The Institution of Contemporary Exhibitions

April 28, 2009

Graduate Seminar
ARTH 5929
Fall 2009
Tuesdays 4-6.30

This seminar wants to problematize exhibition making in contemporary art as an institution. A lot of reflection has been done on the role of blockbuster exhibitions as part of the contemporary museum culture but relatively little has been theorized on the range of contemporary exhibitions and their role in the making of contemporary art.

This being said, one part of the course will deal with widely critiqued leading exhibition-institutions like Kassel’s documenta, Venice Biennale, and the Whitney Biennial. However, new biennial offsprings around the globe keep mushrooming, and we will question the motivation, objective and success of some of them.

We will also cast an eye on alternative exhibition spaces in the tradition of the Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle but also in the public space. These venues like to define themselves as anti-market in approach. We will point out, however, that they are also subject to a particular professional network, funding, and constituency.

An effort will be made to address Globalism and Post-Culturalism in exhibition making, looking at the role of exhibitions in the making of movements or regional identities:

– Magiciens de la Terre, 1989 in Paris, Africa Remix in 2005
– exhibitions of Latin-American art, beginning with the MoMA’s show in 1993 up to the series at the Cisneros Foundation
– Eastern Europe (Manifesta, the pan-European biennial since 1996)
– Chinese Art being introduced to the West (beginning with Harald Szeemann’s Venice Biennial in 1999, and more recently with Mahjong, 2007 in Bern and Hamburg, and the recent exhibitions of Chinese Art from private collections in San Francisco and Berkeley)

How do artists position themselves and how do they find themselves positioned in this global scheme? Some exoticize themselves while others don’t want to be identified with a certain regional area…

We will also try to capture what are the topics of very recent contemporary exhibitions. One of them is “Embrace! 18 artworks commissioned for the Libeskind Architecture”, that the Denver Art Museum will be showing in the fall. This is an ambitious contemporary show that we will visit and analyze in its scope and success. (The Guggenheim Museum in New York is doing a similar series of artworks for their Wright-Architecture.) In an interview with Christoph Heinrich, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum, and with Adam Lerner, newly appointed Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, we will find out how their programs of contemporary exhibitions differ and possible complement each other.

Students are required to develop a final project rather than a research paper. You will be asked to develop your own fictive exhibition project – either your own work or a group show or a thematic approach. The focus will be on your choice of the institution, existing or fictive, and how you make your case for this institution. You will introduce your exhibition on our class blog, including: application for your exhibition with the particular institution, press release, main catalog essay, wall labels – all on the assumption of an ideal checklist that is not compromised by funding or loan restrictions.

Students who want to take this class should subscribe asap to e-flux, or check their website regularly.  E-flux sends an overwhelming amount of emails to subscribers that announce new exhibitions worldwide. This will give you an impression of what is going on right now.


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