Okwui Enwezor

  • Kerry James Marshall, Bang, 1994, acrylic and collage on canvas, 103 × 114".

    Okwui Enwezor

    In a year that delivered no end of difficult news around the globe, curator and scholar Okwui Enwezor highlights 2017’s seminal moments of reckoning and light.

    1 KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (MET BREUER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY IAN ALTEVEER, HELEN MOLESWORTH, AND DIETER ROELSTRAETE) It seems more than appropriate that one of the year’s most artistically rewarding and culturally meaningful exhibitions—the tour de force retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s paintings at the Met Breuer—opened in the short interregnum between the Obama and Trump presidencies.

  • Lilian Novo Isioro for Invisible Borders’ Trans-African Project, Yaounde, Camaroun, 2012, digital C-print, 23 5/8 × 31 1/2".

    Okwui Enwezor talks with Michelle Kuo about the upcoming 56th Venice Biennale

    THE WORLD IS NOT FLAT, and Okwui Enwezor, perhaps more than any other contemporary curator, has shown us just how mutable, turbulent, and multifarious it is. As he prepares to open the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale on May 9, Enwezor—who has said that this might be his last such undertaking—paused to speak with Artforum editor Michelle Kuo about his vision for the show and its relation to history, memory, capital, and the future of culture.

    MICHELLE KUO: The title of your exhibition, “All the World’s Futures,” could easily seem utopian. But you’ve spoken about it as a nod to the unpredictability

  • Steve McQueen, Charlotte, 2004, 16 mm, color, silent, 5 minutes 42 seconds. Installation view, Schaulager, Basel, 2013. Photo: Tom Bisig.

    Okwui Enwezor

    1 STEVE McQUEEN (SCHAULAGER, BASEL; CURATED BY JAMES RONDEAU, HEIDI NAEF, AND ISABEL FRIEDLI) The most rewarding exhibition I have seen in a long time, it confirmed that, at the age of forty-four, Steve McQueen is already one of the greats. Coinciding with the release of his latest feature film, 12 Years a Slave, this extensive retrospective brought McQueen’s impressive two decades of quiet radicality full circle, showing that to comprehend his powerful and unsparing vision as a filmmaker one must begin with the roots of his practice as an artist.

    Co-organized with the Art Institute of Chicago.

  • Steve McQueen, Once 
upon a Time, 2002, 116 35-mm slides digitized for projection, sound, 70 minutes. From “The Encyclopedic Palace.”

    Okwui Enwezor

    UNDER THE RUBRIC “The Encyclopedic Palace,” curator Massimiliano Gioni has proposed a tantalizing vision for the Venice Biennale: Forsaking the field of art as the locus and playground of commerce, financial speculation, and inflated economic value, the grand international exhibition’s fifty-fifth iteration instead attends faithfully to the complex terrain of pure imaginative invention. Two tracks of thinking are immediately apparent in Gioni’s thesis. The first focuses on the microcosmologies of “outsiders,” while the second develops along a more conventional path of ethnographic realism.

  • Chinua Achebe, London, May 21, 1970. Photo: Corbis.

    Chinua Achebe

    NEWS OF THE DEATH of the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who passed away on March 21 at the age of eighty-two, reached me at my office in Munich through the wildfire of the Internet. By day’s end, that wildfire had spread to precincts far beyond the Web. It burned unceasingly, in phone calls and text messages and the pages of newspapers; in postings on social media and African literary LISTSERVS; in classrooms and bars, and, above all, on the bustling, teeming streets of African cities. Recollections were mixed with sorrow; collective grief was speckled with celebrations of the life of one

  • Tate Modern, London, April 11, 2011. Photo: Jeff Blackler/Associated Press.

    Ai Weiwei and Sharjah Biennial 10

    IN THESE DAYS of the Arab Spring, paradoxically hovering between revolution and repression, there is much hand-wringing in the global art world. Protests and petitions against arrests, dismissals, censorship, and labor rights have erupted, targeting countries and societies that the Western art establishment feels should be better apprised of the avant-garde tradition of artistic autonomy and liberal notions of unfettered intellectual expression. It is as if a beehive had suddenly exploded and stung the previously passive moral lions of the field, waking them from their unreflective slumber. From

  • Okwui Enwezor

    1 Ernest Cole (Johannesburg Art Gallery; curated by Gunilla Knape) Ever since this artist changed his last name from Kole to Cole to pass as a colored (rather than black) man, thus gaining permission to travel around his native South Africa, his life and work have seemed like a legend. Cole went into exile in 1966, landing in New York, where a year later he published House of Bondage, his seminal book of photographs about life under apartheid, with a text by the young Joseph Lelyveld. His negatives were tragically lost in the ’70s, but this rousing retrospective of vintage prints (recently

  • Gabriel Orozco

    THE MIDCAREER RETROSPECTIVE can be tricky business. A case in point was “Gabriel Orozco,” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this past winter, which joined a recent spate of surveys of artists who came to prominence in the 1990s—from Matthew Barney, Olafur Eliasson, Douglas Gordon, Chris Ofili, Elizabeth Peyton, and Rirkrit Tiravanija to Kara Walker. Like those of his peers, Orozco’s exhibition raises serious questions: Is the midcareer retrospective the most illuminating way to make a case for the importance of these artists? Or does it risk atomizing even the liveliest of ideas?

    In a way,

  • Okwui Enwezor


    1 The inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama A year ago, my contribution to Artforum’s annual rite of taking stock of the immediate past ended with a wish to see the transformation of candidate Obama into President Obama. In that wish lay my hope for what Giorgio Agamben might call the coming American community—or, to use the terms favored by the candidate himself, for a more perfect and equal union. No event of this entire year, and perhaps no event for years to come, could rival the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as America’s first postcolonial commander in

  • Thomas Hirschhorn, Flugplatz Welt/World Airport, 1999, mixed media. Installation view, Renaissance Society, Chicago, 2000.


    This month, Harvard University Press unveils Commonwealth, the latest book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, whose Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004) have, arguably, been the dominant works of political philosophy of the new century. In its October issue, Artforum presents two extended excerpts from the much-anticipated final volume of the Empire trilogy in advance of its arrival in bookstores. Curator Okwui Enwezor sets the stage, with a discussion of Hardt and Negri’s profound if diffuse impact on artistic practice and on the art world more broadly. Enwezor’s introduction has been reproduced below. For excerpts from Commonwealth, pick up the October issue of Artforum.

    THE WORLD IS FULL OF ALL SORTS OF DICTATORSHIPS, sovereign entities accountable only to their own rules and united by extreme structures of political and social violence. The most formidable, however, is the one whose dimensions are no longer limited by the old boundaries of the nation-state, but which instead—since they are mainly organized by global capitalism, with globalization serving as their fountainhead—span and exceed such territorial limits in a way unparalleled in history. In 2000, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book Empire offered the first thorough analysis of this

  • Okwui Enwezor


    1 Steve McQueen, Hunger, 2008 McQueen’s new film, which garnered the coveted Caméra d’Or in Cannes, is justly celebrated. Depicting the last weeks of Irish Republican Army hunger striker Bobby Sands at Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, Hunger is a spare, brooding film of potent political acuity, filled with expanses of wordless beauty and horror—a work of emotional ravaging. It calls up our own dark times without sacrificing the internal contradictions that riddle the relationship between jailer and jailed, making it nothing less than a meditation on the nature of incarcerated

  • Okwui Enwezor


    1 Documenta 12 (Kassel) Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack’s Documenta was a triumph of curatorial tricksterism, a low-wattage but relentlessly engaged act of unbuilding the structure of the mega exhibition. Via modes of archival archaism, the curators reconfigured a range of disparate practices in sometimes luminous installations. I still cannot get Kerry James Marshall’s Garden Party, 2003, a large painting installed in a small space in the Neue Galerie, out of my head. Its effect, when I chanced upon it, was reminiscent of the feeling of encountering Velásquez’s Las Meninas: It is