This is a companion piece to:
CCS Bard Presents: Why New Forms? A Curatorial Conference on the Occasion of CCS Bard’s 20th Anniversary Year
by the Editor, published in June 2012
When people think of the duties of an art curator, they imagine someone whose sole role it is, as the term is defined, to manage, oversee and care for artwork, to dispassionately mount exhibitions that will show the work to its best advantage, or to juxtapose the works in a such way as to create a dialogue between pieces including, possibly, making connections to its artistic forebears. But we are living in a time of increasingly blurred boundaries — in one person shows, the curator and the artist will often consider themselves collaborators and, in the case of group shows, the curator sees him/herself, if not as an artist exactly, then as someone who also has an agenda of their own and whose chosen artists can reflect that agenda. This reality has its detractors and its supporters among artists. In answer to a question posed by Jens Hoffmann’s 1993 project The Next Documenta Should be Curated by an Artist (Documenta is one of the premier world art events and takes place in Kassel in Germany every five years, including this year: June 19 – September 16), John Baldessari had this to say about the role of the modern curator: “What disturbs me is a growing tendency for artists to be used as art materials, like paint, canvas, etc. I am uneasy about being used as an ingredient for an exhibition recipe, i.e., to illustrate a curator’s thesis.” Liam Gillick, on the other hand, contributed this to the same project: “A dynamic range of activity, paradox, and potential is with the curator… There is an assumed separation of roles here that does not exist in the most productive projects now and has not done for many years.” That was nearly 20 years ago and it was against this backdrop of opinion that the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard was founded.
The Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) at Bard, celebrating 20 years in existence, deals with the question of the role of the institution in two exhibitions at the Hessel Museum and the CCS Bard galleries. The former venue is host to From 199A to 199B: Liam Gillick – a survey of Gillick’s work from the early 1990s curated by CCS Bard Executive Director, Tom Eccles. The latter hosts Anti-Establishment: a group exhibition curated by Johanna Burton, CCS Bard Graduate Program Director, featuring the work of Wynne Greenwood, Trajal Harrell, H.E.N.S. (Arlen Austin & Jason Boughton), Jacqueline Humphries, Brennan Gerard & Ryan Kelly, Chelsea Knight (with Elise Rasmussen), Pam Lins, Scott Lyall, Tere O’Connor, Mai-Thu Perret, Sarah Pierce, Elisabeth Subrin, and YES! Association.
Liam Gillick is a British-born artist and graduate of London’s Goldsmiths College of Art; he was among the earliest of the “YBAs” – Young British Artists – a contemporary of Jenny Saville, Damien Hirst, Henry Bond, et al., who dominated British art during the 1990s and who were the subject of controversy in New York with the exhibition Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. This exhibition was criticized by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who attempted to cut city financing for the Brooklyn Museum of Art and began eviction proceedings against it for mounting an exhibit that he deemed sacrilegious. But by 1998 Gillick had already moved away from the London scene and distanced himself from some, at least, of those artists’ practices. In the introduction to this exhibition, he is quoted as having written at that time: “…I am interested in setting up ways in which it might be possible to understand the complex context within which ideas and visualizations of ideas are made manifest, rather than to constantly refine a series of apparently transgressive visual novelties.” It is hard to read this without assuming he was referring to his old cohorts from Goldsmiths: Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Marcus Harvey, and fellow YBA exhibitor Tracy Emin. Being reminded of the confessional aspects of Emin’s and Lucas’ work, it is interesting to note, re the Pinboard Projects, that Gillick has himself convinced others, including the curator, to reveal something of themselves in this collaboration.
Gillick’s art practice is to do with an inquiry into the aesthetics of social systems and forms of social organization. The foreword to the exhibition notes that in “considering the relationship between the artist, the institution and the audience to be mutually co-dependent in the creation of meaning, Gillick creates situations in which the outcome is incomplete without involving the institution and questioning the expanded role of the exhibition visitor.” A good example of this is his Pinboard Project (1992) – there are a number of pinboards displayed throughout the museum and each one is put together or, as the titles put it, “realized” by a different person. Gillick dictates certain parameters including the size, shape, color and materials to be employed; what is allowed and what is not allowed; that each one has to be approved by the artist while, at the same time, the “realizer” may also make their own autonomous decisions on what to include within the parameters laid out by the artist – they are not interactive so visitors are not invited to add or subtract from the pieces. Each pinboard has these instructions included on a sheet of paper. The pinboards are titled by the color of the dyed jute that covers them. One example, entitled Pinboard Project (Dirty Green) is realized by the exhibition curator Tom Eccles. It includes various papers and texts including newspaper cuttings, one of which is of an early, and poor, review by Tim Hilton of a YBA exhibition in which Gillick was a participant. Hilton had little good to say about the exhibitors, with the exception of Damien Hirst, and wrote of Rachel Whiteread’s contributions that, “They worry rather than convince.” Ms. Whiteread went on to earn international acclaim, to be the first woman to win the prestigious Turner Prize (1993), and was honored by the Queen with an “Order of Chivalry:” a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). Eccles’ pinboard is one of the first pieces one sees on entering the museum, and the clipping is surely intended as a warning to all nay-sayers.
Prototype Erasmus Table #2 (Gent) (1994) was produced in collaboration with Ann Butler, Director of the CCS Bard Library and Archives, and Bronwen Bitetti, Associate Librarian of the CCS Bard Library and Archives using books and materials borrowed from the library and archives. It is a huge square table with, in the center, an enlarged copy of what looks like an antique hand-drawn map of London. Around the edges are books, papers, games, and artifacts from enough aspects of life and philosophy to surely please the table’s namesake, from Darwin to Mao Tse-Tung to Futurology to books on Etiquette to a set of dominos (set up). Large letters on one wall suggestive of a polemic give a clue to the promiscuousness of the contents on the table: Cinemarxism, Sovietcong, Maoart. This and the Pinboard Project both raise the question of authorship and the question where does the artist end and the curator begin. If the “realizers” are making such important decisions as to what goes into a piece, including choosing the books from the library, surely they are integrally involved in the creation of the artworks. And this is what Gillick is aiming for, questioning the concept of the artist as an island onto himself and the very desirability of a single authorial narrative.
Information on the Bard website tells us that the exhibition will also include the Lost Paradise Information Service (1994), “where a parallel exhibition narrative describing and presenting the show, and at the same time challenging the official materials such as press releases and signage, will be developed by CCS Bard students.” The exhibition runs until December so, presumably, this parallel project will occur during the fall semester.
Of the other works in this show, I was drawn to a piece from the What If? Scenario series entitled Dining Table (1996). It is in fact a blue table-tennis table but without a (safety?) net; a shaker of glitter (spilled out like salt on the table); and paddles. It invites the viewer to invent their own rules and play the game. The title suggests a place where family dynamics are, typically, played out, especially during those infamous holiday gatherings when, often, goal posts are moved and the rules made up as the meal goes on. And the glitter? Well, everyone knows that all that glitters isn’t gold.
Across the foyer from the Hessel Museum are the CCS Bard Galleries and the exhibition Anti-Establishment curated by Johanna Burton. In her foreword, Burton writes that the works in Anti-Establishment “investigate artistic practices that, in various ways, radically utilize and recommit to the notion of ‘the institution,’ while nevertheless demanding of it new functions and effects… Anti-Establishment argues for multiple definitions of what might constitute any foundation.”
The entrance gallery contains works by multidisciplinary Swiss artist, Mai-Thu Perret. Her space is occupied by pieces made from neon, silkscreen, text, appliqué, and in the center of it all, is a mannequin. The neon wall piece entitled 2016 (2011) is especially captivating – four large circles in a cruciform of red neon with smaller circles joined by lines reminiscent of a pulley and gears; the image is multiplied through its reflections in the glass doors and extends the gallery space beyond its parts. And yet, as a backdrop to the mannequin, which is a mass of contradictions, one ought not to become too entranced, let alone happy. The mannequin, a female figure, sits Buddha-like in the center of the room in a military uniform and has a featureless face painted white and a large red disc where an eye should be. The face suggests the rising sun of China but the light-colored wig suggests a westerner. The shock is when you walk behind the figure and see that a noose hangs from the neck. Perret made this piece in collaboration with Ligia Dias in 2005; the title is Heroine of the People (Revolutionary). The juxtaposition of these two works suggest the seduction and also the fickleness of the societal machine; it is also a reminder that one person’s freedom-fighter is another’s terrorist.
Among the works artist duo Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly brought to the show is Kiss Solo (2012), a multi-channel video installation with audio. The source of the piece is Tino Sehgal’s Kiss which was performed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2010. Sehgal, for those unfamiliar with his work, is a British-German artist and dancer who orchestrates performances and what he calls “constructed situations” which, he insists, are never to be documented in any way whatsoever; his aim is to bring true ephemerality to his work in the way performance art was originally conceived in the 1960s but rarely achieved. For Kiss Sehgal had a series of dancers who, in three-hourly stints, would perform various embraces appropriated from art history, for instance: Brancusi’s The Kiss (1908), Klimt’s The Kiss (1907 – 8), Rodin’s The Kiss (1889), etc. The dancers would slowly and seamlessly entangle and disentangle their bodies as they moved from one kiss to the next. Gerard and Kelly’s Kiss Solo consists of videos of single dancers whose movements are projected on a number of screens suspended at angles in the gallery space and includes a recorded voice documenting the movements, not of these dancers, but of Sehgal’s Kiss dancers. The recording was surreptitiously made during one of the performances of Kiss at the Guggenheim in which Gerard and Kelly noted each movement of the dancers with the intention of recreating the piece but through their own lens. They worked with their own dancers to reproduce those movements but with each dancer dancing both the male and the female roles. The effect is mesmerizing and strange – the voice (which is multiplied as it leaks from numerous earphones around the gallery) dispassionately describing the movements has something of the quality of a golf or tennis commentator following a game. Kiss Solo is part of a three-part cycle of works called Reusable Parts/Endless Love.
Other pieces to note in this show are Scott Lyall’s
nudes, magnitudes, EVes (2012), which are paintings nearly monochromatic but made up of thousands of colors created from chromatic code deposited on the canvas fabric as it is passed multiple times through a flatbed printer. The effect is a slow burn – initially one perceives only a greyish canvas but catch one at an angle and it is revealed. There are four throughout the galleries. Pam Lins’ Slabs and Armatures (2012) are fascinating combining, as they do, carefully crafted wood plinths each with shapes cut away from one edge, and surmounted by smooth slabs flawlessly painted with auto lacquer in the title color of the piece, for example Colonial Gold and Ascot Silver, and contrasting with the crudeness of the plaster armatures – that which is usually hidden – mounted on the slabs. The result is almost classical. There is some exciting painting, made unconventional by the use of the black light in which they were executed, in Jacqueline Humphries room of Black Light Paintings (2005) – a delight to the eye. As a former smoker and no stranger to having been corralled as a result, Yes! Association’s floor painting Smoking Area (2012) made me smile situated as it was in the center of the floor of the large gallery. The artists who make up Yes! Association will also commemorate Hannah Arendt (political theorist and cigar smoker) by designating the porch to the Hannah Arendt Center building “The Hannah Arendt Memorial Smoking Porch” with a sign on October 25th, 2012 at 12:30pm.
How these artworks recommit to the notion of the institution, as Ms. Burton says in the foreword to the show, is something I can’t answer, mainly because it would require another essay and my primary interest is in the art itself. For me – having been art-schooled at a time when the expectation from the establishment was for artists to spend the first half of their career climbing into a brown paper bag and the second half climbing out of it, or risk being seen as a dilettante – the most exhilarating aspects of both of these exhibitions are the multi-disciplinary practices of artists like Gillick and Perret. Perhaps the “establishment” is now more accepting of the possibility that some artists need to move around disciplines and, simultaneously, explore ideas from a variety of directions and media. But whether we like it or not, the establishment ultimately decides who will be in and who will be out, and curators can be powerful figures in that arena. If, dear reader, you get a chance to visit the Hessel Museum and CCS galleries in the coming weeks, take it – it will be worth the candle. And, while you are there, pick up one of the little red Anti-Establishment booklets to the left of the glass entrance to the CCS galleries as they contain short essays by the artists on the subject of the “Institution,” as well as their biographies. Anti-Establishment continues until December 21st, 2012.
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College is an exhibition, education, and research center dedicated to the study of art and curatorial practices from the 1960s to the present day. Celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2012, CCS Bard presents a series of exhibitions by students, as well as a roster of international artists, working in a range of practices.
CCS BARD — Center for Curatorial Studies Hessel Museum of Art
Bard College | Annandale-on-Hudson | NY 12504 –5000
845 – 758‑7598 | 845 – 758‑2442 Fax | firstname.lastname@example.org
Museum Hours · Wed — Sun, 1 — 5 pm
Mai-Thu Perret in collaboration with Ligia Dias, Heroine of the People (Revolutionary), Chris Kendall Photographer