Don’t let the seemingly straightforward title of 9 Artists fool you. It belies an ambitious exploration of the changing role of the artist through the work of eight artists (more on that later) who embody an emerging zeitgeist in contemporary art that is self-aware, singular, and at times subversive.
The exhibition, which opens later this month at the Walker Art Center, brings together an unlikely assortment of artists with decidedly different practices in a quest to capture a changing contemporary landscape. Yael Bartana, Liam Gillick, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Renzo Martens, Bjarne Melgaard, Nástio Mosquito, Hito Steyerl, and Danh Vo don’t share much in common except what curator Bartholomew Ryan calls a “fundamental hybridity” in which the realities of a globalized, networked world provide context but do not constrain.
“A lot of the artists [in this show] never compromise their integrity in how they interact with the world,” explains Ryan. They eschew the literal and embrace contradiction and complexity. 9 Artists offers a counterpoint to what Ryan describes as the “easily digestible” stances so pervasive in the art world. “These large ambitious figures have become their own institutions,” he says—and their complicity in the business of art-making forces them to compromise autonomy and freedom.
“Many artists have a very singular idea about what art is,” says Ryan. “I think what characterizes the artists in this show is that they are invested in what they are doing, but with a broader set of stakes in mind.”
Danish artist Dahn Vo, born in Vietnam but raised in Denmark, offers a vivid, rather poetic case in point. As part of an ongoing project (Vo Rocasco Rasmussen), the artist collects last names by marrying and divorcing people in a bid to find the use—if not the meaning—in marriage. It’s as if Vo is looking in a mirror at us looking at him, creating a kind of infinite feedback loop.
“A lot of Vo’s work plays [with] history and questions of identity and biography in global culture,” says Ryan, “but in a way that’s distinct from the 1980s and ’90s,” when marginalized groups wanted a place at the proverbial table.
As for that “missing” ninth artist: “I’d like to think that the ninth artist could be the ghosts of all the artists haunting the show,” says Ryan. He also considers the possibility that the sum may be greater than its parts. By bringing together the different practices of these particularly self-aware artists and “letting them talk to each other,” the possibility of a ninth “über artist” emerges.
All the artists featured in 9 Artists will be in town at various points during the exhibition’s run, and the October 24 opening is free and open to the public. Oct. 24–Feb. 16. Walker Art Center, 612-375-7600, walkerart.org