Art Insight #18:
Artistic Director of dOCUMENTA(13)
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is an author, an organizer of events and exhibitions, and a researcher of artistic practices, art history, and politics of aesthetics. In January 2016 Christov-Bakargiev became the first person to simultaneously direct both of Turin’s two most important art institutions, the GAM – Galleria Civicad’ArteModerna e Contemporanea– and the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art where she was formerly a curator and the interim director.
She is the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University(2013–15) and Getty’s Visiting Scholar(2015). She drafted the 14th edition of the ‘Istanbul Biennial’ in 2015, <SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms> and was the artistic director of ‘dOCUMENTA(13)’, which took place in 2012 in Kassel, Germany as well as in Kabul, Afghanistan; Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt; and Banff, Canada. She was also the senior curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, a MoMA affiliate in New York, from 1999 to 2001.
I believe that art and life are deeply related. - Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev -
Q. In dOCUMENTA(13), which you curated in 2012, you talked about unfreezing positions through a framing of this vast exhibition as “an unfolding organism, like a vegetable bud. It comes from intuitions, then it forms an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge…” I think you visualized the theme well. Also it seems that the 14th Istanbul Biennial, <SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms> located a position similar to the dOCUMENTA(13). What is your view on this?
I believe that art and life are deeply related; therefore I believe that curatorial practice and organizing an exhibition need to be based on a vision that is organic and not on forms of categorization and rational thinking that systematize knowledge. There is a process of developing an artwork, and there is a process of developing an exhibition. The works on the exhibitions that I have made all reveal the process of that development. That process is very close to an organic one of any living organism. Yes, dOCUMENTA(13) unfolded like an ecosystem, and the Istanbul Biennial did the same.
Q. I believe many people agree that your specialty is combining anthropology, philosophy, sociology, and science, and going back and forth between art history and contemporary art. Also you know how to handle the complexity of interdisciplinarity.
Yes, I agree that art is interesting only insofar as it is part of the world at large. It not only reflects the world, but it also expresses the connections between different aspects of life. Art is therefore in many ways a list of professions and all professionals. It is an amator activity in the sense of amare and amatoriality, and amatoriality is the ability of artists and people like art historians or curators to connect different fields, not just anthropology, philosophy, sociology, science, art history, and the knowledge of contemporary art, but also many, many, many other things. What is the difference between science and art? It is a major question I ask myself. In fact, “science” is scienza in Italian, and it just means “knowledge.” It doesn’t mean anything even close to what the average person considers to be science. In any case, I can say that I am interested in fundamental research, whether it is fundamental research in science (fundamental physics, for example, distinct from applied physics or applied mathematics) or fundamental research in art, as opposed to “applied art,” like design or advertising. So you could say that I am interested in everything that is fundamental.
Q. As a director of Galleria Civicad’ArteModerna, what is your view on institutions supported by corporations like Hyundai Motor? What can corporations do for art and institutions, and what can they get in return for their sponsorships?
I am the director of the Castello di Rivoli Museod’ArteContemporanea and the Galleria Civicad’ArteModerna. While the Castello di Rivoli is an original museum, a castle located outside Turin, the Galleria Civicad’ArteModerna(GAM) is downtown and it has a very large collection of historical works dated eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century. But GAM is less a contemporary art museum compared to Castello di Rivoli. I think that you need funding to run a museum, and I think that a balance between private and public funding is crucial. A museum that runs only on public funding can be very old-fashioned, bureaucratic, and slow. Museums that are funded only by corporations can be too mixed-up with conflict of interests between investing in art, buying art, and the study of research and presentation of art.
Q. Could you speak a bit about the Korean art scene and Korean artists? You have introduced Haegue Yang, Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho at dOCUMENTA(13). It was meaningful since Korean artists had not participated in the dOCUMENTA for twenty years.
It was very important to me to show Jeon Joonho, Moon Kyungwon, and Haegue Yang in dOCUMENTA(13). They are great artists. I visited Jeon Joonho and I had been familiar with his work since he participated in the Singapore Biennial in 2007, and we’ve known each other personally since then. I met Moon Kyungwon through Jeon Joonho, and I met Haegue Yang through many of her exhibits and shows all around the world. Then I invited Yang to dOCUMENTA(13). I think the Korean art scene is very dynamic and rich, full of great artists.
Q. You were born in New Jersey into a Bulgarian-Italian family, married an Italian artist, and studied in both America and Italy. Also you worked in America, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Australia. You appear to be the paragon of “cosmopolitan.” Can you share your experience of a citizen of the world?
Well, in many ways I’m a lost soul: my mother was an archeologist and her vision was always very vast, both geographically and historically, so she would look into the deep past and she would look at civilizations regarding each other across great divides of time and distance. I believe this and traveling with her as a child influenced my personality and my work. Indeed I speak many languages and had the opportunity and privilege to travel and work in many places. Indeed when I was curating the ‘Biennial of Sydney’ in 2007-2008(it opened in 2008), I remember traveling a lot to Asia—I would travel to Korea, Singapore, Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand because they were close to Australia. When I was living in America I would travel to Canada and Latin America—Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. Now that I am more based in Europe, I’m traveling more in Europe actually, although next week I’m going to Dakar for the opening of the Dakar Biennial. So yes, I do feel a little bit cosmopolitan for better or for worse.
Q. As a leading figure in contemporary art, do you have any advice for aspiring young artists and curators?
Yes, I have advice for aspiring young artists and curators.
Number 1: To learn languages and to travel.
Number 2: To not be ambitious in terms of organizing exhibitions or exhibiting the works, but rather to always look at sites, at different locations. Don’t look just at art, but also look deep into other fields. For example, I am very interested in food and the problems around food in the world today, in problems in agriculture, in providing food for people, in soils, the collapse of bees, and ecological catastrophes. So, I think if you’re going to be an artist or a curator, the most important thing is to be interested in everything that is not art, in addition to, of course, being knowledgeable about one specific context. ■ with ARTINPOST
MAURIZIO CATTELAN <Novecento(1900)> 1997
cavallo in tassidermia, imbragatura in pelle, corda / taxidermized horse, leather slings, rope 200 x 70 x 270 cm / 78 3/4 x 27 9/16 x 106 5/16 in. Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donazione Amici Sostenitori del Castello di Rivoli / Gift of the Supporting Friends of the Castello di Rivoli, 1997
BERTRAND LAVIER <Steinway & Sons> 1987
pittura acrilica su pianoforte / acrylic on piano 106 x 151 x 180 cm / 41 3/4 x 59 7/16 x 70 7/8 in. Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 2005
Pierre Huyghe and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev inside Float 2004
Installation Courtesy Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin
Atrio juvarriano e Manica Lunga
Foto Paolo Pellion, Torino
DANIEL BUREN <La Cabane eclatee n. 3, travail situe (La capanna esplosa n. 3, opera situata / The Exploded Cabin # 3, situated work)> 1984
tela, legno, pittura acrilica, morsetti / canvas, wood, acrylic, clamps 560 x 420 x 420 cm / 220 1/2 x 165 3/8 x 165 3/8 in. Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Acquistato con il contributo di / Purchased with the contribution of Andrea e / and Paolo Accornero, 1998
Il Castello di Rivoli, l’atrio juvarriano e la Manica Lunga
Foto Paolo Pellion, Torino
Opening of Giovanni Anselmo's solo show in the Manica Lunga of the Castello di Rivoli.
Photo Andrea Guermani, Turin
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is an author, an organizer of events and exhibitions, and a researcher of artistic practices, art history, and politics of aesthetics. She is the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University(2013–2015), Getty Visiting Scholar(2015) and as of 2016, director of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art and the GAM(Galleria Civicad’ArteModerna e Contemporanea) in Turin, Italy. She drafted the 14th edition of the Istanbul Biennial in 2015 (SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms) and was the artistic director of dOCUMENTA(13), which took place in 2012 in Kassel, Germany as well as in Kabul, Afghanistan; Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt; and Banff, Canada. She was also the artistic director of the 16th Biennale of Sydney, Revolutions—Forms That Turn (2008); and senior curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, a MoMA affiliate in New York, from 1999 to 2001.