May 27, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Régine Debatty in Europe and Beyond

It was artist Anaisa Franco who told me about Régine Debatty's blog with the provoking name we-make-money-not-art. Anaisa works with new technology and Régine exactly covers that niche where art and technology meets. So far Régine's blog is the oldest one in this series of art bloggers worldwide - starting as early as 2004. Since then Régine has gained quite a reputation as an art blogger, giving lectures and workshops worldwide, and as such she played a very important role in turning art blogging into a form of art writing that can be taken seriously. Besides that, she also opens up a rather unfamiliar world to me, one where designers, hackers and artists meet.

How would you define your local (national) art scene? 

I am not linked to any local or national scene. I do cover a lot of art events taking place in Europe though. I write mostly about art, science/technology and social issues. So that topic would define my scene.

Are certain trends happening at the moment in your art scene?

I wouldn't talk so much about trends. However, since i work a lot with art that attempts to discuss social or political issues and with art that uses technology in a critical way, i could say that the artworks  i write about often respond to what makes the headlines (or what should make the headlines.) So right now, there is a lot of works and discussions about drones, immigration, mass surveillance, finance, democracy, climate change, genetics, etc.

When did you start the blog and why?

I started the blog in March 2004. I met an artist working with technology. This meeting of two fields -which i had so far assumed were worlds apart- was entirely new to me so i started looking online for similar artworks, experiences and ideas that creatively engaged with technology. I archived my findings in a blog. It was a sort of personal, messy space and i never suspected anyone would want to read it. I had a proper job and at the time and never thought one could make a career of blogging.

What do you like about blogging?

2 words: no boss.
I enjoy the fact that i only write about works and issues i care about. There's no editorial line i need to respect, no advertisers who have the power to influence my content and actions. I also love discovering, meeting new people and learning. Especially learning. Writing a blog has opened up so many doors for me, both professionally and intellectually.

How does art writing benefit from blogging?

ooh! I think an art dealer, an artist or an art critic who writes for magazines would have a more meaningful answer to that question. I'm always afraid of sounding pretentious and self-centered. So i'm going to answer as a person who loves art. I love art blogs because many of them cover exhibitions and cultural events that might not necessarily get picked up by the mainstream art press (if there's such a thing as a 'mainstream' art press), or because blogs cover art in a way that is more personable. 

Are you connected with other bloggers?

Not much. There are some who became friends like Lucie from Happy Famous Artists, Alessandro Ludovico from Neural (which is actually a magazine, not a blog) or Filip Visnic from Creative Appplications.

What is your expertise?

I don't really like to define myself as an expert in anything because i feel that i'm constantly learning (thus filling in vast pools of ignorance.) However, i think that by now i know a great deal about what artists are doing with science and technology and also about how they approach certain political issues. I've been writing about these topics for 11 years now, i've attended conferences, participated to workshops and seminars, done radio shows, interviewed artists, activists and hackers, read books and visited many studios. So that's the kind of area i'm comfortable talking about.

From which field do you come?

I studied Classics at university (Latin and Ancient Greek) and then went on to work in media, mostly radio and tv, in various European countries.

What do you do besides blogging, and does that add to your perspective on art?

Ideally i wouldn't do anything apart from blogging but because i need to make a living i also write for museum catalogues and give workshops and lectures. These are experiences that enable me to stop and take time to reflect with more depth on a certain practice or subject but also to meet and discuss with people i would otherwise not have had the chance to meet.

Do you monetize your blog directly or indirectly (lectures, writing, etc.)? Or does it bring value in some way?

I really appreciate that when you sent me these questions, you also wrote that i was free to ignore this one if i found it too intrusive.

I've always been uncomfortable with this kind of question because one would never ask a journalist, carpenter or teacher about their earnings, but for some reason, there's no such taboo when it comes to bloggers. People i've never met before come to me and ask bluntly : "how much money do you make?" "how do you make money?" these are obviously very valid questions but i wonder if i'll ever get used to them. I have some banners on the blog. Some are paid, some i give away for free to people whose work deserve to get a bit more exposure but can't always afford it. But, as i wrote above, most of my earnings come from writing, lecturing or curating activities.

With that said, i'm going to second what of your previous interviewee said: if i wanted to make money i wouldn't write about art. I think i'd write about sex, design or gadgets. 

May 26, 2015

Guest Writer Claudio Cravero, Venice Biennale II: "All Look The Same"

Claudio Cravero, curator at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, started as a guest writer on this blog with a contribution about the Icelandic Pavilion. Today he's looking more extensively at the representation of The Middle East in the ongoing Venice Biennale. And he does so with an in depth view: 

Adel Abidil, “I'm sorry”, 2008, light box installation within the Iranian Pavilion

A more focused view at the Venice Biennale may be addressed to geographical areas, which through propinquity and similarities are very often muddled and mixed up with one another. Since we live in a globalized world, to adopt this particular angle might also represent a justification of the still existing National Pavilions within the Biennale. And this is applicable especially to those emerging countries that wouldn’t have an international visibility otherwise. Especially when they claim a space to speak out with their artists’ voice in order to be recognized worldwide.

But what are we talking about when we talk about The Middle East? While nowadays the boundaries are described with acronyms, such as MENA (Middle East+North Africa) or MENASA (when extended to Southern Asia) and this could be a never-ending list depending on the presence of Turkey and yet of Azerbaijan, among others, it seems that all those geo-definitions are led by some unknown process of cultural and political inclusion or exclusion.

Looking at the on-going Venice Biennale, it is a matter of fact that many Middle Eastern countries are missing. While the Arabian Peninsula is only featured by the most liberal and trendy UAE (The United Arab Emirates that count the glitzy Dubai, the cultural-oriented Sharjah and Abu Dhabi), the rest of this wide and indescribable land is limited to the presences of Iraq, Iran, Syria and – moving towards the Maghreb - of Egypt. So, what happened to more democratic Bahrain? And what to Saudi Arabia that had its first National Pavilion in 2011? Yet to Qatar, Lebanon or Morocco that seem to be proud in different ways of their westernized art network?

Nonetheless their religion differ according to a series of historical interpretations and approaches, and their political systems result almost obscure from a western viewpoint, these countries are often gathered together by the same language: Arabic. So, needless to say that although they look the same, in the end they are not. However, Algerian artist Kader Attia always tries to answer back that “since we are all different, then we are the same.”

Setting aside the matter of similarity and differentiation, a first reflection on these Middle Eastern presences in Venice leads to who has been engaged behind the artworks on display. Who are the commissioners and the curators? With the exception of The UAE, with a local curator born and based in Sharjah, the other pavilions have been curated by foreigner curators. It may sound even as a paradox that a non-local curator is named as the best choice  to draw the content for a foreign pavilion. And it is generally a curator coming from a Western country to curate an Eastern one, and not vice versa. The first risk of that way of curating is a westernized disguise of extraterritorial art scenes. 

Secondly, it may result in an overemphasized orientalism that glorifies local and anthropological aspects, ignoring that universality belonging to art in being borderless and able to speak to anyone. Yet it is interesting to notice how curatorial positions change from time to time in this Biennial backdrop. Switching from being a storyteller to a mere observer, from acting as a creative art historian to an interpreter or a translator, this broad array of cultural perspectives also questions today’s role for a curator. But in none of those “Middle Eastern cases”, the curator has acted as a visionary and forward-looking scriptwriter of tangible and possible stories.

Egyptian Pavilion, exhibition view “Can You See?”,
Giardini, La Biennale di Venezia

Without taking into account the quality of the Egyptian presence at the Biennale, since the questionable nature of this pavilion is due to the non-curatorial vision of some non-curator politician involved in the selection of what, in the end, is a factitious interactive project around the meaning of peace, the other pavilion located next to Enwezor’s exhibition is UAE.
In a 250 square-metre portion of the Arsenal, curator Sheikka Hoor Al-Qasimi, namely the Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, decided to rebuild the young art history of The United Arab Emirates. Freestanding modular showcases, alcoves and mobile walls are covered with a hundred works by fifteen artists. Though the show is a time-specific exhibition, the works are not hung chronologically since the show has been conceived as a visual archive. Paintings and objects are thus juxtaposed in an eclectic way in order to let the visitor wander around the space. Besides some talented artists (Najat Makki, Abdulraheem Salim, and Abdul Qader Al-Rais), the exhibition visibly reveals the strong and earnest attempt to balance their local traditions with what has been considered artistically hip over the last four decades elsewhere.

UAE Pavilion, exhibition view “1980 - Today”, Arsenal, La Biennale di Venezia
Italian curator Duccio Trombadori represents the Syrian Pavilion located in San Servolo Island. The exhibition “Origins Of Civilization” aimed at bringing together international and local Syrian artists (the foreigners are mostly Italians, one Chinese and one Albanian), to tell about a global synchronicity among countries. Whilst the show invites to stop taking things for granted when we think about Syria, the exhibition doesn’t redeem the stereotypes. Very often a good dose of superficiality resonates in the exhibiting space, and there is no need to remark that exoticism is king in here.

Iraqi Pavilion, exhibition view “Invisible Beauty”, Cà Dondolo, San Polo, Venezia

Heading toward an historic palace facing the Grand Canal, Artistic Director of the SMAK Museum in Ghent, Philipp Van Cauteren, is the storyteller of the Iraqi Pavilion. “Invisible Beauty” is the title of the exhibition. While stating that beauty is invisible, one may wonder whether this refers to art in conflict zones and areas riddled with war (then where art is hard to find), or if beauty is still a way we look at art. Then the show strives to make visible something that is underneath, something that can represent the art to survival, about record keeping and psychotherapy (led in primary schools while children are used to drawing). Also a ubiquitous Ai Weiwei took part in the project. He contributed to a publication selecting drawings made by refugees in Iraq.
In the space there is a predominance of black and white works on display, event though they are sunken in the harrowing contrast between the luxurious building and the content of the images. Everything around seems to be too aesthetically correct (i.e. vintage Hantarex screens to project videos) compared to the Iraqi current political and civil condition. But this stalemate atmosphere is almost unlocked by a series of voices off broadcast in one of the rooms. It is the artists’ statement that tells the day-to-day world of artists living in Iraq, showing that there is more to give to existence than what is presented in the news. Therefore, directly from their studios, artists speak loud about their hopes claiming art as a catalyst for change.

Akam Shek, “Untitled", 2014-2015, Black-and-white digital prints,
within the Iraqi Pavilion
Finally, located in the Jewish Venetian ghetto, it is the Iranian Pavilion. Curated by Marco Meneguzzo and Mazdak Faiznia, who selected over forty artists from India to Iraq, the exhibition displays “The Great Game” and a special focus on “Iranian Highlights”. Here are many voices on show in order to investigate the socio-political concerns affecting what is meant to be contemporaneity in Iran. And probably the “great game” mentioned in the title dwells in that confused lack of order typical of a Risiko match, when the board is crammed of small plastic tanks to distinguish the outlines among the continents. The outcome is a hybrid and interesting, but still undefinable, melting point of political, cultural and religious issues. While Nazgol Ansarinia’s sculptures are dealing with Iran from an architectural point of view, where urban design is specifically deemed as an expression of main power, Adel Abidil’s light box recites “I’m sorry”. This represents the apology the Iraqi artist repeatedly heard when he first went to the USA and used to tell people where he was from.

Nazgol Ansarinia, "Article 49 Pillars", 2014, sculptures in terracotta,
installation view within the Iranian Pavilion

The point being is that there is no sorry for wars. But between power and conflict, between resistance and diaspora, art still continues to represent a space of freedom. And however visible or invisible artists may be in the Middle East, they daily struggle to find a way to express who they are in relation to where they live.

Claudio Cravero

Egyptian Pavilion
“Can You See?”
Artists: Ahmed Abdel Fata, Maher Dawoud and Gamal Elkheshen
Giardini – La Biennale di Venezia

UAE  Pavilion
“1980 – Today. Exhibitions in The United Arab Emirates”
Artists: Group Show
Arsenal – La Biennale di Venezia

Syrian Pavilion
“Origins Of Civilization”
Artists: Group Show
San Servolo Island

Iraqi Pavilion
“Invisible Beauty”
Artists: Group Show
Ca’ Dondolo, San Polo

Iraninian Pavilion
“The Great Game” and “Iranian Highlights”
Artists: Group Show
Calle San Giovanni, Cannaregio

May 23, 2015

Art Object of the Week: the German Sign Language Video Ad at U6 Friedrichstraße

I try not to look at advertising in public space because its clichés tend to annoy me. Yet there is one I always look forward to. It’s in the Friedrichstraße subway station U6 and it’s screened every Wednesday. I’ve been trying to record it with my cell phone but I’m always too slow to capture it in the rush. So this Wednesday I went to the Friedrichstrasse just to see the ad and I managed to video tape at least a part of it. Why am I so eager? Well, this ad about German Sign Language (DGS) is just great! I did some online background research and it’s conceptualized by Andreas Costrau from He himself is featured in the video. I happen to know Andreas Costrau - I took DGS classes at his school. And when I co-curated with Wolfgang Müller the exhibition Gesture Sign Art. Deaf Culture / Hearing Culture, we were so impressed by his way of thinking that we quoted Andreas Costrau on the cover of the catalogue: “In the past people used to say ‘non-hearing’ culture; nowadays it’s mainly ‘deaf culture’. I’d like to think that in the future we’ll be talking in terms of ‘visual culture’.” 

Andreas Costrau can say things that confuse you, like: “There are more sign language impaired persons ("Gebärdensprachbehinderte") than hearing impaired persons.” I remember reading an interview in which the interviewer asked him how sign language was taught. He answered that it was taught like any other language, starting with basic words, grammar, etc - how else? But the interviewer still wasn't convinced: who wants to learn sign language? Costrau said it was a strange question to ask, because why do people want to learn French or Spanish? Once, when giving a talk, announced to be a talk about sign language, people complained that they couldn’t understand his talk because it was in sign language and his answer was that they should bring an interpreter: "It’s not only my barrier, it’s also theirs. But because we are a minority, it’s just our barrier.” In the U6 subway of Friedrichstraße Costrau's crash course DGS ends with: "It is just another language."

May 20, 2015

Berlin Art Lovers: Shuai Wang - Quereinsteiger

Shuai Wang at Galerie Michael Janssen

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen Shuai Wang before in the pictures. We do gallery hopping regularly and we also have an artist studio visit series going on. Shuai is new in the Berlin art world and he entered it from an unusual angle: geology. So I talked to him about this "quereinsteigen", if it's difficult to do and how he plans to go ahead.  

Art Blogger of The Week: Carolina Castro Jorquera in Madrid, Spain

It was the Chilean art historian Ignacio Szmulewicz who told me about the art blogging scene in Chile. He writes for Arte y critica, a printed art magazine in Chile, but there is also the digital art magazine Artishock, which uses blog-format. And, Ignacio said, there are a few critics with a blog like Carolina Castro Jorquera. I found out that Carolina is now living in Madrid, where she's working on her PhD in Art History. Meanwhile she continues to blog on her website Crítica de Arte Contemporáneo, and Chile is still very present in her writing.

Art scene 
"I´m Chilean but I have been living in Madrid for the last 6 years. The scene here has changed a lot in the last 4 years, probably because of the crisis, but also because a change was needed. Today you can find a great offer of alternative spaces leading the scene. It´s great to see how young and older artists become closer, colleagues, and they can work and exhibit together. These new spaces allowed this to happen.

I think we can define two scenes, the comercial galleries and the alternative spaces. The first ones are deeply involved in the art world on their own, the second ones are involved in a more indirect way because of the artists they work with. The artist are the ones who act as agents. 

The Madrid art scene today is characterised by a collaboration between agents, curators, artista, gallerists, etc. And a completely new kind of art discourse. They are redefining their interests. 

If I can choose movements that are characterizing the current scene, they would be: Conceptualism, Povera, and a sort of new-manierism."

"I started the blog because I was writing for severals magazines, and a blog was a good idea to bring all those articles together. Also because sometimes I like to write some review that could be difficult to feature in an art magazine, so I´m free to publish them on my own site. 

What do I like about blogging? It´s a good question. I think I like to share my thoughts. 
And it's is a fact: You can help yourself and emerging artists to have a wider visibility.

I'm not connected to other bloggers at the moment, but I would like to do so!"

"I'm an art historian, preparing my dissertation. So writing and researching are my best skills. I'm also a curator, I work as an art critic, and I do a lot of research." 

"No, I don't monetise my blog, but it would be great to have that chance! What brings in value is that the most of the articles I have written are published in magazines or other kind of publications, as catalogues, or books, and they pay me for that. Then the blog is more a way to share those texts to a wider audience."

May 16, 2015

Guest Writer Claudio Cravero: "Art and Politics in Venice? So Far So Close"

I'm very excited to feature Claudio Cravero, curator at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, as a first guest writer on this blog! Claudio and I met for real last week at the Venice Biennial and Claudio agreed to write a few pieces on what strikes him as interesting at the Biennial, especially issues concerning the East. Today, however, we start with the North: the Icelandic Pavilion! If you want to start with the visuals, here is a video of Claudio's visit. 

A deconsecrated church opens its doors to a new community. It is not a form of syncretism between Catholics and Muslims, but simply The Mosque, the provocative Icelandic Pavilion at the 56th Biennale di Venezia by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. Through a disorienting trip across Switzerland, Iceland and Italy, Venice claims again the right to be the gate to the East.

After years of repetitive editions, the ongoing Okwui Enwezor’s Biennial has been already deemed as a politically engaging Biennial. Curatorial resolutions aside, Enwezor’s All the World’s Futures seems to be a credible camouflage of something that is not political at all. His main exhibition is no other than a representation of something that is (or was) political elsewhere. In fact, artworks on display document what happened in another space and in another time.

Let’s say that a political artistic act would occur when the artwork comes silently into view in a real context. That is to say not in a white cube or, even worse, in a radical-chic warehouse. Being realistic, how many works of art (participatory, relational and other possible labels) do we look at as political and in the end are mere window-dressing operations? In fact, we should get more and more skeptical about the artists’ intentions when they claim to deal with political issues. Quite often politics seems to be just an easy and cool topic for artists to be considered socially engaged, more appealing or gaining a more “noble” reputation. But may we still define when one begins and the other ends?

Among the art venues within the Biennial, like the looming mountains are topped by thick clouds, Swiss artist Christoph Büchel’s contribution to the Icelandic Pavilion tiptoes in one of the thousands Venice’s churches. In collaboration with the Muslim Communities of Venice and Reykjavik, the ex 2008 Hugo Boss Prize decided to convert a deconsecrated church (Santa Maria dell'Abbazia della Misericordia) into a mosque. More precisely into The Mosque.

It is not an ordinary event for sure. Until the end of the Biennial (November 22nd), the local Muslim community will have a real functioning mosque to pray. Despite the relationship between Venice and the Arab world has a longstanding tradition (e.g. Al Bonduqia is the Venice’s Arabic name stemming from bunduq, which means bullet with reference to the original weapons trade), the city has never allowed a real mosque to be built in the historic center. In the city there are only a couple of prayer rooms nearby the Fondaco de’ Turchi, but not an official mosque.

On the occasion of the opening of the Icelandic Pavilion, the local Imam (the Muslim religious leader) blessed every attendee saying “As-salamu Alaykum” (typical Arabic greeting used to say “Good Morning” but that literally would mean “the peace be upon you”), emphasizing that “God is God regardless the faiths”. However, Büchel’s Pavilion clearly represents more than a work of art. It means a great deal to a great portion of the society in Northern Italy, which is considered intolerantly anchored to the local tradition. Eighty per cent of the budget has been allocated to the rent of the space. The money left has been used to adapt the pre-existing setting to its new function. Red bricks now cover the old tracks of frescos; the catholic altar has been decorated with an oval plaque depicting the name of Allah; and an Islamic chandelier is suspended from the ceiling. Needless to say that the location reminds of another similar visual experience we used to know. In fact, without any psychokinetic effect the visitor’s mind immediately thinks of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The building was originally a Christian church, then an Islamic mosque, nowadays a museum.

For the seven-month run of the Biennial, Büchel’s pavilion will gather most of the 15,000 Muslims who live in the greater Venice area (mainland and the city), a religious community counting 29 different nationalities. Even though the title highlights a physical place, and not in an indeterminate way since The Mosque is The Mosque and not a place whatever, the Pavilion still is an artwork. But it has all that strength belonging to art to be provocatively always a step ahead, where neither politics nor politicians get.

Beyond this temporary freedom in professing a faith (that is already a big gift to people), Büchel’s artwork raises a more serious question. The Mosque subtly claims the right to become a permanent space. And whether it will be or not, the Icelandic Pavilion sets a precedent for a potential negotiation among communities. Büchel has been able to see the problems and shedding light on current issues through his art. Though the artist doesn’t suggest solutions, he sparks people’s hope for a possible World’s future.

Claudio Cravero

The Mosque - Christoph Büchel 
Curated by Nina Magnusdottir
Santa Maria della Misericordia
Campo dell’Abazia

Cannareggio 3548/49 Venezia (I)

May 14, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Flávia Dalla Bernardina in Vitoria, Brazil

I'm frustrated that I don't read Portuguese, but I read some texts in English by Flávia Dalla Bernardina and therefore I can say that she writes poetic thoughts, like, let me quote: "That is what the future is about: the time we can never reach or the time that doesn’t exist." And also the visuals of her blog have a poetry to them. I was then also surprised to hear that she's a lawyer, which I always thought of as a domain devoid of poetry. But I must be mistaken, because for Flávia law and art get along pretty well:

Art scene
"Brazil is a very large country with continental distances. We have many countries within ours and that is creating a very interesting art scene outside the center space converged between Rio-Sao Paulo. Specially in the North/Northeast of the country, where the culture and the contact with nature has its singularities, some interesting artists and works of art are arising.

We also have an unique open sky museum – Inhotim – just outside the city of Belo Horizonte, State of Minas Gerais. It is a unique place indeed, which combines gorgeous landscape and relevant artists in a very singular interaction between the space and the work of art itself.

The Art Market is also in expansion – with two main art fairs on the calendar: SP Arte and ArtRio.

Brazilian artists often relate to nature and it’s remainings in their work, whether if it’s video or photograph (see Rodrigo Braga), a performance (see Berna Reale)  or sculpture (Jose Rufino). 

However I truly believe we can’t speak about specific themes locally nor local scenes anymore. The boundaries are open and although Brazilians in general have serious issues concerning self esteem – which is another topic – the country is growing artistically indeed."

"I started my blog in 2007 and at first it was supposed to be about my impressions and feelings about any work of art (mainly dance and literature). However it became a space of poetry and chronicles - which became a book released in 2010 – Além de Todo Gesto. Because of the blog I began writing weekly chronicles on the local newspaper about contemporary issues, not only art. They are being pulled together on a book that will be release this coming August."

"On 2012 when I took a specialization course on Art History in Rio, I started seeing more exhibitions (downtown Rio is very rich culturally and artistically) and writing about them. Some were assignments encouraged by the course coordinator, others were my personal choice.

In between the course, I started working with a local art collector, helping him with his exhibition here in Vitoria (my hometown), and also writing about his contemporary art collection, which was also published in the newspaper as well as in the exhibition’s catalogue.
At the same time I wrote a project for a contemporary art gallery -  a Collector’s Club. Since I am an Intellectual Property lawyer, I performed legal advisory concerning autor’s rights and contracts, as well as producing the club.

Being a lawyer in such a specific field of the law that relates directly to art, actually empower me to search and occupy an unique place, aiming to build bridges between art and law."

"I believe that blogging gives such a visibility for those who write and in the past didn’t have an opportunity to publish. I am one of those examples, since due to my blog and previous experiences I’ve been writing reviews for a national art magazine called Das Artes. Also I’ve been invited to lectures and round tables to discuss not only contemporary art, but also literature, poetry and dance, considering I’ve been a professional dancer basically my entire adolescence and early adult life.

Blogging combined with social media can be a powerful tool to replicate one’s work. It is a new way of doing things – just about anything. Art writing is only one of them."

Art Bashing at the Venice Biennial 2015

Central Pavilion, Giardini

There was quite some art bashing going on at the opening of the Venice Biennial - a Biennial that promised, under the artistic direction of Okwui Enwezor, to present art with content and meaning - especially political meaning. There was no promise of a rose garden in All The World’s Futures, but one didn’t expect to be offered so little hope and practically no way out. Is it legitimate for an exhibition to do that? Should it always give at least the feeling that the art on display can and will change something? I prefer so, but it’s not necessary, I guess, and maybe such an apocalyptical show has its benefits at the moment. 

But many took the occasion to do some art hating. First attacking Enwezor, who is always elegantly dressed and obviously likes “the good life” - therefore, so it was reasoned, it is hypocritical of him to put Das Kapital at the centre of his exhibition. Such a critique is, in my opinion, based on the idea that money defines everything and is a capitalist way of thinking: to criticise capitalism you should have a poor life style, be dressed in ugly cheap clothes, and never drink a coke. But the main critique was that with regard to the political upheaval worldwide, the Biennial made clear that art proves itself to be powerless and an event as the Biennial is pure luxury extravaganza. This critique is supporting the neo-liberal capitalist thinking that art has no use for society and consequently its budget needs to be cut drastically. It is the conviction that whatever has no direct effect and result, is not worth being. 

Robert Smithson, Dead Tree, 1969, Central Pavilion

I’m a big believer that art can change society, that it can be “avant-garde”. Writer Gertrude Stein said that being avant-garde doesn’t mean one is running ahead of society (as Dieter Roth said: one shouldn't be running away from the matter), but being avant-garde is to have insight in what is happening in society at the moment. And Okwui Enwezor’s exhibition does manage to reveal its current composition. His exhibition is like a culmination point. Because it's true that Enwezor took “meaning” in art literally, as something that is heavily expressed with diaries, archives, trees, suitcases - in short: with material. The exhibition is a Materialschlacht - an overload of art works - a Katharina Grosse over-dosis - a Harun Farocki’s life work packed in a small space together with his diaries (after his death there is this whole movement going on, trying to make Farocki holier than holy - as a friend said: liking Farocki is always a safe choice: you know you’re on the right political side (which is boring the hell out of me)). 

Katharina Grosse, Arsenale
The diaries of Harun Farocki

To make a prognosis about the 21st century, I would say that this Biennial is the last surge of the 20th century’s obsession with material (artificial material, etc.). It reveals our times of political uncertainty and economic crisis, trying to find meaning (stability) in something that is material instead of the immaterial (which we can’t grasp). At the Central Pavilion Enwezor starts with stapled suitcases, in the Arsenale those are replaced by drums put on top of each other. There are so many antiquated projectors in this show, there is so much archival material, so many ruins. It’s a culmination point at the beginning of the 21st century in which art will become more immaterial - which is, in the long run, the consequence when there is less money - materialistic culture looses its status. What will take its place? I would like to call it rhythm. Musicologist Susan McClary says that the rhythm of the 20th century operates on the basis of cyclic repetition, not only in rap and dance genres of popular culture, but also in minimalism: “What kind of needs to these patterns satisfy?” I would like to suggest this question as the start for further investigation in the 21st century and to leave the material behind as much as possible. 

Runo Lagomarsino, Central Pavilion

Rosa Barba, Central Pavilion

Also: Okwui Enwezor’s show was much more diverse and much less white as previous Biennials. Its audience at the press preview was, however, very white. I also wonder about the excitement about Tobias Zielony in the German Pavilion: a white, male (straight) artist who travels around the world to make photos of outsider groups (easy recipe for success in a white art world). And everybody was so excited about the Belgian pavilion that exhibited “Vincent Meessen and guests” - the “guests” were artists from Congo. I found it paternalistic. And to finish it off - my favorite artists at the Bienniale were Sarah Lucas, Sonia Boyce, Cao Fei, Mika Rottenberg, Olga Chernysheva and as a feminist I’m kind of happy to say that they’re all women artists.

Sarah Lucas, UK Pavilion

May 4, 2015

Art Blogger of The Week: Chika Okeke-Agulu, Princeton, USA

Do academia and blogging go together? Yes they do, according to Chika Okeke-Agulu, who teaches African art history and theory at Princeton University. This January he published his newest book Postcolonial Modernism: Art & Decolonization in 20th-Century Nigeria at Duke University Press. But he's also a fervent blogger (and Tweeter) and does so with a great eye for the interstices of arts and politics. Especially Nigeria is high on the list of Okeke-Agulu's interests. 

Art scene
"My blog focuses on Art. Life. Politics. So, I imagine my “art scene” quite broadly. I am as invested in the art world in Nigeria, where I was born, as I am in the art scenes of African countries and the global art world. So, despite that my underlying interest is Africa and the African Diaspora, there is no way I could be invested in the politics and ethics of art, not simply on questions of aesthetics, without paying attention to the dynamics of art globally and reflecting on how our world works. How do Nigerian artists imagine their relationship with the nation and with the world? How do the actions or inactions of governments and non-governmental agents impact the lives of people, including artists?  In what ways might political and cultural nationalism reflect on formal choices, tone and scope of critical discourse of African and African Diaspora art worlds? What does art have to do with life? These are a few of questions that condition my reflections and perspectives on the art world. But also, as far as trends go, I am curious about the impact of the new art centers established by artists and curators across the continent on local art worlds. Their roles in providing artists access to the international art scenes and their fraught relationships with that immediate art environments, for me, speak to the larger issues of globalization." 

"I started blogging in 2007 primarily because I realized that as an art historian and university teacher there were so many things going on in the (art) world that I could not address or comment on, due to the peculiar, restrictive contexts of academic forums. More precisely, I needed a platform from which I could, at the time, comment on the controversy around the African participation in the 2007 Venice Biennale. I could not wait for the next academic conference, nor did I think that a scholarly paper was the best way to engage with the controversy. So, I started my blog.

Blogs make the limitations of standard art writing forums—art magazines, journals, newspapers, and books—quite obvious, though is cannot, realistically, fully replace them. It complements them. The thrill of being able to comment on an exhibition the very day you saw it; to take on a controversy that is perhaps too salty for paper publications; or to say something about breaking art world news is undeniable. But also, the times call for new forms of art writing that can reach audiences without access to normative art writing. Blogging is a major part of the democratization of knowledge and information exchange; but that means that we have to live with a great deal of really bad and incompetent art writing." 

"No, I do not have plans to monetize my blog. I suspect blogging adds some non-quantifiable value to my work as a scholar and critic, and provides me an audience none of my books or published essays could ever reach. Blogging is my way of taking a walk in the busy street just outside of the gate of art academia."

May 3, 2015

Gallery Weekend Berlin: Behind The Scenes

Isn’t the gala society section the most fun part of a lifestyle magazine? Com’on, art people, admit it: it’s the very first thing you look for when reading Monopol. Who was invited to the latest art party and what were they wearing? So to satisfy your needs I did some party hopping after the gallery hopping and we’ll start with that. On Wednesday evening my friend Fabio took me to the party of Die Welt, celebrating its newest art magazine BLAU in a fancy Kurfürstendamm apartment. The food was great, there was even a surreal moment with opera-singing. The downside was that it was full with German art people, which means that the dress code was black and boring. Only US artist Sanford Biggers, currently a fellow of the American Academy, was standing out with a yellow sweater, which was quite refreshing. Fabio and I got a real kick out of talking to random people, because, without exception, they would surprise you by being a curator of some famous collection, the photo editor of some big shot magazine, or the interior designer of glamorous apartments. Fabio kept pinching me when I introduced myself as an art blogger - he claimed that it’s not a decent profession, uhu. I got a little tipsy so I totally forgot to take home the new art magazine, haha, which was the purpose of the whole damn event. I can just tell you that if you can judge books by their cover, then trust me: no avant-garde will be discovered here soon. Cornelius Tittel, who I actually do admire for his critical article on the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Martin Gropius Bau, told me that he wrote something critical about celebrity curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in the introduction of BLAU. Well, Cornelius Tittel, trashing Obrist is not really starting a revolution anymore: he's so 2014. I went to a few other events and I can tell you that the risotto at Ristorante Sale e Tabacchi was not well cooked and lacked herbs but Miami people are so entertaining that they totally make up for the disillusioning food on the table. And: shrimps are the trending thing to eat at art events - they were literally everywhere I went. 

Katharina Grosse at St. Agnes, Johann König Galerie

So far for the fun part - now let’s start with the serious business of art criticism. I joined two friends gallery hopping on Friday and Saturday and they happen to have those kind of sharp minds that only need one word to nail it down. Glancing upon Katharina Grosse’s enormous canvasses in St. Agnes, the impressive church-place of Johann König, they said “1980s”. (By the way: the downstair space was terribly curated - I suggest video for the next shows there.) We then realized that we had skipped neighboring PRAXES but my friends shrugged their shoulders while sighing “pedantic”. We finished the Friday night tour at Veneklasen/Werner where I met a Flemish friend who totally hit it off with artist Eliott Hundley - both fascinated by the sketches of Rubens, and it’s true that Eliott Hundley’s paintings and sculptures have a hang for the baroque. I forgot to mention that we started our Friday tour at Salon Dahlmann, which was a quite beautiful show on Poetic Minimalism.

Flemish admirer of Eliott Hundley's paintings at Veneklasen/Werner

On Saturday I was surprised to find myself yawning in front of Roman Ondak’s newest art work at Johnen Galerie. It seems to me that Ondak is not developing anymore but using the same old tricks and it’s just starting to get boring. At Galerie Neu, Karl Holmqvist finished his press text about Klara Lidén's art pieces with: “They look plain yet offer one plenty of things to think about.” So we tried a little harder, but nope: nothing came up in our splendid minds, not even one word. Yet we were very happy at our next stop: Galerie Neugerriemschneider. Renata Lucas’ in situ intervention in the space is simple and complex, making one fountain out of three historical fountains in Berlin. We got a little euphoric about seeing a good art piece - you can imagine. Then we went off to see the Cyprien Gaillard show at Sprüth Magers, who, as somebody told me the night before, is the most overrated artist of the moment. I can just say that fireworks in 3D are always entertaining and when we left the space we felt as if we had visited an entertainment park. 

Renata Lucas at Neugerriemschneider 

Then it was time to head over to the Potsdamer Straße quarter. At Esther Shipper we saw an art work that felt like a Cyprien Gaillard but it was made with a smaller budget. Upstairs there was a Haegue Yang show at Wien Lukatsch and the straw sculptures were just plain ugly. In the courtyard of the Tagesspiegel building we had a strong espresso before we headed over to Thomas Fischer Galerie, where you can always count on an elegant display - this time with artist Friedemann Heckel. We skipped 401contemporary because we all agreed it’s always stuffed with the same stuff. I no longer remember what Plan B was about: it involved some material... At Blain⎢Southern I saw a show that worked splendidly with the amazing space - finally, it’s been two years at least. François Morellet, who just turned 89, is a discovery for me - 3D finds its true form here. We skipped Guido W. Baudach (shrug), didn’t understand Helga Maria Klosterfeld Edition (puzzled), and it was at Tanya Leighton that my friends uttered their last words, which actually almost took on the form of a whole sentence: “a show curated for Christmas presents.” 

François Morellet at Blain ⎢Southern