Max Bouwhuis


The Aesthetics of Prioritising

Duty Free Art & Design in transit at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague

In the advent of globalisation, contemporary art, design and architecture is increasingly been shown in so-called mega-shows – which may be better known as biennials – that form at least grand, overwhelming and eclectic platforms for today’s artists, curators and critics amongst others, or even micro models of the global art world that reflect the international appeal that art has gained nowadays. Elena Filipovic, who co-edited The Biennial Reader: Anthology on Large-Scale Perennial Exhibitions of Contemporary Art (2010) with Marieke van Hal en Solveig Øvstebø, argues that these grand, international shows distinguish themselves from typical groups shows in galleries or museums through their lineage to the Venice Biennial, which thus requires a certain extend of temporality and, most of all, a great amount of spectacularity. Dispersed over multiple exhibition spaces and institutional sites, these mega-shows reflect a panorama of art, narratives, concepts, ideas and formalistic approaches that are incorporated in artworks of “bombastic proportions and hollow premises of which earned it the name “biennial art”, a situation that knotted the increasingly spectacular events to market interests”.1

During this ostensible globalisation of the art world, its main protagonists become more and more wanderers, traveling the world to visit biennials in Johannesburg, the Nordic Biennial of Contemporary art in Moss, the Jakarta or the São Paulo Biennial. The experience of visiting these “excesses of the star-studded mega- exhibitions” that have proliferated since the 1980s must have made today’s artists and curators willing to be more self-reflective about their practice, Ralph Rugoff already noticed in 1999. The curator of the 13th Biennale de Lyon foresaw the creation of the “jet- set flâneur”: individuals in the art world who know no terrestrial boundaries, for whom a type of global-internationalism is the central issue.2

In this moment of self-reflectiveness, there appears something of a paradox in this modern phenomenon of contemporary art as globalism: the artist/curator is at the same time both a traveller, but part of the prodigious biennial culture too. Is there not a starker contrast between the experience of boarding an aircraft and visiting a mega-exhibition? The excessive number of artworks, the immense size of many contemporary art installations, museums, expositions and galleries may correspond with the jumbo airplanes that we now today, but if we take a closer look at the individual experience of travelling by plane, there seems no similarity between them.

Cabin of a Wizz Air Airbus A320-200

Flying seems to be a brutal economisation of the space that is provided to individual travellers in airplanes: the cabin is too small, the individual space is limited and the oxygen we breathe in is artificial. If we consider the process of checking-in, the most stressful moment may be the inspection of the hand luggage when flying with a low fare airline company. When we take for example Wizz Air, travellers can only take baggage with them that is not bigger than 32 x 42 x 25 centimetres: this means that – when taking hand luggage for free instead of paying an extra fee – a process of choosing, selecting, deleting and refining is obligatory when packing your luggage before checking in on the airport.

Students are flown over from other academies in order to participate in a transacademic exhibition. They will show the students of the KABK works from abroad their isolated island- academy. The Graphics Department will be transformed into a micro- exhibition, visited by artists, who are flying with budget airliners though. Therefore we have been inspired by the concept of Prioritisingprioritising and the “economisation” of space that is so characteristic for the experience of flying. Instead of curating a large-scale mega- exhibition space, we choose a modest space that is very limited – it has the size of the allowed hand luggage when flying with Wizz Air (32 x 42 x 25 centimetres).

In consequence, we ask the invited artist to undergo a comparable experience of choosing, selecting, deleting and refining. What will happen to both the artistic approach/method and the ultimate object that is taken in the aircraft? Is the final concept stripped off in such a way that only the nucleus of the prior idea is left? Or is the overall scale of the artistic project adapted to the micro-space of the exhibition? How does the artist deal with the frustration of being urged to prioritize, which is in the end a process that is more and more being forgotten in the biennialised, glamorous and decadent world of contemporary art.

1. Elena Filipovic, ‘The Global White Cube’, in: Curating: Politics and Display, no. 22 (2014), pp. 46-47.

2. Ralph Rugoff, ‘Rules of the Game’, in: Frieze, no. 44 (1999), pp. 47-49.