It may seem Madeleine Grynsztejn has lived her entire life in preparation for the 1999 Carnegie International. Born in Lima, raised in Caracas by her Hungarian-bern mother and Polish-born father, who worked as an engineer for Royal Dutch Shell, the thirty-seven-year-old curator grew up speaking Spanish and learned English in a Dutch school. Between the ages of ten and thirteen she lived in London, then returned to Caracas before moving to the United States in 1976. Grynsztejn entered Tulane University in New Orleans as a painter and print-maker but ultimately pursued a degree in art history. Her master's thesis at Columbia University explored the connection between luminism and Eastern thought. Clearly, translation and transmigration, two concerns underlying the Carnegie International that will go on view on November 6, are issues with which Grynsztejn has long been familiar.
Grynsztejn began work in 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, where she curated solo shows of Jeff Wall and Celia Munoz and, with that city's Centro Cultural de la Raza, helped organize "La Frontera = The Border: Art About the Mexico/United States Border Experience," one of the defining exhibitions of the multicultural moment of the early '90s. As a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1992 to 1996, she organized "About Place: Recent Art of the Americas" and continued to devote as much attention to north-south artistic currents as she did to those flowing east and west.
Grynsztejn began work at the Carnegie in early 1997. Her researches for the fifty-third installment of the International have taken her to nearly thirty countries and some two hundred studios. Time spent on the road ("a four-week-at-home, three-week-away" cycle, she says) helped her understand the nomadic lives of many of the artists in her show. Struggling with what it means to cross cultures and inhabit multiple notions of space and time has been part of her working process. "What happens in translation has become terribly important to me. It's at the center, not at the margins, of many lives."
MICHAEL BRENSON: When previous curators organized the Carnegie International, there was no field of large international contemporary art exhibitions. How has this burgeoning area affected your thinking about the Carnegie?
MADELEINE GRYNSZTEJN: The year I started my research, 1997, I believe there were thirteen international exhibitions; I saw twelve in 1997 and 1998. What became clear was that these exhibition could only be differentiated along interpretive lines. With the growing number of channels for the distribution of art, it's hardly possible to present "discoveries." I think one of the tasks of the curator is to be a translator - for art, and for the moment. The International lends itself to that, paradoxically, because of its fairly traditional structure. It's curated by a single person and is relatively small, with forty artists versus, say, ninety-nine. This allows for a strong interpretative framework that may not be feasible in larger exhibitions.
MB: What makes this your show?
MG: I arrived at the thematic by looking at art and speaking with artists all over the world, and by thinking about what had reached a point of saturation in our culture since the last Carnegie in 1995. It seems to me that the most compelling work today takes the form of a Conceptually oriented realism, the active engagement of the viewer, and the slippage between reality and fiction that is deliberately fostered in artworks.
MB: What do you mean by "Conceptually oriented realism"?
MG: It's not realism in the traditional sense of the word, that is, either a literal transcription of the visual world or a kind of anthropology of the present. I'm not making an argument for an essentialist or authentic notion of the real. Rather, the philosophical interrogation of our relation to reality seems to be an urgent concern of an entire generation. …