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Between Myth and Reality - Victor Man's Existential Painting
"The Contemplative Art Experience no Longer Takes Place" - Olaf Nicolai on the Future of Biennials
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens
An American Affair - A Visit to the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Let's talk: Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl on the High Art of Making Books
Six Feet Under - Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?
"Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset" - An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg
Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - "Colors were never strong enough for me": A visit with Nicolas Fontaine
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Lena Ader: A Certain Strength

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Rethinking the Language of Art
The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse


Stuart Comer is one of three curators of this year’s Whitney Biennial. He plans an exhibition that explores technological changes as well as new artistic possibilities for language, society, and action. Travis Jeppensen, one of the authors that Comer invited to the Biennial, meets him in New York.


There can hardly be another curator who has worked as passionately for the medium of film as Stuart Comer. His knowledge of cinema is encyclopedic, which is why Tate Modern hired him in 2004 as its first curator of film, in which area Comer has developed an excellent collection in recent years.

Comer’s career began in Los Angeles, where he spent his twenties befriending many of the protagonists of the LA art scene while working in the bookshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art. For his master’s degree he went to London—to the Royal College of Art. Now, after ten years in Great Britain, he has returned to the US as chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and as one of the three curators of the most prominent American art event: the Whitney Biennial. Comer lives for art—in every moment.

Like Anthony Elms and Michelle Grabner, Comer is not a New Yorker, which is no bad thing. This time it was the express goal to select curators who do not come from the city and can bring an outside perspective. Comer is also the only curator in the conventional sense. Grabner and Elms are both artists who have distinguished themselves as curators, in addition to running magazines and working at universities.


Whitney Biennial 2014

The Whitney Biennial in New York regularly ignites heated debate. Every two years, what is arguably the most important show for US contemporary art, sponsored since 2006 by Deutsche Bank, ventures to take stock of the current scene. This year the three outside curators exhibit trendsetting works by over 100 artists. Important topics are interdisciplinary works and collective actions, abstract painting, artists and filmmakers who write, and writers who experiment with language and sound.

7.3. – 25.5.2014
whitney.org


Rather than organizing on a single large show, each of the three curators has been assigned their own floor in the museum. And yet there are several common themes, such as a concern with writing and a focus on positions that are usually neglected by the art world, as well as an emphasis on debate around the concept of artistic authorship, which in the twenty-first century has become increasingly blurred and replaced by multidisciplinary, collaborative work—for which Comer and his co-curators could also be models: autonomous and yet cooperative.

While his appointment caused a stir in the art world, it came as no surprise to those who know Comer well. He is driven by an exuberant passion for art and film, for which he works around the clock and around the globe. Indeed, the day I speak to him is his first day off since arriving in New York, and rather than start unpacking the moving boxes in the apartment that he had already been in for three months, he instead opts to go out and see the latest exhibitions in Chelsea. Cognizant of Comer’s activist stance towards film and writing this from the unusual position of being one of the writers that he has included on his floor, I am curious as to the curator’s stance on the prominent role of language within the context of this year’s Biennial.

“All art, even going back to the Renaissance, has involved language in some form. I was always obsessed with these Renaissance paintings where the angel would be speaking words to God and the words would be written upside down so that God could read them. You think about the history of language appearing in painting or how language has informed art-making in general. In the twentieth century, you clearly have the Dada and Surrealist movements, which were heavily involved in language. Moving forward to the concrete poets and conceptual art, where language clearly played a central role. In the 80s, you had loads of photo and text work where people were constantly thinking about the media’s usage of language. The way I think about it now, with technology and the Internet, the boundaries between language and image are becoming much more slippery. Just as you are constantly touching images on your iPhone—I don’t think we ever touched images to the same degree in the past—those images are constantly embedded in a matrix of language. For years W.J.T. Mitchell has written about the parallels between architectural space and the structure of cities, how such structures often resemble linguistic structures. Similarly, a lot of visual art practices are echoes of such systems. That’s why I was so eager to include somebody like Channa Horwitz, where what initially looks like an abstract drawing or a two-dimensional image is actually mathematical and the score for a performance.”

Additionally, Stuart’s floor features some bigger name artists who are using the Whitney Biennial as a platform for experimenting in new, often collaborative ways. Multidisciplinarity is key here. Bjarne Melgaard, better known as a messy expressionistic painter and sculptor, is working with film and furniture makers to create a room installation based on my novel The Suiciders. Catherine Opie and Richard Hawkins have teamed up—not to show their own work, but to curate a selection of works by the deceased artist Tony Greene, whose paintings are very much involved in a dialogue with the medium of photography.

Much of the buzz surrounding this year’s Biennial has been centered on the curators’ inclusion of abstract painters. Curator Michelle Grabner, herself a painter engaged with abstraction, has selected a number of high-profile female abstract painters, including Amy Sillman and Jacqueline Humphries. Stuart points out, however, that his floor will actually contain more figurative painters, such as Tony Greene and Keith Mayerson. “I also wanted to seek out other places where painting continues to exist but in non-literal ways. There’s Jacolby Satterwhite, who is making a video, though he studied painting and spent a lot of time looking at the work of Renaissance painters in Italy. He thinks and works very much like a painter.”

One of the most interesting artists in the exhibition is Ken Okiishi, who is currently engaged in work that brings painting to the digital realm. Okiishi works with the decay of language and images in digital society. His canvases are flat screens upon which old digitally reworked VHS videos, which have become abstract through the process of reproduction, are playing. Okiishi paints over these digital abstractions, reacting gesturally with his brush to the electronic rhythms and patterns.

“I find this work very compelling,” Comer enthusiastically agrees. “You get a real sense of a dialogue between a brushstroke and the invisible act that forms the degraded digital image. The idea that you can control a brushstroke more than you can the technology behind a monitor that is hidden from view in this minimalist monolith . . . I think his work is embedded in so many conversations that go beyond merely the digital world and what the screen means now.”

Comer doesn’t see Okiishi’s work as part of the so-called “digital art” craze. Comer’s unusual talent is to be able to capture the Zeitgeist without simultaneously getting swept up in it. This has a lot to do, also, with the language he uses—sophisticated and urbane, without having to fall back on jargon. With words like “conversation” and “dialogue”—rather than, say, “discourse”—recurring frequently throughout our conversation, it becomes clear that Stuart’s nurturing of work that stretches beyond fixed media and generations of artists is probably rooted in a desire to evolve a conversational poetics that also erases the dividing line between artist and audience.

After a pensive pause, Stuart continues, “I am not that interested in current talk about the ‘new objecthood,’ ‘the new materiality,’ and misuse of terms like ‘precarity.’ All of these buzzwords are relevant—I’m not questioning them per se. But what I don’t want to see is a really obvious Whitney Biennial that makes its point with young artists making work that merely looks ‘digital,’ full of colorful pixels and USB sticks. There’s a lot of that work being made, but I don’t think it’s where the most interesting conversation about the digital era is taking place. Extreme mutability is our defining condition, and I'm particularly invested in artworks that function much like what Beatriz Preciado calls ‘molecular doors,’ thresholds through which a multiplicity of forms, histories, and possibilities are perpetually imminent.”



Whitney Biennial 2014

The Whitney Biennial in New York regularly ignites heated debate. Every two years, what is arguably the most important show for US contemporary art, sponsored since 2006 by Deutsche Bank, ventures to take stock of the current scene. This year the three outside curators Michelle Grabner, Anthony Elms, and Stuart Comer are each in charge of one floor of the Whitney Museum, where they will exhibit trendsetting works by over 100 artists. Important topics are interdisciplinary works and collective actions, abstract painting, artists and filmmakers who write, and writers who experiment with language and sound.

7.3. – 25.5.2014
whitney.org




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