Magazine article Artforum International

Tate Triennial 2009: Tate Britain, London

Magazine article Artforum International

Tate Triennial 2009: Tate Britain, London

Article excerpt

TRUE TO ITS FUNCTION as a naming ceremony of sorts, Nicolas Bourriaud's Tate Triennial aimed at nothing less than inaugurating an alternative modernity. It understood itself as both harbinger and incarnation of this new cultural constellation and was premised on what Bourriaud calls "the emerging and ultimately irresistible will to create a form of modernism for the twenty-first century." Fittingly for an exhibition predicated on a ringing declaration of a new epoch, "Altermodern" was surrounded on all sides by gestures of initiation, programmatic statements, and declarations of intent that ostensibly buttressed Bourriaud's assertions. The exhibition was preceded by not one but four "Prologues," daylong events featuring lineups of artists, critics, and theorists and addressing the themes "Altermodern," "Exiles," "Travel," and "Borders." Serving as yet another prologue of sorts was a curatorial manifesto posted on the Tate's website as a primer for the mystified. "POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD," Bourriaud declares emblematically in this text. "A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalization--understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture." This grandiose tone is echoed by the ambitious exhibition catalogue, which elaborates the idea that our nascent modernity is coalescing under truly global terms--meaning that the Western biases of both Utopian modernism and the end-of-history condition of postmodern melancholy are being done away with. Or as an unsigned catalogue blurb states; "Art made in the times we live in ... is conceived and produced as a reaction against standardization and nationalism. The art is characterized by artists' cross-border, cross-cultural negotiations"--negotiations evincing a dynamic of creolization that, Bourriaud states, may finally subsume the outdated paradigm of harmonious multiculturalism. (True to the notion of the artist-traveler, the category of Britishness was erased from the triennial's organizational logic; the twenty-eight artists in the show were from all over the world.)

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Physically, too, the viewer's entry into the exhibition was carefully orchestrated via a trio of works that functioned as a kind of drumroll, greeting visitors before they passed through the triennial's ticket barrier. The first of these, encountered on entrance to the museum, was Pascale Marthine Tayou's Private Collection, Year 3000, 2008. Fusing African and European pop-culture figurines into a display set up to evoke a private museum of the next millennium, this arrangement of fiction-fetish artifacts collapsed the distance between recent past and imagined future, as well as that between Cameroon and London. Nearby, in the Tate's Duveen Galleries, was Matthew Derbyshire's Patac, 2009. This architectural mash-up re-created elements of Warsaw's 1955 Palace of Culture and Science and of a new, Will Alsop-designed community center in England's West Midlands. Here, what was fused were Soviet pomp, echoed in the architecture of the Duveen Galleries (built in 1937), and the anodyne avant-gardism of New Labour's built environment. Against the backdrop of Subodh Gupta's towering mushroom cloud of stainless-steel dining utensils, Tayou's and Darbyshire's works indicated a kind of multiple sitedness (in London and Cameroon, in Poland and England, in the past and the future). Significantly, a particular concept of sitedness or rootedness is central to Bourriaud's current thinking. In his most recent book, The Radicant (Sterberg Press, 2009), he defines his title neologism thus: "To be radicant means setting one's roots in motion." Per Bourriaud, radicant artists remap the present as a field of temporal and spatial dislocations. It is in this paradoxical notion of racinated mobility, perhaps, that Bourriaud's concept of the altermodern protagonist as cultural nomad--a global flaneur constantly moving across time, space, and signs--acquires whatever actual newness it may possess. …

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