9 April – 4 September 2005
Curators: Lars Bang Larsen, Cristina Ricupero and Nicolaus Schafhausen
In spring 2005 NIFCA, the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, launched Populism, an exhibition project in four European cities exploring the relationships between contemporary art and current populist cultural and political trends. The Populism project attempted to formulate concrete spaces for experience, reflection, and discussion linked to a contemporary political and cultural phenomenon that is as complex as it is widespread. There is little doubt that populist movements gain large parts of their persuasive power from their ability to play on affects and desires that are supposedly exempt from the procedures that mark official democratic politics. At this level an art exhibition can provide a space that differs from that of other public forums. The point of departure is the idea that the affects and desires that characterise populist politics are not necessarily separate from the ones that find expression in the sphere of art. Key questions are how forms of populism – whether left wing or right wing, progressive or reactionary – promote themselves and their quest for mass appeal through a stylistic and aesthetic consciousness. The political imagination of visual art can get involved in these economies of signs and desires, and address current cultural discussions through proposals for other directions for democracy.

The exhibition did not aim to illustrate its theme through populist art. Instead, the artists in the exhibitions dealt in different ways with populist sentiments and ideologies of our time, through sub-themes such as: the mass media projection of politics; market populism and the cultural industries; group and corporate identities; representations and spaces of “the people”; law, order and security; religious and moral controversy; nationalism and xenophobia. While some artists strive to find positive populisms beyond demagogy and give a voice to the dispossessed, others explore alternative strategies of representation and organisation as a critique of the populist promise.

Populism included new works and projects by around 40 international artists and artist groups, bringing together challenging works in a multitude of artistic strategies. The exhibitions took place in parallel at the following venues:
The Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius - 8 April through 8 June 2005
National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo -
15 April through 4 September 2005
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam - 29 April through 28 August 2005
Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt a.M - 10 May through 4 September 2005
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Exhibitions - KölnShow2 l Don Quijote l Stage of Life - Rhetorics of Emotion l Populism
Adorno l Nation l non-places l New Heimat
Conferences/Symposia - Day after day after day l Under Construction
The periphery complex
Other Projects - Models for Tomorrow l Lufthansa Aviation Center l Opera Antigona