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Wednesday 07.27.11

« 75 Gifts for 75 Years | Main | but liquor is quicker »

10th Northwest Biennial at the Tacoma Art Museum

L_10th_NW_Biennial_360x215_72dpi.png

The Tacoma Art Museum has announced the details for its 10th Northwest Biennial (see our 2 part discussion of Northwest surveys from last week).

Relevant Details:

This year includes British Columbia... finally! Though the border is difficult to move art works across, this show may help streamline the process (every curator I know who has shipped across that border has ridiculous stories to share).

TAM's statement, "The 10th Northwest Biennial will examine the vital questions of who we are as residents of the Pacific Northwest, what we look like, and what are our aspirations for our communities. The Biennial will seek artworks that address the critical issues that underpin the larger issues of identity and community including the fluidity of regional identity in an age of global capitalism, increased urban migration, and the virtual diffusion of a discernible regional style. Because of the extraordinary complexities of these issues, The 10th Northwest Biennial will focus on the newly revitalized and resurgent forms of interdisciplinary art practices." To these eyes it seems like this Biennial's goals seem more driven by engagement with contemporary issues. That is good if it pans out, the last one got beat up critically for being safe, overfull and not saying much. Obviously the region has seen tremendous changes and as I outlined last week any regional survey that can't address those shifts wont be relevant. The focus on "interdiciplenary" practices is encouraging as that is probably where 85% of Portland's art scene energy is being spent. For example many of the most interesting artists in Portland do not have galleries yet still have national and international careers... by relying only on those with local (conservative) galleries many surveys have missed the boat on Portland... which is NOT defined by its institutions or collectors, so much as by its artists.

Curators are: Rock Hushka (Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art at Tacoma Art Museum) and Renato Rodrigues da Silva (independent curator and art critic) based in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada.

Entries are via email by August 31st but check their specifications here.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 27, 2011 at 17:26 | Comments (3)


Comments

I don't know about this.

What are "contemporary issues", anyway? I'm exasperated by the pervasive notion that they are those issues that belong exclusively to our time, as if the world were in a continual state of brand newness, consigning all that is not specifically of the moment to obsolescence. Aren't old ideas also contemporary if they express the Present?

For that matter, what is "contemporary art?" Does our world turn over so quickly and completely that old forms and methods cannot be used to express contemporary life? The fact that old art can transcend its moment and speak to us in the Present tells me that it does not. Drawing from life, for example, is an old activity still widely practiced because "as much as it ever was" -- it can be a way to express one's engagement with the world with great nuance, immediacy, and vitality; yet the results are somehow not supposed to be "contemporary." The term is useful as a way of rounding up art made in the present but is otherwise destructive and despicable.

And so, what art is relevant? Is it all about timeliness rather than timelessness now? Is timelessness -- admittedly an impure quality "irrelevant," never mind that much of what is most "of the moment" has the shelf life of a banana, quickly turning into nothing more than an embarrassing historical curiosity and proof to our children that we are idiots?

The museum's description of the 2011 Northwest Biennial's aims sets out the "critical" issues the submitted art must address in order to be accepted and goes on to say that because of their "extraordinary complexity" the Biennial will "focus on" interdisciplinary art forms. It's peculiar that a regional survey would demand particular topics and forms so specific as to exclude the work of many if not most of the region's best artists.

The passage Port quoted is characteristic of the whole but doesn't do justice to its convoluted nature, the long list of acceptable subjects having the effect of emphasizing its exclusivity. If this is an attempt at relevance, as you suggest, Jeff, it's a chokingly narrow conception of it, at heart more of an attempt to appear relevant than it is to be relevant.

Why wouldn't the museum just present the best regional art it can get its hands on? If the art is good it is by definition relevant, if having an engaging and persuasive voice is still enough to qualify work as being good; to try to stuff what is supposed to be a regional survey into a narrow conceptual frame is intellectual overreaching reeking of institutional vanity. It's quite possible that the approach will result in a good or even superior show, but if it is and to be fair, I'm not sure that it is -- an attempt to define or reflect what is relevant in our region it is doomed to failure.

Posted by: rosenak [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 28, 2011 09:02 PM

Hey, why did all of my apostrophies and quotation marks come out like that? Writing a readable post was challenging enough as it was...

Posted by: rosenak [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 28, 2011 09:10 PM

Well, your skepticism is healthy...

The statement did seem to beat around the curatorial bush (probably with the goal of NOT seeming too exclusionary to any specific genre). For example, it did mention "resurgent" "forms" and specifically mentioned "sculpture" and "painting"... so I don't think they are going to ignore those strategies. Still, there are a lot of very dated nods to identity politics in the statement let's hope it isn't 1992 all over again.

I did take exception to idea that "interdisciplinary forms" are somehow more prevalent in BC. I think LA, San Fran and Portland can match BC tit for tat, in that department (bet the Canadian wrote that).

The true difference is Canada supports its alt spaces and non commercial art forms more directly than we do in the US. So in places like Portland (which is full of the stuff) it has occurred mostly through an act of the artist's or independent curator's will (and unassisted bank account). That's my main criticism of RACC actually. RACC has a very hard time supporting this sort of alt-space activity... though they do support some of it and they deserve credit for that step (yet it's hardly natural, most just avoid the hassle of applying).

I believe the real problem here is that it is still a juried format... either curate the damn thing or don't, which seems to be the source of your apprehension as well. Hopefully they have good eyes and instincts and this will be a good show, ie full of interesting contrasts and different angles of interpretation. Surveys are tough (Im curating one around geology in November at PSU) but with good eyes and instincts it can be done well. Yes a good show will upset a few apple carts because that is the problem of contemporary art. It has to take chances to be valid... not just new. Im a student of William Rubin, so I know that without risk there is no reward (ie the poetic and prescient). It isn't ignorance of the past, it's engaging the received suppositions of that history that open the present to more possibilities. That's all contemporary art is, art that speaks to the present.

Thus, if this is a good show there will be sculpture and painting, but as in all things... they must choose well... because none of the institutions in the Northwest are final (or even major) authorities on what is or isnt relevant in the region. In Portland artists are always several steps ahead of any institution. That is less true in Seattle and even less true in BC which has a comparatively strong public support system for the arts that isn't as commercially inclined.

I am encouraged that they are foregrounding change (or shifts) as a major part of the survey. That is tough to do though without visiting a lot of studios and seeing at least a years worth of alt space shows. The ball has been in their court a long long time and they have made incremental improvements over the years.

As for the quotations etc, that's a problem when using Microsoft word. It replaces normal characters with a proprietary character not recognized in the html format. Type your response in notepad to avoid it. I fixed them for you, thanks for the response.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 29, 2011 12:35 PM

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