Felix Gonzalez-Torres (b. 1957, Cuba; d. 1996, USA) blurred the distinctions between public and private space, as well as the different social modes we use to experience the world, employing minimal forms to portray the complexity of life. Culling from both collectively significant and overlooked events, he utilized images of fleeting moments, everyday commercial objects, biographical details, and media evidence of social contradiction. The New International is featuring three works by the artist: Untitled (1991–1993), a billboard piece that consists of images produced from two photographs of birds—with their inherent references to freedom and flight—in cloudy, non-descript skies; Untitled (Couple) (1993), consisting of two strings of light bulbs that can be installed differently each time it is exhibited; and Untitled (Waldheim to the Pope) (1989), one of 55 small C-print jigsaw puzzles based on a newspaper photograph of Kurt Waldheim receiving communion from the Pope. This image of the former United Nations Secretary General and President of Austria, famous for concealing his association with Nazi war crimes, at once insinuates the hypocrisies of culture and the fragility of any image.
Johan Grimonprez (b 1962, Belgium) made his international breakthrough with the 68-minute film essay dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, which premiered at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and Documenta X in 1997, breaking new ground in documentary filmmaking. The film tells the story of airplane hijacks, from those staged by the revolutionaries who first gained media coverage with skyjackings in the late 1960s, through to the state-sponsored suitcase bombs on planes in the 1990s. Revealing how the rise of international terrorism changed the course of reportage, the artist reflects on the way in which history has been influenced by the fusion of reality and fiction in the mass media.
Founded in 1983 in Ljubljana, Slovenia while the country was still part of the Yugoslavian Federation, IRWIN consists of five members: Dušan Mandič (b. 1954), Miran Mohar (b. 1958), Andrej Savski (b. 1961), Roman Uranjek (b. 1961), and Borut Vogelnik (b. 1959). IRWIN was also one of the founding members of NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) in Ljubljana in 1984, established to explore issues related to Slovenian national self-determination. In June 1991 Slovenia became the first country to gain independence from Yugoslavia, prompting NSK’s mission to mutate into a “State in Time” that does not have a specific territory and is not based on nationality. One of the first projects to emerge from this transformation was the NSK Embassy Moscow. Established through collaboration with Apt-Art International in a rented apartment in Moscow, the IRWIN-NSK Embassy was the first project in Russia to establish a direct dialogue with artists from Eastern Europe. For one month in 1992, the temporary institution hosted lectures, debates, and performances with artists, critics, and philosophers under the auspices of the concept “How the East Sees the East.” For The New International this project will be revisited to see what resonance the conversations and ideas behind the Embassy have today.
Paul Khera (b. 1964, UK) is a designer, photographer, architect, and filmmaker. In the 1990s, while working with Vogue magazine as it was planning to launch its Russian issue, Khera discovered that there were very few contemporary Cyrillic typefaces. Desiring to see Russian Vogue launch with a completely new approach to Cyrillic typography (a desire that was never fulfilled), in 1999 Khera began a five-year project called Post Soviet. Ultimately working more closely with subcultures than the mainstream, the designer created a font that offered a contemporary take on both Latin and Cyrillic letters, reflecting the energy of those who would communicate with it. Ten years on, now an artifact of its time, Post Soviet is the font used for all the graphics of The New International exhibition.
Makiko Kudo (b. 1978, Japan) belongs to the generation of artists who came of age during the so-called “lost decade” of 1990s Japan. With natural and social disasters unsettling a culture that was already losing traditional values, living with uncertainty became the norm. For many young people, the best outcome was to resist global capitalism through turning the problems of existence into opportunities for personal freedom. This gave rise to a tendency in art that critic Midori Matsui has named “Micropop,” and of which Kudo is considered to be a part. Her paintings Manager of the end of the world (2010) and Base Ogawa garbage incinerator (2010) draw on places she has passed by, as well as associative memories, to create landscapes that are at once magical and banal—phenomenological, transient worlds with an intimacy that draws in the viewer. Using vibrant color fields woven like tapestries, and expressive brushstrokes that recall Jackson Pollock, Monet, and Rousseau all at once, the artist evokes classical Japanese symbols and Manga-like characters, while painting depictions of non-places that both seduce and repel.
Goshka Macuga (b. 1967, Poland) works across a variety of media, including installation, sculpture, film, photography, architecture, collage, and tapestry. Often featuring subjects from politics, sociology, and ethnography, her works also employ references to herself as a participant in the ever-expanding art world to create another layer of meaning in the critique of curatorial and archival practices. Commissioned for dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012, Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not is a two-part work of photo-based, black-and-white tapestries that are reminiscent of the 16th century tradition of creating allegorical tapestries on a monumental scale that relayed multiple narratives as well as anecdotal details of social and political events. Part 1, which was produced during research in Kabul and presented in Kassel as part of dOCUMENTA (13), depicts a diverse crowd of Afghans and Westerners in front of Darul Aman Palace outside of Kabul. Part 2, which will be featured in The New International, shows a collage of the curators and organizers of dOCUMENTA (13), Occupy protesters, and an art world crowd attending the bi-annual Arnold Bode Prize—named after the founder of documenta—which Macuga was awarded in 2011 for outstanding work in contemporary art. By re-contextualizing historic events in a subjective way, she suggests that history is never objective or conclusive, and reveals the idiosyncrasies of the role of the art institution in presenting issues concerning broader cultural and political concerns.
Although she grew up during a relatively progressive time in Iran, Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) was forced into exile during the 1979 Iranian revolution, becoming involuntarily separated from her family while she studied in California. She has remained based in the United States ever since. Returning to Iran for the first time in the early 1990s, she started to explore the dualities between the political and personal, the individual and the national, created by the restrictions on expression and the activities of women in the country. While resisting polemics in its message, Turbulent (1998)—the artist’s first departure from photography into installation—employs visual opposites such as black/white, male/female, empty/full, traditional/nontraditional, communal/solitary, and rational/irrational to explore the complex intellectual, psychological, and social dimensions of Islamic culture and Muslim women’s’ experience.
Santiago Sierra (b 1966, Spain) creates works that engage in a critical reconsideration of the neutrality of minimalism through photography, video, performance, and sculpture. Produced in many cities across the world and featuring illegal immigrants, prostitutes, junkies, and the unemployed, in nearly all his works the individual becomes an object that can be used or organized. Often seen with their backs to the viewer, the artist’s subjects become anonymous examples of how human dignity is now an economic privilege. For 250 cm line tattooed on the backs of 6 paid people (1999) he invited six unemployed men from Havana to have a line tattooed across their backs in exchange for $30 each. In effect they were hired to become the work of art, which is the resulting two-and-a-half-meter line formed by all the participants when they stand side by side. The monetary transaction, representing a capitalist structure of power, enabled Sierra to produce a photograph that circulates in the art world. In exchange, the participants are literally branded for life.
Danh Vō (b. 1975) left Vietnam with his family during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. They were rescued at sea by a Danish tanker and Vō eventually became a Danish citizen. His conceptual artworks and installations subtly draw on elements of his lived experiences, in the context of broader historical, social, or political phenomena, to address issues relating to identity and belonging, authorial status, ownership, and the role of personal relationships. Vō’s project We The People (detail) (2011–14) is parts of a life-size replica of the Statue of Liberty. The project takes its name from the first three words of the U.S. Constitution, which promotes human rights through the establishment of justice, domestic tranquility, welfare, and promises to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” By replicating one of the most famous monuments to freedom in the world, but in parts that will never be seen all together, inherent in We The People is the failure to implement the political ideals imbued by the statue. Now, the first three words of the Constitution sound like the cries of the “99%,” rather than the words underlying the belief that it is the people who form a polity.
Alexander Brener (b. 1957, Kazakhstan, former USSR) gained international notoriety through performing provocative public actions in Russia, as well as in European museums and exhibitions, during the 1990s. While he does not consider himself to be a part of a movement, or his actions to contribute to a generational zeitgeist, he became known as a proponent of Moscow Actionism, and his activities generated a great deal of discussion and creative responses from other artists, critics, and curators. While his involvement in the “professional” art world was short-lived—he is now more closely engaged with samizdat, fanzines, and the oral tradition in what he describes as the “liberation of everyday life”—his impact was not. Many never saw the various actions he performed, but the rumors and storytelling around them meant that they became legendary. In short, Brener is a mythological figure whose works few have experienced firsthand.
The New International focuses on his action at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1997, where he spray-painted a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematisme, for which he faced a trial and short jail sentence. At the time, this provoked a discussion about whether his action was a radical intervention or mere vandalism. Many journalists denied it had any value, while others, including the editor of Flash Art, felt that it warranted closer consideration. Artists in Moscow and further afield made work in response to the action, while others rallied to support the artist while he was in jail. For this exhibition, related press, artworks, films, and other forms of documentation will explore the way in which Brener’s action impacted on an art community attempting to make sense of the politics of art. The display is produced with the involvement of Michael Benson, Kazimir Malevich, Judith Schoneveld, Alexander Sokolov, Olga Stolpovskaya, Dmitry Troitsky, Harmen Verbrugge, and Kamiel Verschuren, among others.