Criticism
Monday, August 25th, 2014

A Dispatch from “Manifesta 10″


Manifesta 10 at The State Hermitage Museum
June 28 through October 31, 2014
Palace Square 2
St. Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 710-90-79

Francis Alÿs, Lada “Kopeika” Project. Brussels—St. Petersburg, 2014. In collaboration with brother Frédéric, Constantin Felker, and Julien Devaux. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the Flemish authorities.

Francis Alÿs, Lada “Kopeika” Project. Brussels—St. Petersburg, 2014. In collaboration with brother Frédéric, Constantin Felker, and Julien Devaux. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10,” St. Petersburg. With the support of the Flemish authorities.

Manifesta, the European biennial of contemporary art, is held in Western European cities — most recently in Genk, Belgium. This tenth edition, hosted by St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, was housed in the Winter Palace and New Hermitage, the two main buildings of that institution and, across the enormous Palace Square, the city’s main plaza, in the newly renovated General Staff Building. The Hermitage, an encyclopedic museum celebrating its 250th anniversary, is devoted to world art, going up to Post-Impressionism and the paintings by Henri Matisse; another collection of Russian art is in the State Russia Museum. Because visas are expensive, Russia is not readily accessible to many Americans and West Europeans, so the primary intended audience was Russian. There were a great many foreign tourists in St. Petersburg when I visited in late July, but relatively few of them focused on Manifesta.

Thomas Hirschhorn, ABSCHLAG, 2014. Scaffolding construction, cardboard sheets, packing tape, wood, plywood boards, rolls of aluminum foil, polyethylene electric pipes, metal (Inox) pipes, acrylic, spray, Styrofoam, foam blocks, furniture for the room: six tables, six beds, six chairs, 12 bedside chests, six bureaus, six chairs, six heaters, six closets, six chandeliers, six table lamps, paintings by Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Olga Rozanova from the collection of the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, 16.5 × 9.36 × 3.25 meters. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the LUMA Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

Thomas Hirschhorn, ABSCHLAG, 2014. Mixed media with paintings by Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Olga Rozanova from the collection of the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, 16.5 × 9.36 × 3.25 meters. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10,” St. Petersburg. With the support of the LUMA Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

Some of the artists responded to specifically to contemporary issues in Russian society. Alexandra Sukhareva, who is Russian, presented photographs from World War II archives. There is a video of a Russian dance class by Klara Lidén and a video of young dancers by Rineke Dijkstra. Boris Mikhailov presented photographs of a protesters’ camp in Kiev. The late Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, a gay artist who had been beaten up in the streets, was represented with Tragic Love (1993), a series of photographs of the artist dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Some foreign artists also offered Russian themes. Yasumasa Morimura made photographs based on drawings of the Hermitage when its art was removed during World War II. Marlene Dumas showed portraits of famous gay men including three Russians — Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Rudolf Nureyev. Thomas Hirschhorn, whose Abschlag (2014) was designed for “Manifesta 10,” showed a gigantic collapsed building in which works by the revolutionary Russian Constructivists are installed. Erik van Lieshout presented the story of the Hermitage cats, longtime residents of the museum; they perished during the siege, but today are back in the museum basement, controlling invading rodents. And Francis Alÿs, whose boyhood dream was to travel from his native Belgium to the other side of the Iron Curtain, crashed a Russian Lada, a now-obsolete model of car into a tree inside the courtyard of the Winter Palace.

Vadim Fishkin, A Speedy Day, 2003. Electronic clock, room construction, light by A.J. Vaisbard. Courtesy Galerija Gregor Podnar, Ljubljana, Slovenia/Berlin, Germany. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

Vadim Fishkin, A Speedy Day, 2003. Electronic clock, room construction, light by A.J. Vaisbard. Courtesy Galerija Gregor Podnar, Ljubljana, Slovenia/Berlin, Germany. Installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

Facing controversy about Russian anti-LGBT laws and, also, about the country’s action in the Crimea, in interviews Manifesta’s curator Kasper König, who described Russia as “a repressive and authoritarian country,” articulated frankly the difficulties he faced. So far as I could see (I was not able to attend the performances or public performances, which were held outside the central exhibition site), much of the art, including most of the art by non-Russians was the kind displayed at such exhibitions in America. Certainly this is true of Olivier Mosset’s large, handsome monochromes; Ann Veronica Janssens’s very beautiful installations of floating liquids; and Vladim Fishkin’s A Speedy Day (2003), which compresses the twenty-four-hour light cycle into two-and-a-half hours, an effect especially evocative in far-North St. Petersburg, where the summer days are so long. The same can be said of Joseph Beuys’s Wirtschaftswerte (“Economic Values,” 1980), a commentary on food shortages in East German stores; Bruce Nauman’s Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage, 2001); Susan Philipsz’s piano recording inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which was played on the main staircase of the New Hermitage. Lara Favaretto’s installation of concrete blocks in the gallery for ancient Greek sculpture; Tatzu Nishi’s temporary wooden living room built around a chandelier in the Winter Palace, creating a home with the museum; and a painting from 1966 by Gerhard Richter made similarly affecting use of the site.

Louise Bourgeois, The Institute, 2002. Silver 30.5 x 70.5 x 46.4 cm; Steel, glass, mirrors, and wood, vitrine, 177.8 x 101.6 x 60.9 cm. Collection of The Easton Foundation, New York, USA.

Louise Bourgeois, The Institute, 2002. Silver, 30.5 x 70.5 x 46.4 cm; steel, glass, mirrors, and wood, vitrine, 177.8 x 101.6 x 60.9 cm. Collection of The Easton Foundation, New York, USA.

As the Hermitage’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, rightly notes in the catalogue, “Displaying contemporary art alongside the classics is a common occurrence.” The logic of this procedure deserves discussion. In the gallery of the Hermitage devoted to Nicolas Poussin you can see the relationship between his early Joshua’s Victory Over the Amalekites (1625-26); Moses Striking Water from the Rock (1649), painted more than 20 years later; and his Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1655-57), a marvelous example of his late style. Normally we thus find visually connected works in one gallery. When, however, the physically contiguous works are historically distant, imagination is then called upon to identify connections. This is true when Louise Bourgeois’s silver sculpture The Institute (2002) is installed alongside an etching by Piranesi and when Katharina Fritsch’s sculpture Frau mit Hund (“Woman with Dog,” 2004), which alludes to the life of Russia’s historical high society, is displayed in the former emperor’s private quarters. In a challenging variation on this familiar procedure, Maria Lassnig, Dumas and Nicole Eisenman occupied the two rooms of the Winter Palace usually dedicated to Matisse. (His paintings were removed to the General Staff Building.) They too deal with the female body and its sexuality, and so temporarily giving them his privileged place in the Hermitage counted as a political gesture.

Francis Alÿs, Lada “Kopeika” Project. Brussels—St. Petersburg, (video still), 2014. Video, TRT: 9 min. In collaboration with brother Frédéric, Constantin Felker, and Julien Devaux. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the Flemish authorities.

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Joseph Beuys, Wirtschaftswerte ("Economic Values"), 1980. Mixed media with shelves: 290 × 400 × 265 cm; plaster block: 98.5 × 55.5 × 77.5 cm. Collection of S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.

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Marlene Dumas, Detail from "Great Men" (James Baldwin), 2014. 16 drawings; ink and pencil on paper,  each 44 × 35 cm. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by "Manifesta 10," St. Petersburg. This project has been made possible with financial support from the Mondriaan Fund and Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fund.

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Nicole Eisenman, Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum. Presented with the support of the United States Consulate General in St. Petersburg.

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Katharina Fritsch, Frau mit Hund ("Woman with Dog"), 2004. Polyester, aluminum, metal, color; woman 176 x 100 cm; dog 49 x 44 x 68 cm. With the support of the Arts Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. Collection Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.

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Ann Veronica Janssens,installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10,” St. Petersburg.

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Maria Lassnig, Insektenforscher I ("Insect Researcher I"), 2003. Oil on canvas, 140 × 150 cm. Collection of the Essl Museum Klosterneuburg, Vienna, Austria.

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Klara Lidén, Warm Up: State Hermitage Museum Theater, 2014. Video, 4:20 min; Music by Tvillingarna Courtesy the artist, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, Galerie Neu, Berlin, Germany. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual Artists. Installation view/video still, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage museum.

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Boris Mikhailov, The Theatre of War. Second Act. Time Out, 2013. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V.  Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

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Yasumasa Morimura, Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum, 2014. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the Japan Foundation and Shiseido.

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Olivier Mosset, Untitled, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, each 300 × 300 cm. Courtesy Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich, Switzerland; Campoli Presti, London, England. Commissioned by "MANIFESTA 10," St. Petersburg. With the support of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

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Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage), 2001. Seven DVD projections, TRT: 5:40:00 min. Collection of Dia Art Foundation; Partial Gift, Lannan Foundation, 2013 Exhibition copy — the original is on view at Dia:Beacon, New York, USA. Installation view, "MANIFESTA 10," General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

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Tatzu Nishi, Living room (Russian house), 2014. Installation with scaffolding construction, 6.73 × 7.8 × 2.55 meters. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by MANIFESTA 10, St. Petersburg. With the support of the Japan Foundation and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. Installation view, MANIFESTA 10, Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.

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Susan Philipsz, The River Cycle (Neva), 2014. Twelve-channel sound installation, TRT: 12:55 minutes. Courtesy Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie. Commissioned by MANIFESTA 10, St. Petersburg. With the support of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. Installation view, MANIFESTA 10, Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.

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Gerhard Richter, Ema (Akt auf einer Treppe) [“Ema (Nude on a Staircase)”], 1966. Oil on canvas, 200 × 130 cm. Collection of Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany. With the support of the Arts Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. Installation view, MANIFESTA 10, Winter Palace, State Hermitage Museum.

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Erik van Lieshout, The Basement, 2014. Mixed media installation: HD, color, sound, TRT: 17:19 minutes. Courtesy Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10” St. Petersburg. With the financial support from the Mondriaan Fund, The Netherlands Film Fund, Outset Netherlands, and Wilhelmina E. Jansen Fund. Installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.

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