESIGN, New York City’s official celebration of everything design related, featuring hundreds of showcases, fairs and events all over town from May 8 to 19.  These include the Collective Design Fair which runs from May 13th to the 17th at Skylight Clarkson Square (550 Washington Street); WantedDesign in Brooklyn at Industry City (274 36th Street, Brooklyn, from the 9th to the 19th and also in Manhattan at 269 11th Avenue from the 15th to the 18th; plus ICFF, the “luxury/high end” furniture fair at Javits Center from May 16th to 19th.  Check out the massive list of events HERE.

If you’re looking for an alt-fair experience, we suggest the FRIDGE Art Fair running May 14th through the 17th in the Retro Bar & Grill in the Holiday Inn (150 Delancey Street).  Their opening on Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m., benefits BARC (Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition) and is sponsored by Heineken, Zevia, Perrier and Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery with a raffle, performances, surprise guests and more. Tix are $20. And would you like a portrait of your fave pet?  Bring him/her by on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. to be photographed and then painted by the fair’s founder Eric Ginsburg. Prices start at $1200. A portion of the proceeds go to BARC.

Picture 97.pngphoto from FLUX by Shahram Entekhabi

Harlem’s first contemporary art fair, FLUX, runs from Thursday through Sunday in The Corn Exchange Building (81-85 East 125th Street @ Park Avenue). Works by over 50 international artists will be on view, and the fair’s curator’s have tried to focus on the theme of “the 21st Century artist as a nomad.”  It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sunday when things close down at 6 p.m.  Tickets are $20.  If you’re going to stop by FLUX, you should also check out THIS list of events during the inaugural edition of Harlem EatUp! — “A celebration of food, culture and spirit” — put together by Marcus Samuelsson and Herb Kalitz.

RISD hosts a private reception on Sunday evening at the WantedDesign fair in Industry City, Brooklyn, with RISD President Rosanne Somerson.  RSVP only.

8921d146-a290-4486-b24a-cf39fcbc48e4.jpgAby Rosen and Vito Schnabel are hosting a pop-up exhibition called “First Show/ Last Show” on Saturday, May 16, 5 to 8 p.m., in the old Germania Bank (190 Bowery).  That’s the former home of photographer Jay Meisel, recently purchased by Rosen’s RFR Realty for a reported $55 million.  Schnabel curated the show featuring artists including Harmony Korine, Julian Schnabel, Mark Grotjahn, Ron Gorchov, Jeff Elrod, Joe Bradley and Dan Cohen.

main.gifMoMA PopRally (11 West 53rd Street) presents “Serendipity,” featuring the films and photography of Awol Erizku on Sunday, May 17, 7 to 10 p.m.  This includes the premiere of the LA artist’s new film; plus a sound performance by MeLo-X, a DJ set by Kitty Cash, open bar and access to the museum’s latest contemporary art exhibition: “Scenes for a New Heritage.”  $25 tickets are HERE.

W Magazine and Stefano Tonchi celebrate their May art issue at the “premiere” of Ian Schrager’s newest hotel, The New York Edition (5 Madison Avenue) on Tuesday night with Q-Tip spinning the tunes.  Invite only.

Maiyet, Conscious Commerce and Milkmade host a cocktail party on Wednesday — also at The NY Edition — with Alexandra Richards on the decks.  Again, it’s invite only.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 1.50.19 PM.pngSunglass Hut (496 Broadway) and Mr. Brainwash launch their new collab collection on May 14th.

mccarrenrachel.jpgRachel Libeskind and Swaai Boys present “Ancient Baggage: Recent Discoveries in Ritualistc Objects” on Thursday, May 14th, 8 p.m., in the Sheltering Sky lounge at the McCarren Hotel & Pool (160 N. 12th Street, Brooklyn). This is Libeskind’s performance piece that deals with “the rituals imposed by the suitcase” in a colab with experimental music from Swaii Boys.

aligleighbowery.jpgLeigh Bowery by Michael Alig.

The SELECT Art Fair (548 West 22nd Street) runs from May 13th to the 17th in the old DIA building in Chelsea. Several floors of galleries — including “one entire floor of Brooklyn-based galleries” — will be on hand; plus there’s an exhibition of Michael Alig’s prison artwork. Check out the daily rooftop parties in a maze structure called “You Are Here” designed by the art duo TROUBLE, featuring DJs, bands, performances etc. including Blondes on May 13, Jungle Pussy on the 14th and James Chance on the 15th.  A day-ticket is $20.

Peter Brant, Interview Magazine, Paul Kasmin Gallery and 1stDibs celebrate FRIEZE with a private cocktail party on Thursday evening.

TUMBLR hosts a private “unveiling” of Richard Phillips’ new studio in LIC on May 14th, 7 to 10 p.m. Invite and RSVP only.

The Standard High Line (848 Washington Street) and High Line Art host a private cocktail party on Tuesday for Rashid Johnson’s “Blocks” commission on the High Line.  Invite only.

Denis Gardarin Gallery  has a pop-up exhibit by French artist Mathieu Mercier from May 13th to the 16th, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, at Skylight at Moynihan Station on West 33rd Street.

DM-FLYER3 copy.jpgCanadian artist Daniel Mazzone has a pop-up called “Torn Apart” on Thursday, May 14th, 7 to 11 p.m., at Carriage House Center (149 East 38th Street).  Mazzone’s “collage portraits” of historic figures often incorporate personalized elements relating to the subject.

SAVETHEDATE_HP.jpgR & Company (82 Franklin Street) has a solo exhibition by LA-based designer David Wiseman called “Wilderness & Ornament” featuring cast bronze works and porcelain decorative walls.  Check it out during their normal business hours all week.

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The Van Alen Institute hosts their “Celebrate Spring” benefit party and their on-going auction on Wednesday, May 13, 6:45 to 11:30 p.m., at the Surrogate’s Courthouse (31 Chambers Street) with a seated dinner and performance by My Midnight Heart; plus DJ David Pacho and the “dystopian funk super group” LA-BAS.  You can get tickets HERE and bid on auction items now through May 20th via Paddle8. There are lots interesting things up for bidding including a “hot tub roundtable” with architect Charles Renfro at his fab Fire Island beach house and a private fitting with menswear designer Patrik Ervell in his NYC studio.

Several art jewelers and street artists have hooked-up to create some unique works that will be on view starting Saturday, May 16th, 6 to 8 p.m., at The Gallery at Reinstein Ross (30 Gansevoort Street) in a show called PLACEMENT.  Some of the artists participating are Skullphone, Logan Hicks, CYRCLE, ASVP, Arthur Nash and Tara Locklear.  Have a look before the end of June.

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No Longer Empty will present a big multi-media group show called “Bring in the Reality” at the Nathan Cummings Foundation (475 10th Avenue, 14th floor). The exhibition features works that “speak candidly, freely and boldly…works that speak truth to power.”  Participating artists include John Ahearn, Mel Chin, Tim Collins and K.O.S., Dread Scott, Nari Ward and many more.  The opening is May 12th, 6 to 8 p.m. and you should rsvp to exhibits@nathancummings.org if you plan to attend.  It’s on view through the summer, but, again, you should make an appointment via the same email address.

And check out some recs from our friends over at the Mirror Cube, a new events site where artists suggest their favorite happenings in NYC and LA.:

Nathan Hoho of the band, Walking Shapes, recommends checking out the Garth Greenan Gallery at Frieze, which is focused on giving established artists greater visibility: this year, they will be showing minimalist ’70s color studies from Howardena Pindell, which she painted during her years as a MoMA curator. “I’ve only recently been exposed to the gallery but was blown away by the last show I saw there,” Hoho says.

Lyz Olko, the designer behind clothing label Obesity + Speed, suggests stopping by the 303 Gallery, which is known for championing contemporary artists like Stephen Shore, who got his start documenting the goings-on at Andy Warhol’s Factory at the tender age of 17. This year at Frieze, they will be showing 3D mixed media works from Israeli artist Elad Lassry.

Both photographer Natalie Neal and artist/PAPER Beautiful Person Chloe Wise recommend Foxy Production, a NYC-based gallery that’s new to the fair and will be showing manipulated photography from Sara Cwynar and a video installation from Petra Cortright. “Petra’s unique vision mixes technology, ready-mades, and femininity in an unforgettable way,” Neal says. “Every piece she shows is a piece you don’t want to miss seeing in person.”

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Articles

Your Concise Guide to Frieze Week 2015

Inside the Frieze Tent at Frieze New York 2014 (photo by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic)

Have you finally recovered from Armory Week? Are you ready to do it all again? Too bad, because it’s Frieze Week in New York City! This year’s lineup features one exhibition and eight fairs — three of which are making their New York debuts — spread between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Randall’s Island, where Frieze New York and its 200 exhibitors await. For those trying to make sense of it all, here is our primer on all the fairs, including notable special projects, talks, performances, and panels.

Also, don’t forget to follow Hyperallergic on Instagram for pics from the fairs all week.

 

 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

When: May 15–17 / Friday, Saturday: 12–8pm; Sunday: 12–6pm ($10)
Where: Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn)

Far and away the most interesting addition to this year’s Frieze Week lineup, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is bringing 15 galleries either based in Africa or that specialize in African contemporary art to Pioneer Works. Among the former will be Art Twenty One from Lagos, Afronova from Johannesburg, and Marrakech’s VOICE Gallery.

The London-based fair’s first New York outing also includes an impressive schedule of panels and talks, among them a discussion between artists Hank Willis Thomas and Lyle Ashton Harris on the importance of the term “diaspora” to their practices (May 15, 4:15pm) and a panel on the importance of “cultural specific curating” at major institutions that will feature Christa Clarke from the Newark Museum, Thomas J. Lax from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and Franklin Sirmans from Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (May 16, 1:15pm).

Art Miami New York

When: May 14–17 / Thursday: 5–9pm; Friday, Saturday: 12–8pm; Sunday: 12–6pm ($25)
Where: Pier 94 (55th Street and West Side Highway, Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan)

If you’re experiencing Armory Week withdrawal and looking for an excuse to trek back to the Hudson River piers, Art Miami New York — which boasts the most geographically confusing art fair name since Paris Photo Los Angeles — is the fair for you. It is bringing 100 galleriesto Pier 94, most of them from Europe and North America, as well as a handful of outliers from Uruguay (Piero Atchugarry), Bogota (Galería Casa Cuadrada), Hong Kong (AP Contemporary), and elsewhere.

Art Miami New York’s schedule of talks and panels will be particularly compelling for those interested in the art world’s commercial side. It includes a talk by collector and art financier Asher Edelman on the use of art in real estate developments (May 15, 3pm) and a panel on art collector faux pas (May 16, 3pm).

Collective Design

When: May 13–17 / Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 11am–8pm; Friday: 11am–9pm; Sunday: 11am–5pm ($25)
Where: Skylight Clarkson Sq (550 Washington Street, West Village, Manhattan)

A presentation at the 2014 Collective Design fair (photo by Sarah Archer for Hyperallergic)

Frieze Week’s lone design fair — whose “design council” features designers, architects, and Oscar-winner Julianne Moore — Collective Design boasts 29 galleries specializing in everything from 20th century modern furniture (New York’s BAC and Stockholm’s Modernity), jewelry (New Jersey’s Gallery Loupe and Hudson’s Ornamentum), Mexican modernism (ADN Galería), silver (Madrid’s Garrido Gallery), and modern and contemporary children’s design (New York’s kinder MODERN).

The fair’s special programming includes an exhibition by the lighting designer Ingo Maurer, a special section devoted to Italian design and its global impact on the field, and a site-specific installation curated by Noguchi Museum Senior Curator Dakin Hart. Notable talks and tours include a walkthrough of the fair with Museum of Arts and Design director Glenn Adamson (May 14, 2pm), a talk on the function of nostalgia in contemporary jewelry design (May 16, 11:30am), and a panel on the intersections of craft and digital design (May 16, 4pm).

 Flux Art Fair

When: May 14–17 / Thursday–Saturday: 11am–8pm; Sunday: 11am–6pm ($20)
Where: Corn Exchange Building (81 East 125th Street, East Harlem, Manhattan)

Another one of this year’s Frieze Week newcomers, the Flux Art Fair foregoes galleries to match up artists and curators. Its inaugural lineup features 57 artists including Willie Cole, Lina Puerta, Sol Sax, Ai Campbell, Ivan Forde, and others. The curators include New York Foundation for the Arts’s David C. Terry, No Longer Empty founder and chief curator Manon Slome, and RaúI Zamudio, one of the co-curators of the 2013 El Museo del Barrio biennial.

 Frieze New York

When: May 14–17 / Thursday–Saturday: 11am–7pm; Sunday: 11am–6pm ($44)
Where: Randall’s Island Park (Randall’s Island)

With just under 200 galleries split into four sectors — the main fair, the Spotlight section for solo booths, the Frame section for galleries established since 2007 showing one artist’s work, and the Focus section for galleries founded in or since 2003 — Frieze New York is a monster fair. Luckily it is also sited on a verdant stretch of Randall’s Island inside an airy and bright tent and boasts the best food and drink options of any art fair this side of the Atlantic.

This year’s Projects program of site-specific interventions includes a recreation of the “Flux-Labyrinth,” a 200-foot-long labyrinth originally conceived by George Maciunas and other Fluxus artists in 1975, a subterranean environment by Samara Golden, and secret interrogation rooms peppered throughout the fair in which Aki Sasamoto will conduct personality tests on visitors. The highlight of the program of talks and panels is a discussion between Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden and outgoing Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman (May 15, 4pm) in which they’ll attempt to answer the question: “Whom do museums serve?”

NADA New York

When: May 14–17 / Thursday: 6–8pm; Friday, Saturday: 11am–7pm; Sunday: 11–5pm (free)
Where: Pier 36, Basketball City (299 South Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

Looking down on NADA New York 2014 (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

The week’s second-biggest fair, NADA New York‘s 2015 edition features 106 exhibitors —76 of them with traditional booths, 30 of them presenting solo projects. In addition to the usual set of Lower East Side galleries (Nicelle Beauchene, Callicoon Fine Arts, Regina Rex, Essex Flowers, etc.) there will be plenty of out-of-towners, including Detroit’s What Pipeline, Rome’s UNOSUNOVE, Dubai’s Carbon 12, and Springsteen from Baltimore.

The fair’s lineup of talks and performances includes a lecture and slideshow by artist Joshua Smith titled “You inspire me with Your determination And I Love You, Tracey Emin!” (May 15, 2pm) and the intriguingly titled panel “Cloud Based Institutional Critique” with Orit Gat , Zachary Kaplan, and Mike Pepi (May 16, 12pm). Perhaps most intriguing, however, is Melissa Brown and Where’s project “Eyes in the Sky Hold ‘Em,” a high-stakes poker game to be held off-site and streamed live at the fair in which artists will wager their own works in a winner-takes-all Texas Hold ‘Em tournament.

Salon Zürcher

When: May 11–17 / Monday 5–8pm; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 12–8pm; Wednesday: 12–4pm; Sunday: 12–5pm (free)
Where: Zürcher Gallery (33 Bleecker Street, SoHo, Manhattan)

The 10th edition of the little fair that could, Salon Zürcher, features six galleries: Galerie L’Inlassable, Mathias Coullaud, and Isabelle Gounod from Paris; Cathouse FUNeral from Brooklyn; Amsterdam outfit The Merchant House; and hosts Zürcher Gallery. Expect a range of works and media, from an installation by Tim Simonds (courtesy Cathouse FUNeral) to paintings by Regina Bogat (from Zürcher Gallery), and drawings by Anne Deleporte (shown byGalerie L’Inlassable).

 Select Art Fair

When: May 14–17 / Thursday, Friday: 2–10pm; Saturday: 12–10pm; Sunday: 12–6pm ($20)
Where: Center 548 (548 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan)

The entrance to the 2014 Select Art Fair (photo via Hyperallergic/Instagram)

The Select Art Fair has come a long way and seems poised to make the jump to a major satellite fair this year with its impressive lineup of 44 galleries — 19 of which hail from Brooklyn and will occupy their own floor of the fair — extensive schedules of rooftop musical performances, talks, and performance art. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, Rebecca Goyette’s “Dentata Umbrella Lounge” definitely will — metaphorically and actually.

Seven

When: May 13–17 / Wednesday–Sunday: 12–6pm (free)
Where: The Boiler (191 North 14th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Don’t call it a fair, Seven is a collaborative exhibition organized by seven New York City galleries — bitforms, Metro Pictures, Momenta Art, Pierogi, Postmasters, PPOW, and Ronald Feldman — under the title Anonymity, no longer an option. Surveillance-themed works on view include pieces by Addie Wagenknecht, Trevor Paglen, Suzanne Treister, and Katarzyna Kozyra, though the main attraction is undoubtedly “The Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument 2.0, AKA The Snowden Statue” (2015), the sculpture bust of Edward Snowden that was illegally installed in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park last month.

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