April 20, 2001


The second Berlin Biennale (www.berlinbiennale.de) finally opens today, featuring works by over fifty artists from thirty-two countries—all selected by Saskia Bos, director of De Appel Foundation in Amsterdam. Originally slated to begin last fall during the Berlin art fair, the biennial was delayed by a complex budget approval process as well as difficulties in securing locations. Works will be exhibited at the Postfuhramt and the Kunst-Werke—both venues for the first biennial in the central gallery area known as “Berlin-Mitte”—as well as further east in the city at the S-Bahn station Jannowitzbrücke and in the Treptowers along the Spree river.

Breaking with the first biennial’s focus on Berlin, Bos has chosen mostly artists from outside the city who work cross-culturally, including Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou, London-based documentary filmmaker Kutlug Ataman, and Danish collaborative art group Superflex. “I felt it was necessary to be really international—to bring artists from other continents and include works that focus on relationality, concern, and connectedness,” says Bos. Taking her cue from current artistic practices, Bos shows a preference for works that engage viewers and broaden their geopolitical views through interactive relationships (French curator and critic Nicolas Bourriaud, who coined the term “relational aesthetics,” has contributed an essay to the catalogue).

Visitors can expect what Bos describes as “small, feasible Utopias”—including Alicia Framis’s service area for women only and Surasi Kusolwong’s massage salon—as well as new works by, among others, Carlos Amorales, Fiona Banner, David Claerbout, Parastou Forouhar, Henrik Håkansson, Christian Jankowski, Andree Korpys & Markus Löffler, Little Warsaw (Bálint Havas & András Gálik), Hajnal Németh, Manuel Ocampo, Rosângela Rennó, and Fiona Tan.

Jennifer Allen

April 19, 2001


“Democracy Unrealized,” the first of five “platforms” leading up to Documenta 11 in Kassel next year (documenta.de), has been under way since March 15. Presented at the Academy of Fine Arts in the currently politically charged city of Vienna and running through April 20, the platform boasts participants as diverse as architect and curator Stefano Boeri, Alabama’s Southern Poverty Law Center director Mark Potok, philosopher Slavoj Zizek, and theorists Chantal Mouffe and Manuel De Landa. As has been previously announced, this and upcoming platforms are intended to confront the contemporary political landscape of art production, issues such as the penetration of cultural and political life by global capitalism, the recent rise of nationalism and fundamentalism, expanded notions of citizenship produced by large-scale immigration, and postcolonialism.

According to Documenta 11’s artistic director, Okwui Enwezor, the emphasis of “Democracy Unrealized” is on the potential for the revision, extension, and creative transformation of values. “It is a matter of bringing to light what liberal democracy promises but fails to deliver.” The first two weeks explored topics such as “Democracy Unrealized: Alternatives, Limits, and New Horizons” and “Democracy, Justice, Minorities, and Human Rights,” but also managed to address these broad themes in terms of the current situation in Austria. “We ended up talking a lot about local issues and the position of art in this context,” commented Documenta cocurator Carlos Basualdo. The second platform will be held in October in Berlin, but no detailed information has been released.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

April 18, 2001


The five-month-old feud between the board at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and its director, Declan McGonagle, has finally reached a denouement. The board of the museum offered to renew McGonagle’s contract, but the first and as-of-yet only director of the museum has turned them down. In a statement released by the museum, McGonagle stated, “I have considered my position in these circumstances and I have decided my future lies elsewhere.” He added that he is currently discussing a severance package with a mediator, which London’s Sunday Times estimates to be approximately £200,000. A strong supporter of Irish art, McGonagle sought an injunction against the museum last December to stop it from publicly advertising for his post after it failed to renew his contract. In his recent statement, McGonagle stated he had felt “entitled” to a new contract at the time. The failure to receive one, according to the Irish Times, had left him “flabbergasted.” The clash was widely seen as a dispute over the IMMA’s focus, with the board pushing for blockbuster exhibitions and a more international approach, in opposition to McGonagle’s edgier shows such as “From Beyond the Pale: Art and Artists at the Edge of Consensus,” which he organized at the museum in 1994. No candidates for the director’s position have been named yet.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

April 17, 2001


In the past decade, museums have grown increasingly hard put to care for their burgeoning collections of Conceptual, Minimalist, and new-media art. More often than not, these types of works are not archivally sound (even when they’re not deliberately anti-archival), and as they have overshadowed traditional forms such as painting and sculpture, they have created a miasma of curatorial issues for museums seeking to preserve them. In order to address the issue, the Guggenheim Museum recently sponsored “Preserving the Immaterial: A Conference on Variable Media,” a symposium introducing the museum's Variable Media Initiative (www.guggenheim.org/variablemedia) on March 30 and 31, 2001. The Initiative is seeking to have artists create guidelines about how their artworks might be translated into alternate mediums once their current formats become obsolete. Apparently, this is already an urgent matter for videos, which have formats that can become obsolete in a matter of years, and Internet projects, which face similar problems, sometimes in a matter of months.

Organized by senior curator John G. Hanhardt and film and media arts program assistant curator Jon Ippolito, the first session of the two-day-long conference boasted a keynote address by science-fiction writer and journalist Bruce Sterling, as well a live performance of Ken Jacobs’s film piece Bitemporal Vision: The Sea (1994). “Bitemporal Vision is a perfect example of the problems we are facing,” says Ippolito. The piece involves two reels of film that are manipulated live by Jacobs, which makes it especially resistant to media-dependent preservation. “Turning to film conservators would be missing the issue in the case of multimedia pieces like this. Works such as this one often just fall through the cracks.” The conference, however, met with some skepticism. Writing on Rhizome.org’s e-mail list, one audience member commented: “The very nature of the questionnaire instrument used is not neutral. It betrays a strong conceptual art-bias [which implies] that the art is fundamentally in the idea… This bias does the opposite of future-proofing the museum.”

The second day of the conference featured individual sessions dedicated to process-oriented art, reproducible media, and interactive media. Artists whose works were studied include Jan Dibbets, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Ken Jacobs, Robert Morris, Mark Napier, Nam June Paik, and Meg Webster.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

April 12, 2001


In recent years, Iranian contemporary art has seen a minor renaissance due to the easing of ideological restrictions by President Mohammad Khatami, a relatively progressive cleric and former minister of culture. London’s Barbican Centre is taking the opportunity to assess the situation with “Iranian Contemporary Art,” Britain’s first survey exhibition of Iranian art from the last forty years, opening April 12 and running through June 3, 2001. Many works on view are being shown outside their native country for the first time.

Organized by Rose Issa, an independent curator of contemporary arts from the Middle East and North Africa, and the Barbican’s head of exhibitions, Carol Brown, the show features over fifty works by more than twenty artists in a wide range of media, including video, photography, and installation, as well as a large selection of paintings from the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (www.ir-tmca.com). The Tehran Museum has recently played a key role in reintroducing Western art to Iran. In 2000, it mounted “Pop Art,” an exhibition that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Nevertheless, Iran’s cultural liberalization remains tenuous, as evidenced in last year’s action by duty officers at Tehran airport, who removed reproductions of sculptures by Aristide Maillol and paintings by Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin from French magazine L’Express and newspaper Le Monde, deeming them pornographic.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

April 10, 2001


Conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim’s two-story Blue Shirt sculpture has survived a special voting session by the Milwaukee county board to decide whether to terminate the $220,000 commission, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Believing it a condescending reference to the city’s blue-collar history, board members had balked at the thirty-four-by-forty-foot translucent shirt designed for a parking structure at Mitchell International Airport during a review of the proposal, which had already been accepted months before by a county arts committee and airport representatives. Other board members claimed the artwork was not integrated well into the building. But cooler heads prevailed on March 15, when supervisors voted twenty-one to four to “place on file” a resolution canceling the contract. The move allows the project to continue without either approving or rejecting the resolution. No tax dollars are involved in the project—the contract is being funded by the airlines as part of airport improvements. Oppenheim expressed amazement at the controversy. “I was surprised that the piece became the center of all this commotion, and at the public’s support.” Local newspapers received hundreds of letters criticizing the board’s intrusion and voicing support for the work. Meanwhile, a nonprofit space dedicated to local artists, Milwaukee’s Gallery 218, is taking advantage of the controversy by presenting “The Big Blue Shirt Show,” an unjuried exhibition of works sharing the title Blue Shirt and a price tag of $220,000.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

April 9, 2001


Kim Kanatani, the former director of education at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, has been appointed the new director of education at the Guggenheim Museum. The newly created chair in education has been endowed by Gail M. Engelberg, chairperson of the Education Advisory Committee and Guggenheim Foundation trustee. Kanatani, who started her new position in mid-March, is responsible for the coordination of educational efforts for the museum’s many branches. She will also oversee the expansion of educational technology and the Sackler Center for Arts Education, an 8,200-square-foot state-of-the-art media facility slated to open this fall. Kanatani also envisions the involvement of artists in her educational initiatives, and intends to make the Sackler Center a very public space, with offerings for different audiences. “I’m particularly interested in inviting artists to develop innovative programs,” says Kanatani, “It helps bridge the gap between the public and the artist.” As of yet, however, she isn’t saying who or what these projects will be.

Giovanni Garcia-Fenech