While much of the art world’s attention has been focused this summer on such mainstream international exhibitions as the Venice Biennale, Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, and the decennial Münster sculpture festival (like Documenta, also from the land of Dürer and Beuys), many critics, gallerists, curators and adventuresome viewers have headed instead toward the Black Sea. Near its eastern shore, in Belikk, the principal city of the island of Rjamusz, the second edition of the quadrennial exhibition Quadriceptica II is taking place. (It opened June 30, and continues through Feb. 18, 2008, weather permitting.)
This ambitious, exciting ensemble of some of the most important pre-emerging artists on the global scene is -- as was true in 2004 -- ambitious and exciting, notwithstanding some flaws in conception, logistics, installation, lighting, duckboard placement and catalogue proofreading. Quadriceptica II is an amazing exhibition of which the Cultural Directorate of Rjamusz can be justly proud, and to which anyone seriously interested in pan-national trends in current post-market cultural production must direct themselves before the onset of locust season.
The first question to be asked is immediately answered on page 857 of the multilingual (English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Latin and Mandarin) catalogue. Quadriceptica II is being held now instead of next year (2008) because of the insight of Walter Zor, who is the President of Quadriceptica, LLC, as well as executive director of the Rjamuszan Cultural Directorate and Mayor of Belikk. As he told those of us who attended the gala press preview on the scenic rocky beach just a few kilometers’ vigorous and refreshing walk from Olde Belikk, he had been reading in the international media about America’s presidential primaries campaign, and about how each state seemed to be moving its primary to an earlier and earlier date in order to, as Mr. Roz put it in a typically Rjamuszan way, "get a jump on the competition." Quadriceptica II thus makes an intervention in the current discourse at least six months ahead of any of the 2008 polyennials.
This radical approach to the contemporary calendar, however, may partly explain why the Quadriceptica II national pavilions are down in number from 12 in 2004 to five just four years later. The pavilion participants include Benin, Andorra, Macao (granted a special "interim national" status for its amazing "casino" installation, which has quickly become the most heavily attended pavilion), an unofficial delegation-in-a-tent from the U.S.A. (who have "seceded from Halliburton’s America" and are planning to stay on long past the exhibition’s closing), and France.
The curators for Quadriceptica II also represent an intriguing departure from the usual. In 2004, Walter Zor functioned as curator, with his brother Vlad as deputy curator for non-video art. While the Zors did gather together a fascinating mix of native Rjamuszan artifacts and licensed Damien Hirst souvenir bobble-heads, the critical response was less than enthusiastic, especially in the German art monthlies. This time, Mr. Zor began his thorough selection process early and, in mid-May, appointed the amazing twin British brothers (or, as they prefer to be known, the amazing British twin brothers) Kenny and Kelvin McLaughlin as co-chief coordinating curators-in-charge.
The McLaughlins, as many in the art world know, are former X-Games medalists in the motorcycle half-pipe who were injured in 2006 attempting a hand-holding 720, in which they descended from opposites sides of the pipe and met in the middle. Compelled to retire, the McLaughlins "just got into curating somehow," as Kelvin recalls. Not that either wants for expertise: Kenny is widely rumored to be the biological son of Tracey Emin, and in April, between physical therapy sessions, Kelvin organized the groundbreaking London exhibition, entitled Bloody Awful, That’s What! in the amazing setting of a recently bankrupted New Bond Street art gallery with all its fixtures still in place and its white walls entirely unscuffed.
At the gala opening-day press conference, which was held at a more faraway but less tidally challenged beach, Kenny’s prepared statement set out the Quadriceptica II’s integrity-rich purpose:
To decline to succumb to the dominant meta-narrative of reifying hegemonic belief in the non-existence of any dominant meta-narrative, especially regarding the intersection -- on the field of postrevolutionary discourse -- of the pan-global notion of art and fun. The theoretical matrix of art and newly constructed pluralities of audience-affirmation (sometimes operative under the rubric of "entertainment"). This anti-elitist trajectory is contained in the theme of Quadriceptica II, which will hopefully continue well past this current moment in 2008: Exoteric Orgasm: Towards a New Definition of Sustainable Hep-ness.
Astutely manifesting the exhibition’s theme, the McLaughlins, along with 26 curatorial assistants drawn from the diverse ranks of the Zor family’s first and second cousins, have assembled in the international pavilion (a former slaughterhouse which has been hosed out and whitewashed by the amazing young Canadian architectural collective, The Beatles) a stunning group show entitled "Rjamusz: Land of Contrasts."
Since none of the artists in the show are Rjamuszan, one must carefully consider each of the approximately three works present before attempting a postcolonial deconstruction of the title. First, just inside main entrance (a papier-maché exploded cow’s udder constructed by Kelvin McLaughlin himself and finished just moments before the press arrived), the amazing Anglo-Hungarian Lhasa-based filmmaker and fabric artist, Laszlo Benn-Fortisquieu has created an amazing "neo-sacred space" called Neo-Sacred Space, using nothing but local dirt and the pitter-patter of the tiny feet of Belikk schoolchildren caught playing hooky during the two weeks leading up to the pavilion’s opening. It’s an amazing piece.
To its immediate right, as one faces the Port-a-Potty, sits the first work of the amazing Mons-based Belgian etcher and digital video artist Lucas Cranck (who prefers to be known professionally as Jackson Pollock) to be seen outside of the Benelux countries. Although Pollock’s Digital Etching #12 -- to Jay Jopling and Larry Gagosian, with Affection, XXOOXX is a minor delight (who else can scratchiti an LCD screen like Pollock?), the work is not quite up to Digital Etching #11 -- to Mary Boone and Daniel Templon, with Affection, XXOOXX, which he showed at the amazing Brussels gallery If It’s Tuesday, where I saw it when I went to visit my stepfather at his British Petroleum office last spring and we ate mussels and frites and drank Stella Artois four nights in a row.
The final work, positioned cleverly next to the exit, is by the amazing Zimbabwean duo known as Sam & Dave. It’s an amazing but puzzling work, no less for it’s title, Fuck This Shit, We’re Outta Here, than for its enigmatic "tip jar," inscribed with a Sharpie on wide masking tape, "S&D’s ‘Please Dear God, Get Us Back to Someplace with Decent Cable’ Fund," sitting atop a surplus landmine.
The gala opening was attended by over 100 people, including several representatives of the general public, who were bused into Belikk from the leeward side of Rjamusz, where their tourist ferry had broken down. Walter Zor announced that the exhibition’s coveted grand prize, the Copper Clapper, had been awarded to Milos Zor for his stunningly exact replica of a rusted 1979 tractor (which actually works!) entitled, It Used to Run Like a Deere.
Continuing Quadriceptica’s tradition of awarding its prizes not according to antiquated notions of diversity (so 20th century!) but instead strictly according to a work’s relevance to the host culture, the grand runner-up prize, or the Copper Clippers, went to Makos Zor for another amazing replica, this one of an authentic Rjamuszan hay trailer. Christos Zor claimed the third prize, the semi-coveted Copper Cranberry, for his amazing conceptual project, Schedule of Tasks to be Performed In and Around My Barn from Monday through Friday. The special award for an emerging artist, a handmade leather wallet containing €10 and a ferry ticket to the mainland, went to Margotta Zor for her amazingly radical "intention" piece, I Fully Intend to Make Some Art Sometime Soon.
Perhaps it’s axiomatic that in today’s complex and passionate climate of cultural production, no exhibition of Quadriceptica’s scale and ambition is devoid of controversy. This year, there were whispered rumors that the prize-selection process had been compromised. While it is true that last-minute visa problems prevented the originally selected jurors -- Jasper Johns, Stephen Hawking, Angelina Jolie and Hosni Mubarak -- from attending, Walter Zor was able, under incredibly adverse circumstances, to convene a viable jury. Three of his three brothers -- Janu, Petrak and Harald -- agreed to serve at the last minute, issuing a statement declaring, "We don’t know much about art, but we know what we like." Their amazing openness was hailed by the McLaughlins, who generously put their curatorial honoraria into escrow to be used in one of their future culture projects, possibly a Moto-X festival in Lake Havasu, Ca.
Minor difficulties aside, it’s clear to this writer that Quadriceptica II is an amazing success. While some complaints have surfaced over the facts that fewer than 80 percent of the artists are based in developing nations and that all women artists were relegated to a separate exhibition area in a sheep pasture, the future of Quadriceptica is bright indeed. And I haven’t even mentioned the amazing satellite exhibitions staged in a former prison camp and reclaimed septic tank (from which, incidentally, this exhibition takes its name). These will be covered in Part Two of this report, next month.
LISA-EVELYN RADISH is a Brooklyn-based poet and vegetable.