"Manifesta 4: European Biennial of Contemporary Art," May 25-Aug. 25, 2002, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
"Globalization" is on sale -- now for only for €8, the price of a ticket to "Manifesta 4: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art" in Frankfurt, Germany. Identity, difference, mobility, urbanity, emigration, inclusion, exclusion, domination, dominated, authority, technology, media -- Manifesta is a K-Mart of buzzwords.
Even clueless curators can hardly go wrong -- though it's hard not to notice the total lack of focus in the current show. After nine months of traveling throughout Europe, the three women curators -- Iara Bourbnova, the founding director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sofia, Bulgaria; Nuria Enguita Mayo, chief curator of the Fundació Tàpies in Barcelona; and Stephanie Moisdon Trembley, an independent curator from Paris, where she co-founded the Bureau des Videos -- have selected over 70 young artists, but failed to find a common theme. Apparently, their souvenirs turned out to be too diverse.
On the one hand, the show proves that there is a great pool of talented people out there, but we suspected that already. On the other, it also raises the question of what the curators actually did, beyond picking up young artists. Bourbnova called Manifesta "an open-ended and self-developing process to invite discourse of ideas, opinions, and shared values." In the end, the show features artists with talent but little else in common. Manifesta proves that the next logical step after dropping the idea of an idea would seem to be to drop the idea of having curators without ideas.
Manifesta is hosted at different locations every second year. Since its inception in 1996 with the support of the European Union Commission, Manifesta´s past three venues have been in Rotterdam (1996), Luxembourg (1998) and Ljubljana (2002). This year, Manifesta is in Frankfurt-am-Main, a village consisting of small, unpretentious houses pinched between a huge airport and the city's downtown skyline (of banks and insurance companies, giving the city it's "Bankfurt" nickname).
The location proved to be good for fundraising -- Manifesta came up with €2 million from the city, the giant Messe Frankfurt fairgrounds and the German insurance company Allianz AG. For finding thick-walleted sponsors, Frankfurt is surely a more sensible decision than Moscow, which also competed to host the event. The European Union paves the spiritual grounds, and the Medicis of Hessen (the province to which Frankfurt belongs) provide the means.
The exhibition is spread through the city of Frankfurt/Main, under the overall supervision of the Artists' House Mousonturm, a contemporary art center. Other venues for the exhibition include the Krankfurter Kunstverein, the outdoor area of the Schirn Kunsthalle, the Frankensteiner Hof and the Städelsches Kunstinstitut.
This rule of the free market economy was cleverly exploited by the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. Upon receiving the letter of invitation to participate in the show, he promptly put his spot in the show up for auction on eBay. The highest bidder was Sal Randolph, a devotee of anti-market art (and organizer of the recent www.freebiennial.com in conjunction with the Whitney Biennial), who paid $15,000 to Büchel. Even if the random selections of the curators make little sense by themselves, they can be turned into hard cash, which does make sense after all.
The show is fueled by MTV and internet esthetics. The 23-year-old Glasgow artist Luke Fowler exhibits a video document of a psychotherapy session. Daniel Garcia Andujar, Davide Grassi, the aforementioned Randolph and collaboratives that call themselves 0100101110101101.org, Construction/Deconstruction and Apsolutno all carry out internet projects with clever concepts and witty twists which, apropo of the Bankfurt site, comment on the state of capitalism. Apsolutno´s The Apsolut Sale, a simulation of an auction, addresses Western Europe's lukewarm attitude towards the integration of immigrants from the East.
Increasingly, it seems, artists are acting not as individuals but rather as groups, similar to pop music bands, for instance. As collaborative groups, artists can more easily take advantage of things like publishing, journalism, screenings, lectures and on- and off-line temporary exhibitions. A work by Revolver (Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst) called Kiosk consists of some 60 publications on contemporary art, displayed in piles. Finger, a Frankfurt-based four-member team, picks up contemporary contexts from different international locations and turns them into journal and internet productions. The group Ohio Photomagazine makes works that play with notions of commercialised esthetics in photo and fashion magazines.
Complicating the matter further is the increasing interdisciplinary and transnational nature of the artists' groups. The Radek Community in Moscow includes not only visual artists but also musicians and art critics. Among artists participating in Manifesta, several have at least two different places of residence, and many live and work outside their places of origin. Surely, the boundaries within Europe are getting diffuse -- it is simply impossible to predict the nationalies of artists from their works. In To Present the World, the Danish artist Lise Harlev presents timely questions about what nationality really means in the context of international art shows.
On the low-tech side, the show includes plenty of witty commentaries about daily life in Western Europe, both through the eyes of natives and outsiders. Frankfurt-based Dirk Fleischmann's installation, The Bistro, is one of the artist´s recent experiments toying with diverse facets of the local service industry. The 45 year-old Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjiev, who previously produced a work called GastARTbeiter ("gastarbeiter" are low-waged guest workers, mostly from the poorer Eastern European countries), criticizes his own selection to participate in the show, with his witty I Want You for Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt.
The 24 year-old Austrian artist and magazine editor Andreas Fogarasi created Europapark, an installation featuring designer furniture and fancy supergraphics (the Rotis type font used by Accenture, for instance). Turkey´s Halil Altindere, who is known for his installations using Marlboro cigarette packs, here devises the humorous I Don´t Like Long Good-Byes is not to be missed at the Frankfurt Airport (terminal 1, hall1).
Generally, the artworks on display have a strong tendency to be conceptual, ignoring visual esthetics. Mario Gagliardi, a culture and design theoretician in Vienna, says that art first lost the image with the invention of photography, and later "lost form and esthetics to design, which now owns esthetics in service of the market economy."
Art's lasting effects are, some say, discovered by the public. At Manifesta, the art public is itself discovered in the work of Portuguese artist Sancho Silva. He lures people from a touristy street of Alt-sachsenhausen -- one of those open-air shopping malls that prove that Disney has conquered Germany -- right into an exhibition hall leading to a dark wooden room, where one can secretly observe the other public trying to make sense of what they see.
"Manifesta 4" will continue until Aug. 25, 2002. For the Manifesta 5 two years later, hasta la vista in St. Sebastian, a picturesque coastal city in the Basque region of Spain.
JINA PARK is a freelance journalist based in Vienna.