New York Shotgun Reviews

Manifesto at the Park Avenue Armory

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Bai Yuting reviews Julian Rosefeldt: Manifesto the Park Avenue Armory.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory. Photo: James Ewing.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory. Photo: James Ewing.

This winter, the Park Avenue Armory presents the German cinematographer Julian Rosefeldt’s thirteen-channel video installation, Manifesto (2015). Drawing from more than fifty early writings of artistic legends like Claes Oldenburg, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, and Sol LeWitt, the work weaves some of the most poignant thoughts of the 20th century into thirteen powerful monologues. Superbly performed by Cate Blanchett, each soliloquy corresponds to an aesthetic movement in the history of modern art, including Fluxus, Dadaism, Futurism, and Constructivism. Detached from their historical backgrounds and reimagined as contemporary realities, the dated manifestos are invigorated through the characters’ refreshing feminine voices.

The Armory’s artistic director, Pierre Audi, known for breathing new life into classic works, presents Manifesto as a cutting-edge, immersive art experience. The towering, 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall delivers an impressively theatrical aura. As I enter the cavernous space, I encounter a massive screen that displays images of flickering flames. In a soft voice, Blanchett recites excerpts from Karl Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party. Following the map included in the playlist-like press release, I turn to the left. On another screen, unrecognizably impersonated by Blanchett, a homeless vagabond staggers along apocalyptic industrial ruins, debunking capitalism with words from Guy Debord’s Situationist manifesto; the press release provides all sources of Blanchett’s script and an introduction of Situationism in lay terms.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015 (video still). © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015 (video still). © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

From there, on eleven more screens throughout the space, Blanchett appears as radically different yet equally fascinating personas. One moment, she is a deadpan newsreader quoting Sol LeWitt: “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” The next moment, she is a teacher who lectures little children on the golden rules of Jim Jarmusch: “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.” At some point in all of the films, Blanchett turns to the viewer and starts to sing an operatic, high-pitched monotone. Her voice echoes off the soaring ceiling of the hall, creating dramatic effects. While each film is immersive, the two-channel sound system allows an observer to hear multiple Blanchett voices simultaneously when standing at the center of the room. The experience is like eavesdropping on a roundtable meeting of artists, except the participants are conflicting identities of the same schizophrenic. As I steer through the kaleidoscope of aesthetic and political discourses, I find myself seeking identification with one or another. With this work, Rosefeldt proposes the many possibilities of existence for a contemporary human being.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015 (compilation image of 12 portraits). © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Julian Rosefeldt. Manifesto, 2015 (compilation image of Cate Blanchett as twelve characters). © Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Like in a cinema, the only sources of light in the hall are the screens. Due to the screens’ significant scale, the space is bright enough for navigation. At the same time, the relative darkness of the enormous hall offers a sense of privacy and intimacy often lacking in art spaces. I become a pure spectator: my body at ease; my mind fully absorbed in the wildly imaginative, larger-than-life vignettes. In many ways, Manifesto is a transcendent art experience. Pushing the boundaries of art installation and cinema, the exhibition is a full embodiment of both intellectual sophistication and creative passion.

Manifesto is on view at the Park Avenue Armory, New York City, through January 8, 2017.

Bai Yuting is an independent curator and writer. She is also a Curatorial Fellow at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

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