PRINT December 2006

Jessica Morgan

1 Mario Ybarra Jr. (“Uncertain States of America: American Art in the 3rd Millennium,” Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo/Serpentine Gallery, London/Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, NY) Ybarra excelled in his double contribution to this otherwise confused exhibition. In Oslo and at Bard he presented Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum Machine, 2005, a vast assemblage of flyers and mix tapes collected in the early 1990s by his friend DJ Haven Perez, as well as interviews with participants in the West Coast rave scene. Ybarra’s eye for subcultures’ design aesthetics was also apparent in London, in his collaboration with Karla Diaz, The Peacock Doesn’t See Its Own Ass/Let’s Twitch Again: Operation Bird Watching in London—a nonconformist ornithologists’ club situated appropriately in the park setting of the Serpentine Gallery. Both installations reinterpreted the role of the enthusiast, drawing astute parallels with the history of museological presentation while teasing out the political and cultural import of subcultures, social groups, and their material effects.

2 Stéphanie Moisdon, “L’École de Stéphanie” (“La Force de l’Art,” Grand Palais, Paris) A French cross between the Whitney Biennial and the Tate Triennial (with a heavy dose of art-fair aesthetic), “La Force de l’Art” was without doubt the most unnecessary large-scale exhibition I saw last year. Of the show’s many curators, Moisdon was one of the few who managed to salvage some self-respect, by intelligently presenting no art at all but instead establishing The School of Stéphanie, an active pedagogical environment with a daily talk program, as a pendant to the exhibition itself.

3 Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (São Paulo Bienal, Brazil) So much of the legendary French artist Gonzalez-Foerster’s work in Europe has replicated aspects of the architecture, attitudes, and life of Brazil, her adopted home, but in São Paulo she intervened directly upon the city’s iconic Oscar Niemeyer building by proliferating the large white columns that characterize its structure. In this masterful work, titled Double Terrain de Jeu (Pavillon-Marquise) (Double Playground [Pavilion-Marquise]), the artist’s “fake” additions and the originals become confused in a forest of signs.

4 Christopher Williams (Whitney Biennial, New York) Providing a moment of quiet in the maelstrom of the Whitney Biennial, Williams somehow managed to get away with installing just five carefully choreographed photographs in a gallery devoted exclusively to his work. The clarity of the artist’s intention was brought into sharp focus by the neighboring installation, in which an identical space contained no fewer than twenty-two images by Robert Gober placed cheek to cheek.

5 Tino Sehgal (Tate Triennial, London) In an otherwise fairly desiccated show of British art, Sehgal’s This Is Propaganda offered an unexpected and elegantly intelligent pleasure. The work, consisting of the title sung by a female gallery attendant, was separate from the main exhibition in one of Tate Britain’s collection galleries occupied by three female, nude Victorian sculptures. Sehgal’s addition of a fourth figure reflected astutely on issues ranging from the aesthetics of nineteenth-century art, the didacticism of museum display, and the role of the triennial itself. And, of course, the piece acted out selfpromotion for its own presence.

6 Pawel Althamer (Berlin Biennial) The Berlin Biennial was initially hard to fault: easily accessible and smartly installed, few achingly bad works, a cheeky poke at the art establishment in the run-up to the show, and an apparently sincere pathos expressed by its theme, “Of Mice and Men.” But the concept and locations of the show drew so heavily on Berlin’s past that they risked turning Auguststrasse into the Hollywood sign of the Holocaust and gave one the uncanny sense of being in a vast film set. Few artworks peeked behind this facade to contemplate the very real political problems the city currently faces. Althamer’s Fairy Tale, however, was an exception. By donating his exhibition fee to a Turkish immigrant facing deportation at age eighteen (despite having lived in Berlin since he was one), Althamer attempted to bring about a drastic change in fortune for one occupant of the city.


7 Zhang Dali (Gwangju Biennale, South Korea) Zhang’s research into Chinese photographs from the past sixty years explores the doctoring of imagery for political or didactic purposes. At the Gwangju Biennale, his A Second History consisted of publicly distributed images of political and military events and propaganda materials displayed together with their original, unretouched versions, exposing the extent of theatrical staging in the public presentation of dogma. An extraordinary ongoing archive of material, the work—on a massive scale, like Gerhard Richter’s Atlas—suggests a lifetime’s obsessive research.

8 Annette Kelm (“Stipendium,” Kunstverein in Hamburg) Kelm’s photographs stood out as of lasting importance in this show packed with promising emerging German artists. Moving constantly between the isolated, densely referential object, the constructed or found sculptural form, and the directed pose, Kelm has, in a few short years, produced a striking body of work. The images presented in Hamburg, taken by the artist in Los Angeles in 2005, could be seen as an observation or diary of place, but each one was also a sculptural arrangement. Kelm’s selection, in Untitled, 2005, of a 1950s-style cotton bag advertising a steamboat called American Queen suggests a Christopher Williams–like set of associations—from Hollywood fabrication to Hawaiian kitsch, from the colonial American South to modern transportation.

9 Simryn Gill (Singapore Biennale) Carefully avoiding the pitfalls of most public art, Gill’s work for the otherwise disappointing Singapore Biennale consisted simply of an artist-authored Guide to the Murals at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Singapore. The station, which in a peculiar historical twist has remained Malaysian territory despite the establishment of an independent Singapore in 1965, contains several murals depicting the racial segregation of Malay society. Gill’s guide, available only at a newspaper stall inside the station, includes an outline of the history of the station and a detailed description of the murals, investigating along the way the complex history of Singapore and its neighbors.

10 Doris Salcedo (Turin Triennial, Italy) This was another of the past year’s rambling and confused exhibitions with one extraordinary contribution. Salcedo’s Abyss consisted of an immaculate extension of the brick ceiling of the Castello di Rivoli so that it appeared to have descended like a heavy cloud over the walls of the room. Though a typically labor-intensive work by the artist, it looked as if it had somehow accumulated over time, growing organically and unnoticed.

Jessica Morgan is curator of contemporary art at Tate Modern in London. She commissioned the current Unilever Series installation, Test Site, by Carsten Höller, and is organizing “The World as a Stage,” a group show opening in October 2007.