Sunday, 20 September 2009

   

 

THE YOKOHAMA TRIENNIAL

 

The Yokohama Triennial, the second in the series, is one of a number of new biennial and triennial exhibitions which are surfacing around the world. Some are being held in much more unlikely places than Yokohama. There has just been a biennia in Tirana, and one is planned for Luanda, in Angola, in 2006. Big survey exhibitions of this type have become the common currency of the ever expanding universe of contemporary art.

 

As it happens, the new show in Yokohama has had an unusually stormy passage. The original director, the great Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, resigned at short notice, on the frounds that the situation was chaotic, and that the municipal authorities in Yokohama weren’t prepared to allow him to delay the opening in order to make the kind of show he wanted to see. His replacement was the architectural artist Tadashi Kawamata, who had never curaed a show of this sort before, though he has been an exhibitor at a number of the major old-style biennials – Venice, São Paulo and the Cassel Documenta. In the circu,stances it seems slightly surprising that he managed to pull together any kind of a show, let alone one as big as this, which occupies two huge warehouses on the Yokohama waterfront.

 

Though the show is physically large, it is not however particularly weighty. Tadashi’s title for it is ‘Art Circus’, and this is precisely what it is – it sets out to entertain with tricks and fancies, rather than attempting anything profound. Though perhaps the product of sheer necessity, this is nevertheless a significant development. The great international exhibitions, even the long established ones, have more and more become places of popular entertainment, rather than occasions where one might hope to see great art. Here and there they attempt to justify themselves with a sprinkling of social concern.

 

In the case of Yokohama, the social concern, perhaps surprisingly, is largely the business of Chinese participants, concerned about the damage China’s current economic boom is doing to the social fabric of their country. Hu Xiangcheng, known for his efforts to preserve at least one of the traditional ‘canal villages’ that surround Shanghai, presents an installation called Code Violation, which is about the way that Chinese home-owners break all official rules with add-ons and other tweaks to the places they live in. He demonstrates this through a heap of little Perspex architectural models, exquisite memorials to the human instinct for chaos. He also presents building itself as a thing related to organic growth, incorporating old beams from demolished traditional houses, and pieces of wood that have become hosts to burgeoning fungi.

 

There is no such seriousness elsewhere. You enter the exhibition by walking past a large sculpture by the Belgian Luc Deleu, put together ad hoc from four standard shipping containers, which seems to parody the po-faced seriousness of 1970s Minimal Art. After this you walk down a long avenue decorated with flags by the veteran Frenchman Daniel Buren. Not only is this something he has done previously [for example in 2004 in Beijing] but quite frankly, this is something that any firm of exhibition contractors could accomplish, without anyone wanting or needing to call it art.

 

The show itself reflects the Japanese love of highly sweetened Pop Art – for example

There is n installation by the young Japanese artist Taisuke Abe, featuring stuffed toys that visitors can buy and take home with them. This taste also flourishes in Thailand. A collective called ©uratorman Inc presents an installation called Super(M)art which offers crude versions of various iconic Modernist art works, among them Duchamp’s famous urinal. In this case parody seems to be busy plying up its own fundament.

 

In fact parody is one of the staples of the show. Elsewhere it offers a full-scale replica of Rodin’s Thinker, constructed from rolls of toilet paper by the Mexican artist Miguel Calderón. If you get bored with simply looking at art, there are plenty of other things you can do – there are swings with lights in them to swing on, and, courtesy of the Japanese group COUMA, a fine selection of pingpong tables, though it is not completely clear, in this case, that outside participants are allowed. The catalogue says blandly: “COUMA lives table tennis, not through observing it from the outside, but by playing it as a physical and metaphysical experience.”

 

The exhibition is scheduled to last for three months. I wonder if they will eventually get fed up with knocking those little balls about, all day and every day?

 

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