Notes on a cultural trip diverted from its initial trajectory, each stop turning art destination of its own, while summer holiday becomes an abstract concept.
Monaco, the French Riviera, the Mediterranean scenery, the Casino, the glamour… We all know the clichés that come to mind when pronouncing the name of the Principality. But what makes it a worthwhile destination to the art enthusiasts is the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM) and the programme of exhibitions it has put together over the past few years. Hardly known is the fact that this fairly recent museum was created in 2003 on a territory that had had no fine art museum since 1957 after its Musée des Beaux-Arts was demolished to make way for a property development project.
Set over two locations, Villa Paloma and Villa Sauber, the NMNM – initially led by Jean-Michel Bouhours (MNAM, Pompidou Centre) until 2008 – established its name through the artistic vision of its current director, Marie-Claude Beaud, who inaugurated the Villa Paloma in 2010 and has been the driving force behind the acquisitions that have enriched Monaco’s contemporary art collection. The making of this collection is the object of an exhibition still running at Villa Sauber.
“Construire une Collection” is the second installment of the two-part showcase of selected pieces celebrating 10 years of the museum’s acquisitions. Visitors are welcomed to Stéphane Magnin’s Reading Salon (Salon de Lecture) especially designed for the occasion. The exhibition then opens on Mark Dion’s Davy Jones’ Locker, 2011 an installation conceived with pieces from the NMNM, Société des Bains de Mer (S.B.M) Archives, and the Prince’s Palace Collections.
What appears from the outset is that “Construire une Collection” not only speaks to current art practice on an international level, as an institution, it also reflects on its own exhibition history while triggering the memory of local and international visitors. Some of the pieces call to mind the exhibitions in which they were featured before being acquired or as they entered the collection. For instance one would remember Dion’s cabinet in “Océanomania” (2011), Lourdes Castro’s Grand Herbier d’Ombres, 1972, from “Le Silence: Une fiction” (2012) or Marc-Camille Chaimowicz, Rideau pour la Villa Sauber, 2014, from “Portraits d’Intérieur” (2014).
Other works such as Linda Fregni Nagler’s Hidden Mothers, 2006-2013, and Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue, 2013, were highlights of the 55th Venice Biennale where the latter was awarded the Silver Lion.
Among the acquisitions presented for the first time at the NMNM are Hans-Peter Feldmann’s Schattenspiel (Shadow Play), 2002, Christian Boltanski’s Archives du musée des enfants III, 1989, and Anne and Patrick Poirier’s Dodici Visi di una fontana morta, 1974.
Alongside the exhibition the NMNM has published a catalogue with a quirky design conveying the idea of inventory, with essays by Christine Eyene, Joao Fernandes, Simone Menegoi, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Chiara Parisi, Chris Sharp, among others.
“Construire une Collection” is on until November 1st. See the NMNM programme of exhibitions here.
A five-hour road journey from Monaco, Venice hosted the 2015 Creative Time Summit. The New York organisation supporting artists addressing socio-political issues and championing socially-engaging public art held it 7th summit at the Venice Biennale from 11th to 13th August.
Launched in 2009, the summit aims “to spotlight how artists are working to transform communities, affect policy and politics and contribute to social change” said Anna Pasternak, ending her 20-year role as president and artistic director of Creative Time. This edition was devoted to expanded notions of The Curriculum outside traditional educational institutions, bringing to the fore how “marginalized knowledge systems are being reactivated through the exploration of indigenous, decolonized, experimental, or radicalized curricula”.
Second round at the 56th Venice Biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor who gave one of the introductory speeches. In his address, Enwezor posited the summit as part of what makes an exhibition, in this case the biennale, a potential site for both discussion and dispute, placing it in front of its responsibility to act as a public forum. He described the making of the 56th International Exhibition, All Of The World’s Futures, as a process of thinking about the state of things around the world that demanded an analytical lens through which the exhibition could become a thinking machine.
While acknowledging the fact that art had no obligation towards social awareness, Enwezor argued that an exhibition could not afford such form of disengagement. “An exhibition, he said, is something that happens in the world and carries with it the noise, pollution, dust and decay that come from that world.” Expanding on the biennale’s central image – Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus (1920) and Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of it in his Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940) – Enwezor aligned the idea of the debris resulting from the catastrophe that is progress, with that of the messy world that is an exhibition, “as a space of public discourse, a stage of anticipatory practices, and statement of intent” that can no more distance itself from its cultural context than it can from the very social condition that brings it into dialogue with its publics.
With that in mind, this second visit to Venice was both an opportunity to hear from a number of international interdisciplinary practitioners whose work easily fitted within the category of activism, as it was to look again at the biennale with new eyes. Three months had passed since the May opening and a spate of catastrophes from the ‘messy world’ evoked by Enwezor had caught up with us, bringing new meaning to some of the pieces exhibited. How could one revisit Theaster Gates’ Gone Are The Days of Shelter and Martyr (2014) without thinking of a church’s ruins as a receptacle of memory after the Charleston massacre and the burning of black churches in Southern United States.
Syrian collective Abounaddara’s underground documentaries on Syria’s tragedy are stories taken on by mainstream media that have shaken public opinion and questioned the values of the Western societies that continue to invoke ill-conceived nationalist, economic or political reasons to justify closing their borders to fellow human beings in need or aspiring to a better life; people derogatorily referred to as “migrants”, if not “illegal immigrants”.
Similarly, the Invisible Borders project reclaims a basic human right, freedom of movement – a right often denied to Africans beyond, and sometimes within, the continent’s borders – while the ocean in John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea (2015) poetically, but no less forcefully, narrates the lives, human and otherwise, that have and continue to pay for the greed and injustice of those in power.
Alternating tours of the dense exhibition offering and the summit, visitors often opted to select a number of panels to attend. For, it has to be said, the organisation did not facilitate possibilities for other professionals to extend their visit of the biennale beyond the three-day event. This comment aside, the summit participants made compelling presentations of initiatives anchored within socio-political activism and the democratisation of access to knowledge and culture. These were documented by Creative Time and are available online here.
It would be difficult to single out any presentation as each one had their own particularity and addressed contexts that are specific to their environment or practice. That being said Amy Goodman’s keynote, Kunle Adeyemi, Tina Sherwell and Joshua Wong’s presentations were some of the highlights of day one. During day two, issues pertaining to land, place, displacement, native and first nations identities were most striking notably through the theme of the Geography of Learning with Michael Gerace from Relocate Kivalina, Athi Mongezeleli Joja from Gugulective and Jolene Rickard, Director of the American Indian Program and Associate Professor in the History of Art and Art Departments at Cornell University. A project like Bait al Karama in Palestine, introduced by Beatrice Catanzaro, was much inspiring. So was Simone Leigh’s presentation of the Free People Medical Clinic in Brooklyn.
Beyond the urgency of the Black Lives Matter slogan prompted by the endemic racism within American society, to care for the black body, to address medical injustice and advocate for self-love, these are some of the objectives at the heart of the project established by Leigh. Citing the example of Esmin Green, a 49-year-old patient who died in a waiting room at Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn, in 2008, while waiting to be tended to for 24 hours and being ignored by medical staff for 45 minutes after she had collapsed on the floor, Leigh expressed the view that “one of the major causes of death for black women is obedience”. A statement that still resonates today in light of the death of Sandra Bland in police custody.
Arguably the most radical intervention was that of Maria Galindo from Mujeres Creando who opened her statement by declaring she was only addressing the audience in English for practical reasons, not in obedience to the Anglo-cultural hegemony. “We are not making art, she cried out, we are making politics! We are not making political art either, we are making politics, just politics!”
As the final speech of the day, perhaps Galindo’s call was our cue to appraise this capsule that is the biennale beyond the art exhibition itself. To leave the field of art, even, as the Visible Project enjoins us. “Cause it’s not just about art” Mel Chin suggested on day three as he discussed social practice while raising some of the well-known contradictions of the art world.
This, of course, called for a reflection on the very occurrence of the summit at the Venice Biennale…
Japan, now that was the intended destination! After attending the Yokohama Triennale last year, and the Yokohama International Conference of Contemporary African Arts the year before, this time Tokyo was to be the centre of this brief cultural immersion.
Arrival at Narita airport and the excitement begins. Every visit revives the expectation of being lost in a different world. But each time, memory brings back feelings of familiarity. The usual stop by custom officers, the same questions, the same answer: “I come to see some art”. The same ATM, a JR pass, Narita Express, impeccable punctuality, a seamless transfer to town.
After checking-in in Shimbashi, one look-up at a map and off to the first venue: L’amusée in Shibuya, established in 2011 by Tokyo, Paris and London-based gallery owner Atsuko Barouh. The gallery’s name sounds like a pun on the masculine French word “le musée” (the museum) and its written feminine form which, if applied grammatically, reads “la musée” or “l’amusée” (the amused). A seemingly light take on the art world from a figure gaining ground on the Japanese scene while on the look out for international art practice. “Experiencing Shōbu Gakuen”, L’amusée’s summer exhibition, was drawing to a close as the team were finalising preparations for the September show.
“absolute now”, a group exhibition taking its cue from “Time and Eternity”, an essay by Japanese author Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966), proposes to examine the universal concept of time and its relationship to eternity. Curated by London-based Japanese artist Kaz, the exhibition brings together Rieko Akatsuka, George Barber, Masayuki Kawai, Guy Sherwin, Tereza Stehlíková, and Kaz himself. Throughout the exhibition are also scheduled a series of public events (until October 11th).
At Espace Louis Vuitton, Omotesando, Belgian artist Jan Fabre presents his Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo (2011–2013) until September 23rd. Not just an occasion to catch up with an exhibition missed in Europe, but also the curiosity to see how the reexamination of Belgium’s colonial past is articulated within the walls of a luxury brand, in Tokyo. This, against the background of the conversations opened by Vincent Meessen’s Personne et les autres, the Belgian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, which took up the challenge of addressing the legacy of this painful history.
Fabre’s compositions and sculptures, made of shields from jewel beetles, draw from the aesthetics, fables and morals of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights (1480-1505) and represent the darkness behind slavery, colonisation, and the looting of gold that contributed to Belgian’s wealth. Pieces like Gamble with Death (2011) showing a decapitated blindfolded head pierced by a sword with blood dripping above a set of playing cards, or Skull with the tool of power (2013) a skull to which are hung Christian rosaries, are most evocative.
In this particular location, the works subtly underline the intimate ties between the legacy of Europe’s colonial exploitation and the very notion of past and present access to luxury. This is heightened by the intricacy and the craftsmanship applied to the making of these quite delightful and luminescent pieces of art. But what seems to be missing, beyond the artist’s intention, is the venue’s interest in fostering the very rich debate that could be had around this narrative. There does not seem to be any conversation planned around the issues raised by Fabre. No further mediation between the art works and the public. Which begs the question of which public? To whom does this exhibition speak? Surely a Japanese audience would not engage with it the same way Europeans would, let alone African viewers.
Somehow, within this setting, one feels as though Fabre’s tribute magnifies the beauty of the art objects – which we accept as part of what art does – more than it challenges the mechanisms of colonial and neo-imperialist systems, which – if we return to Enwezor’s idea of an exhibition as a “potential site for discussion and dispute” – could have been envisaged as an element of mediation.
In Meguro/Daikanyama, unavoidable visit to The Container where the work of Tokyo-based Irish photographer Suzanne Mooney, a winner of the 2015 Aesthetica Art Prize, is exhibited until October 11th. “A few light taps upon the pane, no one turns, no reply” presents a set three images. A large print, the central piece, belongs to a series depicting uncompleted buildings in Dublin where constructions came to a halt after the collapse of the Irish economy in 2008. Two smaller images show an unfinished building and a view from a Tokyo high-rise. For this exhibition Mooney proposed to convert The Container into a life-size light box, giving an altogether different feel to this small and dark space in which founder and curator Shai Ohayon pushes the experiment of exhibition display. Read his curatorial statement here.
Three hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen: Osaka. Hosted by music composer and curator Koh Yoshida, and his wife the designer Mio Yoshida, founders of Tsukiyo To Syonen, we visit a number of independent spaces in town before heading towards the Dojima River Forum to catch the last days of the Dojima River Biennale.
Curated by Tom Trevor, “Take Me To The River” (that closed end of August) was “a project about change and exchange in the contemporary space of flows. Exploring the notion of ‘the current’ within contemporary art, and the confluence of multiple temporalities within globalised culture today, it employe[d] the metaphor of the river to examine the experience of being immersed in a world marked by an unprecedented diversity and depth of difference, by the coexistence of incommensurable viewpoints, and by the absence of an all-encompassing narrative […].”
Held in a convention centre, the exhibition faced the challenges of non-art dedicated spaces while benefitting from the surprising effects of the blurred lines between infrastructure and installation format. This was evident once one realised that the counter left of the entrance was not some random bar but an installation of glassware by Motoyuki Shitamichi, from bottles swept ashore as part of his interrogation on the idea of borders in relation to river and sea.
Of the exhibition one could say that it was an enjoyable experience. Its scale was manageable, allowing visitors to remain focused and absorb the narrative of each piece – which is more and more of a challenge at major biennials. Themed exhibitions have their share of constrains but the size of “Take Me To The River” meant that the work kept a tight relevance to the announced theme while avoiding to be too literal or illustrative. One has to observe, though, that the notion of “globalised culture” and “unprecedented diversity” did not include any black artist or artists from the global South. Which, in a way, is not surprising in the context of the Japanese art scene but being British-based, the curator’s practice is exposed to a diverse cultural scene. One knows that curatorial choices partake of a thorough reflection process. Still, this recurring absence has to be questioned.
That does not take away the interest of this exhibition. Again, it is hard to point out specific works. Critic’s picks are subjective anyway. However one could mention The Play’s re-enacted floating house; Melanie Jackson’s miniature scene of mediatised catastrophes, Yuken Teruya’s carefully crafted sculptures turning fast food paper wrappings back into miniature trees; Superflex Flooded McDonalds (2008), Shimabuku’s Lamprey in Bordeaux (2011) which installation blended rather well with the features of what looked like an office space; and the pinnacle of the show, Ryoji Ikeda’s data.tecture (2015), incredible audiovisual installation that one could contemplate from above and be part of, immersed in what felt like a virtual space where the body is either a participating data, or a bug disrupting the flow of information.
Round the corner from the Dojima River Forum, The National Museum of Art, Osaka is holding two exhibitions. “Wolfgang Tillmans: Your Body is Yours”, Tillmans’ first solo show in Japan in 11 years. Quiet impressive to see this major retrospective a couple of years after having seen his solo display at Arles Photography Festival. It was also a nice surprise to find one familiar face throughout the exhibition, portraits of German artist Alexandra Bircken with whom we worked on an art and design project in 2013-14. The second exhibition, “Time Of Others”, a group show of predominantly Asian artists, drew my attention to a number of names like Ho Tzu Nyen, Tsubasa Kato, On Kawara, Danh Vō, and again Motoyuki Shitamichi who was in the Dojima River Biennale. Both shows are on until September 23rd.
The trip ended at the Yokohama Museum of Art with “Cai Guo-Quiang: There and Back Again” (until October 18th).
And then there were the social moments: an awesome concert of Mouse on the Keys at Unit, Daikanyama; the surreal Japanese Afrobeat band JariBu Afrobeat Arkestra at No Style, Shibuya; and the best surprise was pushing the door of Box, Shinjuku, quite by chance, simply because the Naija restaurant upstairs was closed, and finding this unpretentious cosy bar that played Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop, etc. Aoki the bartender/DJ and his friends made me feel at home. I promised I would return. Tokyo, next time, no detour…
By Christine Eyene,
Making Histories Visible
University of Central Lancashire