Carlos Basualdo: The Unstable Institution1
Indtruduced by Edit Molnár
Carlos Basualdo is an Argentinean poet, critic and curator living in the United States. A Professor at the Università IUAV di Venezia, he is the curator of Documenta 11 and the Structure of Survival exhibit at the 50 th Venice Biennale. He is also the Head Curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and his writings appear regularly in Artforum and any number of prestigious international journals in the field. In 2000, he directed the Worthless/Invaluable exhibition at the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana, and in 2001 Da adversidade vivemos at the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His more recent work includes Tropicalia: A Parallel Modernity which opened in the spring of 2005 in New York with the collaboration of the MCA in Chicago, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and BrasilConnects.
It is clear from this brief outline that Carlos Basualdo is an internationally respected figure on the “global” art scene, one of the shapers of dialogue. Beyond the positions he has held in contemporary art’s stable institutions – as well as in the “shakier” ones we shall discuss in a moment – he has been a member of distinguished juries that not only attract attention in the field, but also determine, through their close relationship with the art market and the corporate world, issues of sponsorship and collecting. (Basualdo, for example, is a member of the jury for the Hugo Boss Prize at the Guggenheim in New York.)
I present a text which, although translated into rather difficult English, I think will be profitable for a Hungarian audience, because it describes the appearance and the particularities of a kind of institution that to this day occupies a controversial place among the centers of contemporary art: the essay strives to place in a wider context the role played by this kind of exhibition. 1 Another equally powerful motivation for me was that its writer no only observes these changes from a close vantage point, but in fact is in a position to reshape the whole game.
I might as well just admit it: I was curious about the arguments made by an “initiate.” In this light, the texts take on an interesting cultural-historical relevance, particularly regarding the positioning of the speaker. Overall, these writings do not so much interpret Basualdo’s specific professional experience as give answers point-for-point to critics’ observations that were made about the events used as examples.
Even the otherwise scanty domestic criticism made mention of the mega-exhibitions, though only in brief summaries or keeping the distance of an overview, as if describing exotic and distant (often yearned-for) events that do not have much relevance in our still extremely isolated domestic art world. Given that the output of few writers and institutions in Hungary would appear at these events, the only example I could mention that examines the institution of the biennale as a new phenomenon and sets it in context would be Péter György’s article in Élet és irodalom. 2 Taken together with Basualdo’s writings, we see the shape of a polemic that sets these exhibitions in an exceptionally interesting light, outlining the changes brought about by the globalizing contemporary art scene’s networks, and the changes in focus they bring. The effects of this story might also hold interest for the domestic art scene.
Basualdo is trying to do a lot in this short article, from presenting the genealogy of the Biennales to discussing possible roles for the curator. He places the “shaky institutions” into the same context that is probably just as emphatically determined by the by the globalizing culture industry as by calling into question the position occupied by the visual arts in contemporary culture and the autonomy of creative activity.
The author slips from one topic to another via poetic license and huge leaps, not always answering the questions he raises along the way. We might quarrel with his exaggerations and occasional dressing-up of the facts, like for example his suggestion that the Biennales, and large international exhibitions in general, work independently of collectors and commercial galleries. Nor does he even mention the important role that commercial galleries play in disseminating information within the machinery that legitimizes the complex network of curators active on the international scene.
I fear that, with Basualdo being a lone fan blowing the clouds aside to give us a clearer view, his article leaves us still squinting through clouds, forced to make do with fragments of outlines.
1 In: MJ – Manifesta Journal, Journal of Contemporary Curatorship; N˚2, 2003-2004 Winter/Spring, pp. 50-61. .