Spaces—The Historical Gallery
Leigh Markopoulos’s Spaces feature, dedicated to “The Historical Gallery,” appears here in its original draft. The editorial process was interrupted by Leigh’s sudden death, which left her words, alongside all her future projects, forever suspended. Those who had the privilege of knowing Leigh will recognize the tone of her voice along these lines; those who weren’t personally acquainted with her will have the opportunity to encounter her sharp mind directly.
It still seems impossible to write about Leigh using the past tense. This text, alongside her previous contributions to art-agenda and other publications, will ensure that her ideas remain alive. Through it she exists in a continuous present, having an impact on all those who shared her passion for art.
Leigh was a beloved educator, an intelligent writer, a curator’s curator. In memorial to her, this feature is preceded by tributes from some of her closest colleagues, co-workers, and friends.
Leigh was a passionate scholar, writer, teacher, and curator who was dearly loved by her students and colleagues. She first came to California College of the Arts in 2002 to serve as deputy director of the CCA Wattis Institute, a job she quickly mastered and performed with diligence, grace, and enthusiasm. But it was when she returned to the college as chair of the Curatorial Practice Program in 2008 that we truly saw her brilliance. She thrived in her role at the helm of the program, creating a rigorous, expansive, and influential learning experience for her students. Leigh will be remembered for her incisive writing, her keen wit, and her notable curatorial projects. Her loss is felt deeply across the college, but her legacy will be carried on through the work of the many young curators whose careers she helped launch.
Stephen Beal is President of California College of the Arts.
Leigh and I were friends for fifteen years and worked together like hand in glove for eight. Our collaborative work was the primary material of that friendship. Addressing ourselves together to our students we constantly learned new things and rediscovered our relations to art and the world. We used our initials like a kid’s code language. How many thousands of emails did I address to “Dear LM”? There are two things I want to say here, prelude to an infinite number. First, Leigh was a private person, someone who chose with care how and to whom she revealed her life. The accident was more profoundly terrible for the fact that it sprawled her body and spilled her things willy-nilly out into the world. So we all end, in one way or other, but I have a new sense of the ghastly sorrow of it. Second: More than most, Leigh was someone who built networks and supported others. She was the connective tissue without which a body (call it “the art world”) cannot move. Obituaries have trouble tallying up that vital practice, but we cannot live or produce without people doing the work she did. Too, her death caught her rethinking this disposition—caught her, that is, herself deciding to research and to write. That is what the sabbatical she will now never take was meant to realize. The essay you will read here is the first—and now the final —artifact of this new project and sense of herself. I mourn not only the Leigh we had, but the one she was still inventing.
Julian Myers-Szupinska is Senior Editor of The Exhibitionist and Associate Professor of Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts.
Leigh was an absolutely wonderful and brilliant colleague, collaborator, editor, educator, writer, and friend. She played a key role in developing an ambitious program at the CCA Wattis Institute when we worked there together and she went on to develop a strong voice as a writer as well as a curator, organizing two shows (among others) that I think really broke new ground: “Complicity: Contemporary Photography and the Matter of Sculpture,” presented at Rena Bransten Gallery and the show she curated at Oakland’s Creative Growth, “Love is a Stranger,” which explored erotic impulses in “outsider” art. And she brought to bear all of her skills, as well as her far-flung network of loyal colleagues, in her role as director of the Curating Program at the California College of the Arts, where for much of the past eight years she helped charge and enliven the minds of her students.
Ralph Rugoff is Director of the Hayward Gallery, London.
Leigh Markopoulos believed deeply in the work of educating young curators-to-be. In her eight years as Chair of the Curatorial Practice MA Program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, she worked very hard to build a leading curriculum in the field. In a discipline where much is intentionally invisible, Leigh provided a space where students might come to see what was yet to be done, giving them the tools needed to undertake this never-ending work of care for the art of our time. She led by example and was driven by a standard that exists just beyond perfection.
Kitty Scott is Carol and Morton Rapp Curator for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and Co-Curator of the 2018 Liverpool Biennial.
The gap between what one can remember of a person in words like these and everything that person actually said, or did, or meant to others, everything they were—that gap feels especially large in the case of Leigh’s loss. It’s not that one can’t find words to describe her; in the past weeks many of her students, colleagues, and friends have eloquently spoken to how singular she was as a person and to all the differences she made through her powerful dedication to her work, whether as a teacher, a curator, or a writer. I would echo these testimonials, and also add that I’m grateful to her for having shown me so much, by example, about how to make aesthetic judgments and why that matters.
Yet as hard as I’ve tried to close the gap between what I can say here and what I want these words to mean, this seems impossible to do. That could be because the shock of her sudden, inexplicable death remains overpowering—it pains me to think of all the conversations I’d assumed we were going to have at some point—but I would prefer to think that it somehow connects with all the ways she was unlike anyone else I’ve known, most of all through the dignity and poise of her bearing. I hope she had a sense of how deep an impression she made on those who were lucky enough to enjoy her company; I wish she could know how faithfully these traces will serve her memory by preserving it in others.
Andrew Stefan Weiner is Assistant Professor of Art Theory and Criticism in the Department of Art and Art Professions at NYU–Steinhardt.
The Historical Gallery
The categorization “historical” is a fairly general one—of or belonging to the past—and it can encompass a number of spaces we may ostensibly consider “modern”: London’s Hayward Gallery, for example, São Paulo’s MAM, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, or every Chelsea warehouse conversion. These spaces have been built, or refurbished, for the purposes of showing art; they share the architectural lingua franca of white cubism. This article, by contrast, focuses on contemporary venues for showing art that expressly preserve their histories. This history can be specific—the progress of the House of Savoy—or more general—the Cold War era. And these pasts can resonate more profoundly through their interaction with contemporary art. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, new media and new forms serve to highlight the old, while the imbrication of artworks in history, paradoxically, underscores the artist’s capacity to step outside history.
The following four institutions are united by offering more than merely picturesque settings for the display of contemporary art, and additionally are concentrated in Europe, a broader survey being beyond the scope of this text. But first, let’s spend a moment on Harald Szeemann’s 1969 exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form”—memorably restaged by Fondazione Prada in a Venetian palazzo in 2013—because this curatorial experiment encapsulates a number of the possibilities of temporal layering.(1)
Of course, Venice offers examples aplenty of historical architecture, and much of it has since 1895 served as a backdrop to the city’s biannual celebration of international art. The Arsenale, for example, a massive armory and shipyard complex, parts of which date back to the twelfth century, generally hosts the main curatorial statement of the biennale. But jamming a hundred or so works, together with the footprint of the exhibition’s original venue, into the Ca’Corner della Regina was an unprecedented exercise in spatio-temporal juggling. The Kunsthalle Bern’s expansive twentieth-century architecture, represented by temporary sheetrock walls and faithfully replicated fixtures, while not wholly obscuring the palazzo’s Baroque interiors, did echo the brutal acts against that institution—lead spatter, excised plaster—perpetrated by the “Attitudes” artists. Seen against decorative stucco flourishes and pastel colored walls, mutinous gestures by artists such as Richard Serra and Lawrence Weiner were simultaneously neutralized (through underscoring their status as art history) and heightened (how much more radical the experience of this double institutional—and temporal—contravention). The remake thus convincingly laid claim to contemporary relevance, without concealing its status as an artifact, an artful amalgam of time and geography.
Turin’s Castello di Rivoli has since 1984 offered an equally charged environment for considering art. Belonging from the eleventh century to the Dukes of Savoy, and regularly modified in the intervening years, the castello today boasts a thousand years of architectural history. Thickly fortified walls and narrow windows were in times of peace augmented by larger expanses of glass, parquet flooring, frescoed ceilings, and ornate marquetry. In addition to galleries for temporary exhibitions, many of which have been modernized, a section of the castello contains a permanent collection of site-specific installations. These include a still-fragrant wall of laurel leaves by Giuseppe Penone (Respirare l’ombra, 1999) and a suspended black rubber blot by Gilberto Zorio (Machia III, 1968) which partially obscures a Rococo ceiling. The irony is intentional. That major examples of Arte Povera—a movement rooted in the grassroots political unrest that gripped Italy from 1968 to 1970—should adorn this bastion of Piedmontese aristocracy symbolizes at once a truce and a victory. Viewed as metaphors, these juxtapositions represent entire traditions of patronage, class struggle, the disputed value of labor, as well as changes in the status of art and its media.
Just over 100 miles to the north, over the Swiss border and 7,500 feet up, the Hotel Furkablick once served as an upscale stopover for travelers en route through the Furka Pass. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, it was briefly abandoned at the end of the 1970s, and reinvented as an art and leisure residency in 1983 by Basel-based art dealer Marc Hostettler. As Furk’Art, the hotel was visited by the likes of Daniel Buren, who endowed it with alternately green/red and white painted shutters (1987–1989), and Ulay and Marina Abramovic, who performed a chapter of Nightsea Crossing in its dining room (1984). The residency’s activities were intensive and its rich 20-year legacy is today seasonally available for viewing by appointment.
No photography is allowed in the interior—a policy that reinforces the immediacy of the experience, which is considerably dictated by the pleasurably unnerving atmosphere created by the hotel’s hunting-lodge-like furnishings and décor: dark, carpeted hallways that cry out for a Shining-style tracking shot; and dizzying views across the Alps. Past and present are sutured into a tableau vivant that forces art out of aesthetics and into social history. Elegant conceptual expressions—like a Stanley Brouwn document of his 1988 performance, Steps in the Direction of Furkapasshöhe—nestle among twee landscape prints, escritoires, and clusters of taxidermied marmots. In the bedrooms, minimalist works including a large painting by Olivier Mosset, its white ground offset by a grid of pink crosses, hug the fading wallpaper. These interiors are not (re)constructed, they are preserved. And, made in response to this site, the works reflect, rather than supersede, a moment in time that coexists with the larger arc of the hotel’s history. But unlike hotel fairs, which domesticate art for consumers, this microcosm intensifies, and questions, the perceived division between art and life.
Most collectors live with their art, of course, and a number of them also share their collections in semi-public spaces, some of them historical, such as Anita and Poju Zabludowicz’s gallery in a nineteenth-century Methodist chapel in London. But what if that history is compromised? What if the space under consideration is a Nazi-era bunker built in Berlin, in 1943, by forced labor and funded by the Reichsbahn? What do we then make of Christian and Karen Boros’s choice of this venue for their collection and their decision to live in a penthouse perched on top of such a structure? Should we understand it as a liberated gesture towards healing the traumas of the past, Documenta-style? It’s a question worth bearing in mind when visiting the brooding, monolithic structure. The bunker’s ten-foot-thick concrete walls—which have survived war and occupation (Russian forces used it as a prisoner of war camp after World War II) near intact—shelter 120 chambers, 80 of which are today installed with art. The collection is rehung every four years, and my lasting impression of a 2010 visit is of unrelenting gray expanses offset by slick, colorful surfaces—foil paintings by Anselm Reyle, light installations by Olafur Eliasson, Plexiglas constructions by Tobias Rehberger. History here was not so much overlooked, as overcompensated for. Aesthetics foregrounded; reflection deflected.
A different approach to the recent past is offered by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. The Soviet modernist restaurant building that it occupies was adapted by architect Rem Koolhaas with attention to preserving as many as possible of the original fixtures and finishes, as well as what he terms “the ‘Soviet generosity’ of volume,” but what less generous souls might call totalitarian grandiosity.(2) Housed in this Cold War-redolent Gorky Park building, in a country that has to continually account for both its historical acts and its present intentions, the Garage’s mission comes under close scrutiny. As do the motivations of its founders, and funders, oligarchs Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich. The museum’s program redirects the spotlight onto the ways in which both local and international artists can engage with the institution’s context, and does not shy away from difficult content. Rashid Johnson’s 2016 exhibition “Within Our Gates,” for example, drew inspiration from the city’s nineteenth-century Orangerie, but also examined Russia’s links with the American Civil Rights movement and its role in the struggles for independence in African republics like the Congo.
In Berlin in the late 1990s, while the site and form of the city’s Holocaust Memorial were being debated, some proposals focused on the preservation of war-damaged areas of the city—terraces of houses in the Jewish Quarter with bombed out gaps, for example—as the only possible testaments to loss and absence. But historical spaces only read as such if the present is allowed to grow up around them, and our understanding of the contemporary is of necessity informed by both. It might therefore be argued that the combination of recent art with historical architecture offers a true microcosm of the contemporary. A microcosm reflected in the work of many of today’s artists.
(1) “When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013,” June 1–November 3, 2013. Curated by Germano Celant in dialogue with Thomas Demand and Rem Koolhaas.
(2) Quoted in Rashid Johnson: Within Our Gates, exhibition catalogue (Moscow: Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, 2016), 25.
- 1View of the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre. Photo by Morley von Sternberg.
- 2View of the Centre Pompidou from the Rue du Renard. Image courtesy of the Centre Pompidou.
- 3Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags), 1967. Reproduction of Venus in cement covered in mica, rags Venus, 51 3/16 x 15 3/4 x 17 11/16 inches; installation, 59 1/16 x 110 1/4 x 39 3/8 inches. Image courtesy of Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli-Torino.
- 4View of the Außenansicht Bunker, Boros Collection. Photo by NOSHE.
- 5Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento, 1997. Taxidermized horse, leather slings, rope 78 3/4 x 27 9/16 x 106 5/16 inches. Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Gift of the Supporting Friends of the Castello di Rivoli, 1997. Image courtesy of Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli-Torino.
- 6View of “When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013" at Fondazione Prada, Venice, 2013. Image courtesy of Fondazione Prada. Photo by Attilio Maranzan.
- 7View of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art. Image courtesy of MAM, São Paulo