Hvilke udstillinger, events og udgivelser var de mest interessante i 2015? I Kunstkritikks julekalender opsummerer vores egne skribenter og inviterede gæster kunståret 2015. Den 19. i rækken er kritiker og kurator Toke Lykkeberg, som er en af Kunstkritikks faste kritikere. Lykkeberg var del af kuratorholdet bag årets Momentum i Moss og er også en af kuratorerne bag udstillingen Co-Workers – Network as Artist, som for tiden kan ses på Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Critics often assert themselves by taken a step back. Traditionally, critics’ virtue is so-called critical distance. The more this virtue is nourished, the farther away the critics withdraw from their object. If the degree of so-called criticality is measured by the distance to the object of criticism, the ideal critic is the one who entirely loses sight of the object in order to apprehend it even more clearly than anyone else.
Taipei Biennial 2014, September 13 – 2015, January 4, The Great Accelleration, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud.
I did not see the Taipei Biennial. Given the great distance between me and its location, I clearly see that this was a fascinating show. First of all, the line-up of artists was intriguing and pertinent and photos from the show look great. Second of all, the show was a thought-provoking u-turn. Whereas Nicolas Bourriaud championed the long 90s with what is now called anthropocentric art theory, this biennial was anti-anthropocentric in the vein of a lot of other art theory these days. Now, when the 90s are finally over, one cannot help thinking how beautiful it would have been if they had lasted just a bit longer. Then Bourriaud’s u-turn would have seemed less dramatic. Then, 90s artists such as Pierre Huyghe and Carsten Höller could put on anti-anthropocentric display respectively a dog and a biolab testing humans. Sometimes, a huge step for a curator, is a small step for an artist, if any step at all.
Simon Denny, Secret Power, New Zealand Pavilion, 56. Venice Biennale.
The Venice Biennial 2015 was a disappointment. Curator Okwui Enwezor made a show that talked about the future without showing it. Some works in the pavilions were however excellent such as Hito Steyerl’s work in the German or Danh Vo’s in the Danish. But the best was Simon Denny that dealt with the worn out subject of the archive and showed us the immediate past as if it was our present and future. His New Zealand Pavilion was a show about leaks that was itself a sort of leak and as a consequence immediately a news story.
Rachel Rose, Palisades, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London.
When I arrived at the Serpentine Gallery, I found out that American artist Rachel Rose’s show had just closed and Simon Denny was already installing yet an exhibition. Clearly, Rose’s exhibition was great, though in this particular case where her videos are not online, I would have been better off without such distance. However, the decision to include this shown on this list had already been taken. The show presented in a new fashion a couple of works that I already knew such as “A minute ago” where a raging storm attacks quit beach life and architect Philip Johnson enthusiastically roams his own Glass House as it dissolves. This would even blow Michelango Antonioni away.
In 2011, Douglas Coupland explained in his brilliant biography of Marshall MchLuhan that the latter came up with the title The Medium is the Massage because he was fed up with his own one-liner about the medium as the message. This year, Coupland celebrated the 50th anniversary of McLuhan’s booklet with an update, Age of Earthquakes, designed by Shumon Basar and illustrated by a string of excellent artists picked by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The book is a leap of the imagination anecdotally interconnecting the hot topics of the day such as climate change, technological acceleration and the intelligence explosion. Coupland puts spotlight on minutiae in order to manipulate their scale. A short story about an apparently innocent dating app that hooks you up with people most like you ends in a dreadful scenario where likeminded people gather and form the ‘You’ party: “So the largest question here regarding voting is who will decide how to define the new 51 per cent. What criteria and algorithms will be used? Because this is the true future of voting: it’s you dating yourself.”
Walter Benjamin was of the opinion that good art displays the right political tendency. Though the philosopher has still many followers, it is most often difficult to pinpoint the exact politics of an artwork. This also goes for Michel Houellebecq’ Submission about a literary professor in 2022 who converts to Islam after a certain Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidential election ahead of Front National. January 7, 2015, the day the book was published, was also the day of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. I remember walking around slightly paranoid in Paris that day, a few streets away from the weekly newspaper, with Soumission in the bookstore’s semitransparent plastic bag. Much was said before Submission came out and much more afterwards. Most of the French critics I read hated the book. It was dismissed as islamophobic. If that is so, the diagnosis should include countless other phobias. Houellebecq’s book does not deal with one political tendency, nor two such as left and right, but the interplay between many – the way we also see it right now in the French regional elections where the Socialists back the Republicans in order to beat Front National. Submission is dark, but it’s rather a satire than a political tract. As Houellebecq has put it himself: «I am not an intellectual. I don’t take sides, I defend no regime. I deny all responsibility, I claim utter irresponsibility—except when I discuss literature in my novels, then I am engaged as a literary critic. But essays are what change the world.»
Michel Houellebecq’s acting career
There’s a story about how the actor Peter Sellers throughout the production of the Pink Panther movies in the 1960s and 70s becomes more and more unruly. Towards the end, his character, the clumsy Chief Inspector Clouseau, takes over the entire show. It is as if Sellers is directing the director Edwards Blake, not the other way around. This might make Peter Sellers a great actor but not necessarily a great director. The same can be said of Houellebecq. After failing with his adaptation of his own novel, The Possibility of an Island, in 2008, he made a brilliant return as actor in two movies in 2014. In the first, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq directed by Guillaume Nicloux, shown at CPH:DOX 2015 and now available online, he brilliantly plays Michel Houellebecq who is way too kindly kidnapped by a bunch of amateurs. As the film progresses, he ends up getting the wine, the cigarettes and the lighter he asks for, while buying a prostitute for some quickly written alexandrine poetry. It gets more and more difficult to tell host and hostage from each other. In one scene, we find a tipsy Houellebecq joking about the French poet Mallarmé as «mal armé», i.e. badly armed. A few scenes later, one of the kidnappers gives Houellebecq lessons in self-defense. To top it all, Houellebecq horrifies his host when he concludes that he’s not afraid of dying. In his case, he explains, there’s not much to lose. The tragicomedy continues in director Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern’s film Near Death Experience, also available online, where Houellebecq plays a man who leaves his family for a moment and drifts off into the mountains clad in bicycle gear. It’s the story of a man who is so very lousy that he even fails in taking his own life. But even worse – **Spoiler Alert!** – he actually somewhat fails in his failure. Houellebecq always tells the story of a lost man and yet, just like Sellers, he’s unstoppable.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, 2016
This year, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has gotten a lot of air play in the States and in the filter bubble that constitutes one of the art worlds I inhabit. Unlike the apparently most advanced art worlders who traditionally are all about revolution, Bernie Sanders is actually rather about reform. In his long speech about democratic socialism at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the recurrent refrain while presenting his ideas was: «And is that radical?» Sanders did his best to sell his politics as the opposite: reasonable, sound and just. Art, however, is normally sold as «radical». Art does definitely not have to be reasonable, sound and just, but one might hope that the art world and Sanders are in this together for the long haul. In the art world, the Politics of the Radical has given us such leaders as Comité Invisible who, in the wake of the Paris attacks, expressed sympathy for the killings of hipsters. Comité Invisble ended up recycling old ideas about terrorists as the only ones left who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for a bigger cause. Other intellectuals have previously made similar statements in the wake of terrorist attacks. However, the Politics of the Radical is most often rooted in thin air. Ideas and ideals trump facts. In Paris, at least one victim lost his life while saving someone else’s. The same happened on 9/11. Though Bernie Sanders might be popular in many respects and not radical enough for certain art worlders, his self-proclaimed Socialist candidacy is according to Gallup the most difficult one available.
James Franco’s career
For many decades, a much used shortcut in the art world to manifesting superior intelligence has been to pinpoint the stupidity of Hollywood. No wonder, James Franco was accused of superior stupidity last year, when he decided to steal from the art world what the art world had stolen from Hollywood. Posing as a Robin of Loxleyesque redistributor of cultural capital, he remade Cindy Sherman’s film stills in a show at Pace Gallery. Prominent critics accused Franco of «ignorance», «sexism», «cynicism» and so on. Though few dare deny that anything can be art, most art professionals shared Sherman’s standpoint: «I don’t know that I can say it’s art.» The art world loves to hate a guy who re-enables art critics to assert strong opinions as well as the rock steady nature of their object of predilection, i.e. art. Later that year, however, in the film The Interview, where Franco plays a much hated talk show host who reignites his career by interviewing the North Korean leader, Franco’s talk show host replies his still more numerous haters with a mighty clever slip of the tongue: «They hate us ‘cause they ain’t us… They hate us ‘cause they anus.» The film that mocks anything from American media and intelligence work to the North Korean dictatorship ended up being as politically potent as only revolutionary contemporary artists dare dream of. Quickly, tensions grew between the two states. The battle between the two powers in the film even started of off the screen before it hit the screen. There was something oddly old school PoMo in the vein of Jean Baudrillard about it all. But maybe Franco is rather spearheading something else, something new, that is really hard to wrap one’s head around as suggested by this article: «Metamodernism is such a radical paradigmatic response to postmodernism that the artworks it generates are likely to induce reactions — not just psychological but, in instances such as this one, geopolitical — of a sort we’ve never seen before.»