“Exhibiting Experiments,” the first session of “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” comprised two graduate students and a fresh PhD recipient and was moderated by Grant Johnson, a doctoral student in art history at the Graduate Center. Each speaker presented research on a single case study: unrealized projects by the Swiss curator Harald Szeemann and two group exhibitions from the 1960s, Dylaby at the Stedelijk Museum and Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Boris Groys presented a keynote address called “The Museum as Gesamkunstwerk” to kick off a daylong conference, “Exhibit A: Authorship on Display,” that explored historical and contemporary approaches to organizing exhibitions. His accent made it difficult for me to concentrate, and he repeatedly chuckled at what seemed like minor disciplinary quibbles between he and other theorists. He relayed that, according to the nineteenth-century composer Richard Wagner, “the artist of the future must be radically indifferent” and boldly claimed that “dictatorship is a curatorial project” and documentation of it supplies nostalgia for the ephemeral event.
“People have lost faith in traditional democracy,” said the Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe. “They have a vote but not a voice.” But rather than call for revolution during her talk at Columbia University, she emphasized the need for better, more inclusive representation within institutions of power, such as when which leaders “come to power through election in order to implement a set of radical reforms.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about biennials,” mused the artist Michelle Grabner, seemingly without irony. No kidding—she’s one of three curators of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which opened to the public on the day of this panel, held at the Armory Show. “Here and Now: Biennials in the Twenty-First Century,” moderated by the curator and scholar Lynne Cooke, assessed not so much the current state of biennials—of which the Whitney’s signature exhibition is a leading example—but rather demonstrated how she and two other panelists have shaken off what some call “biennial fatigue” to reinvent the form and scope of these large-scale, super-hyped exhibitions that take place around the world every two, three, or more years.
The question “How the Market Gives Form to Art” is one I ask not at all cynically. I think it’s the question of the ’80s and a difficult one to answer. My premise is that the drastic change in the art market over the last twenty years has effected a change in the condition of the artist as modernism defined it, that is, as outsider. The artist’s life is still difficult, the speculative nature of his or her work remains the same, generating insecurity and so providing a continuum with earlier times. However, today, opportunities are far more numerous than they were two decades ago and this seems to have reduced the artist’s identification with the marginal.
If a bomb had dropped on the building at 1 East 78th Street in Manhattan, the world of modern and contemporary art history would have lost its most respected and erudite scholars. KIDDING! A bomb wouldn’t even have been necessary, as the speakers and audience members who gathered for a workshop called “Is Contemporary Art History” are perfectly capable of imploding on their own.
A recent talk by the Brooklyn-based critic Naomi Fry was as wide ranging—one could even say scattered—as both her interests and her curriculum vitae. “I always have to remind myself that I’m a writer,” she said, reflecting on her roles as a teacher of writing at the Rhode Island School of Design and New York University and also as a copy editor for the New York Times.
Drop “identity politics” into any art-world conversation now and you’re likely to get an eye roll—“so unfashionable.” This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, a time when the art museum—whether showing controversial photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe or hosting the contentious 1993 Whitney Biennial—was a primary battleground.
When Tim Gunn was writing his first book, the designer Diane von Furstenberg told him to never lose his voice as an educator. Gunn, a fashion consultant and the cohost of the television program Project Runway, had been struggling with the assignment of writing a self-help, makeover-oriented book instead of a history of fashion, which he originally wanted to do. He hated dressing books and body types. Gunn must have taken the advice he often gives to others—trust your gut and your instincts and know who you are—and he pulled through. In other words, he made it work.
Anticipating yet another version of the standard critic’s disclaimer, “We have no power and no one reads us, anyway,” I found the New School’s auditorium overflowing with an expectant audience, which, as Barbara Rose put it, did not look “as if they were about to ask the usual 1960s question, ‘How do I make it?’” Did this imply that the audience looked successful? Secure? Sophisticated? Shrewd? Savvy? I did see a lot of familiar faces.