In the Wake of the 1960s: Curators and Avantgarde Practice

A curated show may render an individual artwork less ‘itself’, less than it is in the studio or within the more dedicated aesthetic framework of a monographic show or in the discreet display of an art-historical museum. More controversially, the curator may deliberately render the artwork incomplete and construct (deconstruct) meanings with reference to a conceptual paradigm, or, on the other hand, a spectatorial schema in which it is seen as only an instance. In this case, the curator can be said to be acting against the interest of the artist in order to act in favor of some new relational premise between works and with the beholders. I favour looking at an exhibition as an expositional argument, staged by the curator within a supporting mise-en-scène; as a curatorially determined itinerary that unfolds within the synchronous structure of the installed exhibition, setting it apace into the temporal dimension.

The role of the curator as the creative director of an exhibition emerged in the late 1960s.[1] It developed rapidly by incorporating the artistic and intellectual preoccupations of the time. A glance at some examples of the 60s art movements shows how changed art forms demand a corresponding style of exposition within the gallery, how curatorial innovations occur with reference to structures, models, ideologies devised for specific tendencies. Minimalism, for example, suggested that the spectatorial body has an axial privilege, that it provides a phenomenological understanding of the artwork. Translated into curatorial practice, it required an astute positioning of the artwork in the spatial discourse of the exhibition, and it required that the curator find ways to restrain the exhibition process at the very point where the controlled theatre of the encounter turns into spectacle.

The 1960s critique of the consumer society in postwar capitalism-Guy Debord’s ‘society of the spectacle’-translated into a renewed understanding of historical materialism with direct bearing on the discourse of art, in that the growing reification of the art object was put under scrutiny. The Fluxus movement swept away standard taxonomies and value hierarchies in art, upturning exhibition procedures right down to the scale, devices and containers for display. At the same time, ‘happenings’ (already preceded by the action-oriented art of the Gutai artists in 1950s Japan) erupted on the art scene, privileging improvisation and transience, followed in the 1970s by a more structured performance art led by feminists. Arte Povera offered new forms of material investment in objects that were then outside of the exchange nexus and signalled subversive messages in favour of inversion and redundancy.

The 1960s breakthrough was crucial in reintroducing into radical art, material chaos along with symbolic entropy. Exhibition-making canons were destabilized, and democratic initiatives put pressure on the very institution of art. The landmark exhibition of that period, by the ‘master’ curator Harald Szeemann, took place in 1969. It was tellingly called: Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information. [2] Szeemann favoured flux, ferment and a process-oriented sociability rather than an object fixation in the making and showing of artworks. He emphasized a radical individualism (‘inner bearing’) and a utopian romance by and on behalf of the artist. He set the stage for the curator as collaborator and co-producer of artworks and exhibitions alike, and he would be, for decades to come, an avantgarde figure in his own right.

The following decades saw the rise of architectural-scale installations, site-specific projects, interactive community workshops and an anarchic spillage into social spaces by artists and curators working to build an alternative infrastructure to the gallery system. [3] The idea of the art laboratory was afloat, and the ideological issue of art in the public domain became prominent in the discourse.

The democratic impulse also took another route precisely in the late 1960s, [4] extending the emerging practice of Conceptualism through a corresponding curatorial reflexivity. Conceptual art, intent on unmaking the art object, privileged intellectual economy and an almost unprecedented form of austerity regarding the means and ends of art. The white cube was emptied out and made neutral, even at times redundant for and by Conceptual art. This discrete, deliberately anti-experiential space served paradoxical ends: to permit commonplace access to esoteric messages; to inscribe documentary texts in clinical conditions. This double encounter was designated as ‘art’ that has finally done away with aura and can propose an indeterminate aesthetic.

The developments sketched briefly above are condensed in my example of Catherine David’s Documenta X at Kassel (1997). David created a new discursive space for curatorship in which the more informal model was reshaped by a form of curatorial command-for example, in the way she laid out what she called the parcours, the itinerary, and through it an argument for the exposition, using the city as the mise-en-scène. A selection of key avantgarde moves from the 1960s to the present were restaged to testify for what she saw as critical art practice with a corresponding poetics and a related, politically inspired discourse.[5] David’s range of choices first defined her position within the contemporary; then, deploying the privilege of curatorial detachment, she ‘exceeded’ the artists’ intent. Arching over the actual artworks on display was something like a problematic, a metadiscourse on what critical contemporaneity in art might mean today. This made the exhibition a philosophic case in point, an exegesis as much as a phenomenological experience-and the ‘Hundred Days Hundred Guests’ programme of lectures, which drew in multidisciplinary and worldwide extrapolation on contemporary forms of criticality, was part of that exegesis.

The Magiciens

I now step out of the Euroamerican zone and into a world where curatorial practices have developed contingent, even exigent styles, often in contrast to those sanctioned by (western) art history. The rise of the curator as a key category in the exposition of art happens, coincidentally, in tandem with the third-world assertions of alterity, including a revolutionary passage in the 1960s and a more conciliatory multiculturalism in the 1980s and 90s. Standard discourse on contemporary art was destabilized by the redoubled exposition of postcolonial postmodernism, and relativized for good by the very scale of twenty-first-century globalization. Consequently, the curatorial project entails today an almost mandatory inclusiveness based on difference and indeedondecentralization of cultural power¾in discourse as in practice.

But let us for a moment step back to Jean-Hubert Martin’s controversial exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, at the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, 1989).[6] It serves perfectly for situating Europe’s perennial interest in the exotic within the new transculturist permissiveness of the postmodern. An inaugural transcultural mission in the field of contemporary curation, wittily researched and outrageously bold, Magiciens claimed the democratic value of attributing both spiritual and conceptual parity to a myriad of cultural-creative acts. With Magiciens, Martin gave something like a ritual status to contemporary avantgarde art of the west, relating this to the allegedly magic-driven artworks from ‘other’ cultures. Correspondingly, he contemporanized the ‘sacred’ works from the margins in conjunction with the declaredly secular works from the west. This relativizing exercise, meant to revise the debate about the ‘primitive’ and the modern, was also intended, presumably, to produce a conviviality between races and genres. The exhibition carried above all a desire to recall, and even restore, the lost aura in western art.

The curatorial premise of Magiciens was both anticipated and followed by intense debate. I refer to a set of articles published by Le Cahiers du Musée d’Art Moderne and reprinted in English in Third Text, where a range of perspectives was offered.[7] In an interview with Jean-Hubert Martin, Benjamin Buchloh placed his questions precisely between the modern and postmodern art-historical assumptions about the aesthetic of the ‘other’ within twentieth-century art, and used the edge to cut through both the hegemonic (humanist/modernist) and the gratuitous (empiricist/postmodernist) use of criteria in a project so imbued with a redemptive agenda as Magiciens. Based on the principle of the carnivalesque, this proposition was already too complicit with the capitalist consumption characterizing the era. Given that the spectacle is now the overwhelming strategy for global merchandizing of commodities and culture, art’s redemption would perhaps have to come from a different, decidedly more critical approach.

A third-world framework spelt out by Rasheed Araeen challenged the continuing disavowal by western aesthetic regimes, modern and postmodern, of a historically undeniable plurality of the modernity project in the world.[8] The Magiciens agenda did admit the modernizing process in the rest of the world, but within an anthropological paradigm of tradition-and-change. It obfuscated the actual anticolonial/postcolonial discourse of democracy, civil and political rights that takes place with it and gives corresponding cultural transformations an edge. Nor was the terrain (terre in the title) anywhere mapped by people’s living struggles, as Jean Fisher and Guy Brett pointed out, even a conceptual recognition of which would have led to other choices than what the trope of Magiciens provided.[9]

In a subsequent issue of Third Text, Cesare Poppi argued that we ought to be warned against both ‘produced authenticity’ and an a-dialectical celebration of difference. ‘“Cultures” are permitted to take off at dusk … when history has been made and the subsumption of diversity under the umbrella of World System is a fait accompli. Postmodernism, in one sense at least, is ancillary to that process. It rounds up and closes the circle by setting the exchange rate of cultures-their common denominations as “art”.’[10] Poppi argued the continued reading of difference-the interval, the hiatus-as what exists between the dominant and the dominated, the hegemonic and the hegemonized; implying that we read it not as a polemical exercise but as a dialectical device into the very paradigm we set for art.

Magiciens was based on an (ethnographic) anachronism, where the diachronic tension between primitive and modern, the folk and urban, traditional and avantgarde, centre and periphery-an important tension-would be fudged by the generous aesthetic and supposed equation in synchronous viewing, only to resurface as other (objectionable) criteria.

My own criticism is focused on the way this curatorial paradigm for contemporary art set up a binary of the indigenous and the avantgarde; mapped it over swathes of the globe in geographical terms; then weighed the balance of potentialities between individual agency (of northern artists) and timeless consanguinity (of artists from the south). The crossovers were designated as hybrids, inevitably exotic in the way hybrids are. And the preferred hybrid was barely seen as a site of dense cultural collision, more like an end-product of some natural mutation, replete in its full-hearted exhalation. In a carefully constructed phenomenology of the exhibition, the presence of the hybrid would confirm, paradoxically enough, the principle of hypostasis rather than of disruption or change. Predictably, therefore, examples of demonstrably metropolitan art practices in non-western societies, transformative practices of long standing, were barely included. Few protagonists were located within these highly differentiated societies outside the west that could be shown to have agency that is properly historical¾where a self-conscious breakthrough in language and politics takes place, and where that is seen to make a conceptual contribution to the western claim on the avantgarde.

Heterogeneous Worlds

And yet, Magiciens was a provocation worth its while. With time we can see that it had the gumption to test the models of western art history, including theories of the avantgarde; and it offered an anarchic spill in taste and ideology that knocked the notion of the curatorially well-made exhibition. Certainly, credit must go to the Magiciens’ bold topography for the way these ideas have been thrashed out in discourse ever since. [11] To gauge the waters that have flooded curatorial practices since the Magiciens, one may ask a variety of questions: is the binary of the primitive and modern, so hotly debated even until the 1980s, now properly deconstructed?;[12] is a universal aesthetic based on a humanist premise or, on the other hand, the formal self-sufficiency of art forms¾the two ruling ideologies of modernism¾ finally terminated?[13] But also, has the hybrid trope valorized in early postmodernism already collapsed?; is the new sublime that came with it valid within the much more aggressive global? The important thing is that these questions now come from sites where the conjunctural urgency defining the political is fully visible. I speak of sites where the pressure of alien temporalities from the colonial past are so heavily historicized that curators are forced toconveythe exhibitory aesthetic of synchronicity into a diachronic dimension, and thence into the future.

In 1996, the Asia Society in New York invited the young Thai art historian, Apinan Poshyananda, to mount a major exhibition, titled Contemporary Art of Asia: Tradition/Tensions.[14] In his debut as a cutting-edge Asian curator, he presented a wide range of artworks, prominent among which were installations with an explicit materiality, site-specific and performative interventions, and documentary inputs with political annotations. The exhibition was premised on works that were explicitly located-an important concept at the time¾ and where signs and meanings could be shown to be embedded in the material conditions of their production. It presented artists with a rich understanding of a situational phenomenology, which in turn demanded spectatorial comprehension of how these artworks navigated between ritual protocol and political transgression. Indeed Tradition/Tensions had a built-in pedagogy with regard to types of viewing protocol. It proposed, for example, that the sacred, even when placed in parenthesis, sets up a customary etiquette whereby the phenomenology of the exhibition is restructured: notions of invocation/circumambulation, of intimacy/distance, replace the ‘detached’ encounter of western aesthetics.

This culturally replete aesthetic, this experiential rendering of the esoteric and the political privileged by the first phase of Asian art exhibitions, was upturned by a way-out and widely toured exhibition, Cities on the Move (1997-99). [15] The curators, China-born Hou Hanru and the Swiss enfant terrible, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, took as a starting point the capitalist globalization furiously under way in Asian countries, producing an intelligent parody of tradition as also its conversion into commodity. Imitating in style the accelerated market economies of East and Southeast Asia, the exhibition was excessive, noisy, unruly; it abandoned the viewer to an array of volatile signs that put entire cultures on display and encouraged a surfeit of visual consumption. Indeed, each of the two curators have continued to map the world differently and many times over, catching artists and artworks on the run in hectically executed, marathon-scale projects.

These two exhibitions, Magiciens de la Terre and Cities on the Move, staged a rupture where the spectator entered a swirling sea of free-floating signifiers that the curator had configured, extrapolated on and spectacularized in such a way as to cast the regime of meaning all-asunder. Such extravagance can be said to have the backing of new art history/visual culture studies, where a ‘deconstructionist’ methodology takes its cue not from high art but from the survival tactics of popular art. The tactic is that of continual hybridization, and this aesthetic, with delirious exhibition-effects, has become a favored curatorial approach. But let us take pause. Bracketed by Magiciens and Cities on the Move was Tradition/Tensions, the first rigorous manifestation of the manifold languages (‘tongues’) at work in Asian art through the 1990s. Apinan Poshyananda presented the exhibition as both contrastive and complementary to western ‘models’. While the ‘linguistic’ component was brought to the fore, the standard categories of art history were problematized. The virtues of ‘tradition’ were put to work in favour of the new, whereby the monopoly of the west on the modern-as-new was undermined¾but subtly, in that Asiatic/ironic mode of which Poshyananda is master.

Since the 1980s some key curatorial initiatives have come from exhibitions in and of the ‘south’, highlighting the fact that artworks from a consciously mapped region illuminate internal difference as they also, simultaneously, redefine received categories of ethnography and art history, ritual and theatre, material, object and concept. Overtly national-regional frames of exposition and enquiry have had a responsibility to fulfil and this, I believe, has helped (rather than negated) a reckoning of the aesthetic presumed in western discourse to be autonomous. [16]

Southern Biennales: 1990s Countup

Extending the discussion on new forums for exhibition outside the western academy and museums of modern art, I now refer to the exponential growth of the biennales/triennales located in the south-south circuit, some of which have developed their own ideology and agenda, as also quite heterodox curatorial ideas. I take three of the pioneering examples: the Havana Biennale, begun in 1984; The Asia-Pacific Triennial, begun in 1993; and the Johannesburg Biennale, inaugurated in 1995 (and discontinued after the second edition in 1997).

Given the grand status achieved by the primary third-world exposition, the São Paulo Biennale (begun in 1951), the wager for another alternative site was placed in the Havana Biennale that forthrightly dedicated itself to third-world art (including, especially, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and, to a lesser extent, Asia). Bienal de La Habana, staged by Centro Wifredo Lam, with the firebrand Lillian Llanes several times director/curator (followed by a sequence of dedicated curators always from Cuba), projected the promise of an art that was politically and formally radical, and it did so from within a modest cultural infrastructure and very meagre resources. The international context was unsympathetic: in the mid-1980s, third-world unity and socialism itself were already headed toward final dissolution. Cuba was no longer secure in its revolutionary optimism; it was systematically impoverished by US sanctions; its aesthetics lay outside the citadels of academic art history and beyond the hub of the Euroamerican art market. Yet: the intransigent faith of Cuban curators was honoured by countries and artists who participated in the Havana Biennale, and the lost agenda of radicalism gained new provocations in the decade ahead. More specifically, the Havana Biennale took on a vanguard role on behalf of contemporary (third-world) art. To this day, all southern biennales, though each with a different agenda, owe a debt to Havana for advancing the potential of a decentralized art world; for proposing that alternative avantgardes do not need to affix a ‘neo’ to gain acceptance in the canon; for demonstrating that contemporary art activity placed off-centre in respect to the west becomes, by design, default and cultural exigency, acutely tendentious.

Curatorially, the configuration of artworks in, for example, the third edition of the Havana Biennale in 1989,[17] tended to be theatrical, given that these works often came from cultures (Caribbean, Mexican, Brazilian and African, for instance) with an aesthetic derived from magic, ritual, performance. This characteristic was put into play by thespatialization ofthe event: besides the Wifredo Lam Centre that hosted the exhibition, Havana’s castles, fortresses, plazas, streets opened up to contemporary art. The installations were manifestly public, sometimes eccentric and secreted into gardens and palm-filled courtyards. As much as the spirit of the event was carnivalesque, the material presence of the works was foregrounded, as was their didactic élan. The exhibition bristled with works annotating actual politics in the complex terrain of South American societies, with pointed reference to national dictatorships and subaltern movements of dissent and insurgency. Cuba was (and is) a country under seige, and its stake in cultural manifestations can be nothing less than contestatory. Artworks installed by Cubans/in Havana refract art’s mainstream dialogue from the prism of the Cuban crisis.

Across the globe to Australia: when the Asia-Pacific Triennial was inaugurated in 1993 [18] by the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, the calibrated range of works coming out of this region-from ritual to environmental to political-was revelatory, and required strategies of signification and display where not only ethnic but even religious vulnerabilities had to be accounted for. The exhibition followed a principle already in place with Australian museums and institutional and independent curators, who consider it mandatory to conscientiously annotate objects of a mixed white and aboriginal society. Consequently, in the intellectual and curatorial exercise of the Triennial, categories of the secular and the sacred had to be rethought-not with the André Malraux-Magiciennes kind of assumption of aesthetic immanence, but in terms of the way the societies in question face these issues within a democratically organized polity; or, the other way round, how the secularization of tradition impinges on the question of citizenship in the politics of a nation. In exhibitory terms, the secular-hybrid, addressing the particular politics of a named nation, requires keen curatorial strategies. While the general public is enabled to read the social problematic underlying distinct cultural iconographies, the artwork also asks to be placed in coeval terms with other, more familiar, international art forms in the contemporary.

Mooted in 1994 and held in 1995 at the very instance of South Africa’s liberation from the apartheid regime, the initiative for Africus: The Johannesburg Biennale, came from the white establishment in the arts, but the imperatives of the historical moment were paramount. A range of African and collaborating guest curators from across the world travelled together in South Africa, and their selection, at once regional, ‘national’ and transcultural, included contemporary black African art (a compound of tribal and urban-popular art), overtly political anti-apartheid artworks of white South Africans, as well as international artists seen to work in correspondence with the poetics, the allegories, the present political, of the country and region.[19] One of the locations, an old power house, provided quite monumental proportions to the curatorial exercise. By the time of the second edition of the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was at work; the new nation was struggling to find a democratic state apparatus commensurate with its long struggle; and it was also eager to enter the world as an (already) mature player in global matters, political and economic. If South Africa heralded a signal instance of postracial contemporaneity, the choice of the Nigerian-born, American-emigré curator, Okwui Enwezor, showed appropriate ambition. He led the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, seeing the African challenge from the standpoint of his black-African origins, his militant postcolonial ideology and his diasporic vision. Enwezor titled his Biennale Trade Routes: History and Geography, where, using the trope of mapping, he shifted the discourse via the voice of the African diaspora to the global, thus advancing the discourse of African art into transcultural dimensions of the contemporary. As is the case with Enwezor’s curatorial work, the framing had a definite politics; that it nevertheless generated a sense of locational alienation within the African art world is another, longer debate, but the consequences were unfortunate: curatorial ‘hubris’ appeared to bring the Johannesburg Biennale to a premature end.

In the last two decades there has been an enormous proliferation of the biennale phenomenon in the south and in the east.[20] These biennales meet with a high-handed critique from western curators. Flaunting institutional fastidiousness, quality control, cultural snobbery, even open mockery, they nevertheless conduct curatorial activities at these new sites, claiming with impunity that an international high-profile curator-read western hegemony-is essential to put the city and region on the international art map. In response, the first strategic point I make here is this. In pragmatic terms, the benefit from a biennale is especially evident in countries that have no museum practice worth the name when it comes to modern and contemporary art, where the opportunities to engage with international art are scarce, and where the only ‘institutions’ developing at breakneck pace are the art market and the auction house. Such biennales have sometimes been called the poor man’s museum (so is the Venice Biennale the rich man’s casino?), and there is some truth here. The biennale phenomenon, never beyond serving vested interests (biennales being a mixture of state spectacle, cultural hegemony, market interests and tourist commerce), is at the same time a means of creating, through a form of provisional institutionalization, professional conduits of communication in the cities and countries where biennales occur: erecting bridges between the state and private finance, between public spaces and elite enclaves, between artists and other practitioners-including dedicated young cadres in the cultural community. The second strategic point is that the new biennales can be seen to radicalize the discourse on contemporary art towards a more investigative, more critical position, by constantly revising our understanding of the very ‘institution of art'.[21] Thus, while these multiplying biennales sometimes seem like reckless initiatives, they should be seriously scrutinized for their ironies, their follies and their worth. Glossing the more facile scepticism that the new biennales invoke, I would like to insert the problematic into a larger polemical field, asking that we examine not just this or that biennale for its immediate certificate of excellence, but the entire relay of site, production and discourse in contemporary art from various vantage points on the globe.[22]

I suggest, further, that the edifice of Euroamerican art is now faced with what amounts toother forms of knowledge, other forms ofagency, other ideological configurations, as well as other imperatives for art-making. It is in relation to the fraught nature of art and culture in the contemporary that the unprecedented multiplication of (southern/eastern) biennales and of theme-and-issue-based exhibitions ought to be seen. These are no arbitrary outcrop, they are a sign and consequence of historical circumstances.

Transnational Public Spheres

The first, second and third worlds that defined the historical battles of the mid-twentieth century are now, since 1989, condensed into what has been called the new Empire. Alternatively, the interdependence of regions, nations, cities; the imbrication of ‘local’ cultures within global capitalism; the deterritorialization of peoples/cultures through mass migrations; the miracles of electronic communication, bring into full play the (ironically transcendent) nomenclature: transnational transculturalism.

Transculturalism is not, however, a matter of free choice; it is a condition of global exchange that is materially and politically coercive, if also potentially liberatory. It is necessary, therefore, to embed the debate in what political theorists call transnational public spheres-the product of contrary developments such as the emergence of postcolonial civil societies on the one hand, and of capitalist globalization on the other. In this contested space, critical dialogue centres around issues of violence, power, governance and citizenship. Where a large part of the world populace now exists outside communities and nations, citizenship includes the experience of exile, raising the question: how is the ethical and the aesthetic implicated in the exilic condition?

At the simplest level, there is a statistical response: there is an exponential increase in numbers of third-world (and now also second/socialist-world) artists in international exhibitions. Appointing translation as a key term for transcultural aesthetic, cultural criticism appoints the diasporic artist as a trope and a norm-the one who constructs both the grammar and the discourse of global contemporaneity, and conducts the process of negotiation/confrontation to this purpose.

Closely mapped and variously configured, international art relies no more on a central perspective or on now-meaningless binaries such as centre-periphery, global-local. These changes in ideological orientation have been addressed in some thoughtful exhibitions, as for example, Unpacking Europe.[23] On a more dramatic scale, it was Documenta 11 (Kassel, 2002), curated by Okwui Enzewor, that established, through the prism of the postcolonial global, a new pedagogy for mapping the world. Indeed if Catherine David’s Documenta X reinscribed the western avantgarde’s agenda of disruptionist criticality into the present, Enwezor’s postcolonial politics introduced a documentary turn and a political/discursive (rather than aesthetic/avantgarde) criticality.[24] Building on a premise he had already established in his previous exhibitions (the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, 1997, Trade Routes: History and Geography; and a widely toured exhibition in 2001-02, titled The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994), he proposed that no discussion of radical art can take place without reference to the political parameters of antagonism and redemption that come out of the decolonization process. Thus Enwezor draws on postcolonial cultural theory (in turn drawing on elements from anthropology, psychoanalysis and a much-transformed Marxism) to set up new paradigms for examining representational ethics, in particular its documentary component. If the aesthetic engages the aspect of the representational that abuts the imaginary, the writer-curator expands the representational further into the symbolic: this double movement allows the emergence of new subjectivities with audacious claims to a new ‘sovereignty’. It is, then, Enwezor’s project to determine a vantage point from which to project the subject-position of the formerly colonized who is now the postcolonial citizen empowered through struggle. It is also his wager that the discourse now exists outside the national-the ‘original’ ground where the struggle is in actual fact waged. Indeed his engagement rests on the formation of a global citizenry with a voice in the matter of governance precisely through transnational public spheres that nurture a human and civil-rights discourse against state power. This, in Enwezor’s belief, forms the utopian potential that emerges from and confronts the new Empire. It is with Documenta 11 that he set up a new curatorial proposition: a worldwide itinerary and a cross-disciplinary argument through a series of four ideologically conceived ‘platforms’ that were translocated to the fifth platform, the exhibition at Kassel. Together these platforms staged widely varying, visually sequenced worldviews that spelt political change.

The National (as Interregnum)

My inclination is to deflect this argument [25] back to the geography and politics of region and nation; for even as diasporic dilemmas widen the political base of global issues tackled by art, they tend to produce, within the transnational space, a glib convergence. If the form of address of an artwork is coextensive with the site of production, even confrontational work addressed to the first world or, shall we say, to the centripetal heart of capitalism, marginalizes region and nation, societies and living communities, into the category of geopolitical context?no more. These imponderables of identity and address require the interlocutors to assume a multiplicity of agential roles so as to move back and forth between a speculative transculturalism and a declared partisanship. It is still necessary to ask how art situates itself in the highly differentiated national economies/political societies that bear the name of countries; and how, from those sites, it reckons with divergent forces at work within globalization. More pointedly, what are the countercultural tendencies generated in the contested sites of the nation-state itself?; with what strategies is a neoliberal, anti-poor developmental agenda and/or a (covertly) authoritarian state opposed?; what political positions are upheld by the recognizable protagonists of radical change? Further, how, in the broad attempt to build and sustain democratic structures of governance, institutions for a functioning civil society and a post-bourgeois public sphere, does the cultural vanguard in its more anarchist gestures come to be positioned? And, indeed, what strategies are available to these societies to oppose the treacherous rule of capital and its US-driven agenda executed through monstrous wars and consumerist dystopias?

Billed under a countrybanner, the aura of national affiliation still survives.[26] A critic-curator from India will have to go beyond sentiment to claim that a selection of artists from a particular country/context, properly conceptualized under a theme and a problematic, can, in the consequent exposition, address ‘universal’ issues of global contemporaneity. This, incidentally, is assumed to have been the case with selections of Euroamerican artists throughout the twentieth century. A substantial partisanship from the southern end should add both to art-historical knowledge and to political agendas that go beyond a mere counterbalancing polemic against the transnational/global.

I take the liberty of self-referencing to highlight my argument. At the turn of the twenty-first century, I was asked by the Tate Modern, London, to conceptualize and curate an exposition referring to the visual culture of an Indian city, for what was to become its inaugural, multipart exhibition, Century City: Art and Culture in Modern Metropolis (2001). The dynamic of art and visual culture at specific points in the twentieth century was sought to be brought into focus by nine city-sections-Paris, Vienna, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Tokyo, New York, Bombay and London. This involved not simply a choice of a decade or of a political moment, but of a historical conjuncture in the twentieth century. Working with the film theorist Ashish Rajadhyaksha as co-curator, I selected Bombay in the 1990s as a signature twentieth-century metropolis.[27] We focused on its peculiar dynamic, pitching it not simply as a local cultural variation on the theme of the modern, but a demonstration of the co-production of modernities at different sites, national and metropolitan. We looked for the consequences of these processes as they force their way into contemporary history: from policy-driven economic choices to forms (and distortions) in the democratic functioning of urban space, to the peculiar characteristics of its multiregional, multireligious citizenry and the public sphere it evolves (and too often fails to sustain before neofascist vandals). Indeed, far from being merely a case study of difference, we proposed that historicization of this kind constitutes the very definition of the twentieth century, from which neither the cultural nor the political imaginary of the white-western, first-world citizen can escape. As for the artworks in ‘Bombay/Mumbai’, some were specially produced, others selected for the exhibition with the hope of achieving a spectatorial extrapolation on the peculiar form of the Indian metropolis. What guided the curatorial approach and the exhibition itinerary was elicited from the spatialization of the project in the famous Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern where London and Bombay of the 1990s were mounted face to face?becoming, as it were, the most recent, thus precipitate ‘claimants’ to the status of Century City. My next curatorial project in 2003 was an exhibition at the House of World Cultures, called subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold, and it was part of a project titled Body.City, wherein a set of Indian curators conducted expositions of the Indian urban deploying visual, theatric, filmic and discursive spaces, and made them available for interlocution. This suggested the metaphor of digging the contemporary, or, shall we say, turning out its folds and exposing such artworks that inhabit the ‘subterrain’.

India-based exhibitions mounted in the last few years (and more and more by overseas curators of considerable fame and skill) grow ever more competent, but having succumbed to the dubious glamour of the India banner, they gain ground in lieu of the globalizing euphoria of fast-developing/near-‘developed’ countries?like China, of course, and now India! [28] This euphoria has also produced its own travesties. If we must work our way back from an exhibition from the Saatchi Collection titled The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today (London, 2010), then it is indeed a cheapening of history and such discourse that art can offer today. The easy route to spectacle puts in place a new imagist aesthetic complemented by a range of fetishist ‘toys’ that further commodify already reified objects, replacing whatever conceptual and critical terms of reference Indian artists are struggling to develop. These seductions are encouraged by the fact that there is no institutional infrastructure, too-few independent forums of dissenting practice, and scarcely any curatorially astute exhibitions on home ground whereby contemporary artists may confront, confound, dodge and rebut the art market/art fair bonanza sweeping the global art world before everyone’s bedazzled eyes.

I would like to close this curatorial account by referring to a recent, major exhibition of Indian art that has gone by unremarked in the Indian and international media. Dedicatedly researched, designed and displayed, and extensively annotated with a magnificent catalogue, the exhibition was curated by Juan Guardiola for Casa Asia and IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Spain (December 2008-Febuarary 2009).[29] Called, simply and correctly, India Moderna (spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with documents and artworks from the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries bracketing the period of the modern), the first part of the exhibition was expectedly configured by a superb selection of (colonial) photographic representations. Then, moving across to the struggles for independence and the new republic, it displayed an unexpected, indeed unprecedented range of materials, including photography and artworks, films, texts and installations. Fragments were converted into documentary evidence by subtle imbrication but that these adhered to a clearcut timeline. This chronological insistence offered the viewer a strong narrative of a determinate modernity; and it offered a walk-through in the symbolic domain of the nation. Laid out within the compound trope of the national-modern, the exposition made simultaneous use of iconography and morphology, representation and form, anthropology and art history, indigenist and statist ideologies of art?whereby it circumvented the problem of overdetermination and gained a degree of reflexivity. In addition, and this is crucial, India Moderna offered a curatorial itinerary of signs that were put out on a plane that allowed slippages into forms of eccentricity. Guardiola, a modest, brilliant curator, configured this itinerary to play out an elusive discourse of ‘sovereignty’ within a maze of detours.

Nonetheless, it was precisely the historicity of India Moderna that appeared to set it back as an anachronism. Its partisan viewpoint shunted it out from the shallow ambit of the contemporary that flourishes on the smartly exotic ‘take’ on India?whereIndia as a global player suffices, as it were, the demands of its modernity.More broadly, that it suffices for curators/museums to respond to the hectic demands of the current time even when that diminishes the hermeneutic function of historical knowledge and undermines the temporal dimension of the present itself. [30]

In Conclusion

While working our way from within a specific historical trajectory towards a cultural/aesthetic vantage point?and all the way across to the raw edges of the political in India, one also understands that location cannot be isolated and valorized within what is an irreversibly globalized world. And to understand how other postcolonial (now putatively transnational) public spheres are structured, we must declare: first, that contemporaneity is continually co-produced across cultures; second, that place, region, nation, state, and the politics of all these substantive categories of history (proper), are in a condition of flux everywhere in the world; and, third, we can presume past universals to have been superseded, exposing major, often lethal, tensions between peoples and regions.

My argument weaves through a series of instances to suggest how the contemporary curator’s approach varies from being a collaborator, co-producing the artwork via the medium of the exhibition, to being a cultural critic, contextualizing the work through textual/visual annotation, and, further, the semiotic base for transcultural translation in the practice of art has to be nothing less than critical on site. That is to say, at the site of its production, and has to be mediated without compromise to a precise historicity within the global. These alternatives will develop agonistic sets of relationships, where the curator stages the contradictions of the global contemporary and, acting in the manner of a friendly ‘enemy’, make the symbolic space that artworks inhabit more adversarial.

Thus, from within the full sphere of manifold art practices, I elicit a critical calling interpellated into art in the form of curatorship. Critical art itself privileges theory/ideology of the aesthetic; what needs to be reiterated is that the imaginary is not suspended in such practice. The structural relationship of the imaginary and the symbolic may be weighted in favour of an interrogative mode in critical art, but the unexpected subversions nurtured in the imaginary are fully at play if we mean by critical art something distinct from plain discourse or polemics. How, then, shall critics and curators present contemporary art so as to redeem both internal and contextual meanings on behalf of the artist?who is always situated, but also always liminal to the established order of things, both at once, and thus peculiarly placed to question the hegemonic tendencies of national and global, ethnic and imperialist ideologies?

Meanwhile, contemporary art, including much of the new work of Indian artists, offers perhaps a more playful ‘indirection’.[31] Skimming history and geography, younger artists everywhere draw circles around questions of location and use shifting signifiers?systems of signs that are programmed to be mutational. Are they the worldwide nomads?or magiciens after all, indulgent towards the fetish and inclined towards masquerade! Diversifying art production, they ask that we use differentiated frames but work, nonetheless, towards imaginary universes where a shared possibility of unsolicited pleasures, of jouissance, can still be encountered. So the work in today’s accelerated international exhibition circuits is hectic, but it is also leisurely with its rules of conduct. In a continual process of recoding itself as object, sign and conceptual equation, it privileges only the contemporary and requires that theory annotate it as it will into the historical paradigm. We are then asked to devise a relay of translation modes for the (sub)liminal politics of youthful artworks adrift in the world like never before.

It used to be said that knowledge is produced in the west, and that cultural artefacts abound in the non-west. I am inclined to invert this with a degree of caprice necessary for bold prognostications. The site for fresh discourse on the problematic of contemporaneity may be elsewhere/now, here. But before this starts to sound like a familiar polemic of ‘us and them’, I want to restore the picture of art’s sovereignty within and without the institution of art, and thereby also the degree of entropy that makes the creative process and the sites of its occurrence unpredictable.

* This essay is published in InFlux: Contemporary Art in Asia, eds. Parul Dave Mukherji, Kavita Singh, Naman Ahuja, Sage, Delhi, 2013. Also in Geeta Kapur Reader, in the series, West Heavens Readers of Current Indian Thought/ India-China Summit of Social Thought, Institute of Visual Vulture (China Academy of Art), Shanghai, 2011. It has been published in shorter versions and under different titles: ‘Curating in Heterogenous Worlds’, Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present, eds., Dumbadze, Alexander and Suzanne Hudson, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013; ‘Curating: in the public sphere’ in Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating, eds Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, Apexart, New York, 2007; Cities of Contemporaniety’, Where Art Worlds Meet: Multiple Modernities and the Global Salon, International Symposium in 2005 curated by Robert Storr, Marsilio with 52.Esposizione International d’Arte, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2007; ‘After the Magiciens’, in exh. cat., Indian Summer, Ecole des Beaux Artes, Paris,2006.

Notes and References

[1] See Teresa Gleadowe, ‘Artist and Curator: Some Questions About Contemporary Curatorial Practice’, Visual Arts and Culture, Volume 2, Part 1, 2000.

[2] When Attitudes Become Form showed the work of sixty-nine artists belonging to diverse tendencies, including Conceptualism, Arte Povera, Land Art, Anti-Form, etc.: tendencies that had an avantgarde status at the time. It opened in the Bern Kunsthalle in 1969 and was later shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. For Szeemann’s introduction, see exhibition catalogue, When Attitudes Become Form (London: ICA, 1969).

[3] In 1986, Jan Hoet curated a landmark exhibition (under the auspices of the Ghent Museum van Hedendaagse) called Chambres d’Amis; it spread across fifty private homes made available by the citizens to artists and visitors, in what became a transformative act for both the production and the reception of art.

[4] Seth Siegelaub, a New York gallery owner and ‘exhibition organizer’, took the lead from the mid-1960s until 1971 with a series of exhibitions, like The January Show (1969). His publications-exhibitions presented Conceptual artin ways that actively supported the dematerialization of the art object and privileged the free exchange of information.

[5] See Poetics-Politics: documenta X - the book (Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 1997) for a multi-authored textual compilation that complements and vastly elaborates on the premise of the curator, Catherine David.

[6] The exhibition Magiciens de la Terre was curated by Jean-Hubert Martin for the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, in 1989. See exhibition catalogue, Magiciens de la Terre (Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou, 1989).

[7] All the articles referred to here, including the one mentioned in note 1 above, were originally published in Le Cahiers du Musée d’Art Moderne, No. 28, 1989, on the occasion of the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre. They were published in English in Third Text, No. 6, Spring 1989. See, Benjamin Buchloh and Jean-Hubert Martin, ‘Interview’; Rasheed Araeen, ‘Our Bauhaus Others’ Mudhouse’; Jean Fisher, ‘Other Cartographies’; Guy Brett, ‘Earth & Museum: Local or Global?’

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cesare Poppi, ‘From the Suburbs of the Global Village: Afterthoughts on Magiciens de la Terre’, Third Text, No. 14, Spring 1991.

[11] The definition of a polyvocal contemporaneity has been debated in India for several decades with reference to the dense ethnic stratifications replete with still-living traditions, multiple religious communities each with their own ‘modernizing’ cultures, and a rapidly growing metropolitan society competing its way into global capitalism. Thus contemporaneity is discussed in terms of the reach and consequence of modernity going back to the colonial period; it is now debated in terms of a globalized postmodernity that is becoming transnational in its very infrastructure. Correspondingly, exhibitions with ‘India’ in the title have attempted to address these questions. In certain cases they have foregrounded all the difficulties of category, intent, meaning, by presenting precisely those stratified layers of cultures-from the tribal, folk and popular to the metropolitan modern-asking that we learn to read and interpret the contemporary in polyvocal terms similar to the way it is lived to this day in the subcontinent of India. After Victoria Lynn’s India Songs, Multiple Streams in Contemporary Indian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1993, two important international exhibitions have brought the issues curatorially up-to-date logic. I refer to the exhibition curated by artist-art historian Gulammohammed Sheikh in 2002, significantly titled New Indian Art: Home-Street-Shrine-Bazaar-Museum, and to the young art historian Chaitanya Sambrani’s exhibition titled Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India. (Sheikh’s exhibition was one among a series showing visual culture from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka; the Indian exhibition was held at the Manchester Art Gallery. See, Gulammohammed Sheikh, ‘New Indian Art: Home-Street-Shrine-Bazaar-Museum’, exhibition catalogue, ArtSouthAsia, Shisha, Manchester, 2002. Sambrani’s exhibition, organized by Asia Society, New York and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, travelled to museums in Australia, USA and Mexico, then India in 2004-06. See, Chaitanya Sambrani, ‘On the Double Edge of Desire’, in Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society, New York, and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Perth, 2004.) These have not only proposed the phenomenological experience in simultaneous viewing of different linguistic regimes, but also argued for a structural relationship between image-cultures. By calibrating practices within the contemporary in terms of loci, means and relations of production, as well as materials and genres, the difference between the image-cultures is first signalled, and then described, along a continuous arc-from the artisanal to the conceptual-making space for the language of art to do its work within a viable semiotic dimension. The textual apparatus of the exhibition raises larger questions of community and nation, of the disenfranchisement of populations in the modernizing process, and, very simply, the uneasy exchange between art, living cultures and market economics.

[12] I refer specifically to the controversial exhibition, ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth Century Art, organized by William Rubin at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1984.

[13] Parallels between the Magiciens agenda and the humanist mission of Andre Malraux’s aesthetic were perceptively brought up by Yves Michaud, along with a canny suggestion that the Magiciens’ premise included something of the formalist extension of this aesthetic as propagated by Clement Greenberg. See, ‘Doctor Explorer Chief Curator’, Third Text, No. 6, Spring 1989.

[14] The exhibition, curated by Apinan Poshyananda for the Asia Society in New York, was shown in several cities. See exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Art of Asia: Tradition/Tensions (New York: Asia Society Galleries, 1996).

[15] The exhibition travelled extensively through the world. See exhibition catalogue, Cities on the Move (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1997).

[16] The multiple presentations of Chinese avantgarde art (at home and abroad) made it necessary to read the avantgarde intent as an extrapolation worked out in alternative artistic domains, and inscribed not simply in art history but in highly differentiated political-cultural contexts. After the first phase of bemused euphoria, there have been trenchant interpretations of the 1990s Chinese avantgarde referencing radical aspects of Chinese philosophy, history and, not least, the political ‘aesthetic’ of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

[17] It is a striking fact that the southern initiative on the biennale front went all the way across from Sao Paulo to India (Triennale-India, started 1968; continuing on an occasional basis), followed by Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh (started 1981; continuing more regularly). The story of Triennale-India’s inspiring inaugural concept, and then its irreversible decline, needs telling in a separate exposition.

The 1989 Havana Biennale has gained the reputation of being one of the most important exhibition projects of contemporary times. On a personal note, I was invited to speak at this event by Gerardo Mosquera, in the curatorial team and convenor of the Biennale conference. Here, I made my first direct acquaintance with the Latin American art as also with radical intellectuals on the scene, like Gerardo Mosquera and Desidario Navarro (Cuba), Nelly Richard (Chile), Luis Camnitzer (Uruguay/USA), Gustave Buntix (Peru). I also met a number of African and Asian diasporic artist-interlocuters like Gavin Jantjes and Shaheen Merali. Many of thesefigures have gone on to change the lineaments of contemporary art history.

[18] The Biennale of Sydney, started in 1973, placed its bets on connecting Australia directly to the Euroamerican artworld.

[19] Knowing that the cultural challenge in Africa is complex, coming as it does from the constituted ‘difference’ of disparate tribes, and almost irredeemable divides of race and class; and that the art scene enacts corresponding modes of representation/contestation that must be upfronted, there was a conscious effort to open out and relay art practices from several loci. As one of the multiple co-curators for Africus, I got first-hand experience of this optimistic event; after travelling and conferencing with other international curators, I showed the work of four women artists: Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh, Pushpamala N. and Sheela Gowda, titled Dispossession.

[20] Beginning with Sao Paulo, biennales outside the west have existed since the 1950s. Since the 1990s, there has been an unprecedented multiplication, especially in East Asia and, at a slower pace, in West Asia, Africa and South America. To name some biennales (and triennales) that began in the 1990s in the broad region of the south: Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art, in Dakar (started 1992); Taipei Biennale (started 1992); Johannesburg Biennale (started 1995, discontinued after 1997); Kwangju (/Gwangju) Biennale (started 1995); Shanghai Biennale (started 1996/became international 2000); Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (started 1998).

Ten years down the line, in the year 2005, there were, besides, the much talked about Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, the 2nd Yokohama International Triennale of Contemporary Art, the 2nd Beijing International Art Biennale, the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, the 7th Sharjah Biennale, the 8th Yogyakarta Biennale, the 9th International Istanbul Biennale, the 10th Cairo International Biennale. And so on. The Singapore Biennale and Luanda Biennale in Angola emerged in 2006, and in the same year the long-standing Sydney Biennale changed course to dwell in detail on Zones of Contact outside the west?especially along Eastern Europe, Central and West Asia. This complemented the mature vision of the (5th ) Asia-Pacific Triennial in 2007; and anticipated the year 2008 when major curators were invited to lead older and newer Asian biennales: Okwui Enwezor for the Gwangju Biennale in Korea; Vasif Kortun and Manray Hsu for the Taipei Biennale; Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Tsong-zung for The Third Guangzhou Triennial in China. Indeed this regional efflorescence was seen to ‘compete’ with the grand tour in Europe of summer 2007, when Documenta 12, the 52nd Venice Biennale and the Munster sculpture shows ran together.

AAA: All You Want To Know About International Art Biennials: ; Universe in Universe: ; The Biennial Reader: An Anthology on Large-Scale Perennial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art: (

[21] Alongside the listings, take the nature of the biennale discourse in just the one year: 2005. Charles Merewether, art historian and curator, spoke in January 2005 at a New Delhi conference (titled ‘The Making of International Exhibitions: Siting Biennales’) about biennales as sites where experiments with unlikely simultaneities in crosscultural artworks are presented, and also where an interrogation of contemporaneity, as such, is conducted using a methodology drawn from advanced cultural theory in tune with the rapidly changing political contexts around the globe. Museums of modern and contemporary art, on the other hand, are bound by still conservative frames of institutionalized western art history. He proved the efficacy of his own position as artistic director of the 2006 Biennale of Sydney (Zones of Contact). Charles Esche, co-curator of the 9th Istanbul Biennale (2005), speaking at a conference (titled ‘Biennalicity’) at the time of the7th Sharjah Biennale, stressed the need to challenge the bourgeois public sphere, and quoted Chantal Mouffe (The Democratic Paradox) to speak about the spirit of agonism-a relation between adversaries, friendly enemies, who share a common symbolic space and contest different forms of its organization. He suggested that the emerging series of ‘planetary’ biennales can contribute to a reciprocal critique of the two institutions-the museum framed by the (western) bourgeois public sphere, and the biennale, a spectacular event-like manifestation within transcultural exchange, or what other curators, like Okwui Enwezor, consider to be the public sphere ‘defined’ by a postcolonial ethos to a democratic rather than a hegemonic form of transnationalism. That such forms of radical discourse penetrate the exhibitory circuits in the citadels of Europe, such as Venice, is telling: Rob Storr, director of the 52nd edition of the Venice Biennale (2007), anticipated the event with a conference in 2005, bringing together some of the major art historians and critics and especially curators of the more radical biennales around the globe to discuss this proliferating phenomenon in the present day. See conference proceedings: Where art worlds meet : multiple modernities and the global salon, Biennale di Venezia International Symposium, 2005, Instituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, Marsilio, Venezia, 2007.

[22] The biennale can be an occasion to engage in a cognitive mapping of complex cultures and distinct regions: curators like Gerardo Mosquera (Cuba) and Paulo Herkenhoff (Brazil) have shaped vision and discourse for the highly heterogeneous southern region; much later, Jack Persekian (Palestine) does this for the Arab artworld from Sharjah/UAE. And while Brisbane’s Queenslaland Art Gallery keeps the curatorial course of the Asia-Pacific Triennial a museum affair, it draws on wide-ranging expertise from the region. The focus on the host city has been among the most important features of the biennale phenomenon; a key example is the 2005 Istanbul Biennale with co-curators Vasif Kortun and Charles Esche exploring with artists the interstices of the city to ‘hide’ as much as to reveal art works to an inadvertent public. Contrariwise, the straitened city/state of Singapore becomes a veritable garden of delights under the curatorship of Fumio Nanjo (2006-08). These exhibitions also turn to more project-oriented, more discursive, more activist forms. The Yokohama Triennale of Contemporary Art, 2005, was almost entirely collectivist and project-based. The curators (Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Tsong-zung) of The Third Guangzhou Triennale in China, 2007, provoked a discourse on an entire era with thetitle ‘Farewell to Post-colonialism’. In 2007, the Second Riwaq Biennale (stemming from the Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah, and curated by Khalil Rabah) brought together local and international architects, artists, conservationists, planners, curators and theorists, with the aim of protecting and promoting cultural heritage in Palestine; while for the Third Riwaq Biennale, curators Charles Esche and Reem Fadda chose venues and platforms in the historic centre, and in villages, to present temporary interventions, gatherings and constructions of possible scenarios for the future of a fatally fractured region, polity, and culture.

[23] See, Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading, edited by Salah Hasan and Iftikhar Dadi (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Nai Publishers, 2001).

[24] See introduction by Enwezor and texts by the Documenta team and other authors, in Documenta 11_Platform 5: Exhibition Catalogue (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002). Preceding the exhibition, the Documenta 11 team conducted a set of symposia (Platforms 1-4) in Vienna, New Delhi, St. Lucia/Caribbean and Lagos, each published as a book (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002): Democracy Unrealized; Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation, Creolité and Creolization and Under Siege: Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, and Lagos.

[25] See Geeta Kapur, When Was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2000), in which I deal with the uneven/anomalous nature of third-world modernisms, and how this leads on to differently periodized, differently theorized, variously located avantgarde moments, and thence to styles and strategies of expository presentation.

[26] Incidentally, Szeemann was led to say about national pavilions, in an interview with Jan Winkelmann titled ‘Failure as a Poetic Dimension. A Conversation with Harald Szeemann’ (published in Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over hedendaagse kunst, No. 3, June 2001): ‘And of course you had the eternal discussion again about whether to abolish the national pavilions or not. I find these national presentations of utmost importance. The outstanding chance for Biennales like those of Venice and São Paulo is that they have these two foundations, the national and the international. Precisely through this combination you can then build bridges, and that’s where the challenge of the Biennale model lies.’ As it happens, the national sections have been abolished from the São Paulo Biennale of 2006.

[27] See Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajadhyaksha, ‘Bombay/ Mumbai: 1992-2001’, Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, exhibition catalogue, edited by Iwona Blazwick (London: Tate Publishing, 2001).

[28] Up until the 1980s there were very few high-profile exhibitions of Indian art in the west, of them George M. Butcher’s Art Now from India shown at the Commonwealth Centre, London, 1965, was a cutting-edge statement for the time. During the 1980s, the Festivals of India enterprise of the Government of India undertook an elaborate manifestation of Indian culture in many countries in the world; modern and contemporary art (in conjunction with the classical arts and living crafts) was programmed into these elaborate expositions. Among these exhibitions were: Contemporary Indian Art, shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1982; India: myth & reality, aspects of modern Indian art, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1982; Six Indian Artists, Tate, London, 1982; Contemporary Neo-Tantra Art: A Perspective, The Hirschorn Museum, Washington DC, 1985; Gulammohammed Sheikh’s Returning Home: A Retrospective of work from 1968 - 1985 shown at Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1985; Contemporary Indian Art: from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Family Collection, shown at Grey Art Gallery And Study Center, New York University, New York, 1985-86.

During the 1990s, the number of Indian exhibitions abroad began to accelerate with international curators taking the initiative to mount what were often museum level shows: India Songs, Multiple Streams in Contemporary Indian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1993; Private Mythology: Contemporary Art from India, Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 1998; Out of India: Contemporary Art of the South Asian Diaspora, Queens Museum, New York, 1998.

Starting with ‘Bombay/Mumbai’ in Century City:Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate Modern, London, 2001, the twenty first century has seen an unprecedented increase in exhibitions of contemporary Indian art. These include, Kapital and Karma, Kunsthalle, Vienna, 2002; NEW INDIAN ART: home-street-shrine-bazaar-museum, Manchester Art Gallery, 2002; the magnificently mounted Bhupen Khakhar retrospective at Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2002; The Tree from the Seed, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, 2003; subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2003; Zoom! Art in Contemporary India, O Museo Temporario/Culturgest, Edifcio Sede do Caixa de Depositos, Lisbon, 2004; Indian Summer, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, 2005; Edge of Desire, an Asia Society inititave, shown across continents, at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Asia Society and The Queens Museum, New York; Museo Tamayo de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive; and National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, 2005-2006; subContingent: The Indian Subcontinent in Contemporary Art, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, 2006; Lille 3000, ‘Bombaysers de Lille’, 2006; Hungry God: Indian Contemporary Art, Arario Art Gallery, Beijing, 2006; New Narratives: Contemporary Art from India, Chicago Cultural Center, 2007 (travelled in the U.S.A); Nalini Malani Retrospectives at Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin, and Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Laussane, 2010;Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art, Kunstmuseum Bern, 2007-08; Chalo India! A New Era of Indian Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (traveled to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, and Essl Museum,Vienna) 2008-09; India: Public Places, Private Spaces Contemporary Photography and Video Art, Newark Museum, (travelled in the U.S.A), 2008-09; Urban Manners: 15 Contemporary Artists from India, Hangar Bicocca: spazio d’arte contemporanea, Milan (travelled to Sao Paulo, 2010); Indian Highway, Serpentine Gallery, London, 2008-09 (travelling widely thereafter); IndiaModerna, IVAM, Valencia, 2008-09; Panorama: India at the 28th International Contemporary Art Fair, ARCO Madrid, 2009; The Self and the Other: Portraiture in Indian Contemporary Photography, Instituto de Cultura del Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, ARTIUM,Centro-Museo Vasca de Arte Contemporaneo, Vitoria-Gasteiz Agrodecimientos, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona, ,Barcelona, 2009-10; Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Whitechapel Gallery, London, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland 2010; Paris, Delhi, Bombay, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 2011.

This value-free listing, masks many important questions; not only are more and more of these exhibitions curated by important international curators, they project global curators’ new compulsions (and desires) including curiosity, fetishism and the staging of new spectacles. Much of this is reflected in the choice of exhibition titles, artists selection and actual displays. This requires separate investigation.

[29] See exhibition-book, India Modern, ed., Juan Guardiola, IVAM, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia, 2009.

[30] It is not surprising that with the power of international curators and a corresponding institutional outreach, exhibitions concurrent with India Moderna (such as Indian Highway, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist et al., at the Serpentine Gallery, London, 2009-10, and at Tokyo’s, Mori Museum, Chalo India! curated by Akiko Miki in collaboration with Fumio Nanjo, 2009-10), received much greater media attention; so even did the India Focus at Madrid’s Art Fair, ARCO (2009), next door to Valencia.

[31] Artists from India are literally every-where. In addition to numerous ‘India’ shows, there is an ever-wider circuit of paths traversed by individual artists: this includes solos in museums and galleries, participation in artist residencies and networks, as well as in numerous international biennales, and in major exhibitions like the Documenta. Indeed, artists from India are every-where, and punning on their nomadism, a recent, imaginatively curated exhibition in New Delhi, titled Where in the World, used this exuberant ‘indirection’ as both theme and display strategy of the show.( see catalogue, Where in the World, Devi Art Foundation, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, 2009. )

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