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Artist Manifestos and their Impact on History at The Hirshhorn

  • Still from Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto
  • Joan Miró - Painting
  • Stephane Aquin, Chief Curator at The Hirshhorn
June 10, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Aside from introducing an entirely new approach which defied the traditional representational cannons, Modern art brought several other innovations, one of them is of a special importrance – the emergence of artistic groups. Namely, the reason why artists found this formation suitable for expressing specific standpoints is related to the fact that a collective voice is better heard than a single one. The group offered a safe space where they can debate often radical ideas, proclaimed by the society as unfitting, unprecedented, and even immoral. In order to step up in the public sphere as a unifying entity, each artistic group proposed their own manifesto which was a written program explaining their attitudes, desires, aspirations, and refusals; not rarely was such a document socially and, in some cases, politically charged.

The manifest is often associated with the avant-garde movements of the first half of the 20th century; however, similar or different forms of it were embraced by artists to come as well. That is why this important phenomenon is the central theme behind the upcoming exhibition called Manifesto: Art x Agency, to be presented at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

Andre Masson - The Hare
André Masson, The Hare (Le Lièvre), c. 1930. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966

The Importance of Artistic Proclamation

The Hirshhorn’s Chief Curator Stéphane Aquin wanted to approach the topic from a multiplicity of perspectives. “Broad art historical presentation of works from the first half of the 20th century expressing the vision of historic manifestos; a presentation of a single work, Manifesto by Julian Rosefeldt; and a display of works by living artists perpetuating the spirit of change, social, political, formal, that inspired the first manifestos.”

But bringing together such an exhibition was no easy task. “Bridging past and present, and making the past – paintings and sculptures that we now see as classics – look and feel still relevant today” was a challenge, said Aquin.

For the curator and the museum, it was important to present the legacy of artists manifestos.

Art continues to be challenged and inspired by History in its perpetual transformations. Not all artists need to feel it is their duty or mission to take arms against their time, but some do, and their work brings us to look at ourselves differently.

Left Zoe Leonard - I want a president Right Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur - For Freedoms
Left: Zoe Leonard – I want a president, 1992 © Zoe Leonard. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne and Hauser & Wirth / Right: Hank Willis Thomas and Emily Shur – For Freedoms, FREEDOM OF SPEECH, 2018. Suite of 4, Edition of 10 + 3 AP. Ellen and Steve Susman. Courtesy of For Freedoms

The Exhibition Segments

The exhibition will be presented through three specific segments. The works from the collection by artists such as George Grosz, Hannah Höch, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, and Jackson Pollock will provide a fine introduction and reflect the historical framework behind the various manifestos proposed during their time. These artworks will be accompanied by a number of published manifestos, including texts from Futurism, Surrealism, Constructivism and Lyrical Abstraction loaned from various American libraries.

The multichannel film installation made in 2015 by German cinematographer Julian Rosefeldt titled Manifesto will be displayed as a singular work in the second segment. The actress Cate Blanchett presents excerpts from some of the great manifestos of the past century through various contemporary characters.

The final segment will encompass some of the crucial contemporary pieces (also from the museum collection) spanning the 1960s until the present day – all of them were made as a result of critically engaged articulation of a wider social and political context (artists like Adrian Piper, Alfredo Jaar, Guerrilla Girls, Catherine Opie, Nam June Paik, Zoe Leonard, etc).

The debut of the project titled In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) by CAUSE COLLECTIVE (consisting of artists Ryan Alexiev, Hank Willis Thomas, and Jim Ricks) will also be on display; this participative installation will installed in front of the museum during June.

Guerrilla Girls - Do women have to be naked to get into the MET museum
Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the MET museum? (from Portfolio Compleat: 1985-2012), 2012. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2014

Manifesto at the Hirshhorn

This outstanding exhibition will significantly improve the understanding of the manifesto that actually transcends the explanatory purpose; rather, it becomes a vehicle for social and political interference through art. To that end, a series of free public programs will further deepen various aspects regarding this subject.

Manifesto: Art x Agency will be on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC from 15 June until 5 January 2020.

Julian Rosefeldt will join curator Stéphane Aquin for a discussion on the process behind his filmmaking and the inspiration behind his works, including Manifesto, which is both a work of art and a feature-length film.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will be presenting In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth), a global project by CAUSE COLLECTIVE artists Hank Willis Thomas, Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks, Jorge Sanchez, and Will Sylvester.

Featured images: Still from Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, 2015 © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019; Joan Miró, Painting (Circus Horse), 1927. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1972; Stephane Aquin, Chief Curator at The Hirshhorn. All images courtesy Hirshhorn Museum.