Kim Levin, XXV International AICA Congress, Santa Monica, California, 1991, hosted by AICA USA
Phyllis Tuchman, who was President of AICA-USA in the late 1980s, proposed that AICA-USA host the XXV AICA international Congress to take place in 1991 and initiated the process. It would be the first AICA Congress held in the U.S. In 1990, I became President of AICA-USA and Coordinator of the Congress when Phyllis Tuchman resigned less than a year before the Congress was due to take place in Santa Monica, California, from October 10 to 15, 1991.
Unlike most other national sections of AICA, the U.S. section does not receive funding from any U.S. government agencies. The XXV Congress took place at short notice with a quarter of the usual funding and, sadly, little cooperation from the international bureau. It was made possible by bicoastal determination and enthusiasm, and by a spirit of collaboration and volunteer help from both AICA colleagues and other volunteers. Merle Schipper, Congress Chair and special Events Coordinator, worked closely with me to organize the Congress, as did Vice President of AICA-USA Phyllis Braff, who helped me shape the symposium, among other things. My administrative assistant, Mindy Williams, a student at the New School for Social Research in New York, was also crucial, as was the young grant writer, Rodney Sappington, in Los Angeles.
Michael Tanaka and International Conference Systems made possible simultaneous interpretations in Spanish, English, and French - miraculously at no cost, thanks to a suggestion from Hans d’Orville of the U.N. Thanks to Rodney Sappington’s efforts, The Getty Trust provided a modest travel grant that enabled at least 20 AICA members from Eastern Europe and other developing nations to give papers at the symposium. This was supplemented by The Soros Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, Yugoslav Press and Cultural Center, LOT Polish Airlines, Jessair, Romanian Airlines, and Air Afrique, all of which gave additional travel assistance. AICA-USA member Ed Rubin spent many hours researching and reaching out to airlines, consulates, and embassies to secure air tickets and other assistance, making possible the presentation of papers by another 15 -20 AICA members from developing nations who could not otherwise afford to attend the Congress. Other AICA members also provided assistance with lodging. Mindy Williams traveled to California in order to manage the registration desk. AICA member Peter Frank suggested that the theme could be summed up by the words “Walls and Wars.” It was a collective labor of love. This was before the age of the Internet: fax was the new technology at the time, but neither Merle on the west coast nor I on the east coast had a fax machine. We spent countless hours on the phone, coordinating hotel reservations and visits to museums, receptions at collectors’ homes, and trips to places like David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology.
It was a collective labor of love. This was before the age of the Internet: fax was the new technology at the time, but neither Merle on the west coast nor I on the east coast had a fax machine. We spent countless hours on the phone, coordinating hotel reservations and visits to museums, receptions at collectors’ homes, and trips to places like David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology. Three rented buses ferried the approximately 230 or more participants to far-flung collections, museums, and receptions. Rodney Sappington kept track of participants on the daily bus trips.
The two keynote speakers were artist and feminist June Wayne (USA) and Serge Guilbaut (France). For the first time at an AICA Congress, delegates from nearly every former Soviet satellite state in Central and Eastern Europe were able to participate. The more than forty AICA speakers came from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania, as well as the USSR. They came from Finland, Estonia, Turkey, and Syria, and from Senegal and South Africa. Two speakers from Yugoslavia were rendered temporarily stateless when Yugoslavia split apart during the week of the congress. The speaker from Cuba, Adelaide de Juan, sent her paper on Afro-Caribbean art when her U.S. visa didn’t arrive in time. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Columbia, and Brazil were also represented, as was Canada, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Northern Ireland, and England. Many of the speakers were, or have become, well-known critics, curators, and museum directors. Among the U.S. contributors were writer and activist Rebecca Solnit; artist, art educator and activist Joe Lewis; and art historian and famed curator Peter Selz, who recently died at the age of 100.
In addition to the Congress sessions and symposium, there was a five-day schedule of collateral events. These included visits and receptions at municipal galleries, the Santa Monica Museum, the Getty Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), corporate collections, Barnsdall Art Park, Otis Parsons Gallery, and CalArts. There were also trips to artists’ studios and galleries in Venice and other areas of Los Angeles. Visits to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, Watts Towers, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and the Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation of umbrellas in Ventura County were among the events, as was a reading by Robert Creeley at Ace Gallery in L.A. There were also receptions, buffets, and viewings at the Peter and Eileen Norton Collection, the Eli Broad Family Foundation, and the Frederick Weisman Collection, among others.
A handsome Congress brochure was designed by Susan Martin. Also donated were cloth Congress bags with AICA information on one side and on the reverse the words ‘Sex, Drugs, Money, Art’ – the first three deleted with black lines, leaving only ‘Art’. And on the line below: ‘The Last Vice’.
The Congress was followed by a three-day post-Congress trip to San Francisco, led by Cecilia McCann. As an alternative, AICA-USA offered a one-day post-Congress trip to La Jolla and San Diego, which included a David Hammons exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.
In 1992, thanks to the generosity of Cynthia Navaretta, AICA-USA member as well as Publisher of Midmarch Arts Press, we produced Beyond Walls and Wars: Art, Politics, and Multiculturalism, a 235-page book documenting the papers delivered at the symposium. With the exception of one speaker from Senegal (Aliane Badiene) and two discussants (Dave Hickey and Catherine Cooke), who spoke extemporaneously, the book contains the complete proceedings of the Congress’s symposium. The book, like the symposium, was divided into four parts: ‘Art, Politics and Ethnicity in a Multicultural World’; ‘The Politicization of Art and Criticism’; ‘Post-Colonial and Post-Totalitarian Art: Is it Postmodern?’; and ‘Censorship and Art’. Ann-Sargent Wooster and Josephine Geer generously helped me fine-tune the papers in English, many of which were presented by speakers for whom English was a second language. Lara Ferb and Monique Fong helped translate papers presented in French, and Felix Cortez and L.L. Powers helped translate those presented in Spanish.
I regret to add that due to the fact that the AICA Bureau in Paris, whose travel and hotel expenses were borne by AICA-USA, did not offer their usual Congress assistance, the Board of AICA-USA requested that I send a letter of protest to our parent organization in Paris in May 1992, and this I duly did!