From our San Francisco partners at Art Practical, today we bring you curator Frank Smigiel‘s essay on considering regional contemporary art. He notes, “If I can skip the jet-setting of the global contemporary, it is because my people and purposes are here and not there.” This essay was originally published in Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) and is republished here with permission from the author. It appeared on Art Practical on April 3, 2014.
I’m certain that anyone who visits the major group exhibitions marking our time in the contemporary art world — whether biennials or art fairs — wishes to pose the same question: Why is this thing so BIG? I have rarely heard an important group show slighted for being too small. The art world does not lack density. It does not lack supply. I could only admire Roberta Smith who, before composing her Times review of the 2011 Venice Biennale, called out the daunting “Enormity of the Beast” in a blog post: “With all the additional pavilions scattered about town and the independent exhibitions that are out there, too, Venice currently has more contemporary art on offer than any one person can see, even without the usual considerations of time, money, and eye-strain.” If supply has not outstripped demand, it still might be noted that the supply of contemporary art has outstripped anyone’s ability to account for it. Though Claire Bishop, noting the Venice Biennale’s “return to sculpture,” delivers some happy news: “the Arsenale can be completed in a relatively rapid five-hour circuit” (“[p]rovided you don’t fall hostage to Christian Marclay’s seductive twenty-four-hour epic, The Clock, 2010”).
Even so, it’s no longer enough to tackle Venice’s beast; it’s no longer enough to stroll Chelsea and think you have a snapshot of contemporary art. Art gets made, circulated, and discussed everywhere. If I remain addicted to Artforum’s “Scene & Herd” column, it is not just for the world-trotting, soap opera saga of after-parties, but for the sheer range of openings and art fairs and actions that flash their fireworks from Stockholm to Dubai, from Tapei and Guangzhou to Los Angeles and Mexico City. Where does one pick up the thread here? In San Francisco, I’m trying to imagine a setting for Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation’s latest project, whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2011). A film noir set in the fantasy architectures of such places as Kazakhstan, Dubai, Azerbaijan, and New York, the single-channel video has no beginning or end. Instead, an algorithm manipulates 100 hours of shot footage (roughly 3000 clips anywhere between 10 seconds and 5 minutes in length) so that no linear sequence can be repeated twice. One searches for a limit here, like the rigid rules of Marclay’s clock keeping real time. One wants to know where one is, and where one is going. But the characters keep going; the landscapes keep unfolding.whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir will always outlast you.