Many presume that, despite its fictitious premises, pornography at least contains moments of physiological truth. After all, penetration cannot be acted, so to speak. Or can it? Omer Fast questions such assumptions in Everything That Rises Must Converge, 2013, a four-channel film that interweaves three principal story lines. The first follows the lives of four real porn actors in Los Angeles over one day. Fast inserts himself into the second story: A character named Omer interviews a porn director and then helps an actress rehearse a monologue. The third story, which follows a female protagonist in the midst of a marital crisis, at first seems unrelated to the other two.
The three story lines appear to clearly correspond to three levels of fiction. The first is a documentary, the second re-creates a plausible slice of life, and the third—the most theatrically crafted—seems completely fabricated. Yet over the course of the film, these distinctions begin to collapse. The site of each segment is the same. And when the protagonist of the final scene, with a gun in her hand, reaches the building where her husband is, the door opens to reveal the fictional porn director busy filming an actual act of coitus.
The footage featuring explicit sex ends up seeming the most fictitious and unreal, as the lively affect of the porn actors on set, and the elaborate way they are filmed, conspicuously contrasts their lack of expressivity in the scenes depicting their daily lives. Are these last scenes, then, real or staged? (It’s a question that also underlies many reality shows.) While Fast poses questions of an ethical order (the film takes its title from a story by the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor that deals with destiny, guilt, and remorse, while the porn director speaks of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child), the artist continues, as in previous works, to inexorably deconstruct the categories of truth and fiction in moving images.
Translation from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
The current exhibition at the Chalet Society—a project by former Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler—familiarizes visitors with the Californian artist Jim Shaw, or more precisely, with his main source of inspiration: a compulsive collection of strange didactic material sourced from secret societies, fraternities, cults, religious sects, New Age movements, conspiracies, medical encyclopedias, and the like.
With “The Hidden World,” for which he was given carte blanche, the artist—known for working with everything from painting to performance—has created a breathtaking and expansive journey through the myths and beliefs of America. His collection of books, T-shirts, posters, banners, and postcards, even videos of people burning in hell, are displayed in a casual fashionon small, old-fashioned monitors, or as photocopies pinned to the unpainted wallsbefitting the material: most often found objects with visible signs of wear and tear. This presentation highlights Shaw’s hands-on attitude toward his collection. Here is material to be used, not simply revered, whether it’s a painting of a cross that also registers as a bridge over troubled water, an instructional image depicting a Mormon baptism, or a Scientology pamphlet showing the three stages of the game of life according to the movement’s ideology: beingness, doingness, havingness. The one-thousand-square-meter abandoned school that currently houses the Chalet Society couldn’t have been a better match for this didactic collection-as-installation.
If the Chalet Society was founded in part to search for “poetic consciousness,” in the words of Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, who apocryphally reigned as king of Poland, and who serves as an inspiration of sorts for Wahler’s project, this exhibition imparts an acute sense of that quest. It evokes the never-ending struggle of humanity with profound and existential questions related to living, dying, and morality, whose answers both confuse and elude us—and it plumbs our often-bizarre strategies for coping with these conundrums.
Visualizing the invisible is a recurrent theme in Sophie Calle’s photo-based oeuvre—from photographs based on descriptions of beauty provided by people who were born blind to portraits of those who have lost their sight suddenly. Calle’s current exhibition, “Dérobés,” challenges the viewer to see vanished artworks. The photograph/text pairings in the series “What Do You See,” 2013, conjure paintings by Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and Govert Flinck that were among the thirteen artworks stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Focusing on that museum’s “Dutch Room,” Calle’s photographs show anonymous people contemplating empty frames reinstalled where the stolen paintings originally hung. Accompanying each photo, a text panel of roughly the same size offers a freewheeling description of what viewers saw while standing in front of the empty frames. The unattributed first-person accounts range from confident imaginings (“I definitely see the Obelisk”) to psychological avowals (“I see my reflection, so I see my sadness”).
Presented in a blood-red room, “Purloined,” 1994–2013, concerns paintings by Lucien Freud, Pablo Picasso, Titian, and J. M. W. Turner that have been stolen from various collections. Purloined: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon’s Portrait, 1998–2013, depicts the Tate Gallery storage drawer where the portrait was typically kept (it was stolen while on loan, in Berlin). The memorializing text (assorted descriptions of the missing work solicited from curators, guards, and other museum staff) is printed small to emphasize the painting’s diminutive size and intimate nature, and includes a poignant reference to sight: “There was this thing about the eyes being closed, when they absolutely weren’t.”
Another sentimental allusion to eyes is found in Le Major Davel, 1994. In this work, Calle depicts the remains of Charles Gleyre’s painting of the executed officer (which was damaged in 1980 by an act of arson at the Musée de Cantonal des Beaux Arts in Lausanne) in a life-size gilded frame. In the lower right corner, a man buries his face in his hands. The rest of the composition is filled up by text—remembrances of the painting and reactions to its cruel fate that Calle solicited from the museum’s staff. “It’s as if his tears stopped the fire,” says one of the anonymous commentators. Seen in the context of Calle’s project, however, the figure’s gesture is an apt reflection of the viewers’ own temporary blindness.
For Tunisian-born designer Azzedine Alaïa’s first Parisian retrospective, Musée Galliera director Olivier Saillard christened the museum’s newly renovated galleries with a strong yet subtle exhibition that reflects the return of the nearly 120-year-old institution’s once-campy interiors to their neoclassical roots. The nearly eighty pieces on view distill Alaïa’s oeuvre to a tight focus on his relentless interest in volume, form, and material, quietly highlighting the designer’s formal training as a sculptor at the École des Beaux-Arts without resorting to cloying fashion-as-art apologia. The minimal presentation—each bust form is custom-cut to the garment it supports, such that dresses are at once filled out and disembodied—elides the glamour of the celebrity individuals who once occupied the gowns. This brings the focus to an almost abstract vision of the body and its plays off the architecture of his clothes. Audible gasps can be heard from the odd visitor here and there upon being stricken with the drama of consumerist desire.
In person, it’s apparent how the designer’s signature ornaments—pin tucks, hammered metal eyelets, intricate laser cutting—are devices for reconciling form and material. Hems weighted with the eyelets allow chiffon fabric to drape but not flutter (girlishness is an anathema here). Lacelike leathers become more malleable without losing their rigidity. Bands of viscose stretched laterally across the length of a dress, oddly reminiscent of vertebrae, make visible the tautness of his work: both its literal second-skin nature and the strictness of design approaching syllogism-like neatness. Eschewing the fashion show calendar altogether, the forty decades of Alaïa’s work shown here reveals no defining trends, only an increasing interest in the refinement of technique, a kind of reverse neoclassicist ethos that lends soft flesh and airy fabric the smooth, uncanny weightiness of sculpture.
“Une Seconde Vie” (A Second Life), Robin Cameron’s debut European solo exhibition, is an irreverent romp in a ceramics-focused Parisian gallery founded in 1880. Nineteen sculptures have been made with discarded pottery that Cameron had refired. Held together with porcelain, these works form anatomical suggestions of hands, feet, limbs, jawbones, craniums, and a ribcage. Supported by steel rods on pine bases, they are shape-shifters of interiorities, and their structural balance buoys their precariousness. As in kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with lacquer and gold, failure serves as a generator of these rough-hewn marvels. Displayed on glass-topped tables, as well as inside a ceramic-tiled cabinet, the shards of motley glazes are punctuated with occasional flashes of gold. Plastic lemons and oranges are arrayed around the sculptures to diffuse the preciousness of handiwork.
On one wall, a large chine-collé abstraction (Movement I, 2012) pays deft homage to the gouaches découpés of Henri Matisse, whose second burst of creativity after his diagnosis of cancer inspired the exhibition title. Completing the mise-en-scène is a towering floral arrangement (Vayse, 2013), perhaps evoking the Baudelairean elegy in Les Fleurs du mal in which “the flowers evaporate like an incense urn.” Modernism is further reassessed in the form of a buttoned-down shirt printed with an oil-stick drawing, as part of Cameron’s capsule collection for French men’s clothing line-book publisher Études. Insouciantly hung on a bathroom door, it attests to the suppleness of Cameron’s practice.
In the dim cellar, one encounters a lone ceramic sculpture (The Gold Debacle, 2013). It is frontally gilded, and Cameron has likened it to the golden idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark, even as it conjures up the spirits of James Lee Byars. Nearby, Still Life I, 2011, made with William Santen, is one of three 16-mm films on view; in one sequence it shows the artist’s hands arranging mundane objects on a metal stool: envelope, semicircular piece of wood, pineapple top, dollar bill, plastic comb, deck of cards, key, lightbulb, and chess piece. Stuart Sherman-esque but with the body out of sight, the films are void of any spectacular denouement. The matter-of-factness is evidence that Cameron is interested not in magic but—as in her sculptures—in the trust of objects, and in physicalizing the seductive power of material fact.
The largest-ever textiles exhibition at Paris’s Musée d’Art Moderne brings together over one hundred woven works in the form of wall hangings, floor coverings, and freestanding sculptures from the Middle Ages to the present day. Rife with surprising anachronistic comparisons, the exhibition’s thematically organized sections point to the recent resurgence of weaving among contemporary artists while underscoring the historic importance of tapestry.
In the section titled “The Painterly,” two tapestries designed by Pablo Picasso are hung in the company of a sixteenth-century Flemish tapestry. Picasso collaborated with the same weaving workshop (Paris’s Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins) as such Renaissance masters as Charles Le Brun and Nicolas Poussin, and the Cubist is here aptly positioned as part of a legacy of famous painters who also designed carpets. Unexpected aesthetic comparisons in the “Primitivisms” section include an achromatic woolen rug by Brassaï (Graffiti, 1969–70) and a richly hued Coptic weaving from eighth-century Egypt. The influence of nineteenth- and twentieth-century artistic movements—Arts and Crafts, Wiener Secession, and Bauhaus—are present in the “Decorative” section, which features tapestries by the likes of Giacomo Balla, Fernand Léger, Francis Bacon, and Anni Albers.
The bulk of the show is dedicated to contemporary artworks. Weavings by well-known and emerging artists celebrate the current neo-craft trend and range from handmade woolen sculptures to industrially produced carpets. In the “Sculptural” section, Caroline Achaintre’s hand-tufted Moustache-Eagle, 2008, and France-based duo Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s Gibbon, 2011, relate wool’s material qualities to soft and fuzzy subject matters. Meanwhile, Pae White’s monumental tapestry depicting billowing smoke, Berlin B, 2012 (included in the “Orientalisms” section), imbues an ancient tradition with digital technology. An appropriate denouement, a loom custom designed and built by Michael Beutler, Weaving Workshop, 2009–13, is stationed near the show’s exit, exemplifying the craft technique that knits together this wide-ranging exhibition.
Hany Armanious’s latest exhibition includes a line-scored tabletop (Space [all works 2013]), a gray piece of drywall with bits of filler dotting its surface (Hotel), a battered L-shaped fragment of white laminated chipboard (Still Life), and a white canvas with only a plastic fork and an ice cream stick on its surface (Composition). Though not immediately apparent, there is a fetishism at play here. Like some Rauschenbergian assemblages, these sculptures accumulate a sense of time’s passage. When one however discovers that these objects are not readymade but freshly cast by the artist, one is instead confronted with questions rather than life’s answers.
Primarily made from multiple layers of melted and poured polyurethane resin mixed with pigment, each slow and painstaking result is a thoughtful form of representation. Working this way, Armanious has created works that can be more accurately described as still-life painting. This is particularly resonant given that most are wall-based works (besides a freestanding translucent sculpture, Light Box), an uncommon occurrence for the Egypt-born Australian, who is best known for his three-dimensional works and installations. It is in this clash of media—of sculpture created like painting—that creates moments of open-endedness. Black Sun, for example, is a white square plate with circular stains of dirt. Supported by screws (which are actually cast in bronze), the work exhibits both a sculptural relief and a white geometric abstraction. Though Armanious’s choice of objects veers toward the forlorn and downtrodden, he seemingly wants us to feel the everyday more carefully.
Lida Abdul’s new installation Time, Love and the Workings of Anti-Love, 2013, is given pride of place in this solo exhibition curated by Isabel Carlos, which premiered in Lisbon before heading to Paris. Over five hundred small black-and-white photo-booth-type portraits are aligned in a minimal presentation to fit the length of two long walls. Each one has been cut out by hand, with all the irregularity and humanity that that entails; the multicolored wooden street camera that produced them over the course of many years is placed in the center of the room. The artist was able to purchase these precious archival documents and the apparatus in Kabul from the photographer himself. The photos allow her to reveal and preserve the traces of individual faces of Afghan men, women, and children. Presented as a voice-over, a chilling, poetic text she wrote evokes the war-torn circumstances in which these photographs were taken.
The US-based Abdul is famous for her commitment to making work in and about Afghanistan, her country of origin. A selection of her short video and 16-mm film work further complements the picture she paints of her birth nation, a picture that is deliberately quite different from the repeated violent clichés available in mass media. And yet Abdul also acknowledges the reality of a place that has lived through thirty-five years of conflict; the landscapes she captures are often those of ruins. A three-day performative act, during which she paints an entire destroyed palace in the suburbs of Kabul in white, is relayed via the ironically titled video White House, 2005. Her cinematic use of sound, silence, slow-motion footage, and blurred effects all contribute to the ambiguity that permeates her work. The fantasy piece she calls In Transit, 2008, records boys playing with a bullet-ridden Russian airplane to which they attach ropes while attempting to seal the bullet holes with cotton wool. “But it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fly,” they tell her, “as long as you think you are controlling it.”
Moscow-based artist Arseniy Zhilyaev’s latest exhibition, an antiutopian parafictional museum of Russian history, critically investigates the messy relationship between art and politics in contemporary Russia. Divided into three rooms, each distinguished by a specific wall color and theme, the exhibition–cum–installation artwork assembles its arguments through satirical pairings. Painted red, the first section contrasts an enshrined fragment of the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor that prompted the formation of a new church in Russia with the first pastoral announcement given by the church’s Primate, Andrey Breyvichko, in which he denounces the “impious she-devils” of Pussy Riot and extols the miraculous coming of the meteorite.
The second room, colored blue, is the most intentionally provocative. In addition to showcasing memorabilia from former porn star Sasha Grey’s 2013 trip to Russia, the room is dedicated to exhibiting the “performance artworks” of president Vladimir Putin. Press photographs of Putin kissing a fish and hugging a male politician, among others, are supplemented by texts describing the artistic motivation behind the president's actions. More than once, Putin is compared to the Russian artist Oleg Kulik, notable for his performance as a rabid dog.
Left white, the third room consists of the plans and the maquette for a monumental “living” sculpture of a boy and girl (a sort of robotic update of Vera Mukhina’s six-story statue of a worker and Kolkhoz woman for the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris) designed for the Bolotnaya Battle Park Complex. The back wall here functions as a quasi-storyboard for the sculpture, interspersing images of garden statuary dating back to czarist Russia with photographs of protesters struggling against law enforcement officials at an anti-Putin demonstration. Zhilyaev’s comparison seems to suggest this: The activists’ contorted bodies are the public sculptures of the twenty-first century.
The current exhibition at Le Bal concentrates on one of Johannesburg’s most famous buildings: a unique skyscraper named Ponte City. It was erected in 1976 to provide luxurious apartments in the once segregated neighborhood Hillbrow. Given the building’s Brutalist style, as well as its concrete construction and cylindrical shape, some have suggested that it resembles a panopticon—it is no wonder that in 1998 the architect Paul Silver suggested that the building be used as a prison. For this show, South African photographer Mikhael Subotzky and British artist Patrick Waterhouse re-created the impressive appearance of the building by taking photographs floor-by-floor of its enormous exterior windows. The artists also expose the building’s present run-down state by documenting its public spaces—corridors, elevators, parking lot—and by taking intimate photos both of its inhabitants inside their homes and of the abandoned flats.
In addition to this comprehensive and troubling portrait of the building today, the artists have assembled archival materials—newspaper clippings, advertisements, and promotional items—that are arrayed along the walls of the gallery and expose the structural racism that underlay the entrepreneurial project of the building’s initial development—for example, the ongoing debate about where the servants’ quarters would be located. (During apartheid, Ponte City was a prime example of South Africa’s racial segregation. Only white families lived in the outward-facing units, while their black servants lived in the tube’s inner apartments. After the fall of apartheid, the building became a hotbed for criminal activity and suicides.) Most striking is the artists’ attempt to materially reconstruct the personal histories of the building’s residents, namely by taking found objects and old photos and superimposing them in their exact places on new photographs of the ruined and emptied apartments.
The synagogue turned contemporary art center in sleepy Delme, near Metz, could not be further removed from a white cube, despite its milky-white interior and perfectly square proportions. Modeled after Berlin’s Neue Synagoge, the repurposed building has accommodated an impressive range of group and solo exhibitions over the last two decades. As number symbolism is integral to sacred Jewish architecture, it seems at once fitting and discordant that Latifa Echakhch’s Resolutions (In Progress), 2009, should greet the visitor on the threshold of this well-orchestrated and elegant show guest-curated by Anna Colin and Sam Thorne.
Echakhch’s charcoal-drawn three-digit numbers daubed on the synagogue’s pristine interior walls—each set of numbers corresponds to yet another UN peace resolution in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict—have somehow been translated into a Minimalist piano score that can be heard, faintly, in the arcaded porch. “Schizophonia,” a term coined by R. Murray Schafer, to whom we also owe the word “soundscape,” exists in such dissonances and translations. Presented on music stands of varying sizes, which appear to float in the white space, Franck Leibovici’s partitions in the latest installment of his “mini-opera for nonmusicians” transcribes MP3s of Islamic war and protest chants in the nasheed tradition.
Spread throughout the synagogue’s airy main and upper galleries, the show combines audiovisual materials, from video projections in the case of Adrian Piper’s infectious Funk Lessons, 1983, to a color-coded mural painting. The Otolith Group’s People to Be Resembling, 2012 is a layered portrait of the Codona jazz trio mixing newly filmed and archival footage, photographic stills, and moving images. Focusing on eight art projects, which include Hiwa K’s concert on the opening night featuring a band of local musicians and amateurs that the Kurdish, Berlin-based artist recruited and trained during a monthlong residency, “Schizophonia” does not cast its net too wide. And yet, by bringing together international artists with split cultural identities and interests in music, sound and spoken word to match, this show has turned the Synagogue de Delme into a free sonic cross-fertilization zone.
There is a thread linking Brazilian Neo-concretism, which began in 1959, and the work of Fernanda Gomes, a Brazilian artist born one year later. Like the artists of that key movement, she marries abstraction with subjective expression and a phenomenological experience of space. But she carries both aspects to extremes. On the one hand, Gomes loves the geometry of the line and the right angle, and she uses no colors other than white in her work, laying claim to some of the most radical instances of twentieth-century abstraction (from Malevich on). On the other hand, she systematically chooses ordinary materials and objects, from used furniture to cigarette papers, and her work entails a total immersion in the here and now of the places where she exhibits.
For her current exhibition in France, she chose not to survey the venue before exhibiting there, nor did she have any previously created works sent there. A new, sprawling untitled installation occupies all the spaces of the building and has been created entirely with objects found on site, in a process of discovery, assimilation, and appropriation of the place that lasted three weeks. In a large corridor on the ground floor, building materials organized on the floor—bricks painted white, planks of wood, detached ceiling lamps—seem to articulate an elementary grammar of construction. In the spaces on the second floor, the selection of materials arranged on the floor and walls allude to daily life: eating (white ceramic dishes, glasses and bottles, chicken bones); sleeping (Japanese mats), playing (white Ping-Pong balls). The natural landscape visible from the second-floor windows (those on the ground floor were covered with white paint) materializes inside the rooms in the form of handfuls of dry leaves that cover part of the floor. Finally, in the tower that flanks the main body of the building, Gomes has placed a single object, both incongruous and poetic: a silk parachute that hangs from above and gently sways in the draft. The color of the fabric? White, of course.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Attempting to revive what guest curator Gunnar B. Kvaran describes as “the radical strangeness and complexity that is usually flattened and smoothed by conventional storytelling,” the works by the seventy-seven artists in the Twelfth Biennale de Lyon are each loosely linked by an attention to the process and methodologies of narrative; however, the conceit initiating their presentation is precisely demonstrated in the exhibition catalogue. Comprising texts written in the first-person perspective from nearly all included artists, this parallel publication nearly eclipses the survey show it is intended to document. Take, for instance, Laure Prouvost’s project proposal for Before, Before, 2011, and After, After, 2013. Here, Prouvost’s writing exemplifies a form of ekphrasis similar to Ed Atkins’s text-based extrapolation of the two definitions of the word depression, both as an emotional state and as a hollow made by one’s thumb on various parts of one’s body, a double meaning prominently featured in his included film Even Pricks, 2013.
Elsewhere, character sketches vacillate between Pygmalion obsessions and substitutions for the artists’ personas, beginning with Jeff Koons’s recollection of his 2006 New York Times promotional photo shoot with actress Gretchen Mol in Bettie Page costume. The essay functions as a meditation on what he calls the “biological narrative” fundamental to the Venus trope, demonstrated in Antiquity 2, 2009-12, a painting included in the exhibition, in which Koons’s actress subject is depicted air-kissing a blow-up plastic monkey atop a balloon dolphin in the foreground of three Greek antiquity statues. Similarly, Ed Fornieles intersperses a traditional interview format with screen-grab images of various online media relevant to the construction of his muse, Britney Rivers, a protagonist around whom his 2013 installation Maybe New Friends (Britney Rivers) revolves.
John Kelsey most successfully ruptures narrative conventions by removing the subject altogether. Reiterating his proposal for the 2012 Whitney Biennial for “parasitic” exhibition intervention in the form of wall texts for fictional artworks, Kelsey further demonstrates this ancillary relation, by circumscribing a missing subject—his still unrealized wall texts project—so that a fiction stands in for the artwork.
“The Butcher” is the first installment in the New Tribal Labyrinth trilogy, the latest Gesamtkunstwerk by the Rotterdam-based collective Atelier Van Lieshout in the greatly expanded exhibition space at Marseille’s La Friche de la Belle de Mai, which has been spruced up like the rest of the city to mark its term as the 2013 European Capital of Culture. The work comprises large-scale sculptural installations inspired by the built environment the Industrial Revolution left behind; agriculture, industry, and ritual are the three pillars upon which the imaginary society of the New Tribal Labyrinth rests.
“The Butcher” comes in two discrete parts. An entire floor of the main exhibition space is taken up by drawings, urban plans, architectural models, sculptures, and installations, giving body to the elaborate fiction upon which the collective’s dystopian project Slave City, 2005–2008, rests. In Board Room, 2007, a table fully spread with oddly shaped crockery, illustrated with scenes from the daily life of Slave City, makes for a spectacular if unsettling introduction to the local mores. These are made more palatable perhaps by the use of materials such as resin in Headquarters, 2008, and cardboard in Male Slave University, 2007, the latter of which incorporates the shape of the body and its innards into architectural design. For all their aesthetic appeal, the objects on view chill the viewer to the bone once one discovers precisely how they fit into the overall scheme of the profit-driven and “green” Slave City, which admits of producing no waste—least of all human—in a way that inevitably recalls Nazi labor camps (as do some of the Bauhaus-inspired, no-frills architectural models).
After this, the bulky industrial machinery, rusty pipes, and conduits of the New Tribal Labyrinth make for easy viewing. The installation is livened up by a few brightly colored AVL-designed chairs, which form part of the centerpiece work—Blast Furnace, 2013—in the second space, the Panorama. Blast Furnace is a monumental installation incorporating three large steel tanks amid smaller tanks and a large steel furnace. These elements are interconnected by a network of steel pipes and connected to two manual traction wheels, also made of steel. Accessed via a vast rooftop terrace offering spectacular views of Marseille, the self-contained Panorama provides a much-needed change of scene, if not quite light relief.