The Cloud

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

It was no doubt a phenomenon, a new, strange case of the believe-or-not-kind. At the very least, it was definitely an anomaly. And so, day after day, new people arrived to the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to experience it. These were artists and scientists, meteorologists and even seismologists, cloud busters, tornado chasers and other climate experts and aficionados. A new type of social summit had formed in the bays of the Guaiba, the site of the group’s camping and deliberations. The reason for their gathering was to observe a rare cumulus in the sky above. It was a cloud, but oddly motionless. The Cloud didn’t move naturally with the changing weather, nor was it slightly provoked by artificial wind-machines. The Cloud was simply there, anchored to the atmosphere. And it was slowly growing, getting puffier as the weeks went by.

Theories of The Cloud’s appearance varied. Some claimed it was actually Laputa, stranded because of some magnetic revolution happening in that floating island. Seismologists and writers had concocted that theory, noting that the grounds of Porto Alegre were shaking even with in the absence of fault-lines, and arguing that fiction had previously predicted other happenings, even geographies. Some others considered The Cloud a UFO in camouflage. No later did this theory circulate when welcome receptions for extraterrestrial aliens were thoughtfully organized. The newly settled campers felt the strange forces of The Cloud, saying they levitated like cumuli; the locals, for their part, felt more and more attracted to each other. Everyone was happily floating. A new language was created in The Cloud’s honor, a new typeface, too; they called it Porto Alegre.

As it happens, much before The Cloud appeared in the sky, the Fundação Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul had secured air-rights over the Guaiba in preparation for the 9a Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre. To their luck, this meant The Cloud could be technically included in their upcoming exhibition. The Biennial organizers thus gathered in the bay, inviting locals and campers to a rain dance in celebration of this peculiar inclusion. No cloudbursts came about. But the assiduous organizers didn’t stop there, importing a rainmaking machine invented by Juan Baigorri in 1938—considered lost for years, much like the Meson de Fierro meteorite, sought once by Baigorri. Then, The Cloud reacted. It poured.


Published in conjunction to the 9a Bienal do Mercosul| Porto Alegre, The Cloud is a book that gathers texts by Jules Verne, Vilem Flusser, Bruno Latour, Maria Lind, Monica Hoff, Walter de Maria, and Abraham Cruzvillegas, among others. The English edition of The Cloud was released yesterday in a sundown picnic—with overcast skies, and eventually some rain showers—at Fort Greene Park in New York City. The Portuguese edition of this book, A nuvem, as well as its Spanish edition, La nube, have or will be realsed between May and July 2013 in the cities of Porto Alegre, Recife, Sao Paulo, Pelotas, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Amsterdam. All language editions are published in print and as e-books, and have been designed by Project Projects, New York. More information at:

Pictured above: The Cloud in Fort Greene Park. Photo by Sarah Demeuse.

Artistic Sensibility, Civic Responsability

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Since the 1990s, Tania Bruguera has exhibited widely, making performances, staging interventions, and creating installations that destabilize received notions of power. Perhaps her most recognizable work is her performance “The Burden of Guilt” (1997-1999), in which the artist, wearing a raw-lamb carcass, eats dirt with her hands; the performance, we later learned, was a re-enactment of a colonial legend in Cuba, a suicide attempt; a legend of an indigenous act of resistance against the Spanish.

In the last decade, the protagonist role that the artist’s body had in her earlier work, disappeared almost entirely. In her placement, Tania Bruguera has engaged actors, and more usually invited the general public to perform. In one of a series of artworks titled “Tatlin’s Whisper,” Bruguera hired two policemen on horseback with expertise in controlling riots to choreograph the course of the museum’s audience. That performance was presented in 2008 at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, as part of the two-day exhibition The Living Currency (La Monnaie Vivante) curated by Pierre Bal Blanc. In another work in the series “Tatlin’s Whisper,” the public could use the microphone to exercise a minute of free-speech. This latter work was staged in 2009 at the Centro Wilfredo Lam in Havana. I should add: authorities were not exactly pleased.

As part of an expanded artistic practice, Tania Bruguera has taught and lectured internationally, and in her native Cuba created an itinerant art school called Catedra Arte de Conducta. This school, which she begun in 2002 and concluded in 2009, created dialogues between local artists and visiting architects, theorists and other creative professionals in order to envision and discuss ways in which art contributes to society. Through courses for performance and time-based art, a new generation of artists could and would be encouraged to work politically with their social reality.

This year, Tania Bruguera has come to live in New York City to initiate another of these kinds of projects. Initiated by the Queens Museum and Creative Time, this new, long-term art project by Tania Bruguera is called “Immigrant Movement International” and emerges from her long-standing inquiry on ‘useful art’.  One of the artist’s main supporters, the art critic Claire Bishop, has explained Tania’s idea on useful art as a “conjunction of political action and illegality … pushing the boundaries of what authority recognizes acceptable”.

To what extent and for who will the “Immigrant Movement International” be useful? Well, I suppose this we will learn in the coming months, possibly over the next couple of years. I am confident, though, that this project will at the very least remind us of the role of the modern public museum, which is to cultivate its audience with the aim of creating civic responsibility; of building more informed and creative audience, a more productive and sensible citizen. This responsibility is one that a handful of contemporary artists, including Tania Bruguera, have been taking on to themselves.

The image above is of the headquarters of the Immigrant Movement International in Corona, Queens in New York, which I visited yesterday afternoon. Events take place daily. Consult the website for more details and a calendar of programs:

Taking The Take

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

This summer, I contributed to the Guggenheim’s Museum The Take, a blog launched in conjunction to the online and multi-sited venue exhibition YouTube Play. A Biennial of Creative Video (October 22-24, 2010). The exhibition’s related blog featured entries by guest writers considered experts in film, video, and Internet culture. My contribution, “The New Video-Maker: Art Museums,” focused on video content produced by art institutions.

Image: Museo Tamayo’s new online magazine, launched in the spring.

Buying the Empire State Building and a brownstone in Brooklyn

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Today, The New York Times reported on what is likely one of the most creative fundraising efforts that the Queens Museum of Art has ever done—and a form of fundraising that will surely become more prevalent. The museum launched an “Adopt-a-Building” program using The Panorama of the City of New York. For those who’ve yet to visit the museum, its Panorama is an architectural model including every single building constructed before 1992 in Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. There are almost a million structures. How can this be possible? It’s simply huge. The area dimension of the model is 9,335 square foot; that’s 2,845 meters.

Now, to the gist of the program: the Adopt-a-Building initiative invites people to “invest” in the museum by playing real estate. Some pointers: loans don’t apply, so foreclosures need not be suffered; part of the funds raised go to the museum endowment and capital campaign, parts get re-invested in the model; and so on. This is sort of how The Panorama market looks like:

For $50, “purchase” your apartment. For $500, “name” your school, library or firehouse. Real Estate tycoons may donate up to $10,000, to “own” a landmark building or fund a significant update of the model.

(The quotes are theirs, to remind the speculator that this is just that, real money on hypothetical property; to remind that this is something like a gift economy in role play.)

The infamous Robert Moses—whose work on parks and recreations was in fact explored by the Queens Museum through a critical three-part exhibition they co-organized not too long ago—commissioned The Panorama in the early 1960s. It was rumored to be his working model of the city, but on paper it was made as a piece on display in the 1964 World’s Fair, which took place in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (again, at Moses baton). The Panorama is now part of the collection of the Queens Museum, which is located in a former fair pavilion at this park.

In the last couple of decades, the museum has commissioned several people to activate The Panorama. For example, the original model makers, Lester Associates, updated the model in the early 1990s. Around that time, architect Roberto Viñoli designed the gallery where it is displayed, to be specific, the model’s platform and surrounding multi-level ramp. A sound and light show was most recently added to the room, a piece scripted by The Panorama expert Blagovesta Momchedjikova. (I am not a fan of this multi-media component. It was incorporated only a couple of years ago, and already looks and feels dated, unlike the model itself.) Visual artists have also created temporary site-specific work in The Panorama. In 2002, visual artist Michael Rakowitz used the model to identify the film locations of popular New York City films—Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Mike Nichols’ Working Girl, etcetera. Miniature video cameras placed on the film locations (on the model) were connected to television monitors (on the ramp) transmitting live video-feed. These close-up static images of The Panorama street corners or buildings were dubbed with the original movie soundtracks.  These are only a handful of examples in which the museum has dealt with conservation, interpretation and public engagement of The Panorama. And this does not even consider the countless docent tours and regular civic-minded and aficionado programs.

While the Queens Museum Adopt-a-Building program is a fundraising initiative, it has the potential of becoming quite an experimental economic cultural project on its own. I imagine this as I contemplate some of the challenges that the initiative may encounter. From what I can project, it seems to raise only interesting questions, whether these are about technical issues (Can membership sustainability be modeled on property taxation?) or more philosophical ones (How do public museums develop the so-called American Dream of private property?). My fascination with the program also lies in its curatorial edge: it seems to be conceived by approaching a work, and imagining its public—what are we looking at, and how can we present it so the public can become part of its history and potential. In the case of the Adopt-a-Building, the museum proposes that one way this can happen is by literally (i.e. financially) investing in and within a piece of the model. I am curious to see what happens.

* * *

As a side, I wanted to note that today the Times also reported on a proposed legislature bill to prevent museums in the state from deaccessioning artworks to cover operating expenses—no doubt the most questionable form of fundraising. The economic recession has obviously put art and cultural institutions in a difficult position. And so, the shrinking art markets, endowments and sponsorships are of concern. While I think the Queens Museum has a unique fundraising program, I recognize it’s such because of the particularities of The Panorama. I do believe, however, that one can generally “model” a fundraising campaign upon anything. But for it to be creative and meaningful, it has to methodically, thematically or even structurally approach existing resources.

A couple of other interesting development programs in New York museums are the current ‘station domination’ of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the ‘chocolate bar’ of the New Museum. Even if these have less of head in creative fundraising than in strategic marketing, they are quite noteworthy. The MoMA has a temporary exhibition throughout the many platforms of the Atlantic Pacific subway and commuter train station. The project runs from February 10-March 15, 2009, and is made by the museum as “a gift” (their word) to busy New Yorkers and commuters. It includes seminal artworks in the collection reproduced in decals and prints for light-boxes; it also includes posters and signage promoting discounted membership fees. This concept of station domination –when a single buyer purchases all advertising space in a subway station—is pretty intense. It makes the site into their venue. And knowingly, the museum calls this project its MoMA Atlantic Pacific site; it has even stamped the station’s entrance and exit turnstiles.

The New Museum’s “New Chocolate Bar” is radically more downscale and intimate. As you may imagine, purchasing the chocolate comes with museum membership. The idea is drawn from the fiction film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, whereby the owner of the chocolate factory creates a playful scheme to identify his corporation’s inheritor. The scheme consists in secretly packing a select number of chocolate bars with a prize. In Willy Wonka, the prized holders get a tour of the factory, and then one of them is selected as the inheritor to the corporation, which is in good standing and desirable and all that of course. In case of the “New Chocolate Bar,” there is only one part to the award, a membership upgrade, and while it’s better than a museum tour it’s far from inheriting the institution!

Above, picture of The Panorama’s Midtown Manhattan, drawn from the Queens Museum website.


Monday, March 9th, 2009

Some weeks ago, Manhattan saw the arrival of Hypnotic Show, one of Raimundas Malasauskas’ latest curatorial projects and certainly one of his most mesmerizing. The inaugural Hypnotic Show took place last year at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco. I experienced its second iteration, which took place at Artists Space in New York.

Technically speaking, there are differences between mesmerizing and the practice of hypnotizing. But in today’s vernacular these terms are used inter-changeably. The first term derives from the name of Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), who is known as a predecessor of hypnotism. Working primarily in Paris, his used magnets for curing, and his trance, which is referred since as mesmerism, were based on some kind of universal magnetic fluid that, according to him, existed between people and was bound to gravity. This idea was highly debated during his lifetime.

By the nineteenth century, when the word hypnosis became current, the medical study of trance shifted to a study in psychology and away from physics. Hypnosis was used to study a patient’s physical and mental response while asleep. Some of the more successful experiments of deep trance are attributed to the late work of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) in his research of neurosis and hysteria. After some period of questioning and debunking, it was in the twentieth century, particularly after World War II, that hypnosis was again embraced by the medical community, not surprisingly, by military doctors.

While there were many other practicioners of mesmerism, hypnosis and other forms of trance, it was Mesmer and Charcot’s peculiar medical practices that the popular image of the hypnotic séance is modeled from. The showmanship around hypnosis, however, has increasingly grown since Mesmer’s times. It is the dependence, the interest-filled and willing submission, really, of the patient to the hypnotizer that is raised to the level of awe or spectacle.

For Hypnotic Show, Raimundas commissioned several artists to create immaterial artworks to be tangibly experienced under hypnosis. While only a couple of contributions are drawings or images, the main submissions are succinctly drafted text pieces. These are descriptive texts detailing encounters with phenomena and art, written as instructive walks or detailed travels. The hypnotized wanderer enters in and out of scenes, encountering images, objects, and situations of different kinds. Like in dream state, many times these encounters suggest the hypnotized to define or name things, even on occasions to take authorship of certain artworks or moments that they come across.

This is how you begin to experience Deric Carner’s artwork: You are walking down a path. You are watching where you place your feet. There are loose rocks. You are surrounded by vegetation. It’s dark and dusty. The work continues until you recognize an object that is mysteriously rising from the horizon but that is, you think, quite clearly not the sun. The hypnotizer then transitions to another work, the contribution by Will Holder. This time you encounter an image of Elvis Presley. A poster that becomes three-dimensional. You find yourself interacting with Elvis.

These are only two of more than a dozen artworks commissioned by Raimundas, who hands the exhibition as script to a professional hypnotizer, Marcos Lutyens. To experience the exhibition, then, the public convenes at a gallery for the séance. In the backdrop, a video by Patrizio di Massimo rendered a seal in fade-ins and close-ups. In the foreground, the curator and hypnotizer lead the event. At Artists Space, there were about ten people who volunteered for hypnosis; they were in fact audience of the exhibition. The rest of us there, the majority, were merely spectators bearing witness to their experience. And while not in a state of trance, at least imagining what it could feel to be in that place.

In the press release—a document written as a responded list of Frequently Asked Questions—the curator described this unconventional and allegedly immaterial exhibition as “a temporary social structure for engaging into creative cognitive acts through shared practices of art and hypnosis.” At the end of the séance at Artists Space, Raimundas explained that he sought to place an exhibition in the brain. The weight given to physical site is interesting. It opened a discussion that is less about memory or imagination, than about sense and sensibility, or as he suggested, of neurology.

What it was. What it is.

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

One of the strongest exhibitions I saw in 2008 was From One Revolution to Another, presented during the fall and winter at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The exhibition was part of the institution’s Carte Blanche initiative, whereby an artist is given time slot in the schedule to curate an exhibition in the entire venue. From One Revolution to Another was Jeremy Deller’s carte blanche. The exhibition took the entire venue, and consisted of large and small shows and salons, including the eclectic “Folk Archive” made together with his collaborator Alan Kane.

One of my favorite components was “1984-2008. Ed Hall. Banners” (installation view pictured here). These were dozens of banners hung through two—the most spacious—galleries of the Palais. These were beautiful and attractive banners that artist and activist Ed Hall created for “organizations committed to social and political causes.” Hall selected the banners on display, which are on loan by their respective groups represented, and also made a banner for the Palais exhibition.

If this was one of the strongest exhibitions in my mind, the reason was proportion. And I do not mean the size of the venue or the scale of the work — two much-heard criticisms about recent exhibitions at the Palais. By proportions I mean to point to the social dimensions that the project embraced. The exhibitions that made From One Revolution to Another presented recent movements, from craft to politics, that create new communities and shape the cultural landscape of Britain and other nations.

This year, Deller got his carte blanche in the US for which he creates It is what it is: Conversations about Iraq, co-commissioned and presented by the New Museum and Creative Time. The project starts next month with programming in New York, and then extends nationwide as a cross-country tour. It’s curated by Laura Hoptman, Amy Mackie and Nato Thompson, with research by Shane Brennan, Sarah Demeuse, Ozge Ersoy, Jazmin Garcia, and Terri C. Smith.

Red Cloud Approaching Manhattan

Friday, August 29th, 2008

The sketch above is an artwork in progress by Argentine visual artist Magdalena Jitrik, who is known for her mostly-abstract paintings on canvas and her collective work as part of the Taller Popular de Serigrafía (a.k.a. TPS). This new work combines Magdalena’s interest in social and political history, explored through her paintings, and in the medium of propaganda that was actively taken up by TPS—which, in turn, is part of a longer history intertwining political activism and graphic arts in Latin America (TPS’s name is taken from the early twentieth century Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico).

To make this new work, Magdalena used as source image a group portrait of Native American Indians headed by Red Cloud. It was a photograph taken around 1860-1880. Red Cloud was a leader of the Oglala Sioux in Lakota (including then regions of Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas in the USA), and known to be a major warrior, negotiator and peace-keeper. He was also a critical voice against the expansion of “white man” in North America. In his famous last speech, Red Cloud says, “Before the white man came to our country, the Lakotas were a free people. They made their own laws and governed themselves as it seemed good to them. The priests and ministers tell us that we lived wickedly when we lived before the white man came among us. Whose fault was this? We lived right as we were taught it was right. Shall we be punished for this? I am not sure that what these people tell me is true.”

Magdalena is one of four artists that I’ve selected for “Convergence Center,” an event-based, week-long exhibition that is part of the larger project Democracy in America: The National Campaign organized by Creative Time in New York. Her new work about Red Cloud, sketched above, will be a painting on canvas (118 x 117 inches), which will be hung as a banner between the entrance columns of the Armory Regiment Building in New York. This is where “Convergence Center” will take place from September 21-27, 2008. Aside from Magdalena, the three other artists in Foreign Correspondents, the international component of “Convergence Center,” are Erick Beltran (Mexico City/Barcelona), Luca Frei (Malmo) and Chu Yun (Beijing). I will also introduce their work here shortly.

What does it mean to be international today?

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

This is the first in a series of interviews with young curators working inside and outside of institutions in China and Hong Kong. I’ve specifically interviewed curators that are foreigners there, each with a distinct relationship to the contemporary art scene in China, as well as to ideas of local community building and international cultural exchange.

This first interview is with Kate Fowle, International Curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, China, a nonprofit art space founded in 2007 by the Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens. Originally from England, Kate had been based in San Francisco since 2002, where she established and then directed the Curatorial Practice Graduate Program at California College of Arts. Today, she splits her time between New York and Beijing.

I interviewed Kate in May 2008, a little over a month after her first exhibition at UCCA opened, and still less than a year since her arrival at that institution. This interview touches on several subjects, but particularly curatorial processes that engage in the formation of artistic communities and new audiences, and specifically as it relates to Kate’s work in China today. (Click below to read the interview.)


A special kind of COMPANY

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

The shopping list included a variety of items, from a new notebook to some travel gifts to a variety of travel-size cosmetics to a lipstick, and I figured that at least one of these could be found at COMPANY, a gift, for example. Once there, it was difficult to contain myself. I ended up purchasing: a dried flower (this will be a gift, I explained myself); a grand opening banner (a portable artwork, I thought); and a red lipstick (I needed one anyway). The banner is an item from the first product line by Fawn Krieger, launched in November 2007 when the store opened; the other two items are part of her winter line introduced in January 2008. And still, I couldn’t stop. COMPANY was contagious. I decided to get a Performance Underwear Prototype (this will also be a gift, golden hanger included), one in a series of works that are part of a new product line commissioned by COMPANY to artist K8 Hardy.

COMPANY is an evolving and unpredictable art project by the curious and generous artist Fawn Krieger, a project that I curated while working at Art in General in New York, with Meghan DellaCrosse as curatorial assistant. It was certainly an interesting experience to re-visit COMPANY now as an audience member. Fawn’s project is sculpted as a store, and operates like one, too. It consists of an installation at Art in General’s storefront gallery that transforms a window-filled-little-white-cube into a three-leveled boutique-like space with a plethora of vitrines and cases displaying artworks of different sorts under the label of “product lines.” The artworks or so-called products are sculptures in every form, and all of them are unique and irreproducible just because Fawn’s mind is way speedier than her hands. At COMPANY, you can find anything from an oil barrel and a shoe, to a nervous system and some botox or a green card. There is also a TV (remote control sold separately), loose cigarettes, an airplane passenger, and a box of chocolates, gigantic dandruff flakes and dinosaur eggs. They are made in ceramic, wood, felt, paper, plaster, gold leaf, fabric, plastic and other materials. They range in sizes, structural make-up and surface textures. Some are realistic, others far from it. They are anything from funny, intense, absurd, disgusting and beautiful.

But Fawn’s COMPANY is not only an aesthetic endeavor. It also aims at being an economic project, proposing an alternative if slower kind of marketplace with and for artists, as well as unique forms of exchange and engagement with the public. The sales of the first product lines by Fawn were reinvested in COMPANY allowing for the commission of K8’s product line, which was launched in mid-March. And K8 has proposed herself another parameter involving the forms of sales for her work and impacting its actual form and distribution, too: the purchase of an edition of her Performance Underwear includes a performance by the artist at the buyer’s direction; the edition if of 10 including one garment, and is priced at $700 each.

The online art journal MUSEO published an interview that art critic Miriam Katz conducted to Fawn, and a radio interview with the artist was broadcast in San Francisco’s Pirate Cat Radio, available online. (Fast forward to the middle of the recording to skip the music and begin listening to the interview). COMPANY by Fawn Krieger continues until April 26 at Art in General, with current product lines by Fawn Krieger and K8 Hardy on display (and for sale).