PRINT December 2012

Daniel Baumann

Exterior of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012.

1 Tehran’s Museums People are getting crazy—and scared—about Iran (and maybe rightly so). But there are many Irans, so get on a plane (it’s cheap) and go visit a few of the country’s revelatory museums. The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 1977, holds what is said to be the most valuable collection of Western modernism outside Europe and the United States. For a recent installation of works by Calder, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Warhol, and others, gentle instrumental music filtered throughout the galleries, creating a strange, out-of-time environment. The Martyrs’ Museum memorializes the heroes of the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, and the Film Museum of Iran, housed in a beautiful park, offers insights into Iran’s rich history of cinema, including homages to now-banned directors.

2 Jérôme Bel, Disabled Theater (Documenta 13, Kassel) This collaboration between Bel and Theater HORA, a Swiss troupe of professional actors with disabilities, was a highlight of Documenta 13. After taking the stage, each of the eleven performers named his or her disability, danced to a song of his or her choosing, and, finally, approached the microphone to reflect on the project. The work was touching, challenging, and hilarious, and pushed us into animated discussions about authenticity, performativity, embarrassment, and the vagaries of reception. Everybody wanted to talk about it.

3 Sarah Lucas in London Known to many for her corrosive art, Lucas still gives us a lot to be impressed by: her recent NUDS, 2009–12, which hijack twentieth-century sculpture with their frank gravity and strangely elegant contortions; last year’s pajama-clad “Artist in Bed” residency at St. John Hotel during Frieze (this year she installed a work called Beefcocktitbuster, 2012, in the hotel’s bar); her series of “Situation” exhibitions upstairs at Sadie Coles, for which she added and subtracted her own works to create an exhibition that rolled out seemingly endlessly; and her curation of “FREE: Art by Offenders, Secure Patients & Detainees” at Southbank Centre, a survey of work produced by inmates in the British criminal-justice system.

4 “Museum of Everything: Exhibition #4,” (Selfridges, London) In the past year, the peripatetic Museum of Everything set up shows in Russia and France, but I often think back to its incarnation during Frieze London. Sited at Selfridges, Europe’s “premier department store,” the MoE surveyed studios for “self-taught” artists, such as workshops at hospitals used by individuals with developmental disabilities. I was grateful for the way in which this ensemble of “other” art academies made extraordinary works of art accessible, and for the way in which the display—if provocatively and somewhat dubiously—threw together art, commerce, and education.

5 Zanele Muholi (Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town) South African activist, artist, and photographer Zanele Muholi documents violence against LGBTI people. A few months before her recent show in Cape Town, most of her material was stolen in an action likely targeting her for her activism. Undeterred, Muholi put up an excellent, open-ended show with what remained, including a stunning series of black-and-white portraits and revolting portrayals of discrimination’s effects, bringing art and activism together with rare precision. In South Africa (and in many other places), those identifying as LGBTI live under the constant threat of rape and murder, so simply picturing them, making them visible, is a political—and risky—act.

6 Alina Szapocznikow (WIELS Centre for Contemporary Art, Brussels, and Museum of Modern Art, New York; curated by Elena Filipovic and Johanna Mytkowska) I saw Alina Szapocznikow’s traveling retrospective at both Wiels and MoMA (organized there by Connie Butler). Although the institutions are very different—one laboratory-like, the other blue-chip—Szapocznikow’s work stood out splendidly in both, making it clear that her hilarious, horrifying, and formally and materially accomplished oeuvre obliges us to rethink our man-driven histories of twentieth-century sculpture.

Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Interior of the Schaulager Satellite, Basel, 2012. Photo: Tom Bisig.

7 Schaulager Satellite (Basel) My favorite noninstitution of 2012. While closed for renovations this summer, the Schaulager set up this strange, miniature replica of itself in the plaza in front of Art Basel. Squeezed between huge constructions sites, the Herzog & de Meuron–designed pavilion hosted a series of displays (including non-art objects such as props and models by artists such as Robert Gober and Katharina Fritsch) meant to illustrate the tenets of the museum’s mission: Preserve, study, share. In a world of spectacle, these unsexy goals sounded pretty old-fashioned. But we were entranced nevertheless, no doubt due to the efforts of Maja Oeri, founder of the Schaulager, and her team, who made themselves readily accessible to all, giving tours and getting dragged into discussions. Directors and curators: Get out of your offices and back into the streets!

8 Asahi Picture News (Zurich) Founded last year by a collective of artists and art historians in a small, depressing shopping mall near the luxurious Löwenbräu (Zurich’s Chelsea), Asahi Picture News is a movie theater–cum–bookshop–cum–test site. This past March, the organization screened a series of films by Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop), a short-lived Japanese avant-garde movement active before and during Gutai that never really made it into art magazines or books. Being part of history was never Jikken Kobo’s concern. Like APNews, they were about the moment and taking that moment apart.

9 Richard Phillips (Gagosian Gallery, New York) This is the Pop art I love. Its cold distance is touching, its obvious affection troubling. Large-scale paintings and films of porn star Sasha Grey, model Adriana Lima, and actor Lindsay Lohan bring back what pop is really about. Mass culture is a mess, a threat, an unpleasant thing, and Phillips dives in without fear.

10 Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg I spent three hours here, but it could have been ten. The role of films and photographs in perpetuating apartheid and in liberating South Africa from it, the incredible fragility of many recent political developments, the huge challenges the country still faces—all of this and more comes alive in halls of this museum. Conveyed with complexity and nuance, South Africa’s difficult past becomes palpable. This is what museums are for.

Daniel Baumann is, together with Dan Byers and Tina Kukielski, a curator of the 2013 Carnegie International. He currently lives in Pittsburgh.