Manifesta 10 Set To Hit Russia This Summer, Despite Political Climate

After previous stints in Rotterdam, Ljubljana, and San Sebastian, among other places, the Manifesta biennial is coming to the Russian city of St. Petersburg this summer. Curated by Kasper Konig, the event should be one to watch: Just think, a few months ago the main worry was about the country’s caveman-style legislation regarding the LGBT community. That was before chaos in the Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing takeover of Crimea, all of which set off a media frenzy about ‘the new Cold War.’ (All I can say is that I imagine getting a Russian visa will be even more entertaining than it normally is for American visitors).

No matter–organizers insist the show will go on, with a wealth of names including Thomas Hirschhorn, Vadim Fishkin, Elena Kovylina, Timur Novikov, and drag artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (responsible for the excellently defaced portrait of Gorbachev above). Joanna Warsza is curating a public program that includes pieces by Ragnar Kjartansson, Slavs and Tatars, and others. A trio of painters will be shown in the Winter Palace: Nicole Eisenman (a stand-out of the last Whitney Biennial); Marlene Dumas; and Maria Lassnig (who currently has a solo at MoMA P.S.1). Perhaps to prick Putin’s backwards stance on alternative lifestyles, Dumas is contributing portraits of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet (“notable cultural figures,” according to the press release, “whose achievements can be celebrated above their identification as homosexual men.”)

During a recent press release, Konig (who is based in Germany) reflected on the ongoing friction between Russia and the rest of the world. “In response to the comments I have received regarding the current geopolitical circumstances, I would like to stress that obviously I am very concerned with the escalating crisis, and because of it I do believe it is and should be our goal to continue to make MANIFESTA 10 happen,” he said. “It is itself a complex entity, to prompt its artists and its viewers to assume their own strong political positions, to pose questions and raise voices. To neglect and quit, would be a sign of resignation. There is vulnerability in this situation, but also a challenge and we shall have a courage to go on, a decision backed up by many Russian colleagues. It is upon us not to be influenced by prejudices against minorities or nationalist propaganda but to reject it. It is more important than ever to continue our work with courage and conviction for the local and international publics. As someone who has worked in many and various political climates and challenges, the experience tells me to stay calm and continue to work on the complexity and contradiction, that art has to offer and on how it can engage, and oppose the simplifications of our times. I support all efforts – both in art field and at large – in that direction, and I am sure that the presence of critical contemporary art in Hermitage and in the city will contribute to pluralistic and healthy debate on for complexity, and artists’ beauty.”

Visit the Manifesta 10 site for more information on what to expect from the biennial, which runs June 28 through October 31.

A Bit Of Snowbound Art To Celebrate New York’s Eternal Winter

Okay, it’s official: Spring is a cruel tease; we’re clearly entering a new Ice Age; it will never, ever, ever be warm again in New York City. In honor of today’s plummeting temperatures, I thought it might be nice to look back at a recent exhibition in Gstaad, Switzerland: Elevation 1049, curated by Neville Wakefield and Olympia Scarry. The duo gathered a bevy of Swiss artists to create site-specific works in and around the village, many of them involving snow, ice, and other features of the natural environment.

Scarry and Wakefield plan to possibly tour the concept to other locales in the future. If current trends keep up, they might as well look to their hometown: I’m guessing they’ll be able to commission frozen sculptures in the middle of Central Park as late as early June.

Below, a few ephemeral highlights from Elevation 1049 (the main image above is Olaf Breuning’s Snow Drawing, which turned sleds into kinetic brushes that made their marks on the terrain).

Claudia Comte, Tornado Kit

Thomas Hirschhorn, Mürrischer Schnee

Olivier Mosset, Untitled (Ice Toblerones), 2003-2014

Olympia Scarry, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air


Christian Marclay, Bollywood Goes To Gstaad, 2013 (a collage of clips from Bollywood films filmed in or around the Swiss village).

All images courtesy of Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zurich. 


Bronx Bomber: Thomas Hirschhorn’s ‘Gramsci Monument’

For his final work in a series of projects dedicated to his favorite philosophers, Thomas Hirschhorn erected a monument in honor of Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci right in the middle of a housing project in the Bronx. Produced by Dia Art Foundation with major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation, "Gramsci Monument" was a sprawling public space work which included academic seminars, poetry readings, workshops and a daily newspaper. It drew together communities which rarely interact and sparked serious conversations about race, power and capitalism—as well as criticism from both sides of the socioeconomic aisle.

Hirschhorn’s previous temporary monuments were erected to honor Baruch Spinoza in Amsterdam, Gilles Deleuze in Avignon, France, and Georges Bataille in Kassel, Germany.

Gramsci is famous for his Prison Notebooks, a series of more than 30 notebooks that he penned while imprisoned by Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist regime in 1926. The writings detail Italian history and nationalism filtered through Gramsci’s reading of Marxist theory; specifically, his concept of "cultural hegemony" as a strategy used by the power elite to maintain the capitalist state.

Raised some four or five feet above ground level, with multiple ramps and stairs as access points, Hirschhorn’s "Gramsci Monument" buzzed like a small self-sufficient community, complete with an art workshop for kids staffed by volunteer teachers; a print shop that printed daily Gramsci Monument newspapers; a library of books on and by Gramsci, Italy and Marxist theory; a gallery that included photographs, belongings (hair brush, prison shoes) and various ephemera from Gramsci’s life; an online computer study center (two kids were listening to music on when we were there); an outdoor theater space for lectures and poetry readings; and even a comfortable place to eat (fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and non-alcoholic beverages were served at the outdoor bar).

The structure had a solid feeling, if temporary, and had all the hallmark sensibilities of an immersive Hirschhorn experience: an expansive installation constructed out of everyday materials like plywood, cardboard, duct tape and aluminum foil. Built in the middle of a field at the Forest Houses low-income housing complex in the Bronx, the work brought the art world cognoscenti to a neighborhood that they would probably never have experienced. Some of the criticism was directed at the art-industrial complex. One friend commented on the "contemporary art colonialism" of the work, while another saw one systemic lesson: It’s pretty easy to introduce positive change. Last Saturday, as people engaged in political-theoretical debate following the final Gramsci Lecture, delivered by Frank B. Wilderson III, children were making art and getting time on the computer. Not bad for a temporary "monument."

Was the work a success? Considering Hirschhorn’s stated goals of the project—establish a new term of monument, provoke encounters, create an event and "think Gramsci today"—it’s mission accomplished. To paraphrase the refrain from Field of Dreams: He built it, they came.

BlackBook dropped by "Gramsci Monument" on Saturday. Check out the video below to get a glimpse of the installation and some of the final Gramsci Lecture, delivered by Frank B. Wilderson, professor of Drama and African American studies at the University of California, Irvine.