PRINT December 1999

Dan Cameron

1. “Places with a Past” (Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, SC, 1991) The premise behind curator Mary Jane Jacob’s project—without question the most well-executed site-specific exhibition ever organized on American soil—was that the ghosts of southern history would emerge through the eighteen contributions by twenty-three artists. Much of the work included, such as David Hammons’s House of the Future and Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s Camouflaged History, took on the authority of public commissions. Other memorable projects included Ann Hamilton’s investigation of the power of indigo, Christian Boltanski’s bleak inventory of the personal effects of an anonymous Charleston woman, and James Coleman’s eerie homage to southern Civil War “re-enacters.” Worth noting is the closed-minded fury with which composer Gian Carlo Menotti, artistic director of Spoleto, denounced Jacob’s exhibition after it opened, ensuring that, at least in this case, history would not repeat itself.

2. “Helter Skelter” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1992) The event that definitively tilted the map westward. Assembled by Paul Schimmel as a view into the seamy underside of Southern California iconography, “Helter Skelter” brought audiences face-to-face with the often-elusive side of the West Coast avant-garde and the achievement of artists like Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, and Jim Shaw, within a context that was regionally cohesive but internationally compelling.

3. “America, Bride of the Sun” (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, 1992) Of the many projects marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage, this sprawling exhibition, whose modern section was developed by Catherine de Zegher, is one worth remembering. Perhaps most striking was the contemporary South American work, with the numerous artists not yet familiar to international audiences—Eugenio Dittborn, Cildo Meireles, Ana Mendieta, Gabriel Orozco, Juan Davila, Lygia Clark—placed in a rigorous historical context.

4. “Sonsbeek ’93” (Arnhem, Holland) To US curator Valerie Smith, freedom of choice for the invited artists was the virtual modus operandi, which meant that Mike Kelley got to curate a full-scale museum exhibition; Irene and Christine Hohenbüchler collaborated with local prisoners; Juan Muñoz broadcast a radio play from the Sonsbeek Park; Keith Piper set up his video installation in a former church in the red-light district; and Yuri Leiderman bicycled around the region, faxing regular reports back to the museum. A pilgrim’s project, demanding a minimum of two days’ effort to see in toto, Sonsbeek more than rewarded the effort.

5. 1993 Whitney Biennial Co-curators Thelma Golden, Lisa Phillips, and Elisabeth Sussman took it on the chin for the confrontational mood of their exhibition, but in retrospect, those diehards who said we’d look back on this exhibition with deep fondness were right. Never has a Whitney Biennial summed up its moment so well, bringing together Kiki Smith’s abject sculptures, Sue Williams’s scabrous paintings, Daniel Martinez’s scandalizing buttons for visitors (“I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White”), Matthew Barney’s hair-raising video installation, and Glenn Ligon’s succinct reframings of Robert Mapplethorpe.

6. “NowHere” (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, 1996) Louisiana director-to-be Lars Nittve invited six curators to create a sensorially loaded labyrinth of installations and videos. The results ranged from Laura Cottingham’s feminist revivalism to Ute Meta Bauer’s dissection of the museum from the inside. Anneli Fuchs and Lars Grambye’s “Get Lost” brought together artists including Ann Lislegaard, Stan Douglas, Jane & Louise Wilson, Willie Doherty, Peter Land, and Pipilotti Rist, while Iwona Blazwick’s thrilling “Work in Progress” cast a wide net, from historical work by Eva Hesse, Mary Kelly, and Susan Hiller to projects produced for the occasion by Chris Ofili, Maria Eichhorn, and Joseph Grigely.

7. “Sensation” (Royal Academy of Art, London, 1997) This scandal-heavy grab bag of British art may have lacked vision and clarity, but as a bridge between the often-hermetic, waning avant-garde of the twentieth century and the new populism of the next, “Sensation” perfectly demonstrated one way that new art can meet its public. Special mention must also be made of its 1999 visit to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where it succeeded in unmasking Mayor Giuliani’s authoritarian soul for all to see.

8. “Trade Routes” (2nd Johannesburg Biennale, 1998) Okwui Enwezor and Octavio Zaya’s ambitious undertaking tied together six major sites in two cities, and combined the curatorial talents of Gerardo Mosquera, Yu Yeon Kim, Colin Richards, Mahen Bonetti, Kellie Jones, and Hou Hanru, to create a nearly overwhelming experience that made the previously abstract model of the “global” exhibition a reality. In a cultural context that was anything but neutral, more than eighty artists—including Ghada Amer, Tania Bruguera, Pepon Osorio, and Yinka Shonibare—set the groundwork for the transformations of the past two years, as well as much of what lies ahead.

9. “Núcleo Histórico: Anthropofagia e Histórias de Canabilismos”
(24th Bienal de São Paulo, 1998) What held together magnificently in artistic director Paulo Herkenhoff’s sprawl was the historical section, which led from the postconquest era through the ’60s, and a section devoted to current Brazilian art. The latter, with ravishing works by Ernesto Neto, Rivane Neuenschwander, Vik Muniz, Adriana Varejão, and Rosângela Rennó at the spacious Bienal pavilion’s auspicious center, signaled a new Brazilian renaissance.

10. “Global Conceptualism” (Queens Museum of Art, 1999) A challenging way to close out the century, this revisionist undertaking had the surprising effect of being both provocative and uplifting. Spearheaded by Luis Camnitzer, Jane Farver, and Rachel Weiss, the exhibition not only put Yoko Ono at the originary center of the movement, but also demonstrated what we’ve long feared: that the American variation was less engaged than the newly uncovered contributions from Asia, Africa, and South America.