The Frieze Talks Are Out and Some of Them are Good

by Leighann Morris on July 18, 2012 · 2 comments Podcasts

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Adam D. Weinberg, Glenn Lowry, and Sheena Wagstaff discussing expanding museums. Image courtesy of Frieze

The Frieze talks are finally out and available to download as podcasts. Organized thematically, the series centers on the “atlas” and the way that artists and thinkers map, organize, and describe the world. The selection includes some really boring scholars talking about vaguely interesting subjects for an hour and a half (good luck getting past 30 minutes), directors from the Whitney and MOMA reeling a load of PR bullshit about plans to renovate, some engaging and half-relevant discussions about the Occupy movement, and artists “in conversation”.

AFC has picked out what to listen to and what to avoid, so that you don’t waste your time listening to 20 hours of recorded footage.

Zoe Leonard in Conversation with Rhea Anastas

If you want to hear about Zoe Leonard’s work in painstaking detail, this is the podcast for you. The artist talks to art historian Rhea Anastas about the her recent work, particularly Observation Point at Camden Arts Centre in March. The very loose connection here to the themes of “atlas” and “mapping” is Leonard’s camera obscura at the Camden Gallery, which the artist describes as a pre-photographic way of mapping and organising the world.

This isn’t horrifically bad, just half-interesting. Two cans of Whoop-Ass.

“On land Occupation”

Using the Occupy Wall Street movement as a metaphor and starting point, Joseph Grima of Domus magazine heads this discussion on land occupation and ways to re-imagine borders and geographies, with guest speakers Mitch Cope, Andrea Geyer, Saskia Sassen…. and no one from the Occupy movement.

As has been previously mentioned by AFC, Frieze make a MASSIVE error by failing to actually include a representative of Occupy in the panel. Although, granted, the discussion uses Occupy Wall Street as a “starting point” to explore how thinkers consider new awareness of space, wouldn’t it be beneficial to the discussion as a whole to have someone talk about Occupy itself in a non-metaphorical sense?

Despite this gross error, the talk itself is actually pretty good, if you want to hear three panelists talk about themselves and their work for over an hour. Mitch Cope, co-founder of Design 99, begins the conversation and emerges as its most inspiring contributor, describing his and his wife’s work in founding the nonprofit Powerhouse Productions. Cope explains how the Powerhouse project and others focused on neighborhoods and communities around them in Detroit, and “occupied” buildings to benefit others.The detailed discussion of his work culminates in one main point: “Occupation”, for Cope, is a charged word; it connotes potential and radical change.

Second speaker Andrea Geyer reads aloud from Chapter 1 and 2 from her 2007 text and photography project Spiral Lands (this was the most tedious part of this podcast). Referring to her work, Geyer’s interpretation of “Occupy” is one of contested territory, of land that holds memory and history. Referencing indigenous populations, Geyer urges us to remember that the land being “occupied” in America is not an open unlived land; it is culturally rich, with traumatic history, and an awareness of this is needed before justice can be reached in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Third speaker Saskia Sassen mainly notes how little time she’s got left to speak, and makes some semi-relevant points about the city as the epicentre of contemporary conflict.

Although the discussion is semi-interesting, the issue at large is: how much more can we intellectualize the Occupy movement? And, moreover: how can you have this conversation whilst the Occupy protesters at Frieze were forcibly relegated to a ten-foot-square cage at the exit to the parking lot? The discussion needed non-metaphorical grounding, and it was waiting just outside. One can of Whoop-Ass.

Expanding Museums

Here’s where things get really bad. The Expanding Museums talk was led by former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff and featured a list of high-profile museum figures: Glenn Lowry, Director of MoMA; Adam D. Weinberg, Director of the Whitney; and Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of the Modern and Contemporary Art Department at the Metropolitan Museum. It was meant to be a discussion of “the current and future roles of contemporary art institutions in transforming the way we experience our cities and cultures.” What is actually is a series of discussions around the subject that never delve into the real issues. The term “expansion” doesn’t seem to move beyond a shallow discussion of the physical, with members of the panel coughing up mediocre points about architecture. Forget talking about the Parthenon, what about digital expansion? How can museums expand using the internet?

This talk is worth a listen to hear AFC’s Whitney Kimball ask Weinberg (57 mins) if he planned to respond to the protests by the Sotheby’s locked out art handlers that had previously been staged at the Whitney and MoMA. It turns out his mumbling and diversionary response was due to the fact that the Whitney was planning an auction through Sotheby’s at the time. Zero cans of whoop-ass.

New Geographies in Contemporary Art

It was well worth trawling through the above podcasts to get to this one. Panelists Negar Azimi of Bidoun magazine, Bassam El Baroni of Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum and Kate Fowle of Independent Curators International are led by Okwui Enwezor in a discussion looking at “ethics and relativism in an international art world as new geographies expand the debate contributing values, agendas and beliefs.”

Azimi speaks first, and talks about Bidoun’s agenda and aims in shifting existing tropes about the Middle East (itself a relative term), using the magazine to push against and poke holes in the Middle East’s inherited rubric. El Baroni follows, and talks about Friedrich Schiller and John Ruskin for half an hour.The discussion of what Bidoun does in reference to new geographies in contemporary art is interesting, but not particularly show-stopping.

Kate Fowle, however, hits the target. Particularly relevant for the current MOCA crisis, in which the forced resignation of Paul Schimmel caused every artist on Jeffrey Deitch’s board to step down, Fowle uses examples of protest and discrepancy in the art world  to argue that the role of curator has changed over time, and reached a pivotal point by 2011.

To find out “how we got here”, Fowle references a few salient recent events: Chris Gilbert’s 2006 resignation as Matrix curator from the Berkeley Art Museum over the amount of institutional control of his exhibitions; the Occupy movement’s beginnings; and the National Portrait Gallery’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video “A Fire in My Belly” due to protests from the Catholic League. Fowle’s anecdotes all work towards the same conclusion: the curator’s position has expanded. Curators are now central players in the broader spectrum of global cultural politics.

Fowle seriously blows the other speakers out of the water. Her discussion couldn’t come at a better time. It’s relevant, doesn’t go off-topic, and has grounding in real issues. Four cans of whoop-ass!


mona melendy July 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thanks; very helpful.

Grrrlilla July 22, 2012 at 4:59 pm


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