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Carnegie International Carnegie Museum of Art
Kozyra, The Rite of Spring, 1999/2004.
Six-channel video installation; color, sound.
The 54th Carnegie
International opened with a gala, red carpet celebration at the Carnegie
Museum of Art with Peter Fonda, John Waters, and Baron Phillippe and Baroness
Marion Lambert in attendance. Contemporary art has come a long way since
the time of the wild-beast avant-gardists of the late 19th
century. The acceptance of contemporary artists into mainstream, respectable
society is telling, howeverthat classification comes with a price.
Much art today is an excuse for an event, for entertainment and status
for those of a certain class. I refer readers to the Seen section of the
Pittsburgh Post Gazette (October 22, 2004, Section C, pp. 13).
Laura Hoptman, along
with an advisory committee that included Francesco Bonami, Gary Garrels,
Midori Matsui, Cuauhtemoc Medina, and Rikrit Tiravanija, curated the 2004/05
installment of this historical exhibition. Begun 108 year ago, it is the
second oldest worldwide international display of contemporary art. Over
400 works by 38 artists, representing five continents, were presented
under the theme Ultimates. According to Hoptman, These
artists use art as a vehicle to confront what philosophers have called
Ultimatesthat is, the largest unanswerable questions ranging from
the nature of life and death, to the existence of God, to the anatomy
Reading her essay,
as well as listening to Hoptman speak at the press preview, sounded alarm
bells, calling to mind Roberta Smiths essay When Exhibitions
Have More to Say Than to Show in which she anatomizes a particularly
pervasive contemporary trend: Call it trickle-down festivalism
the phenomenon of exhibitions that, while nowhere near as large as shows
like Documenta, nonetheless display similar traitsa Lazy Susan of
moralizing primness, eccentric materials, intellectual dryness, multi-disciplinary
amorphousness and high-tech spectacle slowly revolving on a pedestal of
arrested artistic development. This malady infected the 2004 Carnegie
International, just as it did the most recent Venice Biennale and Documentaall
theory, with minimal substantive art.
This exhibition didnt
pretend to be an inclusive, zeitgeist survey, but it wasn't a spine-tingling
presentation of wondrous work either. Instead, a competent pageant of
staid international art (for the most part rooted in Western aesthetic
influence) was on view. Following the pink-banner paths meant to direct
audience flow became a tedious journey given the smallish scale of much
of the work and the compartmentalized rooms. What stood out throughout
was a narrative, graphic, figurative sensibility in the work, which should
come as no surprise since Hoptman was the Assistant Curator of Drawings
at the Museum of Modern Art prior to coming to the Carnegie. In her catalogue
essay she writes that the show intends to illustrate an impulse toward
a search to what it means to be ethical. But a problem arises in transferring
such theoretical aspirations into visual representation. I am not convinced
that the assortment of art selected for this exhibition inspired anyone
to Ponder the Meaning of Life, as suggested on the billboards
and bus advertisements presented throughout Pittsburgh. Still, several
artists managed to touch on significant humanist issues, especially Kutlug
Entering the show,
one encountered Atamans complex installation, which was awarded
the Carnegie Prize. Forty old TV sets, second-hand chairs, and stands
made up this multiple-channel complex video installation, which presented
40 simultaneous portrait/interviews of the inhabitants of the town of
Kubaa refuge for people who reject mainstream Istanbul society.
No editorializing is evident in this alluring archive piece, which presents
slices of personal views. There is no beginning or ending to the ongoing
deluge of shared information. Viewers were free to move around the installation,
but given the 40 hours of interviewing enacted here, one could not take
in the entire work.
Bontecou, installation view. Photo: Tom Altany
Moving 180 degrees from the serious content of Atamans work, Polish
artist Katarzyna Kazyra provided frolic and fun in The Rites of Spring,
a six-screen animated video installation of naked seniors jumping and
gesturing to music from the 1913 Modernist ballet. In a separate darkened
room, naked stylized figures placed against a stark white background resulted
in a disjointed presentation of artificial movement and nuance created
by the artists careful choreographic framing of the static bodies.
Lee Bontecou, along with two other senior artists, were given mini-retrospectives.
Bontecou, the ingenious sculptor who made her mark in the late 1950s,
was represented with a group of signature sculptures, as well as several
impressive new mixed-media mobiles that evoke science fiction and hint
at planetary systems and private universes.
The inclusion of
the Serbian Neo-Dadaist/Conceptualist Mangelos, who died in 1987, was
a mystery to many; however, those who recall Hoptmans book Primary
Documents, an anthology on Eastern and Central European artists, will
realize that one of his red globes adorns the cover of her book. His grandiose
installation in the Hall of Sculpture displayed multiple globes and wall
texts imparting his manifestos on systemsmathematical proofs, scientific
theories, and perceptual schemasintended to prove the meaninglessness
of logical thought. Notwithstanding the tedium of the work, Mangelos perhaps
best fit the shows theme.
Fewer works would
have enhanced the presentation of Fernando Bryces deconstructivist
redrawings. Several of his handsome sepia drawings are inspiring, with
their references to Cold War political headlines that take issue with
media packaging of historical information. Still, a room filled with 230
works of ink on paper becomes reduced to a monotonous and academic topographical
Isa Genzken, in her
apocalyptic architectural constructions Empire/Vampire and Who Kills Death,
addresses disaster, devastation, and terror. Each of the miniature stage
settings discloses a pageant about survival in a horrible situation. A
twist of purpose is evident in her constructions of toys, shoes, kitsch,
and debris, in which paint poured over the parts becomes the unifying
element. Continuing down the road of the fantastic, idiosyncratic delicacy
pervaded the small sculptures of Kathy Butterly. Butterlys refreshing
ceramic work compelled viewers to step closer in order to inspect her
diminutive and purposely misshapen porcelain vessels.
world renowned for his controversial sculptures of the maimed Pope John
Paul II in Warsaw and the simulated lynched children in Milan, didnt
pack the same punch with his fabrication of a shoeless John F. Kennedy
in a coffin. Viewers could only see this simulation of the former president
lying in state on certain days. Cattelan perhaps would have scored another
knock-out had he chosen the beloved Ronald Reagan for the
heated 2004 election yeartiming is everything.
Ataman, Untitled (installation view), 2004. Photo: Tom Altany.
When I reviewed the 2001 Carnegie International (Sculpture, May 2001),
I asked whether the show had outlived its function. After seeing the 2004
International, I've come to the same conclusion: in an era when international
biennials abound, when the Internet connects us to boundless information
about contemporary art, and when people glob-trot at will, the Carnegie
Museum of Art needs to reconsider and rethink the Carnegie International.
The old paradigm doesnt work and academic philosophical rationalization
is not answer. The Carnegie Museum must step into the 21st century and
begin reinventing the Carnegie International, taking risks as Andrew Carnegie
hoped for Pittsburgh to do.
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