> CP foundation main website

<< Seminar Essays List

International Biennale and its Problems
Asmudjo Jono Irianto

The second part of the art seminar in the cp open biennale 2003 carries the theme of "Art Practices and Politics." Here, art politics is seen in relation to the production and consumption mechanism of art including art exhibitions, in which art politics can be simply described as the motives and aims of the exhibitions, including the desired effects. Naturally, the motives of one producer, be it the artist or the curator, will receive reactions from other producers"in this case also art observers and critics. Probably this is exactly the politics in the art practices.

The term "exhibition" is important here because it is a channel for the motives and goals of the art practices, mediated in the art world. Without the exhibition, a work remains as a silenced power. That is why art exhibitions and their supporting infrastructure form a very important part in the practice of the contemporary art practices. But can we have a "common" understanding that is "similar," in relation with the art paradigms and discourses? Naturally, the answer is "no," as we know that the reality is not like it, and that without problems, an exhibition space remains merely a dead space that brings us to no "richness."

The Problems and Risks

An art exhibition, no matter how big or small, always represents a "problem" that actually is composed of complex "reality," layered and arbitrary. An art exhibition, therefore, indirectly "accommodates" myriad interests and matters related to its existence. Thus what is being brought up as "the matter" by the organizer of the exhibition (or the curator) is a part of the richness and complexity of the discussion that may arise. Of course, an exhibition mainly shows "the matter" offered by the curator, although it is highly probable that other parties may see that "the matter" is not represented, is unseen, or inappropriate there. This is naturally related to the conflicting interests among the many parties, whether in the same or different standpoints. It is the consequence of the contemporary art"especially through an exhibition"to become the conflict arena or those interests, complete with all the discussion variables that may be brought up, with all the parameters or the justifying tools that may be used. In other words, the same topic can be discussed or justified with myriad points of view that can be very different to each other, and if necessary, there can be no meeting points. This reality is not necessarily wrong, at least the contemporary art exhibition can be a channel for critical discussions for anyone who wants to be involved"be it in the coffee shops or in the well-known mass media.

An "exhibition," derived from the "curious" and "analytical" attitudes of the West surely has many paradoxes in store "at the moment." The contemporary art exhibition, in particular, is steeped in such paradoxes. How is it possible for us to believe in a true contemporary art exhibition, while contemporary art practices are resistant to the efforts to build a whole and definite understanding about them. Behind these paradoxes and "impossibility", however, lies the enchantment to discuss, debate, and display the contemporary art. Perhaps in the developed countries, contemporary art exhibitions "make life more alive." That is why in the rich and developed countries, art museums and great periodic exhibition are built and supported by public fund. It is easy to guess that the "hot" discussion related to the practice and presentation of contemporary art becomes an unavoidable part of the contemporary art exhibitions in the West. We know that at times the famous Whitney Biennale in the US creates a "heat wave" of debates between the supporting and the opposing parties. Not only the ones in the "art world" participate in the debate; a work of contemporary art can be turned into a political commodity for the mayor of New York when he banned the display of an YBA artist, Chris Ofili in New York, due to its depiction of a black Virgin Mary and included elephant dung in his painting.

Many of the positive aspects of contemporary exhibitions do not appear in the exhibition of Modernist works. As it appear again as a representational area, the contemporary art via its display opens the way to discussions on the contemporary culture, including the cultural discourse, which in this case are the cultural theories and studies. It is understandable that the discourse brought up in a contemporary art exhibition often touches no artistic realms, but instead talks about the matters that the art portrays. In this case the priority is the presentation layers: the reality that the artist is trying to portray. It is common in contemporary art exhibitions, not only in developed countries but also in the developing ones, the curator focuses more on justifying the importance of his or her exhibition by using the latest cultural theories. This is the trend, and it is not necessarily wrong to follow trends. This is simply a matter of choices, and related to the interest sought. In other words, a curator can also organize an exhibition that focuses on the debates about formal aspects of the displayed works.

An art exhibition in its climax is a display of works in the exhibition space. At that time, the display of the exhibition can be read by the audience with no relations whatsoever to the discourse offered by the curator; but the audience can also use the offered discourse from the curator as guidance to "approach" and "read" the displayed works. In other words, the audience can also enter the realm and the level of the offered problems. For the art reviewers, meanwhile, it is the nature of their duty to "inspect" as a whole the display of the exhibition, both in the realm of the ideas and in the presentation of the works. However, as is mentioned in the beginning of this article, an art exhibition is actually too vulnerable to be "maintained" as an offer of ideas and work presentation.

The Artist and International Art Event

Museums, art galleries, and art exhibitions are currently the part of the tradition to expose "genius" and "important" artists to the public. The artist in the Modernist tradition is an important and auratic individual, as he or she is aloof and distanced to day-to-day realities. In the contemporary art, the (well-known) artist is an important individual as his or her work can represent the "problem" of the contemporary culture, and at the same time can offer the individual and personal characteristics through the presence of his or her works. In other words, the contemporary artist has the auratic legacy of the modern artist; but while in the modern artist the aura is formed by the escapist attitude away from the dynamics of the popular culture, in the contemporary artist the aura is no different from that owned by popular stars"a kind of celebrity aura. What makes it different is only the space where they appear: the contemporary artists appear in distinguished and elite art museums, close to the intellectuals, cultural thinkers, and of course the rich. The movie stars and popular singers, on the other hand, appear in the spaces and means of the entertainment industry. This also explains why the museums in the West keep trying to "please" the public as their effort to widen their audience and receive more visitors. It is worth thinking that this is also an effort to maintain the fund received from the public. Similarly, when we observe the curatorial foundations of the exhibitions, big or small, they all present complex and elaborate ideas, in line with the development of the Western art discourse that has now become a layered region of inter-textuality.

Although the contemporary artists in the West appear and behave like stars from the entertainment world, love sensations and are attention-hungry, they actually arrive there after a tight, difficult and vicious competition. The contemporary artists must not only be talented and understand the paradigms and discourse of the contemporary art, but they also must have clear strategies. They do not wait to be found, but are instead competing to expose themselves. The contemporary artists must be very professional and not hesitant to form relationships with the curators and the elites of the social arena of the art world. Although the contemporary art do not believe in "newness," the avant-garde atmosphere actually lives on. The successful contemporary artists are the ones able to create a kind of newness drawn and recycled from the old sources. See for example the popularity of the Young British Artist group. At the end of the day, just like stars, the well-known contemporary artists will receive the first chance to appear in big exhibitions. In the common perception about the quality and the importance of an exhibition, there is a two-way relationship between the exhibition"s and the artist"s reputations. A new artist will receive the credibility and is legitimized as an important artist if he or she is able to appear in the periodic exhibition deemed as important, such as the Documenta. A big event, on the other hand, also receives its credibility from the reputations of the artists present in the event. This is of course not absolute: there are many events and activities in alternative spaces that try to oppose such tendency. In the contemporary art this is possible, and there are many exhibitions and artists who grow from such counter-efforts, until they, too, become trapped in the gained reputations. This last group is often called the anti-mainstream mainstream.