October 28, 2008

Playing for Fung in Santa Fe

Here’s an excerpt from the press materials for “Lucky Number Seven,” the SITE Santa Fe 2008 Biennial curated by Lance M. Fung:

"The entire project proposes an alternative to the current format of biennials, which has evolved in recent years into international mega-exhibitions studded with big-name, well-traveled artists…. All of the works for ‘Lucky Number Seven’ are site inspired commissions that will not exist as works of art, per se, beyond the exhibition, with the majority of the materials being recycled back into the community. This element emphasizes temporality and process, and provides the artists with the opportunity to push their practices into new directions. The advantage of such a framework is that it allows for experimentation and play, and is not dependent on the forces of the market. This instead proposes a field of possibilities, grounded in the unique environment and history of Santa Fe."

For the group of emerging artists selected, participating in this kind of biennial must be like completing a well-funded homework assignment that includes travel and grad-school camaraderie. I imagine them pulling all-nighters at their desks, trying to develop their concepts: “Let’s see….the project needs to explore temporality, use ephemeral materials, relate to the unique history and environment of Santa Fe, and oh yeah, be fun and playful…”

In Art In America, Charles Dee Mitchell hails “Lucky Number Seven” as charting a wonderful new direction for the tired, bloated international biennial format. I agree that taking the market forces out of the selection process is a good idea. When considered from the artists’ perspective, however, the limitations the curator has imposed seem artificial and stultifying. Fung’s exacting stipulations as to improvisation and impermanence no doubt guarantee a big art-tourist audience and plenty of publicity. But when the projects are dismantled, the artists, having spent countless hours developing a concept and creating the project, are left empty-handed save for a folder of publicity materials, an honorarium, and a line on their résumés. I wonder why there aren’t more artists who still credit art’s importance for posterity and realize that this isn't an especially good deal. Wouldn't it be more worthwhile for emerging artists to "push their practices" in self-determined directions that have a longer lifespan?

"SITE Santa Fe 2008 Biennial," curated by Lance M. Fung. Santa Fe, NM. Through Jan. 4.

4 comments:

I agree. A second issue is curators commissioning works to a theme - rather than conceiving of a theme based on pre-existing work.

These themes are usually pretty stinky anyway but trying to coax artists into complying with the curator's thesis, rather than the curator adjust a thesis according to (favored) artists practices seems to put the cart before the horse!

SITE Santa Fe is one of the more adventurous surveys, but they too I suspect are still obliged to run a 20-greatest-hits on the current gallery/art mag season.

Actually, the exhibit was great. It was more about the collaboration between art and architecture. The other stipulations played into logistical limitations and as to theme driven shows:

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While I agree emeeging artists need more venues permitting them to create the type of art in the formars they create, Lance Fung's curatorial style permits this. I've never worked with a curator that so encourages experimentation and process. In fact, his style is to give huge amounts of control up to the artist.
I worked with Lance during the SITE Santa Fe biennial this June and was amazed how flexible and permissive he was for artists changing their minds, even with one week until the opening. Lance was there working with each artist all day for 3 weeks prior to the opening. Do you think Robert Storr or most other prominent international curators work like this? They would select final work for an exhibition,
ship it there, and show up just before the opening.

why does an artist have to make a permanent "object" of some kind to be worthwhile? it seems contradictory to me that one can be in favor of taking out the market but still strive for best practices that keep that exact market alive.