Exhibition as Site


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

"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 Asia, 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 as 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 must strive to foreground contributions to institution-building and archival development, and to the promotion of scholarly work via symposia, workshops, websites, and well-researched catalogs, all of which can be valuable contributions to art historical value?"


Paper 1

Annette Bhagwati, Project Director, ‘The Anthropocene Project’, House of World Cultures, Berlin
Exhibition Making, Canonbuilding and the Ethics of Curating in Trans-cultural Contexts – 'subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold' (2003) and 'Politics of Fun' (2005)

"Following paradigmatic shifts engendered by postcolonial discourse and dramatic changes in the global political landscape after 1989, the House of World Cultures (HKW) in Berlin was one of the first institutions in the West to exclusively dedicate its programme to non-Western contemporary arts. Regional survey shows, based on extensive research in the respective art regions and with leading participation of artists and curators from the region portrayed, were intended to o_er a glimpse into the latest of 'contemporary arts' from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Many exhibitions were received with international critical acclaim, but also became sites of contestation both there and in Germany. In response to this criticism, the HKW itself experimented with curatorial methods and exhibition policies. These debates and the concurrent theory building significantly influenced the canonisation of 'new' artists and art scenes from Asia or Africa that had hitherto not received adequate attention within the Western canon of art history. This in turn, besides propelling numerous artists into international visibility, also influenced modes of artistic production back in Asia. Taking the genesis and reception of two major exhibitions, 'subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold' (contemporary arts from India, 2003) and 'Politics of Fun' (Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 2005), as examples, I will discuss the assumptions and institutional exigencies that informed curatorial decisions and negotiations between regional and inhouse curators, and will examine how exhibition practices such as these affected the understanding of both 'Asia' and 'contemporary art in Asia' in Germany – and sometimes in the Asian context itself. These observations and discussions throw more fundamental questions into sharp relief: what is the impact of institutional exigencies and policies on the construction of canons, how exactly can we understand the symbiotic relationship between art theory/history and art practice in an emerging global art scene, and what could be a possible code of ethics for curating in trans-cultural exhibition contexts?"

Paper 2

Atreyee Gupta, Goethe Fellow, Haus der Kunst, Munich
'Ghar Pe/At Home' in the Margins of Contemporary Art

"My paper proposes a rethinking of contemporary art and its exhibitionary orders through an analysis of the recent emergence of multiple, and often competing, exhibitionary networks in South Asia. Challenging the very field of contemporary art, these new exhibitionary orders, I propose, have engendered new networks of knowledge-production, new forms of praxis, and new strategies of display. I examine one such collaborative art project and exhibition in Mumbai's Dharavi slum involving local participants and a group of international artists. Facilitated by a Mumbai-based non-profit, the 'Ghar Pe/ At Home' project involved year-long 'consciousness-raising' workshops, a 2012 exhibition in a derelict high school in Dharavi, and a future 'biennale' in 2015. Mapping the processes through which the project evolved, I foreground the modes through which certain kinds of knowledge about contemporary art seep into contexts marginal to its usual cultural networks and are, in turn, elaborated through subtle displacements that ultimately transgress the limits of the very field of contemporary art. As a_ective sites of social and pedagogic transformation, such projects engender a di_erent knowledge-system, iterated through an ethics of locality and the tactic of globality from below. Such an iteration, I suggest, is not incidental but constitutive of a politics of marginality."

Polemical position
Daniel Kurjakovic, researcher, curator and writer, Paris
Exhibition in the Expanded Field

"While maintaining the physicality and experiential aspects of space and time, the 'exhibition' read as an ensemble of works in the here-and-now amounts to
a reduction; it unavoidably repeats the logic of what Robert Smithson has termed 'cultural confinement'. In this sense, the exhibition always already starts before the exhibition — and in a sense it extends beyond. A significant premise for the semantic of an exhibition consists in the actuality of the site with its various cultural, social, and political specificities as well as historical reverberations. Another premise consists in the degree to which aesthetic methodologies are explored and expanded, instead of being objectified and represented whereby they tend to become, again in Smithson's terms, 'surfaces disengaged from the outside world.' Exploration and expansion implies a certain delimitation of the exhibition's ratio, and thereby presents a productive problem or even paradox for one to deal with."

David Teh, Assistant Professor, English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore




Iftikhar Dadi is Associate Professor in the Department of History of Art, and Chair of the Department of Art at Cornell University. Research interests include postcolonial theory, modern art, and urban and popular culture, with an emphasis on South and West Asia. His recent book is Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia (University of North Carolina Press 2010 and Munshiram Manoharlal 2012), and his essays have appeared in numerous journals and edited volumes. Co-curated exhibitions include ‘Lines of Control’ (2012) on partitions and borders. As an artist, he collaborates with Elizabeth Dadi and has shown widely internationally.



Annette Bhagwati studied art history, social anthropology and geography in Freiburg, Berlin, and London. After receiving her PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, in 1999, she joined the exhibition department of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) as in-house curator and programme coordinator (1999-2006). In 2009, she became Affiliate Professor of art history at Concordia University, Montreal. Annette Bhagwati is research fellow at Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence and founding member of the research group Curatorial Theory and Practice at Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, Montreal. Her research interests include artistic and curatorial research, contemporary arts from Asia and Africa, and exhibition studies. Since 2012, she has been Project Director of ‘Former West’ and ‘The Anthropocene Project’ at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.


Atreyee Gupta’s research and publications focus on modern and contemporary art in South Asia and the idea of a Global Art History. As the Goethe Fellow at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, she is currently part of a project on post-war modernism’s global histories. Concurrently, she is working on a book manuscript which locates post-Independence Indian art within the African-Asian networks of the Non-Aligned Movement. She received her PhD from the University of Minnesota in 2011, and has received fellowships from the Getty Research Institute and the Social Science Research Council, among others. Atreyee Gupta has taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Berkeley.


Daniel Kurjakovic is a researcher, curator and writer based in Paris. He has curated exhibitions and collaborative projects on sound, installation, performance, and public art. He was a co-director of the Zurich publishing company MEMORY/CAGE EDITIONS (1995-2002), curator at the Museum of Art Lucerne (1999-2001), and the head of the exhibition programmes at Kunsthof Zurich, the associate exhibition space of the Zurich University of the Arts (2002-2008). Amongst other projects, he presently is the curator of ‘Quadrilogy’, the multi-regional exhibition and research project, which he has been developing for the Burger Collection, Hong Kong, since 2009.


David Teh works at the National University of Singapore in the fields of critical theory and visual culture. His research centres on contemporary art in Southeast Asia. From 2005-09, he was an independent critic and curator based in Bangkok. His recent curatorial projects have included ‘Unreal Asia’, 55th Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Germany (2009); and ‘Video Vortex #7’, Yogyakarta (2011). David's writings have appeared in LEAP magazine, artforum.com, Art & Australia and The Bangkok Post. His recent essays have been published in Third Text and Afterall Journal. David is also a Director of Future Perfect, a new gallery and project platform in Singapore.

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