Mr. Enwezor speaks power to truth
By David Adler
Nigerian poet and artist Okwui Enwezor, a prominent figure in the contemporary art world as the director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich and holder of affiliations with the Whitney and Guggenheim museums in New York, is acting curator of this year’s Venice Biennale. While his appointment as the venerable art exhibition’s first African leader is seen as a progressive step forward, it’s not without controversy, as David Adler notes in the following analysis. – The editor
He is appalled by art’s failure to speak truth to power. “We expect writers to ponder the big questions, and musicians and composers. But somehow in the current moment the things that are most celebrated in our field are devoid of position. They do their job; they don’t disturb. They don’t raise questions.” He pauses and then adds gloomily: “There is a lot of painting.”
– Financial Times, “Venice Biennale: Politics Show”
Mr. Enwezor’s answers to the big questions – in this and every other interview – never disturb. They always have a position, though, and that is the consensus position. Yet his answers are worth examining closely, for what they dance around, for what he can’t or won’t address or even question. Through these critical voids it is possible to construct something most interesting: an outline of power today, what the powerful deem to be the truth, and topics the powerful have deemed taboo.
L’Uomo Vogue: The writings of Karl Marx himself play a central role in the exhibition through a continuous reading of his Das Kapital ...
Enwezor: Yes, this project developed from conversations with Isaac Julien whom I invited to direct a continuous reading of the three books of Marx’s Das Kapital, as a kind of oral epic, an oratorio that lives, through its continuous live broadcast over seven months, in the body of the exhibition, constituting the show’s central nervous system. The three volumes are read by professional actors, every day, for several hours each day, almost as a secular ritual. Today the question of “capital” and its processes represent one of our great contemporary dramas, as seen under a million different guises and forms, and as such, Marx’s book is read in many different voices.
– L’Uomo Vogue, “The Director”
Quoting Marx, and having actors read Marx, and giving interviews to L’Uomo Vogue about Marx, doesn’t make you a Marxist. Enwezor’s constant invocation of economist Thomas Piketty is a case in point. Though Enwezor doesn’t seem aware of it, Piketty is not only not a Marxist, he told The New Republic, “Das Kapital, I think, is very difficult to read and for me it was not very influential ...”
But Enwezor’s performance of Marx does distract from the economic issue at hand, one right at the front door: the ongoing crisis in the Italian economy. Italy hasn’t grown since it joined the Eurozone in 1999. The GDP has now been flat for more than generation. And Italian youth unemployment is at 43% as of April 2015. We all know the economic problems of Italy are small compared to those of the peripheral countries: Spain and Portugal, and of course Greece.
The crisis is now also present in France, the very core of the Eurozone. In France, manufacturing continues to contract. French government hiring cannot make up the slack because of austerity policies. The country cannot compete with mercantilist Germany.
But this is all getting drab, too drab certainly for L’Uomo Vogue. And too real. Here are the real questions: Is there something about the architecture of the Eurozone that has caused this crisis? Could it be even be the Euro itself?
These remain taboo topics. So much easier to hire actors to read Marx.
Read the rest of this story in the Fall 2015 issue of Artenol. Order yours today
RAISING QUESTIONs Okwui Enwezor, left, curator of the 2015 Venice Biennale of Arts pauses for a picture with Biennale president Paolo Baratta at the opening of the event last May. The Associated Press photo