Ahead of his talk today at the Wexner Center for the Arts, I have been reading James Voorhies’ book Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968.
As part of his fourth chapter on ‘The Industrial Art Complex’, Voorhies discusses how cancellation of Manifesta 6 in 2006 in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia paved the way for a project called unitednationsplaza, 2006-7 in Berlin. Voorhies describes the Berlin project as inserting ‘the intellectual generating activity usually reserved for the private, paying realm of education into the public sphere of exhibition’. As such, Voorhies continues, ‘its interchange of activity in private and public realms of education and art institutions, respectively…also constitutes a critical challenge posed to the institution of Manifesta, a challenge that essentially shut down a major biennial exhibition and, in the process, questioned the function of such exhibitions and the efficacy of their deeply integrated positions with regard to politics, culture, and economics.’ In short, Voorhies account of unitednationsplaza enacts a critique of the failure of Manifesta 6 in Cyprus, wherein political tensions and disputes abruptly stopped the proposed exhibition as art school.
Over ten years later, and especially following the politically charged splitting of documenta 14 between Athens and Germany, I am interested in asking Voorhies today if he stands by the same story of success/failure between Berlin and Nicosia. One of the original aims of holding Manifesta 6 in Cyprus, as Voorhies notes, was to locate a discussion about art education within a context that was itself culturally and politically precarious, especially in terms of the island’s relationship to Europe and proximity to the Middle East. In light of the recent debt-shaming of the documenta 14 team and the rigorous response and statements by curators and artists, we may wonder what happens when the narrative of Manifesta 6 is also written from the perspective of the curators and artists in terms of the successful realization of the project in Berlin (as Voorhies does)? What happens to the Cypriot context to the original project, can it be so easily abandoned and forgotten? I recently discussed Manifesta 6 with a Cypriot artist in Athens and, from what he told me, there is still more to tell about the reasons the exhibition failed which had as much to do with Manifesta as with the settings in Nicosia. Throughout this debate and the questions of different perspectives and sides within the question of public and private, education and art institutions, I am reminded of an anecdote about the Cynic philosopher reading Aristotle’s lost work, the Protrepticus (written for the Cypriot king, Themison) from the Epitome of Teles (in Stobaeus, Anthology IV.32.21):
Zeno said that Crates, while sitting in a shoemaker’s workshop, read the Protrepticus of Aristotle, which he wrote to Themison (a king of Cyprus), saying that no one has more good things going for him to help him do philosophy, since, as he has great wealth, he can spend it on these things, and he has a reputation as well. He said that when Crates was reading, the shoemaker was paying attention while stitching, and Crates said, “I think I should write a Protrepticus to you, Philiscus, for I know you’ve got more going for you to help you do philosophy than the fellow Aristotle wrote to.”