PRINT December 2011

Cuauhtémoc Medina

Melvin Moti, No Show, 2004, color film in 16 mm trans­ferred to video, 24 minutes. Production still. From “Un lugar fuera de la historia” (A Place out of History).

1 “Un Lugar Fuera de la Historia” (A Place Out of History) (Museo Tamayo, Mexico; curated by Magalí Arriola) As we all know, art is a shadowy realm where social elites, bohemian enragés, and shifty impresarios rub shoulders, gossip, and share beds with the enemy. Small wonder that this club has counted among its members Sir Anthony Blunt, director of the Courtauld Institute of Art and member of the “Cambridge Five” ring of spies; Han van Meegeren, forger of Vermeers; painter Domingo Malagón Alea, who led a clandestine Communist unit under Franco; and Conceptual artist Nedko Solakov, who, in Top Secret, 1989–90, documented his collaboration with the Bulgarian secret police. Magalí Arriola’s exhibition thrillingly linked those double agents to artists exploring undercover agency such as Melvin Moti, Jill Magid, and Hito Steyerl and to a posthumous novel by critic Olivier Debroise.

Marcel Broodthaers, Atlas, 1975, offset print on paper, 19 1/4 x 24 3/4". From “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?”

2 “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?” (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; curated by Georges Didi-Huberman) Taking Aby Warburg’s sprawling “Mnemosyne Atlas,” 1924–29, as his point of departure, Didi-Huberman identified a genealogy of artists and thinkers engaged in what Warburg called the “iconology of the interval”—a kind of “knowledge by imagination” of the movement between images, temporalities, objects. Goya, Walid Raad, and Bertolt Brecht’s gathering of images of the rubble of war are thus linked to the imaginative archival practices of Josef Albers, Susan Hiller, Marcel Broodthaers, George Brecht, et al. The exhibition marks a turning point: from an art history focused on fixed internal relationships between “masterworks” to a gay science open to the chaos of the phenomenal world.

Co-organized with ZKM Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany, and Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg.

Yael Bartana, Zamach (Assassination), 2011, still from a color video, 35 minutes. From the series “. . . And Europe Will Be Stunned,” 2007–11.

3 Yael Bartana, “. . . And Europe Will Be Stunned” (Polish pavilion, Venice Biennale; curated by Sebastian Cichocki and Galit Eilat) It is revealing that, in order to find political criticality in the Venice Biennale, one must paradoxically flee from the main curated section toward the official national pavilions. This year the Polish flag played host to Israeli artist Yael Bartana’s role as agent provocateur of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. The artist’s trilogy of films provided a political mythology of a journey from Zionism to a new phase of Euro-kibbutzism. As if by tradition, the jury failed to reward the fact that a symbol of national representation was turned into a moment of complex historical and identity critique.

Darius Mikšys, Behind the White Curtain, 2011, mixed media. Installation view, Lithuanian pavilion, Venice. From the 54th Venice Biennale.

4 Darius Mikšys, Behind the White Curtain (Lithuanian pavilion, Venice Biennale; curated by the Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius) In 1960, critic Alexander Eliot made the elitist suggestion of replacing museums with small cubicles where a handler would change the artwork every hour according to the choice of the viewer. In Venice, Darius Mikšys proposed a similar scenario, but with the opposite intention: critiquing the role of the state as patron and curator today. Mikšys gathered works by artists who were recipients of stipends from the Lithuanian government between 1992 and 2010; visitors were asked to choose examples from a lavishly printed catalogue to view. The affected perfection with which the artist brought out the works from behind a white draping coyly nodded to the trajectory of Lithuanian art from “behind the curtain” to the circuits of international judgment and exchange.

Thomas Glassford, Xipe Tótec, 2010, LED Neon-Flex lights and material on facade. Installation view, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, Mexico City, 2011. Photo: Andres Villalobos.

5 Thomas Glassford, Xipe Tótec (Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, Mexico City) In the smoggy northern sector of Mexico City, Mexican-American artist Glassford covered the marble exterior of the abandoned Ministry of Foreign Affairs—next to the site of the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre—with a glowing membrane of geometric LEDs. Named after the pre-Columbian deity of death and rebirth, Glassford’s work marks the centennial of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México with an urban lighthouse that will remain active for at least two years. Its interlaced pattern is based on quasiperiodic crystal tiling, or Penrose tiling, a form appearing in Islamic architecture since the fifteenth century but not rediscovered in the West until the 1970s. Glassford thus intertwines the histories of science, social unrest, and the memory of human sacrifice in one impressive, post-architectonic, psychedelic landmark.

Sven Augustijnen, Spectres, 2011, still from a color video, 102 minutes.

6 Sven Augustijnen, Spectres (Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels) Augus- tijnen reopens one of the most controversial files in the history of decolonization in a film following Jacques Brassinne de la Buissière, a former Belgian officer in the Congo who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation exculpating his government from any direct involvement in the infamous killing of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Augustijnen’s strength lies in the powerful ambiguity with which he tracks Brassinne’s return to the Congo to meet Lumumba’s widow and retrace the tragic event. A specter is indeed haunting Europe. Alas, it is the specter of colonialism.

Mark Boulos, No Permanent Address, 2010, three-channel color video, 27 minutes 20 seconds. Production still.

7 Mark Boulos, No Permanent Address (Smart Project Space, Amsterdam) Going into the jungle to film the daily life of a peasant community of the Maoist New People’s Army in the Philippines, as Mark Boulos has done, entails a great deal of personal risk and unimaginable underground networking. The resulting three-channel video installation involves a commensurately delicate, constant oscillation between close-up portraiture and peripheral vision; Boulos tries at all costs to prevent the viewer from objectifying the guerrilla fighters or indulging in identification with them. The effect is dense and fragile—that is, unbearably human.

Jorge Macchi, The longest distance between two points, 2011, stanchions. Installation view, SMAK, Ghent, Belgium.

8 “Jorge Macchi: Music Stands Still” (SMAK, Ghent, Belgium; curated by Thibaut Verhoeven) The most remarkable moment in this survey of Macchi’s recent work was the decision to force the audience to pass from one half of the show to the other through a room divided by barrier posts with retractable blue seat-belt-like ribbons, just like those used to control lines in banks, airports, and museums, in a work ironically titled The longest distance between two points, 2011. The Kafkaesque effect of this very contemporary device of spatial and temporal control was so museologically mischievous that one was tempted to traverse it at least twice.

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria muda (Silent Prayer) (detail), 2008–11, wood, mineral compound, metal, grass, dimensions variable. Photo: Terje Östling.

9 “Doris Salcedo: Plegaria muda” (Silent Prayer) (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City; curated by Isabel Carlos and Joa Ljungberg) An afterimage of the arrays of bodies left behind by massacres around the world, Plegaria muda, 2008–11, was a monumental installation of close to one hundred sculptural elements, each made of two stacked wooden tables sandwiching what seemed to be a thick layer of wet soil. Through cracks in the tables, isolated leaves of grass sprang up as if in mourning. Salcedo achieved an uncanny, artificial simulation of the emergence of life from within an imagined necropolis.

Organized by Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden, and CAM Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon.

View of “Becoming Istanbul,” 2011, SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 2011. Photo: Serkan Taycan.

10 “Becoming Istanbul” (SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul; curated by Pelin Derviş, Bülent Tanju, and Uğur Tanyeli) “Becoming Istanbul” breaks the mold of stereotypical shows about cities and their aesthetics—depicting the metropolis as akin to a continually morphing encyclopedia. Organized here by Meriç Öner, the exhibition takes its cue from a 2008 urban dictionary of the same title edited by curators Derviş, Tanju, and Tanyeli, which has been transmogrified into an interactive online database with more than four hundred artworks, news items, and images. This evolving, navigable compendium is augmented by a series of workshops where the audience is invited to play urban planner and help map the current transformation of Istanbul’s city center. The surprise, for me, lay in witnessing the audience’s enthusiastic involvement in these different diagrammatic exercises, well beyond any pretense of pure aesthetic experience.

Cuauhtémoc Medina is a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In 2009 he curated Teresa Margolles’s project What Else Could We Talk About? for the Mexican pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and in 2010 he organized the Proyecto de Arte Contemporáneo in Murcia, Spain, with the yearlong exhibition “Cannibal Dominoes.” He is currently organizing Manifesta 9 (with associate curators Katerina Gregos and Dawn Ades), which opens in June in Genk, Belgium.