May 6, 2021

Classroom: “Community”

Art & Education

Azikiwe Mohammed.

Maria Lind, Tensta Museum: Reports from New Sweden.

The Square (video still), 2017. From the trailer.

Christian Nyampeta, École du soir, or the Evening School.

Savannah Knoop, SCREENS: A Project About “Community.”

Curated by Owen Duffy

The term “community” has pulsed through the art world in recent years. Museums seek to cultivate it; dealers traffic in it; artists, perhaps, create it. After spending the past decade working in museums, “community” has bubbled up in my thinking as well. Can art actually catalyze a meaningful form of togetherness? Can institutions genuinely support curative social bonds? Part of the issue at stake is that the idea of “community” is elastic in and of itself. It can be almost anything: a decentralized conspiracy theory is just as much a community as a decades-old quilting guild in Queens or a country club of billionaires. As much as I value their mission and their collections and the people who work there, the battleship-class art museums in New York (MoMA, the Whitney), if not the United States, operate, in many ways, as communities of wealth. “In our time,” David Joselit writes, “museums have become palaces again.”

A confession: in the earlier hours of my professional career I was idealistic about art’s community-building potential. Visions of Nordic social democracy, replete with modest but, by American standards, lavish state-sponsored cultural funding coursed through my curatorial psyche. In 2016, I spent a month in South Korea for the Gwangju Biennale’s International Curator Course; Tensta Konsthall’s former director, Maria Lind, curated that year’s edition. I was—and still am—deeply impressed with her approach to institution building and the way it foregrounds a sense of community produced in, around, and by contemporary art. Under Lind’s tenure, social-practice projects flourished, like Ahmet Öğüt’s The Silent University, which extends education access and knowledge exchange to refugees and asylum seekers whose professional accreditations are not (yet) recognized in their new countries. Lind’s social practice–oriented exhibitions coexisted alongside adventurous projects like Abstract Possible, which explored formalism’s double life as a vehicle for social progress and a financial instrument. Provocatively, this exhibition used as a satellite venue Bukowskis Auction House, which sold the art on view, just before “Zombie Formalism” seized the New York art market. The idea of the beneficial, community-oriented institution brushes up against the real contexts it operates in. This contradiction is the crux of Ruben Östlund’s 2017 film The Square, which satirizes, with pointed teeth, the utopian drive of the Swedish konsthall. This may sound grim, but if a contemporary art institution in an actual welfare state is worthy of parody, what hope do we have as arts workers in the land of rugged individualism?

Featuring Maria Lind, Ruben Östlund's The Square, Azikiwe Mohammed, Christian Nyampeta, and Savannah Knoop.

Read more and view the full series on Classroom.

Classroom is a series of video programs curated by art schools, educators, artists, and writers. Each program assembles films, interviews, lectures, panel discussions, and documentaries from a variety of sources to engage with themes relevant to contemporary art and cultural production.

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