Garage Museum Canonizes the Nineties
Curator Kate Fowle explains the origins of "The New International."
“It’s taken on a slightly derogatory tinge,” Fowle, who is the Garage’s chief curator, told artnet News. “Basically now, the word ‘international’ can mean foreign, as in, something that is strange and not like you.”
On the other hand, Fowle says, there’s a way of talking “between and around things based on having knowledge from more than one place” that also embodies the spirit of the term. “Rather than universalizing, now we can look at how differences start to work in terms of understanding the world.”
The show is part of a series at the Garage that looks at the 1990s as a critical cultural moment and turning point in the art world, and investigates concerns in art practices after 1989—the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the initiation of the World Wide Web, and the Pompidou’s global art show “Magiciens de la Terre.” “The New International” explores the decade through the work of just 10 artists, half of whom became world-renowned in the 1990s (Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Shirin Neshat among them), and half of whom began their careers in the ’90s (like Danh Vō and Goshka Macuga).
“In 1999, when Santiago Sierra made 250 cm line tattooed on the backs of six paid people, it was one of the first pieces that started to make people in the art world uncomfortable,” said Fowle, referring to the work for which the Spanish artist hired six unemployed young Cuban men in Havana for $30 each to stand in a line and have their backs tattooed with a straight line.
As Fowle sees it, the artists who became widely recognized in the ’90s laid the groundwork for the younger artists. “The way they’re able to practice,” said Fowle, “is because of the way they experienced the kind of shift in the 1990s that enabled them to have much more freedom to make work as they wanted to. None of them are intentionally politicizing things. There’s far more ability to think about aesthetics.”
When Fowle speaks of the artists, it’s as if she’s scrolling back through a mental slideshow, recalling where she was when she first encountered this or that work, because she is also a child of the ’90s.
“I first started working at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne in 1993,” she said. “It was while working there that I first saw [Alexander] Brener do his action at the Stedelijk.” Fowle was referring to the artist who became notorious for his provocative public actions in Russia, such as the time when he spray-painted a dollar sign over Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematisme, for which he was jailed and faced trial. For the current exhibition, contemporaneous press, artworks, and films documenting that 1997 action explore how the wider art community received the work. Fowle remembers being moved by Johan Grimonprez’s dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, at its 1997 debut at Documenta 10. The film essay is a narrative of airplane hijacking that pieces together news coverage of skyjackings from the ’60s through the ’90s and demonstrates how international terrorism changed the terms used by the media.
Fowle chose to show the younger artists alongside their predecessors in order to avoid historicizing the decade as a “frozen moment in time,” and to enable it to resonate with artworks seen in galleries and museums today.
The contribution by one of the younger artists, Danh Vō, is a piece from his sprawling puzzle sculpture We the People—a hammered-copper replica of the Statue of Liberty in roughly 250 parts that are scattered across public and private collections world-wide, and are currently in two public displays in New York City (see “VIDEO: Danh Vo Cuts the Statue of Liberty Down to Size“), which can be taken as a metaphor for international exchange. Goshka Macuga’s gargantuan black-and-white tapestries convey narratives with details from current social and political events, but their form reaches back to the Renaissance, when these types of portable murals were popular.
Fowle’s show is more highly focused than some of its predecessors like “Magiciens de la Terre,” the ambitious 1989 show at the Centre Pompidou that featured roughly 100 artists (half of whom were non-Western). That exhibition served as curator Jean-Hubert Martin’s effort to open up the art world to non-Western art and counteract the frequently ethnocentric outlook of the contemporary art world demonstrated in shows such as MoMA’s notorious “Primitivism” exhibition. Fowle’s show isn’t so overtly global.
“The artists themselves aren’t making art about ‘international,'” said Fowle. “What connects them is they’re not looking at any one subject from any one perspective.”
“The New International” continues at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art through September 21.
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