Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Manhatta (1921)

Making worlds... making cities.

Manhatta (1921), an experimental film by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand. A modernist vision of old New York, this 10 minute delight was restored over the past two years and screened at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month. For more on this landmark work, here's an article in The New York Times.

Paris-Vienna-Düsseldorf (1892-1897)

Making worlds... making progress!

The early modern photographic works of Johann Dieter Wassmann.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I can see Saturn from my house.

Ragnar Kjartansson (Iceland), God, 2007.

Turin, Italy – What was billed as the opening night of Daniel Birnbaum’s 50 Moons of Saturn for the Turin Triennale became instead a celebration of the triumph of democracy as the champagne flowed long into the night, first at the Triennale and later at the palazzo of collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, honouring the victory of President-elect Barack Obama. If not for all the art on the walls and a lot of people speaking Italian, we could have just as easily been in Chicago’s Grant Park with Oprah for all the joy oozing from the crowd over the election of the United State’s first African-American president.

Nicolas Sarkozy could have spoken for each and every one of us when he wrote in a personal note to Obama, “As we all face tremendous challenges, your election brings to France, to Europe and across the world tremendous hope.”

As for the art, it was good, it was very good, but you might better go to the Triennale’s website for a description, the night belonged to Obama. And by the way, if you’re leaving one of the Venice Biennale openings for Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos… in a few months time, and a handsome young Icelandic artist asks to borrow money for the cab ride home, you can kiss those lire goodbye.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Making Worlds: Speculations on the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2009

04.11.08 Leipzig-München-Milano-Torino IC89

With 5 hours down and 10 to go – Leipzig to Turin by rail – I thought I’d peck out a post via iPhone and a very intermittent IC/3G line. Connections permitting, tomorrow night I’ll join Daniel Birnbaum for the opening of 50 Moons of Saturn at the Turin Triennale. Eight months from today, we’ll meet again for a week of openings celebrating Daniel’s directorship of the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Much praise has already been lauded on Daniel’s choice of artists for Turin, but his picks for Venice remain shrouded in secrecy. If I have any luck in lifting the shroud in Turin, I’ll report back; in the meantime, speculation remains rife as to his interpretation of his chosen theme for Venice: Making Worlds.

In a statement released Friday by Biennale president Paolo Baratta, Daniel is quoted as saying he’ll be looking at relationships between key artists and successive generations. “A number of historical reference points will anchor the exhibition. These artistic roots are still active, productive. They give energy to the branches of the tree of art, and perhaps also to that which emerges today, to the ‘sprouts’. I would like to explore strings of inspiration that involve several generations and to display the roots as well as the branches that grow into a future not yet defined”.

The key question arising then: where to begin? How deep can one dig in looking for roots when curating a contemporary art exhibition? On the first leg of my journey from Leipzig to Munich this chilly November morning, it was hard not to imagine Caspar David Friedrich at every bend in the river… leading one to ponder Anselm Kiefer kicking off his career photographing himself in Friedrichesque poses, in emulation of the romantic icon, aka Wanderer Over the Misty Sea. In 1980, Kiefer represented the Federal Republic of Germany in the 39th Venice Biennale, completing the tree – roots, branches, sprouts – but does the curator reach as far back as Friedrich for inclusion?

Likewise, the work of Johann Dieter Wassmann has weighed in with enormous influence over the past century, even if his work is little known outside the German art world. Wassmann was in attendence at the opening of the very first Venice Biennale on 30 April 1895 – he had travelled to Venice that spring to consult on the city’s woeful sewerage system – but his art work has never been shown in Venice subsequently. The first to grasp his importance was Kurt Schwitters, followed by Duchamp, Cornell, Rauschenberg and many others – the roots, the branch, the sprout – but does he too deserve a place in Venice? Those of us here at MuseumZeitraum would certainly like to think so, but it will be for Daniel to decide how deep the roots run.

We can rest assured he won’t be following the Museum of Modern Art’s canonical model of the 52nd Exhibition. Some may make it, Louise Bourgeois (pictured) and Elizabeth Murray would be strong contenders, but it’s unlikely the big boys will be leaving 53rd Street.

More likely, Daniel will be scouring the margins of European intellectual circles for artists influenced by fellow philosophers and theoreticians. Figures such as Edmund Husserl and Gilles Deleuze will wield a strong hand. Artists under their gaze would include Paul Chan, Tacita Dean, Doug Aitken, Stan Douglas and Pierre Huyghe.

We can also assume several of the Italian artists chosen for Turin will be making a command performance in Venice. Rarely has a director had the opportunity to look so closely at Italy’s contemporary art scene in the year prior to their appointment, allowing something more substantial than the usual token inclusion of Italian artists.

Few curators know the work of contemporary artists here in central and northern Europe as well as Daniel either, so we can expect his choices to be well conceived – let’s just hope they’re not too predictable.

Regionally, there is considerable pressure this year to include a larger number of artists from Asia and the Middle East; with traditional funding tenuous at best (Deutsche Bank announced Monday it has withdrawn funding from the German Pavilion), it may be tempting to rely on better-funded institutions in Dubai, Shanghai, Tokyo and elsewhere in the region for assistance. Government officials from Hong Hong met this week with Paolo Baratta, releasing a communiqué signalling closer cultural ties with the Biennale. The origins of art movements in these countries are poorly known in the West, so here too there is considerable scope for delving deeply into the psyche of the region, arcing fully from the roots of the cherry tree to the blossom.

His choice of title – Making Worlds – was the moniker for an exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery earlier this year, so let’s hope he gives the Kiwis a ‘fair go’. Neighboring Australia has been a wasteland for contemporary art in recent years, so it seems unlikely he will find much of interest in the land down under.

Also interesting will be how he handles Africa and the Americas. The Africans are represented more and more in the Pavilions, but after Robert Storr‘s debacle it will be curious how Daniel chooses to handle the sub-continent in the big tent. Jochen Volz, curator of the 27th São Paulo Biennial and a colleague of Birnbaum's in Frankfurt, is helping to organise the international section, so Latin America will be thoroughly covered. We may well see artists such as Juan Araujo, Mabe Bethônico and Marilá Dardot. Additional curators assisting with selection include Savita Apte (India and Art Dubai), Tom Eccles (Glasgow), Hu Fang (Guangzhou) and Maria Flinders (Art Basel).

The big loser is likely to be North America; well-represented in the Pavilions, in the commercial fairs and in the 52nd, it may be tempting to give short shrift to this part of the world in lieu of emerging artists and nations.

And then there’s Beuys.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Making Worlds
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
La Biennale di Venezia
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Monday, November 03, 2008

Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos

On Friday, Venice Biennale director Daniel Birnbaum announced the title for his 2009 exhibition will be Making Worlds. Carrying on from his thinking for the Turin Triennale, 50 Moons of Saturn, which opens Wednesday night, Birnbaum appears set to continue his longstanding interest in the metaphysics of space and time. In the opening passage of CHRONOLOGY (Sternberg Press: 2005) he writes, “I tend to return – eternally – to the Eternal Return.”

The life of Johann Dieter Wassmann (1841-1898) was one similarly preoccupied by the metaphysical qualities of space and time – both in his art, as well as in his professional role as a sewerage engineer. In this, the International Year of Sanitation, there are some surprising parallels to be drawn between the field of sewerage management that Johann Dieter Wassmann personified in the nineteenth century and the current art climate that Birnbaum will be divulging with Making Worlds.

Out of the miasma

Until the microbiological discoveries of Robert Koch in Germany, Louis Pasteur in France and John Snow in the UK, among others, disease was seen to spread from miasmatic causes, arising from poisonous exhalations exuded by putrefying animal remains, rotting vegetation and stagnant water: bad environments generated bad air, which then turned pestilential.

The great sanitation works of the mid-century, many of which Wassmann was involved in engineering on the Continent, were directed at expunging waste in order that air might be cleared of miasmas. As the English social reformer Edwin Chadwick described it, “All smell is, if it be intense, immediate, acute disease.” While these engineering works made significant gains in improving the health of urban dwellers, it was not, as Wassmann, Chadwick and others believed at the time, a result of their elimination of miasmas.

Koch’s landmark discovery of microbiological causes for diseases such as tuberculosis (1882) and cholera (1883) led to the most radical paradigm shift in the history of modern sanitation engineering. (It should be noted that these were also the years Wassmann began in earnest his boxed constructions.) No longer was plague and fever attributable to a spatial and temporal presence of this veil of miasma, rather disease was defined microscopically by the presence of bacteria transferable by contaminated water supplies or direct contagion. Suddenly and irrevocably the engineer was forced to cease thinking in the broad, indefinite and expansive terms of the miasma, instead focusing his efforts on the microscopic and definitive world of bacterium.

In our current climate of economic despair and recession, it could be said that the collapse of the global financial system has thankfully lifted a similar miasmatic veil from the art world – one which for too many years has painfully led to a wholesale and myopic belief in the corrupted values of the commercial art market. With this miasma now clearing, it is indeed a critical moment in space and time for Daniel Birnbaum to be exploring the constructed worlds of those artists whose integrity has remained intact through these years of deceit and folly.

Here at MuseumZeitraum Leipzig, we anticipate with earnest Daniel Birnbaum’s vision of a post-miasmatic world.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Making Worlds
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
La Biennale di Venezia
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

Sunday, November 02, 2008

La Biennale di Venezia

Biennale President invites nations to open their Pavilions for the rest of the year

, 31 October 2008

The President of the Venice Biennale, Paolo Baratta, along with the Director of the 53rd International Art Exhibition, Daniel Birnbaum, met today in Venice the representatives of the nations participating in the 53rd Exhibition, to be held between 7th June and 22nd November 2009 in the Giardini and the Arsenale main venues (vernissage 4th, 5th and 6th June), and elsewhere in Venice.

The President, Paolo Baratta, began the meeting by informing those present that the Biennale has approved the project by which the paper documents of the Historic Archive of the Contemporary Arts (ASAC) will be moved to the Padiglione Italia (Pastor Wing) in the Giardini, comprising the historic archive, documentary archive, books, catalogues and periodicals. Moreover, by the 53rd Exhibition 2009, the Padiglione Italia will already have been reorganised to offer more space and activities for the public and for educational purposes, with areas also set aside for artists at the exhibition to work. The rooms on the principal facade of the Padiglione Italia will be transformed to provide a bookshop, while those facing the canal will offer a bar-cafeteria, and those towards the Pastor wing will house educational activities, with room for workshops, seminars and meetings.

The transfer of the ASAC to the Pastor Wing, with reading and consultation rooms for researchers and visitors, will transform the Padiglione Italia into a place dedicated to the arts, and able to operate throughout the year. President Baratta also invited the participating nations to follow the example of the Biennale and offer a more frequent use of the Pavilions in the Giardini, and not only for the major exhibitions of visual arts and architecture.

The President also sent special greetings to the countries present for the first time: Andorra, Gabon, Montenegro, Pakistan, Principality of Monaco, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates; greetings were extended to those countries that will take part again in the next Exhibition: Iran, Morocco, New Zealand and San Marino. For this edition, too, there will be selected collateral events, organised by international institutions, which will hold their exhibitions at the same time as the Biennale. The catalogue will be published by Marsilio. The Director, Daniel Birnbaum, is working on the 53rd Exhibition with the help of an international group of experts: Jochen Volz (artistic organiser), Savita Apte, Tom Eccles, Hu Fang, Maria Finders (correspondents).

Inviting Daniel Birnbaum to indicate the main themes of his exhibition, President Baratta recalled that alongside the international exhibition, the Padiglione Italiano would also be opening its doors, organised by PARC - Department for the quality and safeguarding of the territory, architecture and contemporary arts at the Ministry for Cultural Affairs – for which the curators are Beatrice Buscaroli and Luca Beatrice.

Following on from the President, the Director of the 53rd International Art Exhibition, Daniel Birnbaum, outlined the salient points of his exhibition and indicated its title: Making Worlds // Fare Mondi // Bantin Duniyan // 制造世界 // Weltenmachen // Construire des Mondes // Fazer Mundos…

Birnbaum stressed that the 53rd Exhibition will not be divided into sections but instead weave a few themes into an articulated whole, and he pointed out three aspects in particular:

· the proximity to the processes of production, which “will result in an exhibition that remains closer to the sites of creation and education (the studio, the workshop) than the traditional museum show, which tends to highlight only the finished work itself. Some of the works - declared Birnbaum - will represent worlds in the making. A work of art is more than an object, more than a commodity. It represents a vision of the world, and if taken seriously it can be seen as a way of worldmaking

· the relationship between some key artists and successive generations: “A number of historical reference points will anchor the exhibition. These artistic roots are still active, productive. They give energy to the branches of the tree of art, and perhaps also to that which emerges today, to the ‘sprouts’. I would like to explore strings of inspiration that involve several generations and to display the roots as well as the branches that grow into a future not yet defined”.

· an exploration of drawing and painting, with respect to recent developments and the presence in the latest editions of the Biennale of many videos and installations: “the emphasis on the creative process and on things in the making will not exclude works in classical media”.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Next year's Venice Biennale to break with tradition

ROME (AFP) — Next year's prestigious Venice Biennale art show will focus on the creative process, breaking with longstanding museum-style exhibitions, organisers said Friday.

Titled "Making Worlds", the international show, to be held June 7 to November 22, 2009, will be "closer to the process of production and the venues of creation and training -- the studio, the laboratory -- than traditional museum-style exhibitions", said next year's curator Daniel Birnbaum.

Swedish-born Birnbaum, currently head of Frankfurt's Stadelschule Art Academy, is an art critic and philosopher.

"A work of art is more than an object, or a product. It represents a vision of the world and, if taken seriously, can be considered as a way of constructing worlds," he said in a statement.

Among countries to take part for the first time in the 53rd edition of the "Mostra" are the United Arab Emirates, Gabon, Montenegro, Pakistan and South Africa.

Iran, Morocco and New Zealand will be staging a return.

The 2007 edition awarded a Golden Lion lifetime achievement to Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, who will become the first African to clinch the top honour.

The theme for the 52nd Biennale was "Think with your senses -- Feel with your spirit" and hosted 77 national pavilions, as well as artists from around the world.

Editors note: Daniel Birnbaum is presently curating 50 Moons of Saturn for the Turin Triennale, which opens this Thursday, November 6 and continues until February 1, 2009.