Review of the Eleventh Gwangju Biennale

On October 7, 2016, I published a review of the Eleventh Gwangju Biennale in the online magazine 4Columns.

Here’s an excerpt:

Like so many exhibitions and publications in the past several years, the eleventh Gwangju Biennale—The Eighth Climate: (What does art do?)—assesses the agency of art at a time when artists seem at once to be newly powerful and notably powerless: as avatars of the creative class, their social stature and economic function are impressive, yet their ability to shape the world beyond MFA syllabi and investment portfolios remains dubious.

Maria Lind, the curator of this gargantuan exhibition—101 artists in twelve venues, not to mention two catalogues, a school, a blog, a bookshop, and several forums, meetings, and other events—approaches the question of art’s agency from a number of complementary angles. The show’s title comes from the twelfth-century Persian philosopher Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, who conceived of an “imaginal” realm that exists alongside the intelligible, spiritual, and material ones; those who are sufficiently wise can enter this “eighth clime” and gain powers such as prophesy, as well as access a fund of images that sits between the physical and mental universes. The implication is that art might see and show us the world differently, mold minds in doing so, and ultimately reshape the world without directly acting on it.