Items to be discussed at the next biennial

Items to be discussed at the next biennial

e-flux Agenda

Amie Siegel, Double Negative, 2015. Still from two synchronized 16mm films, black-and-white, silent, 4:00 minutes on loop, with HD video, color, sound, 17:00 minutes. Image courtesy the artist and Simon Preston, New York. From Orit Gat’s review of Amie Siegel’s “The Spear in the Stone,” May 24, 2016.

June 23, 2016
Items to be discussed at the next biennial

Larger! Newer! Faster! In less than three weeks we have seen extensions of the SFMOMA and Tate Modern; openings such as the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, the 9th Berlin Biennale, and Manifesta 11; and that hardy June perennial, Art Basel. 

Such concentration should lead to an increase in quality, buoyed by higher attendance and more specialized consumers: more big shows should equal a better, more eager, and more satisfied audience. 

Yet something happened on the way out of spring. This strategy of size isn’t working, and a growing dissatisfaction with many of these large-scale events is obvious. People are questioning the current methods and agendas of biennials and large-scale exhibitions. Has the bubble popped? Is the format of the periodical group show outmoded? Could the saturation of large exhibition surveys be damaging their appeal and their quality? Has supply overtaken demand? Or is there simply a need to revise our approach? And who is “we,” anyway? The institutions that appear to be failing their public? The audiences, so prone to express their dissatisfactions? Or the market, which plays a fundamental role in determining institutional agendas and practices, and appears to be immune to criticism?

Recently on art-agenda:

Welcoming tourists and wooing collectors
In the context of San Francisco’s “openings and reopenings (which) come at a moment when the future of the Bay Area art scene seems uncertain,” Jeanne Gerrity comments on the revamped SFMOMA and the new spaces that have opened their doors in town, advising that “these new galleries and non-profits will need to engage and support local artists at the same time that they welcome tourists and woo collectors.” While from London, situating the new Tate Modern between past and future histories, and the figures of the opposite spectres of the imaginary of feminism, Ben Eastham observes how the extension of the museum “brings forward the future envisaged by the Guerrilla Girls at the expense of a past embodied in (Warhol’s) Marilyn (as) the stated aim of the extension is to accommodate the future of art by allocating greater space to performance, film, and an expanded collection; the unstated aim is to shape that future by rewriting its recent history.” From New York, Orit Gat reviews Amie Siegel’s exhibition “The Spear in the Stone,” which includes Fetish (2016), “a 10-minute video of the nighttime cleaning of the Freud Museum in London,” reflecting on how “Freud’s objects, from his couch to his collection of statuettes, stand in for his dominance over the way we think about human nature.”

Augmenting, sexing up, imitating
Reviewing the “The Present in Drag,” the 9th Berlin Biennale, Tess Edmonson comments on the parallel history of the transformation of the city of Berlin and that of this art event. Observing how “the curators have called on a familiar network of their regular interlocutors to perform familiar tasks,” Edmonson considers the Biennale’s deeds and limits. On the second analysis of Biennale, Travis Diehl observes how “many of the works in the 9th Berlin Biennale seem not to disturb their context so much as augment, sex up, imitate, and artify,” considering how “under DIS, gestures that would tip into banality or plain narcissism in another context (…) feel like profound emblems of the zeitgeist.”

Money and pontifical approaches
Ingo Niermann reviews “What People Do For Money,” the 11th edition of Manifesta, in Zurich, wondering what happened to the topic of money advertised by the title while using the occasion to reflect upon the professional figure of the artist and its relation to labor within the format of the large, migratory group exhibition. Focusing on another large periodical show, Nick Currie writes about the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, commenting on how its curator, Alejandro Aravena, “who graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and won this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize for work including his school of architecture and faculty buildings at the college, has taken a somewhat ‘pontifical’ approach in his selection of projects: the curatorial texts give the impression that the included architects are being singled out for ‘good works’ and fast-tracked to sainthood.”

Crypto-paternalistic fallacies, ghostly figures, songbirds
A visit to Jonas Staal’s “Propagandas” exhibition in Modica was the starting point for Anders Kruger to revisit his concerns about the “crypto-paternalistic fallac(ies) of art activism,” and to observe how Staal has dealt with them, finding “ways to speak convincingly about conviction, no mean feat in art.” From Paris, Mara Hoberman​ writes about Aline Szapocznikow’s body of drawings presented in the “Human landscape(s)” exhibition, considering how her “drawings of fragmented bodies and ghostly translucent figures (and her) ethereal interpretation of the figure-ground relationship” echo the artist’s biography. Further pursuing the theme of delicacy, Jonathan Griffin reviews K.r.m. Mooney’s “Oscine” exhibition in Los Angeles, made of subtle works and “several interventions around the space, most of which would be easy to miss (…) Oscine is a taxonomic term for songbirds. It is appealing to think of these artworks as small creatures perching on a given structure, transmitting their unique calls in the hope of hearing a reply.”

Sun, bread, biometrics
“Nicholas Mangan’s first solo exhibition in Mexico City is a sun worshipper’s investigation into the myriad conceptions of our star, from the theological to the technological,” writes Claudia Arozqueta about his “Ancient Lights” exhibition in Mexico City. “Fragments of visual information link Mangan’s archeological investigation of the sun—an interdisciplinary digging that interrelates materials and ideas—a circuitous journey that reminds us of the network of energies that surround us.” Also in Mexico, Kim Cordova visits Jennifer Teets​ and Lorenzo Cirrincione’s “Elusive Earths” project, “the third iteration of their ongoing ethnographic inquiry into the history of geophagic traditions” and notes how the project in “Oaxaca delves into a specificity of place that reveals tensions and the blurring between the coexisting strata of culture in Mexico: the ongoing presence of indigenous traditions, the history of colonial conquest, and the present day.” Dealing with our digital present, Cécile B Evans’ multichannel video installation, “which records a group of humans (who) collaborate on a visual project involving the construction of a new so-called person called HYPER; ‘a system that is a woman,’” is analyzed by Barbara Casavecchia, who revisits key moments in the artist’s past works to reflect on how Evans uses new technologies to question “the collective creation, social iconography, and more or less accountable biometrics of our ‘gendered selves.’”

And more, to be discussed at the next biennial.

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June 23, 2016

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