Préhistoire, un énigma moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris
I was fascinated by Préhistoire, un énigma moderne, a grand and wildly proliferating musing on art’s preoccupation with the prehistoric, both as a specific phenomenon in the form of archaeological finds, and as a phantasm, an idea about the rise of our culture. The show was arranged in accordance with a kind of chronology that kept veering off in new directions, mingling prehistoric artefacts with works by artists such as Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois, and Picasso. The totality was far from unproblematic, but it demonstrated – as did Louisiana’s 2018 exhibition The Moon – that art is neither separate from its own time nor from its history, and that cultural history can be incorporated into art history on art’s own aesthetic terms.
Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions (with Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo, and Missylanyus), Moderna Museet, Stockholm
I hope it’s okay to mention an exhibition that opened at Moderna Museet before I began working there? At any rate, this show featuring Arthur Jafa and friends was a mind-blowing experience for me. Having previously seen his works in Venice, I knew that right from the very outset his works puncture any and all preconceptions of what art is. Being the sampling, inclusive, and unifying figure that he is, Stockholm saw him inviting guests to be part of his exhibition, thereby challenging the notion of the artistic subject. He gave visual expression to an alternative story about African American identity and, using strong and unfiltered imagery, reclaimed the right to define that identity. Even my fourteen-year-old daughter was sold.
Rehang, MoMA, New York, October
The Museum of Modern Art in New York reopened in October, declaring its intentions to devote itself to its collection rather than to the many special exhibitions which have previously defined its identity. At the same time, the museum wanted to create a dynamic and fluctuating presentation of its collection: new hangs are installed every three months, and no previously written art history is taken for granted. The results are interesting and say much about our day and age. The grand narratives of art history have disappeared from the hang. So too have the great mythological figures of art – Picasso himself has been scattered across a large number of rooms. Instead, we now find the works connected by more intimate narratives, most of which are told by women artists who, as we know, have been overlooked by museums and thus art history for centuries.
Gitte Ørskou (b. 1971) is director of Moderna Museet. Having studied art history at Aarhus University, she is the former head of Kunsten, Museum of Modern Art Aalborg in Ålborg (2009–19), and chief curator at ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (2008–09).