press release

On 22 September, the exhibition Forms of Resistance will open in the Van Abbemuseum. It departs from four historical moments: the French Commune in 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, May 1968 and our world after 9/11. Based on these benchmarks it includes works by Manet, Courbet, Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Malevich, Brigada Ramona Parra, Atelier Populaire, Tucuman Arde, Sherk, Haacke, Johanesson, General Idea, Leonard, Piper, Ressler and Superflex amongst others.

THE NARRATIVE The exhibition tells the story of art and social change through the lens of resistance and artistic desire. Ambitions for progressive social or political changes in the past 150 years are compared, selecting specific moments at which collaborations between art and activism were at their most pronounced.

The connection between art and social change was a fundamental aspect of modernism. The concept of the avant-garde as the phalanx of a revolutionary movement intended to resist or destroy old habits and produce the new man, was bound up with modernism’s formalist innovations as much as its direct engagement in political action. Artists combined resistance with speculating about the future and support of certain political developments, their critique was propositional as well as severe, and they often made work for a world that did not yet exist -- but that they wanted to see come about.

Following the political and social upheavals of 1968 and 1989, this modernist and avant-garde model gradually lost its applicability. Artists developed different ways to resist and speculate. In the 21st century, with ideological struggles beginning to reconstitute themselves, the role of art is once again under pressure. Do resistance and speculation have a place in a world where economy is the instrument of contemporary politics? What does it mean to resist the current political establishment? What can we learn from past models and experiences and what light do they shed on our contemporary ideas of the world?

ARTISTS AND MOVEMENTS Gustave Courbet and Eduard Manet are the key figures from the first period, followed immediately by William Morris, the founder of the British Arts & Crafts movement. Next up is the constructivism of artists such as Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky, Liobov Popova and Varvara Stepanova, Bauhaus student demonstrations and the surrealism and actions of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro during the Spanish Civil War. The San Francisco Diggers, Bonnie Sherk and The Artists' Liberation Front precede May '68, the Paris and Prague revolts. We also examine wall paintings from Chile. The activism and political identity studies of the 1970s can be found in the work of Hans Haacke, the Artworkers' Coalition, Zoe Leonard, Martha Rosler, General Idea and Adrian Piper. Why some did artists opt to abandon the art world after '68, while others chose to comment on conflict zones within the confinement of the institution? How did art relate to the identity politics and rainbow coalitions of the 1980s an d 1990s? Disobedience, finally, is a small exhibit curated by Marco Scotini, in which Oliver Ressler, Marcelo Esposito and others provide insight into art activism in recent years. The present day is again a time for collectives but also an opportunity to look back on the past utopian century. What went before and what will follow the major ideological shifts of recent years?

CURATORS The exhibition has been put together by a team of curators: Will Bradley, Phillip van den Bossche and Charles Esche.

PUBLICATION Art and Social Change: A critical reader, edited by Will Bradley and Charles Esche, published by Afterall Books and Tate Publishing. ISBN: 978 1 85437 626 8

This project has been realized in part by a contribution of Mondriaan Foundation. The project has been carried out within the framework of TRANSFORM and with the support of the Culture 2000 programme of the European Union.

Artists and the desire for social change from 1871 to the present
Kuratoren: Will Bradley, Phillip van den Bossche, Charles Esche

mit Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodtschenko, Kasimir Malewitsch, Brigada Ramona Parra, Atelier Populaire , Tucuman Arde , Hans Haacke, General Idea , Zoe Leonard, Adrian Piper, Oliver Ressler, Superflex  ...