CASINO 2001: 1st Quadrennial


S.M.A.K., the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent, presents the first Quadrennial, a large-scale exhibition of up-and-coming international artists. 

This inaugural Quadrennial is entitled CASINO 2001. The Casino and Las Vegas are both metaphors for the popular image culture that inspires many young artists. The exhibition brings together a group of sixty artists and takes place in S.M.A.K., the Bunker and the Bijloke Museum, all of which are situated around the Citadel Park.


From the opening of the new museum building in 1999, S.M.A.K. has aimed to establish a forum for young lesser-known artists. The idea is to organise this ‘forum’ on a regular basis and to create a platform for those young artists with whom the museum is not yet involved. This forum provides a venue for artists whose work participates in a meaningful dialogue on contemporary art and culture. It will expose a multiplicity of artists and projects, and provide the possibility of making connections, of discovering similarities and differences and exchanging ideas at various levels. The Quadrennial will therefore represent a challenge for the museum in that it will be forced to start afresh every four years. Each edition will be headed by one curator who will be appointed for each Quadrennial; he or she will be responsible for creating a concept for the content, and for the selection of artists. The choice of curator will be based on their view of contemporary art, which need not necessarily reflect the options supported by the museum, but which may nevertheless be all the more interesting just because of it. S.M.A.K. has therefore deliberately opted to launch an exhibition that will break through the ‘traditional pattern of exhibitions’, which is usually a programme consisting of temporary exhibitions in the museum parallel to the presentation of the permanent collection. In this way, the Quadrennial becomes a complementary organisation alongside the museum. The Quadrennial exhibition events are an extension of the museum’s experience with events. From an international viewpoint, Biennials are gaining in importance as international art forms are today considered equal to permanent museums with their own fixed collections. The Quadrennial will be a sort of intersection, an event that will ensure that the museum continually questions its own function. It will become a structural mechanism that creates certain openings in the ordinary, everyday operations of the museum. In this way, the Quadrennial becomes a complementary organisation alongside the museum.


ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, an independent curator and art advisor from New York, has been appointed as the artistic director for this first Quadrennial. In 1997 she presented the American Artists in Paris exhibition for the American Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, France. In Limerick, Ireland, she was the Juried curator of the EV+A’99 exhibition. Over the past few years, Ms. Greenberg Rohatyn has produced several exhibitions on contemporary photography in New York, including Another Girl/Another Planet, (2000) and Party Pictures: From Studio 54 to Cannes (2000). She has also been closely involved with the installation of contemporary art works in alternative venues, such as an airport hanger and also co-curated WallWorks, a project with wall installations for Edition Schellmann. In his foreword to the catalogue, Jan Hoet writes about the appointment of Ms Greenberg Rohatyn: ‘For this first Quadrennial I wished to appoint someone who has already proved that she has more than one string to her bow, but has not yet acquired an international reputation; a curator with potential who is at a point in her career where she is ready to accept a challenge, and who sees this type of large-scale exhibition as a possibility for self-development and refining her feeling for art. … The S.M.A.K. collection is very much oriented towards the European art scene and has been built up around important figures such as Beuys and movements such as Arte Povera. I thought it would be interesting to hand over this ‘side-show’ to an exhibition-maker from the New World who, because of her background, would bring us a fresh, new approach to both European and American art. She can create confrontation and fields of tension that will broaden our perspective.’ CASINO 2001 The title of the exhibition plays upon an earlier incarnation of S.M.A.K. In the past, the museum functioned as a gambling casino. The shadow of this lineage has left its trace upon the artists chosen for this exhibition.

CASINO 2001 relies upon the symbolism and mythology of American popular culture, exemplified by the gambling casino. Extravagant and theatrical, fortune - making and breaking, the casino functions as the paradigmatic site of the spectacular. As with all spectacles, the glittering surface reality has a darker underbelly - addictive, seedy, corrupt and violent. The casino also bundles together themed environments of living spaces, shopping, live acts and culture. The artists chosen for this exhibition simultaneously thrive within such arenas and approach them with a subversive eye. In her foreword in the catalogue Ms Greenberg Rohatyn, writes: ‘The symbolism and mythology of Las Vegas and its casinos are based on the present and the erasing of the past. The big cities of which Las Vegas is a miniature reproduction (Paris, Venice etc.) have been stripped of their history: they are allusions deprived of their original context. Places for exotic foreign entertainment become available and safe: there is no foreign language or money and there is no political revolution overshadowing the amusement value. Las Vegas is purely façade, a Hollywood setting, an amusement park version of the United States, with living spaces, shopping areas and amusement amenities all arranged in environments. Las Vegas does what all democratic cultures do, but at an accelerated speed: it obscures class differences and destroys cultural differences. Art and entertainment merge together in Las Vegas. High, medium and low-level culture combine to form a culture without levels. Leaving us with the phenomenal and the spectacular.’ Entertainment culture has radically changed the face of art. Artists have absorbed its latest media forms, including film, digital video, photography, special effects, branding and marketing and computer animation. The New York artist Paul Pfeiffer for example works around the icons we celebrate by way of the television screen. In The Long Count (I Shook up the World), he digitally manipulates footage from the famous defeat of Sonny Liston in 1963 when Cassius Clay proclaimed himself Muhammed Ali, King of the World. By erasing the fighters we see ghosts in a sort of liquid gel, which jump back and forth in the ring as telling blows are struck. Many of the artists in this exhibition came of age in the 1970s, in the age of the practised "ism". They retranslate the cold aesthetic of Pop into contemporary culture. Their generation grew conceptualism, consumerism, entertainment (via movies and TV) and technology. These artists retranslate television, film, or even a video game into an aesthetic, experience. The line that separates artist and ‘celebrity’ is often blurred, as the private and public merge into one another. For his work in CASINO 2000, Keith Edmier for example, has collaborated with Farrah Fawcett, the glamorous TV star who became famous in the 70s for her role as one of Charlie’s Angels. With a New York curator and many of the participant artists being based in New York, it would be difficult to avoid a response to recent events in New York at the exhibition. Some artists have made last minute changes to their work. Nic Hess for example has made references to the disaster in between his logos and Katharina Grosse has given her graffiti wall a darker more physical tone.

Likewise in light for the events the catalogue has undergone last minute changes: in addition to her postscript Ms Greenberg Rohatyn also decided to change the sequence of the artists’ pages to highlight converging political points of view. Politics and culture are subtly explored using Hollywood and popular images as a foil. There is in fact a sense of Foreshadowing, as several artist used images of mass violence + terror for their pages. De Rijke & De Rooij used a Buddhist Temple destroyed by the Talibans regime for their contribution in the catalogue. The bunker is now a major part of the show.


CASINO 2001 will occupy the ground floor of S.M.A.K., and the Bijloke Museum. This will create a dialogue between two architecturally different institutions: the modern ‘white cube’ versus the historical municipal museum. S.M.A.K. was renovated in 1999. The idea of the white cube is emphasised by the natural light that enters the building through the glass roof and various passages. Here the American artist Ricci Albenda will redefine the role of the museum gallery by making the pure white walls twist and turn and adding his own portals and pedestals. The Bijloke Museum will be transformed into a sort of ‘Waxworks Museum’ for the occasion. The building in which this museum is housed was originally a Cistercian nunnery founded in the 13th century. This nunnery, better known as the Bijloke Abbey, and whose buildings date largely from the 14th century, included a hospital. The museum is home to a number of specific artefacts such as statues, paintings, tapestries, period interiors, objects and decorative elements which are all connected to the history of Ghent. During CASINO 2001, contemporary objects and works will replace these museum works. The Bijloke will become the site of an experiment in which the former abbey is transformed into a funhouse, a sort of waxworks museum, where there is a distortion of reality, where artists give free rein to their imagination and where the visitor experiences a feeling of disorientation. The American painter Kurt Kauper will replace the 18th-century portraits in the guild hall of the museum with his own contemporary portraits. In the Citadel Park, which connects the two locations geographically, Sislej Xhafa has been assigned the kiosk for an in situ project. As far as location is concerned, an underground bunker built in Citadel Park in the 50s, during the Cold War, offers the most physical, almost claustrophobic, experience. Finally, Piotr Uklanski bathes the façade of the Ghent Museum of Fine Art in a lightshow an alternative to Las Vegas.

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