The Storyteller

  • Steve Mumford, Bathers by the Tigris River, Baghdad. The Fl NG soldiers were looking for weapons caches, Aug, 2003 (from the series Iraq, 2003-05), 2003

  • Lamia Joreige, Objects of War n° 3, 2006 (video still). Courtesy of the artist.

  • Installation view. Parsons, New School. New York, NY.

Curated by Claire Gilman, Margaret Sundell

The Storyteller focuses on artists who use the story form in contemporary art as a means of comprehending and conveying political and social events. Significantly, unlike their postmodern predecessors, the artists in The Storyteller neither take the idea of documentary truth as an object of their critique nor do they abandon fact for fabulation. Rather, they enable individuals—whether themselves, their subjects or their audience—to construct the story of their unique participation in historical processes, thereby presenting these events in a new and unexpected light.

Responding to the rapid, often violent transformations of the 21st century, contemporary artists have displayed a growing desire to activate art’s documentary capacity, its ability to bear witness to events in the world. All of the works in The Storyteller revolve around situations that are either in the process of unfolding or that continue to impact the lives of the artists or protagonists. However, in each case, these events are re-imagined and thereby re-experienced through the artist’s personal encounter or the character’s narration. For the artists in the exhibition, the story functions neither as a purely imagined narrative nor as a piece of verifiable information. Rather, it is a document of a different sort, one whose focus is less empirical accuracy than the reality of events as they are encountered, experienced and delivered by a thinking, receiving subject and an active listener. The story is at once temporal and personal, public and communal. It persists through the listener’s interpretive process and through each subsequent retelling.

The Storyteller includes an international group of artists working in video, photography, drawing, mixed media and installation: all media that lend themselves to a documentary approach. Although the featured artists have enjoyed a degree of critical attention, none has yet received serious consideration for the role that storytelling plays in his or her work. In some cases, the artist’s “story” takes the form of a drama based on real events, and in other cases, the stories function less as reconstructions of the past than investigations into the relationship between past and present. A third group appeals to diverse literary genres, while the fourth group initiates a dialogue with active participants in contemporary political situations that their projects serve to narrate.

For both the film-only version and full exhibition, most of the videos are also available with Spanish subtitles.


Claire Gilman

Claire Gilman (Ph.D. Columbia University) is Curator at The Drawing Center, New York. Gilman has taught art history and critical theory at Columbia University; The Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; The Corcoran College for Art and Design; and MoMA. She has also written extensively for publications including Art Journal, CAA Reviews, Documents, Frieze, and October.

Margaret Sundell

Margaret Sundell (Ph.D., Columbia University) is consulting director of the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program. A former art editor at Time Out New York, her writing has also appeared in Artforum, Art Journal, and Documents. Sundell has taught art history and critical theory at Columbia University, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Parsons The New School for Design.


touring schedule

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Madrid, Spain (film-only version)
September 13, 2010 - September 26, 2010

Art Gallery of Ontario
Toronto, Canada
June 9, 2010 - August 29, 2010

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design
New York, NY, United States
January 29, 2010 - April 9, 2010

Salina Art Center
Salina, KS, United States
October 22, 2009 - January 3, 2010

NEW YORK, NY 10013
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