Magazine article Artforum International

"The Fantastic Tavern": CASEY KAPLAN

Magazine article Artforum International

"The Fantastic Tavern": CASEY KAPLAN

Article excerpt

This summer's "Fantastic Tavern: The Tbilisi Avant-Garde" made the case for Tbilisi to be known as one of the principal enclaves of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde. It focused on the cultural energy of Georgia's capital city in its independent, postrevolutionary, pre-Bolshevik period (1918-21), though it spanned from documentary photographs of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century to set designs and films made there in the 1920s and '30s.

You'd imagine finding this kind of exhibition at an artist-run space like its curator Daniel Baumann's own New Jerseyy in Basel, if not at a government-funded institution (e.g., the Austrian Cultural Forum), but it was instead staged in the forthrightly commercial Casey Kaplan gallery. With its poured concrete floor, whitewashed drywall, and fluorescent tube lighting, the setting couldn't have been farther from the bars and back rooms that--as suggested by the show's books, photographs, and sound recordings--had housed the readings and performances that brought Symbolism into Acmeism, Futurism, and Dada, as well as numerous other offshoots and factions.

The spirit of the exhibition nonetheless felt aligned with its subject matter. Take, for example, the curator's installation ethos: In collaboration with one artist and three art historians at the Tbilisi-based Arts Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory (AIRL), Baumann presented a lucid outline of the period by casually substituting digital reproductions of any journal, photograph, or painting for which the original was unavailable. Given such disregard for auratic value, the embrace of technological mediation, and the break with commercial imperatives, one could imagine the likes of "Zaum" poet Ilia Zdanevich approving.

The exhibition opened with a recording of Zdanevich reciting his 1918 "Donkey for Hire," and a turn-of-the-century handwoven carpet, which led to a room of photographs of cityscapes and interiors (from circa 1900) and artist Levan Chogoshvili's A Bit and It Is Already Art, 2009, a montage of two maps of Georgia shortly after its takeover by the Soviet Union in 1921. Chogoshvili's title comes from his translation of the Georgian map's key: in 1921 THE BORDERS OF GEORGIA CHANGED A BIT. …

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