Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thai: ฤกษ์ฤทธิ์ ตีระวนิช, pronunciation: [rɯk-rit tira-wanit] or Tea-rah-vah-nit) is a Thai contemporary artist residing in New York City, Berlin, and Chiangmai, Thailand. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1961. His installations often take the form of stages or rooms for sharing meals, cooking, reading or playing music; architecture or structures for living and socializing are a core element in his work.
Early life and education
The son of a Thai diplomat and an oral surgeon, Tiravanija was born in Buenos Aires in 1961 and was raised in Thailand, Ethiopia, and Canada. After initially studying history at Carleton University, he later enrolled in the Ontario College of Art in Toronto (1980–84), the Banff Center School of Fine Arts (1984), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1984–86), and the Whitney Independent Studies Program in New York (1985–86). He moved to Manhattan in 1982.
According to art historian Rochelle Steiner, Tiravanija's work “ Is fundamentally about bringing people together.” The artist's installations of the early-1990s involved cooking meals for gallery-goers. In one of his best-known series, beginning with pad thai (1990), at the Paula Allen Gallery in New York, he rejected traditional art objects altogether and instead cooked and served food for exhibition visitors. He recreated the installation in 2007 at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea using the original elements and renaming the work Untitled (free still). In 1995 he presented a similar untitled work at the Carnegie International exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where he included wall text that presented written instructions for cooking South-east Asian green curry, which was then prepared for visitors. As a prelude to the opening of La Triennale 2012, Tiravanija was invited to transform the main nave of the Grand Palais into a festive, large-scale, twelve-hour banquet composed of a single meal of Tom Kha soup (Soup/No Soup, 2012).
His exhibitions are often based on interaction and exchange among participants. Some viewers, like the students who lived in Untitled 1999, a recreation of Tiravanija's East Village apartment, actually moved in for the duration of an exhibition. A 2005 solo show at Serpentine Gallery, London, featured two new, full-scale replicas of this apartment, complete with kitchen, bath, and bedroom. In other projects, he has bricked up the entrance to gallery spaces, rendering them impenetrable for the duration of the respective exhibition. Tiravanija painted the words " Ne Travaillez Jamais" on the wall, a phrase lifted from the May 1968, protest riots in Paris.
When Tiravanija does make objects, they are most often multiples and ephemera connected with exhibitions. Since the early 1990s, Tiravanija has published multiples in the form of backpacks, cooking utensils, and maps as part of his practice. These commonplace objects used for cooking or camping serve today as memories of the artist's earlier projects and also stimulate new interactions, whether physical or purely in the imagination. In Untitled 2008–2011 (the map of the land of feeling), Tiravanija presents a visual chronology of his life and work between 1988 and 2008, as told through the pages of his expansive passport.
In 1997 Tiravanija began an engagement with modernist architecture when he installed in the Museum of Modern Art's sculpture garden Untitled: 1997 (Glass House), a child-size version of Philip Johnson's Glass House (1949). Similarly, untitled 2002 (he promised) is an arena of activities ranging from DJ sessions to film screenings within a chrome and steel structure inspired by Rudolf M. Schindler's Kings Road House (1922) in West Hollywood. In Tiravanija's untitled 2006 (pavilion, table and puzzle) installation, visitors are welcome to gather at a picnic table to assemble an expansive puzzle depicting Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 masterpiece, Liberty Leading the People; a pavilion-like structure, a replica of one designed by Jean Prouvé for use in French colonial Africa, completes the tableau. For Asile Flottant (2010), he constructed a sketch of Le Corbusier’s boat of the same name and inserted a section of it into a gallery. Le Corbusier’s barge was designed for the Salvation Army literally as a floating asylum meant to provide temporary overnight shelter for vagrants wandering the streets of Paris; Tiravanija’s barge, constructed in Chiang Mai, was to serve as a pavilion that houses both political T-shirts designed by the artist, and others that have been collected from all over the world.
In 2004 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York honoured Tiravanija with the Hugo Boss Prize and presented an exhibition of his work, which had more overtly political tones. Featured in this exhibition, Untitled 2005 (The Air Between the Chain-Link Fence and the Broken Bicycle Wheel) was an installation in which the artist addressed governmental control of popular media by installing a low-tech pirate television station within the museum, using a simple metal antenna and cables as broadcasting equipment, accompanied by a small wooden structure housing a television set and chairs. On the gallery walls Tiravanija featured the text of the US Constitution’s First Amendment (advocating freedom of speech), a history of radio and television communication in America, and simple directions for constructing low-tech broadcasting equipment. Tiravanija’s support of free speech is conveyed by his choice to broadcast the low-budget film Punishment Park (1971), a documentary on the suppression of Vietnam War protests.
For the season 2006/2007 in the Vienna State Opera Rirkrit Tiravanija designed the large scale picture (176 sqm) "Fear Eats the Soul" as part of the exhibition series "Safety Curtain", conceived by museum in progress.
Alongside Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno, Tiravanija staged the opera Il Tempo del postino (‘Postman Time’) with the participation of a number of leading contemporary visual artists, first unveiled at the Manchester International Festival in 2007 and later at Art Basel fair in an expanded form in 2009.
"It is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people."
Tiravanija was the co-curator of the Station Utopia project at the 2003 Venice Biennale together with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Molly Nesbit. In 1998, he co-founded a collaborative educational-ecological project known as The Land Foundation with Thai artist Kamin Lerdchaiprasert, located in the northern part of Thailand, near the village of Sanpathong, 20 km southwest from the provincial city of Chiang Mai. The project combines contemporary art interventions and agricultural traditional values; the six-hectare land is intended to be cultivated as an open space or community free from ownership, and residents and artists are welcomed to use a plot of land as a laboratory for development‚ cultivating rice, building sustainable houses, or channeling solar power. Tiravanija is also part of a collective alternative space called Gallery VER located in Bangkok. He maintains his primary residence and studio in Chiang Mai.
Tiravanija released Chew the Fat in 2008. The work presents filmic portraits of twelve artists, all chosen by Tiravanija, that belong to the same generation as him, that rose to critical attention in the 1990s. All good friends, they rose to international success. Relating to the name, they create a relaxed situation where conversation flows naturally, with personal issues arising to do with work and career.
It premiered as part of the exhibition "theanyspacewhatever" at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Tiravanija's second feature film, Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours was released in 2011. The film was shown at the Orizzonti section of the 68th Venice International Film Festival. The documentary features a retired farmer that lives in a tranquil village in Chiang Mai, far from the recent political turmoil in Bangkok. At a moment when many people are demanding equality, opportunity, and democracy, we see in Lung Neaw an existence marked by compassion for his environment and his fellow villagers. The film offers a contemplative look at one man's humble dialogue with his surroundings.
Tiravanija's work has been presented widely at museums and galleries throughout the world including solo exhibitions at the Drawing Center, New York (2008); Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2005); Serpentine Gallery, London (2005); Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig (2003); Secession, Vienna (2002); Portikus, Frankfurt (2001); Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan (2000); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1999); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997).
He had a retrospective exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam that then was presented in Paris and London. He has participated in such notable group exhibitions as the Sharjah Biennial 8, United Arab Emirates (2007); 27th São Paulo Biennial, Brazil (2006); Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, New York City (2005); the 50th Venice Biennale (2003); and Skulptur Projekte Münster (1997). Tiravanija participated in the 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012).
In 2019, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. premiered Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green) which, in addition to transforming the museum's galleries into a communal dining space, invited local artists to participate in the creation of a communal mural over the course of the three-month long exhibition. Visitors of the museum were given the opportunity to have a bowl of curry whilst also discussing with each other the murals that were displayed around them, notably, portraying significant historical events such as Martin Luther King Jr's March on Washington in 1963. The title of the exhibition and the colours of the curry referred to the different colours worn by the various factions in recent Thai government protests. Tiravanija claimed that the purpose of this exhibition and the three colours of the curry is "nourishing food for the belly while contemplating the images' food for thought."
Tiravanija's artwork, which explores the social role of the artist, has been regularly cited by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud as exemplary of his conception of relational art. However, addressing Tiravanija's work (amongst others) as paradigmatic of relational art, Claire Bishop challenges his (and RA's) emancipatory claims and criticises him (as part of the RA movement) for benefiting from "ubiquitous presence on the international art scene" and "collaps[ing] into compensatory (and self-congratulatory) entertainment."
Tiravanija's work has been recognised with numerous awards and grants including a Gordon Matta Clark Foundation Award, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Competition Award (1993), National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship (1994), the Benesse by the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Japan, the Lucelia Artist Award from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (2003), and the Hugo Boss Prize from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2004). Stefano Pasquini dedicated a song to him in the CD "Canzoni che costano un po' meno del solito" in 2011.
Tiravanija was married to painter Elizabeth Peyton in 1991. They separated in the late 1990s and divorced in 2004. They are both represented by Gavin Brown's Enterprise gallery in New York and neugerriemschneider in Berlin.
- Jerry Saltz (May 7, 2007), Conspicuous Consumption New York Magazine.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Delia Bajo and Brainard Carey (February 2004), In Conversation: Rirkrit Tiravanija The Brooklyn Rail.
- Sarah Milroy (April 7, 2007), A global art star comes home The Globe and Mail.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York.
- Calvin Tomkins (October 17, 2005), Shall We Dance? The New Yorker.
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- Carol Vogel (October 27, 2011), Meals as Art at MoMA New York Times.
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- Faye Hirsch (June 7, 2011), Rirkrit Tiravanija Art in America.
- Print/Out, February 19 – May 14, 2012 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Hélio Oiticica/Rirkrit Tiravanija: Contact, February 27 – November 21, 2010 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija: Asile flottant, May 5 - June 17, 2010 [permanent dead link] Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.
- "Safety Curtain 2006/2007", museum in progress, Vienna.
- Louisa Buck (June 10, 2009), The group show that takes to the stage The Art Newspaper.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija Archived 2012-12-22 at the Wayback Machine Columbia University School of the Arts.
- Raul Martinez (October 19, 2009), More to Love: Another Guggenheim for Bilbao? Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine Art in America.
- Chew the Fat (Video 2008) - IMDb, retrieved 2021-04-07
- Steven Henry Madoff (October 30, 2008). "Friends with Benefits". ArtForum. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
- Rirkrit Tiravanija Archived 2012-09-03 at the Wayback Machine Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York.
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- "ROUNDTABLE announces participants - Announcements - e-flux". www.e-flux.com. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
- "Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who's afraid of red, yellow, and green)". Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden | Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- Catlin, Roger. "This Performance Art Piece Is Being Served Up With Tasty, Warm Bowls of Curry". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
- Nicolas Bourriaud L'esthétique relationnelle, édition Les presses du réel, ISBN 2-84066-030-X
- Bishop, Claire. "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics." October (Fall 2004, No. 110): 51-79.  Archived 2012-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
- Exhibition of the Artist’s Work Presented at the Guggenheim in Early 2005 Archived 2009-06-29 at the Wayback Machine
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- Calvin Tomkins, Profiles, “The Artist of the Portrait,” The New Yorker, October 6, 2008, p. 47.