Kasper König, the chief curator of Manifesta 10, announced the names of participants in this year’s edition of the nomadic art biennale at a press conference yesterday. While the announcement of the list of names of more than 50 international artists participating in the biennale was greatly anticipated, much of the press conference was devoted to the exhibition organisers’ responses to the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding the bienalle.
Featuring many influential figures in the contemporary art scene, the list of participants in Manifesta 10 includes eminent Austrian artist Maria Lassnig and other 20th-century classics like German performance artist Joseph Beuys and Henri Matisse. Commenting on the choice of participants in this year’s Manifesta, König said: “The artists in this edition of Manifesta were chosen because they represent, and have helped develop, key strands in contemporary art in the west and in Russia. In a museum as historically diverse as the Hermitage, it was only fitting to select a diverse and complex array of contemporary positions.”
While a member of Chto Delat, the Russian art collective who withdrew from Manifesta 10, highlighted the contemporary relevance of the Hermitage’s imperialistic past, König’s offered a contrasting vision for the use of the site. In order to combine the newly renovated General Staff Building, which will be home to the majority of Manifesta 10’s main exhibition, and the Winter Palace, in which a third of the works brought by Manifesta will be placed in among the museum’s historical collection, artwork will be exchanged between both buildings. “It is a central idea that contemporary art should be experienced in dialogue with art from other periods and cultures”, König said.
Responding to the two petitions launched by European artists regarding the anti-gay propaganda law and recent events in Ukraine, König provided some examples of the art that will be on show. These will include the works by Boris Mikhailov, whose new project is based on a visit to Kiev’s Maidan Independence Square, and the work by South African artist Marlene Dumas, which will feature a series of portraits of gay internationally recognised cultural figures, including those of Alan Turing, Oscar Wilde and Pyotr Tchaikovsky among others. König also noted the participation of German fine art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who, after withdrawing from Manifesta, re-committed himself to the exhibition with a view to use Manifesta as a platform for campaigning for LGBT rights.
Director of Manifesta Hedwig Fijen also spoke out about the political situation weighing on Manifesta 10. Acknowledging the difficult position Manifesta found itself in this year, she asserted that, although the bienalle is against censorship, “Manifesta thinks that there are other ways forward than for calling for a boycott.” Confirming that Manifesta is open to debate regarding recent political events and underscoring its commitment to strengthening forces and communities in society who fight for freedom of expression, Fijen added: “Our work is one of debate, negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy, that does not shy away from the conflicts of our time.”
As a closing remark, Fijen said: “Manifesta has chosen to operate within contested areas. We choose to do this because we believe art provides an ultimate perspective and reflection on society.”
Manifesta 10 will take place between 28 June and 31 October in St Petersburg. A full list of participants can be found on Manifesta’s website.