UPDATED: Chelsea Art Museum pulls plug on “Aesthetics of Terror” show, chief curator resigns
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UPDATED: Chelsea Art Museum pulls plug on “Aesthetics of Terror” show, chief curator resigns


Paddy Johnson at the Brooklyn art blog Art Fag City reports that the Chelsea Art Museum has cancelled its November opening of The Aesthetics of Terror and its chief curator has resigned in protest. Museum president Dorothea Keeser reportedly felt the exhibition — which was to include artists like Jenny Holzer, Harun Farocki, Martha Rosler and the Chapman brothers — “ glorified terrorism and showed disrespect for its victims,” according to Josh Azzarella, one of the show’s artists. CAM chief curator Manon Slome has, according to Johnson, left over the cancellation.

The museum has deleted mention of the exhibition, which was to run Nov. 21 though Jan. 31, but a cached version (with the title The Dialectics of Terror) is still available.

UPDATE: The Chelsea Museum of Art has released a statement [pdf], which contradicts the above. It states that Chief Curator Manon Slome resigned for “personal reasons.” It continues: “Upon resigning, she unilaterally decided to cancel the exhibition The Dialectics of Terror (formerly The Aesthetics of Terror) and informed all the participating artists without prior discussion with Dorothea Keeser, Chelsea Art Museum’s Founder and President, or any Museum personnel.”

Reached by email on Friday, Keeser said that the exhibition will go on, but likely not at her museum. “As the show is ready to be installed and the catalogue is ready, it surely will be shown somewhere,”she said. “For the time being, we are too hurt to show it here after what happened and was said about us.”

UPDATE 2: Johnson interviews Keeser and offers a note from former CAM chief curator Manon Slome.

MORE: The Chelsea Art Museum’s Dialectics of Terror Catalog Raises More Questions” (with catalogue pdf)

A description of the show after the jump:


Terror is, in and of itself, an image making machine. The very point of terror is a spectacle that plays endlessly in the media. In 9/11, thousands may have died, but billions of people watched the attack and the falling towers endlessly until those images were etched into the global psyche. While terrorism and its representations have been widely discussed ever since 9/11, very few of these contemplations have tackled the issue of specific formal qualities and pictorial strategies of terrorism. The exhibition The Dialectics of Terror tries to do exactly that; namely, it investigates certain visual characteristics of the spectacle of Terror and its echoes in contemporary art. The exhibition employs the distinction made by artist Roee Rosen on the principle gap between representations of underground terrorism, produced by terrorist groups, and images of State Terror – this is the gap between figuration and abstraction. The representational apparatus of State Terror, says Rosen, is based on the blurring or erasure of central figures, exchanging it for abstraction: Smart Bombs’ aerial views of bombardments, for example, or the blocking of visibility by grids or satellite type images that obscure rather than illuminate. On the other end, representations of underground terrorism strive for a central, powerful figure or symbol – the portrait of a suicide bomber, collapsing skyscrapers and the icon of bearded Bin Laden with his golden gown and triangular composition – “this is an icon in the religious sense: a human, semi-divine person whose very appearance defies the divide of life and death”, Rosen claims.

What happens when an image of war or terrorism moves from the newspaper or news networks, to the gallery or museum? What causes the shift from an image having “documentary” relevance to it becoming an aesthetic object circulating in the art system? As artists navigate these boundaries, either through direct translation or through appropriation, does violence retain its power to inspire fear and dread, or does this contextual transposition fetishize violence, stripping it of meaning through aestheticization? The Dialectics of Terror explores the juxtaposition/integration of the traumas of the daily news with art and question the nature and purport of this integration.

The Dialectics of Terror maps the relationship between abstraction and technology; color and violence, pixilated images and sovereignty, saturation and contour, authenticity and resolution. Much of the work in the exhibition deals less with direct depiction of violence and terror than with its media representations or perceptions of war as filtered through the media – itself a corporate entity whose failure to lay bare the species of evil that is being enacted under the rubric of a war on terror is also very much the point. The Dialectics of Terror strives to suggest the emergence of an artistic sensibility which has been informed by the imagery and politics of terrorism in the current common culture as they have been formulated and conveyed through the popular media. Artworks might imitate or mirror this media rhetoric, identify its mechanisms to the viewer, critique it, push back or protest against it.

Through the writings of contemporary scholars from around the world, the exhibition catalogue proposes a further investigation into the image production machine of terror. Co-curator Manon Slome implements the exhibition’s formalistic reading of terror imagery through the exhibited works. Co-curator Joshua Simon presents a close reading of suicide bombers videos as a case study for terror as image making. Dutch writer and curator Sven Lutticken suggests a survey of recent image warsin Europe. Israeli writer, curator and filmmaker Ariella Azoulay presents a visual essay on State Terror – through photo documentation from the West Bank and Gaza, she depicts destruction as the sovereign’s architecture. German critic Boris Groys reads the Abu Ghraib photos in relation to western traditions of humiliation and survival and scholar Eric Stryker suggests an historical overview of the relations of art and terror from the French revolution to present day.

Artists include:

Josh Azzarella, Daniel Bejar, William Betts, Blue Noses, Chris Burden, Zoya Cherkassky, Chapman Bros., Jeanette Doyle, Harun Farocki, Johan Grimonprez, Jenny Holzer, Coco Fusco, Kent Henricksen, Jon Kessler, Yitzik Livneh, Naeem Mohaiemen, Claude Moller, Richard Mosse, Yves Netzhammer, Miguel Palma, Cristi Pogacean, Roee Rosen, Martha Rosler, Ivana Spinelli, Stephen Shanabrook, Avdey Ter-Oganian, Jan Tichy, Sharif Waked, Catherine Yass

A fully illustrated catalogue will be produced for the exhibition with texts by Manon Slome, Joshua Simon, Sven Lutticken, and Eric Stryker.


Josh Azzarella. Untitled #23 (”Lynndied”), 2006

Cristi Pogacean. The Abduction from the Seraglio, 2006

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