Iftikhar Dadi at the IFA

Editor’s Note: This review was written directly following Iftikhar Dadi’s lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on April 12, 2011. It has been reprinted here in its original form.

Iftikhar Dadi

On April 12, 2011, Professor Iftikhar Dadi delivered the inaugural lecture of the Colloquium on Modern and Contemporary Art from the Middle East and South Asia (MESA) at the Institute of Fine Arts. Dadi is a practicing artist and an associate professor in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University, as well as the author of the recent Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). His lecture at the IFA, entitled “Between Global Media and the Urban Subaltern,” contained three parts: first, Dadi’s take on the rhetoric surrounding modern art in South Asia and the Middle East; second, an analysis of major artists involved in the development of modernism in this region; and third, a presentation of Dadi’s own artistic collaborations with his wife, Elizabeth Dadi.

Employing Andreas Huyssen’s conception of “modernism at large,” Dadi situated artists working in South Asia during the twentieth century within a transnational Muslim modernism rather than within nationally specific modernities. He further argued that this modernism was liberating despite its Eurocentrism, positively influencing artists working in South Asia and the Middle East because it allowed them to decolonialize Islamic art. Thus they could use the visual language of Islamic art to develop a new subjectivity that was intrinsically South Asian Muslim. Dadi first discussed well-known Pakistani artist Sadequain Naqqash (1930-1987), whose paintings draw upon the Islamic tradition of calligraphy. Naqqash simultaneously aligns his work with modernist movements such as Cubism, using abstracted letterforms that obstruct a strictly narrative reading of the text. Referencing the Mughal Empire, which ruled the Indian subcontinent from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, Dadi described another Pakistani artist, Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1899-1975), as “a Mughal artist working in a time of print culture.” Chugtai’s paintings make use of imagery similar to that of traditional Mughal miniatures, creating a subjectivity based on historical precursors as well as on the contemporary intellectual scene.
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Watermill Quintet: Uncovering Disciplinary Boundaries

Editor’s Note: This review was written directly following the “Watermill Quintet” performance at the Guggenheim Museum in March 2011. It has been reprinted here in its original form.

Learned contextual expectations are everything, which is why I was so intrigued this spring when I received an email about the Guggenheim’s “Works & Process” program through a dance performance listserv. Billed as “a performing-arts series that informs artistic creation through stimulating conversation and performance,” the series purports to integrate the performing and visual arts on an institutional level. Modern and contemporary museums have expanded their jurisdictions, yet in general the performing arts and visual arts worlds still stand as two distinct monoliths. Despite the collapsing of partitions within each realm—between dance, theater, opera, music, etc. in one, and sculpture, painting, installation, performance, etc. in the other—and our confidence in our own open-minded interdisciplinary thinking, the boundaries of each remain fairly impermeable.
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Marina Abramović at the IFA

Editor’s Note: This review was written directly following Marina Abramović’s lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on March 1, 2011. It has been reprinted here in its original form.

Marina Abramović at the Institute of Fine Arts, March 1, 2011. Video still.
Courtesy the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.


A long duration is sublime. — Immanuel Kant

Although it is safe to assume that almost everyone who attended Marina Abramović’s recent lecture at the IFA, had seen her in person fairly recently, few, if any, had ever seen her speak: like all of her best-known performances, The Artist is Present (2010) at MoMA was completely wordless. In the very least, Abramović’s IFA lecture proved that the absence of speech in her performances is not due to any lack of ability on the part of the performer. She was lucid, frank, and insightful, managing not only to set her work into intelligent dialogue with a wide range of her contemporaries (Chris Burden, Gilbert and George, etc.), but also to be quite funny and entertaining along the way. By the end of the talk, one really felt to have gotten a good sense of Abramović’s personality. This of course shed a good deal of light on her work, though perhaps not in the direct sort of way that one would expect. Rather, the ease by which her personality came through in speech only threw into relief how little of that personality comes across in her performances. The type of encounter that occurs in the latter is entirely different in nature.

Abramovic’s lecture touched on many issues: the importance of long temporal durations in her work, a conception of the parts of the body as instruments of performance, her own path to becoming a performance artist, and many others. She began by reading a manifesto and went on to show a series of video excerpts of performances, choosing each from a DVD menu screen and discussing them freely, without a transcript or predetermined order. The present essay will not even attempt to map out the territory that she covered; for this, one would be better off simply watching the video recording of the lecture that is available on the IFA’s website. Instead, I would like to reflect on just a few aspects of the lecture that I found particularly helpful in interpreting her work.

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Rachel Harrison at the IFA

Rachel Harrison spoke at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 24, 2011, as part of the IFA’s Artists at the Institute lecture series.

Rachel Harrison, Contact Sheet (should home windows...), 1996, chromogenic print on fiberboard, 20 x 16 inches. © Rachel Harrison

Asking an artist to give a lecture about her own work already seems kind of unfair. It’s not enough that they have to make these wonderful things, but they have to explain to us what they mean? To wrangle with those digital projections that we all hate? To tie up a whole lifetime of experiences and subjectivity into one neat little hour-long bundle (hour and ten minutes, if you include the Q & A)? But asking a sculptor to talk about her work—to add the inadequacy of photography in capturing anything, really, about these objects—well, that just seems downright mean.

Rachel Harrison seemed game enough to try, though, and despite all the obvious limitations of the slideshow format—or maybe even because those limitations echo some of her artistic concerns—she provided some pithy insights into her notoriously unwranglable works. There were no moments of total understanding or easy summaries of her body of work, but there were some interesting intersections of ideas and illuminations of corners here and there. Plus she got some of us stuffy art historians to laugh once in a while—pretty good for an hour and ten minutes.

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Luis Camnitzer at El Museo del Barrio

Luis Camnitzer, Fragment of a Cloud, 1967. Daros Latinamerica Foundation.

Upon entering the galleries of El Museo del Barrio’s current show, Luis Camnitzer, visitors come face to face with the following lines, handwritten on the wall in loose script:

If I draw a dot on one sheet of paper
I am a doodler.
If a draw a dot on one hundred sheets of paper
I am a philosopher.
If a draw a dot on one thousand sheets of paper
I am a mystic.
If I draw a dot on ten thousand sheets of paper
I am a modern conceptual artist and may become
rich and famous.
Social values are a matter of accumulation.

Part statement and part poetry, these words provide an apt introduction to both the artist and exhibition on view. Witty, wry, and with a hint of self-deprecation (Camnitzer IS a modern conceptual artist, after all), the piece introduces the viewer to the type of insightful reflection that is characteristic of the artist, whose work often confronts issues related to politics, the art world, and society at large, through oblique, yet cutting critique. Further, written in pencil and only faintly hovering against the gallery’s white wall, the work requires close inspection, thus presaging the type of intimate looking (and thinking) required of visitors throughout the show.
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On the Horizon: Asian Contemporary Art Week

ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART WEEK is coming up in New York!  The title of the program is a bit of a misnomer, as the event spans from March 21 through March 31, 2011.  Engaging both galleries and museums in the New York area, the ACAW features a broad range of public programs, including artist talks, gallery openings and receptions, lectures, performances and, of course, plenty of art exhibitions.  Check out the full program schedule at their superbly organized and user-friendly website.

The ACAW is particularly well-timed to coincide with a course taught this spring by Wu Hung on Contemporary Chinese Art. Professor Wu is the IFA’s Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor and one of the foremost scholars on traditional and contemporary Chinese art.  I will be attending the following event at the Guggenheim on 3/29/2011 (note the “free for students”) and anyone interested is welcome to meet up at the IFA around 6 PM on Tuesday to walk over together:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm at the Guggenheim Museum

Liu Xiaodong in Conversation

A screening of the new Liu Xiaodong documentary film by famed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, followed by a conversation with the artist and Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim Museum. Co-sponsored by Mary Boone Gallery.

$10; $7 for Guggenheim members; free for students

1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street)
Tel: 212-423-3500
www.guggenheim.org

Welcome!

Hello everyone! Welcome to the brand new website for the IFA’s Contemporary Art Consortium. We are so excited about this new publication, and we invite you to peruse, comment on, and contribute to the site.

We’d like to send a huge thank you to the student writers who’ve contributed to the inaugural edition of the IFA-CAC blog. Please check out Kristen Gaylord on Sergej Jensen at PS1, Brett Lazer on Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, Bobby Brennan on Christian Marclay’s The Clock at Paula Cooper, and Rae Kaplan on Esteban Vicente at the Grey Art Gallery and Daniel Haxall’s recent lecture at the IFA.

We’ve got more exciting student contributions lined up, so stay tuned! Please get in touch at ifacac[dot]editor[at]gmail[dot]com if you’d like to contribute or share your ideas for new pieces.

You can subscribe to our RSS feed below, or follow us on Twitter @IFACAC to receive updates about new posts.

Esteban Vicente’s Collages: On Display and In Discussion

Concrete Improvisations, Grey Art Gallery

The collage works of Esteban Vicente, the only Spanish-born member of New York’s Abstract Expressionists, take center stage at a current exhibition at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery and were the focus of an accompanying talk by Daniel Haxall held last week at the Institute of Fine Arts. Teaching at NYU and the New York Studio School, among other colleges and universities, and renting a studio on East Tenth Street, Vicente was a major player in the downtown art scene. On view at the Grey through March 26, Concrete Improvisations: Collages and Sculpture by Esteban Vicente literally and physically reinserts Vicente’s works into this scene. Curated by Lynn Gumpert, Edward J. Sullivan, and Ana Martínez de Aguilar, the exhibition and its programming are bringing deserved recognition to an influential artist. The curatorial team reintroduces Vicente to New York audiences through his collages and small-scale sculptures, and takes great care to communicate Vicente’s involvement in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

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Christian Marclay’s The Clock

Christian Marclay’s The Clock at White Cube

“Somehow this suggests that the cinema offers an illusive or temporary escape from physical dissolution. The false immortality of the film gives the viewer an illusion of control over eternity – but ‘the superstars’ are fading.” – Robert Smithson

After having debuted last fall at White Cube in London to a torrent of critical acclaim and popular fanfare, Christian Marclay’s The Clock enjoyed no less flattering a response during its run at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. Indeed, few works on view recently in New York have attracted such a degree of attention. Arriving at the gallery at about ten after two on a weekday afternoon during the last week the show was open, I had to wait in line for more than half an hour to be admitted. Apparently the lines grew to at least two or three times that long by the end of the week.

So what was all the fuss about? The work consists of a single-screen continuous 24-hour video montage composed of a vast array of movie clips, with source films ranging from yesterday’s Hollywood blockbusters to early- and mid-century foreign classics. The scene in each clip occurs at a distinct time of day, which is made known to the audience by a clock in the background, the dialogue, or some other means. Marclay presents these clips in such a way that the time in each corresponds to the actual time of day in which it appears on-screen. So, for example, when the clock in the background of a clip reads 2:30, it actually is 2:30, and the time in whatever clip comes up five minutes later will read 2:35. The work is thus, to a certain extent, exactly what the title says it is – a functioning clock – although not the kind one would want to live by, for its references to time are frequently somewhat hidden, encoded, or otherwise obscured.

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Comment: Learning from Las Vegas

The following is adapted from a longer presentation by Brett Lazer at the IFA In-House Symposium on January 22, 2010.

Learning from Las Vegas and the Antinomy of the Postmodern Manifesto

Along with Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), Learning from Las Vegas (1972) forms Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s classic articulation of a new path for architecture in the face of late Modernism. The basic assertion of the book is a turn towards the vernacular – not a vernacular of gables and dormers, nor Modernism’s industrial vernacular, but rather the commercial vernacular, with its apotheosis in the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. Venturi and Scott Brown see the Modernist rejection of history, ornament, and denotative symbolism as irresponsible, empty, boring, and inappropriate. The expressionistic use of space and light that Modernism requires is incommensurate with the scale of American society, reformatted in recent years to the automobile and the highway. As Venturi puts it, “articulated architecture today is like a minuet in a discotheque.”[1] However, taking on Modernism is no easy task, requiring rhetorical contortions that call into question the very foundations of Venturi and Scott Brown’s project.

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