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.
Parisian David Douard’s latest exhibition, “Mo’ swallow,” is a contemporary fable that through meme and repeated riffs spatializes the power of language to constitute worlds. Referring to the circulating identity of hip-hop as speech, prose, and song, the exhibition speaks to the transformative effects of excess consumption and living with technologies.
Near the entrance to the show, an ambient, catchy, video game–like sound track by Gag Drake Vogt emanates through a sequence of Venetian blinds. Behind them one notices that the sounds are coming from a video loop that resembles a DVD selection menu. It is as though it is the interface for the exhibition, where space is configured as multiple rooms to explore. There is a collective enterprise behind this walk-through landscape—once again Douard is working collaboratively and also drawing in other artists’ works. Two historical piecesa 1975 birdcage by Tetsumi Kudo with disembodied portrait of Eugène Ionesco, and Jules Baretta’s 1890 cast breastsare nodes in this mise-en-scène punctuated by sculptural fragments of street-based, suburban Pop referents, aestheticizing dysfunction and mock-casually attentive to arrangements of design and brand: Stand-alone plaster-cast brick wall paintings, murky resins, brandished insignias, metal structures made defunct, mannequins, and projected word-forms coexist—offering momentary retinal relief under hydroponic lights.
Here, the biological and the digital, word and image, interchange and transact into a strangely compelling mood reminiscent of urban malaise and adolescence. Value in this system is suspended, decommissioned, made permeable again like the streaming consciousness of rap: nonsense and meaning coalesce. This is salient work that simultaneously critiques and reproduces the atmospheric states for contemporary cohabitation and relationship with desire.
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.
Like its trisyllabic title, “Notes, Tones, Stone,” this exhibition coalesces three distinct programs. The first is architectonic, following the grid of interlocking concrete slabs that form the floor of the extensive main room that Philippe Decrauzat’s work occupies. Using the slabs’ dimensions, the artist produced ten white plinths and vertical walls—“volumes,” as he calls them—and positioned them throughout the space.
The second underlying program utilizes the work of scientist and cinematographer Étienne-Jules Marey, whose biological research is represented by undulating stripes in shades of gray, black, and white across a series of seven paintings hung on the surrounding walls. These works, which Decrauzat refers to as “frames,” are named using anagrams of the words in the exhibition title, and are based on the curves originally drawn by Marey to map human respiration: The resulting pieces meld formal abstraction with organic phenomena. Contours also appear in the form of a curved wall that leads viewers to a zig-zag-striped painting (Tenso, 2014), thus pairing a curvature that is seen with one that is experienced with the whole body.
The third program converges with Marey’s experimental cinematic legacy: Three black-and-white 16-mm films by Decrauzat projected either onto the walls of the space alongside the paintings or directly onto the vertical wall-volumes, and attest to Decrauzat’s long-standing affinity to abstract filmmaking. Two of these films continue an ongoing series that renders, from two separate angles, the rotation of one of the artist’s past sculptures: a small-scale interpretation of a circular, metallic scientific device that examines hydropower and resembles the early cinematic zoetrope. The third film—Take on / No take, 2014— is a close-up shot of an eyelid opening and closing over a pupil. The projectors showing these films are currently placed atop three of Decrauzat’s volumes; the artist will move the projectors to other plinths over the course of the exhibition—in accordance with seasonal changes to the angles of light entering the building from its exterior through the glass ceiling—shifting the duotone landscape of paintings, plinths, and films that extends across the building’s interior.