In a world that treasures and rewards gestures of good will—and I am talking about the art world here—Renzo Martens is one of the few artists who puts his money where his mouth is. When an artist shows a work about poverty in underdeveloped nations in typical art-world locales such as New York, Berlin, or the Venice Biennale, the effects—such as the generation of capital—are only felt in those places; it does nothing to benefit or appease the suffering of the distant subjects of the work.
Through his Institute for Human Activities, Martens has worked to establish an artists’ colony on a former Unilever plantation in the Congolese rain forest. For this unabashed gentrification project, Martens intentionally employs that contentious tool of the neoliberal economy in an environment so desperate that it could only profit from it. The initiative provides an infrastructure for fostering plantation residents’ artistic talent in order to supply them with the living wage and basic necessities they currently lack.
This exhibition consists of figurative sculptures by six of the artists from the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League: Dionga Bismar, Mathieu Kasiama, Cedrick Tamasala, Jeremie Mabiala, Thomas Leba, and Daniel Manenga. As logistics forbade the transport of the original clay sculptures, they were re-created from digital scans by professional chocolatiers in Amsterdam using raw cocoa harvested on plantations near the settlement. Deeply allegorical and rooted in local mythologies as well as the artists’ personal narratives—Tamasala’s How My Grandfather Survived (all works 2015) dramatizes his grandfather’s alienation from his native culture after succumbing to a Belgian missionary—the sculptures’ rich and sweet smell filling the space indicates a source of significant artistic and spiritual wealth.
Before her death in 1973, Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow cast the effects of sickness on her body into sculptures. Bits of synthetic female flesh—lips, breasts, bellies—are severed like limbs, suspended in a performance of pain and its counterpart, pleasure. The Bachelor’s Ashtray I, 1972, for instance, is a two-faced head sliced open just below the nose, its wound a repository for matches and cigarette butts. This is one of many works by Szapocznikow in “Them,” which sets a group of younger artists who have specific associations with post-Internet art into conversation with the feminist concerns of Szapocznikow and Carolee Schneemann, whose seminal performance Meat Joy, 1964, featured nearly nude performers convulsing on the ground with raw fish, chicken, and sausages.
Yet if the struggle these women’s works testifies to is the show’s central tenet, then “Them” is a perturbingly slick affair. The exhibition architecture of an MDF yellow ground coalescing around an elegant off-white platform functions much like the display apparatus of a luxury-goods store. Sitting atop, the works masquerade accordingly, their originary friction smoothed into tactile pleasure, though some more readily so than others. Rising to the occasion, Anicka Yi’s 235,681K of Digital Spit, 2010, a transparent Longchamp handbag glinting under a spotlight and containing hacked-up cow intestine in limpid hair gel, slyly reveals its duplicity. But perhaps most mischievous is Sarah Lucas’s infamous sculpture Bunny Gets Snookered #3, 1997, which copes with dejection and debasement like its feminist predecessors and so absorbs any further compromise. Although one must wonder if popularity’s mollifications have triumphed again, deviance still sneaks through, and when it does, it stings.
Guy Debord’s famous slogan, Ne travaillez jamais (never work), is scrawled in Nicolás Guagnini’s painting Work No. 4, 2014, among a mishmash of intersecting T-lines and square shapes, all in varying shades of gray—an apt start to this David Rimanelli–curated extrapolation on the dick vibe that has historically, and some might say continuously, underscored so much modern painting. It is hard to be funny and critical at the same time, to get the balance just right, but this show is a rare example. Formalists will get their pickles tickled by the squares and dots bouncing off each other in paintings by Jacqueline Humphries and Dan Colen, the latter of whom uses studs instead of paint, of the kind one finds on a leather jacket, dog collar, and/or cock ring. And for those who need it spelled out for them, it’s impossible to overlook Sean Landers’s faux artist statement in the form of a painting, True Artists, 2010, which reads “TRUE ARTISTS KILL THEMSELVES AT THEIR PEAK TO PREVENT THEMSELVES FROM MAKING BAD WORK.”
The work that made me horniest is also the smallest: Rachel Harrison’s Unfinished Masterpiece Three, 2014, a portrait of Amy Winehouse covered in colorful AbEx tantrum scribbles with a bearded dude painter in the corner milking the late singer for muse material. Let’s hope this type of curatorial mise-en-scène results in more broken dishes (and no, dudes, that’s not a Schnabel reference).
Donna Huanca and Przemek Pyszczek both use a saccharine palette to demonstrate the hollowness of individuals’ and institutions’ attempts at masking bleak social realities with superficial glamour and artificial cheer. Just as candy and engineered sweeteners can be unhealthy substitutes for real sustenance, Pyszczek’s metal sculptures and the overly sweet colors in Huanca’s paintings—some made from high-end cosmetics on stretched suit wool rather than paint on canvas—signify the lack of real opportunities for personal expression, community support, and healthy play in many peoples’ lives and environments.
At the opening for their joint exhibition, Huanca invited her collaborative dance troupe to slink through Pyszczek’s welded pipes and forcefully press their naked and painted bodies against the gallery walls, leaving sherbet-colored stains. These imprints match Huanca’s paintings, such as Bruised Faux Cils. Cosmetic Painting, #8, 2015, where iridescent cosmetics against traditional suiting material represent women’s constrained struggles to express sexuality, confidence, and power in a social realm that traditionally identifies feminine forms of expression as flighty and superficial.
Pyszczek’s enormous network of sculptures replicate and reorder jungle gyms from public housing complex playgrounds in his native Poland. His Playground Structure (Grid), 2015, consists of interlocking pipes forming a series of cubes, some of which end in jagged-edged pieces at odds with their inviting pink, mint-green, yellow, and baby-blue coatings. Despite their hazards, they’re also disarmingly human with drips, schmutz, and rough edges proving their handmade origin. Positioned slightly off kilter, these structures invite play but signal danger. Climbing to the top of Pyszczek’s sculptures probably leads to a glass ceiling that is as oppressive as its presentation is pretty.
Popular music and visual art have long been partners in a mutual admiration society, with so many examples of feedback and exchange that an exhibition on the theme of their overlap could be limitless. It is all the more interesting, then, to consider what has been bracketed for inclusion here. Hajnal Nemeth’s video Imagine War, 2014–15, presents a cover band doing hippie classics with the lyrics altered to endorse violence and terror rather than peace and love: “Here Comes the Gun,” “I’ll Be Your Terror,” and “Crime is on My Side.” Ming Wong excavates footage from David Bowie’s 1983 tour of Asia and juxtaposes it with clips of the pop star’s chance encounter with a Chinese opera performer for the artist’s video Apocalyptic Pop Idol, 2015. Further in the documentary realm, an excerpt from Jörg Buttgereit’s This was the S.O.36 club - An Evening of Nostalgia, 1982, is a video transfer of Super 8 footage of a group of West Berlin No Wavers doing a noisy, nihilistic imitation of KISS at the legendary SO36 club in Kreuzberg. Elsewhere, slam-dancing at a straightedge show is turned into a slow-mo modern-dance performance by Jeremy Shaw in his meditative video Best Minds Part One, 2008. And, somewhat expectedly, there is an array of Raymond Pettibon–designed album covers for Black Flag, the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Mike Watt, and Off! displayed—fan art or the art of fandom? Perhaps a little of both.
Wooden planks stand at attention, held upright by basic building blocks such as clay bricks, stones, and iron. This littering of ready-made raw materials arranged as formal sculpture is dispersed throughout the gallery. Fitted triangles of black, green, and crimson are applied to the faces of the battered wooden boards like war paint or trail blazes marking the way through a forest. These are the symbols and colors of the eco-feminist anarchism flag for an organization founded by Antje Majewski.
Though she generally works in the vein of figurative painting, for her latest exhibition, “E.F.A. im Garten,” Majewski responds directly to the changing landscape of her local environment in Berlin. Turning the gallery into an intimate site of protest, the artist culled her materials from a long-standing community garden near her home that was recently subsumed by a property developer intent on repurposing the land into a self-storage center.
Tightly bound wooden handles, as in the piece Bündel (all works 2015), and rusted iron heads of pickaxes lie on the floor, alluding to Majewski’s ongoing interest in the tools of manual labor. The defunct and disused materials reveal a more somber reality, though—the incapacitation and powerlessness engendered by oncoming urban gentrification. The one painting here, from which the exhibition takes its name, becomes a backdrop for the sculptures, locating the viewer in the lush green community garden of these pieces’ origin in all its unkempt and wild undergrowth. These representative memorials and totems to Berlin’s waning autonomous cultural spaces function as a warning that we may be losing the path.
The fascination around Dieter Roth is not so much about the work he produced but the model of artist and making that he put forth, which I have come to think of as one of “vehicularity.” For Roth was an automatist in the true sense of the word—an artist who was always working at every waking hour, fueled by a seemingly limitless source of energy. Automatism is relegated by a vicious self-programming of the body-mind machine, wherein body yearns to take precedence over mind in a privileging of motion and making over cerebral stasis. For Roth, this yielded a joyously and intentionally bad art that was a by-product of his vehicle’s constant movement, whether it be across a canvas or the landscape of Europe, where he kept several studios.
This exhibition, which focuses largely on the role of music in Roth’s output, is fittingly massive, taking up an entire wing of this institution. Like his visual art, Roth’s music was cacophonous and improvised. He took music lessons when young but resisted virtuosity and sought a space of total freedom via noise and intensive duration, often in collaboration with his children or other artists on a full range of instruments. In addition to rare as well as more widely released recordings of music played on headphones, player piano, and speakers, a visitor can observe an assortment of notebooks, works on paper, video recordings of selected Roth concerts, and sculptures incorporating music or musical instruments—as in Cellar Duet, 1980–89, made in collaboration with his son Björn. A messy wall-mounted sculpture that incorporates synthesizers, violins, cables, and audio cassettes, the excess of it all is very much in keeping with the artist’s forward momentum.
With the requisite anomalous art brut backstory—a box of hundreds of his obsessive pornographic drawings found in an abandoned house, their creator untraceable, now suddenly being shown by the likes of David Zwirner—William Crawford seems poised to be anointed the newest contemporary Perv Poet of the Pencil. Sketching his fantasies on whatever paper surfaces he had at his disposal (some of which are the duty rosters of a California correctional facility, suggesting that the artist was likely imprisoned for a lengthy period), the resulting untitled works, all dated to the 1990s, represent a great exercise in ideality porn: heroines rendered in graphite with strong, muscular bodies and enormous breasts crowned with succulent nipples, evoking a hetero counterpart to Tom of Finland.
Often, a man takes part in the action and it’s almost always the same one—a black guy with a feminine face and a mustache, leading some to speculate that it’s Crawford himself. “I like to be awaken [sic] with my dick being sucked and my face covered with pussy,” the man announces in a cartoon bubble in one drawing, while two female bodybuilder-types prepare to please him. In another, the gentleman is clothed in overalls, taking a perky-titted maiden with ox-strong legs from behind over a washbasin. Her tongue sticks out as if she’s dehydrated, and one foot’s tiptoes stab the tiled floor while her second leg elegantly curls around his. Chez Crawford, you can either be a buxom bitch or a donkey-donged stud. It’s all rather limited, but there’s also a certain joy in the exactitude produced by desperation.
Had he not bowed out of the party at the age of thirty-seven from the workaholism demanded by forty feature films in fifteen years, all fueled by a toxic combination of cocaine, booze, and Valium, the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder would have turned seventy this year. Although Berlin was not his hometown—Fassbinder was born in the more conservative city of Munich, where he shot nearly all his films—he did transform one of the city’s canonical texts, Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, (1979–80) into celluloid magic with his fourteen-part adaptation for television. This summer has seen a flurry of Fassbinder-related activities in the German capital, from screenings of his extensive oeuvre at the Kino Arsenale to a group exhibition at Egbert Baqué of artists exploring Volker Schlöndorff’s film Baal (1969), in which Fassbinder played the leading role. The pulse of all of these activities, however, has inarguably been this exhibition, “Fassbinder Now.”
It opens with excerpts from years of television interviews with the filmmaker, and from there one can choose to proceed on one of two paths through the show, though I’d recommend doing both. To the left is an excursion into Fassbinder’s archives including a selection of original costumes from the films, his infamous leather jacket, typewriter, and a dictaphone into which he recorded most of his screenplays as well as his entire treatment for Berlin Alexanderplatz. To the right are works by a handful of contemporary artists inspired by Fassbinder’s films and themes, including Runa Islam’s multichannel film installation Garden, 1998, which deconstructs the circular tracking shot employed frequently by Fassbinder as a drama-building device. Elsewhere, Ming Wong stages an uproarious drag “orientalization” of Fassbinder’s films The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974).
There is no easy access to “Fire and Forget. On Violence.” Visitors have to negotiate Daniil Galkin’s Tourniquet, 2015, a labyrinth of metal turnstiles, just to enter the exhibition space. What greets them after is an exploration of violence in its various manifestations, as ordered by the curators Ellen Blumenstein and Daniel Tyradellis, along the axes of Borders, Affect, Memory/Remembrance, and Event.
“Fire and Forget” is a military term for weapons systems that are launched at a safe distance from the enemy that reach their target independently. But there is much in the exhibition that belies the clinical detachment its title implies. Scenes of domestic violence play out in Gillian Wearing’s video Sacha and Mum, 1996, and in documentation of Marina Abramović and Ulay’s performance Light/Dark, 1978. While the former dwells on the complex and often fraught relationship between mother and daughter, the latter depicts the escalation of violence between intimate partners.
Dominating the space is He Xiangyu’s Tank, 2011–13, a deflated but otherwise true-to-scale tank made of leather, and installed nearby is Clara Ianni’s Still Life or Study for Vanishing Point, 2015, which consists of a grid of nine metal plates riddled with holes created by the same ammunition used by the Berlin police department. The show, however, is not just bullets and blood, guns and gore. In Pipilotti Rist’s video Ever Is Over All, 1997, a young woman gleefully smashes the windows of parked cars with a long-stemmed flower, before continuing blithely on her way. Perhaps these scenes of violence have an insidious effect: What else could possibly explain the vicarious thrills I got blowing up “Balloon Dogs” in Hunter Jonakin’s 2011 video game Jeff Koons Must Die!!!?
Jonas Lipps’s seemingly random selection of works on paper appear as if they had been rummaged out of a back room for presentation in this current agglomeration of small-format drawings, watercolors, and collages. Their context is difficult to discern because neither exhibition nor work titles exist. The surreal images instead challenge the observer by oscillating between the sense and nonsense of the everyday, or between inner and outer worlds. For instance, in a couple drawings (all works untitled, 2015) a gigantic molar suddenly emerges from a landscape, or a dolphin prods a woman’s belly upon which tiny men are also clambering. The bad-dream scenarios not only play with the viewer’s expectations—excelling as they do at black humor, absurdity, and irony—they also take up an aesthetic that is immediately reminiscent of the sweet liveliness of children’s book illustration and also, through their satirical charge, of caricatures.
It is above all their details which often seem strange, uncanny, or funny, but also melancholy, as when the watercolors run uncontrolled across the yellowing paper and blend into one another. Lipps uses these genres of narrative drawing in order to generate visual illusions that are more than simply formal rigor. Ultimately, it is precisely the shopworn impression made by the works and their at times somewhat clumsy style of drawing that points to a conscious adoption of a certain amateurishness and antipathy toward compulsory ideas of the “contemporary.” This lends the work sovereignty and poise.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
For her solo show “Safe and Sound (Evolutions),” Alona Rodeh explores the irony that assaultive artificial light and reflective clothing are assets both in club culture and in a more municipal context, such as the uniforms and equipment of police, firefighters, and construction workers. In her large-scale MDF sculptures, photographs, video and sound installation, a catalogue, and a limited-edition reflective drawstring bag, all displayed here, she probes how light and the engineered fabric can represent both personal expressions of rebellion and institutionalized methods of maintaining order.
The relationship between club culture and surveillance is represented best in her video installation Safe and Sound (Rachid) (all works 2015), which is paired with Safe and Sound (Sound), the latter an audio piece by Rachid Mara. An alarm evolves into dancehall music while a three-minute video portrait of an expressionless, weathered, middle-aged man with a shaved head and unshaven face is projected on Scotchlite fabric. As Mara’s music builds to intensity, red, white, and blue lights pulse on the fabric—a type usually used in protective gear for firefighters or other safety workers—creating a hypnotic, 3-D effect. This, coupled with the man’s slightly menacing stare, makes his face intimidating, as if he were either a direct threat on the street or a stranger in a club. His face’s projection on the material also evokes objects seen through flames—the features grow hazy and quiver with the music and lights’ momentum. Blurring lines between extreme danger and subcultures striving for oblivion, Rodeh compels viewers to question how much they prioritize security over thrills, or to what extent they would trade comfort for excitement.
The exhibition “The Mountain Guide” by Daiga Grantina features five abstract sculptures composed of found objects that together articulate a vision simultaneously poetic and disturbingly uncanny. The individual works consist of complex striations in which transparent and metal materials, melted plastic, and cables are woven together until they start to resemble organic forms while taking on other, alien, futuristic qualities.
Here and there, elements emerge that breathe life into the bizarre shapes. In I source D (all works 2015), for instance, red cables and wires run through a figure as if they were pumping blood through its body. A work lying on the floor, titled PF—also known as Path-Finder in the exhibition’s accompanying pamphlet—is a cocoon-like formation that, like an ouroboros, bites its own tail. This is reminiscent of how, in analytical psychology, the iconography of “self-consuming” serves as a metaphor for the early development phase of childhood in which no conscious differentiation between inner and outer worlds has been learned, and also no gender identity is yet assumed. The piece hanging on the wall, Realm of Desire, takes this thought further. Based on a treatise by psychologists Alfred Kind and Curt Moreck, “Morphology, Physiology and the Sexual-Psychological Significance of the Secondary Gender Characteristics of the Female,” this work hints at an examination of a female history of sexuality and the erotic. Characteristic of the whole show, Grantina sketches a visual landscape that, by way of a multilayered analogy, opens out into an eruption of psychological moments.
Translated from German by Diana Reese
After stops in Copenhagen, Paris, and Münster, Camille Henrot’s installation The Pale Fox, 2014, is now on view in Berlin. The deep, stratospheric blue of the four walls and the carpet, reminiscent of Yves Klein’s monochromes, brings to mind a blue-box television studio. The objects displayed in this setup range from photographs and watercolors, bronze sculptures and books, magazines and newspapers, to telephones and tablet screens. Placed on modern design shelves that run through the whole installation in a sort of timeline, the images and objects reference the evolution of nature as well as that of technology, art, and culture, suturing science, mythologies, and religions to a new-age eschatology.
Often described in terms of postdigital archival art, the installation neither presents an alternative history to, nor engages the chaos, entropy, and disorder that seems to be repressed by, Western tradition, fictions, and history. Instead, it represents a strongly mythopoetic and subjective perspective that derives from our objective incapability to comprehend the weight of knowledge piled up and bureaucratically ordered in our collective archives. For despite the progressing development of science and technology, individually and immediately we do not necessarily possess, as Max Weber once noted, a greater knowledge of the conditions of life than the generations who lived thousands of years before us. We are still limited by our common finitude, and hence incapable of processing the seemingly unlimited data of the real. Even the work’s title, referring to the mythology of the West African Dogon people, evokes the hunted and restless pale fox, which stands in for the act of creation as well as for the chaos that disrupts its divine harmony.
All that glitters is not gold: This much we know is true. Take vermiculite, a mineral from the mica family of silicates whose dull glint gives it the appearance of gleaming rabbit pelts. Its root trace back to the Latin verb micare, “to glitter,” but also to mica, “crumb.” This etymological slippage sets the terms for Otobong Nkanga’s exhibition “Crumbling Through Powdery Air,” which quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald in picking up from the artist’s 2014 project, In Pursuit of Bling, a shadow history of all things shiny.
Eschewing champagne lounges and VIP rooms for the great, yawning gaps in the deserts of Namibia, Nkanga’s pursuit took her to the legendary “Green Hill” of Tsumeb. Named for an anomalous mineral formation more than three stories tall and a startling shade of green, its riches have long been extracted, leaving only a nondescript open pit. As a monument to this loss, Nkanga covers the gallery floor with a layer of sand flecked with vermiculite and copper. On this foundation, she erects Solid Maneuvers, 2015, an archipelago of seven slab-like sculptures mounted on metal poles, like butterflies pinned down in a display case. Their surfaces resemble topographical maps, built up in stacked layers of mined metals, whose irregular contours carve elevations and depressions. The artist anoints them with piles of pink mineral salts, sand, tar, or mica-based cosmetic powder, as if trying to piece the extracted earth back together again. In other places, she allows these materials to artfully spill into the shimmering sand below, further confusing what is precious with what is waste.
Constructed with five stenciled gestures, including four taken and reified from his life’s body of work, the painting The Mirror and the Pool, 2015, is David Reed’s response to this venue’s Mies van der Rohe building. It is a new work, but one with a retrospective quality. The single piece, divided into fourteen canvases and installed as a long thin line bisecting the gallery’s space, repeats the same brushstrokes throughout in different configurations and colors, thus creating dense, graffiti-like moments in some parts and expansive, elegiac zones in others. In one area, two facing panels have marks that even mirror each other.
Inspired by a David Hockney painting of Reed’s friend in a swimming pool, Portrait of Nick Wilder, 1966, and Yves Klein’s empty white room Le Vide, 1961—situated permanently at Haus Lange—The Mirror and the Pool, as with Reed’s other paintings, creates a spatial effect through gesture, surface, and color. However, this time, his palette of mostly iridescent blacks, blues, purples, and whites creates a feeling of water, with light refracting in liquid everywhere on these acrylic, oil, and alkyd panels. Reed’s frozen gesture becomes a floating sign.
The work is cinematic in both its narrow, widescreen format and its episodic nature, but unlike most paintings that can typically be taken in at a glance, this one unfolds as much in the mind of the viewer as through the rooms of the house it’s shown in. It is this recurrence and pacing that makes Reed’s an elegant intervention.
Lukas Quietzsch’s first-ever solo show has many components: a hand-built vitrine, nine paintings, a cell-phone number printed on the exhibition invite, a puzzling press text written in collaboration with artist Philipp Simon, and a provocative title—“You Are a Pig.” Dialing the phone number, you reach a message by street performer Matthew Silver, whose proposal that “love is the answer” must necessarily be doubted. One key issue can be identified across these different media: The artist is questioning neoliberal recipes for success and the increasing demand to decide between yes and no, right and wrong, without any alternative.
The first piece is the vitrine Private Society (all works 2015), built from cardboard and glass and filled with a dirty pair of old shoes and straw, welcoming the viewer with a hint of farmyard smell. The green light of a banker’s lamp illuminates the piece, transforming it into a commodity ready for speculation. The motifs of the gouache-on-canvas paintings are derived and blown up from different genres of drawing. For instance, in Government District, Quietzsch has staged talking heads in front of a red background after a drawing by a criminal court artist. The starting point for To (Want to) Break Away from Immense Entanglements by Clumsy Means was a doodle by a prisoner. It features words like “love” and “hate,” as well as a scribble depicting two eyes on a cold yellow backdrop. Due to the treatment of these canvases during production—a kind of frottage and washing of the support material—the imagery looks pale and broken by the paintings’ closely meshed net surface pattern, due to the frottage, giving them a subtle, computed style.
If blurring the lines society draws between living and artmaking was a necessity to a generation of artists in the 1960s, Lea Lublin was one who made it a virtue. Displaying the most important works of her creative output of three decades, the first retrospective of this surprisingly unknown French Argentine artist opens with her pink neon sign, L’oeil alerte (The Open Eye), 1991. More than just a glossy statement, it introduces Lublin’s modus operandi of deconstructing not only art-historical imagery but the passive act of looking, when she invites viewers to experience her art via the active involvement of their bodies.
Improvising on Duchamp’s notion of the readymade, “Voir clair” (See Clearly) 1965 is a series of reproduced iconic images, here represented by Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, behind a glass frame with a fully functioning windshield wiper, at which viewers are invited to shoot with a water pistol. Lublin’s sensorial approach takes an intellectually confrontational turn in a sequence of striking videos, one capturing an intimate conversation between Hannah Wilke and a group of schoolkids on the effects and meaning of acts that turn everyday objects, such as chewing gum, into sculpture.
Joined by performance photographs and sketches, her provocative environment Fluvio Subtunal, 1969, is a Parkour course of nine zones confronting “the concepts of nature and technology,” as the artist calls them, including shallow water basins, accumulations of inflatable plastic shapes, CCTV monitors, and a blacklight-filled space with local varieties of vegetables. These are concepts that resonate today, evoking the conflict between public surveillance and the return to nature. Whether through the physical deconstruction of reproduced Renaissance Virgin-and-child paintings or the reappropriation Duchamp’s fountain as the womb of a glass female torso, Lublin, as a female artist working within male-dominated traditions, systematically reflects the objectification of women’s bodies.
Thematically organized within three buildings, over a thousand photographs in “The Order of Things” challenge the medium’s standard typologies by interrogating portraiture and object-based inventories. Karl Blossfeldt’s iconic black-and-white botanical close-ups dialogue with J. D. ’Okhai Ojeikere’s series capturing African women’s hairstyles from behind. These natural and human-made architectures, both rich in texture, soft shades, and minute details, set up a direct confrontation with August Sander’s Faces of Our Time, 1910–29, which documents the characteristics of Germans from various classes. Our reliance on identifying individuality through comparison and distinction is challenged by Zanele Muholi’s images of queer South African women or Guy Tillim’s child soldiers of the DR Congo. Deploying homogenized studio-photography conventions—straightforward poses and neutral backgrounds—both artists nonetheless disrupt our expectations via contextualizing titles, thereby dismantling underlying assumptions about gender, sexuality, and uniformity in portraiture.
A sinister chapter of the medium’s history emerges from a display of mug shots juxtaposed with books of ethnographic studies, whose similar aesthetics seem to emerge from equivalently disdainful perspectives. Juxtaposed with Kohei Yoshiyuki’s night scenes of sexual interactions in a Tokyo park, the images not only comment on the colonial gaze’s desire to standardize, but on voyeurism’s inherent role in human perspectives and thus photography.
Focusing on methodical, vernacular depictions of urbanity, meanwhile, overlooked architecture in works such as Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations 1963, or William Christenberry’s pictures of America’s changing rural landscapes, expose the social and economic substructures of our man-made environments.