Melissa Chiu on ‘Generational Ruptures’ in Chinese Contemporary Art

Dr. Melissa Chiu gave a lecture titled “Art + Politics in Chinese Contemporary Art” as a part of the Daniel H. Silberberg Lecture Series on November 27th, traveling the few blocks between the IFA and her role as Museum Director and Senior Vice President of Global Arts and Cultural Programs at Asia Society. Chiu has published many books and articles within the field of Chinese contemporary art as well as the broader topic of Asian Contemporary Art. Her full lecture can be accessed via the IFA’s Vimeo page.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/54538281 w=500&h=281]

This year the Silberberg Lecture Series is focusing on “Violence as a matter of disciplinary concern.” Violence is a recurring theme within the history of art and its various manifestations help set the tone for the understanding of a period or a particular artist precisely because it is a thread of humanity that can be represented with such variety. Chiu’s lecture thus was an inquiry into the theme of violence in contemporary Chinese art. Continue reading “Melissa Chiu on ‘Generational Ruptures’ in Chinese Contemporary Art”

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

Paris, Politics, and Soto: A Conversation with Estrellita B. Brodsky

Estrellita B. Brodsky is experiencing what for many art historians is a dream come true: less than three years after receiving her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, she has succeeded in curating an exhibition based on her dissertation research on Latin American artists working in post-war Paris. Now on view at the Grey Art Gallery on NYU’s downtown campus through March 31, 2012, her exhibition, Soto: Paris and Beyond 1950-1970, focuses on the early Paris years of the Venezuelan maestro, Jesús Rafael Soto, a key member of the post-war international avant-garde who is today best recognized for his optically-challenging, immersive, and kinetic art. Just a week after the show’s opening, Brodsky kindly agreed to meet with me at the Grey to discuss her research, curatorial experience, and of course, Soto.

Our conversation began in the center of the Grey’s main gallery, surrounded by examples of each of the various phases explored by Soto between 1950, the year of his initial departure to Paris, and 1970, a culminating moment in his career following his first Paris retrospective at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the realization of his famous Penetrables.[1] With a Cézannesque-Cubist rendering of a Venezuelan landscape behind us and an optically challenging Plexiglas piece to our right, I asked Brodsky to start at the beginning: why did she choose to study the work of Latin American artists in post-war Paris?

Jesús Soto. Sin título (Paisaje) {Untitled (Landscape)}, 1949. Oil on canvas. 21 5⁄8 x 18 7⁄8 in. (55 x 48 cm). Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Jesús Soto. Sans titre (Structure cinétique à éléments géométriques) {Untitled (Kinetic Structure with Geometric Elements)}, c. 1955–56. Paint on wood and Plexiglas. 24 x 24 x 9 3/4 in. (61 x 61 x 25 cm). Private collection © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.



Explaining that her interest in Venezuelan art is rooted in her personal history (her father arrived in the country in the 1920s, and Brodsky was a first-hand witness to the country’s booming arts scene in the 1960s), she also admitted to a certain selfishness in picking her topic. Continue reading “Paris, Politics, and Soto: A Conversation with Estrellita B. Brodsky”

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”

Experience Performa 11: Live Performances and Classes

by Tina Orlandini

Thanks to Performa 11, the only biennial dedicated to exhibiting contemporary works of performance art, November in New York City is filled with brilliant performances that combine the aesthetic value of visual art and the brilliance of experimental music, dance, and theater with subtle yet poignant social and political nuances. Although all of the performances deserve to be experienced, there are a few upcoming shows that have been highlighted as “must-see” performances by biennial director RoseLee Goldberg.

Shirin Neshat, an Iranian artist whose work originally inspired Goldberg to develop Performa, collaborates with Iranian musicians, vocalists, and actors to create the production OverRuled. The story touches on issues of contemporary Iranian politics and is set in a court of law in which the audience, imagination, and life are on trial for heresy. As is true for all of Neshat’s artwork, this performance promises to excite your visual and auditory senses, while also speaking to issues of global politics.

iona rozeal brown makes her live performance debut at this year’s biennial, bringing to life her cross-cultural paintings in battle of yestermore. The performance incorporates Japanese theater, which has influenced much of her work, with the dance style known as “vogueing,” performed by its pioneers Benny and Javier Ninja, as well as other hip hop dancers. The performance will also include one of brown’s original scores.

Liz Magic Laser’s Performa 11 multi-media piece, I Feel Your Pain transforms American political commentary into an all-encompassing romantic comedy. The performance includes press conferences with political figures like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Laser herself performs among the eight actors who appear on stage and within the audience.

Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kessler collaborate to create the performance-installation SEVEN at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery. Rottenberg’s surreal videos, juxtaposed with Kessler’s kinetic sculptures, allow visitors to travel across time and space, from the streets of New York City to the African savannahs. Much of Rottenberg’s work speaks to the politics of the female body, while Kessler’s mechanically exposed kinetic sculptures have shifted toward questions of surveillance following 9/11. Together, the efforts of these artists culminate in one visually loaded and content-laden performance, designed to last exactly 37 minutes.

Robert Ashley is known as the pioneer of music-television and has had a tremendous influence on contemporary opera since the 1960s. For Performa, Ashley will exhibit a fresh rendition of his 1968 three-act opera That Morning Thing, which will include seventeen performers and incorporate male and female voices. Followers and critics of Ashley’s work have expressed their eagerness to experience the performance again in a new way.

In addition to the many performances, Performa 11 also offers myriad artist-taught classes, exhibitions, film screenings, and more at the Performa Institute, affectionately referred to as the Hub, at 233 Mott Street. Some of the programs you won’t want to miss include:

Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, 33 Fragments of Russian Performance (on-going exhibition, 3rd floor of Performa Institute)
November 2 – 21, 1:00 – 5:00pm

Mark Beasley (Performa curator) and Nathaniel Mellors (Performa artist), Cockadoodledon’t!!!: On Humor and Language
Monday, November 14, 3:00 – 4:00pm

Dennis Oppenheim, Compression Fern (1970) Screening and Action
Wednesday, November 16, 5:00 – 6:00pm

Guy Maddin (filmmaker and Performa artist), The Power of a Community-Free Cinema
Saturday, November 19, 3:00 – 4:00pm

The Performa team is always looking for enthusiastic students to volunteer and to become a part of this exciting experience. All those interested in getting involved with Performa should contact Marc Arthur (marc[at]performa-arts[dot]org).

Tina Orlandini is a graduate student in Arts Politics at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Stay Tuned for the Green Beijing Series

The CAC blog is excited to introduce a new series of posts revolving around Professor Jonathan Hay’s current Green Beijing colloquium at the Institute. A collaborative effort led by current MA candidate Elizabeth Lee, this series will be posted regularly for the duration of the Fall 2011 semester, beginning on November 14.

Zhang Dali Demolition: Forbidden City, Beijing, 1998, chromogenic color print, 35 9/16 x 23 11/16" (90.3 x 60.1 cm). Image via The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The site of current day Beijing has seen its fair share of change. From Mongol pleasure palace to bustling Han metropolis, the city and the people who populated it have existed in a state of flux for centuries. In Professor Jonathan Hay’s Fall 2011 Green Beijing colloquium, we are focusing on the 15th century in an attempt to recreate the Ming dynasty capital in all its urban (and surprisingly verdant) glory. Through the surviving pieces of the imperial palace (aka the Forbidden City), the temples, and the surrounding parks and lakes, we are inching slowly toward an understanding of the various levels of symbolism encoded within the urban landscape of Ming Beijing. The ideological and experiential dimensions of Ming Beijing are further colored by student-led cross-cultural comparisons with cities like Angkor, Delhi, and Kyoto. While the colloquium attempts to build a vision of Beijing rooted in the past, this blog is an effort to pull the discussion closer to our own time.

By listing and discussing some contemporary artworks that deal with the historical sites we investigate—for example, the Temple of Heaven, Beihai, Beijing’s “seas,” and the city’s hutongs—we hope to create a dialogue between Ming Beijing and the Chinese capital of the 21st century.

Closing 3.12.11: By Chance, A Video Show

The IFA’s own Jason Varone has work in an exhibition curated by Peter Campus at NYU’s 80WSE galleries. The galleries are at 80 Washington Sq. East, between West 4th Street and Washington Place.

Take a look before the show closes on March 12!

The online catalogue for By Chance, A Video Show includes essays by Kathleen MacQueen, John Hanhardt and Peter Campus.