New York

GCC, Inaugural Summit, Morschach 2013 3, C-print, 46 3/4 × 33 1/8".

GCC, Inaugural Summit, Morschach 2013 3, C-print, 46 3/4 × 33 1/8".



GCC, Inaugural Summit, Morschach 2013 3, C-print, 46 3/4 × 33 1/8".

It seems like a joke, doesn’t it, for GCC to claim that it was founded in the VIP lounge of Art Dubai 2013? That nine young artists with roots in the Middle East formed a partnership while sporting art-fair badges? The scene comes off as satire, a wry comment on high culture’s role in rebranding the emirates as teetotaling Xanadus. Certainly in New York, where GCC made its US debut with the exhibition “Achievements in Retrospective,” there’s precedent for concocted origin stories (e.g., the Bruce High Quality Foundation notoriously backdates its beginnings to 9/11). Yet the facts check out. Art Dubai indeed afforded GCC’s “delegates” an opportunity to coordinate their varied itineraries. Inside the VIP lounge, irony comes ready-made.

“Achievements in Retrospective,” curated by Christopher Y. Lew, cheerfully commemorated GCC’s exhibitions in Berlin, London, Kassel, Beijing, and Kuwait City, showcasing these past accomplishments without shedding light on their particulars. Instead, GCC portrayed “achievement” as a closed circuit, self-reflexive and emptied out—much like GCC’s initials, which are borrowed from the Gulf Cooperation Council, an agency that orchestrates economic initiatives among six Islamic monarchies. Taking cues from its namesake, GCC reveled in the ministerial pomp that saturates the region’s development and diplomacy, its theme-park openings as well as its treaty signings. The exhibition welcomed visitors with a four-minute promotional video in which an account of GCC’s brief history was interspersed with paeans to “modern business concepts” and “high-level strategic dialogue.” In a second video, Ceremonial Achievements, 2013, an absurdist ribbon-cutting played on perpetual loop. A plinth covered in marble-pattern contact paper displayed a row of etched-glass trophies fabricated in Kuwait. These “Congratulants,” each issued on the occasion of a new exhibition, assumed, variously, the form of an oil rig, a clamshell, a handshake—the surreal kitsch of official recognition. Photographs documenting GCC’s “summit” in Morschach, Switzerland, flattened a week’s worth of exhibition planning into stock images of agreement and conferral. Their free shuffling of such signifiers as Swiss vistas, Arab traditional dress, and Apple electronics flashed the new look of global exchange, one where luxury trumps modernism as the lingua franca.

In a recent analysis of Marvel Studios’ The Avengers (2012), critic Brian Droitcour convincingly illustrates how the Hobby Lobby era of corporate personhood extends into the art world: Superhero studios with monosyllabic monikers such as “Koons” and “Hirst” dominate the landscape. To compete, newbies have chosen to incorporate, to combine their powers behind masks, like the pseudo-consultancy K-Hole. By incorporating as an intergovernmental body, GCC is well positioned to leverage globalism’s contradictions, yet “Achievements” pressed up against the strategy’s self-imposed limitations. In Section, 2014, a pane of frosted glass partially obscured an installation and photomural evoking the threadbare offices of lower-tier Gulf bureaucrats. Here, GCC peered beyond the VIP lounge—though hardly to the same extent as Gulf Labor, a self-described coalition of artists protesting the exploitation of migrant workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi’s expansive museum complex. Whereas GCC trumpets its own circulation, Gulf Labor calls for boycotts. One parodies, the other petitions. Both groups address art’s instrumentalization in a region with weak democratic institutions, and their difference in approach raises questions for collective action. Whether by corporation or coalition, what is it, really, we aim to achieve?

Colby Chamberlain