"THE OLYMPICS OF ART?"
One of the weirder things associated with the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing has got to be the Artiade, a little-noted exhibition of art that piggybacks on the games. An initiative of German curator Renate Westhoff-Reisch, the Artiade claims on its website to be the "only exhibition which is allowed to use the phrase Olympics," and to be offering exhibitions both at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles and at an undisclosed, smaller location in Beijing, Aug. 7-Sept. 7, 2008. It has a logo of colored, linked rings similar but not identical to the Olympic logo. As a press release puts it, "When the athletes are competing for a place on the victory podium at the Olympic Games in Beijing, about 200 artists of their home countries will represent their culture as well, at the 4th ARTIADE."
Incredibly, this obscure event has been around for a while. The first Artiade took place in 1996 in Atlanta at the Colony Square complex. The next installment occured eight years later in Athens. A YouTube channel associated with the organization highlights clips from the 2004 show, as well as interviews with the judges who selected the 167 participants. The Athens jury included Westhoff-Reisch, Guangdong Museum of Art director Huangsheng Wang, Asia-Europe Foundation executive director Delfin Colome, Bali-based artist Hamad Khalaf, independent curator Tereza de Arruda, and others.
The most notable name associated with the 2004 event, however, was that of Carol Becker, then dean of faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently dean of the school of arts at Columbia University. Becker’s name was prominently featured in literature advertising the 2004 Artiade, but removed from the final jury list (a YouTube clip featuring an interview with her has been disabled). Contacted by Artnet Magazine, Becker wrote that she no longer wanted to be associated with Artiade and had asked that her name be deleted from its website, but otherwise declined to comment.
The exact details of the upcoming 2008 incarnation of the Artiade are difficult to glean from the event’s website. Applications are accepted until May 10. Prospective participants are asked to submit work at $35 dollars a slide, purchasing "registration numbers" for each image though PayPal. Additionally, chosen artists must cover all costs associated with transporting and producing works for the festival, as well as housing themselves. For its part, Artiade claims to provide exhibition space, art catalogues and promotion.
So, what’s the real story? The notion that the Artiade is connected to the Olympics is a bit misleading. In fact, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is openly hostile to the Artiade, and has a long history of legal disputes over the Artiade’s right to use the term "Olympics" or "Olympics of Art." This friction caused a 2000 Sydney edition of the Artiade to be cancelled, and the 2004 Athens Artiade to be ejected from a venue near the games, ending up in a factory space located in an Athens suburb. A sponsor also pulled out of the 2004 show as a result of the chaos, causing it to close early.
Upon investigation, Artiade’s claim that it is the "only exhibition which is allowed to use the phrase Olympics" has almost the opposite of its intuitive meaning. As Westhoff-Reisch explains it, after the IOC’s legal action against Artiade in 2004, it was determined that because the law protecting the "Olympic" name was passed in 1998, and Artiade had been using the term since 1995, the art exhibition could continue to use it. As she put it in an email explaining the matter: "The result of this legal dispute is that through IOC’s Olympic Protection Law, ARTIADE -- Olympics of Art is now the only organization that is officially allowed to use this phrase beside the Olympic Games themselves." (No one from the Olympics was immediately available to comment on the matter.)
For 2008, Westhoff-Reisch hopes that the fact that the Artiade will be held in Los Angeles, half a world away from the actual Olympics, will prevent the sorts of disputes with the IOC that plagued past incarnations. As for the section of the exhibition in Bejing, she said venues were still under consideration, but that she was also not certain that it would take place as advertised -- though, she claimed, not because of the potential for tension with the IOC but rather because of China’s human rights record: "When human rights are ignored, this must be taken into consideration."
As for an artist’s take on the event, participants who "represented" the United States at the 2004 Artiade -- at least the ones Artnet Magazine was able to track down -- had mixed feelings. In an email, sculptor Matthew Weber said that although he was unable to travel to Greece, he did see photos of his work installed and it appeared to be a professional show. "Unlike many other international exhibitions, the participating artists weren't charged to participate," he wrote. Weber did say that the cost of shipping was a drawback, and added that the promised catalogue for the show never materialized (also the result of sponsorship woes, Westhoff-Reisch said.)
On the other hand, London-based artist Therese Stowell was more critical. "I saw a call for the exhibition, and it looked promising," she said. "The way they pitched it, it sounded like it was affiliated with the cultural side of the Olympics." Like Weber, Stowell was unable to attend the Artiade, cancelling her trip at the last minute for personal reasons after having secured sponsorship from the U.S. Embassy in London. She ended up coordinating the delivery of her sculpture from afar, and claims that the art handlers she hired had difficulty even locating the final event site.
"After people got to Athens, they [Westhoff-Reisch and the other organizers] disappeared," Stowell says. "They didn’t want to hear about anything. Their phone stopped working. They didn’t answer emails. It really left a bad taste in your mouth. I ended up spending a huge amount of money, and I never even got a catalogue. No invitations, nothing. There was no promotion, no press."
In mid-July 2004, in the lead up to the exhibition, Stowell also received an email from someone claiming to be the aunt of another participant. The message stated that the writer’s niece, Zavian Archibald (currently listed as "Archibald Zavian" on the Artiade website), had been selected to represent Antigua at the Artiade but was now unable to get information from Westhoff-Reisch and was becoming desperate. The email begged Stowell for information.
"I don’t want another artist to go through that kind of thing," Stowell concluded. "It’s just not worth it. They advertise that they are something they are not." In a follow-up email, Stowell added a more conciliatory note: "I think Renate probably has noble intentions, but can’t deliver on them and isn’t particularly honest."
For her part, Westhoff-Reisch acknowledged the problems with the previous Artiade, but also insisted that 2008 would be a different story. She claimed that she had a staff of four people working with her in Germany, and five more at an office in Santa Cruz. At present, she said, the show was funded by her "personal capital," though she claimed to be finalizing deals with sponsors.
"We could have handled everything better, if we had enough money to realize things as we wished," Westhoff-Reisch said of the 2004 event. "It is a project that is starting slowly. The Olympic Games, when they started 100 years ago, they weren’t what they are today. We hope that we become better and do these things better."
Certainly, it will be interesting to see what happens in August.