PRINT May 2004

US News

the 2004 Carnegie International

SCOTT ROTHKOPF: Given that there’s been no advance word on your show, would you begin by telling us how it will differ from previous Internationals?

LAURA HOPTMAN: Unlike the past three Internationals, which used a broad survey format, the 2004 installment will be organized as a kind of narrative that unfolds through groupings of artists. Some sections will emphasize a common formal language, as in, say, a kind of absolutist abstraction, by artists such as Tomma Abts or Mark Grotjahn. In other cases, a section might emphasize a common theoretical strategy, as in a cluster of radical empiricists, including Carsten Höller or Harun Farocki, who both gather and analyze data almost like scientists. At the core of these sections will be monographic exhibitions, including small retrospectives devoted to Lee Bontecou, Mangelos, and R. Crumb.

Every era gets the art it needs—or deserves—and it stands to reason that a different kind of work resonates now than when the International opened four years ago. What a different time in the world it was then! What brings the artists in the show together is the way they each consider and use art as a meaningful vehicle to confront what philosophers have called “the ultimates”—the largest, most unanswerable questions, from the nature of life and death to the existence of God to the anatomy of belief.

SR: With the tremendous proliferation of mega-exhibitions around the world, to what extent do you think it’s even possible to survey the international art scene at a particular moment?

LH: Like any good contemporary-art show, the International is meant as a crystallization—but not the crystallization—of the international art discourse over the past three to four years. Although it might not seem so, things change incrementally in the contemporary-art world, and sometimes shifts of focus are ever so subtle, making it hard to catch what can be a chimerical change. It’s harder still to predict what might change. At some point, though, one has to let go of the notion that these exhibitions are crystal balls or mirrors, because they’re not.

What’s crucial for a large international contemporary-art survey is that it have something interesting to say. This happens best when a show includes artists who vary in terms of age, personal background, level of recognition, medium, and so forth but also when the work of these diverse artists begins to mean something in sum. It’s one of the most important reasons why a large group exhibition is not at all like an art fair, although some have suggested this comparison.

SR: A quick glance over your list of artists reveals many familiar names. Were you at all hesitant to include artists who have made the rounds of international exhibitions, such as Maurizio Cattelan?

LH: I am so glad you asked this question, because I’ve been spoiling to answer it since I began work on the show. Why should there be any hesitation about showing a provocative, entertaining, and consistently inventive artist like Maurizio Cattelan, whether or not he has been in five or twenty-five biennials? Or R. Crumb, whose work you can see every few months or so in the New Yorker? If an artist continues to resonate with us, it is a gift to see his or her work over time and in different intellectual contexts.

SR: Well, conversely, did you feel any pressure to “discover” new artists?

LH: The short answer is no, but let me try to assuage my discomfort with the notion of “discovery” by reiterating what must be the obvious point that familiarity is relative. Although Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook might not be a familiar name to many art lovers in the US, she is one of the best-known artists in Thailand and has participated in numerous international exhibitions. Of course, it works the other way as well. Most museumgoers are unfamiliar with Maurizio Cattelan’s work, although in the contemporary-art community he’s approaching ubiquity.

SR: Your point’s well taken, and it makes me think about the tremendous attention recently paid to globalism. Given that your show necessarily has an international mandate, how did you choose to address this issue?

LH: Perhaps I haven’t addressed it, at least not directly, because for me it is simply a given. True to its mandate, this show will be international in the diversity of the artists represented. But at a certain point “globalism” becomes a marketing term—more about access to consumers than about expanding our notion of contemporary culture beyond its familiar parameters. One of the intellectual dangers—and the flip side of an insatiable taste for the exotic—is an impulse toward homogenization and a disregard of inherent points of view. I think I am in the process of curating a very straightforward international exhibition, but one that, for better or worse, couldn’t be created in any other time or place than in the US in the early 2000s. If the show crosses borders, it might be on the level of discourse, because in a sense it deliberately ignores the local and concentrates on issues that critical theorists have in the past called “totalizing.”

SR: Speaking of totalizing issues, what about painting, which surprisingly still seems to be something of a curatorial litmus test? The curators of the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale made a point of stressing the vitality of the medium, while it was almost entirely absent from Documenta. Where do you fall on the spectrum?

LH: Historically, the International was a painting show until the early ’60s. For what it’s worth, I have historically been a curator who has paid attention to painting. Given this and the fact that there has been a new vitality in painting over the past ten years, particularly in Germany and the US, the International will be strong in pictures. However, I am less interested in the fact of painting than in how painting is deployed by artists now, and to what end. I find it fascinating, for example, that for some artists painting is again a vehicle for spiritual transcendence. I don’t think this kind of faith—or hubris, depending on how you feel about pure abstraction—has been at the center of the discourse since Abstract Expressionism. This and other high-stakes notions about art are back because we need them to be. The times call for it.

Scott Rothkopf is a senior editor of Artforum.


2004 Carnegie International Artists
On view at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, October 9, 2004–March 20, 2005

Tomma Abts
Pawel Althamer
Francis Alÿs
Karin (Mamma) Andersson
Chiho Aoshima
Kaoru Arima
Kutlug Ataman
Dimitrije (Mangelos) Bašicevic
John Bock
Lee Bontecou
Robert Breer
Fernando Bryce
Kathy Butterly
Maurizio Cattelan
Paul Chan
Anne Chu
R. Crumb
Jeremy Deller
Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Peter Doig
Trisha Donnelly
Harun Farocki
Saul Fletcher
Isa Genzken
Mark Grotjahn
Rachel Harrison
Carsten Höller
Katarzyna Kozyra
Jim Lambie
Julie Mehretu
Senga Nengudi
Oliver Payne and Nick Relph
Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook
Neo Rauch
Ugo Rondinone
Eva Rothschild
Yang Fudong