Claire Bishop


    THE MOST POSITIVE WAY to describe the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale is to say that a relatively large percentage of the work on view is good enough to survive a lousy curatorial premise. But just for fun, let’s start at rock bottom: that much-discussed title, “May You Live in Interesting Times.” I can understand the Biennale’s artistic director—this round, Ralph Rugoff—wanting to puncture the ludicrously inflated rhetoric of previous editions’ titles, but his use of this fake Chinese curse oozes such privileged detachment that you wish the entire exhibition had simply been left untitled. It would


    THERE’S A TENDENCY to dismiss artistic gestures created in the white heat of the political present—they don’t rise above the complexities of their moment or have anything to say to future generations. The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera begs to differ. For the past decade or so, she has referred to such work as political timing specific.1 The phrase is a clear riff on site-specific, a term devised in the late 1960s to describe an anticommercial way of making sculpture within the physical remit of a given space, such that the work could not be resituated without its destruction. But this analogy is


    IT’S HARD THESE DAYS to stand out as a performance space in New York. Every arts venue in the city seems to be developing a hybrid visual art and performance program: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, the Park Avenue Armory, Performance Space New York. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a performing arts series. So what’s a new cultural venue to do? One idea is to make it really, really big—say, two hundred thousand square feet. Another might be to hire Diller Scofidio + Renfro to design an eye-catching structure with some kind

  • Ilya and Emilia Kabakov

    ILYA KABAKOV is arguably the paradigmatic installation artist, known above all for his theorization of the immersive “total installation,” and its execution in dozens of large-scale works made since the mid-1980s (after 1988 usually in collaboration with his partner and subsequent wife, Emilia). Yet this retrospective, “Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future,” was unfortunately not London’s long-awaited opportunity to experience an overview of the Soviet-born artists’ melancholy-utopian otherworlds. Instead, it rebranded them as painters, and not very good ones at that. As a result, the


    EVERYONE I SPOKE TO at the opening of “Viva Arte Viva,” the centerpiece of the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale, was unambiguously assertive in their condemnation. So boring! So apolitical! So neo-primitivist! So anthropological! So male (65 percent) and so white (57 percent)! And let’s not even get started on all those themed pavilions: “Time and Infinity”? “Artists and Books”? And did you read the wall texts? Embarrassing!

    Some of these comments were warranted, but their vehemence was disconcerting, because I found curator Christine Macel’s Biennale far from offensive; I’d even say enjoyable. The

  • Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

    IT’S A COLD JANUARY AFTERNOON at SculptureCenter in Queens, New York, and a lineup of top-notch intellectuals are arrayed before a small audience. Their task is to make sense of an exhibition of work by the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League, or CATPC), brought here by Dutch artist Renzo Martens: twelve chocolate sculptures, a handful of drawings, and an enigmatic forty-one-minute video. No one on the panel can really come to grips with the project. Anthropologist Michael Taussig avoids the issue by discussing preplantation agriculture

  • Claire Bishop

    1 ANNA BOGHIGUIAN, THE SALT TRADERS (VAN ABBEMUSEUM, EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS; CURATED BY ANNIE FLETCHER) At the center of an unexpectedly devastating group exhibition featuring the nomadic Cairo-based septuagenarian was the stunning installation The Salt Traders, 2015: a wooden grid of drawings, paintings, and collages, alternating with pungent honeycombs and salt. Boghiguian assembled a cosmos of research on the colonial use of salt, its centrality to the slave trade, and the contemporary legacy of this history—including the deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police. After

  • Peter Fischli and David Weiss

    THE TITLE of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s current retrospective, “How to Work Better,” is taken from a ten-point list that the pair spotted in a Thai ceramics factory in 1990. Beginning sensibly enough with “Do one thing at a time” and ending with the banal management directive “Smile,” the list has cropped up throughout the Swiss artists’ oeuvre, most imposingly as a mural painted on the side of a non-descript office building in Zurich in 1991. Its slightly wonky font currently looms over the corner of Houston and Mott in New York, courtesy of Public Art Fund. At the Guggenheim, however,

  • Claire Bishop

    THE FIFTY-SIXTH VENICE BIENNALE is dominated by a Danh Vo double bill: “mothertongue,” a solo show in the Danish pavilion, and “Slip of the Tongue,” a large exhibition curated by the artist at the François Pinault Foundation’s Punta della Dogana, where Vo has mixed his own work with that of some three dozen others. Vo’s solo outing makes for one of this year’s most striking national pavilions, an exquisitely spare arrangement of Danish modern furniture, Oaxacan tiles, sinuous dead branches, and sawn-off or crated-up statuary from the first through seventeenth centuries. The tasteful atmosphere

  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

    THE ART WORLD’S FASCINATION with relocating dance into the gallery has been gathering steam for well over a decade—and as of this spring it shows no signs of abating, despite the numerous conundrums that encumber the transition from theater to white cube. Of all the stage-to-gallery transpositions I’ve seen, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s recent exhibition at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels resolved these dilemmas most impressively. This one-work show was based on the Belgian choreographer’s sixty-minute dance Vortex Temporum, first performed by her company Rosas in 2013. As a

  • Claire Bishop

    THIS SEEMS TO BE THE YEAR that dance went discursive. The possibilities and limitations of this shift marked the two most influential performance experiences I had in 2014. The first was Ralph Lemon’s Value Talks at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a yearlong series of discussions and performances, and the second was Boris Charmatz’s expo zéro in its two-day iteration at Berliner Festspiele in July. And, sigh, full disclosure: I was partially involved in both projects, as one of a lineup of invited participants.

    Lemon’s Value Talks were organized as part of his one-year Annenberg Research

  • Making Art Global

    AROUND THE TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM, books dealing with the relatively new art-historical subgenre of exhibition history were few and far between. The category pretty much comprised the anthology Thinking About Exhibitions (Bruce W. Ferguson et al., 1996), Bruce Altshuler’s The Avant-Garde in Exhibition (1998), and Mary Anne Staniszewski’s The Power of Display (1998). These methodologically disparate works had little in common beyond their obscurity: Simply being aware of them felt like being part of an esoteric minority seeking cult knowledge. Since the late 2000s, however, as institutionally

  • the Manchester International Festival

    SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 2007, the Manchester Inter­national Festival has leaned heavily on curator Hans Ulrich Obrist for advice on the portion of its programming devoted to visual art, which the biennial always features alongside big-name acts from pop and theater (this year’s lineup included Kenneth Branagh, in Macbeth; Massive Attack; and the xx). Obrist, for his part, seems to have continually used the festival to rethink the relationship between performance and visual art. In 2007, he and Philippe Parreno staged the first iteration of “Il Tempo del Postino,” an attempt to reinvent the

  • Claire Bishop

    DEPENDING ON WHOM YOU SPEAK TO, the Lithuania/Cyprus pavilion is either an unforgettably atmospheric nonpavilion that sets new standards for post-national, site-specific representation in Venice, or an obfuscating haze of fictions without any core or substance. The jury in Venice clearly took the former view, awarding the undertaking a “special mention” during the vernissage.

    For a start, there is the pairing: Lithuanian curator Raimundas Malašauskas was invited to organize both national pavilions and decided to make an unlikely merger. And then there is the building: Rather than rent out a

  • Sharjah Biennial 11

    IT’S MY FIRST RESEARCH TRIP to the Middle East, and I am woefully underprepared. What do I know about Sharjah? Only that it’s a “dry” emirate (in both climate and alcohol consumption) that has invested seriously in culture and heritage rather than buying brand names (Abu Dhabi’s yet-to-be-built Louvre and Guggenheim museums) or pursuing art as business (Dubai’s commercial galleries and art fair). I also know that Jack Persekian, the artistic director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, was fired due to controversy over a “blasphemous” work in the 2011 Sharjah Biennial by Algerian artist Mustapha

  • Claire Bishop

    ONE OF THE FEW HIGHLIGHTS of this past summer’s Cultural Olympiad, the UK government’s austerity-busting spending spree, was the July opening of the Tanks, Tate Modern’s new gallery spaces. Back in the days when Tate Modern was a power station, the Tanks, located just south of Turbine Hall, held vast supplies of oil. Now these enormous structures have been converted into fully equipped circular spaces designed for performance, installation, and film—apparently the first museum galleries in the world to be dedicated to these modes, and a significant departure from the 1960s arts-center


    WHATEVER HAPPENED TO DIGITAL ART? Cast your mind back to the late 1990s, when we got our first e-mail accounts. Wasn’t there a pervasive sense that visual art was going to get digital, too, harnessing the new technologies that were just beginning to transform our lives? But somehow the venture never really gained traction—which is not to say that digital media have failed to infiltrate contemporary art. Most art today deploys new technology at one if not most stages of its production, dissemination, and consumption. Multichannel video installations, Photoshopped images, digital prints,


    WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT, eight years ago, that the biennial as an exhibition format had peaked? In hindsight, it appears that Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 in 2002 and Francesco Bonami’s “Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer” in Venice the following year may have marked the outer limits of what is possible in these sprawling endeavors. Enwezor’s and Bonami’s shows seemed to confirm that the biennial, with its global reach and its comparative freedom from institutional red tape and historical baggage, provided a unique opportunity to experiment freely with curatorial arrangements

  • diary July 18, 2011

    Rooms for Improvement

    UNLIKE ITS NORTHERN NEIGHBOR LIVERPOOL, Manchester has long eschewed the biennial in favor of a cross-disciplinary, celebrity-laced International Festival. Its first edition, held in 2007, premiered “Il Tempo del Postino” (Philippe Parreno and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s not altogether felicitous attempt to stage performance art in a traditional theater) and hosted an experimental opera by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creators of the band Gorillaz. The second edition, in 2009, saw Marina Abramović giving lessons in watching durational art, another opera (by Rufus Wainwright), and commissions from


    MOST PEOPLE KNOW Paweł Althamer’s art only on the basis of his sculpture: densely worked, life-size figures, often depicting himself or his immediate family, that combine organic materials with found objects such as clothing or glasses. These works exude a homespun, introverted uncanniness—think Ed Kienholz by way of Gunther von Hagens. Althamer is also well known for a more anomalous sculpture, disarmingly Pop in flavor: a massive inflatable self-portrait of the artist’s naked self, floating in the air but anchored to the ground by scores of long cords, like a gravity-free Gulliver. However,