16. desember – Katya García-Antón

Kunstkritikks egne skribenter og inviterte gjester velger det mest interessante fra kunståret 2014. Hver dag fra 1. til 24. desember kommer et nytt bidrag. I dag: Katya García-Antón.

Hva var de mest interessante utstillingene, begivenhetene og publikasjonene i 2014? I Kunstkritikks julekalender oppsummerer våre egne skribenter og inviterte gjester kunståret. Den 16. i rekken er Katya García-Antón, som er direktør for Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA).


John Savio, Savio Museum.
John Savio, Savio Museum.
John Savio, Savio Museum, Kirkenes, Norway.

I visited the Savio Museum this autumn to see a temporary hang of a section of its monographic collection. John Savio (1902-1938), whose so called “folk-practice” was for long not appreciated artistically, is now heralded as one of the leading Sámi artists in the Arctic – the Sámi homologue of Edvard Munch I was told, given the mastery of his woodcuts. Here is an artist whose relatively small – given his untimely death at 36  – and often undated oeuvre, the wider world has still to discover.

Savio’s bold woodcuts trace recurring themes – treasured reindeer, labouring herders and hunters, threatening wolfs, beloved friends and family – set within the ominous forces of nature, as well as within the dynamics of man’s intimate collaboration with it. Inhabiting both micro- and macro-narratives, his imagery touches as much on the painful experiences of Sámi and other first nation people, as on the world’s, and Norway’s, colonial past. Savio’s many majestic images of reindeers, for example, have “the mark of death in their eyes”, echoing perhaps his community’s anxiety towards outside encroachment and the assimilation policy they were experiencing at the turn of the 20th century. Not unrelated to this very fear, are the loving depictions of intense bonds amongst his people, as in Sámi Couple.

Like many other Sámi artists Savio was a nomad and the mark of mobility ever present in his work, is one that today reverberates with the many global conflicts around nationhood and territory. Over and above these questions, Savio’s oeuvre is relevant now for its fine understanding of the embeddedness of art within life, a rootedness firmly felt and lived by the Sámi people. With this in mind, it is the power of his oeuvre to question the value and status of mystic versus scientific fact that strikes a chord with me. At a time when the internal knowledge of first nation communities in the Arctic is heralded as an inspiration for scientific communities worldwide, when neuroscientists are re-evaluating the previous divides between belief and reality, Savio’s mystical, environmental and human reflections appear of particular relevance to our own artistic considerations.

Art or Sound, Fondazione Prada.
Art or Sound, Fondazione Prada.
Art or Sound, Fondazione Prada, Venice, Italy.

Upon entering the empty hall of a Venetian palazzo from a modest calle of insignificant demeanour when compared to the building’s majestic façade on the Gran Canal, you might be forgiven for thinking that life there has, since a long time, ceased to be. Yet, upon ascending up towards the exhibition space you are grasped by an unidentifiable wave of sound, a cacophony of noise and unorchestrated instruments. Thenceforth, stepping into the bel étage a few minutes were required to adjust yourself into a variegated context presenting different minute stages or still-lives (metaphorical or real, and some of them not small at all) of keystones of modernity spanning art, music, the decorative arts and technology. To us contemporaries of “antiquity”, this was a memorabilia of our past – from the Yesterday, backwards to the 16th Century, and forward again.

Germano Celant, the father of Arte Povera – the alchemic movement based on the physical, chemical and biological possibilities of the changing processes in nature – curated this project set in the opulent context of a Venice palazzo as a wunderkammer with majestic paintings and sculptures, musical clocks and birdcages, sonorous machines and musical instruments, all activated for the pleasure of the eye and the imagination more than for gratifying an ear that intoned encyclopaedically on the duet performed between sound and art across the ages. The phantasmagorical automata presented throughout the exhibition questioned pertinently the ambitions of modernity as a long period of Western civilization, opening up considerations in its very in-betweenness comprehensive of museums’ and powers’ structures, and the art of collecting, decorating and entertainment. One would well understand the latter term when your ear would serve to attract your eye toward an orchestrion (to which percussion and other instruments could be usually added). In the palazzo the Orchestrion Accordeo Jazz (ca. 1920), a monkey made by Paolo Soprani & Figli, played music recorded on a perforated cardboard with a cymbal, bass drum, snare drum, and castanets, moved by a compressed air system. Its sound, reminiscent of a midnight summer (or fairgrounds as in its original foreseen use), created a Dionysian musical consciousness that played between the harmonious and the inharmonious, the correct and the incorrect. Would we then still be speaking of a disciplining function of music?

Roberto Cuoghi, Šuillakku Corral, New Museum.
Roberto Cuoghi, Šuillakku Corral, New Museum.
Roberto Cuoghi, Šuillakku Corral, New Museum, New York.

For Šuillakku – corral version (2008–14), Roberto Cuoghi embarked on an imaginative journey between 612 and 609 BC, when the Assyrian Empire and its capital was under attack and eventually fell into ruin. The lamentation, which was addressed to the gods, was being performed on a collection of handmade instruments carefully researched, built, and played by the artist himself. The immersive sound installation at the New Museum required to nullify the cubical space of the Museum and build a shelf which felt like a natural vault or canopy just above your head (by which you could almost see the stars enlightening the night, even though it was pitch dark). This imageless Plato’s Cave was able to reproduce each of the hundreds people part of the chorus, and render every little movement audible and “present”. The evocation of grief and fear that although likely prevalent at the time might connect us all, in the case of the exhibition, to today’s states of affairs. And yet Cuoghi would say “I never intended it to be a metaphor for the crisis of capitalism, the Middle East, or the decline of the American Empire. I wanted to do a lamentation for the fall of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, and that’s what I did. I have learned the importance of conformity and order, which bestow on rituals the value from which they derive their religious and moral significance. Šuillakku is the announcement of our own genocide; it is the consecration intended to make people share in a principle that rises above them.” So, in exiting the installation a doubt resounds in your head, is Cuoghi addressing a lost mediation of modern man with lament, as a recovery technique? And is the whole technique of lamentation directed toward the facilitation of the recovery of a presence, a political presence and sphere of activation? Or this is a distant past and we have to find a complete new language that allows us to mediate our bodies with our reality?


Nástio Mosquito.
Nástio Mosquito.
Nástio Mosquito, Creative Time Summit, Stockholm, Sweden (curated by Nato Thompson and Magdalena Malm).

The Creative Time Summit was a two-day event, the first beyond the USA’s borders, in which time was the protagonist and played an obsessively pivotal role that managed to overshadow some of the issues of urgent discussion heralded in the lead up to the summit, such as migration, nationalism, xenophobia, and surveillance. In the midst of presentations announced and abruptly terminated by finger-tipped guitar-strings and on-stage chants so keeping every guest on the clock, Nástio Mosquito’s was a moment of programming brilliance. His appearance on stage was elastic – he seemed to stretch his presence beyond the limits of the stage. He championed, with charm, wit, and bodily limbless, the time-driven machine of this sixth iteration of the summit, conquering its more than clear destructive effects on other guests of the summit. His was a “word-love and body-deep” performance, whose fanatical fixation on efficiency and simultaneous refusal to arrive at a final product, articulated the position of an artist whose work relies on the very performative body of his existence.

An artist practicing across music, videos, spoken word, improvisation and a capella, and using technology and popular culture as tools for the dis-integration of our oversaturated media environment, Mosquito’s political and social statements harness Greek rhetoric and corporate branding in order to address the visual arts power to engage with issues of colonial history and changing geopolitical dynamics. At the core of Nástio Mosquito’s work is an intense commitment to the open-ended potential of language, arrived at through deliberate strategies of reinvention that flirts with African stereotypes in western contexts. Often portraying himself as the central figure of his art, Mosquito’s work makes powerful political and social statements, slightly discomforting at a first glance, but that in the context of this summit brought a sense of urgency and reality to the proceedings. Mosquito stayed true to his dictum: “Don’t be cool, be relevant. Yeap! And if you can be relevantly cool, good for you…”


Richard Bartholomew, Self-Portrait, 1956.
Richard Bartholomew, Self-Portrait, 1956.
Richard Bartholomew, The Art Critic, Bart, 2012 (last edition).

The Art Critic is a personal account of the landscape of Modern Indian art unveiled through the vast archive of one of its most prolific and intimately involved protagonists, Richard Bartholomew. A poet, painter and art critic, Bartholomew (1926-1985), emigrated from Burma to India in 1942. He became chief art critic of The Times of India in 1962, and contributed to a vast number of monographs, anthologies and journals in the region.

The edition starts with an introduction by Geeta Kapur, who positions Bartholomew’s within the framework of art criticism in post-independence India, and reveals the direct influence he had on her own thought – Kapur is a leading thinker of Indian Modernity and post-colonial discourse of international recognition. Thereafter, the archive is unfolded by presenting a rich selection of excerpts of writing and photographs in which Bartholomew documented the Indian art scene of the time, when paintings were sold “for the price of a bottle of whiskey or a cotton sari” as he commented in one of his texts. It also presents Bartholomew’s self-portraits “as a dreaming, delicate youth sitting at his typewriter”.

The Art Critic provides invaluable insight into the working conditions of important figures of Indian Modernity such as M.F Hussain and Nasreen Mohamedi (who OCA featured in a solo exhibition in 2008), amongst others. It also documents their exhibition and writing practices, informs us on significant exhibitions such as the India Triennale (otherwise poorly documented), or the Khakhar happening which included Nasreen Mohamedi and Geeta Kapur, as well encounters with leading international practitioners such Clement Greenberg lecturing in New Delhi on American Painting in the 60s and 70s. Moreover, the book also rescues Bartholomew’s eloquent criticism of the Marxist artist and writer J. Swaminathan, in a 1966 article titled the The Swaminathan Cycle indicative of the cold war influenced aesthetic confrontations of the time.

Reviving Bartholomew’s archive through this publication draws attention to the limited space currently being offered internationally, and quite severely so by Indian and South Asian newspapers, to serious critical writing. In a region which tends to look beyond its context towards the West, rather than build upon the richness of historic and aesthetic correspondence with its neighbours, The Art Critic inspires us all, to confront this deficiency. With this conviction in mind, and as a pertinent side note, OCA will dedicate part of its autumn programme in 2015 to engage, address and innovate upon the status of critique in Norway in its Oslo programme, and will subsequently develop an experimental platform of lectures, workshops and publications with the Dhaka Summit (led by artistic director/curator Diana Campbell) in February 2015 entitled Critical Writing Ensembles with writers from the South Asian region.

At the end of The Art Critic, Bartholomew’s son eloquently suggests that his father’s archive can “reshape some histories, to bring back the forgotten others, to reassess and alter the already hazily known, to redefine some standards of writing and our understanding, thoughts and feelings of an era lost. More importantly, to allow this man to breathe his words […] Memory, collectively lost, can now be somewhat regained.” The Art Critic demands that we not only persevere in new ways of nurturing critique but in strengthening regional histories of immense richness to the world.