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their energies and work too thinly but by making a lasting impression You are the first American to be director of exhibitions at the Bienniale
whenever they have made an appearance. The new art scene is more and wrote in a recent column in Frieze that you are ‘as American as
diffuse, and its cycles turn ever faster, but the basic rules of the game you can get’. How do you think a European audience will receive your
have not changed: play for keeps or don’t play. Heed that and you’ll do direction?
more and stay out there longer. It’s true for curators too.
I have no idea. I just hope that having said I am ‘as American as you
To what extent are the shows you are curating an expression of personal can get’, Europeans and others will understand that also means being
taste? as open, curious and cosmopolitan as the advantages of being an
American allow you to be. As I said in the same column, I am an admirer
Taste as Immanuel Kant meant it is a complex concept that I take of Walt Whitman, who embraced the world and its variety as fully as he
seriously but about which I have many reservations, especially as it was could. I am an admirer or John Cage and Allen Ginsberg for the same
misused by conservative formalists during the middle of the twentieth reasons, and all three were about as American as you can get too.
century. I like it even less in the way that people use it in everyday
speech – that is, to signify ‘liking’ or personal preference. I am not You’ve said that neither you nor the jury knew about the controversy over
basing my show on what pleases me or what I would want to have money behind the Sindika Dokolo collection that forms the backbone
around the house. It is centred around works that have made me think of the exhibition of African contemporary art in the Arsenale. What is
hard about art and about the world, and thus things I am in a position your attitude now that you do know? What lessons can the artworld
to recommend to others willing to think for themselves about the same draw from this in its engagement with contemporary African art?
questions. Indeed, THERE IS WORK IN THE SHOW I DON’T
LIKE, AND WORK BASED ON IDEAS I DISAGREE WITH, Frankly I still don’t know the facts of the matter regarding the money
BUT I OWE THAT WORK AND THE ARTISTS WHO MADE behind the Sindika Dokolo collection; I have googled the name and
IT A GREAT DEAL INSOFAR AS THEY HAVE GIVEN ME AN come up with a few stories from francophone publications in Africa,
INSIGHT I WOULD NOT OTHERWISE HAVE HAD, and I am but even they don’t tell a clear story, and none mentioned the collector
confident that it is worth the trouble others will take to come to terms himself. In saying this I am not trying to avoid the questions raised,
with that work on their own. just saying that they have not really been answered by anyone, least
of all those who brought them up. So long as they have not been, it
Can a ‘popular’ event like Venice in any way combat the increasing seems pretty raw to speak about Sindika Dokolo himself as if he were
sensation that art is little more than a luxury good for the rich? guilty of any wrongdoing. Nor do I see grounds for second-guessing
and thereby corrupting the selection process set in motion in order to
Many years ago, when most progressive artists really were hard up, give any and all potential curators direct access to consideration in a
David Smith (the equivalent among American sculptors to Jackson transparent framework; an open call for proposals, and a jury of their
Pollock) said ‘art is a luxury artists pay for’. He was right then, and peers, meaning experts in African and Diasporic art. The jury made
even though there is a lot of money sloshing around right now, he is their decision based on the track record of the curators, the seriousness
in essence still right. Don’t forget, the high prices paid for works by of the proposal and the quality of the art involved. It was their decision
Richter, Ryman, Polke or Nauman are a new phenomenon – for most to make. I listened to their deliberations and know their reasons for
of their careers they worked without any assurances that their work it. I stand by it. I very much hope that the Biennale will follow up on
would sell, and now that it does, they almost have to work in spite of the this initiative and make sure that there is space in the core of the next
commodity fever that distorts so many dimensions of what they are Biennale for another such exhibition, and that the selection process is
doing and why they are doing it. Meanwhile, the vast majority of artists as open and as fair as this one was.
struggle to make ends meet, especially when it comes to creating the
kinds of art that are often at the core of biennials – installations, video What makes working in Venice different from working in any other
or conceptual work that challenges the viewer. This is especially true of biennial?
artists coming from places like Latin American, Africa and Asia, where
there are comparatively few private or institutional collections to begin I HAVE COME TO THINK OF THE EXPERIENCE AS SIMILAR
with. (That is why the organising entity for a biennial such as the one TO DAILY SQUID WRESTLING – by the way, many Venetian
in Venice must be prepared to sponsor projects; they can’t count on squid squirt red ink instead of black – but if you can manage to keep
someone else – dealers, patrons, governments – to underwrite their them from pulling you under to the murky bottom of the canals, then
exhibitions, and they can’t expect artists to subsidise themselves, come dinner, they make a lovely meal. On 6 June I hope I can serve
especially when they come from poor countries.) But THE PUBLIC large portions of seppie in nero (squid in its own ink) to the general
FOR CONTEMPORARY ART parenleft.capACTUAL AND POTENTIALparenright.cap public, and I hope people will savour the dish as much as I have while
MIGRATE FROM BIENNIAL TO BIENNIAL LIKE BIRDS. An The 52nd Venice Biennale takes place from 10 June to 21 November
important part of that public is local and regional. Regardless of the
tourist industry dimension to such shows or all the other promotional
things that go with them, the fact remains that biennials are the place
where a general audience can, periodically and dependably, participate
in the visual culture of their time, and that visual culture needs their
participation in order to stay fresh and lively.
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