Beyond Boundaries: Rethinking Contemporary Art Exhibitions
Cassel, Valerie, Morin, France, Poshyananda, Apinan, Ramirez, Mari Carmen, et al., Art Journal
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.
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. 1963); painter, photographer, video and installation artist, Moshekwa Langa (b. 1965); Ethiopian painter, Julie Mehretu (b. 1970); and Nigerian digital media artist, Fatimah Tuggar. Much like their counterparts from Eastern Europe and Asia, these artists were selected for their ability to redefine visual imagery and narrative by incorporating new techniques and stories. While all were born in Africa, none currently live there, but in Europe or the United States instead. They speak without the previous generation's concerns of authenticity or the deposition of "impurities" spawned by imperialism/colonialism.
The development of a consortium for the residency allowed each artist to embark on independent projects and extended the project's impact throughout Chicago. In addition to the Visiting Artists Program, the consortium included the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois, and the art departments at both Columbia College and Northwestern University. With major underwriting from the Lannan Foundation, each artist was given work/studio space and a materials stipend to create work or develop site-specific installations at the host institution. Beyond individual lectures, the artists participated in a two-part event entitled Conversations in the Ballroom, Part I and II. Loosely based on the Conversations at the Castle project created by Mary Jane Jacob and Michael Brenson, these conversations were organized around two topics: New Visual Language and The Romance of Nomadism. In addition to the artists, they featured a lead conversant and guests and were moderated by myself. Guest participants for New Visual Language included lead conversant, art historian and artist, Olu Oguibe; with curator, Tumelo Mosaka; writer, Diran Adebayo; and curator, Andrea Barnwell. The Romance of Nomadism featured lead conversant, Carol Becker, writer and Dean of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; with historian, LaRay Denzer; and writer, Quincy Troupe. The conversations provided a collective public forum in which the artists, alongside curators, writers, and historians, could address the issues they faced as contemporary "African" artists, in which they could explore personal histories, influences, and theoretical conflicts, as well as the collective effort to redefine contemporary African art through the development of new languages and paradigms. In collaboration with the host sites, all the artists were provided additional opportunities for academic or community engagement, including seminars and workshops with students, dialogues with local artists, and networking opportunities with curators, administrators, and critics. Informal dinners each week gave the artists the opportunity to discuss among themselves their activities and to create a strong network for future projects and collaborations. It was determined at the outset of the residency that these dinners would be invaluable for the artists, who in many instances, had not known one other.
At Gallery 400, Siemon Allen continued his conceptual exploration of structures within structures. Using sculptural forms to visually deconstruct notions of site for the gallery's project room, he re-created his parents' home in Durban from cardboard. Illuminated by naked bulbs, the untitled 4 x 20-- foot structure was iS percent the size of the actual house. It embodied the residue of apartheid (it included the living quarters for the family's servants), as well as the fragility of privilege in the New South Africa. Although visitors could travel by crawling through doors and rooms, Allen dismembered the house to make visible the generation gap between his parents and himself.
Working with students while in residence at Northwestern University, Ghada Amer created two paintings, which reflect her two-dimensional works of paint and thread on canvas, but which at about 16 x 23 feet each are much larger than her previous works. While many have regarded Amer's work as feminist, it also pays homage to Abstract Expressionism, as the pure color landscapes at its core belie. As a public component of the residency, she opened her studio to the general public, who were invited to sew outlines of figurative images selected from pornographic magazines. One of these canvases is featured in an exhibition opening at the University of Milwaukee's Institute of Visual Arts in March 2000.
Moshekwa Langa's residency was divided into two components: an extensive exhibition of works created over three years in Amsterdam, where he now lives, and the conceptualization and creation of new works. The exhibition, presented at the Renaissance Society, incorporated drawings, paintings, and photographic and video work. It provided the public with a glimpse into the transference of thought and ideas from one medium to the next with pure fluidity. In preparation for the creation of new work, Langa spent the balance of his residency exploring the dynamics and nuances of Chicago. Toward the close, he began a series of new drawings and studies for work to be completed in Amsterdam.
Julie Mehretu's paintings and works on paper are often preoccupied with two distinct subjects: architectural drawings or maps and contemporary hieroglyphics. Her use of each has become her signature since her graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design and her time at the Glassell School of Arts in Houston. During her residency, Mehretu began a series of paintings that merge these distinct terrains: the melding of ancient histories with architectural utopianism. The impetus is embedded in her own understanding of herself through personal and communal histories, as well as her sense of the future. While she worked independent of assistants, her studio in the School of the Art Institute's 847 West Jackson Building gave students the opportunity to talk with her informally.
Fatimah Tuggar's brief residency at Columbia College enabled the college to envision ways of greater collaboration between its departments of art and film/television. Researching old and new films and videos, she extracted images of Africa, which she will use to collage into larger works. A graduate of Yale University, she extracts, manipulates, and then digitally collages images upon each other. Her work at Columbia provided material for her future projects and enabled faculty and students to embrace new models of working with the digital medium.
At the close of the residency, curators, artists, and students and faculty were invited to tour the studios of Allen, Amer, and Mehretu. Extensive documentation of the residency, including videotaped interviews and studio visits, as well as a compilation tape of the two conversations, will ensure that others can also benefit from this project, whose attempt to create new formats for dialogue will hopefully create a template for future endeavors by this program and others. Exploring the complexities of what it means to be a contemporary African artist has been invaluable to the program, the core artists, and the general public. It has prompted new thinking about how residencies are structured in terms of their overarching goals and measurements for success. The development of a consortium of institutions to leverage the impact of activities and programs has been a particularly significant tool for future collaborations between host institutions. Currently, the program is negotiating to expand Cry of My Birth into an exhibition program and a youth initiative project for developing art audiences in high schools. Valerie Cassel is Director of the Visiting Artists Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She served as a member of the curatorial team for the Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial 2000, and was previously Program Specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Quiet in the Land: Resistance and Healing through Art
I have been in the art world since I co-founded the magazine Parachute in 1975 and had always worked in art institutions until 1994, when I decided to leave my position at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in order to push the limits of my profession, to work differently. After leaving the museum, I developed The Quiet in the Land, a series of projects that seeks to probe conventional notions of gender, work, and spirituality; to redefine the making and experiencing of art; and to challenge the widespread belief that art and life exist in separate realms. The space created and shared between the artists and the communities through these projects is as important a component as the art, exhibition, and publication that result. The Japanese word ma connotes this space between, this interval of fullness and harmony. The first project was organized in 1996, when I lived and worked for several months at the last active Shaker community in the world in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, with the artists Janine Antoni, Chen Zhen, Domenico de Clario, Adam Fuss, Mona Hatoum, Sam Samore, Jana Sterbak, Kazumi Tanaka, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Nari Ward. In the next few years, new projects will take place, one in Long Island, in collaboration with The Parrish Museum in Southampton, and the other in Asia. I would like to take this opportunity to share our most recent experience, which took place in Salvador, Brazil.
The Quiet in the Land: Everyday Life, Contemporary Art, and Projeto Axe has been guided by the belief that an enriched life is about more than material wellbeing and that the impetus of artmaking is essentially spiritual. Through our collaborations with the educators and children of Projeto Axe, Centre for the Defense and Protection of Children and Adolescents in Salvador, an innovative ten-yearold organization founded to transform the lives of the city's street children, we have worked to demonstrate that artists have the capacity to make a lasting positive impact on people's lives by helping them to see for themselves the dignity, beauty, and sacredness of the activities of their everyday life: the creative spirit, a powerful agent of transformation, that lies within everyone.
Between April and October 1999, nineteen artists from all over the world came to live together in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, Brazil, for periods of at least six weeks each; I lived in Salvador the entire time. The artists are Janine Antoni, Montien Boonma, Cai Guo-Qiang, Chen Zhen, Larry Clark, Willie Cole, Domenico de Clario, Leonardo Drew, Joao Ewerton, Marepe, Vik Muniz, Mario Cravo Neto, Rivane Neuenschwander, Alberto Pita, Doris Salcedo, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Tunga, Kara Walker, and Nari Ward. We also invited the family members of some of the artists. During this period, the artists worked with the children of Axe, whose founding mission is the cultivation of ethics through aesthetics with the purpose of giving back to the children their dignity and equipping them with the tools they need to positively transform their lives. It is a philosophy of self reliance, not charity. Ranging in age from five to eighteen, these children, most of whom are black and all of whom are poor, live with the burden of centuries of racism, economic injustice, and physical, psychological, and social violence. All had formerly lived on the streets. But in order to participate in Axe's programs, they have agreed to return home and attend school. Axe not only provides the children with three meals a day, health care, and family counseling, but also organizes a series of cultural programs for the children.
The artists developed collaborative projects with children from all of Axe's units: The Flower Bed of Desires (children five to twelve) , Bandaxe (orchestra), Usina de Dana (dance), Modaxe (fashion), Opaxe (papermaking), Stampaxe (printing). The projects will be part of an exhibition opening at the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia in Salvador on July 7, 2000, which will be accompanied by a series of public and musical programs organized by Arto Lindsay. We are now preparing a publication documenting the projects; it will also include essays from historical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological perspectives contextualizing the problems of racism, poverty, and violence in Salvador, their effects on the city's children, and interventions by organizations such as Axe and projects such as The Quiet in the Land.
In one of Axe's evaluations, the educators observed that perhaps the project's most significant legacy has been its reaffirmation of Axe's founding mission. As Marle de Oliveira Macedo, Coordinator of Ethics and Aesthetics, Projeto Axe, observed, "Our decision to do The Quiet in the Land was a radical experiment, a risk, that ultimately confirmed for us the rightness of our mission and stimulated our desire to embrace other such projects in the future." The artists embraced this philosophy by weaving themselves into the fabrics of Salvador and the lives of the educators, the children, and the families with whom they worked. They did not see their role as educators, but instead strove to empower the children by helping them to understand for themselves, through how they lead their own lives, that art is not a privileged activity, but a path to self knowledge, pride, and empowerment.
Most of the artists sought to connect with the children by engaging with the traditions, religions, and cultures of Bahia, particularly their vibrant AfroBrazilian cultural heritage. They sought to foster a deeper understanding of the broader social, political, religious, and cultural forces that shape the children's lives. While in some cases they dealt with specific aspects of this culture, in others the connection was more metaphorical. Having emerged in the crucible of slavery when West African and Portuguese traditions collided together, Afro-Brazilian culture is one of resistance and healing that lies at the core of the children's sense of self identity, even though in many cases it is buried beneath layers of internalized racism. To acknowledge the dignity, beauty, and sacredness of this culture would be to acknowledge that of oneself and to acquire the self worth and entitlement necessary for transforming one's life, as well as society. Both the artists and the children quickly learned that while this journey of self-discovery could be enriching, envisioning the future meant looking into the deepest recesses of one's soul and honestly reexamining one's past and present.
One of the many questions raised at the project's conclusion was what lasting impact would the collaborations have on the children, the educators, Axe itself, and the artists. Would the journey continue, or were we just cultural tourists who would return to our privileged lives in the developed world, conducting business as usual? As I noted earlier, the educators told us that the project reaffirmed Axe's founding mission, and the organization has already invited some of the artists back to develop new projects. The project's legacy on the children is perhaps best expressed by a young woman of Modaxe. When asked about her experiences working with Neuenschwander, a Brazilian artist whose project focused on the everyday activity of washing clothes, and Tiravanija, a Thai artist based in New York whose project centered on food and the preparation of meals at Axe with dishes from his country, she replied that art is about looking at the everyday activities of your life. Defining art as a verb, she underscored its status as an agent of the transformation of consciousness. Many other children echoed this sentiment.
For all involved, the racism, poverty, and social injustice that we experienced gave us a new perspective on the reality of colonialism, postcolonialism, and globalism. Seeing this overwhelming truth has for some reaffirmed and for others changed how we live and how we work. We hope that everyone involved in the project-the children and their families, the educators, and the artists-have come to see themselves as citizens of the world who have embarked upon a journey of resistance and healing that will carry them forward into the future.
France Morin is an independent contemporary art curator and art historian based in New York. Art Journal will publish an extended feature on The quiet in the Land: Everyday Life, Contemporary Art, and Projeto Axe in its Fall 2000 issue.
Positioning Contemporary Asian Art
The words "Asia," "the Orient," and "the East" are loaded terms conceived by the West. Through prefabricated constructs of the imagination, Asia has become one of the West's deepest and most recurring images of the Other. As a result, the geographical boundaries and regional divisions of Asia and the curatorial considerations in the visual arts that arise from them often comply with binary schemas such as East/West, yellow/white, and Asian values/ Euro-American centricities.
In the Asia-Pacific region, some zones are privileged over others. For example, the Pacific Rim discourse divides the region into Northeast Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Island nations. But in the U.S. context, Asia is often perceived as Japan, China, and the Four Tigers or Little Dragons-Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan-and the upand-coming Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand.
The rise of these tigers and dragons during the past decade of economic miracle has shifted the balance of power in world politics and trade, as evidenced by the growth of such organizations as Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Consequently, certain key political and economic, as well as social and cultural, structures have changed. For instance, the position of Japan and the People's Republic of China as political and economic leaders in Asia has immense impact on art and culture in other nation-states, such as Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This is evident in art and cultural exchanges designed to promote international relationships through traveling art exhibitions, concerts, acrobatic shows, food festivals, and language programs.
Yet, the New World Order, free trade, and electronic media networks claiming to bring the world together as one happy global village have caused new tensions and cultural confinements. The dynamics of global trade and borderless communications have resulted in a demand among some groups for the restoration of indigenous identities. As a result, the trend among Asian elites toward "indigenization" and "de-Westernization" has gone against the tide of infatuation with Western cultures and habits among the masses. The elites tend to prefer cultural revivalism and indigenous values in reaction to globalization. At the same time, they accuse the masses of blindly accepting "poisonous" values such as consumer culture, fast food, and alternative music.
The desire for difference and identity has led to the following question: Is there an Asian identity? Such a generalized question makes it easy to ignore the flesh-and-blood reality by collapsing multiple Asian identities into a single construct. The complexities behind the regional characteristics of various Asian identities are constantly shifting according to time and place; and in the region, the conflict of cultures is highly evident through the spiritual divides in Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. For example, the most recent episodes of religious and ethnic violence in Java and East Timor reveal that Chinese and East Timorians have been under vicious attacks by Muslim Indonesians. Such traumatic events have enormous consequences on ways of life, as well as artists' work. For instance, Dadang Christanto, Heri Dono, Tisna Sanjaya, Moelyono, and Arahmaiani have recently created a series of works directly related to riots, looting, and burning in Indonesia.
Some critics have suggested that we are presently experiencing the age of international curators. The emergence of curators with the power to persuade, control, and dictate taste within the art infrastructure has been phenomenal in the past few years. However, in relation to contemporary Asian art, it is necessary to rethink and relook at the authority of curatorial arbitrage in relation to curators' activities.
The history of representation of contemporary Asian art is relatively new, both within and outside Asia. Here, the role of cultural arbiters, art promoters, and curators must be considered in relation to both local and international art scenes. That is to say, one must take into account the interpretation of contemporary Asian art as it is seen regionally in Asia, as well as how it is represented outside the region. In particular, it is essential to consider the relationship between museums, artists, and the public in Asia in order to understand both traditional practices and new ideas and ways of working.
When it comes to contemporary art, the curatorial considerations that arise in Asia are frequently dictated by the hierarchies of politics, economics, trade, and religion; and regional identities vary accordingly. For example, the ASEAN painting and photograph exhibitions that circulated among ASEAN countries during the 1980s aimed to create harmony, consensus, and friendship among the members (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand; Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam joined in the 1990s). The mottos "unity in diversity" and "friendship and fraternity" were used as thematic subjects for artists to follow. This meant that to comply with nonintervention policy, curators were encouraged not to include works with racist, overtly political, or antireligious subjects. For biennials and art exhibitions outside Asia, the selection of artists and their works has been less restricted. Although curators and artists are still seen as representing their nation-states, the choice of subjects and contents is more varied and thoughtprovoking.
Indeed, the curatorial issues that one must consider when organizing exhibitions of Asian art for international audiences are very different. In 1996, I organized the exhibition Traditions/Tensions: Contemporary Art in Asia, which opened at the Asia Society in New York. The exhibition focused on art from India, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, and Thailand. As guest curator, I sought to explore contemporary works with thematic sinews relating to multilayered Asian traditions and to challenge preconceived notions that only traditional, and not contemporary, art flourishes in Asia. The exhibition also raised questions about the role of art institutions and artists, authenticity and derivation, and high and low art.
For the XXIV Bienal de Sao Paulo (1998), for which the curator Paolo Herkenhoff served as artistic director, I organized the Asian section on the Bienal's theme of anthropophagy or cannibalism. It included works by Chen Chieh-Jen, Choi Jeong Hwa, Dadang Christanto, Elizabeth and Iftikhar Dadi, Ing K., Luo Brothers, and Nobuyoshi Araki. I explored the concept of fear and desire and Asia as an imaginative space of exoticism and seduction. Selected works revealed metaphors of colonization and domination as a devouring process that at times became acts of endo-cannibalism. In Revolution in Soul and Body, Chen Chieh-Jen depicted scenes of massacre and cannibalism in Taiwan and mainland China. In their installation, Power of Love, the Dadis created mixed layers of messages on the impact of the global electronic media and the intense love and hate between India and Pakistan. And in Dangerous Relationship (Touch Me?), Choi Jeong Hwa reflected on Asian seduction and sadism. His gorgeous, plastic, vagina-like, man-eating flowers playfully devoured the viewers.
Although these exhibitions reached international audiences, it is essential that contemporary Asian art should also circulate within the region. Often, enthusiasm for internationalism has resulted in neglect for exchange within the Asian art network. Working on smaller-scale exhibitions of individual artists in Asia has allowed me to help fill in this gap. Through a series of oneperson exhibitions of work by Zhang Peili (b. 1957, Hangzhou), Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940, Tokyo), and Yasumasa Morimura (b. 1951, Osaka) in Bangkok, works by these renowned artists have been shown for the first time in Southeast Asia. As a result, there has been critical debate on Asia's contribution to postmodern thinking through photography, video, and performance. In addition, issues related to nudity, homosexuality, and pornography were openly discussed.
Finally, in spite of the recent widespread interest in contemporary Asian art, it must be realized that the art infrastructure in Asia still needs improvement. Some art museums and institutions in the region are regarded primarily as vehicles to serve nationalist political agendas. For example, some museum curators are expected to address criteria such as national identity and indigenousness. In some cases, their positions are restricted to the role of behindthe-scene organizers, and in others they are closely attached to the government and even have to play the role of quasi-government officers. They work directly under chief curators or art directors, who in turn are obliged to pay close attention to the prevailing political climate. Several museums restrict subjects that might be sensitive or inflammatory to religious sects, national security, and ethnicity. Like it or not, these curators often have to deal with censorship in order to avoid public outcry or harsh reaction from those in power. In spite of the recent economic crisis and the urgent need to improve the art infrastructure, contemporary Asian art has been elevated far above the convenient and simplistic stereotype of alterity.
Apinan Poshyananda is Associate Director of the Centers for Academic Resources, Chulangkorn University, in Bangkok. He is the curator of numerous exhibitions.
Mari Carmen Ramirez
Constellations: Toward a Radical Questioning of Dominant Curatorial Models
As a Latin American art curator active in the United States over the past eleven years, my practice has been largely framed by the prevailing issue of representation-or, better yet, mis-representation-of Latin American/Latino art in the undeniable global center of legitimation represented today by the United States. As I have argued elsewhere, in the present struggle between global and local interests, art curators continue to play key roles as brokers, translators, or cultural agents.' Fully assuming this responsibility, my work has entailed a radical questioning of dominant curatorial models that continue to encase the artistic production of these cultural constituencies into banal frameworks or, indeed, useless stereotypes. As we move into a new century, the task of eradicating these dubious characterizations must proceed from a tactical consideration of such issues as the exhaustion of identity frameworks, the failure of multiculturalism, the dynamics of legitimation, and their irreversible impact upon the shifting function of curators.
Re-Aligning Vision: Alternative Currents in South American Drawing (co-curated with Edith A. Gibson-Wolfe) and Cantos Paralelos: Visual Parody in Contemporary Argentinean Art, two international exhibitions I organized for the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art of the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and X998, respectively, represent an attempt to articulate an alternative exhibition model for historically based group exhibitions originating in Latin America.2 Re-Aligning Vision included 135 drawings and S installations produced between i96o and 198o-the years of the so-called drawing "Boom"-by forty-six artists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela, as well as the expatriate communities of artists in New York and Paris. Cantos Paralelos, in turn, brought together the heterogeneous production of nine Argentinean artists also active between 1960 and 1990, whose sole unifying trait was their use of the critical resource of parody. The selection of artists and works for both exhibitions concentrated on alternative artists or currents-that is to say, manifestations of drawing or examples of parody that fell outside traditional definitions of medium or genre, and were indeed marginal to mainstream canons. Furthermore, both exhibitions by-passed well-known art market staples, opting instead for artists with well-established local reputations that, nevertheless, had never (or only rarely) been exhibited in the United States.
The key problems raised by Re-Aligning Vision and Cantos Paralelos can be summarized in the following questions: (1) How to rescue a specific historic moment that due to a series of local determinants, either privileged a marginal medium (as in the case of drawing) or imbued a particular resource (such as parody) with collective meaning? (2) How to present this momentum, with all its local charge, to a cosmopolitan audience situated in the axis of global legitimation? At the core of both questions lies the greatest challenge confronted by contemporary curators intent upon eluding the exhausted traps of neo-positivism, historicism, and, even worse, determinism. In other words, how to articulate a historically grounded group show without following the traditional survey model that has dominated the idea of representation of Latin American art since the nineteenth century and, most particularly, since the post-World War II period? As I and others have repeatedly pointed out, this model is not only nave, but absolutely ineffective to encompass the broad heterogeneity of artistic manifestations originating in a complex region such as Latin America-a region that includes over twenty countries with a wide array of ethnicities, languages, and cultures inside their own borders, where artistic manifestations do not follow a sequential or homogenous pattern and, for the most part, thrive in relative isolation from each other. The survey model is, thus, naive to the extent that it pretends to encompass a manifold totality within the intrinsically limited scale of any given exhibition. And it is ineffective in the way in which it pretends to impose a linear approach or a particular narrative to the relativism that prevails in all artistic and historical manifestations.
What other model, then, can practically encompass artistic tendencies that straddle between the geographically circumscribed and the strictly chronological? In an attempt to answer these questions, exhibitions like Re-Aligning Vision and Cantos Paralelos have proposed the idea of a CONSTELLATION. This curatorial model condenses, rather than illustrates, specific themes or historic sensibilities by means of "luminous points"-that is, key developments or singular visions that expose the relationships between the artists, their works, and the specific context in which they were produced. In terms of elocution, this constellational model operates on the principle of synecdoche, whereby the part is put for the whole and vice versa. If we consider that no given model is capable of apprehending a whole, the synecdochical approach of pays pro toto allows us to highlight the fragment within its ungraspable totality, which can only be vaguely defined theoretically and unverified in practice. Moreover, the flexibility of this relational-relative model stimulates simultaneous readings of the selected works from comparative or contrasting perspectives capable of grasping, in one single glance, historical, cultural, and/or formal traits. The infinite elasticity of the constellational arrangements made possible by this very porous model, in turn, lends itself well to engaging nontraditional artists or works.
The aim of an exhibition projected under these broader parameters is, ultimately, to showcase unknown artists or under-recognized works in unprecedented relationships that force a critical revision and re-appraisal of values assigned by pre-existing art historical or museological accounts. Both Re-Aligning Vision and Cantos Paralelos, for instance, tended toward the frontal rescue of a collective memory embodied in the dark, repressive decades of the 1960s and 1970s that, despite its relative diffusion, remains unknown to most audiences inside and outside Latin America. The history of civil and military dictatorships on the continent, together with the personal histories of exile affecting many of the artists active during this period, justify the historical vacuum that both exhibitions attempted to redress. To this gap must be added the complicit role played by Latin American elites in the promotion of facile constructions of Latin American identity through art (i.e., the cult of Frida Kahlo) intended for short-term market consumption. From this point of view, the emphasis on "alternative" currents and artists has functioned as a corrective to both centerand elite-promoted stereotypes and market-driven strategies. In this context, the "alternative" element carried the potential to restore a critical balance to the manifold histories of modernisms and the avant-garde that have taken place in Latin America.
To conclude: perhaps the most significant aspect of the constellation model is its unapologetic assertion of the relative and arbitrary nature of curatorial authority. Rather than pretend adherence to the presumed objectivity or even neutrality of "history," such a model cannot but rely on the acumen and creative vision of the curator. After all, any exhibition is, by nature, a rather unlimited field quasi-controlled by the curator's subjective judgment. It is the curator, and not some pre-established teleological myth or grander narrative, who establishes the conceptual coordinates for the understanding and appreciation of the artworks and individuals included within its restricted parameters. This does not imply taking over the artist's role, but rather, fully exercising the intellectual, critical, and innovative prerogatives of curatorial practice. An exhibition should thus carry with it the consciousness and assumption of the risks implicit in any experimental endeavor. By contrast, curatorial proposals that attempt to be "safe" can only be dead stylistic exercises.
Marl Carmen Ramirez is Curator of Latin American Art at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, the University of Texas at Austin. She has organized numerous exhibitions at the Blanton as well as other venues, including exhibitions for the XXIII and XXIV Sao Paulo Bienales. Most recently, she curated the Latin American section of Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin for the Queens Museum of Art. She is currently co-editing Beyond Identity: Globalization and Latin American Art with Luis Camnitzer
Art Speaking for Humanity:The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art
The Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT 3), presented at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia from September 9, X999. through January 26, 2000, completed a series of three exhibitions initiated in the early 1990s. It has been my privilege to serve as project director for all three exhibitions, which have involved over six hundred artists, curators, and writers from the region in a collaborative endeavor to understand the changing art of the Asia-Pacific today. The multiperspective curatorial selection model, based on mutual respect and genuine inquiry, has been for me the most rewarding aspect of the project, which has been more than an exhibition-it has been a shared journey of discovery.
Seventy-seven artists participated in APT3, a team of forty-three international curators made the selections, eighty writers contributed to the catalogue, and ninety speakers participated in the international conference. An audience of 150,000 is expected to bring the total number of visitors over three exhibitions close to 400,000-2 percent of the population of Australia. New developments in 1999 included a Kids' APT, extensive audience interaction, a Web site at www.apt3.net, an online exhibition and forum, a screen culture component, cross-disciplinary and collaborative art, and works crossing borders with tradition and "craft," such as the fabric creations of the Indonesian Brahma Tirta Sari Yogjakarta Studio, made with the Utopia Batik Aboriginal community in Central Australia.
The Triennial selections focused on art that reveals the dynamic interchange between traditional and contemporary, between past and present, in the cultures of this region, and on art that rejects a future based on a featureless global sameness. Instead, over three exhibitions we have overwhelmingly seen art about enduring human aspirations, in which artists seek to contribute to the efforts of communities to survive the present and construct new futures.
Cai Guo-Qiang's Crossing the Bridge (1999), a 23-meter-long bamboo suspension bridge, serves as a potent symbol for the Triennial. Like cultural engagement, crossing the bridge is not easy, and some turn back when a fine shower of rain descends on them at the bridge's central point. Most of our audience, and especially young people, who have comprised a high percentage of visitors (5o percent were under thirty-five), choose to cross. To cross to the future, one turns one's back on a work by Katsushige Nakahashi, a life-size replica, controversial in Japan, of a crashed World War II Zero fighter plane made from thirteen thousand photographs of a model plane. Returning across Cai's bridge, the visitor is forced to confront the possibility that our future may be as full of war and human suffering as previous centuries. Nakahashi's plane was burned at the end of the exhibition in a ritual of spiritual cleansing. The artist notes that his children know little of the war, and it is clear that young Australians in Brisbane, the city that served as MacArthur's headquarters for the Pacific war from 1942, know just as little.
The Sri Lankan artist Jagath Weerasinghe's Mantra Gala and the Round Pilgrimage (1999)-a Buddhist altar decorated with flowers and birds made in community workshops by women and children-and the Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto's Fire in May (1998-99)-forty-seven fire-blackened life-size sculptures of human figures-reflect those artists' concerns about human injustice today. Weerasinghe invokes two thousand years of Buddhist philosophy in a meditation on the tragedy of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which has taken fifty thousand lives; Christanto's work is a cry of agony at recent events in Indonesia, where forty million people in a country of two hundred million are returning to poverty, and where issues of unity, social justice, democracy, and religious intolerance, as well as the terrible events in East Timor, are shaking every pillar of society.
For Australian artists, the Triennial has had great resonance. For example, Indonesia is Australia's closest neighbor, and Australia is leading a peacekeeping force in East Timor, which may bring us into conflict with Indonesia. As one Australian artist commented to me, the Triennial is more important to Australians now than ever in maintaining cultural contacts and building friendships in the region, which hopefully will continue to cross political divides. Events within Australia have also shaped a personal response so that the new Kids' APT of interactive works for three-to-twelve-year-old children reflects concerns regarding the short-lived conservative political movement in this country that has advocated anti-Asian immigration policies. However, the Triennial is not simply about educating Australians about our neighbors and our own multicultural society. From the first, it was understood that Australia was not attempting to dominate this discourse and was an equal partner in a project designed primarily as a platform for artists. As the U.S. critic Judith Stein noted in the June 1997 issue of Art in America, "it is clear that the Queensland Gallery's `Asia-Pacific Triennial' series is affecting the global discourse of contemporary art."
If this is the case, it is because the contemporary art of this region has much to teach us about how artists can interact with their communities and about the role contemporary art can play in social transformation by engaging with such issues as social justice and environmental degradation. These exhibitions have taught us to review colonial viewpoints and to understand that cultural interaction, adaptation, and change have taken place in the region for centuries, so that Western "influence" may come to be seen as insignificant in the future. They have also taught us about the continuing relevance of religion, spirituality, and tradition, especially for indigenous peoples for whom their past is their future, and about cultural survival, including within nations. For example, as the Australian Torres Strait Islander Tom Mosby has noted, Torres Strait indigenous culture survives in defiance of the theory of evolution, where the weak are supposed to be overwhelmed by the strong. Nowhere
is this better exemplified than in Pacific art, where indigenous artists from a population base of under six million have, through sheer creative energy, won respect among artists from a population base of three and a half billion throughout Asia. The art in these exhibitions cannot be summed up in a few hundred words, but the Asia-Pacific Triennial exhibitions are above all a testament to the power of art to challenge and to contribute to the enrichment of the human spirit.
Caroline Turner was Deputy Director and Curatorial Co-ordinator for all three Asia-Pacific Triennials at the Queensland Art Gallery. She was recently appointed Deputy Director of the Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, where she will direct cultural research projects.
The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, known more commonly as Manifesta, is a radically open and flexible structure that offers great possibilities for innovative approaches to curating exhibitions of contemporary art. Conceived in the early 1990s, it was the result of the new enthusiasm and optimism after the fall of the Berlin Wall on the one hand, and of the vital work of young artists on the other. The conceivers believed that a changed social, as well as artistic, landscape in Europe demanded a dif ferent form of biennial exhibition--one that was less rigidly structured and also more open, changeable, experimental, and mobile. They were prudent enough to develop a form which, while answering the needs of their time, remained undetermined enough to be used successfully in very different circumstances in different host cities. Manifesta c was held in Rotterdam in 1996 and Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg in 1998. Manifesta 3 will be presented in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in the summer of 2000.
The basic guidelines for the curators of each edition of Manifesta are intentionally broad: the curatorial team should, with the selection of works and their exhibition, respond to the new artistic developments in the whole European territory and offer a general idea of both the overall situation and the most outstanding issues and questions of European art, culture, and society. No less important is the way such a team defines its points of contact with the particular possibilities and demands of its host city.
Such open guidelines represent a challenge for every curatorial team. The curators are faced with the demand to identify the most important and urgent artistic and cultural issues of contemporary Europe, to establish relevant criteria of selection, and to develop an appropriate form of exhibition (or, perhaps, of the whole process). And, since the idea of Manifesta does not imply one strong curator or selector but a larger curatorial team, such a challenge also includes the process of reconciling viewpoints inside the group--however, in such a way that the resulting statement will be recognized as meaningful questions/answers in both local and international artistic and cultural contexts.
Manifesta's International Board has appointed a team of four curators for Manifesta 3: Francesco Bonami, Manilow Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Artistic Director, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo per l'Arte, Turin; Ole Bouman, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Archis in Rotterdam; Maria Hlavajova, former Director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Arts in Bratislava and presently a faculty member at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; and Kathrin Rhomberg, Curator of Exhibitions at the Vienna Secession. The producer of the event is Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana's Cultural and Congress Center. I am co-coordinating the project, and Teja Alic, Project Manager at Cankarjev dom, is managing it. As I have been following the work of the curatorial team, I have witnessed how the curators have dealt with potentially difficult issues and turned them into advantages. One of their most important starting points was that Manifesta 3 should open up urgent questions and not propose just another set of more or less interesting or innovative ideas. Through a process of discussions inside the team, they have formulated a statement, a text entitled "Borderline Syndrome-Energies of Defence." In this text, they address the question of protection as an urgent and fundamental issue in today's Europe-in art, culture, and society at large. What should be protected? What are the energies of protection? Which borders should be questioned or erased, which reinforced and defended? This is indeed a question that gains specific value in Slovenia for its cultural as well as geopolitical situation; it was the first Yugoslav republic to declare independence in 1991 , and it broke from Yugoslavia without the ethnic violence that has erupted in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Presently, it is actively working to join the European Union as soon as possible. The team is also interested in turning the process of building Manifesta 3 , which is by its very nature dialogical, into an open process of discussion. Their statement is basically a question addressed to a very broad public; it is an invitation to react, to send responses in any form. In this sense, the curators have renounced a part of their power. They do not act as someone who knows, but as someone who is asking and is willing to listen to every answer.
One of my basic roles in Manifesta 3 has been to function as a link between the curatorial team and the local artistic and cultural scene. I am, therefore, trying to follow as closely as possible the reactions and relationship of Ljubljana's artistic and cultural scene toward the project. This relationship has been basically positive; after all, there was, and is, a general consensus that Ljubljana has had to do its best to be invited to host Manifests 3 and to realize it in the best possible way. Everyone seems to agree that the project represents a great possibility. Still, the relationship toward the project is certainly not uncritical, or even without certain hidden fears. A number of questions have been raised, especially regarding the relationship of a relatively small culture, like Slovenia, to the global art system. As Manifests 3 has entered Slovenian culture, this relationship has suddenly become very real, immediate, and also decisive for the course of Slovenian art in the next years. There have been, therefore, attempts to analyze contemporary art as a system of institutions, capital, and power and to understand one's own position within this system. We often say that Slovenia occupies a position between East and West; it is therefore no surprise that one can find here an intense critical interest in the issues of the East-West polarization-a polarization that determines and shapes cultural production in Slovenia. Manifests 3 has been, since the beginning, intended as a pan-European project, and the choice of Ljubljana was understood as the confirmation of such an orientation. But to what extent can Manifests 3 indeed function as a pan-European project and to what extent
is the inevitable discourse of difference between East and West a way to perpetuate the existing relationships of domination? Another crucial question that has already been raised is: What after Manifesta 3? It is intended as an event not for the main art centers, but for smaller, interesting, and developing places. It is designed to profit from their energies and to assist them in their further development. For many reasons, it seems an ideal project for the lively contemporary art scene in Ljubljana. However, there is always a danger that such an event might be understood as a showcase and that it might take too much energy, and also money, away from the local art scene without really affecting it in a positive way. It is therefore necessary that Manifesta 3 function as an opportunity for expanding and intensifying other projects, not for reducing them. No less important, it should concentrate the existing energies in Ljubljana and the region and help them attain a new level, rather than represent their culmination. If one looks at how today's contemporary art world is functioning, one can easily see how quickly certain phenomena are consumed, so that interest can move to other fresh names and countries. For a small culture like Slovenia's-once it has succeeded in developing a sufficiently interesting and active artistic scene-it is of vital importance not to let itself be consumed too easily or too quickly.
Igor Zabel is Curator at the Moderna galerija/Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana.
For more information about Manifesta 3, visit their Web site at www.manifesta.org.
1. See Mari Carmen Ramirez, "Brokering Identities: Art Curators and the Politics of Representation," in Thinking about Exhibitions, ed. Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, and Sandy Nairn (London: Routledge, 1996), 21-38.
2. Mari Carmen Ramirez, ed., Re-Aligning Vision: Alternative Currents in South American Drawing, exh. cat. (Austin: Archer M. Huntingon Art Gallery, 199 and Mari Carmen Ramirez, Cantos Paralelos: Visual Parody in Contemporary Argentinean Art (Austin: Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, 1999).…
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Publication information: Article title: Beyond Boundaries: Rethinking Contemporary Art Exhibitions. Contributors: Cassel, Valerie - Author, Morin, France - Author, Poshyananda, Apinan - Author, Ramirez, Mari Carmen - Author, et al. - Author. Journal title: Art Journal. Volume: 59. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2000. Page number: 4+. © 2008 College Art Association. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.