Your Weekly Art News: From the Margins to the Headlines (Nov. 7-13)

  • Louvre diplomacy as the venerable French institution opens in Abu Dhabi with a total cost of over $1.1 Billion, as per the New York Times:

“Among the exhibits are a Koran, a Bible and a Torah, open at verses carrying the same message. The design, by France’s prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, evokes up the image of an Arab medina. Authorities have put in place strict measures to protect the art from the heat, which can reach 40C.

And the museum’s history is also turbulent — a saga of economic downturn, collapsing oil prices, regional political tensions and fierce French intellectual debates about the risks of lending its national treasures to the Middle East in exchange for petrodollars. Through it all the Louvre Abu Dhabi has brought together East and West and also managed to unite France’s fractious national museums, which submerged envy and ego to cooperate on the project brokered by two governments.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the result of a rare government accord in 2007 between France and this young, oil-rich monarchy on the Persian Gulf. The U.A.E. is leasing the powerful Louvre brand for 400 million euros (about $464 million) for more than 30 years. Eventually it will pay a total of 974 million euros for French expertise, guidance and loans.

“Soft power is now the catchword of all diplomats”¨ said Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, the U.A.E. minister of state, who was an adviser from the beginning when the museum was simply a sketch and its future site was inhabited by nesting turtles and seashells. “It means it is no longer sufficient to have military or economic power if you are not able to share your values. Exchange — this is what soft power is about.”

The Louvre Abu Dhabi building just completed in September 2017; photos by Ludovic Pouille

  • Opiemme’s street-poetry opens showing the evolution of architecture and urbanism of Łódź during the period of socialist realism:

“In Opiemme’s recent urban work on the occasion of Lodz 4 Cultures festival, the artist’s signs are extensively covering different surfaces of a school building. From walls to sidewalks, and all around, any viewer or passer-by is thus literally encircled by texts and motifs realized with spray paint and stencils techniques. Everywhere one looks or turns, the geometric patterns connect the soil to sky. And the moment the eye moves onto the next texture, everything begins spinning as if one were surrounded by this new story-telling.

It is Opiemme’s Tribute to Wladyslaw Strzemiński, the Polish vanguard abstract painter and typographer who designed this unique font in the 1930s. Mostly consisting of a curved line, the font Opiemme drew on was actually meant to communicate the spirit of future, dynamism and modernity across Polish society. The artist uses this type of lettering as an insight into the socialist realism architecture, the urban style of many public buildings that still speak about Poland’s heritage, regardless of the cultures that have cast the country throughout the time.”

Remanufacture 2017, Ul. Bojownikow Getta 3, Lodz, Courtesy Opiemme

  • Berlin-based artists Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Mana, and Agnieszka Polska have released a joint statement strongly criticising the approach of the Preis der Nationalgalerie prize, the statement in full:

As the four shortlisted nominees for the Preis der Nationalgalerie, we have decided to release a joint statement concerning our experience. Our statement is a means to highlight and recommend changes to three problematic aspects of the prize, which we find indicative of broader and growing trends in the art field and therefore deserving of a public ear.

I.

The Preis der Nationalgalerie, hosted by the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, is a joint venture between the Nationalgalerie of the Staatliche Museen and Freunde der Nationalgalerie, with BMW as its main sponsor. We take, at face value, the intention of this prize to be to support and give voice to serious artistic positions and practices based in Germany.

With this in mind, we have been troubled by the constant emphasis, in press releases and public speeches, on our gender and nationalities, rather than on the content of our work. It is clear to us that in a more egalitarian world, the fact of our gender and national origin would be barely noticed. Having it constantly emphasized can only be indicative of how far we are from such an egalitarian world. Furthermore, the self-congratulatory use of diversity as a public-relations tool risks masking the very serious systemic inequalities that continue to persist at all levels of our field.

We would like to stress that commitments to diversity in gender, race, and experience need to be built into the everyday operations of institutions and organizations rather than celebrated occasionally at high-profile events.

II.

The award ceremony for the Preis der Nationalgalerie seemed to be more of a celebration of the sponsors and institutions than a moment to engage with the artists and their works. The award was announced at the end of numerous speeches and performances, in what can only be described as a great unveiling. A solution to this would be to announce the winner prior to the ceremony and let the ceremony be a chance to celebrate and give voice to the winning artist and engage with their practice.

Some conventions, which might function in the corporate world and entertainment industries, seem out of place when applied to the field of art. The award does not need to be structured in a manner that implies a sense of competition between people who are not in fact competing. Structuring it in this manner results in the creation of obstacles to solidarity, collectivity, and mutual support among artists.

III.

We believe that all exhibitions, including the exhibitions of the shortlisted nominees, should include an artist fee. Furthermore, artist talks, panels, and public discussions should also include fees. Artists contribute greatly to the prestige of this prize, and their labor, like all forms of labor, needs to be compensated proportionately.

The fact that the Preis der Nationalgalerie does not have a monetary value, and that the exhibitions and public talks of its nominees do not include fees, means that artists are rewarded only with the promise of exposure. There is an unspoken assumption that the participants are likely to be remunerated by the market as a result of being nominated for or winning the prize. As artists, we know this is not always the case. The logic of artists working for exposure feeds directly into the normalization of the unregulated pay structures ubiquitous in the art field, as well as into the expansion of the power of the commercial sector over all aspects of the field.

Lastly, we welcome discussion on these issues from the museum, its friends and sponsors, and all relevant stakeholders, including past nominees, in the hope that together we can improve the situation for future iterations of the prize. We hope that this discussion might be useful as a model for considering other similar events in the field of art.

  • Hito Steyerl takes down #1 in ArtReview‘s Power 100 Rankings:

“Art is powerful. Or at least it’s the construct of powerful forces, not always of the positive kind. This is something Steyerl recognises. ‘Contemporary art is made possible by neoliberal capital, plus the internet, biennials, art fairs, parallel pop-up histories and growing income inequalities,’ she told The Guardian this year. ‘Let’s add asymmetric warfare, real-estate speculation, tax evasion, money laundering and deregulated financial markets.’ Steyerl makes the top slot on this list because she actively attempts to disrupt this nexus of power.

Her own art – characterised by research-heavy, narrative-led video (combining found, filmed and digitally animated footage) and installation, which took a prominent place in this year’s once-a-decade, era-defining Skulptur Projekte Münster – is combined with dogged outspokenness and academic rigour through her writing, performative lectures and teaching, critically influencing agendas internationally.
 She is slowly effecting change too. In September, for example, on discovering that an exhibition she was part of, Deutschland 8: German Art in China, spread across eight museums in Beijing, was sponsored in part
 by Rheinmetall AG, a Düsseldorf-based manufacturer of tanks and military technology, Steyerl protested. As well as writing to the organisers and, on receiving no reply, drawing attention to the issue in the press, 
the artist, alongside a number of the others in the show, was characteristically proactive, drawing up a standard exhibition agreement for artists that places an onus on curators and institutions to perform due diligence.”

Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen. A Fucking Didactic Educational, 2013, HD video file, single screen

  • Inside Museum MACAN, Indonesia’s First Modern and Contemporary Art Museum:

“The institution, founded by collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo, finally opened its doors in Jakarta over the weekend. Founded by Indonesian philanthropist and art collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo and in the works since 2013, it is the country’s first modern and contemporary art museum.

delayed until the fall to coincide with Jakarta Biennale and Biennale Jogja, two of the most significant art events in a country with a significant number of private collectors but minimal museum infrastructure.

The inaugural show, which opened on November 4, brings together 90 works by 70 Indonesian and international artists. There will be much more to see as additional works come out of storage: The museum’s founder, a property developer and the president of chemical and energy logistics company PT AKR Corporindo, has amassed a collection of 800 works of American, European, and Asian art.”

Museum MACAN, interior. Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN/Yori Antar.

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