Points of Origin, s s Apr 28 Aug 29 Global Conceptualism examines key moments when artists in various locales around the world began to create conceptual art as a means to question the hegemony of the object over ideas in art, critique the way art is institutionalized both in museums and in modern economies, and find a new role for art and the artist in society by involving art in social and political protest. Containing over works by more than artists, Global Conceptualism features photographs, documentation, films, videos, postcards, posters, drawings, as well as paintings, mixed media objects, and installations. The Exhibition is marked by the regional perspectives and careful discrimination of its team of eleven international curators. Global Conceptualism provides snapshots of key moments of conceptualist practice over the course of several generations. The exhibition as a whole offers glimpses, through conceptualist art pieces created in conjunction with them of watershed events of social and political protest-Budapest , Paris and Prague , the June resistance in Seoul , the events of Tiananmen Square , and the chaos leading up to the first elections in South Africa Each section of Global Conceptualism is organized with an attention to the impact of local contexts in creating particular variations of conceptualism.
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Farver and Weiss whose talk can be accessed here were invited to reflect on the exhibition—its challenges, failures and successes—fifteen years after it was seen at the Queens Museum in New York.
As project leaders for the exhibition, Luis Camnitzer, Rachel Weiss, and I worked with a team of 12 international curators representing 11 geographic areas. Global Conceptualism happened 14 years ago, but it continues to elicit strong opinions. However, I hope we are not here to retry this exhibition, but to think about how curators and museums might go about creating exhibitions on a so-called global scale today.
For this reason, perhaps some background information about the show might be helpful. As I remember it, the project began sometime in , when Rachel Weiss and Luis Camnitzer invited me to lunch to ask about the possibility of the Queens Museum organizing an exhibition of Latin American conceptualist art. As discussions ensued, it became clear that each of us knew of conceptualist practices that had emerged and flourished in other parts of the world and that were generally unknown or unacknowledged by the New York art world.
These movements of course were connected by a complex system of global linkages, but the important fact was that they clearly had been spurred by urgent local conditions and histories. Although an exhibition of Latin American conceptualism was badly needed in New York, we decided instead to organize a broader show that would include conceptualist art from around the world, including North America and Europe.
Each of us had our own reasons for wanting to do such an exhibition. There seemed to be a lack of interest or a disregard for the fact that these artists could well have inherited and were responding to their own important local histories.
While New York in the s had seen an influx of contemporary artists from around the world, many of whom were engaged with conceptualist practices, exhibitions of modernism or earlier conceptualism from other parts of the world were still uncommon. However, New York had yet to see a museum survey exhibition of conceptualist art from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and many other parts of the world.
Information about such work was difficult to obtain, particularly in English, and this void made it easy for New York critics and curators to assume that little that was innovative in conceptualist art was being produced outside of the so-called center. The show included works by more than artists from 15 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Yugoslavia.
I hoped to expand the dialogue around conceptualism, including North American and Western European conceptualism, and to build on what had been presented elsewhere in several earlier exhibitions. When we began to work on Global Conceptualism, the movement already possessed an almost year history. However, neither of these shows included many works by non-Western artists. I will return to this exhibition later. Rachel, Luis, and I well understood that organizing an exhibition about how conceptualism had developed world-wide would be fraught with problems, not the least of which were the prevailing views.
One strong influence that soon emerged was the work of historian Eric Hobsbawm. His book about the 20th century, Age of Extremes, offered us a way to think about and sort out how conceptualism had developed in different areas.
As we began to think about doing such a show, another reason became increasingly compelling for me. The Queens Museum and other New York City borough museums were created in the early s, when activists advocated for the creation of cultural institutions outside Manhattan.
This happened while staggering changes were taking place in many parts of the world. The rise of urbanization, the abandonment of an agricultural way of life, and the proliferation of repressive governments, and radical changes in US immigration laws, attracted millions, to the US and to the Borough of Queens. The histories that were outlined in Global Conceptualism were not abstract to our Queens constituents; they were their histories, and it seemed important to present at least a portion of these histories through art, to the best of our ability.
Because we did not want one grand narrative for the show, we wanted to invite a team of international curators to work with us. Since information about artistic production in many parts of the world was hard to access—the Internet and JStor were in their infancies, and Google would not even be incorporated for another three years—we relied on exhibitions we had seen, what we had read, and recommendations from colleagues to put together our team.
The geographical demarcations now may seem haphazard, but at the time we were interested in putting forth information about the conceptualist activities of which we were aware, and in inviting curators we knew were working with this subject. The curatorial team would choose works by more than artists to trace three decades of the history of conceptualist art through two relatively distinct waves of activity. Most of our invited curators were obvious choices because of their previous work on the subject.
Finding a curator for the Eastern European section proved to be the most difficult. Probably the most controversial invitation was the one extended to the organizer of the North American section.
It was offered to Peter Wollen because of a mutual interest in exploring North American Conceptual art in relation to Situationism and activism.
I will always be grateful to this remarkable group of curators, and I continue to be amazed by how prescient their work was for the time. The budget for the project was, as we had imagined, very modest, but the Andy Warhol Foundation gave its first-ever planning grant to the Queens Museum to get the project started, and the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds for a meeting of the curators, which took place midway through the project at the Bard Center. It is unfortunate that there were no funds for multiple meetings, or that something like Skype did not exist then, as additional contact would have helped to tease out links and networks among artists in various areas.
As it was, the meeting at Bard was fairly successful. It has often been my experience that when curators are exposed to new artists and works, they begin to incorporate them into their own practices, and so we went into the meetings with eleven wildly different shows, and emerged with eleven mildly different shows, but we never really expected all of this to gel into one harmonious vision.
Our book editor left us mid-project. Exhibition designer Michael Langley generously helped us determine where to build walls, but we did not have the budget for a full exhibition design, so each curator decided on the placement of works within the spaces they were allotted.
The show opened to mixed reviews, mostly negative if they were by US critics and better if the critics resided elsewhere. I wish he had simply asked about the budget; I probably would have told him, as there was nothing to hide. Many critics longed for a thematic rather than geographical and chronological organization of the show.
Art in America critic Marcia Vetroq thought that concentrating on grouping similar themes and strategies would have animated the show, and she also called the North American section "intellectually dishonest. Courtesy Queens Museum Oscar Bony. La familia obrera The Working Class Family. Courtesy Carola Bony A number of critics quibbled with the geographic delineations, which would not have been so apparent in a thematic hanging.
And there were many instances in the exhibition where works could have been grouped thematically. However, it would have been doubly important to provide context for these works, since, for instance, artists working under so many different systems, both socialist and capitalist, may have created works with formal resemblances but with unrelated sources of inspiration, or which considered the public and the private in vastly dissimilar ways.
This action was not meant an artistic action. On the photo you can read the sentence in English : "The clearness of our revolution allows us to collect money to the families of our martyrs in this way. Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits, Gift of Paulo Herkenhoff Originally, I had wanted to organize the show thematically and had asked each curator to choose 10 representative objects, hoping for a show that was manageable in size and budget.
However, the curators rebelled, feeling it was important to try to present short histories of each region, however imperfectly. Some felt that taking a thematic approach and comparing a few lesser-known, so-called peripheral artists and works with much better-known examples would again privilege the mainstream and fail to provide necessary context. In the end I agreed, and we organized the show geographically and chronologically. Writing them in one soothing museum voice would probably have made it much easier for the viewer but may have taken away the voice of the individual curators.
In hindsight, I think it would have been better to have more comprehensive and uniform labels. This is one of my regrets about the show. A problem that was pointed out by a number of critics is one that is inherent in presenting historical Conceptual art. Unavoidably, one makes sacred icons out of art and ephemera that were made for the street. Joan Kee regretted our inability to reproduce the freshness of the immediate gesture through photography, and others thought the show seemed gray, but many of these works had been made under difficult circumstances by artists who had very limited means.
We were working with what our curators could find. Katherine Hixson, writing in the New Art Examiner, took the show to task for not making more apparent the fact that conceptualism was, in her opinion, but another futile avant-garde utopian effort. Frankly, I am pleased but puzzled by the attention the show itself continues to receive. My fear is that attention that should be focused on the many remarkable artists and works in the exhibition is being directed to the show itself.
However, it is exciting to see that this research has begun to happen at MoMA and beyond. We were asked to address how we would go about creating a show like Global Conceptualism today. If we can assume that there already will have been historical surveys—even abbreviated ones like those in Global Conceptualism—then I would imagine a thematic rather than a geographic hanging.
I would still opt out of a grand overall narrative and choose to work with a team to attempt to explicate differences. I regret that I did not actually see this exhibition, because it, like the others mentioned earlier, did not come to New York, and I had no real travel budget at the Queens Museum. Out of Actions was organized primarily in chronological order, placing artists associated with different movements and countries in proximity to one another and thus allowing connections to be drawn among works that in many cases have not previously been viewed as related.
I think this might work, although, as I mentioned above, care must be taken not to iron out the differences too smoothly. Educational programs and information would also be of great importance. It is unfortunate that we did not have the means to conduct video interviews with the artists in Global Conceptualism or to do extensive public programs beyond a symposium that we held in conjunction with the New School.
And I trust even less the authoritarian overviews of those who were not there. In the end, I think it was accomplished by sheer good will on the part of hundreds of artists and a team of 15 curators, project directors, catalogue essayists, and one adventurous museum director, all of whom were not only willing but eager to take part in this important conversation.
Marcia E. Hixson, Kathryn, "All Together Now!
Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s
Global conceptualism : points of origin, 1950s-1980s
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