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Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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The Gift: Generous Offerings, Threatening Hospitality

Curated by Gianfranco Maraniello and Antonio Somaini

What is a gift? Who gives what, to whom, and why? Asking ourselves these questions underscores the three pivotal elements involved in the action of giving: giver, gift, receiver. The term “gift” evokes a variety of gestures and practices: the present and the offering, the homage and the dedication, invitation and hospitality. These gestures seem to be born from a spontaneous and joyous generosity, but behind them often hide insidiousness and provocation, challenge and confrontation. To give can be both the means of expressing one’s own affection and devotion in a modest but seductive way, or a strategy to affirm one’s own superiority with an exuberant and excessive gift. Hospitality can be translated as generous welcome or as the imposition with which the other is obliged to submit to our rules. Every gift, in other words, can be generous or perverse, sincere or insidious, discreet or invasive; it can be proposed as a manifestation of the joy of giving, or as a gesture of waste and dissipation that brings with it a desire for self-affirmation and a will to power.

Christmas and birthday presents, complimentary and free offers, alms and donations, celebrations based on giving or thanksgiving, gifts of organs, blood, or sperm: the practice of giving does not seem to have lost its importance in the current economy of relationships and exchanges. Today, the obligation of reciprocity in giving is still in force: the gift and the invitation must be reciprocated; hospitality has its rules, its times and measures; things given still possesses a “spirit” that confers in them a particular aura. A gift that cannot be reciprocated – because it is excessive, grandiose, disproportionate with respect to the receiver’s ability to give in kind – is looked upon with embarrassment and easily ends up being interpreted as an offense or an affront. And yet, beyond these residues of ancient customs and measures, we perceive everywhere a tendency toward the establishment of practices of giving and hospitality that are increasingly repetitive and impoverished: the rules of giving and receiving are becoming explicit and progressively lose their symbolic value, with gifts bought and offered according to pre-constituted and repetitive models of desire.

The intent of this exhibition is to emphasize a new perspective on the relational nature of the work of art arising from the ambiguous nature of gifts. The work presented here demonstrate the capacity of art to give life to situations in which the gestures of giving and receiving still maintain all their richness and ambiguity, and in which the relationship among artists, spectator, and work may shift back and forth between invitation and provocation, homage and insidiousness, self-expenditure and seduction. Before such works, we as spectators are called as recipients of an offering, and we are invited not to fail in the obligation to reciprocate every gift with a counter-gift, through our own offerings of reflection, criticism, and memory.

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Centro Arte Contemporanea Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, Italy.

Touring locations
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Feb 9, 2002 – May 5, 2002
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
Nov 27, 2002 – Mar 2, 2003
Block Museum of the Arts, Northwestern University
Apr 11, 2003 – Jun 22, 2003
Art Gallery of Hamilton
Aug 9, 2003 – Oct 18, 2003