Adelina von Furstenberg
Dynamic, global art projects
Founder of Art for the World, international curator Adelina von Furstenberg expands the scope of art
A Liliana Moro work in ‘Woman, Women.’ By Alexandra Koroxenidis - Kathimerini English Edition
Mobility is one of those words that describes the contemporary art world. It is not just that many artists often move between different countries, but also that exhibitions and art events are taking place all over the world, sometimes touring different parts of the world. The art world is constantly “on the move” — not necessarily in a geographical sense but in how new ideas, art fairs, events and exhibitions are constantly generated and multiplying all over the world. This “movement” has made art more accessible, more flexible, more varied but perhaps more mass-oriented.
Adelina von Furstenberg, an international and renowned curator, was one of the field’s pioneers in broadening the scope of art. An Armenian born in Istanbul, she was one of the first curators who showed an interest in non-European artists, thus opening the way for a multicultural approach in art that grew into a trend in the early 1990s. She was also a curator who took a more global and flexible approach to contemporary art exhibitions. Her objective, it seems, was to create a new context for visual art and make it a more vigorous part of our lives, create a more vivid dialogue for it with other arts, and relate it more to worldwide social issues. She essentially wanted to make art pertinent to our lives.
Art for the World, the foundation she established about a decade ago, says, by its name alone, much about her goals. The Geneva-based foundation (there are also offices in Milan and Brussels) is a non-government organization (NGO) associated with the United Nations’ department of public information. The foundation organizes exhibitions on issues related to the declaration of human rights, including the environment, health, children and poverty.
Art for the World has partners, collaborating institutions, in several countries, with India and Brazil among the strongest. Although Greece is not yet an official partner, von Furstenberg is close to the country. She discovered Hydra 30 years ago and has been spending every summer on the island since then. In Hydra, she came up with the idea for her foundation, and she makes many of her contacts with Greek curators and artists on the island. Von Furstenberg also follows Greek contemporary art. In “Woman, Women,” an alternating, four-stop exhibition organized by Art for the World, she has included Dimitris Antonitsis for the show’s second stop at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence in early October and Maria Papadimitriou for the next showing in Brussels.
Many of the works originate from the Dakis Joannou collection — including art by Yinka Shonibare and Katerina Fritch — and the permanent collection of the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Woman, Women” began in Geneva and will then move to Florence to mark the anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration on women’s rights. After that, it will go to Brussels on March 8, concluding in Brazil. The content of the exhibition will vary from city to city. Typical of an Art for the World project, it creates a new context for art outside the standard museum venue. In Brussels, for example, it expands throughout the city with public, multidisciplinary projects.
Moreover, as is the case with most of von Furstenberg’s projects, the approach is global. This worldview emerged after she was invited to organize an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
Von Furstenberg — the former founder and director of the Geneva Contemporary Art Center — then decided to leave both of her directorships, of The Magasin, the National Center of Contemporary Art in Grenoble, France, and The Magasin’s school of curators.
“We had worked with artists from all over the world. Chen Zen and Nari Ward were some among 60 in total,” von Furstenberg told Kathimerini English Edition. “After than it was impossible to go back to everyday museum life.”
Since then, von Furstenberg has worked with artists from all over the world. But how does a curator foreign to a country locate the most interesting artists there? Is it possible to quickly gain an insider’s point of view into the art of so many different countries? To resolve that problem and expand the usual list of non-western (and mostly expatriate) artists featured in most art exhibitions, von Furstenberg follows an unusual route. Through the Art for the World, she creates art for children in existing playgrounds or in playgrounds she creates from scratch in various cities around the world, including 10 in India. She invites local artists to design them and, through that process, gets to know them.
“Besides the humanitarian aspect, we try to bring something to the country and create a context which can enable us to take an insider’s point of view into the local art scene,” she said. “Going to Nigeria to find a Nigerian artist is not always interesting, let alone productive.” Instead, she said, she “prefers to go Nigeria to build playgrounds and art for children, and meet the artists in that way.”
But where is this multicultural approach leading the contemporary art scene, especially now that it has regressed to a standard recipe in contemporary art exhibitions? Von Furstenberg says narrowing in on a more specialized perspective is what makes a difference.
“Nowadays everybody can make a global exhibition,” she says. “It has become almost a fashion, but the level of quality is not always satisfactory. I think that what makes more sense nowadays is to take one or three countries and really work deeply in addressing issues.”
Why take this global orientation in the first place? Once von Furstenberg opened up to the non-Western contemporary art scene, there was no looking back. This is partly because she found the work of non-European artists had a certain exigency lacking in Western art.
“When I started working in contemporary art, there was really a very strong energy among artists,” she said. “They believed that art could change the world. Then gradually all of this transformed to a more aesthetic approach. However, artists from India or South America, for example, still believe that, because they are artists, they can change the world. They are fighting for their art... This is what I love so much. When an artist in India works on women’s issues, it is not because of aesthetic reasons but because there is a problem. Of course the result is art, it is not revolution. It is a work of art because she is an artist, and she can only do art. She is not a philosopher, activist, etc, but an artist who, in a certain, non-aggressive world, works towards change.”
But she adds that the difference between Western and non-Western art does not make the former any less interesting. Von Furstenberg believes interesting art is everywhere.
If there is a problem with contemporary art, she says it lies with the role of certain curators.
“I think the problem of art today does not come from museums, collectors or artists but from curators,” she said. “Most curators are more than clever... They know how to move and approach collectors, but do not help artists; they work for themselves. Of course, there are great curators, too. But, in general, the result in the past years has been very poor.”
For her part, von Furstenberg has come up with creative ways of expanding the scope of art. A Yiannis Kounellis exhibition currently showing at the botanical gardens of the privately-owned Borremeo islands in northern Italy or a forthcoming exhibition on Balkan-related videos by Marina Ambramovic gives a sense of the kind of scope covered by Art for the World. But the objective is always the same: striving to make art a more vital and vigorous part of our daily lives and finding more challenging ways of examining our world. Art for the World lives up to its name, offering art for everybody and art as flexible, varied and lively as the real world.