Beyond Boundaries: Rethinking Contemporary Art Exhibitions

Article excerpt

In the past decade curators throughout the world have developed a range of innovative models for presenting contemporary art, both within and outside of institutional spaces. They have developed these models in response to changes since the end of the Cold War in the shape of contemporary art itself; the institutions in which it has traditionally been presented; and broader social, political, and economic structures. In spite of their differences, they have also shared an often passionate commitment to the belief that contemporary art has the potential to play an integral role in society by opening up spaces in which individuals may reexamine their own lives and their relationship to the world-a process that has entailed the reconsideration of the very categories of curator, artist, exhibition, and audience, as well as the relationships among these categories.

The convergence of such models over the past decade-ranging from international biennials, to collaborations between artists and communities, to site-specific interventions in nontraditional spaces, to revisionist exhibitions within the context of museums, to virtual projects realized only in cyberspace-distantly echoes that moment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when exhibitions such as When Attitudes Become Form (Kunsthalle Bern, 1969), Information (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970), and documents V (Kassel, 1972), as well as many other interventions, opened up new ways of envisioning the potentialities of contemporary art as an agent of transformation. Art Journal invited the following curators to write about how they address these issues in their work.

Valerie Cassel

Cry of My Birth

Challenging the prevailing notions of contemporary art practice within a pedagogical context is the foundation of my work as director of the Visiting Artists Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I envision this work as both curatorial and educational in nature-a construct that incorporates people, not objects, as points of discourse and interrogation. The melding of these worlds has generated intriguing points of entry into the convergence of theoretical and actual contemporary art practice that draws from a wealth of complex histories and realities, incorporates paradigm shifts as they are being actualized, and frames new trajectories for further exploration.

While the program is primarily shaped by thematic lecture series, it is augmented by brief residencies for both curators and artists from many countries, including Cuba, the Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Macedonia, and South Africa. These five-to-seven-week residencies have enabled faculty, students, and the general public to frame contemporary art practice in global terms and to appreciate how other social landscapes influence creative and interpretive processes.

In spite of the program's extensive work with residencies, it had rarely focused on artists or curators from Africa. Initiating such a project, given the continent's enormous breadth and the fact that many contemporary artists had positioned themselves outside of that geographical frame, would be complex. Nevertheless, it was important to do. The major political, social, and economis changes in Africa in the aftermath of independence and transmigration have produced new verbal and visual languages, evidenced in the work of a new generation of artists, whose sensibilities have been shaped by personal journeys and experiences that move beyond a nationalist understanding of themselves. We designed the residency project to provide the opportunity to examine in depth the issues that this new generation faces at the dawn of this century.

Titled Cry of My Birth, the residency took place from late October to December 1999. It brought together five artists in independent and collective projects: South African sculptor/conceptual artist, Siemon Allen (b. 1971); Egyptian painter/installation artist, Ghada Amer (b. …