Shortlist: Exhibition as Site

Iftikhar Dadi, Chair of the Department of Art, Cornell University
September 2013


[This Shortlist is produced in conjunction with the symposium ‘Sites of Construction: Exhibitions and the Making of Recent Art History in Asia.’ Taking place from 21 to 23 October 2013, the symposium investigates the implications of exhibitions becoming the primary sites of art historical construction in the region. Organised in four sessions and punctuated by three keynote speeches, the three-day event brings together international scholars, curators, writers, and artists to explore the multiple roles exhibitions play. The present Shortlist, prepared by Iftikhar Dadi, chair of the panel ‘Exhibition as Site’ inquires into how and to what effect exhibitions and exhibition-makers have responded to institutional, geographic, and audience–related contexts.]

During the last three decades, exhibitions have played a leading role in the promotion of modern and contemporary art of Asia. In the continued absence of robust academic art history programmes across much of the region, the exhibition platform remains the primary vector shaping the ‘canon.’ And when compared to modernism, the canonicity of contemporary practice is arguably more challenging, as it is more varied in media and theme and can appear to be freer from the weight of history. Enormous resources now circulate in the art market and in the mounting of major exhibitions; is this process largely negative from an art historical view? Do most exhibitions merely rely on stereotypical curatorial agendas, repeat nation-state and area studies frameworks that preclude experimentation, neglect social and intellectual contexts, promote shallow spectacle, and overlook popular and subaltern works and practices? In its best sense, art historical canonicity must be understood not through trophies acquired by museums and collectors, but as an investigation of the deeper and larger aesthetic and social issues that exemplary works and practices illuminate. Can or does the exhibition also contribute to independent scholarship and the production of art historical value, beyond market instrumentalisation? Should the exhibition consciously explore neglected perspectives such as the fraught relationship between tradition, modernism, and contemporary art; the social and intellectual milieu in which the work is made and received; the importance of travel, diaspora, and cultural exchange; or the exploration of a coherent social or aesthetic concept? Should exhibitions no longer be conceived only as stand-alone events, but strive to foreground contributions to institution-building and archival development, and the promotion of scholarly work via symposia, workshops, websites, and well-researched catalogs, all of which can be valuable contributions to art historical value?

Recommended Readings

Aquilino, Marie Jeannine, Beyond Shelter: Architecture and Human Dignity, Metropolis Books, New York, 2010
Belting, Hans, et al., eds., Global Contemporary and the Rise of New Art Worlds, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, 2013
Enwezor, Okwui, ed., The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994, Prestel, Munich, 2001
Hassan, Salah, Iftikhar Dadi, Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, 2002
Hernández, Felipe, et. al., Rethinking the Informal City: Critical Perspectives from Latin America, Berghahn Books, New York, 2010
Jain, Kajri, Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art, Duke University Press, Durham, 2007
Kester, Grant, The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context, Duke University Press, Durham, 2011
Lantz, Maria, Jonatan Habib Engqvist, eds., Dharavi: Documenting Informalities, Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2009
Ogg, Kirsty, ed., Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Steidl, Goettingen, Whitechapel Gallery, London, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, 2010
Staniszewski, Mary Anne, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998
Steeds, Lucy, Making Art Global (Part 2): ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ 1989, Afterall Books, London, 2013