Claire Bishop

  • 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

  • View of Manchester International Festival, Mayfield Depot, Manchester, UK, 2013.

    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

  • View of “Oo,” 2013, Lithuania/Cyprus pavilion, Venice. Foreground: Maria Hassabi,Intermission, 2013; Gabriel Lester, Cousins, 2013. Background: Dexter Sinister,Work in Progress, 2013­­–. Photo: Robertas Narkus.

    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

  • Carsten Höller, Random Rolling Cylinder, 2013, aluminum, steel, rubber, electric motor, paint, fluorescent lights. Installation view, Bank Street.

    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

  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, 1982. De Keersmaeker perfoming movement 3, “Violin Phase,” July 19, 2012. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

    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

  • Carol Bove, La traversée difficile (The Difficult Crossing), 2008, mixed media. Installation view, Kimmerich, Düsseldorf. Photo: Ivo Farber.


    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,

  • View of “ILLUMInations,” 2011, Central Pavilion, Venice. From left: Gabriel Kuri, Three Arrested Clouds, 2010; Gabriel Kuri, Upside Down Horizontal Line, 2011; Gabriel Kuri, Communication Diagram, 2011; Gabriel Kuri, Dotted Line, 2011. Photo: Kate Lacey.


    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

  • Left: Santiago Sierra, Veterans of the Wars of Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Iraq Facing the Corner. (Photo: Howard Barlow) Right: Björk performing Biophilia at the Manchester International Festival. (Photo: Carsten Windhorst)
    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

  • Paweł Althamer, Balloon, 2007, nylon, polyester, acrylic, rope, helium, 69' x 23' x 13' 1/2". Installation view, outside the Palazzina Appiani Sports Arena, Milan. Photo: Marco de Scalzi. Fondazione Nicola Trussardi.


    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,

  • View of “Inno₇0,” 1971, The Hayward, London. © APG/Tate Archive.


    IN ITS FORTY-YEAR HISTORY, London’s Hayward gallery, like any art institution, has had its fair share of exhibitions that failed to pull in the masses. One of the standard-bearers in this category was “Inno₇0,” which, according to institutional lore, was the most poorly attended show in the gallery’s history. Also known as “Art & Economics,” “Inno₇0” was intended to showcase the achievements of an entity called the Artist Placement Group, whose mission was to arrange artists’ residencies at corporations and government agencies.¹ Confusing to many observers in its day, APG appears a peculiar

  • Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ari Benjamin Meyers, K.62, 2009. Performance views, Abrons Art Center, New York, November 2009. (Photos: Paradise Gonzalez/courtesy Performa)
    diary November 27, 2009

    Trial and Error

    New York

    LAST WEDNESDAY NIGHT, I found myself standing on the main stage at the Abrons Art Center, blinded by stage lights, looking at a gently playing string quartet, dimly aware of a full house halfheartedly applauding my arrival . . . and wondering what exactly I was expected to do next. As I circled toward the strings, I noticed a woman standing downstage, frantically beckoning me forward. “Are you K11?” she asked. “Yes, I’m K11!” To my relief, she led me into the auditorium, where I was gratefully given a seat in . . . row K.

    Such was my entry, in medias res, to Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ari

  • Left: Artist Harrell Fletcher. Right: Curator Okwui Enwezor.
    diary October 29, 2009

    Public Opinion

    New York

    THIS YEAR I’ve already sat through two art-related pecha kuchas—that’s the new ADD-friendly presentation format from Japan, in which people have a limited time (usually three to five minutes) to rattle through their life’s work. At the end of each speaker’s allocated slot, the next person’s PowerPoint begins, and the previous presenter has to quit the stage pronto. Pecha kucha is like a live version of channel zapping or Internet surfing—not long enough to get really bored, but also not long enough to get really interested. It’s the perfect format for the info-ravenous who crave high quantities