CONTRETEMPS OVER "STARVING DOG ART"
Perhaps the best thing to happen to the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras -- in terms of its profile on the international scene, at least -- is the massive outcry around the inclusion of the Costa Rican artist Habacuc in its 2008 edition. The absence of any information about when or where the event is happening hasn’t stopped legions of people from calling for a boycott, with a number of online petitions demanding that Habacuc be banned from the fest. The emailed petitions have already garnered millions of signatures and have lately even begun to be circulated among people in the art world.
What provoked the controversy is an art show held last year at the Codice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua, where Habacuc (whose actual name is Guillermo Vargas) presented an installation that involved tethering an emaciated stray dog in the gallery, and writing the words "Eres Lo Que Lees" (You Are What You Read) in dog biscuits on the wall, playing the Sandinista anthem backwards and burning what was supposed to be crack in an incense burner. The stunt, which seems to take a page from Spanish artist Santiago Sierra’s political provocations, was intended as a shrine to Natividad Canda, a Nicaraguan woman who was killed by wild dogs, according to the artist.
After images of the hungry dog, tethered and surrounded by gallerygoers, were released on the internet, a furor began to build around the issue, fanned by accusations that the animal had died during the exhibition. According to a story in the Costa Rican paper La Nación on Oct. 4, 2007, Marta Leonor González, editor of the Nicaraguan paper La Prensa, confirmed that the dog died after the first day of the show, with the article implying that the animal’s death occurred because of starvation. Codice director Juanita Bermúdez, however, told the Guardian newspaper in London, which subsequently picked up the story (and which has been the source of much of the English-speaking world’s information) that the dog "was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in," adding that it did not die, but in fact escaped.
Habacuc himself has done nothing to cool the controversy, refusing to say whether the dog died or whether he fed it during the show, and instead focusing (again, Santiago Sierra-style) on how the gesture calls attention to the plight of stray dogs. "The important thing for me was the hypocrisy of people: an animal becomes a center of attention when you put it in a white space where people look at art but not when it’s starving in the street," he told La Nación.
Habacuc was one of six artists (along with Errol Barrantes, Oscar Figueroa, Mimiam Hsu, Esteban Piedra and the art team known as La banda de los sumergidos-emergentes) selected to represent his country at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras, according to La Nación, an honor apparently awarded in 2007 at another biennial, the Costa Rican Biennial of Visual Arts (Bienarte). That show marked the second consecutive time that Habacuc won the top honor from Bienarte. The judges, Ana Sokoloff, Oliver Debroise and Rodolfo Kronfle Chambers, lauded his work Jony leyendo y explicando, which they said "made a serious contribution to conceptual art," as well as his work Pancartas, described as a critique of religion.
UPDATE: Artnet Magazine contributor Pedro Velez has managed to track down the website of the Honduras Bienal (www.bavh08.com), which goes some way towards clarifying the information missing from the ubiquitous online petitions (much needed, as even curators familiar with the Latin American art scene hadn’t heard of the show!) The event, which was launched in 2006, takes place at the Museo para la Identidad Nacional in Tegucigalpa, July 23-Sept. 20, 2008.
However, examination of the website reveals that info concerning Habacuc’s participation in the event is false -- the Bienal de Artes Visuales de Honduras is open only to artists from Honduras, six of whom will be selected to participate in another art festival in the city that opens in November, the Sexta Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (Sixth Visual Arts Biennial of the Central-American Isthmus). This event is held every two years in a different Central American city, though, again, details about the location and exact dates of the upcoming version are currently vague.
Habacuc took part in the 2006 edition of the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano in San Salvador, at the Museo de Arte (MARTE), Nov. 16, 2006-Feb. 18, 2007. Images and videos from that installation at a blog called Skyscraper Life give some sense of the caliber of the show, though works aren’t identified individually (and no dead animals are in evidence).
WHITNEY BIENNIAL AT HENRI BENDEL. . .
If you are on Fifth Avenue in New York, don’t miss the Whitney Museum of American Art’s official team-up with luxury boutique Henri Bendel, which is located at 712 Fifth Avenue at 56th Street. Bendel has devoted its window display to a promotion for the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Mar. 6-June 1, 2008, curators Henrietta Huldisch and Shamim Momin’s ode to all things broken and half-finished. Bendel’s window features a large, tilting white tower that looks like a version of the wood-block stacking game Jenga captured in mid-collapse, as well as installation photos of works from the current show, centering on a pic of Daniel J. Martinez’s Divine Violence, the room full of golden paintings each with the name of an organization that uses violence to achieve its ends. And of course, there are four mannequins in short dresses. A representative for the Whitney calls it an "official cross-promotion." It remains on view Apr. 5-21, 2008.
…AND THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL IN VIDEO
Perhaps a more exciting promotion, however, is "Whitney Focus," a new initiative the Whit has launched to create custom video content documenting its programming. The project already includes ten videos about the biennial, including interviews with Huldisch and Momin plus nine artists: Walead Beshty, Jedediah Caesar, MK Guth, Fritz Haeg, Ellen Harvey, Charles Long, Neighborhood Public Radio, Bert Rodriguez and Lisa Sigal. The short films can be accessed at whitney.org/focus, as well as at a variety of other sites, including YouTube, Facebook, iTunes and OvationTV.
Among the tidbits gleanable from the vids: Beshty explains that his photographic esthetic was forged when he accidentally put his film through a baggage x-ray scan, while Rodriguez reveals the kinds of advice that he doled out as part of his project of offering free psychoanalysis to visitors to the Park Avenue Armory -- "plant a tree," he told one commitment-phobe. Also, "Whitney Focus" lets viewers see James Chimpton in action -- "Chimpton" being Neighborhood Public Radio’s robotic chimpanzee radio host, who interviews visitors to the alternative radio station’s temporarily headquarters, located just down the block from the Whitney in one of the museum’s commercial storefronts -- without the terrifying experience of actually speaking to the bot in person.
9/11 MEMORIAL DISPUTE IN ARIZONA ENDS
A dispute over Moving Memories, a memorial to 9/11 designed by the team of Eddie Jones, Maria Salenger and Matthew Salenger for a public park in Phoenix, Ariz., has ended after efforts by conservative legislators to censor aspects of the design deadlocked in the state legislature. Though small changes were made, a major effort to redesign the memorial and even defund the state arts agency failed to pass the Arizona state senate.
The memorial consists of a large, elevated concrete disk inscribed with 54 phrases relating to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their aftermath, Jenny Holzer-style. Also reminiscent of Holzer, the phrases are ambiguous and express no single voice. Culled from newspaper clippings by the artists, they range from "216 Arizona firefighters respond to WTC" and "Native Arizonan Gary E. Bird dies at age 51" to more ambiguous text fragments like "fear of foreigners." According to Jones, the work is meant to represent a dialogue about different reactions to the tragedy, for example putting the phrase "must bomb back" next to "you don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles."
Moving Memories was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2006, immediately sparking right-wing attacks that garnered national attention. Under pressure, the commission that oversaw the memorial eliminated two of the more controversial phrases -- "Erroneous US air strike kills 46 Uruzgan civilians" and "Terrorist organization leader addresses American people" -- and replaced them with the less-cryptic "let’s roll," "God Bless America" and "United We Stand."
These amendments were not enough for Republican state senator John Kavanagh, however, who introduced a bill to remove all statements and replace them with a timeline of 9/11 (presumably one not including references to erroneous airstrikes). The problem, said Kavanagh, was that the artists "wanted to provoke thought and discussion, where most Arizona residents expected a straight memorial where you come to remember, meditate, to pray."
An amended proposal that would have simply edited out the 12 statements deemed most controversial passed the Arizona state house, but went down in defeat when the state senate deadlocked. The very same day, another proposal, to divert state arts funding to fill in abandoned mines, also deadlocked in the state senate.
ROOF GARDEN FOR SFMOMA
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has started construction on its new $24-million, 14,400-square-foot rooftop sculpture garden on a parking garage adjacent to its distinctive Mario Botta-designed museum facility. The plan, by San Francisco architect Mark Jensen, features a new pedestrian bridge and panoramic window replacing the back wall of the museum’s fifth floor. The sculpture garden itself includes an open-air pavilion as well as seating, Indonesian Lava stone cladding, lichen- and ivy-covered walls and plantings of Ginko trees. The new space is scheduled to open in spring 2009.
SFMOMA has received two gifts of sculpture in connection with the new garden, an untitled cast bronze sculpture from 1983-87 by Joel Shapiro, the gift of Shirley Ross Davis, and a rock, glass and metal igloo sculpture by Mario Merz from 2003, the gift of the Dodie and John Rosekrans Runnymede Collection. Other large-scale sculptures from the collection, which the museum says can now be displayed to good advantage, include works by Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Alberto Giacometti, Ellsworth Kelly, Henry Moore, Bruce Nauman and Barnett Newman.
SFMOMA is currently devoting an exhibition to the rooftop garden plan. Other shows coming up in 2008 include stops of the traveling surveys of works by Frida Kahlo (June 14-Sept. 28, 2008), Lee Miller (July 1-Sept. 14, 2008) and Martin Puryear (Nov. 8, 2008-Jan. 25, 2009). SFMOMA is organizing "Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection," July 10-Oct. 5, 2008, as well as shows of 19th-century scientific photography, "Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900," Oct. 11, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009, and another show spotlighting performance and collaborative art, "The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now," Nov. 8, 2008-Feb. 8, 2009. An exhibition of new work by the Geneva-based artist Mai-Thu Perret is scheduled for Nov. 14, 2008-Feb. 22, 2009.
Fans of SFMOMA’s close attention to design won’t be disappointed with the upcoming calendar, either. New SFMOMA architecture and design curator Henry Urbach is presenting "246 and Counting: Recent Architecture and Design Acquisitions," July 10, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009, and a show of works by Olivo Barbieri and Stephen Dean, "Double Down: Two Visions of Vegas," Sept. 18, 2008-Jan. 4, 2009. Also planned is a show of the avant-garde Berlin architect, Jürgen Mayer H., Feb. 6-May 10, 2009.
SFMOMA also announced a $10 million gift from AT&T to endow its "First Tuesdays" program of free admission to the museum one day per month. A longtime supporter of the museum, AT&T had co-developed with SFMOMA the original garage which is now to house the sculpture garden.
BERNINI BUSTS FOR GETTY
The first comprehensive North American exhibition of portrait sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini features approximately 55 objects, including four sculptures from the Galeria Borghese in Rome and 17 other major loans. "Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture," Aug. 5-Oct. 26, 2008, opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles before appearing at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Nov. 25, 2008-Mar. 8, 2009. The show is "the fruit of the Getty’s new relationship with Italy," noted museum curator Thomas Kren (the Getty recently agreed to return 40 antiquities from its collection to Italy, worth an untold fortune). The show is co-organized by Getty curator Catherine Hess, Università di Trento professor Andrea Bacchi, Warburg Institute fellow Jennifer Montagu and National Gallery of Canada chief curator David Franklin.
Highlights include several portrait sculptures of Pope Urban VIII Barberini, Bernini’s greatest patron and the controversial overseer of Baroque Rome, "prone to killing the birds who woke him up in the morning," according to Franklin. Other notable works include the 1632 sculpture of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, possibly the first portrait bust in history to use the depiction of movement to render personality and character, plus a bust of Cardinal Richelieu (made after a painting by Philippe de Champaigne, also in the show), and the artist’s final portrait bust, made in 1976-77 when the artist was 80, of Pope Clement X Altieri. After a wild youth -- the show includes a portrait bust of an early mistress, Costanza Bonarelli -- Bernini, who lived from 1598 to 1680, married and had 11 children over 34 years.
The exhibition also presents the largest group of Bernini portrait drawings ever brought together, and portrait busts by Bernini contemporaries Giuliano Finelli and Alessandro Algardi.
PLANNED MOMA TOWER A SPIKE IN THE HEART?
Community opposition is mounting against the Museum of Modern Art’s planned tower, designed by Jean Nouvel and sited to the west of the current building on 53rd and 54th streets. According to the New York Times, the local community board has nixed the Nouvel skyscraper design, dubbed Tower Verre, which at 1,155 feet tall is about 100 feet taller than the Chrysler Building. State senator Liz Krueger called the asymmetrical structure, which includes new gallery space for the museum, "grossly out of scale" and said that it would "overwhelm the area’s infrastructure and services" (of course, New York is filled with new buildings that are described by such boilerplate).
At a hearing last week before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, one of many local opponents to the tower called it "a sharp spire stabbed into the heart of the neighborhood." The landmarks commission, which after some behind-the-scenes finagling rolled over and allowed the Museum of Arts and Design’s destruction of Edward Durrel Stone’s 1964 Moorish-styled Huntington Hartford Gallery at Columbus Circle, is expected to announce its decision on the application at a future meeting.
VIDEOARTWORLD LAUNCHES ONLINE
A new website designed to showcase video art and make it available to collectors has launched at www.VideoArtWorld.com, "the imagery planet." Galleries can sign to show brief clips of vids they represent for a modest fee (starting at $95 a month for three clips). Though still in a beta stage, the site already is making a certain amount of riches available to viewers -- video clips by Regina José Galindo (courtesy Prometeogallery), Aziz + Cucher (Trama), Victor Alimpiev (Anita Beckers), Bigas Luna (Metropolitana de Barcelona), Yves Netzhammer (Anita Beckers) and Amparo Sard (Ferran Cano). Based in Barcelona, the project is headed by Alexander Saramite; Artnet Spanish rep Macu Morán is chief editor.
ARTISTS IN ART UNLIMITED
Are you ready to think about Art 39 Basel, which opens in the Swiss city on the Rhine, June 4-8, 2008? Well, here’s a preview of "Art Unlimited," the exhibition of ambitious, over-sized art installations that in August 2007 was favorably compared to Documenta 12 by many commentators. Works by 60 artists from 23 countries is being installed in the 12,000-square-meter hall under the supervision of Geneva curator Simon Lamunière.
Among the notable installations include Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s Hotel Democracy, an oversized model of a 44-room hotel -- Hirschhorn has refused since 2003 to show in his native country -- presented by Stephen Friedman Gallery from London, and Tom Wesselmann’s monumental (10-meter-long) Still Life #61 (1976), presented by Yvon Lambert. Other works in "Art Unlimited" are Fabrice Gygi’s 12-meter-tall watchtower (Galerie Chantal Crousel), João Onofre’s steel-walled cube (in homage to Tony Smith’s 1962 sculpture Die) with a heavy metal rock band locked inside for the length of a 14-minute-long song (Cristina Guerra / Franco Noero); Rodney Graham’s film of a dropping chandelier recreating an Isaac Newton experiment (Lisson) and Carl Andre’s minimalist installation of 100 concrete blocks (Paula Cooper).
The complete list of participants includes Emmanuelle Antille, Ian Anüll, Richard Avedon, Rina Banerjee, Carlos Bunga, James Lee Byars, Anthony Caro, Bruce Conner, Jonas Dahlberg, Hanne Darboven, Jan Dibbets, Mark Dion, Michel François, Gardar Eide Einarsson, et al., Hans-Peter Feldmann, Spencer Finch, Morgan Fisher, Andreas Fogarasi, Hamish Fulton, Andrea Geyer, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, Florian Hecker, Carsten Höller, Adrià Julià, Jon Kessler, Karen Kilimnik, Joachim Koester, Edward Krasiński , Marcellvs L., Peter Liversidge, Ján Mančuška, Rita McBride, Shintaro Miyake, Thomas Mulcaire, Christian Philipp Müller, Takashi Murakami, Shahryar Nashat, Damián Ortega, Tony Oursler, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Qui Anxiong, Anselm Reyle, Pipilotti Rist, RothStauffenberg, Thomas Ruff, Kerim Seiler, Jesús Rafael Soto, Christine Streuli, Robert Suermondt, Kishio Suga, Diana Thater & T. Kelly Mason, Rosemarie Trockel, Jan Vercruysse, Banks Violette, Ulla von Brandenburg, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Yangjiang Group. The list remains in formation.
PAUL MCCARTHY AT THE WHITNEY
The Whitney Museum of American Art is giving New Yorkers a dose of California abjection for the summer with "Paul McCarthy: Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement --Three Installations, Two Films," June 26-Oct. 12, 2008. According to curator Chrissie Iles, the show features McCarthy’s little-known work with mirrors, moving walls and otherwise disorienting spaces, including two installations custom-made for the Whitney plus a pair of "recently rediscovered" 16mm films from 1966 and ’71. In Spinning Room (2008), first conceived in ’71, live images of viewers are rotated and projected onto screens in a mirrored room, while in Mad House (2008), a spinning room has a revolving chair where viewers are allowed to sit.
ISRAELI ART AT ISRAEL MUSEUM
In celebration of its 60th anniversary, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is presenting a survey of contemporary Israeli art from the past ten years. "Real Time: Art in Isreal, 1998-2008," Apr. 30-Aug. 30, 2008, features works by 40 artists, including Guy Ben Ner, Sigalit Landau, Adi Nes and Yehudit Sasportas.
ERIC PADDOCK TO DENVER MUSEUM
The Denver Art Museum has appointed Eric Paddock as its new curator of photography and media arts, a new division. Paddock is currently curator of photography and film at the Colorado Historical Society.