By Deb A.
The 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art kicked off this weekend, promising several months of probing structures of power, knowledge and history ahead.
Called We Don’t Need Another Hero, the Biennale examines what it terms "our collective psychosis," focusing on "different configurations of knowledge and power that enable contradictions and complications." The exhibition, which strives to take on these themes in an accessible. meaningful way, features works from 46 artists, including Natasha A. Kelly, Herman Mbamba, and Sara Haq. Visitors to any of the Biennale's five galleries may be surprised to find that no information is provided about when and where the artists were born; this shrewd move on the part of the organisers leaves audiences free to explore the exhibition space without clichéd cultural frameworks informing their interpretations.
Indeed, much has been made of the curatorial team’s own cultural identity, but curator Gabi Ngcobo and her team—Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Serubiri Moses, Thiago de Paula Souza, and Yvette Mutumba--have repeatedly reminded journalists and art-lovers that the event is not centred on striving for new structures and systems to 'solve' post-colonialism—they are not the heroes that white Europeans may be looking for. Instead, their goal is to break through existing narratives and open up a space for different perspectives, voices, and ideas, giving artists and visitors alike the opportunity to strive for shared answers. In refusing to take on the role of hero, the Berlin Biennale reminds us that the only way to address our collective psychosis is through inclusive collective action.
By Deb A.
A man rappelled down a building to thumping electro music while a troupe in rainbow sweatshirts waited solemnly underneath the subway overpass, flanked by Art Mile sculptures and throngs of art enthusiasts. The opening of Urban Nation, the world's first major museum dedicated to graffiti, marked the emergence of just one of several landmark museums and galleries this season--here's a look at some of the art world's upcoming institutions.
Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin, Germany
Status: Opened September 16, 2017
Notable: Urban Nation is the world's first major institution for street art and graffiti. But tearing art out of its original context is not how it operates: instead, Urban Nation features works created on canvas or as sculptures specifically for the museum.
Major names: Shepard Fairey, Ron English, Blek le Rat, Cranio
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa
Status: Opened September 22, 2017
Notable: The MOCAA is the world's largest museum of modern African art. Its nine floors house over a hundred galleries featuring 21st-century African and diaspora art, including the entirety of Jochen Zeitz's personal collection.
Major names: Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili, Julie Mehretu, Glenn Ligon
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara in Jakarta, Indonesia
Status: Opens November 2017
Notable: Museum MACAN is Indonesia's first museum dedicated to international modern art. About half of the museum's works are by Indonesian artists, with the other half coming from Europe, North America and Asia. Founder Haryanto Adikoesoemo has donated art from private collection to help fulfil his proclaimed dream of creating a museum for Indonesians.
Major names: Affandi, Raden Saleh, Gerhard Richter, Anish Kapoor
Louvre Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Status: Opens November 2017
Notable: This will be the first Louvre museum to open outside of France (a satellite museum exists in Lens). Originally scheduled to open in 2012, the museum is as known for its delays and human rights scandals as it is for its exquisite architecture and the works it will house: between 200 and 300 artworks will be on loan from France over the course of a decade.
Major names: Titian, Claude Monet, Jacques-Louis David, Francesco Primaticcio
By Deb A.
Time for another round-up of bits and pieces that have caught our eye recently....
The BBC celebrated Magnum Photos's 70th anniversary with a retrospective on the legendary photo agency run by photographers.
The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art opened May 4 with Exhibition 1, a show featuring four female artists influenced by Islamic architecture and design. The institute, which is the only cultural institution representing Muslim and Arab artists in New York City, aims to encourage dialogue and confront stereotypes.
Messy Nessy takes us back to the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, where struggling writers who promise to read a book each day and work in the shop for two hours a day have been sleeping amongst the stacks since 1951.
A.R. Penck, a leader of the German Neo-Expressionist movement, died May 2, aged 77.
Just over 40% of us have embellished the truth about our reading habits, claims The Reading Agency. That statistic leaps to nearly 65% for people aged 18 to 24. Indeed, a quarter of that particular demographic purports to have read The Lord of the Rings when in fact, they've only seen the film.
...Good news for anyone who's been pretending to read Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman: The Handmaid's Tale and American Gods have both hit the small screen.
By Deb A.
As the first recipient of a DARE Art Prize, composer Samuel Hertz will produce a chamber piece below the frequencies audible to the human ear.
The £15,000 prize was created to mark the tenth anniversary of a groundbreaking academic and creative partnership between Opera North and the University of Leeds. Its aim is to encourage artists and scientists to collaborate on investigating "new approaches to the creative process."
The aptly named Mr. Hertz will work with a scientist from the University of Leeds to compose a low-frequency piece that can be felt but not heard, and to examine the effects this infrasound may have on emotions and wellbeing. The results will be released in a year's time.
Mr. Hertz, a classically trained composer and performer who works in a range of acoustic and electronic media, was selected from a shortlist of five entries, which itself was culled from applications from around the world, representing all media. The shortlisted artists were Gary Zhexi Zhang, who sought to create an interactive film installation modelled on the behaviour of slime; Marina Rees, who proposed an installation featuring live underwater transmissions and a whale choir; Melanie King, who aimed to build an installation of illusions based on astronomy; and Robin Dowell and Joanna Lampard, who envisioned creating sculptures, images or books based on the idea of scientifically classifying emotions.
By Deb A.
Germany's largest photography festival spans across Berlin and neighbouring Potsdam this year, with 100 institutions, even more exhibitions, and 500 artists taking part. The geographic scope is rivaled by the thematic sprawl of the European Month of Photography (EMOP) in Berlin: this year there is no theme.
Photographs are being shown outdoors and inside museums, galleries, cultural institutions, embassies and even municipal offices across the city, so Berliners and visitors to Germany's capital this month are likely to be able to visit a handful of exhibitions, lab tours, talks and workshops without straying too far from home.
While earlier iterations of the festival have focused on motifs such as urban, technological and political development (distURBANces, 2012), new forms of expression in photography (Mutations III, 2010), and the relationship between still and moving images (Mutations II -- Moving Still, 2008), organisers eschewed the idea of a common thread running throughout the 2016 EMOP Berlin. They did, however, highlight a few trends in submissions, including more black and white photography and a comparative lack of interest in politics and travel compared to previous years. Submissions were selected according to thematic coherence, curiosity, originality and artistic qualities.
The jury noted that the rejection of a particular theme for the led to a more diverse event "culminating in the exploration of personality and private life and the development of personal perspectives and strong individualization." In short, it's anyone's game, as long as there's talent behind the work. And talent there is, with a line-up that includes photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Helmut Newton, Alice Springs, Polixeni Papapetrou and Gunnar Smoliansky alongside up-and-comers from Berlin's many photography schools.
By Deb A.
Four Libyan tigers are prowling in a box outside Berlin's Gorki Theatre. In two days, the first volunteer will enter the cage to be eaten alive.
The action comes from the Center for Political Beauty (CPB, or Zentrum fuer Politische Schoenheit), a controversial Berlin-based collective of activist performance artists, in reaction to a law they claim is responsible for driving human trafficking and forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean in dangerous and often deadly conditions by prohibiting airlines from accepting passengers who do not have a visa.
The CPB has created an elaborate, ambitious, and by its own admissions vulgar project called 'Eating Refugees: Distress and Circuses' that encourages the general public to vote for and fund up to 100 individuals and families to travel safely on June 28th on a chartered flight from a Turkish refugee camp to their families who have already reached Berlin. If the German government does not revoke EU Directive 2001/51/EC and the flight is turned away, the first volunteer, Syrian actress and refugee May Skaf will offer herself to the tigers.
"I expect a clear sign within the next few days that the political world is ready to consider this inhumane law," she stated at a press conference. "Otherwise I, slave of a murderous power, will perish in the arena. With nothing to protect me, I will let myself be eaten by Europe." The government did not revoke the directive by the CPB's deadline, June 22nd.
For those who are horrified at the crass shock tactics and doubt that it will be seen through, CPB artist Philipp Ruch offers no hope: "Anyone who knows our work knows that when we promise to do something, we deliver."* The collective has already stolen monuments to those who fled East Germany and re-erected them along the EU border to protest the EU's refugee policies; most recently it exhumed the corpse of a Syrian woman who died at sea in her attempt to reach safety in the EU, then reburied it in Germany ('The Dead are Coming'). The artist group claims to engage "in the most innovative forms of political performance art, an expanded approach to theatre: art must hurt, provoke and rise in revolt."
* While the Center for Political Beauty may not intend to turn back on their promise, German authorities are obliged by the German constitution to act on a known suicide attempt.
By Deb A.
Until Jeanne-Claude's death in 2009, Jeanne-Claude and Christo were one of contemporary art's most famous couples. Their passion for each other was rivaled only by their devotion to their shared work; the otherwise inseparable pair was known for never traveling together in the same airplane so as not to jeopardise their ability to continue their projects. And so, in honour of the many couples who celebrated St. Valentine's Day this weekend, we look at Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Both born on June 13th, 1935--she in Morocco, he in Bulgaria--Jeanne-Claude and Christo were not exactly soulmates at first sight: Jeanne-Claude was unimpressed upon their first meeting in 1958, and also quite sure that Christo was gay. But love overcame them both, and Jeanne-Claude ended up leaving her husband of three weeks to be with Christo.
The 'twins' ("but, thank God, two different mothers," Jeanne-Claude would say) had a lot to learn from each other: he taught her about art history, and she goaded him on to use bigger and bigger objects in his art. They quickly became an artistic team and eventually they began to speak, work and live in essentially one voice, resulting in projects such as The Gates in New York City's Central Park and the Wrapped Reichstag in Berlin. While their works until 1994 were officially only credited to Christo because they believed it would be easier for a single artist to gain a footing in the art world, he set the record straight retroactively, and now all creations from 1961 on are attributed to them both.
Jeanne-Claude and Christo were together for 58 years, and some of their projects took around half of that to come to fruition: 32 years went by before they wrapped trees in Switzerland, and 25 years and three failed attempts to gain bureaucratic approval were required to wrap the Reichstag. Over more than a half-century, Christo and Jeanne-Claude realised 22 separate projects but were forced to abandon plans for 37 more; the biggest hurdle has always been the need to find out who owns every single kilometre of land that would be affected by their work and then gain every owner's approval. The application to wrap a 62-kilometre stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado ran to nearly 4000 pages of studies and reports... all for a piece of art, Christo noted, that doesn't even exist yet. That kind of passion, which continues to burn over years of paperwork and rejection and, when its goal is reached, results in a project that disappears after a few weeks with nothing for the artists but the satisfaction of having created beauty (the corporation they established to fund large-scale projects by selling off the artist's sketches pays Christo an annual salary of $80,000; he earns nothing from the projects themselves), is just the kind of love we should all celebrate.
By Deb A.
What better time than Chanukkah to gaze at beautiful light art?
By Deb A.
Much of Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf's art is dangerous: from swinging from the roof of Berlin's Sony Center to scaling Tokyo skyscrapers, the two German artists are dedicated to a borderless exploration of our built environment. They have spent years playfully, peacefully, poetically introducing audiences to the more fascinating facets of the structures that we tend to overlook... and that often involves a bit of a climb.
And yet, despite the almost trance-like calmness of their work, the artists realised that in many cases, viewers were unable to get past the inherent peril of their feats and into the art itself. They began to search for ways to help audiences put aside their marvel at the stunts themselves in order to find beauty in the mundane.
Mr. Wermke and Mr. Leinkauf's latest effort involved replacing the two American flags on New York's Brooklyn Bridge with all-white versions.
"The bridge for us is a symbol of freedom and creative opportunity," Mr. Wermke explained to the New York Times. It was designed by German-born, Berlin-trained engineer John Roebling, who, as Mr. Leinkauf noted, "came to America because it was the place to fulfill his dreams, as the most beautiful expression of a great public space."
"That beauty was what we were trying to capture."
The duo, who, in keeping with the respectful nature of their interactions with architecture and public spaces, folded the flags according to America's flag code and returned them, assert that taking public responsibility was always part of their plan, even though they were aware that their actions could result in a permanent ban from the United States. Naturally the initially unclaimed work caused a minor uproar that forced local authorities to closely examine the breach in security and its potential implications, and even a month after the white flags were raised (on July 22nd to mark the 145th anniversary of Mr. Roebling's death), media outlets continue to refer to the flags as "surrender flags". Yet perhaps naively, given the city's recent history, Mr. Leinkauf and Mr. Wermke were not expecting their project to be interpreted as particularly provocative. After all, white is also a symbol of peace.
By Deb A.
This week saw the Prix Pictet, a prestigious prize honouring photography that addresses issues surrounding sustainability, awarded to German photographer Michael Schmidt for his series Lebensmittel (foodstuffs, or groceries). The work consists of 60 photographs in a grid that each show a part of our food chain: a perfect green apple, an empty egg carton, a slaughterhouse, pigs packed tightly together, hamburgers... it is a stark, uncompromising confrontation of the realities of what we eat, where it comes from, and what it means (or doesn't mean) to us.
The theme of this year's Prix Pictet is 'Consumption', and all eleven of the shortlisted works offer an arresting glimpse into how well-being and affluence are linked to ownership, appearance and waste, in a world that has created "demand for essentials that we didn't know we needed": Laurie Simmons examines materialism through a Love Doll, Adam Bartos documents yard sales, and Rineke Dijkstra follows a Bosnian asylum seeker's acclimatisation into Dutch culture. Kofi Annan, who presented the award, rightly noted that "the shortlisted artists have made powerful images that ought to persuade governments, businesses, and each of us as individual consumers of the need for a fundamental rethink of the principles on which present-day affluence is founded."
If you find you're in need of a rethink, the shortlisted works will be on display at the Victoria &Albert Museum in London until June 14th.
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