"In & out of Amsterdam": Museum of Modern Art, New York
Meyer, James, Artforum International
GLOBALISM AND CONCEPTUALISM: It has become increasingly apparent that these two notions are indissolubly linked, but how? "In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960-1976" is only the most recent curatorial effort to examine this association, first proposed by the exhibition "Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s," overseen by Jane Farver at New York's Queens Museum of Art in 1999. The Queens show tracked seemingly independent eruptions of a Conceptual tendency in discrete locales across the globe, contesting the Western orientation of previous surveys. Galleries were devoted to Latin-American Conceptualism, Eastern European Conceptualism, Japanese Conceptualism, and so on. The recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York proposed a very different schema, conceiving of "Conceptualism" as a transnational tendency, a network. During the 1960s and '70s, it suggested, the art centers of North America and Western Europe were linked as never before. A democratization of air travel during this period, fostered by the jet engine, nurtured a new kind of practice. Artists abandoned the bohemian pleasures of the studio, shaping their activities in response to the new conditions of mobility. "The artists always traveled around with a bag that held everything," recalled Adriaan van Ravesteijn, one of the founders of the Amsterdam gallery Art & Project, whose recent donation to MOMA (with his life partner, Geert van Beijeren) of the gallery's extraordinary archive instigated the show. As Christophe Cherix, the museum's curator of prints and illustrated books as well as the organizer of "In & Out of Amsterdam," notes in the catalogue, Sol LeWitt visited five countries and thirteen cities in Europe in a single month in 1975. The artist who worked alone in his or her loft, who stayed more or less in the same city, was during these years supplanted by the artist-traveler. "It was like playing football--it went from stadium to stadium," Lawrence Weiner recalls in an interview with Cherix. "And the interesting thing was that there was a whole system built into it."
What was this system, this procession of champions from stadium to stadium? (Weiner's gaming analogy seems entirely apt.) This was the question posed by "In & Out of Amsterdam." Showcasing an aspect of MOMA's collection that has heretofore been given short shrift, the exhibition was an attempt to reposition at the center of the Conceptual-art universe a museum that was once an important venue for Conceptualist practice. (Glenn Lowry, in the "Director's Foreword" to the catalogue, states this agenda up front, invoking a comparison of "In & Out of Amsterdam" to Kynaston McShine's landmark "Information" show at MOMA in 1970.) The initial impulse of "In & Out" was to exhibit an important gift. But, to Cherix's credit, the exhibition wasn't merely a collection show, a format to which museums have increasingly turned in these straitened times. By focusing on the history of a single art gallery and examining its practices closely, Cherix provided a fresh purchase on the history of Conceptualism. That is, the show demonstrated the benefits of an archival curatorial practice, and in this respect his project was utterly aligned with the archival turn in contemporary art history. Cherix is that rare bird: a contemporary curator who is equally and every bit a scholar, as his excellent exhibitions at the Cabinet des Estampes in Geneva of such figures as Robert Morris (1995), Mel Bochner (1997), and Carl Andre (2004) made abundantly clear. His challenge, in mounting a show elucidating the intricate history of a gallery devoted to antivisual endeavors and, moreover, one equally renowned for publishing the austere Art & Project Bulletin--as important a site of "display" as the gallery space--was to find a visually engaging mode of presentation. His solution: first, to exhibit the entire sequence of 156 Bulletins (and related projects) in the Prints and Illustrated Books galleries; and second, to limit the presentation of "realized" works to the practices of ten artists, a small sample of the eighty or so contributors to the Bulletin from its inaugural issue in 1968 through its final edition in 1989; this work was shown in the temporary-exhibition galleries. …