by Abraham Ritchie
When is the proper time to review an exhibition? It’s a seemingly simple question that has become complicated because of another question: what constitutes an exhibition? Concluding on February 17, the Industry of the Ordinary’s sprawling retrospective Sic Transit Gloria Mundi pushes these questions to their limits, mirroring the shift in contemporary practice from traditional expectations.
Industry of the Ordinary (IOTO) is a collaboration between artists Adam Brooks and Mathew Wilson, and as this exhibition demonstrates, IOTO is also a collaboration between their collective and other artistic collectives, the artists and the viewers, the artists and the general public. The objects on view reflect these interactions: photographs document various interactions both with a participating audience and with the unsuspecting public; an entire section is set apart by a kind of wooden mobile home-like structure that contain contributions from a healthy percentage of Chicago’s art world.
Given the artists’ wide-ranging connections to the art community it seems relevant to say that I have almost no connection to IOTO aside from meeting Mr. Brooks twice. However Bad at Sports as an entity does, and so may some of its constituent members, depending on the person.
Throughout the course of the exhibition, framed as a mid-career retrospective, a multitude of events have been scheduled and taken place. These have spilled out of the main exhibition hall into other galleries, into the interstitial spaces of the building, and to other locations throughout the city. They’ve branched off into multiple sub-events—the month-and-a-half performance series from the Happy Collaborationists featured no less than seven artists.
It should be abundantly clear that these events are to be considered just as much a part of the exhibition as the physical objects on display, which are themselves often documents of those events. Certainly a visit to the Chicago Cultural Center could yield a variety of experiences depending on the day, and the gallery has refigured itself over the course of the exhibition. A recent visit on a weekend day was the kind of experience that would be typical of a mid-career retrospective, with documentary materials and art objects occupying the space, whereas at the opening the art itself was set in motion, literally being actively created.
The crucial point above is that the exhibition becomes self-generative and therefore is not complete until the end. This is, of course, in contrast to the traditional art exhibition that is at the outset self-contained and complete. Therefore, one can only review and assess an exhibition like this at the end, when all of these elements have been realized.
This seems to be the essential point that the Wall Street Journal ignored to their own detriment.
Yesterday I came across this interview about Ai Weiwei. The interview takes place between Spiegel International and Roger Buergel, a curator who first invited Ai Weiwei to Documenta in 2007. Buergel is certainly quotable, and the thrust of his sentiment is that Western artists are not as bent out of shape about Ai Weiwei’s absence as we ought to be; he suggests an unconscious but palpable jealousness as the cause of our apathy. “Young Western artists are producing works that amount to nothing more than footnotes in art history, and then this Chinese artist appears who takes a totally different approach and makes 98 percent of the art world look very, very old.” It definitely shocked me into paying attention—what is perhaps the larger point of such statements. It is not about what is being said, but what might be done.
Ai Weiwei has been missing for 38 days, since the Police refused to let him board a plan to Hong Kong. His latest disappearance was not his first run-in with Chinese government authority. According to an earlier article in The Washington Post, ”In 2009, in the western city of Chengdu, Ai was beaten so badly that he required surgery to have blood drained from his brain. Late last year, he was stopped at Beijing’s airport from flying to South Korea because authorities feared he might go to Oslo to attend the Nobel ceremony for Liu [2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner].” He was also prevented from having an exhibition in Beijing.
At the same time, I’m not sure what Buergel wants from us. What exactly is his call to action? It seems to me that twitter, facebook and a plethora of media outlets have been regularly fore fronting their concern for Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts. Petitions have been circulating for months now and artists have been making work in tribute. “Anish Kapoor has dedicated his largest ever artwork – a truly enormous cathedral-like space made from inflated PVC – to the missing Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” (Guardian); Kapoor’s installation opens today, May 11th, and will be open to the public until June 23rd at the Grand Palais in Paris. It is called Leviathan, after Hobbes’ instrumental work about social-political structures. Kapoor suggest all the galleries and museums in the world close down for a day, in honor of this missing colleague.
What an amazing thought.
It’s horrifying—the idea of someone getting swept up into absence. Of course it’s unacceptable that anyone would have to undergo such an ordeal. Yet there seems to be a message in Ai Weiwei’s particular missing-ness, because he boasted such an international profile. ”‘If they are willing to go this far with someone like him, then all bets are off,’ said Joshua Rosenzweig, who heads the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human-rights organization” (Wall Street Journal).
It is important to counter a sense of powerlessness. I certainly have no idea what someone could do to impact this situation, perhaps in part because there is nothing to see. The action—whatever it is—takes place out of public view, in impossible-to-reach cloisters. Only the absconding was visible. We have no direct access to the artist, only public-go-betweens. Governments are big and it feels difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how to influence such powers. Nevertheless, Kapoor takes a positive step towards a solution, outlining a possible path in order to participate in an action that is poetic, peaceable and demonstrative of a trans-national solidarity.
****On WBEZ Chicago Public Radio this week, Eight Forty-Eight ran a report about artist Chris Drew‘s fight against Chicago’s restrictive laws concerning street art vendors. The report compares Chicago’s laws on the issue to those of San Francisco and New York City, and the results are mostly unfavorable to the Windy City. This quote from Drew’s attorney Mark Weinberg sums it up nicely: “Mayor Daley has an idea of beauty which includes sort of an orderliness, you have the black wrought-iron fences, you have beautiful buildings and you have flowers in between the streets. It’s a nice idea of beauty, but it’s a very limited idea of beauty.”
****Time Out Chicago noticed that The Art Institute seems to be instituting “rolling blackouts” in its galleries. They asked the Art Institute’s Director of Public Affairs Erin Hogan if this was indeed the case, and Hogan told them yes — it’s a cost-cutting measure. Read the story here.
****On his blog, Tyler Green criticizes The University of Chicago Press‘ recent publication Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting for being “essentially an authorized biography, 389 pages of praise rather than examination and contextualization.” The book was written with the full cooperation of the artist himself, and with full access to Richter’s archives. Green adds that the “book rarely contextualizes Richter within broader history. It veers toward as-told-to territory. The prose is often grating, overly laudatory and almost always reads as if it was ripped from a press release.”
****Chris and Sam of the great Midwest painting blog MW Capacity have curated an exhibition titled undercrowded at University of Central Missouri Gallery of Art & Design. The exhibition dates are March 11-April 10, 2010. It features paintings and videos that depict depopulated public spaces and includes artists Joey Borovicka, Sam King, Kristin Musgnug and Stephanie Pierce.
****This special New York Times report on major museums whose gains in attendance are due to being “vibrant destinations where the exhibitions are sometimes besides the point” certainly isn’t breaking news, but it bears being reminded that “the rise of merchandised culture” is more than likely where the future of the behemoth arts institution (and those institutions who wish to join the ranks of the elephantine) lies. Another reason why Jeffrey Deitch’s move to MOCA makes perfect demonic sense.
****Art World Salon wonders if things might be looking up, just a smidge, for print-based arts reporting? The Wall Street Journal announces it is hiring additional arts reporters for its soon-to-be launched local section. The New York Observer says it will also expand its arts coverage on March 31. Good news for NYC-based arts bloggers? Will be interesting to see if expansion of newspaper arts coverage spells greater opportunities for arts bloggers, or if newspapers instead cull from reporters whose background lies exclusively in print media.
****These photographs by Estelle Hanania reminded me of Jeriah Hildwine’s Off-Topic essay about Ghillie Suits. Hanania’s performance images make me think we need an art theory of the ghillie suit, something that delves into performative acts of covering and uncovering, and the art of camouflage. Anyone? (via Nihilsentimentalgia).
****Stunning, and gut-wrenching, if you’re a fan of modern architecture: Chris Mottalini’s After You, They Took It Apart: a series of photographs of demolished homes by modern architect Paul Rudolph. (Via Culture Monster). The only building designed by Paul Rudolph in Illinois was the Christian Science Study Center at the University of Illinois, which was demolished in 1987.
****Eyeteeth: A Journal of incisive ideas is one of our favorite blogs. Paul Schmelzer is in the process of cataloging art blogs based in Minneapolis. He’s also tallying Twin Cities-based Artist’s Blogs, and Graphic Design Blogs. If you can add to his list, go on over and help him out!
September 24, 2009 · Print This Article
Kelly Crow with the Wall Street Journal kicks off the new Weekly full color arts coverage in WSJ magazine with “Out Size Art” an article that explores the influence that the recession has on consumers desire to invest in large-scale art installation pieces. As buyers scale back, large pieces are the first to go asking are they more of a headache then a dramatic statement.