Curated by Annette Kierulf
Text by Annette Kierulf
Text by Caroline Kierulf
Public Commissions
The Guggenheim Connection

(published in Be Magazin, # 11, 2004)

As a conclusion of my three-month residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, I put up an exhibition in my studio, entitled Local Connection. The invited artists, some from Norway and some whom I met during my stay in Berlin, were all practising some sort of site-specific connectivity. Some of the artworks in the exhibition could be labelled ‘relational’, others ‘new genre public art’, others still ‘institutional critique’, but all of them were ‘political’. I asked one of the artists, Arve Rød, about his project for the exhibition. (AK)
AR: The project for the show at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien was planned in collaboration with Stefan Schröder, whom I first met in 1998 in Dresden, where we were both implementing projects. The work in Local Connection is called Norwegische Guggenheim. It actually started as a joke. We were discussing some topics over a beer, and one of us mistook “Deutsche Guggenheim” (“German Guggenheim”) for “Norwegische Guggenheim” (“Norwegian Guggenheim”). It sounded like an interesting misreading – totally absurd, but with a lot of potential. We came to think that, to some extent, it could be linked with the discussion about the field of art becoming exposed to mechanisms of corporate logic. The Guggenheim is maybe the best example of super-institutions, and their need for “brand equity in the global marketplace”, as Hal Foster put it in his article on Frank Gehry. (1) With the Gehry building in Bilbao, the Guggenheim museum system took the branding of the contemporary art institution to the next level. The Guggenheim Bilbao is as much a logo – for mass consumerism and the tourist industry – as it is a producer of artistic discourse, and it represents a total disruption of the balance between the art and the architecture, the content and the container.. The branch here in Berlin is called Deutsche Guggenheim – not Guggenheim Berlin, as one would expect – because of their collaboration with the Deutsche Bank (a connection, which in itself is interesting). Today, there are Guggenheims nearly everywhere (not in Norway, of course), and Gehry is designing yet another New York venue in Lower Manhattan. I saw the architect’s models in New York a couple of years ago. The sheer size of the building (if they ever build it) is impressive. I was drawn to it and appalled by it at the same time. So these are the issues that motivate our work. But it’s also related to other issues, and I don’t think that we’re actually discussing the Guggenheim here. It’s just an excuse to make work that seems relevant in this particular situation.

AK: What are the other issues?

AR: For us, it also deals with the situation of living and working in a country, which traditionally, has very few important institutions, and virtually no significant art scene, if seen in an international context. So the Norwegische Guggenheim can perhaps represent both a mocking of the system, and a kind of ‘institutional longing’ – a trust in the institution – that parallels the ambition of producing institutional critique. It can also be related to all the Norwegian and Nordic artists moving to Berlin. In many ways, that’s the closest we get to a broad Norwegian art community with international ambitions and experience. Still, it’s hard to make it out there. I’m still living in Oslo, and Stefan moved from Berlin to Oslo a couple of years ago, so in this context it also reads like a personal, though ironic self-reference.

AK: This notion of institutional insignificance does not seem to imply a moral statement, in the vein of ‘us versus them’, ‘us’ being the outsiders with no power, but with the right to criticize, and ‘them’ being the insiders with corporative goals. Your project would rather tend to blur this dichotomy.

AR: Hopefully it does. We have no interest in moralizing over these problems. It is somewhat like taking a critical position, and at the same time, not knowing what really goes on. What you do as an artist is not always rational...

AK: From art history we know people like Michael Asher, who worked on demystifying the museum. The past years, some institutions have been adopting methods of institutional critique, using them as a sort of promotion. As Thomas Crow writes: “The museum or gallery has become only too happy to be commented upon, defaced or dismantled, and thereby enhanced in its importance and prestige as a provider of stimulating moments of perception.” (2) Is this something you consider, particularly in your local situation in Oslo?

AR: Yes, there is a lot of focus on this now. Paradoxically, it seems that one of the safest ways to make a career in cutting-edge institutions today is to march under the banner of institutional critique. One can easily end up as a career Marxist or some other fake revolutionary, adapting to rampant standards of correctness. But it is still important to reflect on these issues; a lot of these discussions are related the New Economy, in other words, what to stand for in a neo-liberalistic, extremely consumer-orientated culture where everything, even the art institution, is reduced to capital. So maybe it isn’t so much of a paradox after all. Today’s institutions also consist of people who themselves are, or have been, radicals in some way or another – feminists, former artists and so on. You don’t automatically become a reactionary the moment you enter a position of power. At least I hope you don’t. As an artist, I’m more afraid of becoming too righteous and opinionated about these things.

(1) Hal Foster, ‘Master Builder’, in: Design and Crime, Verso, London, 2002. p. 28
(2) Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture, Yale University Press, 1996. p. 193

Annette Kierulf, b. 1964, is an artist and curator living in Bergen, Norway, where, since 1999, she has been running the By the Way – Gallery of Contemporary Art, (http://www.galleribtw.no). In 2003/04, she was a curator in residence at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, on a grant from the Office for Contemporary Art (OCA), Oslo, Norway.

Arve Rød, b. 1967, is an artist and critic living and working in Oslo.