Appreciation for the Carnegie International 2013


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Reviews of the 2013 Carnegie International have been for the most part favorable, as much for the independent approach the curators took when organizing the large exhibition as for the works in it. Of the 35 artists exhibited, those most frequently mentioned include Ei Arakawa and Henning Bohl, Phyllida Barlow, Nicole Eisenman, Wade Guyton, Zanele Muholi, The Playground Project, Pedro Reyes, Zoe Strauss and Transformazium. The exhibition ends March 16. Here are excerpts from eight publications.

-- Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette

The New York Times, Roberta Smith

"The 2013 Carnegie International is a welcome shock to the system of one of the art world's most entrenched rituals. This lean, seemingly modest, thought-out exhibition takes the big global survey of contemporary art off steroids ... . Inside, almost nothing on view dwarfs the body, addles the brain or short-circuits the senses ... .

"It may contribute to its deviation from convention that the curators have little experience with big surveys and don't belong to the international curatorial cartel that circles the planet ... .

"This Carnegie International exposes the supposedly great divide between object-oriented or, as some would have, market-driven art, and activist, socially involved art and suggests that they are not nearly as mutually exclusive as often supposed ... .

"Less expected is 'The Playground Project,' a show-within-the-show organized by the Swiss writer and urban planner Gabriela Burkhalter [wife of International co-curator Daniel Baumann]. Its dense history of postwar playground design -- possibly better as a book -- culminates in a wonderful assortment of art from the Carnegie's annual art camp for children."

ARTnews, Michael May

"The show's 56th edition emphasizes the idea of 'local' in fresh ways while fleshing out hot spots in contemporary art, including meditations on the ideas of play, the human figure and history ... .

"Sounds as well as sights are part of this International. Mexican artist Pedro Reyes' 'Disarm (Mechanized),' 2012-13, an ensemble of self-playing instruments created from parts of weapons such as firearms, is both disturbing and entertaining. Standing before it, a child laughed joyfully -- enchanted by the musical sculptures and blissfully unaware of their origins."

Canadian Art, Bryne McLaughlin

"On any given day, the Carnegie's Lozziwurm becomes a hive of activity as children climb, slide and disappear into the structure's bending tunnel .... No longer anchored to its static form, the Lozziwurm becomes a hub of social interaction, a dynamic template for endless perceptual exploration and narrative possibilities. A straightforward gesture, one might argue, but no less than radical in context: Here is a work open to all and with no overbearing pretensions or restrictions fronting one of the most august institutions and prestigious exhibitions of contemporary art in the world ... .

"Indeed, this notion of free play and accessibility grounded in the local community -- dovetailing with a sweeping desire to upend the institutional norms of large-scale international contemporary art exhibitions -- is the driving force behind the 2013 Carnegie International ... .

"It's a lot to take in, and for me it was only after a second careful run through the exhibition at the museum that the curatorial undercurrent truly begins to surface. This is a deeply humanist affair."

The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl

"The strikingly thoughtful new edition of the venerable Carnegie International ... starts outdoors with two smart bangs ...'Tip,' an immense jungle of boards wrapped with scraps of wire mesh, slathered with cement and paint, and festooned with strips of brightly colored cloth by the British sculptor Phyllida Barlow ... . The second out-front provocation extends the character of the first to a witty, surprisingly substantial extreme. It is a piece of playground equipment: a huge, colorful, snaking tunnel with kid-size apertures ....

"... Such apparent art-historical amnesia, like the disheveled aesthetics of Phyllida Barlow, typifies recent contemporary art. Today, we see ever less that smacks of tradition and influence and ever more of what amounts to fungible brands. The condition could do with a name. I suggest Neo-Mannerism, after another era -- the one between the Renaissance and the Baroque -- that cycled generic styles, sometimes brilliantly ... .

"While giving a Neo-Mannerist elite its due, the International also emphasizes a counterforce: outsiders ... fantastic drawings by the nomadic Chicagoan Joseph Yoakum (1890-1972), a diorama in which the contemporary French artist Pierre Leguillon has arrayed 31 ceramics by George E. Ohr, 'the mad potter of Biloxi' (1857-1918) ... and nine boldly brushed, spectacular paintings by Henry Taylor, a living populist master whose subjects range from heroes of black history to regular people in his Los Angeles neighborhood. When, as now, sincerity seems schooled out of professional artists, the straight stuff of it in demotic work becomes a heart's oasis."

Vogue, Julie Bramowitz

"What results is a diverse, dynamic survey that succeeds both as a platform for rising global talent (Iranian animator Rokni Haerizadeh, Vietnamese filmmaker Dinh Q. Le) and a reconsideration of the contemporary New York establishment (Nicole Eisenman, Taryn Simon, Wade Guyton). Says [co-curator Tina] Kukielski, 'We wanted the show to be about risk, which became a very useful metaphor that carries throughout.' "

Artforum, Sarah K. Rich

"There were a few places, however, in which the darker connotations of the curators' vision was mollified by the works themselves. Consider the installation of Pedro Reyes' 'Disarm (Mechanized)'... converted guns confiscated from streets of Mexico into electromechanical, self-playing instruments, on which short pieces of suspenseful music played, with long pauses in between performances. This grouping of devices defying organological taxonomy ... generated a palpable tension in the room, as if phantoms of those killed by weapons were playing the sound track to a scene of their own demise. The instruments' percussive action recalled the brutal movement of a gun's hammer, so waiting in the pauses between musical numbers was like waiting for the report of a gunshot.

"Next to Reyes' piece, visitors could peruse the printed matter of the Bidoun Library -- an accumulation of Orientalist pulp fiction, propaganda, art books and other published sources ... . Reading such titles as 'The Sheik and the Vixen' while listening to Reyes' gun music in the background, viewers might compare and contrast the ways in which politically specific violence emerges through (or lurks beneath) aesthetic transformation ... drug-related violence in Mexico as linked to drug production in Afghanistan as linked to the economic echoes of American military activity across the globe ... .

"... An earplug dispenser was installed in the corner of the library ... [that] provided protection from decibels, but also from the full effect of the juxtaposition. The thing about play, of course, is that one person's amusement is another person's annoyance ... . Yet it was in emphasizing play's ambivalent features -- its centrifugal expansion into communities, as well as its more poignant moments of centripetal concentration -- that the exhibition achieved its greatest success."

Art in America, Linda Mai Green

"This year's International deviates from previous ones by offering a refreshing dose of self-awareness and reflection on the museum as a locus for civic engagement ... .

"Although [the curators'] perspective is admirable, the actual exhibition is at times lackluster. Without a strong thematic or formal logic linking the works on view, the presentation occasionally seems like a hodgepodge of contemporary art and doesn't always rise to the curators' idealistic rhetoric.

"Several moments come very close: whimsical paintings over news images by Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh are mesmerizing, while Bidoun Library ... is by turns hilarious and disheartening. Both the positive and negative impacts of Andrew Carnegie's steel industry are explored in the show, demonstrating the uneasy alliance between public and private interests that is a hallmark of U.S. history ... .

" 'The Playground Project'... is the backbone of the exhibition. The forward-thinking use of public space defined Carnegie's philanthropy, and 'The Playground Project' presents the role of the museum as parallel to that of a playground: a safe haven for play and exploration and a springboard for community building."

Gallerist, Andrew Russeth

"The more time I spent this past weekend at Pittsburgh's Carnegie International ... the more I envied the people of the Steel City, who get to have it at their doorstep ... . This year's edition is generally superb: focused, considered and perfectly scaled ... .

"Organizers Daniel Baumann, Daniel Byers and Tina Kukielski have eschewed both the excesses of the curatorial-industrial complex and the big-money market for work that is intelligent, nuanced and often unashamedly beautiful ... . Their show, involved with history but not in thrall to it, reconsiders what big international festival-style exhibitions can do ... . The show's film and video pieces are uniformly strong ....

"... Frances Stark's new video installation ... pairs her inimitable stream-of-consciousness text animations with two DJ Quik tracks and an ingenious printed backdrop of photos of gangster rappers taken by a childhood friend, Old Master paintings and more. It's by turns hilarious and enrapturing, at once cunning cultural critique and self-indictment ... .

"You come to these shows for moments like that -- to see great artists really going for it -- and so one of my only real complaints is that there aren't enough of them ... .

"There are misfires here, but only a few of them ... . Taryn Simon peddles her usual overly produced obviousness .... Lara Favaretto has a few minor works that offer up her reliably bland nth-generation post-minimalist trivialities ... . He An's wall pieces ... feel thin, visually and conceptually ... .

"In their catalog essay, the curators write that they 'are convinced that art makes life better' .... I suspect that some will find these ideas, and the show's themes, a touch too earnest. But I'm smitten."


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.

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