Art Stage Singapore 2015

Hailing itself as the flagship of Southeast Asia, the 5th edition of Art Stage Singapore has evolved considerably since its launch in 2011, reflecting the dramatic development of the Singapore art scene over recent years. As the government spearheads a national push for the visual arts, particularly within the commercial sector with the launch of Gillman Barracks in 2012 — a cluster of commercial galleries in an old converted military zone — this year will also see the openings of the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris.

Art Stage Singapore, 2015   

Art Stage Singapore, 2015


Positioning itself as a hub for the region, “We Are Asia” continued to be the much-repeated tagline during the week; the fair does lean toward more of a regional approach compared with Art Basel Hong Kong, which has developed a more international flavor since joining the mighty Basel group. Fair director Lorenzo Rudolf told us: “There’s been a huge increase in participation from galleries in the region. We have become a catalyst for all these markets.”

Of the galleries in attendance this year, 70% were from the Southeast Asian region, including Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Yet wandering around the booths, it was hard to ignore the number of big-name Western and regional artists working within traditional media — a reflection of the taste of the majority of Singaporean collectors.

The Southeast Asia Platform was the definite highlight and provided a welcome opportunity to see some edgier, raw and conceptual works. Titled “Eagles Fly, Sheep Flock – Biographical Imprints” and curated by independent Singaporean curator Khim Ong, it encompassed over fifty works by thirty artists. After spending time visiting studios and working with artists, Ong tackled the challenging task of selecting works from such vast and disparate emerging scenes by focusing on individual artist practices. Ong told us: “While there is no way to define a ‘Southeast Asian art,’ by gathering these individual practices you get a sense of what is happening.”

Considering the lack of strong institutional infrastructure in the region, Ong and Rudolf both acknowledged that a lot of art has been driven by the art market. Ong said: “I think it’s important to generate more scholarship. Of course each country has their own universities and some institutions that do that, but I think this platform allows for it to be exposed to a larger international audience too. It gives you the context, which tells you a bit more about the development, rather than just seeing it as a purely selling platform.”

New special exhibitions for 2015 also included the Russia Platform and Video Platform. Olga Sviblova, Director of the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow, presented two video works by the much-loved Russian art collective AES+F: Allegoria Sacra and The Feast of Trimalchio. Video Stage, curated by Paul Greenaway with special selections by Chi-Wen Huang and Ute Meta Bauer, showcased more than sixty video works from the region and around the globe.

Outside of the walls of Marina Bay Sands, the whole city was abuzz with awards receptions, gallery openings and public talks revealing a concerted effort by various organizations to use the fair as leverage for introducing their programs to an international audience.

The Signature Art Prize and Exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum, now in its third year, is an award for artists in the Asia-Pacific region who have created compelling contemporary artworks during the last three years. Out of the fifteen finalists, from New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen was awarded the SG$60,000 grand prize for his four-channel video and installation work PYTHAGORAS (2013), an immersive piece that explores the philosophical notion of the unseen.

Another award event was the Prudential Eye Award, which focuses on emerging artists from across Greater Asia. The reception, which took place at Marina Bay Sands, featured thirteen prizes, with six categories of Best Emerging Artist using various media. The uber-hip Japanese collective ChimPom, whose work critiques aspects of Japanese society with strong doses of humor, wit and melancholy, was named as the Overall Best Emerging Artist. Future Perfect at Gillman Barracks won Best Gallery Supporting Emerging Asian Contemporary Art while “No Country: Art from South and Southeast Asia” at the CCA won Best Exhibition of Asian Contemporary Art.

With such a peak in energy and activity over the week, Art Stage Singapore serves as a much-anticipated gathering for many industry players and visitors across the region while offering international collectors an insight into Southeast Asia. The question is how to maintain some of that momentum and productivity within its own art scene after the fair. Ong reflects: “Hopefully, moving on, it won’t just be initiatives from the government but from the ground up — everyone will take the opportunity to showcase.”

by Lucy Rees

This article was originally published on Flash Art Online:

Anselm Franke on the 10th Shanghai Biennale

Power Station of Art. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

Power Station of Art. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

Lucy Rees: You have been acknowledged for constructing a unique curatorial model that incorporates your wide-ranging interests such as science and literature. Tell me your approach to the biennial format, and how you conceived the theme ‘Social Factory’ for Shanghai?

Anselm Franke: We tried to show how an exhibition’s thematic framing can produce questions with a wide range of repercussions in the social imaginary of various generations. The new generation thinks of social networks, the old one of the social question, for example. I always try to work with the tension between the works tendencies and the title of an exhibition, which has a powerful impact on how people look. So you could say that while many works reflect on the forces that produce society, all of them negate the very idea that society could be produced, or function like a factory. To amplify the contradictions of Chinese society, especially against the backdrop of Shanghai as a futuristic megacity, we have also included a whole section on the Chinese woodcut in the 20th century, which reflects artistic struggles, social mobilization and ideology.

Lucy Rees: You curated the Taipei Biennial just two years ago. How did this inform your understanding of Chinese modernity?  

Anselm Franke: How to modernize, and what kind of modern society to construct: These questions have defined Chinese history since the 19th century, often with very violent results, which overshadow the present and bear a lot potential for conflict for the future. In Taipei, our references to the history of literature and mythology provided a foil on which this history, and its impact on the present, could be registered. Now, for Shanghai, it was important to make references to Chinese tradition and connect them to critical questions — especially because we see a rising interest in the traditional forms in artistic production, and it is important to dissociate them from a narrow identitarian nationalism.

Lucy Rees: What is the relationship between the production of the social and contemporary art? Is the overall tone of the show a positive one?

Anselm Franke: Contemporary art is both a force in the production of subjectivity today (and in the past, think of the role of museums for constructing bourgeois society), and it enables us to reflect on the frameworks within which such production today takes place. Within the given framework, we tried to make an exhibition as a public site in which meaning, signification and difference — and hence, society — is negotiated in an exemplary, antagonistic and pluralistic fashion. Yes, the tone is actually really positive, but on guard.

Lucy Rees: What was the selection process for the participating artists?

Anselm Franke: We identified artists from China and the region whose work breaks new grounds and has substance, but is not necessarily in the focus of the recent market culture. We also identified a few key artists whose work could reflect and carry the theme — I think of Stephen Willats, Chen Chieh-jen, Joseph Cornell, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Ming Wong, Edgar Arceneaux and several others — and built the remaining exhibition around their work in a rather playful manner.

This interview was first published by Flash Art: 


Chuck Close: Prints, Processes and Collaboration

The largest survey in the Southern Hemisphere of the work of American artist Chuck Close is being hosted by the Museum of Contemporary At, Sydney, as part of the Sydney International Art Series. Lucy Rees speaks with Close about the trajectory of his artistic career and the unique process behind his photo-based portraits.

Chuck close lucy rees

Lucy Rees: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Chuck Close: From the time I was five years old, I knew I wanted to be an artist. When was six or seven I asked my parents for real paints, the Genuine Weber Oil Color set from Sears. My father made me an easel himself in his shot at the McChord Field sheet metal shop. By the time I was in probably the second grade I made a picture of our house in perspective. I just know how to do it intuitively. I had to stand up to teachers who kept telling me I was doing it wrong.

LR: Was there an artist or group of artists that had an effect on you during your early years?

CC: My first instructor when I was eight or nine years old, was a woman whose paintings my father had seen at a diner he frequented on Route 99.  It turned out she has attended the Art Students League in New York, but was then living in an old house with several other women. I could have been a rooming house, or ... anyway, for about two years I would go there once a week and learn the academic techniques – working on still life and sometimes landscapes. Sometimes we did figure drawing and her “housemates” would pose – sometimes even in the nude! My ninth grade art teacher, Helen Cook, was very encouraging. 

Chuck Close Lucy Rees Art

I spent a lot of time looking at illustrations in magazines like Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Look by artists like Robert Fawcett, Steven Dohanos and especially Norman Rockwell. My teacher Larry Bakke at Everett Junior College was very influential. Not only did he challenge me intellectually and introduce me to Abstract Expressionism, he also encouraged me to apply to the Yale Summer School Program, which led me to entering Yale the next year.

LR: You are vocal about the importance of art in education and do a lot to help underprivileged children. Why is it important to you?

CC: I joined President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities because I believe strongly that arts education can be life changing. People say that we need art in schools because it helps with math skills. But it’s much more than that – it keeps kids engaged and keeps them coming back. When I was in school, as learning-disabled as I was, the music and art classes we had several times a week is what helped me connect. I probably would have dropped out of school without that outlet.

LR: Marion Cajori’s insightful documentary reveals your methodical working process, how you use a horizontal/vertical or diagonal grid and approach colour correcting squares. How long does it take to complete a work? Is there room for error or spontaneity?

CC: It can take several months to complete a painting from start to finish. I am very much about process, so once the major decisions are made about the subject and how the picture will be partitioned by the grid, it’s really a matter of starting at the top and working my way down to the bottom. But within each mark there is a problem to be solved, a correction to be made. I don’t believe in error, per se – it’s more a question of keeping at it until I know it’s right.

Chuck Close Lucy Rees Art

LR: You have done, for example, over 150 paintings of Philip Glass’s face and you have always stayed within the format of one large photograph of a face. What is the reason for this repetition?

CC: It’s true that in my paintings and prints  – thus far anyway – I have focused on what I call ‘heads’, but I don’t think of them as portraits.  A photograph of a head is something that doesn’t change – unlike what happens with a live sitter. For me, with my face blindness, each time someone shifts just an inch, it is an entirely new thing. With a photograph, I can focus on the increments of each integer of the image within the confines of the grid – it’s a way of transferring information from one place to another.

LR: Your show at the MCA presents your new series of Jacquard tapestries. How did you come to this medium?

CC: I always loved tapestries. I love the unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters in New York. When I was using the big 40 x 80 Polaroid camera at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I discovered that this camera was officially used by the conservators to record the backs of the tapestries in the collection, because the backs showed the colours before the work was faded or stained. I thought that was really interesting. My first tapestry project was Phil made in 1991. My friends Sol and Carol Lewitt went to China and brought back a little silk tapestries of Mao, which because of the way it was loomed in black and white, looked like the black and white etching plates I was making in the studio, scratching through the ground in negative to make positives. A friend helped me find the factory in China that had made the Mao, and we worked together to make Phil.

I met Donald Farnsworth in 1972, and reconnected in 2003, at which time he had been working with weavings. He approached me with the idea of making tapestries. I wasn’t sold at first, but he was persistent, and convinced me to try. We started relatively simply, but over the course of time we have pushed this medium to incredible heights, getting nuance and detail we hadn’t thought possible.

Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration, MCA, Sydney, 20 November 2014 – 15 March 2015.

An edited version of this article was published by Art and Australia in November 2014. 

Exhibition Review: 2014 Taipei Biennial

While the collaborative curatorial model is being favored more and more by art biennials in order to generate an experimental, process-driven approach, they can often be too sprawling and lacking in direction—as was the case for the 2012 Gwangju Biennale and the 2013 Singapore Biennale. Meanwhile, the Taipei Biennial, founded in 1998, is known for inviting a foreign guest curator each year to head the event. The latest edition is no exception, with revered French curator and critic Nicolas Bourriaud at the helm. 

Titled “The Great Acceleration,” this year’s Taipei Biennial centers on the theme of “art and its new ecosystem.” It takes as its starting point the Earth’s shift from the Holocene—the geological age that began around 11,000 years ago and continues to the present—to the Anthropocene (the informal term for a proposed epoch that some consider to have begun when human civilization started damaging the surrounding ecosystems), or the “Age of Man,” and explores the ways in which artists are envisaging and responding to this newer world. Bourriaud is best known for his theory of “relational aesthetics,” which, during the 1990s, articulated a shift in contemporary art practice from creating private, symbolic works to focusing on human interactivity and its social context. With “The Great Acceleration,” Bourriaud has, in a sense, updated his theory, proposing a rethinking of relations that positions humans as but one element in a wider network that also includes the environment, flora and fauna, technology, data and even microorganisms such as bacteria.

This unreservedly single curatorial vision, coupled with the fact that it is presented solely within the three levels of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and not across a multitude of offsite spaces, is refreshing and has allowed the works of the 52 exhibiting artists and collectives to breathe while also revealing the subtle threads that link them together. Overall, the show is dominated by mid-sized installations and wall pieces, and only a handful of videos, which adds to the digestibility of the Biennial. Under Bourriaud’s direction, the museum’s layout traces a polyphonous narrative, with underlying themes of industrialization, globalization, environmental degradation, technology, and human limitations presented throughout. 

CHUAN-LUN WU, Coast Mining, 2014, coast petrochemical found objects, sand, photo mounting on Plexiglas, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

CHUAN-LUN WU, Coast Mining, 2014, coast petrochemical found objects, sand, photo mounting on Plexiglas, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

MARIE MUL, 'Puddle' series. Sand, resin and plastic. Photo: Lucy Rees 

MARIE MUL, 'Puddle' series. Sand, resin and plastic. Photo: Lucy Rees 

YU-CHEN WANG, This is the end. . ., 2014, pencil on paper, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

YU-CHEN WANG, This is the end. . ., 2014, pencil on paper, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

CAMILLE HENROT, Massaged Sculptures (detail), bronze. Photo; Lucy Rees. 

CAMILLE HENROT, Massaged Sculptures (detail), bronze. Photo; Lucy Rees. 

A pressing matter for any biennial is how to engage in a dialogue with the local art community, and while a number of Taiwanese artists have been included in this year’s Biennial, there are only a few successful attempts that address the region directly. For example, located along the first corridor that visitors encounter after entering the show is Huang Po-Chih’s Production Line – Made in China and Made in Taiwan (2014). The work consists of a sewing workshop for denim shirts (which were partially made as part of the installation’s showing at the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale this summer) and speaks to the harsh reality of industrial labor in the Greater China region. 

HUANG PO-CHIH,  Production Line-Made in China & Made in Taiwan , 2014, mixed media, dimensions vari able. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

HUANG PO-CHIH, Production Line-Made in China & Made in Taiwan, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

HUANG     PO-  CHIH  ,   Production Line-Made in China & Made in Taiwan  , 2014 Photo: Lucy Rees. 

HUANG PO-CHIHProduction Line-Made in China & Made in Taiwan, 2014 Photo: Lucy Rees. 

The first floor includes works that explore the intrinsic properties of raw and natural resources and their modification by man. Marlie Mul’s seven puddles (2014), made of resin and scattered across the floor, show signs of human presence in the trash and discarded cigarette butts that “float” within them, breaking the otherwise perfect veneer of the solid pools. Camille Henrot’s “Massaged Sculpture” series (2011)—comprised of rectangular earth blocks made by the artist, which were then massaged by practitioners of fasciatherapy, shiatsu and reflexology—similarly leaves a physical human imprint on objects representative of nature. Chuan-Lun Wu’s Coast Mining (2014) is reminiscent of a nature table from a school classroom, presenting a colorful collection of what appears to be ocean debris that have, in fact, been artificially made out of petroleum.

PETER BUGGENHOUT, from “The Blind Leading The Blind” series, 2010, iron, card board, polyurethane, wood, polyester, plastic, plexi and papier maché covered with domestic dust. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

PETER BUGGENHOUT, from “The Blind Leading The Blind” series, 2010, iron, card board, polyurethane, wood, polyester, plastic, plexi and papier maché covered with domestic dust. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

ROGER HIORNS,, Untitled, 2009. Atomised Passenger Aircraft Engine. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

ROGER HIORNS,, Untitled, 2009. Atomised Passenger Aircraft Engine. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

Human’s precarious relationship with machinery is introduced early on in the show as visitors come across Peter Buggenhout’s “The Blind Leading The Blind” series (2014), comprising monumental and ominous sculptures of found parts and castoffs—a dusty wasteland that seems to be a nod to deindustrialization. On the second floor, machines disintegrate completely in Roger Hiorn’s impressive untitled installation of an atomized passenger aircraft engine (2008). 

Elsewhere, Joan Jonas’s immersive re-working of her video installation Reanimation II (2010–13) poetically considers the present day situation of global warming, while ecologist and artist Nicolás Uriburu’s room of works, spanning from 1973 to 2000, overtly raises consciousness about various environmental issues. His use of an acid-green palette creates an alarming sense of toxicity and danger in the work.

SHIMABUKU, My Teacher Tortoise, 2011–14, Sulcata tortoise, pen, lamp, title sticker and poster, dimensions variable. Photo: lucy

SHIMABUKU, My Teacher Tortoise, 2011–14, Sulcata tortoise, pen, lamp, title sticker and poster, dimensions variable. Photo: lucy

Exploring the ways in which humans are interconnected with spirituality is manifested in Yu-Chen Wang’s drawings of otherworldly creatures and amorphous machine parts scribbled across various walls of the museum. A more direct and humorous approach is Shimabuku’s My Teacher Tortoise (2011–14), which consists of a live tortoise in a knee-high pen, meant for viewers to learn the importance of slowing down, by contemplating the unhurried ways of the reptilian creature. 

We reach the pinnacle of Bourriaud’s vision on the third floor, which displays works that grapple with reality, existence and human relationships in a hyper-artificial and digital world. This theme was best presented in works such as Alisa Baremboym’s sculptures made from mutilated conveyer belt systems reassembled into original installations using ceramic material, gelled emollient, vinyl, printed silk gauze, tubing and bungee straps. The ceramic material retains a porous quality when baked and, in a way, functions much like human skin, breaking down the barrier between the organic and synthetic. Another work was Anicka Yi’s giant inflatable PVC bubble, Le Pain Symbiotique (2014), a conceptual representation of an entropic bacterial ecosystem and the cohabitation of various organisms within it—showing a vision of life after all human infrastructure and existence have disappeared.  

ANIKA YI, Le Pain Symbiotique, 2014, PVC dome, projector, single-channel video, glycerin soap, resin, dough, pigmented powder, plastic, mylar, beads, tempera paint, cellophane, rice, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy  Rees 

ANIKA YI, Le Pain Symbiotique, 2014, PVC dome, projector, single-channel video, glycerin soap, resin, dough, pigmented powder, plastic, mylar, beads, tempera paint, cellophane, rice, dimensions variable. Photo: Lucy  Rees 

Alisa Baremboym, Fluidiax Systems, 2014. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

Alisa Baremboym, Fluidiax Systems, 2014. Photo: Lucy Rees. 

While the Biennial is lacking in a meaningful dialogue with Taiwan—and could have undoubtedly taken place in any museum in the world—it is still successful in its execution and strong roster of artists, so perhaps the aforementioned drawbacks could be overlooked. The Biennial worked for what it set out to be—a comprehensive museum show led by a foreign, academic curator. 

This article was originally published published by 

Interview: Annette Messager

Featuring artworks created over four decades, ‘Annette Messager: Motion/Emotion’ (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, is playful and disturbing in equal measures. Here Annette Messager and I talk about making art, the past, and what her works might mean. 

Annette Messager, Chance.   ©  Lucy Rees. 

Annette Messager, Chance.  © Lucy Rees. 

Lucy Rees: Let’s talk about your interest in the so-called ‘devalued arts’ – the art of the everyday.

Annette Messager: I have always wanted to use materials everyone knows about and has access to. I grew up in a small town called Berck-sur-Mer, which was a sanitarium. In the nineteenth century many sick people would visit and all would make poetry, paint, write, and tell stories. Art was not even considered a ‘therapy’, everyone was simply making art.

Mes Veux,  1989.   ©  Lucy Rees 

Mes Veux, 1989.  © Lucy Rees 

Mes Veux,   1989 (detail). 

Mes Veux, 1989 (detail). 

LR: How did you make the transition to being an exhibiting artist in Paris?

AM: There was a decisive moment where I said I would become a professional artist – even though I find the term horrible.  I decided to meet people from the art world and went along to an exhibition opening of an artist I really liked in Paris. I didn't know anybody so it was incredibly daunting. I observed the way people were talking to the artist and saying the most stupid things. I wanted to say something more meaningful so I approached the artist and was invited to a dinner afterwards - now I hate dinners and avoid them at all costs – but I was young and excited. A critic asked me what I did and I replied that I was an artist and asked if he wanted to see my work. His response was ‘to see your work, no. But to sleep with you, yes’. That was an eye opening experience! 

LR: Your work is a mélange of mythology, fairytales, religion, sorcery, the occult, astrology. What is it about these themes that interest you?

AM: It’s not the ideologies that conjure interest for me. I like the symbols, the forms, and the aesthetics. With Mes Veux, for example, I had been awarded a travel scholarship and spent some time looking at the churches of Southern Italy and Greece. The ex voto plaques often included little limbs made of wax hanging in a gathered bunch.

LR: At the end of the 1970s in France it was commonly accepted that artists were not to mix mediums. There were also very distinct movements – Conceptualism, Surrealism, Minimalism. But you have never really been interested in following convention. Would you call yourself an outsider artist?

AM: I suppose the thing I like about outsider art is that it is timeless. I hate that someone can be considered ‘a good artist from the 1980s’. At the time I was practising in France, there were two schools of thought – Henri Matisse, who was painting with colour, versus Marcel Duchamp, who was about the rational. I did love the Surrealists and the Dadaists, of course, and I read a lot of Andre Breton’s manifesto but it was so formulaic. I wouldn’t say I work entirely independently either; we are all living in a particular place and time and you cannot help be influenced by things. I absorb everything. I am a thief; I take the things I see. 

LR: Language and text are central to your practice, from your embroidery ‘Collection de Proverbs’ (1974–2012), to the Lignes de la main, 1988, where you obsessively write the same word down the wall. 

Lignes de la main,    1988.   ©   Lucy Rees 

Lignes de la main, 1988. © Lucy Rees 

Lignes de la main,    1988 (detail). 

Lignes de la main, 1988 (detail). 

AM: I like to repeat the same word hundreds of times to the point where it loses all sense. It becomes a litany, mantra or song. I’m really fascinated by language and words.

LR: Over time your works have become substantially darker in colour. Was this a conscious decision?

AM: It wasn’t conscious at all, but I am older. There has been a lot of progress for women, for example, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Annette Messager MCA Sydney Lucy Rees

LR: What do you think has changed in the art world?

AM: In the 1970s there was only America, France and Germany. England didn't even exist. Now there’s the whole world. In a way its better because it’s more open, but at the same time things are worse because all anyone talks about is money. It wasn’t a business before; it was about art. It's not like that for me because I am old, but I am honestly not sure if I would be an artist today. 

LR: Are art and life one and the same?

AM: You know the artist Robert Filliou? He said that art exists to make life more beautiful.

The gloves-grimaces,   1999

The gloves-grimaces, 1999

annette messager mca sydney lucy rees art
Head-gloves, 1999. 

Head-gloves, 1999. 

LR: Yet a lot of your works aren’t conventionally ‘beautiful’, preferring to reveal the cracks, the broken, and the parts we don’t always want to see.

AM: With a box of crayons most people comment on the colour looking so beautiful all together, but I see them as dangerous. They way they form the fingers of the gloves in The gloves-grimaces, 1999, they have become weapons. I like to play with the negative and positive connotations of things, the beautiful and sinister.

Annette Messager: Motion/Emotion, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 24 July – 26 October 2014. 

A version of this interview was first published on the Art and Australia website. 

About Annette Messager: 

Annette Messager was born in Berck-sur-Mer, France, in 1943. She has exhibited in solo shows since 1973, including exhibitions at the Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture in Grenoble, France (1973), Saint Louis Art Museum (1980), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1981), Bonner Kunstverein in Bonn, Germany (1990), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1995), Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires (1999), Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2004), Musée D’Orsay in Paris (2006), and Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris (2007). She has participated widely in group exhibitions, including the Biennale de Paris (1977), Documenta 6 and 11 (1977 and 2002), Biennale of Sydney (1979, 1984, and 1990), Venice Biennale (1980, 2003, and 2005), Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon (2000), and the Liverpool Biennial (2008). Messager was awarded the Leone d’Oro for her work in the 2005 Venice Biennale. She lives and works in Malakoff, a suburb of Paris.

Read more about the artist's life here. 



Yin Xiuzhen's Washing River

Leading Chinese contemporary artist Yin Xiuzhen first created the Washing River Project in the mid 1990s in China, a time when performance art was unknown. Shocked to discover the polluted condition of the Funan river in Chendu, Yin assembled 10 cubic metres of frozen contaminated river water and asked people to help wash the blocks of ice. 

In June 2014 Yin was invited to Hobart, Tasmania to create the latest iteration of the project using the water from the nearby Derwent river. Situated on the lip of Sullivan's Cove - an area with high pedestrian activity - the work consists of 162 blocks stacked upon one another. 

Yin Xiuzhen was born during the Cultural Revolution in Beijing and began her career in the early 1990s – a time of radical experimentation. Here she discusses her newest installation in Hobart, her first encounter with ‘performance’ and ‘participatory art’, her interest in second-hand materials, and her position on feminism. 


Yin Xiuzhen Lucy Rees Art

Lucy Rees: When you did the first project in 1995 in Chengdu, western performance art was little known in China. How did your interest in performance and participatory art begin?

Yin Xiuzhen: Twenty years ago, an American artist got some artists in China to do a water protection project. At the time in Chengdu, the Funan was incredibly polluted. All these new concepts of performance and installation art were totally new to China, and when I started working this way, I had no idea that it was considered ‘performance art’. It was just a very organic development. But it was quite interesting that people started categorising my art as performance. At the time, people’s awareness in China of this concept of environmental protection was new and unfamiliar. I received numerous questions as to why I was doing this project, whereas today it is obviously a much more well-known and important concept.

LR: Tell me about the process behind Washing river, 2014 – collecting the river water, melting it and stacking it.

YX: I started off planning how the wall would look and be built. My team went to collect the water in buckets from upstream, because we couldn’t take it from the harbour considering the extreme saltiness. We worked with the University of Tasmania and the river authorities to analyse and assess the pollution and the heavy-metal levels. We found that the water was extremely polluted, although not quite as bad as the Funan River.

After testing how long it would take for the water to freeze, all 200 containers were collected, then transported to a facility with industrial freezers.

Chainsaws were used to level out each block. Of the 200 blocks produced, only 162 were used in the composition of the wall. My husband Song Dong and I supervised the construction of the wall, which took about two hours.

yin xiuzhen washing river lucy rees art

LR: Washing river joins a long list of your ongoing series including ‘Portable Cities’. Tell me about your interest in continuous work.

YX: My artworks are not simply sculptures; rather they deal with large and ongoing issues such as water pollution, environmental protection, in the case of Washing river, and globalisation and homogenisation.

I think that having an exhibition in one place with a finite end would do a disservice to what I am trying to communicate to the world. And there are many different elements that come into play within the different cities. I have now done Washing river, for example, in four different cities.

portable cities lucy rees art yin xiuzhen
yin xiuzhen lucy rees art
yin xiuzhen lucy rees art
yin xiuzhen weapon lucy rees art

LR: You trained in painting and graduated from art school in a very important year in Chinese art history – 1989, when the ‘China/Avant Garde’ exhibition was held at Beijing’s National Art Museum of China. Tell me about the art scene during these early years.

YX: All of my professors were trained in a very specific Soviet style of painting, which they, in turn, taught me. Song Dong and I were actually classmates back in art school, and we both followed our own style and strayed from what was expected from us.

In 1985 there was an American exhibition where I was exposed for the first time to this very new and innovative type of art. At this time I was still under the impression that art was strictly painting or sculpture, or something that simply hangs on a wall. I was suddenly confronted with installations using mundane, everyday objects. It really informed my practice.

When I first started, most of my works appeared underground, because we didn’t have access to exhibition spaces. We would display our works in our homes or friends’ homes. Song Dong did a project called Cultural noodles at home, where he took books and cut them up into strips that resembled actual noodles and then covered the house with them.

LR: Do you feel you were more able to push boundaries and foster creativity because of the cultural conditions of the time?

YX: There was definitely more of a creative community that existed back then. Because it was so underground with no government support, we ended up having to show these works at remote places. We couldn’t legally publicise where these showings were, so we would load up a car with our artwork, ring up our friends and supporters, and hold showings somewhere on the outskirts of town.

yin xiuzhen unbearable warmth lucy rees art

LR: The art scene was an overwhelmingly male-dominated realm. To a degree it still is. You were the first Chinese female artist to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, for example. With this in mind, and the fact that you use textiles, threads and domestic objects, you are often grouped as a feminist artist, with contemporaries such as Yin Tianmiao. What is your view on this?

YX: When I graduated there were only four other female artists in my graduating year that I was aware of, because women were still expected to be good wives and mothers without any further pursuit. The concept of feminism is a completely western construct, however, and I do not consider myself a feminist artist. People constantly ask me about my works in regards to their female attributes. It’s the same as people labelling my work ‘performance art’, when I made the works with no real knowledge of the genre. It’s not that I prefer to go by an alternate label; rather I work organically and instinctually and therefore hope to avoid generalisations altogether.

Yin Xiuzhen was born in 1931 in Beijing, China and is represented by Pace New York and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney/Melbourne. 




Interview: Tabaimo

‘MEKURUMEKU’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Sydney, presents Japanese artist Tabaimo with six video installations from the early 2000s to the present. During her time in Sydney for the opening, I spoke with the artist about the delicate reality she constructs in her work.

tabaimo lucy rees art

Lucy Rees: A lot of Japanese contemporary art is considered Kawaii or cute. With your blend of surreal happenings that incorporate manga-like drawings and reference Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, your works are far removed from this aesthetic.

Tabaimo: I didn’t think originally about being an artist. I was a graphic designer for many years but it didn’t work for me. I would say that art grabbed me and picked me up and here I am. I really work by how I feel in an intuitive manner. I had no idea that there were even schools of art when I started. 

If you live in Japan, Manga and Anime are all around; it’s ubiquitous but it’s not something that I am necessarily interested in or inspired by. If I draw a line and animate it, it represents something about me – that is what I am more interested in. I am getting input from the world, responding to it, and then internalising it as my expression.

LR: Your animations begin with hundreds of drawings made with a pen or an automatic calligraphy brush. It must be such a laborious process.

T: When I draw a line it is an expression that came from my hand. If I draw a line on a computer it just exists perfectly between these two paints. It’s important that if you draw a line, it’s your line and you take ownership of it. It is indeed laborious; it’s like a Buddhist ritual of observance. It is incredibly disciplined. I don’t know if I like it but I know it needs to be done. I sit down and task myself to do it. Having said that, coming up with the subject is harder.

LR: Your installations are often on a 5-minute loop and there is no single narrative. Do you plan the story before you begin?

T: I don’t start with the finished work in my head. I build on elements as I’m drawing. If an element comes up that I have done before or seen before I am really disappointed. If it turns into something that I could never have imagined in the first place, that is great.

LR: You have created two new installations that respond to the MCA’s architecture, peeling back the walls to reveal the ocean outside. Tell me about the use of artifice, mirrors and optical illusion.

T: I work in fictional spaces, and so mirrors further assist in pushing this dimension. I really want viewers to experience something in my works. We are generally too passive. I want people to stand here and react and feel.

lucy rees art tabaimo

LR: Your videos encompass motifs of femininity such as bodies of water, blooming flowers, petals and hair. What is the role of sexuality in your videos?

T: When I started I really didn’t want to make art that was obviously about gender. I didn’t want to be categorised in this way. Over time, however, I have come to the realisation that you are born with what you have. I was born a woman in Japan. I think it comes out in your work whether you choose it or not. It’s not like I have a particular insight into men; I have insight into being me, so it’s a very internal space that I am revealing. 

LR: The single projection dolefullhouse, 2007, depicts a doll’s house with giant human hands rearranging the contents before a large octopus takes it over and the house is transformed. I read this as East and West, with the octopus as the United States invading Japan.

T: It is welcome that people interpret my work however they like. In my daily life I am not a political being; it’s not actually on my mind when I create things. The octopus is nominally an invader from the outside, but the tentacles become blood vessels, and it’s the moment that transformation occurs that really interests me – an exterior force is internalised.

LR: Sound is a major element in your work, assisting to create a sense of uncertainty or fear, or envelope the viewer in an immersive state of meditation. How important is sound?

T: People don’t often realise that my works are a combined whole – the video and audio are equal elements. Even if I opt to go totally silent and there is no audio in the space, that silence is equally charged. There is the sound of breathing and whistling, and it’s actually me making those noises – something from inside me conveyed to the outside world. It mirrors the very core of my work – the juxtaposition between interior and exterior.

Tabaimo: MEKURUMEKU, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 3 July – 7 September 2014.

This interview was originally published on the Art and Australia website. 

Review: 19th Sydney Biennale 'You imagine what you desire'

The build up to this year’s edition was somewhat overshadowed by controversy: nine artists withdrew in protest of founding sponsor Transfield Holding’s involvement with offshore refugee detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island. Their decision was followed by an open letter to the Biennale’s board calling for an end of this funding arrangement. Transfield’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis subsequently felt obliged to resign after fourteen years as chairman of the Biennale.  

Politics aside, the 19th edition opened on March 21 with artistic director Juliana Engberg’s “exploration of the world through metaphor and poesis.” A self-professed “spatial curator,” Engberg’s selection of 90 artists from 31 countries sought to explore the individual character of each of the Biennale’s several venues.  

Highlights at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (a “promethean earth-fire” space) include Angelica Mesiti’s video of a woman singing in an ancient Sicilian cave, In the Ear of the Tyrant (2012–13), and Rosa Barba’s Time as Perspective (2012), a 35mm film loop of oil derricks shot in the Texas desert. A quirky addition was Chinese performance artist Yingmei Duan who inhabits a little forest built into the wall of the gallery for the duration of the show. Wael Shawky’s video Al Araba Al Madfuna (2012), in which a group of young boys dressed as adult men recite a parable about the dying words of the Great Jabir, was another stand-out work.

Angelica Mesiti 

Angelica Mesiti 

Rosa Barba 

Rosa Barba 

The newly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art, situated on the harbour, is intended to be a “water-air” space. Here Pipilotti Rist’s dreamy six-channel video installation Mercy Garden Retour Skin (2014) and Roni Horn’s meditative glass-castings, Ten Liquid Incidents (2010–2012), are obvious choices for Engberg’s spatial concept.

Roni Horn 

Roni Horn 

John Stezaker 

John Stezaker 

Former jail and shipyard Cockatoo Island was first used as a venue in 2008 and has typically demanded the most attention. This year it is more subdued. Here Engberg has set out to explore the “happy anarchy” of the island as a fantasy environment. Callum Morton’s The Other Side (2014) takes visitors on a miniature train ride through a Google search, while Randi and Katrine have created a scaled-down fairytale Danish village that questions the utopian construct of a community ideal. Yael Bartana’s Inferno (2013) is a new film that addresses the relationship between Neo-Pentecostalism and Judaic traditions in Brazil.

Yael Bartana 

Yael Bartana 

The cavernous space at Carriageworks is almost completely dedicated to the moving image with compelling works by Broersen & Lukács, Matthias Poledna and Daniel Mckewen.  

In light of the political concerns surrounding the event, the Biennale perhaps lacked a sense of urgency. But what can be commended is its romantic belief in art’s imaginative and aesthetic power.  

This review was published in Flash Art International, May June 2014 edition. 


Interview: with Isaac Julien

Part documentary and part fiction, Isaac Julien’s PLAYTIME, 2013, is set across Reykjavik, Dubai and London – three cities, defined by their role in relation to capital – and follows six main protagonists – the artist, hedge fund manager, auctioneer, housekeeper, art dealer and reporter and their entanglement with the global financial crisis. The exhibition - which comprises of the large film installation, PLAYTIME, a two-monitor flat-screen installation, KAPITAL, and six photographic works - was shown at Metro Pictures gallery in New York in late 2013. KAPITAL presents Julien and David Harvey, author of the book “The Enigma of Capital,” in conversation with theorists, critics and curators at the Hayward Gallery in London.  

I caught up with Isaac Julien while he was in Sydney with an exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (15 March – 12 April 2014). 

Lucy Rees: You’ve said that PLAYTIME was influenced by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, but the themes have been in your work all along. How did PLAYTIME begin?

Isaac Julien: During the making of Ten thousand waves, 2010, I began to want to make a film called PLAYTIME. I was really struck by the 2008 crash. After I saw Jacque Tati’s film Playtime(1967), a hilarious comedy of manners, I wanted to make a piece of work that was an ironic reflection; something that might be quite sardonic in terms of its visual presentation. I wanted to make a work that was looking into the mirror, pointing the camera at myself and at the art world in which I exist.

LR: Tell me about your personal relationship to the film’s three stories.

IJ: I think it’s important to say that a lot of my works begin through a personal relation. PLAYTIME starts its story with the Icelandic photographer Thorsten Henn, who lost his modernist dream home during the crash in 2008 as the bank withdrew its funds and the country falls into financial ruin. It’s about the experience of trauma he underwent. The modern ruin couldn’t be finished – it needed a memorialisation. Memorialisation has been a theme in my work.

Dubai came about through my housekeeper. She was from Dubai and came to work for me in London. She wanted to escape her Dubai employers. What’s interesting about her story is the way that capital is vulnerable and unstable – insecure. It makes people disposable; people need to be able to move from space to space, which is important for capital to work. I wanted to juxtapose that with her story.

LR: Has your own view of the art world changed during the research and making of PLAYTIME?

IJ: I don’t think I participate in the art world uncritically. I came from film via art school at Central Saint Martins, London, and then decided to make video works. The thing about video art is that the very medium is quite excluded from the secondary market, which I think allows for further reflection.

LR: Was a lot of the film completed in post-production?

IJ: Yes, there are a lot of special effects. For example, the computer terminals that appear in the scene when the bankers are looking down are all CGI.

LR: There is an interesting link to the very concept of capital there. David Harvey says that capital cannot be seen but only detected through its effect, something that is in constant motion.

IJ: This is important. And that’s why there is a lot of talking in the film. Visualisation is not enough. It’s shot on super high definition and it’s the first work I have made that is not on actual film; it is just a digital code. There’s definitely a metaphor there. We know the scenes must have taken place for the camera to have recorded them, but they don’t really exist. It is non-material and only gets activated through projections. The technology actually mirrors the enigmatic nature of capital. It’s like in banking: millions of dollars can be made and lost in milliseconds, all through computer programming. These are the invisible forces that are literally controlling our lives.

This interview was first published on Art and Australia's website. 


Isaac Julien has had one-person exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; Milwaukee Art Museum; Bass Museum of Art, Miami; St. Louis Art Museum; Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover; SESC Pompeia, Sao Paulo; and Aspen Art Museum. Julien participated in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 8th Shanghai Biennale; and 2012’s La Triennale at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. His films have been included in film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Biennale and Venice Film Festival.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 : An interview with Magnus Renfrew

I met with Fair Director Magnus Renfrew while he was in Sydney for the launch of the Sydney Biennale in March 2014. Here he talks about this year's fair and the rapidly developing art scene in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Magnus Renfrew. 

Magnus Renfrew. 

This year’s edition of Art Basel Hong Kong has 245 galleries participating across six sectors: Galleries; Insights; for solo or thematic presentations, Discoveries; Encounters for emerging artists, curated by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Chief Curator Yuko Hasegawa; Magazines; and Film. With precursors in Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, 2014 is the first time the fair introduces film to Hong Kong, with video art, art films and short artist documentaries at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

LUCY REES: The first edition of Art Basel Hong Kong last year saw Art Basel taking over from Art HK. What is the show’s defining characteristic?

MAGNUS RENFREW: I think it is diversity, and the global nature of what’s on view. You can see a bit of everything at Art Basel Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the only truly global art fair. If you want to see a young artist from the Lower West Side, you can; or an artist from Indonesia, a Picasso, an early twentieth-century Asian ink painting.

LR: Art Basel prides itself on having a strong regional presence. The Basel edition includes 50% of galleries with a presence in Europe, Art Basel Miami with 50% from North and Latin American galleries, and then Art Basel Hong Kong with 50% from the Asia and Asia Pacific region. Considering the trend for galleries expanding into new cities - White Cube, Ben Brown, James Cohen, Pace, Gagosian - to name a few, it’s increasingly difficult to define a gallery’s identity. Would you agree that’s it’s a grey area?

MR: Yes, it’s something we started to find problematic over the past three years and it’s really reached crunch point now. How do you refer to these spaces that exist in many different cities? The only way we found that was truly transparent and fair was to acknowledge the galleries that had physical spaces. I mean, is Ben Brown to be considered a Hong Kong gallery? He is a Westerner and opened his gallery in the UK, and at the same time is making an important contribution to Hong Kong. To say they are not part of the Hong Kong scene seems a bit mean spirited and not really accurate.

LR: Starting in 2013, Sydney Contemporary coined itself as the new fair of the Pacific rim. Does it present potential competition? Is there room for more fairs?  

MR: I think there is room for more fairs in this region. The audience in Australia is incredibly important and there is definitely work to do to introduce new collectors. People often set up these competitions between different locations – Hong Kong versus Shanghai or Hong Kong versus Singapore – but the truth is the regional fairs help to build the audiences. When Frieze opened in London the number of UK collectors spiked for Art Basel.  

LR: Fairs certainly assist in bolstering support for the artists and galleries but competition must inevitably exist when galleries need to choose the fair they want to participate in. Financially galleries cannot take part in all of them.

MR: Absolutely. I was reading that there are over 200 art fairs in the world at the moment, but people need to choose which fairs best serve their strategies and the audiences they want to engage with. There are some galleries that want to focus on domestically driven fairs in a targeted way, and others that want to be part of the more global, international hub fair circuit.

LR: Is there more interest for younger galleries and collectors due to the exciting, burgeoning nature of Asia?

MR: We certainly found this with the Discoveries sector; we had 114 applications for twenty-seven places. Many applications were from western galleries, revealing the perspective of the next-generation galleries who are going to be in the business for twenty or thirty more years; they know they need to engage with Asia and that the world is changing.

LR: The Chinese auction market is the third largest behind London and New York. But Johnson Chang of Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong, said that he believes the Western gallery model is fundamental, where galleries nurture and support their artists.

MR: People are definitely engaging more with the idea of buying from galleries, rather than buying at auction. They are seeing how galleries can assist in an artist’s career over the long term. We really want to help build a framework for the validation of artwork that is beyond the purely commercial. I am not saying that we are not commercially driven – we are. We want to make sure the galleries sell well, but do it on the right basis. We want to make an art market that is sustainable.

LR: Historically in Asia there has been an absence of a curatorial or critical framework.

MR: And then the market then moved in, beginning with the auctions. Validation for an artwork being good was if it reached a high price at auction. That’s not the right way around.

LR: In terms of developing an art ecosystem, how will the developments at M+ and the West Kowloon Cultural District play out? 

MR: These cultural ecologies are now coming together in Hong Kong. The auction houses are very strong, the gallery scene has become increasingly strong, and the profile of local non-profit organisations such as Para Site and Asia Art Archive is growing. Alongside the West Kowloon Cultural District and M+, these have been complete game changers. They have the potential to redefine the conversation. It will be a heady mix.


An edited version of this interview appears on the Art and Australia website here

Interview: Christian Boltanski

I caught up with French artist Christian Boltanski when he was in Sydney to install his major installation Chance at Carriageworks. First shown in the French Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, the giant scaffolding installation questions probability and the role of fate. Here Boltanski shares his views on the act of creation, immortality, religion, and the current state of contemporary art. 

 ©  Lucy Rees. 

 © Lucy Rees. 

LUCY REES: How did art come to you? 

CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI: For me there are very few times in creation in your life. One time is when you become an adult, one time is when your parents die, and the other time is when you are very old. I was very aware of this time – the body changed, the spirit changed. I remember realising when my childhood had finished. I tried like an archaeologist to find some photos or objects from a past time. I wanted to put everything in boxes and try to hold on but I knew I couldn't. 

 LR: Is your work defined or categorised by these moments of creation?

CB: Yes, in a sense, but at the same time I’m always with the same problems.  We’re painting the same people all our life - it’s just the way we look at them that changes.  If you experience trauma, you can speak about it in so many different ways. You can speak about landscape, you can speak about your food; it’s always different. Trauma is the beginning of life as an artist.  I love Louise Bourgeois – she was continually citing the trauma from her childhood (she found out that her English governess was also her father’s mistress). Artists speak about their problems all their life, we just describe it differently at different times.  

LR: You have spoken a lot about the role of an artist, that they need to be a mirror to everybody else. What do you think visitors might take away from Chance? Should we accept our own mortality?

CB: It’s a question I ask myself and one I think everyone can ask: ‘is chance our destiny?’ You are what you are because your parents made love at that exact moment, and if they made love one second after you would be different. The fact that you were born means that there are no other children born because of you – you’ve killed them in a way. Is it destiny? Was it written somewhere that this was to be your life? Is it useful that you are here? Or is it simply by chance?

LR: You’ve said that this work has a more positive and optimistic feeling than other works. When you’ve documented children before, you’ve said that actually they’re dead because they have grown up. In this way, in Chance everybody’s dead. They are dead because they can no longer be that exact age.

CB: Yes, they even look like dead people. Babies are just as close to death. I think it is very important to know that we are going to die. Now we refuse the fact of dying. There was once serenity in dying where you had all your children around you in a ceremony and would utter your last words with something like, ‘I love the sky’.

 LR: In 2009 you sold your life to the gambler and founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), David Walsh.  He agreed to pay you a fee as a monthly stipend to film your studio 24 hours a day and transmit the images live to the museum. Should you live longer than 73 years, Walsh will end up paying more than the work is worth and will have lost. If you die within 8 years, Walsh will have purchased the work at less than its agreed upon value, and will have won. Will he win?

CB: I think it’s possible.  It is important for me to know that it’s possible. I am 69 years old. I hope to still be here in 20 years, but I know it’s normal if I die in 3 years.

LR: What’s your relationship like him? He also has a fascination with death.

CB: I think he’s a very clever man, one of the cleverest people I’ve met in my life.  I can’t say he’s a friend.  He did not want that. He believes he is stronger than chance, that he can beat the odds. The one who believes that, and who thinks he is stronger than god is the devil. It’s the tradition of Christianity to fight against the devil. David Walsh is the devil.

LR: You claim that you’re not religious at all, but you often talk about religion.

CB:  I don’t know what exists – I don’t know what God is.  What I am sure of is that there is a lock and everybody’s looking for a key. I’m looking for it too and perhaps one day I shall find it. 

LR: Do you have any unrealised dreams?  You speak about leaving a legacy – is there a last major project?

CB: My project in Tasmania, because that’s the end – it ends when I die.

LR: David Walsh said that it would be great if you died in your studio but that it’s unethical to ask for that. What will you do with your ashes? 

CB: David Walsh can have thousands of hours of my life, but he is never going to have me. What to do with my ashes is a real problem though. David wanted them but I did not agree. You know once a worker in a lost property department told me that she found some ashes that had been left behind from a funeral? The person actually went to the lost property office to reclaim them. There were so many keys there too. Keys are incredibly important to us, but when you see them clumped together they are meaningless objects. These objects exist like people – you look at them when you love them and if you don’t love them they are meaningless. The reason I work with clothes is because of this idea. If you go to a market and take a jacket home, that jacket gets a new life.

 LR: So old clothes markets are like cemeteries?

 CB: Yes, they are cemeteries waiting for lovers.  

 LR: When you were first starting to make art in the 60s, 70s and 80s you said your mentors were Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. You've also said you love Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer.  What do you think about the state of contemporary art now? 

CB: I think there are always good new artists – nothing is finished.  What is a little depressing for me is the ‘art market’.  When I began to make work the important people were the curator and the critic, but now the important people are the dealers.  Sometimes art seems like fashion – good for one year and out the next. Just clothes to sell. When I started exhibiting I was 26 at a gallery in Paris but I didn’t sell and I was proud to not sell.  People who sold were stupid.  It's much harder for young artists now. I’m not against selling but what I think is dangerous is when the market becomes more important than the idea. It’s a pity. I remember going to gallery openings and everyone would be there and you could meet and talk. It was a smaller, more intimate world, and now it’s this big thing. You don’t have the same personal conversations anymore. 

LR: Did your dealer Ileana Sonnabend mind you not selling? 

CB: No, not at all! I began to sell at 45 or something like that. Ileana never asked me to sell anything.

LR: You've moved away from galleries now.

CB: It's not the right time in my life for that. I thought perhaps I could make a show every 5 years or something, but it doesn’t interest me. For now I am working on big installations. 

LR: What are you working on next? 

CB: The next will be in São Paulo, next March. After that I’ll do a big piece in Chile in the north where there is a dry hot desert, a place where you can see the sky better than anywhere, and there's a large cemetery. I want to make the piece and then leave it to die by itself – for one year or six months, two years or ten years, I don’t know. 


Christian Boltanski was born in 1944, Paris. 

 An edited version of this interview appears on the ARTAND Australia website: