Curating the world
Curating in the age of globalization.
Global Conceptualism was co-curated by Jane Farver, Luis Camnitzer, and Rachel Weiss with the primary intention of challenging the widely accepted perception that Conceptualism was a single movement that spread internationally from a singular point. It’s intention was to negate the argument that non-Western forms of conceptualism are merely borrowed from Western prototypes. The rejection of how Conceptual art was usually mapped was a rejection of a colonial attitude that the movement had a centre, both geographically and culturally, that all the forms it took related back to. Jane Farver has said that as she got further into producing the exhibition she shifted into a more postcolonial position, no longer centrally focused on simple dynamics of exclusion and more interested in difference. Rather the show presented conceptualism as a global phenomenon. It presented conceptualism as a response that emerged independently throughout the world in reaction to particular social, political and economic issues as well as to the wider political climate that was emerging from the late 50’s onwards. What you have here is more like a constellation that joins up, rather than a something that branches out from a singular root cause. This therefore acknowledged that the emergence of conceptual art coincided with a period of destabilized social and technological trends as the political, economic, and social landscapes of large parts of the world underwent significant, often traumatic, transitions.
One of the issues in curating an exhibition based on this premise was that the definition of what was, and what was not, to deemed conceptual was very different from one place to another, dependent on obvious factors like cultural and political histories but equally on the facts of infrastructure (communications technologies, means of travel and transport, or information sources) and so even the one connective tissue in the project—namely, the idea of Conceptualism—had to be an extremely accommodating container. The exhibition’s agenda was to decenter the narrative of conceptualism to reflect its global diversity. One of the results of this was that the exhibition was not curated thematically but rather by locality and therefore geographically, which inevitably tends towards a grouping of economies. The decision to install the show geographically therefore became a related structural issue as the work in the exhibition related so strongly to the social, political, and economic climate that it came from. It boiled down to the question: was the point of the exhibition to assert that conceptualism grew into a shared language, or that it was the specificities in how and why it arose and played out that mattered most? It is my opinion that the most interesting aspect of the exhibition relates to this latter question of how cultural differences feed into an approach and an aesthetic. Inevitably, as conceptualism was a political, leftist, stance (i.e it would very difficult to imagine conceptualism that promoted a right wing agenda) it would grow into a shared language of political activism and reform naturally. Therefore, what makes the differences in the work interesting is the way they have developed in response to more localized politics and the relation of those local politics onto a wider globalized stage.
The exhibition was divided into two chronological periods: the first, from the late 1950s to around 1973, and the second from the mid-1970s to the end of the '80s. The exhibition therefore traced three decades of the history of conceptual art through these two different periods. The first, which was from the late 1950’s to about 1973, included works from Japan, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, North America, and from Australia and New Zealand, (chosen by Terry Smith). The second part examined the emergence of conceptualism from the mid-1970s to the end of the 80s. These were from the Soviet Union, Okwui Enwezor made the selections from Africa, South Korea, and from China. Jane Farver has said that she was pretty clear from the get-go that a sharply thematized exhibition just wasn’t a viable approach and that attempting to make everything fit into any kind of neat schema would fail, by definition, to capture the diverse range of practices, aesthetics, meanings and ambitions that Conceptualism had been the site of. Because so many of those ‘local’ histories were still basically unknown—both in New York and even in their home sites—she says that it would have been premature to install the show according to thematic or topical affinities, which inevitably would have reinforced the dominance of the work that was already known, with all the new material being consigned to some kind of offshoot status. The exhibition was curated at a time when there had been no survey show of conceptual tendencies that showed how they differed in relation to geography and political climate. Particularly in New York, where the show was first held, they had yet to see a museum survey exhibition of conceptual art from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and many other parts of the world. One of the reasons for this was that information about such work was difficult to obtain, particularly in English, and this void made it easy for New York critics and curators to assume that little that was innovative in conceptual art was being produced in these regions.
There also seems to be a connection to the Walker Art Center’s 2003 How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age, which was a kind of remix bringing together Szeemann’s “Attitudes” with Global Conceptualism’s approach to latitudes. Similarly its a show that examines ways that globalization is affecting visual culture. The exhibition acknowledged that the emergence of conceptual art coincided with a period of destabilized social and technological trends as the political, economic, and social landscapes of large parts of the world underwent significant, often traumatic, transitions. What makes the differences in the work interesting is the way they have developed in response to more localized politics and the relation of those local politics onto a wider globalized stage.