Michelle Kuo

  • Continuous Project

    GEORGES SEURAT once said he wanted to be paid by the hour. The nineteenth-century painter thus pinpointed the central contradiction of the modern artist and, by extension, the modern writer: Like a ragpicker or a flaneur or a hack, the artist and critic were always already compromised by capital—and by the rapaciousness of the new, the fashionable, the ever obsolescent. In our own century, each advance in culture is also a step back, a capitulation to the commodity (in any form, whether object, image, datum, or experience) and to the forces of inequality and regression.

    But art is never

  • Dawn Kasper, & sun & or THE SHAPE OF TIME, 2014. Performance view, David Lewis Gallery, New York, April 29, 2014. Dawn Kasper. Photo: Adam Reich.

    the 57th Venice Biennale

    OPENING ON MAY 13, the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale will take place amid roiling geopolitical waters—and massive shifts regarding the production of objects, ideas, and selves. Curator Christine Macel talked with Artforum editor Michelle Kuo about artistic process and the trajectory of the world’s biggest exhibition.

    MICHELLE KUO: Your title for the Biennale, “Viva Arte Viva,” literally places art at the center of life.

    CHRISTINE MACEL: The exhibition puts art and the artist first. Everything in the show has been deduced from this starting point.

    By contrast, most Biennales begin with a theme,

  • Cranes lift Marta Minujín’s Partenón de libros prohibidos (Parthenon of Banned Books), 1983, Avenida 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires, December 24, 1983.

    Documenta 14

    THIS YEAR, the vaunted quinquennial Documenta 14 will take place in two cities, opening in Athens on April 8 and in Kassel on June 10. Artistic director Adam Szymczyk—who is collaborating with an extensive team that includes curators Pierre Bal-Blanc, Hendrik Folkerts, Candice Hopkins, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Hila Peleg, Dieter Roelstraete, and Monika Szewczyk—sat down with Artforum editor Michelle Kuo to discuss the broad range of sites, forms, and ideas at play, from the democratic ideals of classical antiquity to the crisis of contemporary austerity.

    MICHELLE KUO: Athens was


    IN THESE TIMES of fear and loathing, what can a body do? Put up a hand to resist, to stop the madness, to raise a defense; gather, perform, march.

    The cover of this issue depicts one such gesture, in a photograph taken at a Black Lives Matter protest in 2014, well before the onset of the nightmare that is Trumpocracy, but registering dissent against some of the same forces of nativism, repression, and brutality that fueled the rise of the current regime. And yet this hand might also be read as a pause, a caesura. Captured by Wolfgang Tillmans—whose broad-ranging retrospective at Tate Modern

  • Kai Althoff, Untitled, 2015, oil, pencil, oil pastel, and oil crayon on fabric, 55 7/8 × 52".

    “Kai Althoff: And then leave me to the common swifts”

    Kai Althoff is decadent, in the fin-de-siècle sense of the word. The artist’s Symbolist eye for all things excessive, ardent, and synesthetic was cultivated in 1990s Cologne, yet Althoff enacts the figure of the post-Kippenberger dandy not as slacker but as devotee, all about the details. His kaleidoscopic uses of decor, staging, installation, and performance have long explored the hermetic and private histories of late late capitalism (a project for Artforum in 2011 peeked inside the apartment of a jeweler-collector from Warhol’s circle).


    I AM A MODEL MINORITY. I got good grades in math, I played tennis and the piano, and any dabbling in recreational drugs or light Marxism didn’t really faze anyone. But otherness always overtakes assimilation; I was always acutely aware of anomalousness, of exoticism or infantilization, of the weight of cliché.

    This is the double bind of identity: of identifying with a set of norms all the while knowing you will never quite fit them, and that even if you do, it’s not enough. And no person, no matter where they come from, can ever put larger histories of difference and violence behind them. Indeed,

  • Still from Andrea Geyer’s Comrades of Time (Elsa), 2010–11, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 39 seconds. One of seven HD videos from the installation Comrades of Time, 2010–11.


    TO MAP THE SHIFTING COORDINATES OF IDENTITY—and difference—in culture today, critic and art historian HUEY COPELAND moderates a roundtable with artist EMILY ROYSDON; film theorist KARA KEELING; Artforum’s editor, MICHELLE KUO; and some of the foremost thinkers on globalism, postcolonialism, and art: scholars DIPESH CHAKRABARTY, DAVID JOSELIT, and KOBENA MERCER.

    HUEY COPELAND: Is identity politics back? Did it ever truly go away? In either case, what does the term mean now and how do we think about the ways in which new understandings of identity are arising?

    One thing that characterizes this particular moment, I think, is the critical mass of artists and writers and critics and curators and viewers in and beyond the art world who are coming from positions that had previously been excluded, oppressed, or unacknowledged. But there is also, more broadly, a much greater awareness that’s been brought about by multiculturalism and identity politics, in all

  • Lynn Hershman Leeson, Seduction of a Cyborg, 1994, digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes 48 seconds. From “Electronic Superhighway (2016–1966).”

    “Electronic Superhighway (2016–1966)”

    Why do we still talk about the Internet in terms of driving a car? Networks, data, circuits: These are all non-spaces, incommensurable with the physical experience of distances or roads or freeways, yet we insist on using the most literal spatial terms—remember the Infobahn?—to describe them. I’m banking on “Electronic Superhighway” to rise above its Nam June Paik–derived title and kick into reverse gear, posing a new model for understanding the past fifty years of art, telecommunications, and information. The show begins with the digital

  • View of “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” 2014–15, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. From left: Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Two (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Three (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962. As seen with colored digital projection. Photo: Kate Lacey. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • Trevor Paglen, NSA/GCHQ Surveillance Base, Bude, Cornwall, UK, 2014, ink-jet print, 36 × 48".

    “Trevor Paglen: The Octopus”

    “What you see is what you see,” Frank Stella famously pronounced, but nothing could be further from the truth for Trevor Paglen, for whom what is seen is just the beginning. The New York-based artist’s lush, technologically enhanced imagery reveals what is hidden—secret satellites suddenly appear like bright stars, classified military bases emerge as shining Babylons, drones manifest as tiny black blots in the sky—and yet such visualizations do not stop at some tautological objectivity. Rather, they mark a vast world of covert information beyond our reach. This

  • Petri dish containing bacteria cultures from a work in progress by Anicka Yi, 2015. Photo: Joerg Lohse.


    SOMETHING SMELLED OFF IN THE GALLERY. Something ruined, or bad. The distinctive, slightly sickening odor turned out to be emanating from a plain cardboard box: Inside were stacks of clear plastic petri dishes, each flush with its own living, burgeoning bloom. Anicka Yi was growing bacteria, and the microbial cultures were spreading, metastasizing, like an unholy contagion in crimson and black and pink.

    Yi had cultivated the organisms from the swabbed samples of one hundred women, mostly friends, or friends of friends. Working with biologists and the firm Air Variable, the artist embarked on a

  • Jean-Luc Godard, Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language), 2014, 3-D digital video, color, sound, 70 minutes.


    THIS WAS A YEAR OF TOO MUCH INFORMATION, and too little. We were inundated by news of deadly viruses, for instance—but it was the gap in communication, in safety protocols, in knowledge, that spread panic. What inspires fear reveals weakness. Systems leak, get interrupted, stop short. As science-fiction novelist William Gibson observes here, “There are more secrets than ever before, but they seem . . . exponentially harder to keep.” Systems of governance, finance, and surveillance—networks of control—are not as all powerful as we typically make them out to be.

    In art, as in all