Exhibitions / Tino Sehgal / Overview

TINO SEHGAL
Villa Reale, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan
November 11 – December 14, 2008

Influenced by his background in economics and contemporary dance, Tino Sehgal does not produce objects, but rather confronts viewers with peculiar, surreal situations staged by dancers, actors, and even museum guards.

For his project with the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi at Villa Reale in Milan — home to Milan’s Galleria d’Arte Moderna, with its collection of 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces by figures such as Antonio Canova, Andrea Appiani and Medardo Rosso — the artist presents a unique selection of his human sculptures, showing new pieces alongside preexisting ones. This is the most comprehensive exhibition of Tino Sehgal’s work to date, and unfolds through a sequence of tableaux vivants hidden among the lavish decorations of the villa, the 19th-century artworks, and even the museum guards and visitors, in which the melodramatic gestures of the historic paintings seem to interact with Sehgal’s choreographies.

In This Is New (2003), the crude reality of everyday life invades the museum setting, enacted by a guard who recites the day’s headlines. In This Is So Contemporary (2004), other museum guards, seemingly possessed, draw visitors into a joyful, unsettling dance. Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000) is an anthology of the most famous segments by master video artists Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham, transformed into a hypnotically slow dance. In the same room as Francesco Hayez’s Maddalena (1834) and Pompeo Marchesi’s voluptuous Venere (1855), Tino Sehgal’s dancer writhes on the floor, simulating sublime ecstasy.

This Occupation (2005) is a story of malaise, a different look at our economic system and the world of work, in which a person describes his life on the fringes of society: a piece about how time is employed and transformed. In This Is Propaganda (2002), one of the museum guards breaks out into an aria whose haunting, melancholy notes seem to be a live commentary on the large painting that is shownin the room: Il Quarto Stato (1901) by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo.

All of Tino Sehgal’s work dialogues with history, while offering a unique opportunity to encounter art as a social experience, in which viewers and performers constantly exchange roles. In Villa Reale’s sumptuous ballroom, amid mirrors and crystal chandeliers, the two dancers in Kiss (2002) roll around on the ground and re-enact some of the most famous kisses in the history of art—from Antonio Canova, who happens to be featured in the Villa Reale collection, all the way to Jeff Koons, August Rodin and Gustav Klimt. In Selling Out (2002), art bares all: a dancer mimes a striptease that takes on a shade of irony in the context of Villa Reale, hinting at many new ways of thinking about art history and the power of the gaze.

Tino Sehgal’s work is also a reflection on the value and space assigned to art. Sehgal has chosen to forgo all documentation and reproduction of his pieces, concentrating—like an obsessive exercise in self-discipline—on the unique nature of art as a direct, physical experience: his work exists as a form of oral tradition, a legend, a tale that must be passed down and cannot be photographed, illustrated, or translated into images. Tino Sehgal’s choreographed situations even produce their own antibodies: in This Is Critique (2008), a new piece that winds up the exhibit, the artist calls himself into question, stimulating an animated philosophical discussion between the guards and visitors about his own approach.

Originally known as Villa Belgiojoso, Villa Reale is one of the most outstanding examples of Neoclassical architecture in Milan. Designed by Leopoldo Pollack—who studied under Giuseppe Piermarini, the architect responsible for Teatro della Scala—it was built between 1790 and 1796. Over the years, the villa was always linked to distinguished names and pivotal figures in Italian history. The “villa of delights”—as this form of architecture used to be called—was home to the French general and King of Naples Joachim Murat and his wife Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. Named President of the Italian Republic in 1802 and crowned King in 1805, Napoleon received the villa as a gift from the Italian state in 1802, spending time there with his wife Josephine de Beauharnais and receiving guests such as Princess Paolina Borghese. In the second half of the 19th century, Villa Reale became the residence of Austrian general Joseph Franz Radetzky. Seriously damaged during World War II, the villa lost its 18th-century stables, on whose foundations the contemporary art pavilion (PAC) was later built. Since 1921, it has been home to Milan’s Galleria d'Arte Moderna.

Tino Sehgal was born in London in 1976, and lives and works in Berlin. He studied economics and trained with dancers Xavier Le Roy and Jéröme Bel. The youngest artist ever invited to represent Germany at the Venice Biennale (in 2005, for the 51st International Art Exhibition), he has also had solo exhibitions at museums such as the Guggenheim in New York (2010), the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco (2009), the Kunsthaus Zürich and Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich (2009), Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall (2008), the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London—where he had three solo shows in 2007, 2006 and 2005—the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt (2007), the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2007), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2006), the Kunsthaus Bregenz (2006), the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg (2005), and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (2004). Pieces by Tino Sehgal have also been featured at prestigious festivals such as the Yokohama Triennale (2008 and 2005), the 9th Biennale de Lyon (2007), the 4th berlin biennale (2006), the Tate Triennial at Tate Britain in London (2006), the 1st Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2005), the Venice Biennale’s 50th International Art Exhibition (2003) and Manifesta 4 in Frankfurt (2002).