Catherine David

Article Bio Works Projects
crossroads:
colonialism, politics
genre(subgenre):
Visual Arts (curating art)
region:
Europe, Western
country/territory:
France
created on:
January 16, 2008
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since February 1, 2008. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:
Other languages:

Article

Remapping the Near East - Vision instead of Division

In the case of such present-day art as goes beyond national boundaries and genres, the threads often run together into the hands of Catherine David. From 1994 to 1997 she was the curator of documenta X, where multi-medial visualizations came into their own and political discourse became part of the art agenda. Since then this 53 year-old Frenchwoman with a home in Paris has become an esteemed global player in the international culture market.
She is an art historian with nearly a lifelong interest in the Mediterranean as ‘a thrilling region which in many respects is misjudged and subject to over-simplifications.’ She goes on to say: ‘I have never felt that the Arab part lies on the moon, but somehow I couldn’t find it on the map of modern art. Apart from pleasant oriental quirks, traditions ending in the 17th century and old wonders like the Egyptian pyramids and the City of Stone in Jordan, it was simply written off. I wanted to change that.’

So it was no coincidence that Catherine David made the event ‘Di/Visions. Culture and Politics in the Near East’ (8.12.2007 – 13.1.2008) in the House of World Cultures her own program. She had exhibited mainly visual art at ‘Contemporary Arab Representations in Barcelona’, at ‘The Iraqi Equation’ in the Berlin gallery Kunstwerk and at ‘Middle East News’ in the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) in Berlin, so now she wished to concentrate more on the spoken word. In the ‘resonance room’ of the restored foyer of the House of World Cultures, 13 monitors showed filmed interviews between Catherine David and artists, thinkers and politicians from lands including Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Syria, who spoke of conditions in their homelands. Catherine David’s aim was to transcend the many divisions within the region as seen through Western eyes. ‘I wished to demystify the cliché-ridden situation in the Near East by showing the complexity on the ground through the eyes of local “experts”.’

Since turning to the Near East, Catherine David and a growing number of artists working together with her have been telling ‘other tales’. These are less about bodies exploding, about war both civil and uncivil, and about Islamism’s growing appeal than about reasonable persons trying to get on with their lives under unreasonable circumstances. As artists they are trying to find niches in which they can shrug off the shackles of nationality and censorship. The committed curator was keen to overcome the antithesis between the ‘forward-looking West’ and the ‘backward-looking East’, so she focussed on the bad example set by colonial powers in using violence for their own ends and also on the incompetence of local autocratic systems, which threaten their most creative and resilient members and force many of them into exile.

Hence discussion forums were held together with the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, where Catherine David had recently been a fellow. Experts living in the Near East or in exile were invited to take part, and the key word was ‘governance’ not from above but below. Folk not directly involved in state organizations were encouraged to see to public affairs. In this respect Catherine David’s experts said time and again that parts of the Arab world had been enlightened, modern, secular and culturally productive up to the times of Western intervention – at first in the forms of the colonial powers France and England, and presently in the form of the US, keen to safeguard its access to oil. They said among other things that the present chaos in Iraq is no valid excuse for subsidizing authoritarian systems, as the US is still doing in Saudi Arabia.

Catherine David is going on with her comprehensive project of ‘remapping’ the Near East. She wants to film more interviews with ‘experts’ in the manner of Jean-Luc Godard so as to create a ‘living archive of present-day artists of the Arab world’. In the one big gallery of new art in Lebanon, the ‘Sphere’ in Beirut, she will be going on with her ‘Contemporary Arab Representations’ in October 2008 and including artists from Iran. She is also mulling over the idea of ‘post-museum moments’ i.e. ‘How can works of new political art be made accessible all round the world without building for them another Museum of Modern Art as in New York?


All quotations are from an interview of the author with Catherine David in January 2008

Author: Ute Büsing

Bio

1954
Born in Paris

1972-80
Studies History of Art, Literature and Language Studies at the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre, Paris

1981-90
Curator of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

1989-91
Lecturer at the École du Louvre, Paris

1990-93
Professor in the department of Anthropology, University of Paris X - Nanterre

1990 onwards
Curator of the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris

1994-97
Director of the documenta X in Kassel

1998 onwards
Director of the project ´Contemporary Arab Representations´

2002-04
Director of the Witte de With Center of Comtemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Works

Exhibitions (Selection)

Exhibition / Installation
1954 Born in Paris 1972-80 Study of art history, literature and linguistics at the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre, Paris 1981-90 Curator at the State Museum for Modern Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1989-91 Lecturer at the École du Louvre, Paris 1990-93 Lecturer in the department for ethnology at the University of Paris X - Nanterre 1990 onwards Curator at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris 1994-97 Artistic director of documenta X in Kassel 1998 onwards Head of the project ´Contemporary Arab Representations´ 2002-04 Director of the Witte de With Center of Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 1996 Concept for the film festival ‘Ici et ailleurs/Here, there and everywhere’ for the ‘Steirischer Herbst’ in Graz, Austria 1993 Eva Hesse, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France Gordon Matta-Clark, films and videos. Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France 1992 Fringe films, Brazilian underground films from the 60s and 70s, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France Désordres/Disorders, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France Films in Israel, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France 1991 Stan Douglas, Monodramas and Television Spots, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France Robert Gober, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France Marcel Broodthaers, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France 1990 Passages de l´Image/ Passages of the Image, Musée Nationale de l’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France Lazlo Moholy Nagy, IVAM, Valencia, Spain; Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany; Musée Cantini, Marseille, France 1987 L´Epoque, La Mode, La Moral, La Passion/Epoch, Fashion, Morals, Passion, Musée Nationale de l’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France Lusitania. Aspects of Portuguese Art Now, Centre culturelle Albi, Albi, France Lothar Baumgarten, Musée de l’Art Afrique et Océanie, Paris, France 1986 Reinhard Mucha, Musée Nationale de l’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France 1985 Jean Pierre Bertrand, Musée Nationale de l’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Berlin Documentary Forum 1

New practices across disciplines

(02 June 10 - 06 June 10)

DI/VISIONS

Culture and Politics of the Middle East

(08 December 07 - 13 January 08)

IN TRANSIT 2002

Transforming the arts

(30 May 02 - 14 June 02)