SAN FRANCISCO - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) presents Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablándole al Poder a survey of long-term artworks by the political artist Tania Bruguera. For more than 30 years Bruguera has worked at the intersection of activism and performance art to address structures of power, devise new utopian models of authority, and create alternative structures that aim to transform and redistribute power. This has resulted in art projects that take the form of social movements, newspapers, and schools—and even Bruguera’s own provocative self-nomination for the 2018 Cuban presidential election. Organized by YBCA and curated by Lucía Sanromán, director of visual arts, and Susie Kantor, curatorial associate, Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablándole al Poder will present together for the first time Bruguera’s long-term projects initiated between 1985 and 2017 that have sought to transform the emotional and symbolic affect of art into political effectiveness.
Says Sanromán: "Tania’s projects often begin by pushing the art institution to perform its civic role, asking it to turn its resources toward resolving stubborn social problems, and through this, to enable its audiences’ paths toward engagement—and eventually to challenge their political habits."
Bruguera adds: "The threat of the Trump presidency puts basic assumptions about the identity of this country at risk, and has made the political role of art even more urgent. The exhibition at YBCA will offer a space where art's role as a provocation and as a witness will be exercised. This is more relevant than ever, as art allows us to say and do what cannot be said or done under systems of repression and violence."
Bruguera divides her performance practice into short-term actions—single events and political gestures—and long-term projects. Short-term actions are characterized by her incisive appropriation of images, iconic events, and propaganda of power, which she then restructures as disruptive gestures with the aim to shock individual subjects into action. The long-term projects go beyond representation to create democratic institutions and platforms—for instance a dissident art school or an alternative immigrant organization and political party—that imagine other, more inclusive political futures. Working closely with YBCA, Bruguera will "update" these projects in a manner that responds to the current political climate and builds on the core concepts that permeate her work: for instance "artivism," a term that conflates "art" and "activism" to suggest that art can change our political habits, and arte de conducta, or behavior art.
The exhibition traces the evolution and practice of these concepts, beginning with Homenaje a Ana Mendieta (Tribute to Ana Mendieta, 1985–96), where Bruguera re-performed many of Mendieta's works in order to re-locate her in the Cuban cultural and artistic imaginary. The presentation continues withMemoria de la Postguerra I, II, and III (Memory of the Postwar I, II, and III, 1993/1994/2003), in which Bruguera created an independent newspaper as a work of art in collaboration with contemporary artists and critics living in Cuba and abroad. Immigrant Movement International (2010–ongoing) is an artist-initiated sociopolitical movement that has created a community center for immigrants, and The Francis Effect (2014–ongoing) is a political campaign asking Pope Francis to extend Vatican City citizenship to undocumented people throughout the world. At YBCA Bruguera will update Immigrant Movement International with the launch of The Party of Migrant People’s Assembly, a series of conversations with immigrant rights organizations in the Bay Area and internationally, with the aim of finding concrete solutions in these extremely divisive times. Additional highlights will include #YoTambienExijo (loosely translated as "I also demand," 2014–ongoing), a civil platform that peacefully promotes civil, political, economic, and cultural rights in Cuba.
Central to the exhibition is the question of how to present social and participatory processes in the display context of an art gallery. Continuing Bruguera’s concept of the "updating" of long-term, socially engaged performances, the exhibition organizes the newly commissioned project Escuela de Arte Útil (School of Useful Art) (2017) a fully functioning school held inside YBCA’s galleries. Based on the model of her earlier Cátedra Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art School), which took place at her home in Havana from 2003 through 2009, Bruguera has designed a new curriculum for YBCA and the Bay Area that uses the concept of "arte útil" (which roughly translates as "useful art," but goes further, suggesting art as a tool or device) to address the challenges facing artists today, and to explore how art can be an instrument for social and political change. Throughout the eight-week duration of the school, students will meet three times a week to learn about the concept of arte útil from influential practitioners and theorists, includingJeanne van Heeswijk, Alistair Hudson, Rick Lowe, Ted Purves, Strike Debt Collective,WochenKlausur, and Bruguera herself, who will be in residency for the duration of the school. This immersive public art project will be divided into lectures and workshops, and will end with an exhibition ofarte útil projects generated by the students.
Escuela de Arte Útil is organized by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in collaboration with California College of the Arts, the San Francisco Art Institute, the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Asociación de Arte Útil (Alessandra Saviotti and Gemma Medina Estupinan), and the YBCA Fellows program. Classes will take place in the galleries and are open to the public during open gallery hours.
Marking Sanromán’s curatorial debut at YBCA, this landmark presentation is just one of five exhibitions YBCA is featuring between 2017 and 2019 as part of its Changing the Ratio initiative. In 2014, it was estimated that less than 15 percent of US museum and gallery exhibitions were dedicated to women artists. YBCA aspires to change this narrative by devoting its main galleries to retrospective exhibitions of some of the most important women artists of our time. Bruguera joins a roster of change-makers that includes pioneering feminist artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose retrospective Civic Radar opened in February to critical acclaim and is on view through May 21, 2017. Following Bruguera's exhibition, YBCA will present a retrospective of the Bay Area collective Futurefarmers, with additional presentations to be announced.
After its global debut at YBCA, Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablándole al Poder will be presented in Latin America and Europe. A catalogue produced by YBCA will be published in conjunction with the exhibition, and will be available through DAP.
Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablándole al Poder is supported, in part, by the Alvarez Family Foundation and The Growlery. YBCA Exhibitions 16–17 are made possible in part by Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, Meridee Moore and Kevin King, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and The Creative Ventures Council. Engagement and Education Programs in 16–17 are made possible in part by Institute of Museum and Library Services, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, The Kimball Foundation, and The Sato Foundation. Free First Tuesdays underwritten by Directors Forum Members.