Kas­per Kö­nig and Jean-Hubert Mar­tin, Pic­tu­ring the Ex­hi­bi­tion

Art Press - - RENCONTRE -

In Ja­nua­ry 2000 art press pu­bli­shed a spe­cial is­sue tit­led “For­get the Ex­hi­bi­tion” ex­plo­ring the va­rious un­con­ven­tio­nal ways of sho­wing art. Four­teen years la­ter, the clas­si­cal ex­hi­bi­tion for­mat is far from “for­got­ten.” In fact, there seem to be more conven­tio­nal ex­hi­bi­tions than ever (950 ope­nings per week around the world, against 540 back in 2000, ac­cor­ding to art­facts.net), and the ex­hi­bi­tion as event rei­gns su­preme, with the cu­ra­tor-com­mu­ni­ca­tor-sven­ga­li re­pla­cing the old mu­seum conser­va­tor. Art has cer­tain­ly been de­mo­cra­ti­zed as a re­sult. But it al­so suf­fers from col­lu­sion with the en­ter­tain­ment biz, with its rea­di­ness to reach for in­tel­lec­tual com­fort and in­dus­tria­lize culture. Glo­ba­li­za­tion, si­mul­ta­neous­ly, is ex­pan­ding the se­lec­tion of ar­tists, tip­ping post-co­lo­nia­lism to the point where the old hie­rar­chies of taste and va­lue not on­ly change but go in­to re­verse. Af­ter all this time when it was used to set­ting the rules, the West is no lon­ger the on­ly pres­cri­ber nor the on­ly “sup­plier” of ar­tists and ca­reers. In 1989, in Pa­ris, Jean- Hubert Mar­tin pre­sen­ted Ma­gi­ciens de la Terre, an ex­hi­bi­tion that would re­vo­lu­tio­nize ap­proaches to choo­sing ar­tists. Here, the South met the North, and the ho­ly ob­ject met the art­work de­si­gned to express im­me­diate mea­ning or pure form. Last year, in Théâtre du Monde (Mai­son Rouge, Pa­ris, fall 2013), he re­pri­sed this prin­ciple by jux­ta­po­sing vo­tive ob­jects from Ocea­nia and cur­rent art­works. Kas­per Kö­nig, too, has a num­ber of se­mi­nal ex­hi­bi­tions to his name, in­clu­ding

West­kunst (1981), Skulp­tur Pro­jekte in Müns­ter (1987 and 2007). For­mer­ly di­rec­tor of the Lud­wig Mu­seum (2000–2012), he has just cu­ra­ted Ma­ni­fes­ta 10. Be­low, the two men dis­cuss their “bu­si­ness” of concei­ving ex­hi­bi­tions. And, while they express their view­points in mea­su­red words, they clear­ly in­di­cate the li­mits of both ideo­lo­gi­cal stra­te­gies (the group show of new art as a nar­ra­tive or di­dac­tic de­vice) and “ar­tis­tic cu­ra­ting” (the ex­hi­bi­tion as an in­di­vi­dual fi­gure of style).

Paul Ar­denne This sum­mer the Pom­pi­dou Cen­ter is re­vi­si­ting the epoch-ma­king ex­hi­bi­tion it put on a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry ago, which hel­ped re­con­fi­gure the art map and re­de­fine its hie­rar­chies. Ma­gi­ciens de la Terre: re­tour sur une ex­po­si­tion lé­gen­daire (Ju­ly 2–Sep­tem­ber 8, 2014) is rich with ar­chives and do­cu­ments and is being ac­com­pa­nied by a se­ries of lec­tures and se­mi­nars on the same theme at the Cen­ter (Ju­ly 1–10), ana­ly­zing the show’s im­pact. Here, Jean- Hubert Mar­tin, the cu­ra­tor of Ma­gi­ciens, dis­cusses the fu­ture of ex­hi­bi­tions with Kas­par Kö­nig, cu­ra­tor of the tenth Ma­ni­fes­ta, being put on this sum­mer in Saint Pe­ters­burg.

Group shows are all ve­ry well, but what cri­te­ria do you em­pha­size? Ori­gins, ra­di­ca­lism, exo­ti­cism, ex­tra­va­gance, tra­di­tion, per­so­nal taste? Or all these things at once?

Kas­per Kö­nig To me, a most im­por­tant is­sue in se­lec­ting ar­tists is avoi­ding op­por­tu­nism. But this is of­ten a pro­blem be­cause, when you se­lect, you ei­ther in­clude or ex­clude. Ideal­ly, one should con­ti­nuous­ly check the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria. And this is a ve­ry dia­lec­ti­cal pro­cess that can­not be se­pa­ra­ted from the context in which you are wor­king. I per­so­nal­ly have a ve­ry sub­jec­tive way of ap­proa­ching things and my main cri­te­ria are to make sure that the work ob­jec­ti­fies it­self wi­thin the ex­hi­bi­tion, that it be­comes plau­sible to anybody who is cu­rious, open and wants to find out, and ho­pe­ful­ly, that its plau­si­bi­li­ty goes beyond the in­ner cycle of the art world. By plau­sible, I mean that the in­no­va­tion, the originality, should not ren­der the work obs­cure. Plau­si­bi­li­ty is a long way from “name-drop­ping.” It is not about: “Ha, this is a well-known ar­tist…” The ques­tion, ra­ther, should be: “Why should that par­ti­cu­lar work be known?”

Jean-Hubert Mar­tin For Ma­gi­ciens de la Terre I ap­plied these se­lec­tion cri­te­ria: originality and in­ven­tion in re­la­tion to the cul­tu­ral context, the ar­tist’s re­la­tion to this mi­lieu, which may in­vol­ved adhe­sion or critique, the match bet­ween ar­tist and work, the ener­gy and the ra­di­ca­lism of the pro­po­si­tions.

That was twen­ty-five years ago. The context was dif­ferent then, wasn’t it?

J-H M Yes, but I still cleave to those cri­te­ria, which I think re­main va­lid to­day. The key is in­tui­tion. Let’s not try to de­ny this rea­li­ty. Cu­ra­tors are of­ten ve­ry dis­creet about their in­tui­tions be­cause eve­ry­bo­dy tries to ra­tio­na­lize, to create ca­te­go­ries and sys­tems, but in fact in­tui­tion is es­sen­tial. In each ex­hi­bi­tion there is an ap­proach. It is ve­ry im­por­tant to de­fine this ap­proach, if on­ly so that you can af­firm the ob­jec­tive you are pur­suing and the theme you are wor­king on, so as to de­ter­mine the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria. We must de­fine a line and a frame and, so­me­times, ex­clude cer­tain ar­tists who are close to us in other ways, or who may even be friends. If they do not meet the cho­sen cri­te­ria then, wha­te­ver our ties to them, we must fo­re­go in­vi­ting them, ho­we­ver dif­fi­cult that may be.


So phi­lia (which some might trans­late as cro­nyism) is the­re­fore to be avoi­ded?

KK In 1993 I did an ex­hi­bi­tion with Hans Ul­rich Obrist on pain­ting, at a time when pain­ting was to­tal­ly “out.” It was cal­led

The Bro­ken Mir­ror. There were a good num­ber of ar­tists who wan­ted to be part of the show. And we tried to make de­ci­sions in fa­vor of so­me­thing and not

against so­me­thing. The ques­tion of in­clu­sion and ex­clu­sion is al­ways dea­ling with a spe­ci­fic si­tua­tion. You choose a spe­ci­fic ar­tist be­cause he or she is part of the fo­cus. This is the ne­ga­tive as­pect of the job. I re­mem­ber when li­ving in North Ame­ri­ca I was ve­ry in­vol­ved in concep­tual art and mi­ni­mal art such as Carl Andre’s work. And then the at­ten­tion shif­ted to Do­nald Judd. I re­mem­ber Judd was ce­le­bra­ted as a mi­ni­ma­list icon pro­du­cer—a new mo­dern style in Pa­ris ini­tia­ting a co­ol bou­tique de­si­gn. And it made me feel ve­ry un­com­for­table. I rea­li­zed that for about thir­ty years now being

part or part of a cer­tain li­fe­style or cer­tain kinds of aes­the­tics has been po­ten­tial­ly de­ci­sive. So­me­times art is ahead, so­me­times far be­hind, and li­fe­style takes the path. We are in a ma­chine that is ea­ting it­self up, fas­ter and fas­ter.

A good cu­ra­tor will clash with the consen­sus?

J-H M A few de­cades ago we were ve­ry much part of an art scene stron­gly mar­ked by concep­tual art. We knew that we were wor­king wi­thin the do­mi­nant ten­den­cy of the day. To­day, the si­tua­tion is glo­ba­li­zed. We are fa­ced with so ma­ny dif­ferent styles, so ma­ny dif­ferent ways of ma­king art, that eve­ry­thing is more complicated. But this new si­tua­tion is sti­mu­la­ting. It forces cu­ra­tors to po­si­tion them­selves in re­la­tion to a set of ve­ry di­verse aes­the­tic ca­nons. We must now think of the past as the root of the present and look at things through a dif­ferent prism. It’s a real­ly ex­ci­ting chal­lenge. In fact I’m temp­ted to say that be­fore now it was too ea­sy!

KK My per­so­nal ap­proach is sub­jec­tive. But then, my job is to ob­jec­ti­fy my per­so­nal cu­rio­si­ty, and make it so­me­how rea­dable. I think of my­self in quite “old fa­shio­ned” terms, as an “ex­hi­bi­tion ma­ker” ra­ther than a “cu­ra­tor.” I am trying ve­ry hard not to be a kind of “al­ter ego ar­tist” and not just show my own view of the world. I feel it is ve­ry im­por­tant to al­ways re­late to the par­ti­cu­lar, gi­ven anthropological si­tua­tion. And what is im­por­tant to me is whe­ther it is mea­ning­ful, in any par­ti­cu­lar case, to use the for­mat of an ex­hi­bi­tion, of a film, of a book… How does one best convey the re­le­vant content? For me, that pro­cess is al­ways so­me­how lin­ked to an eco­no­my of means. I have done a num­ber of books with the pur­pose of ad­dres­sing the fol­lo­wing is­sue: ins­tead of ma­king an ex­hi­bi­tion, is it mea­ning­ful to do it in this other context?

I see that you are un­com­for­table with the Szee­man­nian idea of the cu­ra­tor-ar­tist.

KK I do not de­fine my­self a “cu­ra­tor.” I am a de­fen­der of the ins­ti­tu­tion. For ins­tance, I real­ly li­ked being in the Mu­sée d’Art Mo­derne de la Ville de Pa­ris yes­ter­day and seeing an al­ter­na­tive rea­ding of French art, dea­ling with exis­ten­tia­lism— ve­ry dis­tinct from the mains­tream. One thing that was great with Ma­gi­ciens de la

Terre was that it was a real ex­hi­bi­tion sup­por­ted by the go­vern­ment for its own rea­sons, but the ex­hi­bi­tion was al­so in­de­pendent. So there was a ve­ry pro­duc­tive conflict, which meant so­me­thing.

J-H M In a sense, Kas­per and I have had op­po­sing ca­reer paths. He came from in­de­pendent prac­tice and now works in ins­ti­tu­tions, whe­reas I star­ted as a conven­tio­nal art his­to­rian, wor­king at the Louvre. There came a mo­ment when I had to de­cide whe­ther I was in­ter­es­ted in Old Mas­ter pain­ting or con­tem­po­ra­ry art. My ar­tis­tic thin­king has been sha­ped by my contact with col­lec­tions and ins­ti­tu­tions and I on­ly gra­dual­ly be­came an in­de­pendent cu­ra­tor and ac­qui­red a sense of re­la­ti­vi­ty. For example, when I star­ted wor­king at the Mu­sée Na­tio­nal d’Art Mo­derne in 1971, I spent months loo­king at the col­lec­tions of pain­tings from the 1920s and 1930s, col­lec­tions that no one ever sees. I rea­li­zed that my col­leagues who chose these pain­tings at the time se­lec­ted them with convic­tion and en­thu­siasm, but that now no­bo­dy was in­ter­es­ted in them. The fee­ling of re­la­ti­vi­ty that I men­tio­ned a mo­ment ago has been ve­ry im­por­tant to me ever since that time.

To the de­gree that a show you cu­ra­ted re­cent­ly in Pa­ris, Théâtre du Monde, mixes art and non-art. Doesn’t this kind of mix­ture ex­clude any kind of aes­the­tic hie­rar­chy?

J-H M When I or­ga­nize an ex­hi­bi­tion like Théâtre du Monde my aim is to ex­plore and ela­bo­rate the ques­tion of mu­seums and ins­ti­tu­tions, to see how it all func­tions. My deep convic­tion here is that things have to change. To­day, mu­seums too of­ten work from the concept of chro­no­lo­gy. This way of doing things is ob­so­lete. Ana­lo­gi­cal thought must have its place along­side do­mi­nant his­to­ry.


KK When Jean-Hubert did Les Ma­gi­ciens de la Terre it was a ve­ry hard­core proposition: what does art mean in dif­ferent parts of the world, where so­me­times the word “art” does not even exist? I was a real fan and a big de­fen­der of Les Ma­gi­ciens. This was an ex­hi­bi­tion about ideas, about at­ti­tudes, dea­ling with ve­ry com­plex things like religion. The on­ly mis­gi­vings I had were to­wards Jack Lang’s dis­course, al­ways saying “We are against co­lo­nia­lism.” And when there was an aes­the­tic pro­blem, it was cal­led po­li­ti­cal and whe­ne­ver there was a po­li­ti­cal pro­blem, they cal­led it aes­the­tic. It was in­deed a ve­ry of­fi­cial-po­li­ti­cal show and po­li­ti­cians were trying to use it for their own pur­poses, while the ar­tists were re­sis­ting that. To me the best ex­hi­bi­tion ever was an ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion in 1928 in Stutt­gart in Ger­ma­ny that fo­cu­sed on the pro­blem of hou­sing af­ter the First World War, with Le Cor­bu­sier and all the mo­der­nists. All these great ar­chi­tects had a so­cial idea on how to de­si­gn li­ving spaces for a fa­mi­ly wi­thout a man, grand­pa­rents, chil­dren... To­day the ex­hi­bi­tion is fa­mous in art his­to­ry, but to­tal­ly for­got­ten by our so­cial his­to­ry, al­though its main point was to pro­vide a so­cial i dea, a f orm. But so­me­times we mys­ti­fy cer­tain ex­hi­bi­tions and cer­tain books that ve­ry few people ex­pe­rien­ced at the time.

Ma­ni­fes­ta. Ni­cole Ei­sen­man. « It Is So ». 2014. 165 x 208 cm. (Coll. de l’ar­tiste ; Court. de l’ar­tiste et Koe­nig & Clinton, New York, ga­le­rie B. Weiss, Ber­lin, et S. Viel­met­ter Los An­geles Pro­jects ; Ph. J. Berens). Oil on can­vas

J-H M Men­tal­ly and in our work, we re­fer fre­quent­ly to ex­hi­bi­tions that took place twen­ty or thir­ty years ago. I am thin­king in par­ti­cu­lar of When at­ti­tudes be­come form, concei­ved by Ha­rald Szee­mann at the Kuns­thalle in Bern in 1969. In those days, there we­ren’t that ma­ny ex­hi­bi­tions, there were about a do­zen cu­ra­tors in Eu­rope and we all knew each other. There were five bien­nials around the world, as op­po­sed to two hun­dred to­day. The aim of ex­hi­bi­tions was ve­ry dif­ferent from what it is now. More cri­ti­cal, wi­thout a doubt.

This way of or­ga­ni­zing the ar­tis­tic field de­ri­ved from an ideo­lo­gi­cal po­si­tion, but that’s a thing of the past.

J-H M No, it’s not just in the past. As so­meone who concei­ved ex­hi­bi­tions, I del i be­ra­te­ly po­si­tion my­self wi­thin a re­no­va­ting pro­cess. I plan to fight the iner­tia of ins­ti­tu­tions, which are so dif­fi­cult to budge. But things are chan­ging, slow­ly. From now on we must think about what we can do in a com­ple­te­ly dif­ferent way. Star­ting with the ad­mis­sion that there is not just one kind of ex­hi­bi­tion. For Théâtre du Monde at La Mai­son Rouge, I tried to create cor­res­pon­dences, as­so­cia­tions bet­ween works from com­ple­te­ly dif­ferent per­iods and cul­tures. The idea was to show that this is how thought works, whe­reas art his­to­ry tries to prevent us from wor­king trans­ver­sal­ly, trans­cul­tu­ral­ly and trans-tem­po­ral­ly.

Isn’t there a risk of eclec­ti­cism, a le­ve­ling of va­lues?

J-H M Yes, but there’s al­ways a risk when you are put­ting on an ex­hi­bi­tion, and it’s a risk we have to take! We need to of­fer a coun­ter­weight to the ex­hi­bi­tions that take up an ex­clu­si­ve­ly pe­da­go­gi­cal po­si­tion. I am not against know­ledge but we need to make pro­po­sals that al­low people to see and per­ceive works wi­thout nee­ding to have read a book be­fo­re­hand. Ex­hi­bi­tions ba­sed on sen­sa­tions, on emo­tions, trus­ting each i ndi­vi­dual’s ap­pre­cia­tion and judg­ment. To­day, ma­te­rial culture is more im­por­tant than big, lea­ding dis­course. Let’s leave more room to ar­tists and less scope for glosses and exe­ge­sis. Eclec­ti­cism is dangerous, it’s true. But to­day we do have this op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­pre­hend new pers­pec­tives and make our per­cep­tions move on, no­ta­bly thanks to the in­crea­sed ten­den­cy to look at the past and his­to­ry and mingle them with con­tem­po­ra­ry art. A ten­den­cy that has gra­dual­ly gai­ned in pro­mi­nence.

Is it ne­ces­sa­ry to be uni­ver­sa­list?

KK No. I think there can be no kind of uni­ver­sa­li­ty wi­thout lo­cal iden­ti­ty. And

well aware that I’m just a drop of wa­ter in this whole gi­gan­tic me­cha­nism. When you look at things dif­fe­rent­ly, when you look at a pear as if it were a Bran­cu­si, you rea­lize what a marvel na­ture is, a real mas­ter­piece. This ar­tis­tic res­ponse is po­ly­pho­nic. We’re so used to the pro­di­ga­li­ty of eve­ry­thing around us that we don’t see it any more. For us, it’s just the or­ga­ni­za­tion of mat­ter. Wes­ter­ners have des­pi­ri­tua­li­zed the world to sin­gu­lar de­gree, par­ti­cu­lar­ly its most mo­dest com­po­nents. What we eat is al­so a source of spi­ri­tual nou­rish­ment, an en­chant­ment that is gi­ven to us. All you need to do to un­ders­tand that is a slight ad­just­ment to your state of conscious­ness. And the gas takes ad­van­tage of this vor­tex, this breach in the me­cha­nism of conscious­ness, to spread eve­ryw­here. Can art ex­pand our conscious­ness?


In any case it can shar­pen some of the ques­tions we ask our­selves. Once I ex­pe­rien­ced so­me­thing si­mi­lar to your sto­ry about the pear, al­though less aes­the­tic. I ac­ci­den­tal­ly step­ped on a snail and cru­shed it, and of course I felt guil­ty, like a mons­ter. We’re cons­tant­ly com­mit­ting lit­tle crimes like that. But on the other hand we can’t fall in­to the will­ful idea­lism of saying that we shouldn’t consume any­thing at all, be­cause we’re li­ving or­ga­nisms and we have to ab­sorb nou­ri­shing sub­stances. We can do it with gra­ti­tude in our present in­car­na­tion. It’s the ve­ry heart of the present, the here and now, that lights our days. That’s our cons­cious pre­sence in the world. Bet­ween blo­cking out the past, which psy­cho­ana­ly­sis pays too much at­ten­tion to and which we ima­gine contains our secrets (which is par­tial­ly true), and the ma­gi­cal thin­king of Oc­ci­den­tals who pro­ject them­selves en­ti­re­ly in­to the fu­ture, the present is com­ple­te­ly com­pres­sed and hard­ly exists any­more. That’s what makes us hurt in­side and closes off our per­cep­tual field, our re­cep­tion of the world, and di­sen­chants our dai­ly ex­pe­riences and our lives. In the end we have to reap­pro­priate the present to get clo­ser to the mys­te­ry and ma­gic of this world. The same goes for pain­ting. If we have such a mar­ve­lous re­la­tion­ship with pain­tings and we’ve found them ful­filling for so long, it’s par­tial­ly be­cause for a few se­conds they help us in­car­nate the present. This abi­li­ty comes from the way they ex­pand our field of awa­re­ness, per­cep­tual­ly, cultu­ral­ly and ana­ly­ti­cal­ly. You can call on all sorts of tools to try to per­ceive what you see; if you’re ful­filled, you feel it im­me­dia­te­ly and it makes you hap­py. When we’re around art­works, that helps us live in the present mo­ment. Let’s say that you in­ten­si­fy the present mo­ment, you try to aug­ment our per­cep­tion of it. This se­ries makes us feel tem­po­ra­li­ty ve­ry stron­gly. Each image seems to con­tain a per­iod of time that seems im­mense, and at the same time we’re in the mo­ment, as you des­cri­bed it, in­ter­ac­ting with the art­work. It’s as if the image were coming from far away, like the light of stars that reaches us af­ter so ma­ny years. There is a de­si­gn, an in­ter­lin­king of the whole me­cha­nism, not just on the le­vel of the cos­mos or in­fi­ni­te­ly small, cel­lu­lar life, but of all of na­ture, which I see as a mi­racle. We live in a mi­racle. What was there be­fore the Big Bang? Astro­phy­si­cists have ex­plai­ned it ve­ry well: there was no­thing be­cause time in­ven­ted the cos­mos. The Big Bang in­vol­ved a quan­ti­ty of ener­gy so phe­no­me­nal that it passes our un­ders­tan­ding exact­ly be­cause si­mul­ta­neous­ly with the in­ven­tion of space, the cos­mos in­ven­ted time. The cos­mos be­gan with a phe­no­me­nal and mar­ve­lous chaos. (What a pa­ra­doxi­cal idea—the aes­the­tics of chaos.) How can we even ima­gine this in­cre­dible quan­ti­ty of mat­ter in­fu­sed with an ir­re­sis­tible de­sire to achieve equi­li­brium and calm?


In this se­ries, with this constric­tion, this concen­tra­tion we tal­ked about, did you feel like you were lea­ving this di­men­sion of the “chaos­mos” and en­te­ring ano­ther one yet to be de­fi­ned? What you say is true, for rea­sons that in the end have to do with my prac­tice. The adoption of a new ar­tis­tic stra­te­gy, with new tools, means ha­ving to think about things dif­fe­rent­ly, in a much more concep­tual man­ner. By concep­tual I don’t mean cold­ly or dry­ly, just the op­po­site. I had to re­think eve­ry­thing: the sup­ports, the or­ga­nic ce­ra­mic iso­la­tion bar and the al­most im­per­cep­tible lit­tle sha­dow that makes the sub­ject look like it’s han­ging in air. Why would a pla­net have a sha­dow? It doesn’t make sense. Pla­nets are al­ways seen against a black back­ground be­cause by de­fi­ni­tion the cos­mic void is the ab­sence of light. This lit­tle sha­dow contri­butes to the equi­li­brium of the piece, its sus­pen­ded fee­ling, maybe the fee­ling of time. There are a num­ber of spe­ci­fic re­cur­ring ele­ments in this work. I didn’t want to add any su­per­fluous com­po­si-

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