This article introduces a series of interviews with the curators of the National Academy Museum’s Annual, The Queens Museum’s Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s deCordova Biennial, and Independent Curators International’s People’s Biennial.
Biennials, triennials, annuals, and other large group shows like to tout themselves as paradigm-shifting productions that gauge the current climate of a particular slice of the art world. Whether these ambitious visions are ultimately achieved is often a topic of heated debate once these shows go up, with criticism directed at shortsighted curatorial decisions, gratuitous institutional interests, and lopsided artist lists that overlook underserved communities. This year there is a clutch of exceptional shows that appear to be living up to their curatorial ambitions.
The National Academy Museum has mounted an exhibition that juxtaposes established and emerging artists through a unique curatorial process driven by the artists themselves. Members of the academy’s association of artists and architects select one emerging artist to present work alongside their own, the result of which is an intergenerational conversation that calls on figures including Glenn Ligon, Joan Jonas, and Robert A. M. Stern to gauge the state of emerging talent.
The fifth iteration of the Queens Museum’s biannual survey Three Points Make a Triangle focuses on the work of a multigenerational and multinational group of artists who live or work in the borough. As a point of departure the show takes René Daumal’s unfinished 1944 novel Mount Analogue concerning the exploits of a group of eight explorers in pursuit of an invisible, undetectable magical mountain, which they eventually find using a combination of scientific knowledge and metaphysical powers. And, as the curators note, the selected artists “seemed to be combining the rational and the emotional in a search for worlds beyond our own, from the midst of a daily existence saturated by information technology. This state of being seemed to cut not only across medium, but often enough, culture and generation.” Abstraction, found imagery, anachronisms, and science fiction are all themes that weave through the show, commenting on contemporary anxieties surrounding the role that intermediaries such as technology assume in everyday life. The survey also hits on a particularly cogent aspect of the current cultural climate given the art world’s recent obsession with all things entropic and apocalyptic.
The deCordova Biennial opted for an almost purely aesthetic approach to the genre this year, committing no particular allegiance to any overarching theme, but focusing instead on a group of emerging artists with a New England bent. The show reflects, according to curators Dina Deitsch and Abigail Ross Goodman, “the current mood of anxiety, discomfort, and overall change we are experiencing throughout American culture."
The Independent Curator’s International People’s Biennial, curated by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher, took a stab at the genre through the representation of non-sanctioned artists across the United States with a focus on artists working in cities that are on the margin of the art world (Portland, Oregon; Rapid City, South Dakota; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Haverford, Pennsylvania). The show concentrates on the overlooked, the marginalized, and the excluded in an attempt to provide a snapshot of current artistic practice in America.
The common denominator among these shows is that each opts for an approach that enables themes and any theoretical backdrop to emerge from the exhibitions themselves rather than imposing a set framework from the outset, with the result that the shows end up doing what they purport to do: tracing current artistic trends and gauging contemporary ideas. Look for my interviews with the curators each day this week.