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In the Year of Faust


C-print speaks to the jury members of the 2017 edition of the Absolut Art Award which saw German artist Anne Imhof honoured in the Art Work category and American writer Huey Copeland in the category for Art Writing. The jury which has been led by Moderna Museet's director Daniel Birnbaum, was comprised of additional four prominent art world figures, namely: Simon Castets (Director and Curator of Swiss Institute, New York), Elena Filipovic (Director and Chief Curator of Kunsthalle Basel), Polly Staple (Director of Chisenhale Gallery, London) and Jack Bankowsky (critic and editor-at-large at Artforum). In our interview they address currents in contemporary art, digitalization of art and their personal art highlights from 2017.


Performance photography by Nadine Fraczkowski, the German Pavillion, Anne Imhof "Faust", 57th Venice Biennale, courtesy the German Pavilion 2017

Daniel Birnbaum, museum director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm


Portrait of Daniel Birnbaum, Photo © Moderna Museet, Åsa Lundén

C-P: What might be a few currents in contemporary art you would take a moment to shine light on and address?

D.B: We are looking into E.A.T. (Experiments in Art ad Technology), a very interesting project of the 1960s that was initiated by the Swedish engineer Billy Klüver and involved some of the most important artist of the period, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Öyvind Fahlström. Moderna Museet has some of the key works from this project in its collection and we will try to extend the art and tech dialogue into our moment. One of the things I am trying to understand is the impact of new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality on artistic practice. I might be wrong, but it could be that a kind of revolution is imminent.

C-P: 2017 was an interesting year with a number of major international events taking place, such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster. On a personal note, what will have been a few favourite art moments had in the year that passed so far?

D.B: I thought Pierre Huyghe’s piece in Münster was quite impressive, and I think that probably I wasn’t alone. It had an augmented reality component, by the way. In Venice, I appreciated Anne Imhof’s German pavilion. It’s interesting to see how it polarized the critics. That’s always a good sign.

C-P: What's your take on the ongoing digitalization of art as far as challenges are concerned, in your own work?

D.B: Well, I don’t know how these developments will impact my work as a curator and writer, but of course curatorial practice might chance rather dramatically as well in an era in which VR goes mainstream. I just finished a rather speculative dialogue with novelist Douglas Coupland about this. It will appear in the November issue of Artforum.

C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead in the near future for you?

D.B: In less than two weeks Moderna Museet opens a large group exhibition titled Manipulate the World. It takes its starting point in a few works by Öyvind Fahlström but also involves around twenty contemporary artists who all explore notions of propaganda, manipulation, and global media. Rather timely themes, I am afraid.


Jack Bankowsky, critic, curator and Editor-at-large at Artforum

C-P: What might be a few currents in contemporary art you would take a moment to shine light on and address?

J.B: It seems to me that one of the big questions before us now is how precisely painting and sculpture exists today between the art object and the network of auxiliary activities in which it necessarily circulates, how (and even if), that is, these mediums can be understood apart from the ‘extracurriculars’ they animate and punctuate? This is the question that we will be asking ourselves in the face of the most anticipated shows of the coming season: Laura Owens at the Whitney (how do we situate her art between the painting and, for instance, the community she has built around and out of it at 356 S. Mission Road?), or Jutta Koether at the Brandhorst, whose painting practice, for coming on three decades, has consisted in a delicately orchestrated performance, and, of course, an oeuvre of residual (and all important?!) pictures.

C-P: What will have been a few favorite art moments in the year that passed so far?

J.B: The German pavilion! And Benjamin Buchloch’s reply to it in Artforum. As with his famous ambivalence re Warhol, his evisceration of this new artist provides us all the tools to we need to understand why her art might utterly matter!

C-P: What's your take on the ongoing digitalization of art as far as challenges are concerned, in your own work?

J.B: Well, we are all authored by the digital, by the internet, by social media, and all art that counts will reflect or excavate this given, will trick these agencies into visibility. Criticism must, of course, reflect this, which as a Luddite makes my job quite challenging!

C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead in the near future for you?

J.B:Next is a massive story about my bondage to Jordan Wolfson, coming for the Stedelijk Museum after the fact of their two-part retrospective devoted to the artist’s work. Then comes a little book, The Secret Project, which, as you can guess from the title, I can tell you nothing about. Oh, and my favorite gig, my annual Top Ten for Artforum!

Elena Filipovic, director and chief curator of Kunsthalle Basel


Portrait of Elena Filipovic, photo by Zlatko Micic, 2015

C-P: What might be a few currents in contemporary art you would take a moment to shine light on and address?

E.F: There are new developments in the field of performance and its way of dealing with the specific temporality, attention and protocol of the exhibition (as opposed to the stage) that are particularly interesting. Of course performance as such is not new, but as opposed to it being a fairly occasional or marginalized practice in the art world of the 1960s, the medium has increasingly become a concern among artists who are not exclusively working in performance. This year’s Absolut Art Award is also a reflection of that. Anne Imhof’s performances are only one aspect, although perhaps the best known, of a practice that comprises video, painting, sculpture, and installation. In her case, these other elements are often mobilized in relation to her performances, and for the Absolut Art Award, we were particularly impressed that she wanted to stage an ambitious new performance piece in the California desert, but also consider it as the basis for the production of a new film.

C-P: What will have been a few favourite art moments in the year that passed so far?

E.F: As a member of the Absolut jury, I am perhaps biased, but Anne Imhof’s German Pavilion was a particular highlight. We had already made our decision about her project long before the Pavilion opened, but seeing it confirmed what we all already suspected: that we had selected a figure with a singular and impactful voice.

C-P: What's your take on the ongoing digitalization of art as far as challenges are concerned, in your own work?

E.F: It’s interesting you ask about that in particular because at Kunsthalle Basel, where I am director, we just opened an exhibition devoted to the Photo Archive of the institution, to commemorate its digitalization. As it happens our Photo Archive documents over 100 years of exhibition history, artworks, artists at work, and shows getting mounted, and it’s a pretty spectacular history. But ours – like many photo archives – was largely inaccessible to a general public. We have about 25,000 photos, transparencies, glass plate negatives, Polaroids and other images, and these are now being systematically restored, catalogued, and digitized and made available on-line. This is a massive task and while it feels important, it’s also not the kind of thing a contemporary art institution like ours is usually preoccupied with. We look forward, not back, as a matter of principle. On the other hand, the digitalization of art is extremely vital in our current moment, especially when so many people use the internet as a research tool. So we justify this process by recognizing this, and we recognize that to digitalize a Photo Archive like ours is to look back at a history of more than 100 years of looking forward.

C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead in the near future for you?

E.F: At Kunsthalle Basel we are preparing exhibitions with artists from Yuri Ancarani and Raphaela Vogel to Tania Pérez Cordova and Sanya Kantarovsky, in other words, an emerging generation of artists who work in a wide range of mediums, including film, sculpture, painting, installation, and even performance.


Portrait of Simon Castets, © Photo Bruno Zhu

Simon Castets, director and curator of Swiss Institute, New York

C-P: What might be a few currents in contemporary art you would take a moment to shine light on and address? S.C: I'm very interested in the way that several artists that Swiss Institute has recently worked with are engaging the senses of taste and smell. For Swiss Institute's 2016 exhibition, PAVILLON DE L’ESPRIT NOUVEAU: A 21st-Century Show Home, artist Sean Raspet created "Technical Food" and "Technical Milk," flavors of Soylent which were the result of abstracting myriad existing molecules found in food and milk into small sets of analogous molecules – a synthetic “food in general” and “milk in general” flavor, condensed and simplified. Raspet's work has since evolved to his launching of "Nonfood," a radically sustainable algae-based food product that he manipulates into different forms and flavors. Likewise, artist Shirin Yousefi develops scents which are diffused in the gallery space over time. For Swiss Institute & Kunsthaus Glarus' upcoming project in New Glarus, WI which is America's Little Switzerland, Yousefi has created what she calls "olfactory material representing the Swiss preservation system." The work is entitled The bill is salty. C-P: What will have been a few favourite art moments in the year that passed so far? S.C: The exhibition Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897 at the Guggenheim was revelatory and invigorating. It is always exciting to see an exhibition of art from an earlier period that resets precedents for how I think about art being made today, and this exhibition did just that. So often when we encounter Symbolist works it is those that have been edited into the canon, but this idiosyncratic exhibition, organized by Vivien Greene, took a detour into works that have remained largely unseen because they are not "great artworks" and would not register as masterpieces according to our current and historically determined framework. By presenting these works together in the recreation of the Salon de la Rose+Croix, it allowed me to rethink the criteria by which these artworks have been judged in their own time and since, as well as to re-evaluate the aesthetic and conceptual bases for my own decision making. C-P: What's your take on the ongoing digitalization of art as far as challenges are concerned, in your own work? S.C: Digitalization is not a challenge or concern, it's just another medium for artworks to take on or another aspect that art can have. C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead in the near future for you? I'm most looking forward to the opening of Swiss Institute's new long-term location at 38 St Marks Pl in May 2018. Swiss Institute has hired Selldorf Architects to oversee the transformation of the new building. The 7,500 square foot space features four levels – basement, ground floor, second floor and roof. The design for the building will create spaces for exhibitions, projects and public programs, a library, a bookstore, and a rooftop garden, and we're so excited to open the space with Readymade, the third exhibition in Swiss Institute's Annual Architecture and Design Series, curated by Niels Olsen and Fredi Fischli.

Polly Staple, Director of Chisenhale Gallery, London


Portrait of Polly Staple, photo by Mark Blower

C-P: What might be a few currents in contemporary art you would take a moment to shine light on and address?

P.S: Pass.

C-P: 2017 was an interesting year with a number of major international events taking place, such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster. On a personal note, what will have been a few favourite art moments in the year that passed so far?

P.S: Realising new commissions at Chisenhale Gallery with Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Maeve Brennan, Luke Willis Thompson and Hannah Black. Visiting the Sharjah Biennial and Documenta. Soul of a Nation and Wolfgang Tillmans 2017 exhibitions at Tate Modern. Harun Farocki: Counter Music and 'The Postwar Institution, 1945-1965 at Haus der Kunst in Munich, plus Arthur Jafa at Serpentine, and UNTITLED: art on the conditions of our time at New Art Exchange in Nottingham. Regular visits to London galleries in the East End.

C-P: Lastly, what lies ahead in the near future for you?

P.S: Realising new commissions at Chisenhale Gallery in 2018 with Lydia Ourahmane, Paul Maheke, Banu Cennetoğlu and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

C-print would like to extend thanks to Absolut Art Award and the jury coordinator Elizabeth Homersham.


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