International News Digest

JUNE 5

As the newest edition of the Berlin Biennale opens, curator Juan Gaitán sat down for an interview with Matthias Hanselmann of Deutschlandradio Kultur. Describing Gaitán as “a tall man with black curly hair and impressive beard who takes his job seriously but also loves to laugh,” Hanselmann credited the curator with pulling off a coup of sorts—by bringing much of the biennale to Berlin’s outskirts, using venues such as the Ethnological Museum in Dahlem and the Haus am Waldsee in Zehlendorf. “I deliberately asked the individual artists to not show works that would be integrated within the context of existing collections.” said Gaitán. “We wanted to question what is a museum, what do we do from a museum, and what should a museum actually be?” He said that in his opinion, city planners tended to concentrate art in the city center, in particular because of what art symbolizes. “I really wanted to call into question this ‘addiction,’” he said.

Another biennial's organizers gave a high-profile interview in the German press: Der Spiegel spoke with Kaspar König (this year’s Manifesta director) and coorganizer Mikhail Piotrowski. Following the calls to cancel Manifesta in light of Russia’s Crimea crisis and human-rights abuses, Der Spiegel asked the two men, “People from the art world have been calling for Manifesta’s cancellation; some artists have dropped out. How do you deal with it?” Replied Piotrowski, “Recent events show precisely how important the exhibition is. Culture is our bridge . . . between Russia and Europe. When other bridges waver . . . it’s even more important that this bridge remains functional. We, as creators of culture, have to keep our bridges free from political influence.” Der Spiegel also said, “The West expects at best an exhibition that’s a statement on Russian politics,” to which Konig replied, “To believe that the exhibition could make such a contribution, is presumptuous and naďve. The situation is, of course, precarious; the course is unfortunate. Yet, the thing you’ll find everywhere, on every written page is this consumerist attitude of being right. This exhibition makes the effort not to be an alibi for something else; it shall stand for itself.”

“French contemporary art hardly exists on the international scene,” lamented critic Anne de Coninck in the French edition of Salon. “New York, De Coninck noted that three French artists—Camille Henrot, Laure Provost, and Pauline Curnier Jardin—recently found international renown, but only after they moved to New York, London, and Berlin respectively. De Coninck specifically criticized French policy—the country imposes a 10 percent VAT rate on the sale of French artists’ works, while foreign artists are only taxed at 5.5 percent—saying “the state does not believe in French artists.” However, de Coninck did take time to praise public art institutions like the Fonds national d'art contemporain and Fonds régionaux d'art contemporain, both of which are about to celebrate their thirtieth anniversaries. “They are true bureaucratic ‘machines’ in the service of the arts,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, the Guggenheim has issued a call for submissions to an architectural competition, the winner of which will design the Guggenheim’s next museum in Helsinki. The jury, headed by Mark Wigley, dean of the graduate school of architecture at Columbia University, will choose finalists in November and a winner by June of 2015. According to the Helsingin Sanomat , while Finnish architectural firms expected to submit bids, some were taken aback by the tight schedule of the competition. “The schedule was a bit of a surprise. It's good that the competition is held in two stages, although even if the requirements for the first stage are not too heavy, the plan must be ready,” said architect Asmo Jaaksi, a partner at JKMM Architects, which will participate in the competition.