Being there

Sometimes, Art Happens

Text by Christabel Stewart and Ajay RS Hothi

When today’s art is examined as art history, it will be acknowledged that the dying years of the 20th century and the beginning of this one were the age of the “super-curator”. An eminent curator once remarked to Tank that we are reaching a point where there are even more curators than curatorial jobs. Art colleges now offer graduate degrees in curating as standard, and the very term “curator” has shifted beyond the idea of expertise in a particular art historical movement to connote an arbiter of contemporary works.

One consequence is the rise of “contemporary art” in a more literal sense. Art is something that happens before your eyes: it’s a verb now. It has become specifically experiential, so much so that the places where it appears have changed too. In the UK alone, more than 30 contemporary art institutions (not including museums) have been built, renovated or redeveloped since 1999. There have been similar booms in the Americas and, most notably, in the Middle East and China. Then there are the international events. Frieze popularised the curated contemporary art fair in the 1990s. The number of biennales – so quintessentially focused on the present – has grown exponentially since the 1960s. The Biennial Foundation currently recognises 134 across the world, but the actual figure is thought to be at least 200.

Not since the Happenings of the 1960s – also a time of international instability and mass political awareness – have ordinary people played such a role in the creation of art. Think of Tino Sehgal’s participatory projects at Tate Modern and the Guggenheim in New York; or Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present at MoMA; or even Occupy Kassel, the camp set up at the foot of the Fridericianum to protest against Documenta (13).

Tank has been presenting a curated selection of artworks for the past 15 years. The changes we describe have taken place in front of us. We have seen artists, curators, museums and galleries emerge and hit spectacular heights or disappear entirely, and we’ve been here to highlight the connections and the breaks. The following pages bring together several artists whose work explores what it means to witness an event. This is the art of being there. §

Image: Documenta VI (1977). Joseph Beuys and Lucrezia de Domizio Durini leading a class in front of the Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany. Photograph by Buby Duri.

  • Being There