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by Carolee Thea

The exploration of identity within todays globally oriented culture has lead artists and curators to develop diverse strategies and languages for negotiating spaces of artistic expression, intellectual critique, and humanistic concern for their own societies. Where the artists and their works provide the elements of the cultural landscape, the curators are the creative mediators who absorb, organize, and feed information into the evolving network of exhibition systems: the biennials, art fairs, museum exhibitions, and special projects.

As the shift from an industrial to a cultural economy takes place in numerous urban environments, the main stations for display and consumption-the cities-- are experiencing a changing relationship to the world; one that has obliged them to reconsider their own native cultural vitality. For some, the international exhibition system provides a welcome form of revitalization, though for others the effect of cultural tourism can seem to operate exploitatively, and at the expense of this cultural self-definition.

The ten interviews in FOCI cover a wide range of topics that are fueled by the coincidence of the millennium, and by the anxieties and instabilities occurring within this general period of transition. They include the role of architecture and technology in shaping art; the impact of scientific trends, such as biotechnology, on cultural practice; the reexamination of identity in terms of nation and gender; the digital revolution and the demise of modernist and utopian models. As the curators discuss the exhibitions they have created, the shifting meanings of terms such as globalism and center/periphery are explored, along with the influence of the geographic realignments brought about by the disintegration of the greater communist bloc and the mounting visibility of Asian cities.

During the past decade curators have grappled with these and other momentous changes. The title of the book, FOCI, a plural form of focus, alludes to the multiple perspectives and approaches espoused as they execute their new exhibitions. Its slightly awkward pronunciation (fo-si or fo-ki) also offers a metaphor for the reality of cultural and linguistic translations that influence the orchestration of large-scale shows in unfamiliar locations.

It is fitting that Harald Szeemann, the standard-bearer of change within the great European curatorial tradition, should lead off this edition. Ever since Szeemann declared his independence by resigning his directorship of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, he defined himself as the firstand one of the most importantindependent curators of the 20th century. Hou Hanru represents a new generation of innovative curatorial thinkers. Originally from Beijing, he moved to Paris a decade ago and entered a burgeoning trans-identified community of Asian artists and intellectuals. His ideas regarding the meeting of Eastern and Western philosophical contexts and the evolution of Asian cities has made Hou a significant international voice in the next chapter on cultural difference. The Japanese curator, Yuko Hasegawa, offers a jolt to traditional Western thinking in her discussion of the genetics of the collaboratively driven Eastern world, as well as in her views concerning gender. Vasif Kortun, an alumnus among the curators of the Istanbul Biennial, talks about how he has continued to keep this multiethnic city on the Bosporus abreast of contemporary art issues, before and after the biennial event. Mari Hlavajov, a Slovakian, is an enlightened and articulate spokesperson regarding the psychology of Eastern European art and the challenging nature of curatorial consensus. The Barcelonan, Rosa Martnez, has forged new contexts for exhibition arenas that expand the field of vision into spaces that can engage with the politicized culture in unexpected ways. She is one among the growing number of bold and intelligent female spirits in a league that was once dominated by European men. Hans-Ulrich Obrist departs from the traditional by interrupting the straightforward ideas of display. His many exhibitions offer patterns that highlight historical continuity in the contemplation of perfect and imperfect museological practice. Dan Cameron, the global-minded Senior Curator at the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York, reflects on his past and present multicultural interests that have contributed to bringing Latin American art and once unrecognized contemporary artists to his dynamic institution. Barbara London, involved in new media since the 1970s, reflects on video, digital art, and technology in international exhibitions and the increasing transformations caused by rapidly evolving modes. For the last thirty years, Kasper Knigs talent has informed and enlarged the practice. His interview, which took place in Frankfurt at the time of Sculpture. Projects in Mnster 1997, was an inspiration that propelled my continuing research.

In addition to exploring larger cultural themes, the curators speak of the roots that have shaped their personal curatorial styles. They also discuss the sources from which curatorial ideas stem; the artist as pawn or catalyst for curatorial inspiration versus the curator as mediator between the artist and society; how artists are selected for shows; collaborations and curatorial consensus; the obligation to educate viewers, patrons, sponsors, collectors, and bureaucrats in helping to support an encapsulating vision of a history.

I want to thank the ten participants for their willingness to discuss their methods and motivations. Glenn Harper, my editor at Sculpture Magazine, has been extremely supportive of this project from the beginning. I am also grateful to Steven Rand, Executive Director of Apexart Curatorial Program, Sandra Antelo-Suarez at Trans>arts.cultures.media, Jack Sonenberg, Leo Steinberg, Joe Dezzi, Gregory Williams, Richard Lynn, Gabrielle Stellbaum, Holly Zausner, Suzanne Fox, Muffet Jones, Doug Thea, Erica, Josh, and Zack Shandell for their affection, encouragement, and enthusiasm.

© Copyright 2005. Carolee Thea.