13 December 2014

International Outreach

From the December edition of e-flux journal, "American Tutti-Frutti," in which Porter McCray offers a historical overview of the founding of MoMA and the role it played in promoting American art abroad during the Cold War era. Topics covered: Alfred Barr's "torpedo" diagram, Jackson Pollock in Belgrade, as well as the ill-fated "Advancing American Art" touring exhibition which I wrote about some time ago.

The essay is apparently part of an e-flux hosted event entitled "The Unmaking of Art." Thing is, note the chronology offered in the preface to the essay, and you'll note that McCray -- the former director of MoMA's International Program during the years in question -- died some 14 years ago, yet is still listed as presenting at the event. Best I can make of that is that yet another example of e-flux related events in which presentations are given by people assuming the persona of certain historical artistic figure; such as Gertrude Stein and Alfred Barr on this occasion, and the appearance of a Walter Benjamin impersonator on several others. In fact, the McCray essay dovetails very well with "Walter Benjamin" essay "The Making of Americans," which e-flux published back in autumn of last year. And it appears that the "Walter Benjamin" n question recently published a volume of collected writings.

The theme of the latest edition is that of the function of the museum in contemporary society. In relation to the McCray essay, there's Arseny Zhilyaev's "Conceptual Realism: The Vulgar Freedom of Avant-Garde Museum Work," about Soviet museum culture in the decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. Early in the piece, Zhilyaev writes:

“...Many of the practices of contemporary art were anticipated by the historical avant-garde and its radical explosion of the 1910s–’30s, albeit in 'laboratory mode.' Right now, there is no actual social basis that would allow us to talk about the expansion of democracy’s borders and a new avant-garde project. But the practice of combining artistic and curatorial positions is still highly productive, in terms of problematizing the exhibition as a special form and medium of contemporary art — a medium which is based on hidden and deep rules of social organization. At that, they not only are productive, but also may potentially lead to the radicalization of the primary impulse of the whole modernist project with its present contemporary art condition.

"We are in fact already witnessing such a tendency. Thus, it is an increasingly frequent occasion nowadays that art historians have started to describe art history as the history of exhibitions, and not that of individual artistic statements. And often, these artistic statements themselves appropriate the expositional practices of the curators, not to mention the rather widespread practice of an artist acting as a curator of an essentially curatorial exhibition.”

Some hazily broad assertions, there; some of which begging for illustrative examples. And while its debatable that "art historians" (in any supposed lumpen sense) increasingly see art history as a lineage of landmark exhibitions, it's certainly been a growing trend among the curatorial sector of the artworld over the past two decades.

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