As many of you know, we recently announced the appointment of a team of three curators to organize the 2013 Carnegie International: Daniel Baumann, Tina Kukielski and Dan Byers, who is already a member of Carnegie Museum of Art’s staff. Our aim is to produce an exhibition that spans multiple sites throughout Pittsburgh.This is the first time that a team of three has organized the International, and only the second time that the exhibition has taken place around the city. Why do the International this way? In 2013, why do it at all?
First some background: The International is unique in that it is foundational for the museum, and its history is especially rich. In 1895, when Andrew Carnegie charged his fledgling institution with buying “the Old Masters of tomorrow,” he in effect created the country’s first contemporary art museum. The vehicle for making these purchases was to be an annual survey of the best in current art worldwide. (Today we present the International every three to five years, and it remains a major means of building the collection.) The first International was held in 1896, only a few months after the first Venice Biennale. These two were the only regularly held international surveys of contemporary art for more than half a century, until they were joined in 1951 by the São Paulo Bienal in Brazil and in 1955 by Documenta in Kassel, Germany. Since the late 1980s, major biennials and triennials have proliferated worldwide in Istanbul, Havana, and Gwang-ju, Korea, among many other places.
The collaborative interplay of multiple voices seems particularly suited to this highly complex and diverse artistic environment. Daniel Baumann is Swiss and over a decade older than his American colleagues, Tina Kukielski and Dan Byers. Together, they bring to the job a broad understanding of contemporary art, and different experiences, outlooks, and talents.
Shaped by today’s wide availability and dissemination of images and information as it helps to define the new, contemporary art also looks back on the full panoply of its past. Exhibitions such as the International are important because they expose broad audiences to complicated conversations among artists about ideas, forms, art, and history—conversations to which they might not otherwise have access. This isn’t a question of liking everything you see; it’s about the rich provocation of the discourse. Such shows have also brought significant artists to light who might not have received attention in a situation exclusively driven by the market.
With so many surveys of contemporary art, however, there is the danger of creating a disturbing sense of déjà vu. In the globalized world of the 21st century, our vision must be broadly international, but it can’t be generic; if our projects are not conceived for and deeply rooted in a specific location, we will produce a pallid exhibition that could have been done anywhere. Our compact and agile city, with its lush mountains, beautiful rivers, and erector-set bridges, with its clear evidence of an industrial past and its striving toward a high-tech future, is in many ways emblematic of our time. The significance of Pittsburgh as the location for the International is one of the reasons for situating the show around the city. Another is that it will allow us to keep our permanent collection of art after World War II on view, so that audiences can begin to appreciate the impact of the International on the formation of the museum and on one of the nation’s great cities.
Until next month,