||to Europe for
a two-week research trip with Susanne Ghez, a member of the 1999 Carnegie
International's Advisory Committee. Together, we visited Glasgow
and Edinburgh, Scotland; Derry, Northern Ireland; Copenhagen, Denmark;
Malmö, Sweden; and London. At that time I was one year and one
week into my tenure as curator of the 1999 Carnegie International.
For a contemporary art curator,
there is no greater excitement or challenge, and perhaps no greater
privilege, than organizing the latest installment in this 100-plus-year-old
exhibition series. Every few years, Carnegie Museum of Art presents
the International as an aesthetic and intellectually acute statement
on the art of our time, a statement that does not merely reflect
on, but also influences the present cultural moment. In the United
States, the Carnegie International is the most significant vehicle
through which the public, expert and novice alike, reaches a consensus
on the current state of art.
Early on I devised
a method for planning my research trips abroad. My itineraries
usually revolve around a major exhibition, which allows
me to see the work of many artists in short order, and around
which I then build a series of studio visits with artists.
Having picked my geographical
target area, I follow up with a month or more of in-depth
research into local galleries and museums, garnering advice
from colleagues about artists of interest. Perhaps most
crucially I arrange for a local guide to accompany me to
studio visits (particularly in countries where I do not
speak the language).
Often these guides
- young fellow curators - provide me with a crucial perspective
on the community I am visiting, and by the end of the trip
we have become friends. In
this way I have thus far visited 27 countries and over 200
list of artists is taking solid shape, and the thematic
threads that will bind the show are likewise beginning to
reveal themselves through the artwork I am seeing.
1998; en route. By October 1998, Grynsztejn
had visited 200 studios in 27 countries.
In March 1997 it was symbolically
significant to me that my first research trip took me to Los Angeles.
While New York remains the center of American art commerce, Los
Angeles has risen as a center of American art creativity, and it
is home to some of the very best visual artists in the United States.
I also wished to acknowledge that while the Carnegie International
has an enduring commitment to art worldwide, it is a necessarily
American project, with a primarily American audience, and organized
by an American-trained curator.
From the beginning I felt
that if remained sensitive to my cultural and geographic base here
in Pittsburgh, USA, and to the capacities as well as the limitations
of that viewpoint, I could proceed to organize an international
survey from an admittedly subjective but also highly informed position.
My position as curator would become tenuous only if I claimed to
be free of geographic and cultural biases. The most important element
in my research would be to remain open and flexible to the artwork
I would see.
May 1997 found me in Havana
for the seventh Cuba Bienal, which since 1984 has focussed on the
art of the so-called "Third World" - Central and Latin America,
and Africa. This was the first of a staggering seven international
survey exhibitions that I would see in 1997, including Germany's
Documenta, the Münster Sculpture Project (Germany),
and the Venice Biennale in June; the Lyon (France) Biennale
in August; and the Johannesburg (South Africa) and Istanbul (Turkey)
Bienniales in October. Indeed, 1997 was a banner year for
large-scale international exhibitions both in their number and in
the consequent examination of their origins, purposes, and current
structures. The function and even legitimacy of international exhibitions
are being questioned today as never before. As a result, these shows
have gone beyond such traditional organizing formats as presenting
artists by their nationality (as in the Venice Biennale) having
a single curator make the selections. More recent international
models have used a team of curators who share authority for the
selection artists, thereby incorporating multiple and even contradictory
viewpoints in process. The resulting exhibitions (or conglomeration
of mini-exhibitions) tend toward a multifarious and multinational
presentation that is a curatorial equivalent to our globally diverse
increased activity in international exhibitions has had the
curious effect of making the Carnegie International seem exceptional,
even vanguard. What differentiates this exhibition is, paradoxically,
its traditional structure: it is curated by a single vision
with the active advice of an international committee of art
experts, and it modest in size relative to some of its newer
counterparts. Consequently, this show can distinguish itself
with a strong artistic focus and thematic cogency, those elements
that are difficult to achieve in larger, more unwieldy undertakings.
At the same time, the Carnegie International will always be
distinguished by its longevity, its many manifestations serving
as models for other shows of its kind. This was made clear
to me in August 1997 when, in Bellagio, Italy, I attended
a meeting of international curators organized by Arts International
and sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. All curators
present were either in the midst of or fresh from organizing
international exhibitions in Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica,
Cuba, Italy, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, and the U.S.
On the second day I was approached
by a curator who expressed surprise that I was a fellow conferee;
rather, as a representative of the Carnegie International, he had
assumed I would act as an advisor to the other curators who were
in charge of less senior projects. This comment sent a clear message
as to the importance and respect with which the International is
I learned a tremendous amount
from my curatorial colleagues at that conference, and their comments
clarified for me the role of the international at the end of the
millennium. With the greater degree of global communications, an
escalating interdependent international marketplace, and an ever-growing
ease of movement among art-world participants (especially artists),
the definition of "international art" is undergoing rapid change.
As the artist's frame of reference is increasingly shared worldwide
by his or her peers, "new internationalism" is emerging in
which artworks combine global vocabularies with the artist's local
influences. And whereas a decade ago the art world's makers and
exhibitors were in the Western world (a perusal of the 1988 Carnegie
International catalogue makes this vividly clear), today the art
world is at its most decentered, with thriving communities based
in such formerly outlying geographies as Eastern Europe, Latin America,
and Scandinavia, and cities such as São Paulo, Seoul, and
Vancouver. These changes in the art world will be reflected in the
selections made for the 1999 Carnegie International.
Northern Ireland, January 27, 1998; visiting video artist
Willie Doherty in Northern Ireland's oldest cemetary.
I began 1998 on a
high note, by inviting Willie Doherty to participate in
the International while I visited him in Derry, Northern
Ireland. Before sitting down in his studio to see a selection
of his videos and photographs, Willie took me on a walk
through his hometown. I was struck by the way Derry's cityscape
spells out the historic and present conflicts between Protestants
and Catholics. Doherty's work addresses with great passion
and intelligence specific and urgent issues - yet as grounded
as his work is in a particular locale, it speaks volumes
about universal conditions. Willie Doherty's work carries
out one of the most serious functions of art: to give definitive
visual expression to the most important debates of our time. May
1998 was a particularly gratifying and productive month
for the Carnegie International, as the Advisory Committee
met for the first time in Bellagio, Italy.
Three of the foremost
curatorial talents worldwide joined me and Carnegie Museum
of Art director Richard Armstrong for three days of intensive
discussions around the themes of the International. Okwui
Enwezor, Nigerian poet, critic, and curator, will organize
the next Documenta exhibition in 2002.
Susanne Ghez is director
of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago,
and is well known for
her prescient work with emerging artists who have gone on
to become important creative forces. Since Lars Nittve joined
the committee in January 1998, he has left the Louisiana Museum
of Modern Art in Denmark to become the director of Modern
Art at London's Tate Gallery, Bankside, where he remains one
of the most vital curators working in Europe. These three
colleagues have helped to refine the vision for the International
in immeasurable ways. Encouraged and inspired by their advice,
I proceeded from Italy to Israel for an in-depth week of studio
visits in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In July 1998 I traveled to
Japan, Korea, and Taiwan for three weeks. Even with Asia's sobering
economic circumstances, there was strong new work to be seen, particularly
in painting and photography. A dedication to traditional forms of
art production, combined with a taste for popular and even garish
everyday culture, was a common strain in the work of the three countries
I visited. Seeing the second Taipei Biennial in Taiwan provided
me with the opportunity to study a concentrated grouping of artworks
from Asia that deepened my perspective on the region.
I conclude this journal ,
in October 1998, finding myself once again on a plane, this time
to Luxembourg to see the second Manifesta, an "itinerant" biennial
devoted to emerging artists that takes place in a different European
city every two years. From there I travel to Prague, Vienna, Budapest,
Basel, Zurich, and London, all in the course of ten days. A visit
to Latin America in November 1998 and a trip to China and Thailand
in January 1999 will bring my extensive travels to a close. Spending
as much concentrated time as I have speaking with artists and colleagues
around the globe has been an enormously edifying and gratifying
experience. The International will undoubtedly reflect their keen
visions and generous observations.
This undertaking has clarified
for me the role of the curator. Once primarily a scholar and arbiter
of taste, the curator today is more likely to be a conduit and catalyst
for the creation of art and the engagement of the public. The curator
is a facilitator who helps engage artist and audience in an open-ended
conversation through which is argued over, made, and remade. For
artist and audience alike, the Carnegie International remains a
way to think in visual form about the present, a forum where is
not only raised, but also shaped.
The 1999 Carnegie International
is sponsored by Mellon Bank Corporation.