Now in its eighth iteration, this highly anticipated season starter saw Chief Curator Ingrid Schaffner approach her annual, open-ended question from a new angle, asking where the contemporary is (answer: everywhere, all the time) and how one might enter it. To this end, Schaffner took a packed house on an idiosyncratic Grand Tour of the art world’s many terrains, topographies, spaces, and places. To pique the audience’s Alice-like curiosity, Schaffner embarked on this strange, challenging journey through Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie’s 100-foot mural—on view at this year’s Sao Paolo Bienal—which maps an imaginary land of global, cultural movements, among them the Mountain of Yoga and the Square of Social Investigation. Schaffner’s annual themes—Terrain, Reference, History, Identity, Form, etc.—became analogues for specific physical, virtual, and metaphorical art world locations. “Identity” globetrotted around the Biennial circuit and included a brief history of this constant exhibition season by curatorial intern Joya Mandel-Assael; “Ornament” featured Rei Kuwakaba’s recent collection; while “Evocation,” the space of criticism, touched upon Kara Walker’s viral sugar sculpture A Subtlety… (2014) then landed closer to home with a rundown of local art magazines. This local thread wove throughout the lecture, providing access to the contemporary here in Philadelphia. Schaffner ended her safari into the art-spaces of nature, fashion, art fairs, pedagogy, performance, and more, with technology: a short video by British artist Tamarin Norwood. A Fine Line (2014)—ICA’s first online commission—brings several of the aforementioned terrains into play via the computer screen. Afterward, Philadelphia’s community of artists, curators, and students crowded out of ICA’s auditorium to enjoy wine, savory empanadas from Argentinian eatery Gavin’s Café, and the conversation of world travelers.
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Where is Contemporary? A whirlwind tour of the art world’s terrainIngrid Schaffner Named Curator of the 57th Carnegie International