Article: Boundary Crossings: The Political Postminimalism of Mona Hatoum

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

 

First published in Christine Van Assche & Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 24 June–28 September 2015, Tate Modern, London, 4 May─21 August 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 7 October 2016–26 February 2017. London: Tate Publishing, 2016, pp. 150–168. Transl. Silja Kudell

 

Investment in the look is not as privileged in women as in men. More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters … In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.

Luce Irigaray[1]

 

Early minimalist art challenged the privileging of the gaze by foregrounding art’s relation to its surrounding space and the viewer’s corporeal experience.[2] Luce Irigaray’s critique of the privileged gaze is similarly subverted on many levels by Mona Hatoum. We can feel and hear her works – well-nigh even taste and smell them – and one of them literally even touches us. They are insistently corporeal, experienced viscerally within our guts. The materials she uses – cold steel, human detritus, dead skin, strands of hair, nail clippings, plastic, glass, soap and the like – play a highly potent role in the intricate signification process in which she embroils the viewer/experiencer.

The first time I saw her work was at the Centre Pompidou in the summer of 1994.[3] Earlier that spring, I had just seen a Robert Morris retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. Even though these two powerfully spatial artists represent different generations and genders, seeing their work in such close succession tempted me to draw parallels between them, particularly as both draw inspiration from the same traditions, minimalism and performance art. Many of Morris’s works in the exhibition marked an attempt to subvert the Western mind-body dichotomy, as Rosalind Krauss, the curator, stated in her seminal essay for the exhibition catalogue.[4] Yet, despite its powerful spatiality, its message was relayed primarily on an intellectual level, subordinate to the authority of the subject’s gaze. Many of Morris’s works occupied the gallery space as aesthetic artefacts, impermeable to our access.

A preoccupation with the Western mind-body dichotomy similarly pervades the oeuvre of Mona Hatoum.[5] Yet, her exhibition had a very different effect on me than Morris’s. With her work, my experience as a viewer was not just intellectual, but also physical and emotional. I identified with it viscerally, which compelled me to question how I relate to everything, from my own identity to world politics. How did she achieve such a powerful destabilising effect, and why did she move me in such a fundamentally different way than Morris, whose minimalistic art largely elicited feelings of aesthetic and intellectual gratification? Was it the political subtext that slowly unfolded through a complex web of associations, or was it that I am a woman and closer in age to Hatoum than I am to Morris? Many such questions filled my mind back then. Now, 20 years later, this essay offers a chance to revisit some of them – and perhaps to find answers.

[1] Quoted in Marie-Françoise Hans and Gilles Lapouge (eds.), Les femmes, la pornographie et l’érotisme, Paris, 1978, p. 50. Luce Irigaray is a French linguist, cultural theoretician, psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings address the problem of the relation between man and woman vis-à-vis gender difference.
[2] Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995.
[3] See Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June–August 1994. One of the featured pieces, Light Sentence, 1992, was later shown at the Ateneum in Helsinki in ARS 95, an exhibition organised in 1995 by the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art.
[4] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in series’, in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, 1994.
[5] See ‘Michael Archer in Conversation with Mona Hatoum’, in Mona Hatoum, London, 1997, p. 8.

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For more information on Mona Hatoum’s exhibition at Kiasma, visit

http://www.kiasma.fi/en/exhibitions-events/mona-hatoum/

Alfred William Finch, Rainy Weather at Hampton Court, 1907, oil on canvas, 63cm x 79cm, Antell Collections, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Article: ‘New relations, unsuspected harmonies’: Modern British Art in Finland, 1906–1964

Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator of Modern British Art, Tate, London

 

The above quotation[1] is taken from a description penned by Roger Fry of a painting by Paul Cézanne, Les Maisons Jaunes, (1879–82), now known as The Viaduct at L’Estaque, which was shown at the exhibition, ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’, at the Grafton Galleries in London from 8 November, 1910 to 11 January, 1911. This work was acquired for the collection of the Finnish Art Society at the Art Museum of the Ateneum in Helsinki,[2] following discussion involving the London-based Finnish art historian Tancred Borenius and the Finnish professor of aesthetics and literature Yrjö Hirn. Copies of the letters between Borenius and Hirn held in the archive collections of the Finnish National Gallery show the extent to which Fry influenced this particular acquisition. Borenius refers to Fry’s direct involvement in the selection of acquisitions, recommends Fry to Hirn as one of Europe’s foremost connoisseurs and, finally, mentions the fact that Fry promised to publish a written appraisal of the acquisition in The Burlington Magazine, thus validating the quality and value of the painting in the eyes of the public. With increasing infrastructure and affluence in the first half of the 20th century, travel and international communications became more viable for artists, critics, scholars and collectors alike in Europe. Consequently, the period 1905–65 was witness to the rapid expansion of the art market. National museums in a number of European capitals outside the established art market centres of London, Paris, Vienna, Moscow and St. Petersburg, began to collect contemporary and international art; and the frequency with which temporary exhibitions were staged increased. The legacy of decisions made concerning acquisitions, exhibitions and institutional strategy during this period continue to affect the activity and structure of arts organisations to the present day and, yet, the details of the international networks that emerged and underwrote these decisions remain under-researched.

As theoretical, stylistic and technical developments in modern art spread across Europe, each country developed its own national variants that most often have been the object of study for home-grown art historians within the country of origin. By taking a view of the activity of British artists from without, focusing on the instances when artists and artworks travelled beyond national borders, I will begin to build up a picture of British art and Britishness as a foreign entity. This will, I hope, throw new light on a familiar field, and reveal something of the social, political and economic significance of art in Britain during this transitional period. Indicatively, a recent selective catalogue of the international collection of the Ateneum Art Museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery, lists works by country, covering France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Estonia, Poland, the United States, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Japan, China – but not Britain, though the collection includes over 300 objects made by British or part-British artists.[3] Narrowing this number to those works made during the modern period (for the purposes of this study defined as 1890–1965), I am chiefly concerned with the 73 acquisitions that occurred within this timeframe – bracketed by the first purchases in 1906 and, in 1964, the last acquisition – which, I argue, should be seen less as a result of discreet networks and more as a product of a general programme of international acquisitions and displays.[4] Using as the backbone of my research the acquisitions made by the successive governing committees of what is now constituted as the Ateneum Art Museum, this essay attempts to map chronologically some of the exchanges between Britain and Finland – between artists, collectors, art schools, exhibition venues, commercial galleries, national galleries, scholars, critics and other organisations – to which Fry’s description of ‘new relations, unsuspected harmonies’ may fruitfully be applied.

[1] Roger Fry, ‘Acquisition by the National Gallery at Helsingfors’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 18, no. 95, February 1911, p. 293.
[2] Maurice Denis’s Calypso, now known as Ulysses with Calypso (1905), was also acquired by the Ateneum. For details of works shown, see Anna Gruetzner Robins, ‘“Manet and the Post-Impressionists”: a checklist of exhibits’, The Burlington Magazine, December 2010, no. CLII, pp. 782–793.
[3] Ateneum Art Museum: A Selection from the International Collection (Helsinki: National Gallery of Finland, 2000). A search conducted on 17 September, 2015 of the Finnish National Gallery database listed 422 works as by British or part-British artists in the collection of the Ateneum, out of a total of 22,841 works – roughly 1.8%.
[4] In total, the database lists 4,999 works dated 1890–1965 that were acquired during the same period. Of this number, 3,803 are recorded as being by Finnish or part-Finnish artists, leaving 1,196 items in the collection made by artists from abroad or unclassified. The database lists 406 works by Swedish or part-Swedish artists, 355 works by French or part-French artists and 57 works by Russian or part-Russian artists made and acquired between 1890 and 1965.

Featured image: Alfred William Finch, Rainy Weather at Hampton Court, 1907, oil on canvas, 63cm x 79cm, Antell Collections, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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