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 Kabakov’s concept drawing for Three Nights, 1989.

    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

  • Liliana Porter, El hombre con el hacha y otras situaciones breves, Venecia 2017 (Man with Ax and Other Brief Situations, Venice 2017) (detail), mixed media. Installation view, Arsenale, Venice. From “Viva Arte Viva: Pavilion of Time and Infinity.” Photo: Chandra Glick.


    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

  • Artists from Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League) meet with Institute for Human Activities staff members Laurens Otto (second from left) and Nicolas Jolly (right), Lusanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 22, 2016. Photo: Léonardo Pongo.

    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

  • Anna Boghiguian, The Salt Traders (detail), 2015, mixed media. Installation view, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Photo: Peter Cox.

    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

  • View of “Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better,” 2016. Upper tier: “Suddenly This Overview,” 1981–. Photo: David Heald.

    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,

  • Danh Vo, Lick Me Lick Me, 2015, white crystalline Greek-marble torso of Apollo, wood, nails. Installation view, Danish pavilion, Venice. Photo: Kate Lacey.

    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

  • View of “Magiciens de la Terre,” 1989, Grand Halle de La Villette, Paris. Foreground: Kane Kwei, seven coffins (Eagle, Elephant, Fish, Lobster, House, Onion, Mercedes), all 1988. Midground left: Mario Merz, Untitled, 1989. Midground right: Nera Jambruck, Fronton de maison des hommes (Pediment of the House of Men), 1988. Rear wall: Richard Long, Red Earth Circle, 1989. In front of Red Earth Circle: Claes Oldenberg, From the Entropic Library, 1989.

    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