Hans-Ulrich Obrist

  • Xu Zhen

    IN AUGUST 2005 word began to spread through the Chinese art community that the Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen had scaled Mount Everest and, what’s more, managed (with a band of expert climbers) to saw off the top 1.86 meters of the mountain’s peak. A month later, this icy trophy became the pièce de résistance in the artist’s installation 8848-1.86 at the Yokohama International Triennale of Contemporary Art in Japan—preserved inside a refrigerated vitrine surrounded by video and photographic documentation of the climb as well as by the team’s equipment. The natural reaction among audiences was,

  • Cao Fei

    CAO FEI IS A KEY MEMBER of the vibrant new generation of Chinese artists emerging in the early twenty-first century, a time marked by widespread optimism similar to that which existed in the US in the 1950s and ’60s. As curator Hou Hanru has remarked, most of them came of age in a world of electronic advertising and imported entertainment ranging from Taiwanese television to American rap. Although influenced in their embrace of a variety of media by Chinese artists in exile, such as Huang Yong Ping in Paris or Cai-Guo Qiang in New York, the members of the younger generation have chosen to remain


    For even the best-traveled viewer of contemporary art, the collaborative team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla would seem to have made a startlingly abrupt entrance onto the international art-world stage. In just the past two years, they have appeared in “Common Wealth” at Tate Modern and “How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age” at the Walker Art Center (both 2003), as well as Dak’Art: The Biennial of African Contemporary Art (2004); this summer, they will contribute to the Venice Biennale. But Allora and Calzadilla first joined forces in 1997 with a piece whose poetic and


    FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW, DAVID ROBBINS’S standard biographical note has begun with a similar sentence: “David Robbins has had more than thirty solo exhibitions in the United States and Europe, and participated in many group exhibitions.” And judging from his recent work, that would seem to have been enough. Robbins made a name for himself in the mid-1980s with a series of conceptual works that used the New York art world itself as material for comedy, as in The David Robbins Show, 1986, and The Art Dealers’ Optical Tests, 1987. Most penetrating of all, his seminal 1986 piece Talent comprised

  • Joy Gregory, Sunil Gupta, and Gordon Gabashane at the 1st Johannesburg Biennale, 1995. Photo: Martha Rosler.


    When Francesco Bonami, director of last summer’s Venice Biennale, famously wrote in his exhibition catalogue that “The ‘Grand Show’ of the 21st century must allow multiplicity, diversity and contradiction to exist inside the structure of an exhibition . . . a world where the conflicts of globalization are met by the romantic dreams of a new modernity,” it was reasonable to imagine that he was responding to structural and thematic questions posed by Okwui Enwezor in his Documenta 11 of the preceding year. After all, the Nigerian-born curator, focusing on the issue of globalization, had in a sense


    At the 50th Venice Biennale, Shanghai-based artist Yang Fudong presented The Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest, 2003, the first part of his new filmic pentalogy, The Seven Intellectuals, an adaptation of the traditional Chinese stories known as “The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.” The first installment (shot in 35 mm black and white) begins the series’ exploration of the ambiguous position of intellectuals in contemporary China—their longing for individual freedom in the shifting context of an emerging capitalist economy. Yang, who was born in 1971 in Beijing and graduated from the China

  • Hans-Ulrich Obrist

    ANRI SALA, A YOUNG ALBANIAN FILMMAKER, KEEPS surprising us with his mysterious, deeply personal yet insistently political films and videos. Intervista—Finding the Words, 1998, which I first saw in Stockholm early last year at the Moderna Museet’s survey “After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe,” takes as its point of departure Sala’s accidental discovery of documentary footage from the late ’70s of his mother’s official trip to Germany as an activist in the Albanian Youth Communist Union. The black-and-white film captures the artist’s mother at rallies and award ceremonies


    Of PONTUS HULTEN, Niki de St. Phalle once said “[he has] the soul of an artist, not of a museum director.” Indeed Hulten always maintained a very special dialogue with artists, though he was not one himself, establishing lifelong friendships with Sam Francis, Jean Tinguely, and Niki de St. Phalle, whose careers he not only followed but shaped from the start. The interactive, improvisational spirit that infused exhibitions like de St. Phalle’s She, 1966—a giant sculpture of a woman whose interior was fashioned by Tinguely and Per Olof Ultveldt—characterized the whole of Hulten’s career. Director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet for fifteen years (1958–73), Hulten defined the museum as an elastic and open space, hosting a plethora of activities within its walls: lectures, film series, concerts, and debates.
    Thanks to Hulten, the Moderna Museet was to be one of the ’60s most dynamic contemporary-art institutions. During his tenure, the museum played a seminal role in bridging the gap between Europe and America. In 1962, Hulten organized a show of four young American painters (Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz), followed two years later by one of the first European surveys of American Pop art. In return, Hulten was invited to curate an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in ’68: his first historical and interdisciplinary show, it explored the machine in art, photography, and industrial design.
    In 1973 Hulten was to leave Stockholm and enter one of the most significant periods of his career. As founding director of the new museum of modern art at the Centre Georges Pompidou, which opened in 1977, Hulten organized large-scale shows that examined the making of art’s history through the links between artistic capitals: “Paris-Berlin,” “Paris-Moscow,” “Paris-New York,” and “Paris-Paris” included not only art objects that ranged from Constructivist to Pop, but films, posters, documentation, and reconstructions of exhibition spaces such as Gertrude Stein’s salon. Multivalent and interdisciplinary, these shows marked a paradigm shift in exhibition making, entering the collective memory of generations of artists, curators, and critics as few others have.
    Hulten’s career after Beaubourg reflected the same commitment to working closely with artists that has caused so many to remember him fondly. Invited by Robert Irwin and Sam Francis to establish a museum in Los Angeles (LA MoCA) in 1980, Hulten went, but, after four years of infrequent exhibitions and much fundraising, returned to Europe. From 1984–90, he was in charge of Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, and in 1985, he founded, along with Daniel Buren, Serge Fauchereau, and Sarkis, the Institut des Hautes Études en Arts Plastiques in Paris, which Hulten described as a cross between the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College.
    Artistic director of the Kunst- and Ausstellungshalle, Bonn, from 1991–95, he now heads the Jean Tinguely museum in Basel, where he curated the inaugural exhibition. Currently writing his memoirs and a book on his years at Beaubourg, Hulten met with me in his Paris apartment to talk about his lifework at the center of the art world.
    Hans-Ulrich Obrist

    HANS-ULRICH OBRIST: Jean Tinguely always said you should have been an artist. How did you end up running a museum?

    PONTUS HULTEN: In Paris, where I was writing my dissertation, I met Tinguely, Robert Breer, and some other artists who urged me to take up artmaking. I resisted this idea, but did make some films with Breer, who worked as an animator, and also some objects with Tinguely. To tell the truth, if I had had a chance to become a film director, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Though I managed to make some short films, I realized that the mid ’50s wasn’t a very good time to try and make features.


    EVER SINCE HE “DECLARED HIS INDEPENDENCE” by resigning his directorship at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, Harald Szeemann has defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, a maker of exhibitions. There is more at stake in adopting such a designation than semantics. Szeemann is more conjurer than curator—simultaneously archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant and above all, accomplice of the artists.

    At the Kunsthalle Bern, where Szeemann made his reputation during his eight-year tenure, he organized twelve to fifteen exhibitions a year, turning this venerable institution into a

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    This fall, Dada finally gets its due as a stateside movement. Curated by Dada scholar Francis M. Naumann with staffer Beth Venn, the WHITNEY’s show will include Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare. . . , as well as more than 200 objects by American and European artists associated with the movement on this side of the Atlantic. Along with the usual suspects—Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and, lately, Florine Stettheimer—you’ll also get to see works like Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (feathers and a champagne glass) and a partial


    IN CALVIN TOMKINS’ 1991 NEW YORKER PROFILE “A Touch for the Now,” curator Walter Hopps comes across as an eccentric maverick. We learn of his preferred schedule (his workday begins not long before sundown and stretches into the morning hours) and near-mythic disappearing acts (his elusiveness prompted employees at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., where he served as director in the ’70s, to make buttons reading “WALTER HOPPS WILL BE HERE IN 20 MINUTES”). It was his relentless perfectionism, however—preparators will recall the habitual groan “Wrong, wrong, wrong” that greeted their best