“I THINK ABOUT MORANDI painting on top of a hill surrounded by fascism.” This is the first line of 1943, a text that Francis Alÿs wrote on the occasion of Documenta 13 in 2012, in which he muses, line by line, about the activities and sufferings of various European artists during the eponymous year of the war. Otto Dix watches his works destroyed by Nazis; Max Beckmann is under siege in Amsterdam. Leni Riefenstahl, however, deploys a cast of prisoners borrowed from the camps to film part of Tiefland. Alÿs’s list serves as a self-interrogation: Does an artist have an ethical obligation when confronted with violence and injustice?
One could pose similar questions about the responsibilities of public contemporary art institutions, versions of which will be familiar to those who have worked within their confines. The image of Giorgio Morandi in Bologna, besieged but also aloof, feels
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