- RSS Channel Showcase 4491147
- RSS Channel Showcase 4630013
- RSS Channel Showcase 7928275
- RSS Channel Showcase 6399115
Articles on this Page
- 12/05/14--09:50: _VIDEO: 60 Works in ...
- 12/05/14--11:33: _Love Thyself: Peter...
- 12/05/14--11:40: _London
- 12/05/14--13:40: _What Lies Beneath: ...
- 12/05/14--13:54: _Miami Pinta Highlig...
- 12/05/14--14:45: _At Pinta, a Laid-Ba...
- 12/05/14--14:51: _Miami Fair Week In ...
- 12/06/14--00:05: _SLIDESHOW: Tbilisi ...
- 12/07/14--04:00: _Review: Valentin Ca...
- 12/08/14--07:54: _Blanco Calls Out Bi...
- 12/08/14--09:43: _Jack Shainman's Art...
- 12/08/14--09:45: _MTV RE:DEFINE Celeb...
- 12/08/14--10:32: _Highlights from V&A...
- 12/08/14--12:02: _Slideshow: See the ...
- 12/08/14--13:02: _The Past Is Present...
- 12/08/14--13:37: _Slideshow: "The For...
- 12/08/14--15:01: _Playing by the Rule...
- 12/08/14--19:36: _Dishes by Chef of t...
- 12/08/14--23:38: _Timepieces for The ...
- 12/09/14--07:14: _At MoMA, 17 Painter...
- 12/05/14--09:50: VIDEO: 60 Works in 60 Seconds at NADA Miami Beach
- 12/05/14--11:33: Love Thyself: Peter Marino Exhibition Inflates the Man and the Myth
- 12/05/14--11:40: London
- 12/05/14--13:40: What Lies Beneath: Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Second Game”
- 12/05/14--13:54: Miami Pinta Highlights 2014
- 12/05/14--14:45: At Pinta, a Laid-Back Vibe Paired With Serious Art
- 12/05/14--14:51: Miami Fair Week In Pictures
- 12/06/14--00:05: SLIDESHOW: Tbilisi Fashion Week 2014
- 12/07/14--04:00: Review: Valentin Carron at 303 Gallery
- 12/08/14--07:54: Blanco Calls Out Biesenbach, Picasso Stolen at Art Miami, and More
- 12/08/14--09:43: Jack Shainman's Art Basel Miami Party
- 12/08/14--09:45: MTV RE:DEFINE Celebrates Art Basel in Miami Beach
- 12/08/14--10:32: Highlights from V&A's "What is Luxury?"
- 12/08/14--12:02: Slideshow: See the Beauty of Bermuda
- 12/08/14--13:02: The Past Is Present in Göran Olsson’s “Concerning Violence”
- 12/08/14--15:01: Playing by the Rules at the Shanghai Biennale
- 12/08/14--19:36: Dishes by Chef of the Year 2015 Yannick Alléno
- 12/08/14--23:38: Timepieces for The Year of the Goat
- 12/09/14--07:14: At MoMA, 17 Painters of Our “Forever Now”
Scores of standout moments at this week's New Art Dealers Alliance fair.
MIAMI BEACH — If you desire a strong dose of unadulterated self adulation encased in a museum setting resembling an archaeological excavation of decaying hubris, the Bass Museum of Art’s current exhibition, “One Way: Peter Marino,” fills that prescription.
Rarely has this viewer seen a more vile representation of one individual’s many accomplishments — that of the architect, designer, art collector, and opera producer — who favors fetish like black leather biker togs over Armani.
The gaudy exhibition, curated by Jerome Sans and opening just in time for the festivities around Art Basel Miami Beach, is “generously funded” by Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton, with additional support from Gagosian Gallery, Almine Rech Gallery, Fundacion Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
If you haven’t already guessed, Marino has been a major client of the above named galleries, and no doubt others, in his extensive gathering of multiple works by Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Christopher Wool, Damien Hirst, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Prince, Georg Baselitz, and Anselm Kiefer, to name just a giant handful.
That list is impressive in itself, but when the works are hung like wallpaper backdrops as they are along the low-lit walls in the ramp-like entryway to the Bass’s main exhibition rooms, they pale to the collector’s un-caged ego. It would be fun to get the reaction of Richard Serra, seeing one of his black paintings on paper hung bumper to bumper to a Richard Prince joke painting.
There are also multiple depictions in various media of Marino by a number of artists including Francesco Clemente, Lee Quinones, Ronnie Cutrone, Nate Lowman, and Wim Delvoye. If that isn’t enough, many of the exhibition walls are covered, curtain-like, with black unspooled strips of videotape apparently comprised of various interviews with the great man, whose claustrophobic presence in the exhibition is chokingly ever present.
If this was a show dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci one could easily stand it, but the Florida state and city funded Bass has taken a greedy turn to temporarily housing this mincing homage to Marino. The exhibition in part brings to mind “The Art of the Motorcycle” exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 that was sponsored by BMW and caused then director Thomas Krens, a BMW riding enthusiast, much media grief.
Still, if you can cruise past some of the more ridiculous design elements of the exhibition, which includes a room or two of Marino’s prodigious output in designing luxury shops for luxury brands (Fendi, Graff, Chanel, Bulgari, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and so on) from Hong Kong and Shanghai to the Ginza and Beverly Hills, there are some swell art works to admire. That would include some 40 Robert Mapplethorpe black and white photographs of subjects ranging from cocks and orchids to studies of body builder Lisa Lyon, as well as Andy Warhol’s serial image “Avanti Cars,” from 1962.
One can also take in the leather lined walls and various Marino-designed bronze boxes and bronze commodes that show yet another side of the idiosyncratic and wildly successful designer/collector.
“One Way: Peter Marino” at the Bass Museum of Art runs through May 3.
There’s a moment in Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Second Game,” which is screening in New York on Sunday as part of the Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema program at the Film Society at Lincoln Center, when the director’s father, with whom his son is having a conversation we’re eavesdropping on, amends a series a comments he has just made regarding their home country, Romania. “Anyway, these things are past history now,” he says. “They’re not interesting to anyone.”
The father’s words provide a laugh for those viewers who are familiar with the son’s work. Porumboiu’s films, like many of those associated with the Romanian New Wave, deal with a country struggling through the aftermath of a revolution. In December 1989, riots and protests erupted in the streets and helped bring down the regime led by Nicolae Ceaușescu, ending more than four decades of Communist rule in the country (Andrei Ujică’s documentary “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu” is essential viewing on the topic). Porumboiu’s first feature film, “12:08 East of Bucharest,” deals with this moment directly — during a local television broadcast, an alcoholic school teacher and a retired old man, the only two guests the pompous talk show host can gather for his program, debate what actually happened on the night Ceaușescu fled his palace.
We never get a straight answer. But Porumboiu’s subsequent films show us the result, presenting a portrait of a country on the brink of absurdity. “Police, Adjective” (2009) is a low-key procedural thriller where the main character, questioning the case he is working on, is forced to sit there while his boss pages through a dictionary parsing the definitions of words like “conscience” and “police.” In “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism” (2013), Porumboiu turns the camera on himself, in a way, using the surrogate character of filmmaker as a self-reflexive jab at the narrative and formal conventions of the work he and his peers are making. The main character waxes poetic about his film to lure the main actress into bed, only deciding late in the process that what he’s making is a political film, and Porumboiu constructs the most constraining aesthetic structure around the action through a series of long, static compositions. Through its rigorousness the film veers towards farce, and in turn questions if narrative filmmaking is somehow not the right mode for looking at the past through the present tense.
Again, no straight answers. But it’s telling that Porumboiu would follow “When Evening Falls” with “The Second Game,” a quasi-essay film that escapes fiction altogether while developing around the filmmaker’s most constraining formal construction yet. What we see on the screen is a 25-year-old soccer game on fuzzy VHS tape between Steaua and Dinamo, two rival Romanian teams. Over the game, whose action we can barely follow because of the quality of the footage, is a conversation between Porumboiu and his father, who we learn was one of the referees of the game we’re watching. Memories of the match quickly turn to the truth that is hiding beneath the sporting event — mainly, that Porumbiou’s father had received death threats before the game, and the two teams we’re watching represent the Army and Secret Police.
What emerges is a surprisingly watchable allegory, where the blur of videotape noise and the constant stream of snow falling down on the playing field are a scrim for the corruption just on the other side of the images. The conversation between father and son unspools at a glacial pace, often with no words spoken for what seems like great lengths of time, and you’re left watching and wondering about the vast amount of people at the game and if they realized, then and now, that what was happening right in front of their eyes was partly fiction.
Through his detachment from narrative filmmaking, Porumbiou has in some ways circled back to the beginning. “The Second Game” is as direct a critique of the state of Romania as “12:08 East of Bucharest.” The filmmaker is saying the same thing, just finding new ways to communicate it.
MIAMI BEACH — After seven years in New York City, Pinta brings its eighth edition to the ever-expanding Miami Fair Week, setting down just across the street from Miami Project and down the block from Art Miami. Once again, the fair presents a showing of art from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, this time from 52 exhibitors — most of them international, with a handful of Miami galleries in the mix.
Immediately upon entering the fair’s main tent, one is struck by an onslaught of geometry — from the thin overlapping lines of Jesús Soto’s wall-mounted works in wood and plexiglass to the career-spanning single artist presentation of Carlos Rojas’s thickly blocked canvases at Bogotá’s El Museo. It’s no coincidence: The 15 galleries in the Modern section were curated by Osbel Suarez around the theme Geometric Abstraction, in an attempt to reveal some oft-overlooked participants in the movement.
Still, there are plenty of striking figurative works on view, such as Javier Abdala’s sculptural Van Gogh portrait, collaged from hewn wood and metal at Guerra Galería, and Pat Andrea’s cartoonishly surreal works on paper at Teresa Anchorena. Three dimensional pieces, too, are in no short supply — especially somewhat whimsical ones: Buenos Aires’s Dacil Art brought in giant balls of Merino wool by Teresa Pereda; Salar Galería de Arte brought some of Sonia Falcone’s pots teeming with brightly colored powders from her show at the Venice Biennale; and Cuban artist Kadir López Nieves’s Rubick’s Cube of American presidential portraits at La Acacia, though pointedly political, seems at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
Meanwhile, over in the smaller adjacent tent are the fair’s two specialty sections with six galleries apiece: Next, featuring emerging galleries curated by Sonia Becce, and Brazil Contemporary, curated by Moacir dos Anjos. The former sports two eye-catching Bogotá galleries, with spare, wiry sculpture by Adriana Salazar at LA galería across from Humberto Junca’s intricate drawings on the tops of wood schoolroom desk-chairs, which are set up in Sketch Gallery’s booth in rows, as if for a classroom of fantastically talented doodlers. And on that note, a highlight at Brazil Contemporary is Iris Helena’s delicate black ink prints on unconventional surfaces — e.g., a giant grid of Post-Its or the blistered silver backs of pharmacy pill packets.
Overall, the atmosphere of the fair is laid back, even casual. And as for the turnout? “Not too many people, but good people who want to buy some Latin American art,” said Gaby Soto of Miami’s Juan Ruiz Gallery, standing beside her booth’s wooden sculpture by Cuban artist Kcho of an upended boat bristling with numerous oars. Before this year, Soto showed for 17 years at Art Miami, and she noted the advantages of switching to the smaller, more intimate fair. “We are very happy because people who come to this show are focused on whatever we have in our booth. When someone comes inside of this show, they want to see everything we have.”
Miami Fair Week 2014 is in full swing and ARTINFO staffers are on the ground, offering up reports, videos, and dispatches from all across Miami Beach. For those who weren’t able to make it down to Florida, we’ve compiled a massive slideshow highlighting works from Art Basel Miami Beach, NADA, Pulse, Miami Project, Pinta, and Untitled. Click on the slideshow to take a virtual tour.
303 Gallery // November 6–December 20
“Music is a S-S-Serious Thing” combines industrially-produced objects with a nuanced sensuality in an effort to draw fruitful connections among capitalism, the body, and multimedia approaches to painting. On the walls are paintings made with vinyl ink on PVC tarpaulin framed only with steel tubing, while the gallery floor is populated with belts cast in glass and carefully arranged on kitschy furniture. This odd collection brims with melancholic life. From the immobilized belts that serve as humorously fragile symbols of masculinity, to the tarpaulin that paradoxically ripples and flexes like skin, Carron’s work examines longstanding discourses of the body within painting and sculpture.
In Belt on Rattan Basket (all works 2014), a belt slithers out of a basket like a snake, at once brushstroke and sculpture. The crosshatched texture of the basket stands in contrast with the smooth, painted belt. This produces a sensory disconnect reminiscent of Eva Hesse’s 1968 Accession, a steel cube interwoven with rubber tubes, or Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure), a teacup, saucer, and spoon covered in fur. Like Oppenheim and Hesse, Carron thrives on incongruous pairings; the rough interwoven material against the smooth skin of the belt engenders a tactile dissonance in the same vein as drinking from a hairy cup. Moreover, the belt is erotically charged, drenched in the possibility of loss and death. Where are the bodies to which these objects were meant to be affixed? One is reminded of Joseph Beuys’s frequent use of fat, a gruesome metonym of once-vibrant lives that have been reduced to a solidified, anonymous mass.
A similar operation can be found in Carron’s paintings on tarpaulin, which, because of the viscous, fast-drying nature of the toxic vinyl ink, retain the artist’s mark like a tattoo. Largely comprised of repurposed illustrations from books of the post-war years, these paintings marry the modern, industrial materials of steel-tube frames and tarpaulin with images that are self-consciously dated. Carron situates these historical conversations not on canvas, but rather on metallic contraptions that, as a result of their tube frames, insist on their separation from the gallery wall, begetting a feeling that these objects are in a state of becoming. They are neither transparent windows onto the world nor wholly abstract distillations of the world, two camps between which painting oscillates as a discipline. Carron condenses these themes into Cold Figure, in which patches of pigment in simple geometric shapes tentatively compose a silhouetted form. The work creates an entity that is in the process of decomposing and simultaneously reconstituting itself, echoing Carron’s investment in materials that suggest impermanence even as they fearlessly expose their fragility.
A version of this article appears in the February 2015 issue of Modern Painters magazine.
— Blanco Calls Out Biesenbach: At a Basel after-hours party for MoMA PS1, rapper and performance artist Mykki Blanco threw pieces of a Subway sandwich at Klaus Biesenbach, before getting up on a table to assert that the PS1 director “doesn’t like black people. He likes black culture,” reports Sarah Nicole Prickett for Artforum. Blanco added, “He wants to hug Mickalene Thomas, he wants to hug Kehinde Wiley. I am not your Mickalene Thomas.” Of course, as Prickett pointed out, Blanco’s “your” indictment extended even beyond Biesenbach; though protests against police brutality did take place in Miami, effectively shutting down a major highway, a piece posted anonymously on Hyperallergic by a woman who “works in a prominent art PR agency” confirmed that, at least from where she was sitting, the rage-inducing events of the past two weeks didn’t quite phase the art world. “When my co-workers don’t acknowledge Mike Brown and Eric Garner, that says to me that my life, and the lives of people who look like me, isn’t important,” she wrote. “Or at least, it’s not more important than Miley Cyrus’s latest ‘artwork.’” Biesenbach’s response Blanco, meanwhile? “That’s entertainment.” [Artforum, Hyperallergic, Artnet]
— Picasso Stolen at Art Miami: Investigations are underway to recover a silver Picasso plate worth $85,000 that disappeared from the Art Miami booth of Amsterdam’s Leslie Smith Gallery on Friday. The piece, titled “Visage aux Mains,” wasn’t even the most valuable artwork in the booth, hanging just above a Picasso ceramic worth $365,000. In further theft news, just a few days later, a man in a suit and tie walked into Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art during open hours, popped a €500,000 sculpture by Italian impressionist Medardo Rosso under his jacket, and walked out. [Miami Herald, Telegraph]
— Basel Ridiculousness Round-Up: The first week of December in Miami contains plenty of notable sales and eye-catching artworks, but it’s also a locus for interrobang-inducing anecdotes — a place that hosts “the kind of party where Larry Gagosian hangs out with Wiz Khalifa”; where it’s considered news that Leonardo DiCaprio left an afterparty with 20 (yes, 20) women in tow; where a seven-year-old is encouraged to start his own art collection; and need we even mention the vagina phone charger? For a full picture of fair week ennui (we renounce the term “fairtigue”), read M.H. Miller “documenting my nervous breakdown” over at ARTnews. [NYO, Gawker, Art in America, ARTnews]
— Greece Enraged Over Elgin Loan: Predictably, Greece was none too happy at news that a statue from the infamous Elgin Marbles would be loaned to Russia before England would consider returning them to their home country — though perhaps within the ire of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaris is some key to progress, as he pointed out that now “the last British dogma about immovability has ceased to exist.” [Guardian, BBC, LAT, WSJ]
— Galapagos Art Space Decamps for Detroit: “A white-hot real estate market is burning through the affordable cultural habitat,” said Robert Elmes, executive director of the Brooklyn space, which has been open for almost 20 years. “And it’s no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.” [NYT]
— Barbizet Plans Christie’s Restructuring: Bloomberg reports that Francois Pinault brought in new CEO Patricia Barbizet over the recently-exited Steven Murphy expressly to reevaluate the future direction of the company. [Bloomberg]
— Burmese artist U Htein Lin explains the small upside of his time as a political prisoner, during which he produced (and successfully smuggled out) 300 paintings and sculptures: “I was completely cut off from art critics and an audience. I just did what I wanted. In the cell I found freedom. It was the most important time in my art career.” [NYT]
— Clash bassist Paul Simonon is apparently a painter — and will have a show at the London ICA next month. [Independent]
— RIP Wynn Chamberlain, painter, filmmaker, author, and New York downtown fixture. [NYT]
ALSO ON ARTINFO
Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.
It was one day after a grand jury decided not to indict officers in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, who was videotaped being choked and thrown to the ground by policemen on July 17, 2014, and I was sitting across a table from the Swedish documentarian Göran Hugo Olsson, talking about his new film, the remarkably prescient “Concerning Violence.” Based on Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary text “The Wretched of the Earth,” published and just as quickly banned in France in 1961 (the first English translation arrived via Grove Press in 1963), the film brings the writer’s anti-colonialist plea to the masses through a rich collage of archival footage and a bold, provocative clash of text and disciplined voiceover.
When I asked if he sees his film having a place in the debates currently happening around structural violence in the wake of Ferguson and Eric Garner, Olsson lit up. “Of course there is resonance today,” he said. “I wouldn’t do the film if I didn’t think so.” He said he was at the protests the night before and reached for his cell phone, showing me images he took of crowds swarming through midtown Manhattan streets and cramming into the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal. “Police brutality in America is absolutely total Fanon dynamics,” he said.
Aside from its contemporary relevance, “Concerning Violence” can also be seen as a continuation of the work Olsson began with “Black Power Mixtape” (2011), which traced the story of the black liberation movements happening in the United States in the late ’60s and early ’70s through the lens of Swedish journalists, whose footage of prevalent figures such as Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis was collecting dust in the vaults of the Swedish Broadcast Corporation before being discovered by the filmmaker and reconstructed into a stirring narrative.
Olsson’s interest in revolutionary histories stems from his childhood memories of the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976, when a protest led by black high school students against the mandatory teaching of Afrikaans, the language of South African whites, in schools was met with violence by the local police. According to some reports, hundreds of school children were killed. “As kids we were totally terrified by this fact,” he said, and remembers collecting money for the African National Congress, which won the country’s first democratic election in 1994 led by Nelson Mandela, with his classmates.
This early social consciousness was filtered through the punk era, which fused a connection between culture and politics. In the ’80s Olsson was influenced by a wave of politically engaged films that embraced documentary and essay forms, produced by groups such as the Black Audio Film Collective, and filmmakers such as Isaac Julian and Derek Jarman. But that influence only extends so far. “What happened in the last 20 years of documentary filmmaking is that a lot of people — artists, photographers, writers — moved into the field of documentary and really enriched our work,” he said. “But it’s really hard to be a documentary filmmaker and become an artist. I’m not an artist; I’m a documentary filmmaker. It doesn’t even matter if I make films or not. Documentary films are not a genre but a method, a process.”
After the relative success of “Black Power Mixtape,” Olsson was receiving offers from producers in Los Angeles and was hesitant to make another film constructed around archival footage. But then an editor at a publishing house in Stockholm gave him a copy of “The Wretched of the Earth.” Sitting down at a coffee shop, he read the first chapter and was blown away, deciding quickly that this would be in some way his next project. He went through various methods of translating the text on screen —Maybe it needs contemporary images to make the connection between Fanon’s words and what’s happening now more concrete? — before discovering a treasure trove of archival footage in the archives of the Swedish Broadcast Corporation capturing anti-imperialist struggles, once again collecting dust, that was too remarkable not to use.
“I didn’t want [the film] to feel old so I only used the youngest material, which was color, good resolution, sound, and so on,” he said. We visit the liberation movements in Mozambique and Angola, watch an inspiring interview with the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, who was assassinated not long after the footage was shot, and bear witness to startling images of violence, especially against women, that verge on the grotesque. While feeling that the images of extreme violence were important to include in the film, Olsson was worried about their effect on the viewer.
A solution came via a problem with the book itself. The introduction to “The Wretched of the Earth,” written by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, a supporter of Fanon and anti-colonialism in general, has long been criticized for misreading the original argument of the book. (Fanon’s wife reportedly later attempted to have the introduction removed because of Sartre’s support of Zionism, but publishers still include it today because it apparently helps the book sell more copies.) In translating Fanon’s work to the screen, Olsson arrived at a formal structure not unlike that of a book, with individual chapters and bold text that unfolds across the frame. Within this formula, he arrived at the idea of having a preface to the film, and reached out to Gayatri Spivak, a professor at Columbia University and one of the best-known postcolonial thinkers.
The film opens with Spivak, sitting in her office surrounded by stacks of books that tower over her, reading a prepared statement that highlights contradictions not just in Fanon’s writing but in the film itself. It’s a bold and provocative move for a film to announce its faults up front and center, but one that Olsson felt was necessary. “I think she’s the magic key that opens the door for the film,” he said. “She connects the ideas not only to today, but also to gender and the future.”
Spivak’s response to the overwhelming maleness of the book led Olsson to seek out more female voices for the film. When searching for somebody to do the voiceover narration of specific chunks of Fanon’s texts, he landed on the singer Lauryn Hill. “She has magic around words,” he said, and was happy to find out that she was currently reading Fanon, and was eager to collaborate on the project. The only problem was that she was in prison, serving three months from July to October 2013 for tax evasion. When she was released, it was too late to do the music, but she went into a recording studio three days after leaving jail to record the audio you hear in the film, which bristles with authority and anger.
Since “Concerning Violence” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014, Olsson said some of the most enthusiastic responses have been from teachers, who commonly ask him about how they can show his film to students. He hopes that the film will have a life as a useful tool for people attempting to understand Fanon’s writings on the mechanics of structural violence. “I think it’s time for us to really think this through,” Olsson said, pausing to take a deep breath. “If we had listened to this guy 50 years ago, we wouldn’t have all these eruptions.”
To explain the work of the fictional artist at the Shanghai Biennale, the real artist, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, printed a newspaper, which includes a fake press release and interview. The texts make clear that the invented Robbie Williams — “the artist, not the singer,” Haghighian likes to quip — outsources his generic contemporary art from a Berlin art production company. The stacked television screens, horse jumping sound installation, and readymade hurdle sculptures are all on display in Shanghai.
Before the opening, however, Haghighian, who was born in Iran and lives in Berlin, discovered a problem. The English to Chinese translation in the newspapers was gibberish, garbled by a graphic designer in Beijing. On the cover, “solo show” was mysteriously translated into “the beginning of a new world.” Haghighian discarded the 6,000 misprints and whipped up 100 corrected papers for the opening night.
Hosting the 10th Shanghai Biennale, the Power Station of Art is the only state-run museum for contemporary art in in China. As with Haghighian’s newspaper, elements of artistic expression at the Biennale were altered in translation to the government-sanctioned show.
Chief curator Anselm Franke said the 2,000-year history of Chinese bureaucracy, in fact, inspired the concepts behind the Biennale’s theme, “Social Factory.” While curating the Taipei Biennale in 2012, he visited the extensive archives of the imperial dynasties at the Palace Museum, where he was captivated by the nation’s long history of social fabrication.
But as an organizer of this 70-artist show, Franke attempted to evade Chinese codes. “Being an outsider, you can sometimes disregard the rules and hierarchies out of your own ignorance,” said Franke, who is the head of visual art and film at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.
Some protocols, however, were inescapable.
As of the Biennale’s opening day, November 23, works from Taiwan were delayed at customs, as any cultural product originating in Taiwan or Hong Kong is automatically sent to Beijing to be inspected by the Ministry of Culture. And though there is no longer a committee presenting curators with government-approved artists, the Ministry lightly edited this year’s selection of artists and wall texts. Early on, Hong Kong-based artist Pak Sheung Chuen and Guangzhou-based artist Song Ta were blacklisted. There were no formal reasons given for their exclusion.
“The relationship between the government and us [the Power Station of Art] shouldn’t concern average people,” said a high-positioned administrator at the Power Station, who asked not to be named. “Art should be checked in every country,” he added.
The Ministry’s sensitivity may have been heightened because of the recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen was originally going to show his film “The Nameless,” which features found footage of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, a famous Hong Kong actor who voiced his support for the non-violent protests in October. Ho was uncertain if the film would survive the Ministry’s scrutiny — along with Leung’s appearances, the work, inspired by real events, centers around the Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party, a triple agent responsible for the fall of the Left in Malaya. Regardless, the artist and curator submitted the work, not wanting to police themselves.
“Maybe Anselm [Franke] and I are both just really optimistic people,” Ho said. When the Ministry banned the film from the exhibition, Ho was undaunted. “I think it is important we speak the facts, just as I think it is important we don’t make a big fuss over it, since we all accepted the rules of the game.”
Mainland artists themselves have become protean navigators of their political milieu. Zhao Liang, for instance, is best known for his bold documentary “Petition” (2009), which follows migrants for 12 years as they attempt to appeal to a dismissive Communist Party in Beijing. The film was banned in China and the government harassed the artist. And yet, two years later, Zhao collaborated with the Ministry of Health on projects about HIV and AIDS. Today, Zhao is showing the film “Black Face, White Face” (2014) at the Biennale, which presents an intimate look into the worn faces of a coal miner and a limestone factory worker.
Before the Biennale opening, the Ministry requested that another Chinese artist, Liu Ding, unplug a telephone line in his installation “1999.” The government officials believed that the story recorded on the phone line about the Chinese art world cast the Biennale in a negative light.
“I did not have any anticipation or assumption before hand, but when things like this happen, I am prepared to face it and deal with it,” Liu said. Since the censorship, Liu has been working with the Power Station to correct the Ministry’s misunderstanding — the speaker is talking about biennials in the 1990s, not the current Biennale at the Power Station.
Zhao Tao’s painting depicting cannibalism was also removed the day before the opening; presumably, the censors found it macabre.
The purging, however, did not rattle the Biennale’s pragmatic curatorial team. “Censorship is part of the established system here,” said Hong Kong-based co-curator Cosmin Costinas. “That doesn’t necessarily make it acceptable, but it is very difficult to be self-righteous about it.”
Overall, the works chosen by the international curators for the Biennale are tactical. In the late 1980s through the 2000s, underground, overtly provocative art ran rampant in China. After that, the expanding market became the dominant force, and a distrustful attitude towards art developed among those watching the soaring prices. Franke expressed fear that such cynicism would be tapped to help support neo-traditional, right-leaning politics in the future.
“At the moment, I don’t think that cynicism is very productive,” Franke said. “I try to upset mechanisms that produce false alternatives, such as the false alternative between traditional social order and libertarian chaos. But, of course, we can only do minor things in framing discourses.”
In recent months, the Communist Party has been tightening its arts policies. In October, Xinhua news reported that China’s president, Xi Jinping, told a group of performers and writers: “Fine art works should be like sunshine from blue sky and breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste, and clean up undesirable work styles.” This week, the Party announced that it will instate a program sending artists to the countryside to develop a “correct view on art,” a chilling throwback to the Cultural Revolution.
As for Haghighian’s fictional artist Robbie Williams, his hilariously vanilla art did not attract the Ministry’s attention.
At the VIP dinner, a fellow artist expressed his regrets to Haghighian that Robbie Williams himself couldn’t make it to the opening ceremonies. On stage, a few Biennale officials gave opening speeches. The victorious NBA theme song, “Roundball Rock” by John Tesh, boomed during the interludes. Waiters placed the soup course on the rows of white-clothed tables, served in two-tiered bowls with tea candles lighting the lower level. The Power Station committee stood to be applauded, and an ecstatic lightshow erupted across the dim, blue-lit room.
“He would have loved this,” Haghighian replied.
The Shanghai Biennale runs through March 31, 2015.
What sets so-called atemporal painting apart from painting that might be less kindly characterized as derivative or regurgitative? In her catalog essay for “The Forever Now,” a 17-artist exhibition which opens at the Museum of Modern Art on December 14, curator Laura Hoptman traces the definition of atemporality to sci-fi novelist William Gibson, for whom the term captures “a new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once.” While some might lump such a phenomena under the larger banner of postmodernism, Hoptman does not. “Unlike past periods of revivalism, such as the appropriationist eighties, this super-charged art historicism is neither critical nor ironic; it’s not even nostalgic. It is closest to a connoisseurship of boundless information, a picking and choosing of elements of the past to resolve a problem or a task at hand.”
But whether we call work like this referential, or appropriationist, or postmodern, or atemporal, it’s hard not to feel slightly deflated by the contours of “Forever Now,” which comes off seeming a bit safe overall. Outside the main exhibition space, a series of large-scale oil-on-paper works by Kerstin Bratsch are hung, with six of them framed and stacked next to the entryway as if they’ve been casually placed in a storage room. A similarly cheeky presentation is apparent in Oscar Murillo’s corner of the show, which includes a series of his signature derivative — I mean, atemporal — canvases along with a number of unstretched, finished paintings thrown on the floor, which gallery visitors are asked to rifle through, touch, Instagram, perhaps roll around in. An explanatory label notes that these unstretched works are “indistinguishable from the ones on the wall in terms of quality,” to which I have little to add.
The so-called deskilling of painting has its moment here, too, from Joe Bradley’s grease pencil scrawls of numbers, stick figures, and lines on dirty, creased canvas to Josh Smith’s willfully amateur palm trees, monochromes, and insects. Dianna Molzan represents the revived interest in a Supports/Surfaces-esque drive to peel back the picture plane to reveal what lies beneath. Laura Owens and Michael Williams both experiment with digital imagery and silkscreen or inkjet-on-canvas techniques, combined with the application of actual paint. Julie Mehretu’s 2014 paintings look like Cy Twombly works redone by Christopher Wool. Mary Weatherford’s are fairly unspectacular abstract works jazzed up with thin, colorful neon tubes. Elsewhere we have eccentric portraits from Nicole Eisenman; compositions wobbling on the abstract/figurative divide by Charline von Heyl and Amy Sillman; a trio of vibrant abstracts by Mark Grotjahn; Rashid Johnson’s Ab-Ex energy cut into black soap and wax; Richard Aldridge’s off-handed casualness, which includes wood slats jutting out of the canvas, as well as an abstract that he says is equally inspired by Kanye West and Franz Kline; Matt Connors’s “Variable Foot,” 2014, three primary-colored canvas rectangles that lean against the wall like oversized, very imperfect John McCracken planks.
I like almost all of these artists quite a bit, with various exceptions, so I’m still not quite sure why my takeaway from “Forever Now” is one of odd disengagement. Seen together, the paintings in this exhibition evince a kind of tired radicalism, and maybe that’s the point: Here we are, floating in the atemporal ether, where there’s no such thing as a truly radical gesture left. Hoptman’s essay-manifesto makes a determined effort to position atemporal painting as a unique condition: one that subverts the “great-ladder-like narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent upon the idea of the new superseding the old in a movement simultaneously forward and upward.” Atemporal artists are operating in a sea of plenty, high on the “infinite possibilities of reevaluation, remixing, and retrofitting.” It’s a rousing call to arms, but I can’t help but feel that this particular exhibition fails to live up to the level of that rhetoric.