Century City: Conversations with the Curators
Kaplan, Janet A., Art Journal
The following is an edited compilation of conversations with the director of the Tate Modern, Lars Nittve; the former head of exhibitions, Iwona Blazwick; the curators Donna De Salvo and Emma Dexter; four guest curators Geeta Kapur, Olu Oguibe, Reiko Tomii, and Paolo Venancio Filho held during the press previews of the exhibition Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis (February 1-April 29, 2001).1
Janet A. Kaplan: Why was Century City developed as the first major loan show for the new Tate Modern?
Lars Nittye: This is an unusually urban museum in both the character of the architecture and its densely urban location. That is one thing that prompted us to think about cities. Also, it gave us the opportunity to look at the entire last century and the beginning of this new one, to focus on visual art and to look beyond to see what happened on the fringes. In addition, it is very important for our future programs to indicate that we are not a museum that equates internationalism with the NATO Alliance. We go beyond that.
Iwona Blazwick: The show is attempting to do many things. First, it's really looking at art in the context of its production, in relation to other disciplines, and within broader geographical, theoretical, and cultural contexts. For the first time in the Tate's program, these are truly global: we tried to reflect the four main continents. Throughout the twentieth century there's been a symbiotic relationship between the modern, modernism, and the metropolis. Seeing that there are many modernisms was part of our project. We also wanted to bring in other disciplines, including architecture, film, literature, music, and dance.
Choosing the cities took a long time. We had at least eighteen alternatives. We were mindful of what else had been in London in the recent past. For example, Berlin would have been a candidate, but there had been a lot of very substantial exhibitions that looked at twentiethcentury German art, and specifically at Berlin. So we thought it was not urgent. And we looked at the international scene. If there had already been a lot of discussion of a city, we thought it was an opportunity to do something different. For Africa and Asia we chose Lagos, Tokyo, and Bombay/Mumbai; for the Americas, Rio de Janeiro and New York; and for Europe London, Moscow, Paris, and Vienna. Once we narrowed it down, we approached a range of scholars and expert curators to help us identify a particular period for each city. The exhibition features cultural flashpoints. It is neither a chronology, nor a survey of the twentieth century. It looks at simultaneities. Nittve: It is a provocative list that announces a new agenda. We were looking for distinctiveness and difference. We embraced the idea of distinct curators with different curatorial methods and ideologies.
Kaplan: Did the curators work together?
Blazwick: No, they met only once. The logistics of bringing them back together again defeated us. In the end we all regretted that because we wanted more dialogue. Yet the nine idiosyncratic perspectives make transparent the way museology and curatorship work-there is no single story, no one official version. What connects the whole thing is the relationship with the city-both the exhilaration of wanting to be immersed in it and the desire to esce from it.
Kaplan [to each curator): What was the basis of your choice of city and time frame?
Olu Oguibe: The Tate approached Okwui Enwezor to suggest an African city that would fit into the general concept of Century City as a meeting point of urbanism and modernity in the twentieth century. Immediately he thought of Lagos from 1955 to 1970. It was at that point that I was approached as a co-curator. Although neither of us is from Lagos, both Okwui and I are from Nigeria. Since this was the only African city in the exhibition, the challenge was to do something that captures the concept for the rest of the continent. …