by Lou Cornum
A certain level of cognitive dissonance is required to enjoy the Whitney Museum’s long-awaited retrospective of the restless oeuvre of downtown writer, artist, and iconoclast David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992). Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS-related complications at thirty-seven and, as the exhibition reminds us, “saw the outsider as his true subject,” was an exacting and unabashed critic of institutions, including museums such as the Whitney. Of
the conservative campaign against the National Endowment of the Arts’ funding of “indecent” art in 1989—and the liberal outcry in response—he wrote, bemused: “The major museums in New York . . . are just as guilty of this kind of selective cultural support and denial.” In one sense, Wojnarowicz’s recent canonization—which might have begun with a death rattle of the old culture wars when, in 2010, the Catholic League pressured the Smithsonian Institution to pull his video A Fire in My Belly from an exhibition there, and could be said to culminate with this retrospective that includes the work—is both an artistic and a social good. In the essay quoted above, “Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell,” Wojnarowicz goes on to acknowledge the power of representation in art: “the more diverse the representations, the more I feel there is room in the environment for my...
Curator Gabi Ngcobo opens her introductory essay for the catalogue of the tenth Berlin Biennale by invoking an empty pedestal: that which once held a statue commemorating the nineteenth-century British colonialist Cecil Rhodes that was taken down at the University of Cape Town as a result of the Rhodes Must Fall protests, which swept South African and British universities in 2015. “What has remained evocative for my curatorial thinking,” Ngcobo
writes, “is an image inscribed in my mind, that of the vacant concrete plinth where Rhodes sat contemplatively for more than 80 years. What future possibility does this open space hold or enable us to foretell?” Ngcobo and her team—Nomaduma Rosa Masilela, Serubiri Moses, Thiago de Paula Souza, and Yvette Mutumba—focus not on the symbolic triumph of toppling a monument but on the aftermath, asking us to live for a while in the sort of interstitial pause represented by a newly vacant plinth....
For the generation living in the age of Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III and the man responsible for carrying out the Emperor's transformation of Paris, a city in ruins was part of the day-to-day reality of their lives. Haussmann's army of workers, beginning in the mid-1850s, had razed large portions of the Old Paris in order to make way for the wide boulevards and streets that were to distinguish the city of the Industrial Age.…Read more