Massimiliano Gioni curated the main exhibition at the Venice Biennale which was conceived upon upon a contradiction in terms for he intended to showcase the animist power of art object by displaying them as in a museum format. Let me remind the reader that it was precisely the institution of the museum which utterly killed the totemic power of community objects transforming them into ‘art object’ devoid of the aforementioned ‘presence’. I asked this to him at the ICA and he seemed not to understand what I was talking about. At that point I realised that he had no real idea of what he was actually doing but I have the feeling that that level of über-curators do not have much time to think because they are supposed to be ‘doers’. As we all know, Gioni has a taste for outsider and performance art which are extremely difficult to combine because the former tend to be direct allegories made by mental health patients while the latter depends on a very conscious and systematic mise en place of the conditions for something real to happen.
Paweł Althamer (born 1967) is a Polish sculptor, collaborative artist and creator of installations and video art. This in tricky in itself because his sculptures tend to receive meaning from external information that the viewer is supposed to know. For example, his longest-running collaboration is with the Nowolipie Group, an organisation in Warsaw for adults with mental or physical disabilities, to whom he has been teaching a Friday night ceramics class since the early 1990s. In 2008 Althamer arranged for the group to wear matching overalls and take a trip on a biplane, which became the subject of a short film by Althamer’s frequent collaborator, Artur Żmijewski (Winged, 2008).
Althamer was also part of the so-called Kowalski Studio at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, along with many of today’s leading generation of Polish artists, including Artur Żmijewski and Katarzyna Kozyra. Under the working title ‘Common Space—Private Space’, Kowalski foregrounded the work of art as an effect of complex non-verbal communication performed by artists in interaction with each other, neutralising individualism: ‘each of the participants had at his/her disposal “a space of their own” […], where they could build elements of their own visual language, and the “common space” open to everyone, where they could conduct simultaneous dialogues with the other participants. All without using words.’ But wasn’t he a sculptor? This is supposed to be performance but it does not operate as performance. So let’s see what he is presenting at the New Museum in NYC.
To begging with he is presenting an adaptation of Draftsmen’s Congress, originally presented at the 7th Berlin Biennial (2012). Over the course of the exhibition, the blank white space of the New Museum’s Fourth Floor gallery will be transformed through the gradual accumulation of drawings and paintings by Museum visitors and a wide array of invited community organizations. Althamer will also activate the exhibition through a sculptural workshop in which the artist and his collaborators will produce new works during the course of the show. So far the artists is point at his commentary activities as part of a performance that we call art. Having said this, the fact that this takes place inside the museum makes the whole things unnecessarily obvious. I am saying this because, last year, Thomas Hirschhorn has done something similar in the Bronx in the way it should be done which is inside the community. In this particular artist-community hybrids the artist is supposed to bring the ‘institution of Art’ to the community and not the community to the white cube of the institution of the museum.
Althamer is not new to these forms of social collaboration. This canonisation of community practices as ‘Art’ (let’s think about Theaster Gates or the aforementioned Hirschhorn) seem, however, to be a trend which I find particularly interesting at two levels. Firstly, as an expression of the guilt of a plutocratic class of international collectors who in their fear and isolation have lost touch with the reality of the world and secondly, as a direct consequence of the non-sense that the conspicuous consumption of that same plutocratic class has transformed the art world into. In Althamer’s show, the museum tries to be so nice, cool, friendly, democratic and so many things at the same time that it comes across as a pathetic effort to please the low and the high while still claiming a status that it, clearly, does not have.
Take for example, the sound part of this show. In the past, Althamer has realized a number of projects that seek to alter reality through nearly imperceptible interventions into public space. Here has arranged for street musicians to play in front of the New Museum building on the Bowery over the course of the show with the music being broadcast throughout the Third Floor gallery. WTF?
Gioni is also repeating himself by curating Althamer’s same ‘Venetian’ sculptures (already presented at the 55th Venice Biennale) at the New Museum. These works are presented alongside Althamer’s series of videos, “So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind” (2003–04). Produced in collaboration with artist Artur Żmijewski, these works capture Althamer as he ingests various drugs on a journey, as the press releases states, ‘to explore the depths of his own mind’. Has no one told them that Marina Abramovic did this in the late seventies? To summarise this review, Althamer is repeating himself (from the Berlin Biennale and the Venice Bienale), plagiarising Abramovic and Hirschhorn and using the community not to have to do anything really. This show is utter and complete shit. Just a thought.