CAA Interlude 1: MoMA Abstraction

There are SO MANY amazing shows in New York right now; it was stressful trying to fit in the conference, my family and friends, and just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing art on view, but I managed to squeeze in my top priorities. Since it was a block from the conference hotel, I started at MoMA, with the show Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925.

Going into a much-discussed, much-reviewed show, one generally has an impression going in, a consensus that has been established: the one I’d heard about this show was quite simply that there are many beautiful things to see. That was true, but of course there was more to it than that.

It began with a giant chart, a reworking of the famous flow chart made by the first MoMA director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for the cover of a book on Cubism and Abstract Art, diagramming the relationships and influences between various avant-grade movements. The revised chart did away with the ossification of clearly defined movements, focusing instead on the myriad connections woven throughout an international network of artists, as well as writers and composers.


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The exhibition then uses these regionalisms as an organizing principle (though the transnational dialogue is never lost), divvying the artwork into niches by country, showing the distinctive styles in each and demonstrating that abstraction emerged simultaneously in multiple locations, like synchronous scientific discoveries. This international approach gives weight to players who have been previously marginalized by the canon, particularly those in Eastern Europe and Britain.

In addition to these intellectual revelations were a great many visual ones. Perhaps the most dramatic moment was when I glanced behind me, only to see in the next gallery a model of Vladimir Tatlin’s famous Monument to the Third International (complete with moving parts!), heretofore only known to me (and most others) through historic photographs.

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I’m a huge fan of the work of Piet Mondrian; the series of works used to represent his progression into abstraction and his mature style were not so inspiring, but a model of a stage set that he created for a friend’s never-produced play actually got my heart racing.

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One of the most visually stunning paintings was by Giacometti, known mostly for his sculpture. It was made up of clusters of thick flowery globs of paint and gold, the colors of a spring dress.


There were a great many other visual surprises I noted, but I won’t go on listing them here. Included were other arts similarly engaged in an increasing interest in “abstraction,” whatever that meant for their discipline: dance, music (though I wish this had been more audible), film.

The only thing that confused me was where/when the exhibition ended, and why. When is abstraction “done” being “invented”? This show may only be about abstraction’s advent, but the story goes on, through Jackson Pollock’s drips right up to minimalism’s cubes and beyond into conceptualism. Of course the show most focus in, but at a certain point the visitor is just deposited out of the exhibition, without a sense of a conclusion. What’s special about the year 1925? We don’t find out.

Next up, the post-war Japanese movement Gutai, at the Guggenheim…



This past week I attended my first College Art Association (CAA) conference, the largest professional gathering of artists and art historians IN THE WORLD ::echo::

Friends and coworkers told me how great it was–how engaging the panels are, how great a chance it is to reunite with everyone you know. So, of course, I found it disappointing.

Firstly, it is so huge, (and this particular hotel, the Hilton on 53rd St. and 6th Ave. in NYC, is set up in such a way) that you are not guaranteed to run into everyone you know. There are people I know were there who I would not have seen if we had not set up a specific meeting, especially if we were unlikely to be interested in the same panels. I can only guess that people I hoped to see but didn’t may very well have been there, and that next time I will have to reach out to them in advance. (Nonetheless, I did have some great grad school reunions, and connected with fellow undergrad alums in the field who I hadn’t known before.)

Nor did I find it as intellectually-stimulating as I had hoped, particularly as I have been craving the kind of mental challenge I experienced in grad school. The panels I ended up attending fell generally into two camps:

1) the practical/museological, focused on either academic art museums or curatorial careers

2) the art historical/scholarly – and for these I mostly went to panels about photography, as I am organizing a show on surrealist photography but have little background in it

Panels in the first category were generally productive, even if a lot of the ideas were ones I was already familiar with. One panel provided excellent examples and ideas for ways to promote cross-discipline cooperation with the college museum, whereas another stuck to a broader discussion of the academic art museum, in which the conclusions seemed quite self-evident–a proverbial preaching to the choir.

Panels in the latter category, however, could be a bit of a drag. As I told one (rather rude) woman at a bar who asked why I would study boring (!!!) art and art history: “art and art history are interesting; art historians are boring.” To be more accruate, I should have said that they can be boring, but that would not have been as snappy a response.

One panel on photography jammed six–six!!!–presenters into one hour-and-a-half session, demonstrating how art historians have no conception of reality when it comes to human attention span. Initially I found these talks interesting, but by the last presenter I was ready to bolt, which then tainted my reception, and ruined my retention, of even the earlier presentations.

Some speakers take their full twenty minutes to explain a point that could be summed up and easily understood in one sentence. Others take meandering strolls through many theoretical frameworks and disparate examples (from daguerrotypes to Blade Runner–in one talk), leaving the listener perhaps intrigued, potentially confused, and likely ignorant of what the point was in the first place.

There were of course exceptions. I believe the single best talk I went to was by Caitlin Condell, curatorial assistant at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. It was focused but intriguing, exactly as a good presentation should be. Zeroing in on Man Ray’s Compass, an object consisting of a gun hanging from a magnet, and its presentation in three photographs over the course of a few years, Condell explored the tension between the object and the photograph of the object as artwork, the lost history of this particular artifact, and a reconsideration of Man Ray’s relationship to photography.

Generally though, I did not find the intellectual stimulation I was craving–at the panels anyway. I have been finding it in the books I’ve been reading and the exhibitions I attended while there (MoMA’s Inventing Abstraction, Guggenheim’s Splendid Playground  on the Japanese post-war movement Gutai, and Drawing Surrealism at the Morgan Library). Stay tuned this week for reviews on all of the above!

What I Might See in New York, part 3: Gangnam Style

A quick list of what else I might see in New York, following up on this post and this post:

1) Calder Bronzes at L&M Arts

2) Richard Artschwager at the Whitney

3) the Warhol influences show and the photo manipulation before photoshop show at the Metropolitan

And, some dance-worthy art news. The entire art world is going Gangnam Style, in support of Ai Wei Wei and a Gangnam parody video that he made and that was banned in China.

The photos are pretty priceless–from Anish Kapoor to the staff of MoMA:

What I Might See in New York, part 1

Going home (to NYC) for Thanksgiving break. There won’t be a ton of time for art perusing, but I’m sure I’ll find a way. I still need to look into what’s on and then prioritize. Here’s one thing I might go for: a real garage sale at the Museum of Modern Art held by Martha Rosler. Not only would I experience an art event, I might pick up something useful for a good price!

There’s also a few interesting notes about how the installation was set back by Hurricane Sandy. The ways the New York art world has been affected just keep coming up.

More as I look into what’s on

Manual Skill is Secondary, but Still Incredible

Alighiero Boetti proclaimed that thought was the most important achievement of humanity. He said he “prefer[ed] thought” and that “manual skill is secondary.” For an artist who thought manual skill was secondary, he sure made, or had made, a lot of very beautiful, technically-skilled, and sensuously-textured objects, as the exhibition “Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan” at MoMA attests. If you could label Boetti, who was many things, a conceptualist, and I think you could based on the statements above, then these were the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen by a conceptual artist.

As I mentioned in my first post announcing my intention to see this show (as I have about a million times), Boetti is best known for his Mappas or Mappe – I don’t speak Italian, they’re maps, ok? Of various sizes, completely embroidered, each country represented by its flag–a concept so beautiful in its simplicity, you wonder why no one else thought of it (Boetti’s “favorite artistic strategy: to take an existing system and give it visual form, calling attention to the ways in which such systems structure the world”). What I didn’t know was that they, along with many other of Boetti’s works, were embroidered by women in Afghanistan (a few simpler works were embroidered by his wife). One anecdote was particularly interesting; the women in question weren’t familiar with the image of a map, and so decided to make the ocean pink, just because that was a thread they happened to have in abundance. Boetti loved this degree of happenstance in the making of his works.

In fact, this story was emblematic of Boetti’s approach to the divvying up of the labor of his work. One label explained that Boetti was interested in the ways a work could be “produced by different parties without collaboration or discussion–a form of authorship that is split rather than shared.” As such, Boetti often let his Afghan workers add inscriptions of their choice in Arabic, which were sometimes political/revolutionary. Leaving certain other aesthetic decisions was a way of adding an element of chance or shared authorship.

Yet no matter how conceptual this gesture, the result is still magnificent. Several maps have completely different color schemes, and the sweep of the embroidered stitches creates a different effect in each, often giving the impression of shifting tides on the ocean.

Mappa (Map), 1971–72, Embroidery on linen

Many other objects exhibited a similar sense of sensitivity to material and the creation of aesthetic pleasure, including his Arte Povera works (a movement characterized by use of industrial or everyday or discarded material). These are no Thomas Hirshhorn piles of crap; these are artfully arranged nearly minimalist objects of great beauty and balance.

Catasta (Stack), 1966–67, Eternit tubes

Other sections document Boetti’s interest in time/the calendar (“… dates have this beauty,” he said, “the more time passes, the more beautiful they become”), in using mail, envelopes and stamps as a vehicle for art, and in systems, and their arbitrariness:

Ever the contrarian wit, Boetti delighted in introducing “mistakes” or anomalies into his own patterns and systems, always acknowledging the impossibility of total organization.

Senza titolo (Untitled), 1969, Ink and stickers on paper.

Some notes on the organization of the show: aside from the introductory text panel, there were not large texts on the walls in each gallery introducing each theme. Rather, those themes were explored using quotes by Boetti on the wall, or long but small-fonted texts under individual object labels. This was fine, except it was hard to read these labels, because they were so small they could only be read by one or two people at a time, and at the frequently busy MoMA this often meant waiting to read what you wanted to read. And the search for the perfect labeling system goes on… Good thing I’m taking notes.

The Art of the Conservation of Energy (for Art)

I just finished reading (well, listening to, actually) Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, about a tribe of cliff-dwelling runners, the evolutionary biology of human bodies and running, the destruction of our bodies by Nike, and the rising popularity of ultra-marathons, 100 mile races on mountain trails at high altitudes. Of course in the latter case, the conservation of energy is essential: you can’t spend it all when you still have so many miles to go.

Now, I would like to make clear that I am about the farthest thing from an athlete–I get winded running just a few steps. I do, however, find that I need to use the art of the conservation of energy, for art. As in the case of going to MoMA for a particular exhibition, in this case “Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan,” which I’ve been saying I was gonna go to since back when I was crippled, and on a quick weekend trip home, I finally had the chance to go.

There were other attractive exhibitions, and I feel that I should be a bit of a generalist and see exhibitions outside my immediate interests. But, there’s only so much museum energy–intense looking and thinking, not to mention prolonged walking and standing–one can expend, and I wanted to keep some in reserve for walking by some public art on Park Avenue that I’d just read about in the Times, not to mention for seeing my friends later in the evening.

So, despite how much my inclination for all kinds of exhibitions is to look closely at every object, particularly at things that attract me, I had to force myself to skim. I had to skim through the exhibition on the Quay Brothers, whose dark, alternative films are not my usual fare, but whose inky drawings and prints, posters and set designs, stop-motion animations and the props, puppets and sets used to make them, were exquisite. I had to skim through Renée Green’s installation that formed a viewing station for several major art films in MoMA’s archive, many of which I would have liked to see if I had more time and didn’t need to save the energy. I only briefly visited the installation by Slavs and Tartars, whose work had been recommended to me by my former boss. At the very end of my visit I whizzed through “The Century of the Child,” not because I was overly interested in the details, but because there were some beautiful examples of Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and modern design, not to mention a blast from my childhood, a video simulation of the original SimCity in all its pixelated glory.

Selections from “The Century of the Child”

Quay Brothers, Test for the Calligrapher

More on Boetti and the public art I saw… in the next couple of posts. Oh yes, I’m going to drag this out… the suspense must be killing you!!!

What I Saw When I Could Walk, pt. 2

And now, as promised, Cindy Sherman at MoMA and my celebrity siting!

As I mentioned, I was at home in New York to see these shows before they closed. I’d gone to the Met on Sunday, and was going to MoMA on Monday. I wanted to leave the house at a certain time, but dawdled and therefore arrived at the museum slightly later than I’d planned. Quick stop in the large gallery on the 2nd floor, to say hello to my old friend, Ellsworth Kelly’s Colors for a Large Wall, and a new friend, his Sculpture for a Large Wall.


Up to the top floor for Cindy Sherman. Surveyed the humongous wall papers of her strange characters in the atrium, then figured out which between the two entrances was the real start to the exhibition.

I lay out all these details because the timing was key. I caught the celebrity in question in the 2nd gallery, and he then went out through the first. He’d clearly gone through the show backwards, and so had I been a bit earlier or later, or done the same, I would have missed him.

First gallery, with a selection of works from different series and a few early portrait experimentations. Second gallery, with the full suite of Untitled Film Stills. I’m going through slowly and thoughtfully, trying to savor each one despite their great number and small size. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a man, smiling knowingly at the photographs, who looks a great deal like Benedict Cumberbatch.

Right now, you’re either squealing with delight, or wondering, “who?” If you’re part of the small percentage of the general population who knows he is, you’re probably already obsessed with him. He is the star of BBC’s “Sherlock,” written by the inimitable Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, a modern-day update of Sherlock Holmes in which the detective is an insensitive sociopath with razor sharp wit who talks a mile per minute. Check out Season 1 on Netflix, season 2 on Project Free TV (each season is 3 movie-length episodes). And don’t be fooled by the similar U.S. series coming out, “Elementary” (with Lucy Liu as Watson, seriously?????); it’s a cheap imitation.

So I’m in front of the Untitled Film Stills with a Cumberbatch lookalike. The face is spot-on, but I’m not sure about the body; this man is sporting broad, muscular shoulders in a tight t-shirt, jeans, and hipster headphones around his neck. I think of BC as quite svelte in his slim suits. So as subtly as I can I start following him around, pretending to look at art but really looking at him, to confirm my suspicion, and the more I see his face the more sure I am. Pretty soon, possibly cuz he realized I was stalking him, he left. As soon as I could, I texted my fellow Sherlock fans, with whom I’d just that day and previous night been discussing him.

Later, I had my doubts, because he was supposed to be in a play in London later that week. But I also found that he’d just been in New Jersey for some horse race. That he made it a point to get to MoMA for the Cindy Sherman in the middle of his hectic schedule, that and his knowing smiles at the Stills, shows that he’s a contemporary art fan. Swoon!

Oh, how was the exhibition, you say? Oh, yes, fine, good. I was in a bit of a tizzy after my encounter and had some trouble focusing back on the art, but after awhile I settled in. Otherwise, it was a good retrospective, progressing through her major series including some interesting ones I hadn’t seen, such as the Fashion ads in which she wears designer clothing but is otherwise completely hideous.

Generally each gallery was devoted to a series, but some galleries were a mix of works from different series with some other theme, like how she manipulated backdrops, or when she started putting multiple figures in through the magic of photoshop. These comparisons/themes seemed a little forced, and the mixed galleries seemed to break the rhythm of the show.

In my next post, Bowdoin and Buffalo, including more early Cindy Sherman!

What I Saw When I Could Walk, pt. 1

In a kind of follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which I discussed exhibitions I would see if it were not for my temporary disability, I will discuss what exhibitions I have seen recently. It occurs to me my posts have been quite long, and also that I’m starting to run out of things to talk about. Rather than talk about 4 exhibitions in one post, I’ll spread it out, so I can keep up my once a day posting without running out or spending hours a day on one post.

The first few exhibitions I saw over a month ago so forgive me if my recollection is hazy. In early June, I made a quick weekend trip to New York in order to see some exhibitions before they closed.


I’m very interested in shows that recreate collections or exhibitions that were formative in the history of modern art (I would love to see an as-full-as-possible 1913 Armory Show recreation–some were done before my time, and the New York Historical Society will be doing a 100th anniversary show, though it doesn’t sound like a recreation per se). However, they tend to be disappointing. You go, hoping to step into a time machine, into an authentic and transporting recreation of the Stein salon. Of course, this is an impossible and unrealistic expectation, especially given how much the collection evolved over time. In their closest attempt to present the spaces as they were, they projected photographs onto a three-walled white cube, showing the chronological progression of the Steins’ apartments with the artwork on the walls. This presentation was sterile and unengaging.

The exhibition itself also proceeded chronologically, giving each gallery over to a certain combination of family members (Leo and Gertrude, Michael and Sarah, Gertrude and Alice) and/or to a particular place they lived. My overall complaint is that it was too big, and too much. Instead of choosing the best representative sample of a certain period/style of Matisse painting, a whole wall would be devoted to 12 of them, most relatively minor examples. This is a good argument against my wish for complete recreation, and instead for selective and concise curating.

The length and density of the exhibition caused visual fatigue, which led to only a few glorious “a-ha” moments (pictured below), an unfortunate ratio given what masterpieces were contained here. Selecting for quality over quantity would have given the works room to breathe, to hold their own, thereby increasing both the relative number of great paintings on view, and the ability to enjoy them. (I went on the last day of the show, a Sunday, and so the dense crowds were also detrimental to my enjoyment.)


Fatiguing also were the lengthy wall texts describing the family’s history of collecting. This is of course the actual subject of the exhibition, but after awhile I felt that if I really wanted to know, I’d read the book, especially when I found myself curious about key facts that seemed to be missing. For example, every label had the year span that the Steins owned that particular piece. Most of the deaccession dates were before the death of the collectors, but with the exception of the Leo and Gertrude separation, the reasons and method of the collection’s various dispersals were not explained. At one point a text mentions Michael Stein shipping a good chunk off to the Cone sisters, but it is not clear whose works, which works, how many or why, and if they were bought or given.

Stay tuned tomorrow for MoMA’s Cindy Sherman retrospective, and my celebrity siting therein!

What I Might Be Seeing If I Could Walk

Last week, the day before I moved from Boston to New York, I sprained my foot. Good timing, huh? Good thing we’d hired movers. On an artistic note, my foot is turning all kinds of lovely shades of purple, pink, blue, green and yellow. On a practical note, if I walk just a few blocks I’m ready to put my foot up and call it a day. Therefore my typical New York pastime, museums and galleries, is out. Here are a few things I might be seeing if I was not temporarily disabled.

A CUT ABOVE: 12 PAPER MASTERS, Christopher Henry Gallery, on view until July 15th

The only reason this particular show gets top billing is that my parents went on Sunday, and so I likely would have accompanied them, minus my gimpiness and desire to sleep in that day. (This led to a conversation between my mom and I about our ignorance that some galleries were open on Sundays, though she recalled this article, which is a few years old. Anyone know what the trend is now?)

Anyway, I’d already seen most of these artists, even these particular works, in Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Arts and Design. Like most cut paper art (of which there is quite a lot these days), it either blends into the crowd, or completely stands out and therefore is worth a second or third look. Chris Gilmour’s cardboard St. George and the Dragon is impeccably made, down to the last detail. Adam Fowler’s excised pencil scribbles (which I also saw at my friend’s gallery, Kunsthalle Galapagos in DUMBO*) are mind-blowing. The sculpted books by Guy Laramee, Doug Beube and Brian Dettmer are also intriguingly detailed.

ALIGHIERO BOETTI: GAME PLAN, MoMA, on view until October 1st

What can I say? Boetti is one of those major modern artists whose name I knew, but I had only been familiar with one particularly famous work or series–in his case, the Mappas, world maps in which each country’s shape is made from it’s own flag:

Due to his inclusion in an exhibition I was working on, I also became familiar with his interest in duality, which he expressed by renaming himself Alighiero e (and) Boetti, and creating a portrait of himself as a set of twins.

Given that this is still just a small fraction of his both conceptually and aesthetically diverse oeuvre, I look forward to seeing the show and learning much more. Doubtless I will report back when I do see it.


The Guggenheim is always sort of a destination museum, isn’t it? Going there is a big production. Since I can usually finagle my way into a museum for cheap or free, I’ll just “drop in” to the Met, MoMA or the Whitney for a show I’m curious about, but you don’t just “drop in” to the Guggenheim. I think it’s the building that does it (that and the lines out the door). Even after being there many many times, it’s hard not to experience awe when you walk into the rotunda. It’s hard not to feel like the trip up or down the ramp is its own special journey, regardless of the art on view. Therefore, my bar is higher for Guggenheim exhibitions; I can’t merely be curious about what’s on view, it takes a bit more.

So I’m not sure if these two exhibitions would get me there, but they might, at least given my lukewarm interest in what’s currently at the Met and Whitney. Rineke Dijkstra is one of those contemporary artists who comes up so often that I should know her work better than I do (for example, until I just checked, I thought she was male).

The abstraction show nominally would not have any surprises–Abstract Expressionists/New York School in America, Informel/Tachisme in Europe. Looks like a pretty canonical line-up. It would be more groundbreaking, for example, if “international” included abstraction from farther abroad than Europe, like Neo-Concretism in Brazil, or Gutai in Japan, of which the Guggenheim will be doing a big survey. But this show is based on what the museum actually collected in that period, so I’m guessing more “international” is mostly out. Nonetheless, it can be very refreshing to see these old favorites in-person, and you never know what particular works might catch you by surprise. I for one have not encountered that much European abstraction in person, and would love to get a sense of the tactility of works like this:


I’d also probably make the rounds of the Chelsea galleries, but I’m not going to go through the trouble right now of trying to sift through them all online just to tell you what I think the highlights might be. Maybe I’ll do a part 2, but hopefully by then I’ll be able to walk and see for myself.

And, oh yeah, it’s July 4th! What will I be doing? Lunch and seeing Brave with my mom (shame to be in a dark movie theater, but what else am I gonna do with a gimp foot?), baking a raspberry pie, dinner with my dad and his girlfriend, and perhaps attempting to see the fireworks while avoiding the crowds on Riverside. Happy 4th to you, readers!

*That’s “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” for the uninitiated. Or as my stepdad likes to say, “Down Under Manhattan Bridge… Oh!” It’s in Brooklyn.

P.S. I know from my analytics that there are actually some people reading this (mostly people I know, I’m sure). So my reaction is, where are the comments? To once again quote Eddie Izzard, “I’m not a priest, you may talk to me.” I really do want to hear your thoughts, questions, reactions, vehement counter-arguments, et cetera!

Reading List: On Curating

There’s been a long list of books about art, curating, and museum theory that I have been meaning to and know I should read (the should often being emphasized by my boss, my professors, or my own sense of inadequacy/laziness). Thanks to the generosity of family members and the wonders of the Amazon wishlist, I have gradually been acquiring them, but that certainly does not mean I’ve been reading them.

That is until I graduated, when I decided that I now would have the time and energy, and need the intellectual stimulation. (This was after my first post-grad freedom reading, Hunger Games, was out of the way.) It says something about my reading habits and ambitions that the first book I chose to read, On Curating, was the shortest, capping out at just over 100 pages.

It says something else about my reading skills, motivation, and habits that it took me several weeks to finish this modest volume, partially because of distraction by other fluffy reading (Game of Thrones, and, I’m woman enough to admit, Fifty Shades of Grey, which is just so badly written I can’t stand it sometimes). However, it is evident that the purpose of this blog is succeeding, in that it motivated me to finish the book (which once I sat down to do took almost no time at all) so that I could write about it.

A few points I’d like to share:

1) A lovely quote by Carolee Thea, the author/editor/interlocutor, that really sums up for me what it is that curators do (emphasis mine):

We could say they are translators, movers or creators whose material is the work of others–but in any case, the role of mediator is inescapable. While the art critic embodies the generalized gaze of the public [not sure I agree with that, but that’s a discussion for another day], the curator inversely translates the artist’s work by providing a context to enable the public’s understanding.

2) The interview with RoseLee Goldberg, the founder of PERFORMA, a performance biennial in New York, in which she discusses the ever interesting (to me, at least) and sometimes controversial topic of performance artists recreating their own performances, despite the fact that the original work may have been purposely ephemeral in order to evade the art market and art institutions. Marina Abramovic is of course the cited and most prominent example.

Goldberg’s words:

The kind of things you were describing, ephemerality and the lack of objects, were the ethos of the 70s. Everyone thought that way, and there was no art market. These things change… Artists like Baldessari or Acconci, for example, who didn’t make objects and weren’t making the money their students were, went back and made drawings of their previous works for which there was no documentation, and could now be sold. Marina is in a conversation regarding re-enactment, conservation and the nature of documentation that is focusing on performance history… It’s a history, and we must think of ways of showing this in a museum context. For Marina, becoming a museum artist was an insistence on the immaterial [emphasis in original] being as pertinent as an Yves Klein painting. Furthermore, rather than denying a piece’s original intent, a restaging positions people to rethink a work done at another time.

My notes:

difficulty of disentangling documentation/recreation as promoting historic significance, vs. nostalgic pastiche, vs. commercialism/institutionalization. acknowledgement that there’s no escaping the market. accepting its evils in order to be part of history.

In rereading Goldberg, I would amend my note regarding the evils of the art market. As she indicates, this was the attitude of the conceptual, performance and Earth artists of the 60s and 70s. We think differently today. Whatever distortions that money exerts on art (and it most certainly does, and often), artists need to make money. And I definitely think that documentation and recreation are legitimate expressions of performance art.* As someone who didn’t live through the 60s and 70s but sometimes wishes she did, I’m certainly glad that’s the case.

(I’m particularly interested in photographs of performances or of the making of artworks that become canonical in and of themselves, such as:


3) As the subtitle indicates, the theme of the book, and of the (contemporary) art world in general these days, is “international.”  Most of the curators interviewed are or have curated big international art events, such as biennials (Venice, Istanbul, etc.) and Documenta. There’s one interesting trio of interviews, starting with Okwui Enwezor, whose Documenta XI was focused on the documentary and therefore was largely political. Charles Esche, activist and curator of the 2005 Istanbul Biennial, follows, accusing Enwezor of being too finger-waggingly political, and insisting that the political moment in art has more to do with the personal, the sensuous, the ambiguous and the unstable. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, then curator of the Torino Triennial and now of Documenta (13), in turn accuses Esche of being too political, too theory-driven  and not as focused on the quality of the work. She says she does not believe in acts of resistance, nor in curatorial experimentation, which is no longer radical.

Anyway, this is all to say that the conversation taking place in the contemporary art world regarding both avant-garde art and avant-garde curatorial practice is taking place at and about these huge, international art events–which causes me to despair, as I lack the means to travel to those locations on a regular basis, if at all. I am not sure this is the part of the art world I really want to be involved in, but I lack the ability to even experience it myself and form an educated opinion. I can read about it until the jet-set art collectors come home, but that is not the same.

It is an interesting phenomenon, though, in that whatever problems these events pose in terms of economic or Western privilege (some see them as a way for the Western art world to colonize the developing world), they also start to level the playing field of a contemporary art world that has previously been Western-centric. In this volume, curators from Central America, Russia, Southeast Asia and China all point out that these events are key for maintaining/promoting a local contemporary art identity while engaging in a global dialogue, a necessity in order to be considered sufficiently cosmopolitan, relevant, and salable to an international audience.

This tactic seems to be working, in that interest in artists from the developing world is skyrocketing, particularly when their art comments on their countries’ violent or untenable political situations. I think this interest is fed by: 1) a feeling that important contemporary art must address, not ignore, the crises our world is facing, and 2) the sense that artists from other parts of the world do have something new to add (in terms of content, form and style), to a Western art world that has grown stale and repetitive. This may our best hope for a new avant-garde.

Which again leaves me despairing of my ability to become involved in that world, for as with international art events (which is where such artists tend to show and start to hit it big), I can’t do much more than read about international artists until they start getting U.S. shows.

4) A fun little tidbit to lighten the mood of this very intellectual post: Thea asks a Russian curator: “Why hold the Biennial in Moscow in the winter? Even Napoleon and Hitler couldn’t make it into Moscow in the winter.” That reminded me of this hilarious nugget of comedy gold (0:55-01:15 in particular):

*Amelia Jones sort of argues this in Body Art/Performing the Subjectthough this is somewhat an oversimplification of her argument; see especially pages 36-37.