The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA

Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, "Already Been in a Lake of Fire_Notebook Volume 38," 1999. Digital color print.
1 of 9 plates, 30 x 42 cm each. Via The Atlas Group: http://www.atlasgroup.org/

My internal conversation with the work of Walid Raad began as I paged my way through a monograph of his work, entitled Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: Some Essays from The Atlas Group Project (Cologne: Walther König, 2008), before the artist’s recent lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 23, 2012. A Lebanese-born artist and associate professor at The Cooper Union, Raad is perhaps best known for his work under the guise of The Atlas Group, a fictional collective founded to examine the political, social, and psychological effects of Lebanon’s Civil War through archival documentation.

This archival documentation takes on a variety of forms, ranging from photographs of Raad’s personal collection of bullets, found during his teenage years in Beirut, to reproductions of documents attributed to (fictional) figures like Dr. Fadl Faukhouri, a leading historian of the Civil War until his death in 1993. The assembled contributions of Dr. Faukhouri and others seem to treat the war somewhat objectively by focusing on minute details and empirical data. In actuality, however, they suggest both the extreme psychological effects of the war upon the Lebanese people and the concomitant difficulty of portraying this people’s experience of war. For example, notebooks in The Atlas Group archive that belonged to Dr. Faukhouri show that the historian would obsessively walk the streets of Beirut in search of intact versions of models of cars recently destroyed by car bombs. He would then photograph his finds, to document the frequency with which certain makes and models were used in these bombings.

The aforementioned monograph, Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, published on the occasion of the exhibition The Atlas Group (1989-2004): A Project by Walid Raad at Culturgest in Lisbon, contains reproductions of articles, interviews, and documents that relate to Raad’s work and to the archive formed by The Atlas Group. Following Raad’s practice of exhibiting photographs of documents and objects, rather than the documents and objects themselves, the book comprises a series of overhead scans of papers, magazines, and articles. Each is related to Raad’s oeuvre in some way, although his role in their authorship is not always immediately clear. Even when he explicitly states that the Group is an imaginary foundation, as he does often in exhibitions and lectures, he notes that his audience sometimes fails to grasp the “imaginary nature” of the Group and its documents.[1] For Raad, “this confirms to me the weighty associations with authority and authenticity of certain modes of address (the lecture, the conference) and display (the white walls of a museum or gallery, vinyl text, the picture frame), modes that I choose to lean on and play with at the same time.”[2] I would add to this list of confusingly authoritative documents the monograph he has published.

Raad’s remark sets the stage for my comments on his recent lecture at the IFA, “Scratching on Things I Could Disavow.” Continue reading “The many authoritative faces of Walid Raad: Thoughts from the lecture hall at the IFA”

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.

Interview: Wu Hung, Part 2

This is the second of two parts. Find Part 1 here.

Professor Wu Hung hosting the Director’s Seminar, March 29th, 2011. Photograph by Nita Roberts.

Robert Brennan: That might segue into another issue we wanted to discuss: the relationship between curating and teaching. We were curious about the role of teaching recent art in China and in Chinese universities, and to what extent they’ve gotten involved in making that part of the curriculum, part of university life, and whether universities have relationships with museums like they do in the States.

Wu Hung: I probably don’t know the whole picture because everything moves so fast in China. In my day there was no art history. My department was the only art history department in the entire country, and my class had ten people – that’s it. Art history in China was then basically in museums with connoisseurship. Only from my generation did people begin to study art history. Many people still don’t know what it is today. But now most universities have a particular department – they don’t call it art history, they call it the “discipline of art” or “art studies” or something like that. It includes art history and aesthetics, studio art and design. Both practice and curatorial, conservation. Somewhat like here, plus painting, printmaking, filmmaking. At some universities [in the United States] there’s a combination of studio art [and art history], but [in China] it’s more: anything having to do with visual art. [In the Chinese] model, art history is just one of several things. It’s not as prominent as it is here. Here art history is a pretty powerful humanistic discipline and very influential, in a way. But there it’s really just one of many possibilities. There are some schools that try to push art history. Some people have started here and now return to China and try to create that model.

So that’s one kind [of model] within the general, large universities – these comprehensive kinds of university settings. Then [there are] the art academies: you know, like Zhejiang, now called the China National Academy of Art, Art Academy, or the Beijing Central Academy. These kinds of academies also have [something] like a school of the humanities within the art academies. The art academies, in the past ten years, have grown into humungous institutions. In my day the Central Academy of Fine Arts—I graduated there—only had 150 students, 200 teachers and staff members. So it was tiny… But right now the same school every year takes in about 1500 or 1800 students of different kinds: painting, drawing, new media, including conservation, museum studies, and art history. All of these schools are just becoming bigger and bigger in China. Quite chaotic, I have to say. But there’s also a lot of energy. There are a lot of young people who want to study the arts, art history, or something. So again it’s quite different from here. They still need a lot of teachers. You can imagine, when you have a lot of students, you need good teachers from good schools. So different universities try to attract the teachers, people studying abroad.

RB: And are there people writing on art since the late ‘70s in an academic way, as an established practice? Or do you think that’s more in journals and criticism? Continue reading “Interview: Wu Hung, Part 2”

Interview: Wu Hung, Part 1

The Institute of Fine Arts was extremely fortunate to have Professor Wu Hung of the University of Chicago as a Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor during the Spring 2011 semester. The following interview was conducted by a group of students who participated in his seminar on contemporary Chinese art: Robert Brennan, Marci Kwon, Dianne Nelson, Holly Shen, Carrie Wladis, and Alison Young. Laura Dickey and Kevie Yang also took the seminar and provided support for the event, though they were unable to attend. The interview was transcribed by Robert Brennan; an edited version follows. This is the first of two posts.

Robert Brennan: The first thing we wanted to ask is what it’s like to work with museums in China, and if there are differences between working with museums there and working with museums here.  In general is there anything that comes to mind in that regard?

Wu Hung: Chinese museums… I was part of [that field] a long time ago, before I came to this country. That was in the ‘70s, so it was a very different situation.  Now I think it’s changed tremendously, but that time was very interesting.  It was during the Cultural Revolution.  We were assigned jobs with the museum.  I was in the Forbidden City.  Actually it was the largest museum in the country, called the Palace Museum… That museum is quite different from other museums because it’s an architectural complex, and there are people who study architecture and renovation, and there are the archives from the imperial house.  There are many divisions.  So I was part of the younger staff, first in painting and calligraphy, and secondly in bronze and stone carvings…very interesting, very traditional.  And although it was during the Cultural Revolution, inside the Forbidden City it was timeless, almost.  Of course we read the newspaper, heard Mao’s speeches, but there was this timeless quality. You close the gate, and you really don’t know which century [it is] — you’re there.

Continue reading “Interview: Wu Hung, Part 1”

“Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at MCASD

by Sarah Zabrodski

Bruce Nauman, "Green Light Corridor," 1970 (installation photograph, 2008). Image from Robin Clark, ed. "Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface." San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2011.
One of the most interesting highlights of the massive Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time initiative is the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s exhibition focusing on Light and Space art of the 1960s and 1970s. Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface is spread across MCASD’s three venues in downtown San Diego and La Jolla. The focus on so-called Light and Space art is unprecedented and long overdue. While the artists included under the umbrella of Light and Space art have rejected the idea of a cohesive movement or a common theoretical premise, the moniker is applied generically to art that deals with light as its primary material.

Most of the work included in Phenomenal was created not in San Diego, but in the Los Angeles region well over 100 miles away. This trend makes the MCASD location a somewhat puzzling choice. Yet over one-third of the works on display are drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, and a handful of works are site specific to MCASD. Moreover, the La Jolla location overlooks the ocean, making it an ideal vantage point from which to contemplate the effects of light and space on Californian artists. Continue reading ““Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at MCASD”

Song Dong and the “Wisdom of the Poor”

Song Dong, "Wisdom of the Poor," 2005. Image via UCCA.

The hutongs of Beijing have long been sites of informal gatherings, neighborly consideration, and thrifty consumption. With the urbanization of the city, however, acres of old neighborhoods once animated by these cramped streets have been demolished, uprooting communities and collapsing the silently constructed social ecosystems therein. Alongside the tendency toward individualization inherent in modernity, the destruction of family homes and the physical erasure of the past have led to an overwhelming sense of estrangement among the former residents of these well-worn streets. To preserve the memories of the hutongs and to celebrate the simple wisdom that sustained them, Song Dong filled the enormous space of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing with the bric-a-brac and portions of dilapidated wooden residences that he salvaged from his mother’s home and from other decaying sites of an endangered society. Continue reading “Song Dong and the “Wisdom of the Poor””

Revisiting China’s Grand Canal

Philipp Scholz Rittermann, "Overview, Night Fish Market, Grand Canal, Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China," 2010.
Image via Scott Nichols Gallery.
As integral sites of commerce and transportation in any city, the waterways and river-sea routes of Yuan and Ming Beijing have been a major point of discussion in Professor Hay’s colloquium. Stretching for more than 1,000 miles, China’s Grand Canal is the oldest and largest canal ever built. Commissioned during the Wu Dynasty in 486 B.C.E., the canal underwent several stages of expansion and repair well into the reign of the Ming emperor Yongle in the 15th century. It functioned to ferry grain taxes from the south to the imperial seat in the north as well as to facilitate the shipment of goods and raw materials for the construction of temples, palaces and gardens. The Grand Canal was equally important in connecting the fairly landlocked city of Beijing to the maritime trade routes of the sea to the east. With 24 locks and some 60 bridges, the canal currently connects Beijing in the north and Hangzhou in the south. Continue reading “Revisiting China’s Grand Canal”

Chen Lianqing’s Forbidden City

Chen Lianqing, "Flooding in the Forbidden City II," 2006, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 250 cm. Image via Yan Gallery.
Chen Lianqing (b. 1967, Chongqing, China) creates highly polished, often humorous paintings of culturally significant monuments and buildings submerged in water. Using a limited palette of grey, red, and the occasional pop of orange, his work limns a response to the natural and man-made disasters that have scarred the Chinese landscape in recent years. Born and educated in Sichuan province near the Yangzi in southwest China, Chen had a childhood shaped by the river’s seasonal flooding, the regular immersion of buildings, and the quiet leisure of workers relaxing along and in the river waters. Unfortunately, with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1994, his family was forced to relocate along with thousands of others, effectively washing away the setting of Chen’s youth. In a thoughtful and technically accomplished artistic riposte, Chen submerged in dark grey waters the most iconic architectural manifestation of political power and control in China – the Forbidden City in Beijing.  Continue reading “Chen Lianqing’s Forbidden City”