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Artnet News
Mar. 31, 2009 

Düsseldorf-based curator Daniel Birnbaum, artistic director of the international art exhibition at the 53rd Venice Biennial, June 7-Nov. 22, 2009, rolled into New York the other day for a press conference at the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue. In his brief remarks, Birnbaum struck an earnest and straightforward note, as if a "return to basics" might somehow inoculate his exhibition against the bitter backbiting that characterized the event two years ago [see Artnet News, Apr. 24, 2008]. Thus, the theme of the show, "Making Worlds," suggests the primacy of the independent artistic imagination. In person Birnbaum noted that his selection included several artists whose work takes off from the utopian architectural practices of the 1960s, and also emphasized that it favors no particular artistic medium.

In terms of the actual list of artists, however -- some 90 in all -- many of the names are familiar, one might even say trendy. Among the U.S. artists are John Baldessari, Paul Chan, Tony Conrad, Spencer Finch, Guyton/Walker, Rachel Harrison, Joan Jonas, Miranda July, Rachel Khedoori, Toba Khedoori, Gordon Matta-Clark, Yoko Ono, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Pae White. Others are familiar on the international exhibition circuit: Carsten Höller, Cildo Meireles, Lygia Pape, Philippe Parreno, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Marjetica Potrc, Tobias Rehberger, Simon Starling and Wolfgang Tillmans. For a complete list, see

In passing, Birnbaum noted that the title for his show had come from Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking (1978). The lone moment of drama at the press conference came at the very end, when Wall Street Journal reporter Kelly Crow asked Birnbaum whether he had plans for an "African pavilion," which was a source of controversy in 2007 [see "Reply to Storr," July 17, 2007]. "Nation states have pavilions," Birnbaum answered. "Africa is not a nation. I decided early on to work with artists, not with inventions such as an ‘African pavilion’."

Intercollegiate rivalry at the art schools of Philadelphia has blossomed into an all-out war -- albeit a playful one. On Mar. 17, 2009, students from the Tyler School of Art deposited giant cardboard Trojan Horses featuring their school crest at the buildings of four of its rivals -- the Art Institute of Philadelphia, the Moore College of Art and Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and the University of the Arts -- containing challenges to respond.

Until recently Tyler was located outside of Philadelphia at Temple University in Elkin Park, but moved into new facilities in the city in January. Thus, the stunt was something of a friendly shot across the bow to the other institutions. "There’s no reason why the art schools shouldn’t be talking," Tyler student Nicole Wilson said. "It was a light-hearted way to start a dialogue."

The project was executed by students of Tyler prof Karyn Olivier (an artist known for playful constructions herself, showing at Dallas’ Dunn & Brown Contemporary), during a 12-hour marathon assignment in late February. With Wilson, participants were Sarah Breznicky, Alyssa Brubaker, Alison Chetty, Lane Graff, Colin Magness, Heather McLaughlin, Faith Meany, Bonnie Powell and Chester Zecca. Two weeks later, the ten rented a U-Haul and delivered the horses to their targets. The Tyler team left the sculptures in the main foyer of three schools, while at the Art Institute they were able to walk into the administrative offices and deposit the 9-foot-tall horse there. "The funniest thing about delivering the horses was that we were able to just walk in," Wilson said.

Students at the Art Institute have yet to rise to the challenge. The most creative response to date comes from PAFA, where students reconfigured the cardboard horse, recasting it as a chariot and constructing their own Helen of Troy. The University of the Arts sent the severed head of their horse. A group of Moore College students, meanwhile, made a (rather sarcastic) video response, documenting on-the-spot reactions to the horse and offering some trenchant esthetic critique. "They obviously haven’t taken a basic design lab class with John Pompetti," one opines. Ouch.

Nevertheless, speaking in front of a cardboard "Tyler Stinks" placard, a Moore student whose name sounds like Dana Osborn offered "an official acceptance" of the challenge. "You can expect a prompt and well-crafted response," Osborn said. "Thanks, and have a great day not doing your homework." According to the Tyler students, no response has yet been received.

The second biennial Manchester International Festival, July 2-19, 2009, has plenty of acts for music and performance fans: a double bill of Kraftwerk and Steve Reich; an installation by Zaha Hadid designed for the music of Bach; a new "orchestral show in a new light environment" by Antony & the Johnsons; a parade conducted by Jeremy Deller; a joint performance by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed; Rufus Wainwright’s new opera, Prima Donna; and a reunion performance by De La Soul.

But for hardcore art-performance fans, the primary draw has got to be Marina Abramovic’s series of performances at the Whitworth Gallery, which Abramovic jokingly refers to as "performance art boot camp." Abramovic herself isn’t performing, but rather is organizing, for five hours each day over the 17 days of the festival, performances by others (it’s called "Marina Abramovic presents"). The boot-camp part: audience members must agree to stay for the entire five hours of each presentation. "Performance art offers a different way of experiencing life," Abramovic says. "My advice is to come in pure, no drugs, TV or heavy meals from the day before!" For more details, see

The 10th Havana Bienal, Mar. 27-Apr. 30, 2009, celebrates its 25th anniversary with "Integration and Resistance in the Global Era," an exhibition featuring over 200 invited artists from 40 countries (even a few from the U.S.) at 16 different venues across the city. Several artists are the subject of solo exhibitions, including Sue Williamson and Luis Camnitzer at the Wifredo Lam Center.

The bienal made the news in Miami, when the Miami Herald reported on a protest performance by artist Tania Bruguera. According to the report, Bruguera set up a microphone on a podium at the Lam Center and allowed members of the audience to come to the mike and speak their mind for one minute each. As part of the performance, two actors in military fatigues would place a white dove on the shoulder of each speaker, pulling the bird back down when it would attempt to take flight. A video of the event is posted on YouTube, and can be viewed here.

Yet another convert to Twitter, the micro-blogging social networking sensation, is Blue Velvet and Dune auteur David Lynch. His posted thoughts, 205 in all as of this writing, revolve mainly around updates on the weather where he is, though they also include gems such as "Pure consciousness is the Unmanifest home of all the laws of nature from where all strains of knowledge emerge." (Lynch is a devotee of transcendental meditation.)

More amusing than following David Lynch, however, is seeing who David Lynch follows -- just 15 other users in all, and an appropriately oddball collection as well. They include the feed of his own David Lynch Foundation Television, Wired magazine and NPR news, as well as DJ and musician Joe Escalante, industrial rocker Trent Reznor and, strangest of all, The Office actor Rainn Wilson. Notable to art fans: One of Lynch’s "fave fifteen" is Art Basel, the prestigious art fest (which doesn’t seem to have yet posted anything). Lynch, of course, did a spectacular installation at Art Basel Miami Beach last December. Could more collaborations be in store? Watch his Twitter to see.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles may have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy this year, but that didn’t stop the art acquisitions. MOCA added 140 works to its collection in 2008, including Hans Haacke’s early 12-inch-tall Condensation Cube (1963-65), a purchase at an undisclosed price; Mike Kelly’s mixed-media doll construction, Empathy Displacement (1990), a gift of Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard; and Suzanne Lacy’s emblematic ten-panel Prostitution Notes (1975), also purchased for an undisclosed price. Other artists with works added to the MOCA collection in 2008 are John Altoon, Robert Barry, Lynda Benglis, Maurizio Cattelan, Roe Ethridge, Dan Graham, Joan Jonas, On Kawara, Ellsworth Kelly, Lisa Lapinski, William Leavitt, Matt Mullican, Ruben Ochoa, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Saul, Jim Shaw, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Slominski, Richard Tuttle, William Wegman and Lawrence Weiner.

The current blockbuster "King Tut" exhibition touring the U.S. -- it seems that there’s always a Tut show somewhere -- is proving profitable for its promoter, Arts and Exhibitions International. Tickets for "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" at the Dallas Museum of Art, its current venue, are as high as $32.50 for adults on weekends ($16.50 for children), and the show has drawn more than 500,000 visitors since it opened in October 2007 -- and is on track to pass 1 million tickets before the show ends. The Tut show premiered at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, June 16-Nov. 20, 2005, where attendance numbered almost 940,000 people. Other stops: Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale (708,000); Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (1.04 million); and Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (1.37 million). The exhibition moves next to the De Young Museum in San Francisco.  At an average of $20 per admission, that’s about $80 million so far. The exhibition website is at

Three veteran curators have formed a new power partnership based in Paris to specialize in public art and garden projects, with a special focus on developing cultural business in the Middle East and Brazil. Dubbed CPZ (and located at 1 rue de la Chaise, 75007 Paris),  the new alliance includes curator and art advisor Marc Pottier, a former auctioneer and French cultural attaché in Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon; Marie-Laure de Cazotte, former head of education at Christie’s Paris and founding director of Philips, de Pury (LVMH) in France; and Nathalie Zaquin-Boulakia, a director of Christie’s Impressionist and modern department. Marc Pottier is currently organizing an exhibition of the Bernard Ruiz Picasso ceramics collection at Ibrahim Al Khalifa Foundation in Bahrain, as well as an exhibition of monumental sculptures by Bernar Venet in Dubai, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

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