Covert Operations

Covert Operations

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA)

Taryn Simon, Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, Cherenkov Radiation, Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern Washington State, 2005/2007. From the series “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” 2007.*

October 5, 2014

Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns
September 28, 2014–January 11, 2015

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art 
7374 E 2nd St
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
—U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
In the decade following the tragedies of September 11, 2001, contemporary artists such as Ahmed Basiony, Thomas Demand, Harun Farocki, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen and Taryn Simon urgently pursued the complicated intersection of freedom, security, secrecy, power and violence. Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns is the first major survey of a generation of artists working to collect and reveal previously unreported information. They use legal procedures as well as traditional research methods and resources such as the Freedom of Information Act, government archives, field research and insider connections.
The 35 artworks featured employ the tools of democracy to reflect attacks on liberty and to embrace democratic ideals, open government and civil rights. Curator of Contemporary Art Claire C. Carter explained, “While researching, I found many earnest viewpoints rooted in the principles of free speech. The artworks strive toward truthfulness by presenting documentation of power structures concealed just below the surface of our daily lives—visual proof of black military operations and CIA activities, as well as copies of government memos and forged passports.”
Covert Operations presents works that directly address the complicity of both governmental and individual actors in human rights violations. Others pry into the hidden structures of the United States intelligence community. Some artists attest to personal discrimination in the name of national security. Subjects range from classified surveillance to terrorist profiling, narcotics trafficking to ghost detainees, nuclear weapons to drone strikes. 
Covert Operations demonstrates that visual art can be a platform for pursuing the complex state of our world. SMoCA’s Director Dr. Timothy R. Rodgers summarized, “Seeing with our own eyes the daily covert operations undertaken for security allows all to judge the effectiveness, legitimacy and reasonableness of these tactics. Visual art both bears witness and allows for individual interpretation; therefore, it is the perfect means to investigate the unknown.”
Ahmed Basiony, Thomas Demand, Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0, Hasan Elahi, Harun Farocki, David Gurman, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen, Jenny Perlin, Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan, Taryn Simon, David Taylor, andKerry Tribe 

Publication:  Designed and published by Radius Books featuring essays by SMoCA Curator Claire C. Carter and Sandra S. Phillips, Curator of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dana Priest. The book is available internationally courtesy of D.A.P.
Covert Operations is organized by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). Curated by SMoCA Curator of Contemporary Art Claire C. Carter.
Covert Operations is made possible by an Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award. The Exhibition Award program was founded in 1998 to honor Emily Hall Tremaine. It rewards innovation and experimentation among curators by supporting thematic exhibitions that challenge audiences and expand the boundaries of contemporary art. Additional support for the exhibition catalogue generously provided by Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation.
The nonprofit Scottsdale Cultural Council is contracted by the City of Scottsdale to manage the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and Scottsdale Public Art.

*Image: Taryn Simon, Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, Cherenkov Radiation, Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern Washington State, 2005/2007. From the series “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” 2007. Chromogenic print, 37 1/4 x 44 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. © Taryn Simon.

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October 5, 2014

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