March 20 CAC Event: Robert Morris in the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection

A Seminar for IFA Students and Faculty
Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 2:00-4:00 PM

The Contemporary Art Consortium at the Institute of Fine Arts, in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Panza Collection Initiative, invites students and faculty to visit and discuss a private installation of works by artist Robert Morris selected from the Guggenheim’s Panza Collection.

The group will meet on Tuesday, March 20, at 2:00 PM at an installation space located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in which the PCI has installed one dozen important works by the artist for the consideration of a committee of art historians and conservators who will gather in the space for a two-day meeting the week prior to the student visit.

Panza Collection Initiative members — Jeffrey Weiss, Francesca Esmay, Ted Mann, and Anne Wheeler — will lead a discussion of issues raised by the works. Participants are also encouraged to raise topics of related interest with regard to the work. Because discussion will be based on immediate reference to the works of art themselves, participation is limited to 20.

Ticket/entry details:

Registration open to the IFA community only. Reservation required. To register, please send an e-mail to awheeler[at]guggenheim[dot]org with your name and affiliation.

The event will be held at SurroundArt in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Please allow adequate time for transportation (approximately 25 minutes by car or 45-60 minutes by subway from the IFA). Location details will be provided to confirmed participants.

2012 Varnedoe Lecture 1: “Setting the Stage: From Postcolonial Utopia to Postcolonial Realism”

Okwui Enwezor gave his first talk of the Kirk Varnedoe Lecture Series on Tuesday, February 21, called “Setting the Stage: From Postcolonial Utopia to Postcolonial Realism.” His series is titled “Episodes in Contemporary African Art,” which foreshadows a methodology centered not on grand narratives but on case studies that can enliven our understanding of an emerging field behind which Enwezor himself has been the driving force.

Today, we are all well aware that contemporary art has become a “global” phenomenon; from Chelsea to Venice we confront cutting-edge works by non-Western artists. William Kentridge, El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare MBE, and Ghada Amer have all held significant retrospectives in recent years, in addition to countless others featured in group exhibitions. However, the “globalization” of contemporary art didn’t happen overnight, and as art historians we still lack a comprehensive understanding of the transition from “traditional” to “contemporary” in many parts of the world, especially Africa. Hence, Enwezor’s inaugural lecture, aptly titled “Setting the Stage,” offered a timeline against which the emergence of contemporary African art can be set.

William Kentridge, Drawing from Stereoscope, 1998–99. Charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil on paper (47 1/4 x 63 inches). Image courtesy Museum of Modern Art, NY.
Yinka Shonibare, MBE, How to Blow up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006. Two mannequins, two guns, wax printed cotton textile, shoes, leather riding boots, plinth (93 1/2 X 63 X 48 inches). Image courtesy James Cohan Gallery.

Enwezor premised his talk around an inversion of the dictum that begins E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art—“There is no art as such, there are only artists”—proposing that when it comes to Western reception of African art, the reverse is often assumed; namely, that there are no African artists as such, only African art. African art has often been associated with ritual and collective production, in opposition to Western art history’s preoccupation with artistic genius, the “Master,” and individual oeuvres.
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Peter Halley: Isolation and Connectivity in the Big Apple

Peter Halley’s work is distinctive—once you’ve seen a few Peter Halleys you can easily pick them out.  Buying into this perception to a certain extent, the “paintings” tab of his website has an “overview” option.  If a visitor to his site so desires, he or she can literally scroll through his entire oeuvre to see how Halley has reworked his simple iconography of squares, rectangles, and lines over the course of his career, steadily embracing a neon DayGlo palette.  However, his “Artists at the Institute” lecture at the IFA on February 2nd provided insight into the profoundly thoughtful artist behind the paintings.  Indeed, his highly individual style is a hermetic rumination on subject matter close to his heart: How to cope with the isolation of modern life and find human connection, particularly in New York City.

Peter Halley, The Grave, 1980. Courtesy Peter Halley's website.

Halley began his lecture by discussing his move to New York City in 1980 and a linchpin piece, The Grave, that helps unlock the iconographical implications of his work.  The minimalist painting depicts a stark whitish rectangle resting on a black ground with a sickly yellow background.  The isolation of death comes through clearly.  Looking back at this work from 32 years ago, Halley revealed that the piece’s deadpan style harbors a “touch of emotional depression.”  It is hard not to imagine that the painting bespeaks the profound loneliness of a transplanted artist amidst the bustling, crowded streets of New York.
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Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA

Buddha, Probably Amitabha (Amituo), Tang dynasty (618–907), early 7th century China, hollow dry lacquer with pigment and gilding, 38 x 27 x 22 1/2 inches (96.5 x 68.6 x 57.1 cm).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

On January 31, 2012, Professor Stanley Abe gave a lecture entitled “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” as part of the Silberberg Lecture Series at the Institute of Fine Arts. Abe is an associate professor of art history at Duke University and has written extensively on Chinese Buddhist art, contemporary Chinese art, Asian American art, and the construction of art historical knowledge. His current research is on the movement of sculpture out of China in the early twentieth century, and his lecture on Wednesday drew on this project. Abe began his lecture by citing the introduction of the oft-quoted Art in China (1997) by Sinologist Craig Clunas: “’Chinese art’ is a quite recent invention, not much more than a hundred years old.” He pressed on, “The creation of ‘Chinese art’ in the nineteenth century allowed statements to be made about, and values to be ascribed to, a range of types of object.” This statement succinctly sums up what Abe’s lecture took to be its main argument, namely, that Chinese sculpture became a category of art in the latter half of the 19th century. Abe’s lecture traced the invention and development of Chinese sculpture as a class of art that sprung from the Modernist project of historicizing the past and recoding structures of knowledge surrounding Chinese art. Continue reading “Professor Stanley Abe: “The Modern Moment of Chinese Sculpture” at the IFA”

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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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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