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miami isn’t the first place you’d expect to find liam gillick. It’s a manoeuvre typical of Gillick’s approach, both slight and
And he seems slightly surprised to be there too. The palm trees, apparently technical, but also playfully perverse, cutting to the quick of
sunshine, tanned bodies and easy, paper-thin glamour of South how the artworld divides up its institutional powers – those that dictate
Beach don’t quite sit right with this unstoppably cerebral artist. Gillick’s which artists get to be seen and which do not. So what was the effect
complex, elliptical activity has, for two decades, ceaselessly navigated of Gillick returning half his midcareer showcase to the institutions that
the gaps between art and curation, between the institutions of culture had offered it to him? “It caused chaos, initially, and some mild panic,”
and the world of politics, moving between installation, sculpture, Gillick says with a laugh. “But I did it deliberately to question to what
lecturing, graphic design, writing and architecture to create a sustained extent that generation of curators, people who are about my age, feels
investigation of the structures and systems that define art’s relation to responsible in terms of authorship, and in terms of how they work with
our current neo-liberal epoch. The kind of questions this raises are not artists. There’s often been an assumption of parallelity between artists
much on the minds of the hordes of gallerists and collectors gathered and curators, an equality of involvement, but there’s a certain point, as
here for the week-long art-fair madness that is Art Basel Miami Beach, curators move up through an institutional hierarchy, where that idea of
perhaps. But art fairs are an excuse for the artworld to get together, parallelity can’t be sustained indefinitely. I wanted to problematise that
and Gillick will soon be speaking on a panel discussion about art idea that they could retain that parallelity continually.”
criticism, before returning to a freezing New York to prepare for a year Gillick’s ongoing interest is in the ‘interstices’ of art as an
of his retrospective exhibition, Three Perspectives and a Short Scenario, institutional production, trying to locate the points where a line is
starting off at Rotterdam’s Witte de With, and then on to Kunsthalle supposed to be drawn between artist/author and curator/presenter. It’s
Zürich, before moving to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago an approach he shares with a generation of artists and curators that
in early 2009. emerged in the 1990s – artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija or Philippe
Retrospective? For an artist whose work has long questioned Parreno, and curators such as Nicolas Bourriaud, whose term ‘relational
the conventional distinctions and boundaries that define the role of aesthetics’ now serves as a catch-all for artists who, like Gillick, choose
the artist, and who prefers to slip continuously in and out of any one to focus on the relations that exist within artistic presentation rather
given or fixed type of activity, the idea of a midcareer retrospective than accept them as given. It’s a perspective that has produced a lot
seems strangely conservative – the standard accolade bestowed on of discussion about the curator-as-artist, or curator-as-author. But
the ‘important artist’, the institutional pat-on-the-back that puts his what started out as a sort of self-critique of curatorial power among
greatness beyond question. Gillick is usually full of questions. So perhaps, artists and curators has often slipped into an uncritical acceptance that
I suggest, this is not going to be the usual type of retrospective? artists and curators can easily swap roles, without acknowledging what
Gillick grins. “It’s a retrospective in the sense of being that really distinguishes making art from curating it. Think of those ‘authorial’
moment where things turn and you suddenly become the subject, curators whose names are often more prominent than the artists they
which isn’t typically how I’ve tried to work. In common with many present – Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Lyon Biennial last year, in which he
artists of my generation I use ‘displacement techniques’ a lot to find selected selectors to select the artists, is a good example – and one
ways to play with time, in order to suspend the moment of focus or notices that if the curator can become an author, it’s much harder for
judgement. And although in the past I’ve done a lot of exhibitions, in the artist to acquire the curator’s power.
none of them have I been the focus. So what I’ve done is to turn the For Gillick, his retrospective carries the danger of reasserting
idea of the retrospective exhibition around on itself again, and offered those traditional distinctions: “The problem with any retrospective”, he
50 percent of this somewhat retrospective exhibition back to the says, “is that there’s a natural tendency to assess or reflect, or assume a
relevant curators.” degree of closure. And that stops discussion, because you’re naturally
dealing with what was, rather than what will be. So I wanted to find
a method to artificially stimulate a degree of anxiety, and begin a
discussion again about this exhibition that was not focused on the
work itself, and the way to do that was to say, ‘By the way, you’re going
to have 50 percent of the space back, what are you going to do?’ So
instead of assuming a friendly middle-ground parallelity, it would mean
that we would have to have a real discussion about a real subject.”
So what did the institutions choose to do with Gillick’s ‘gift’? At
Witte de With, Nicolaus Schafhausen’s team have decided that they
will be showing younger artists. Gillick says he was a bit critical of this,
not wanting to appear as “the nice middle-aged guys being nice to the
younger artists”. At the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the
curators have decided to use their half of the space to present earlier
works by him, paradoxically creating a more formal retrospective of
‘older works’ next to his more provisional installation. It sounds like a
curatorial hall of mirrors: Gillick holding a mirror to the art museum, as
it tries to focus its attention on him. And in a final twist that takes the
scenario to an almost absurd end point, Kunsthalle Zürich’s Beatrix Ruf
has decided to run a programme of time-based work, inviting Gillick
back into her half of the exhibition to collaborate on the programme.
“Regifting”, he jokes, explaining the Seinfeld-inspired American
etiquette of giving gifts that were themselves gifts in the first place.
artreview 54
NEW Liam Gillick.indd 54 7/1/08 16:56:09
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