18 October 2007

Alfredo Jaar

So I chose. I went tonight to hear a presentation by Alfredo Jaar whose work I very much admire. The talk was a tour of several of his public projects. You can see several of these in The Fire This Time: Public Interventions 1979-2005 which was published by Charta (Italy) a couple years back.

There also is a terrific interview with Jaar from Art Journal (Fall 2005) that I highly recommend. (In fact, I have already recommended it a couple of times in previous posts on Jaar, his work and the important questions it raises [1] [2] [3] [4] ). One irony arose in Jaar's talk this evening. In response to a questioner, he asserted that he thinks art is unique in its usefulness as a tool of political change. Indeed, he asserted, referring to himself that "I want to change the world." I think Jaar is sincere in his claim. Let's set aside the matter of how efficacious art can be in processes of social and political change. I am ambivalent about that ~ minimally it is a much more complicated matter than Jaar seems to allow. It surely is one that the audience tonight didn't follow up on in discussion.

The irony is that those charged with running an institution like the MAG can, apparently without any self-reflection, host a speaker like this. The Memorial Art Gallery is as staid and conformist an institution as one might ever have the ill-fortune to encounter. Having lived here a decade and a half, it has (to the best of my recollection) put on exactly two events that came close to being provocative or risky. One was Jaar's talk this evening and he was surely not manning the barricades. Mostly the MAG follows the quite unremarkable tastes of the community rather than seeking to push those tastes in any direction. God forbid that any of our cultural institutions be anything other than solidly conservative.

All of that said, among the things I most like about Jaar is the aesthetic strategy he has perfected of withholding images, of gesturing toward them without actually displaying or even making them. This is a theme in several of his projects. And it is a strategy born of despair, of his sense that displaying images in a commercialized, high speed culture is fraught with difficulties and pitfalls. Jaar discusses this in the interview I link to above. This is part of what I talked about at the conference in Durham last month. I'll come back to it soon.



Anonymous Marjorie Searl said...

Jim -

Inevitably, you were bound to hear from at least one of us who work at the staid and conformist institution to which you refer (Memorial Art Gallery). While we may be staid and conformist, we also have great senses of humor, which saves us when we read comments like yours! Your blog reveals you to be a very insightful and informed person and, believe it or not, we are interested in people exactly like you, people who have high expectations of what cultural institutions can and should provide.

I, for one, would be very interested in continuing the conversation.

I'm glad that you attended the Alfredo Jaar lecture. I, too, was torn between Jaar and Williams, and opted for Williams as I am on the committee that sponsored her lecture. It was outstanding and left me with new insights, which is always the best outcome. I know a number of people who were sad that the events were on the same evening.

Margie Searl
Chief Curator
Memorial Art Gallery

19 October, 2007 10:37  

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