More than seventy pieces, including videos of politicized performances and sculptural installations, make up “Turbulence,” Mona Hatoum’s largest solo exhibition in the Arab world. Hatoum’s work is organized nonchronologically within a trail of rooms, placing the familiar and the unfamiliar, the static and the mobile paradoxes that have prevailed in the British Palestinian artist’s thirty-year career into new dialogues.
The first video that confronts the visitor is Roadworks, 1985, documenting a performance in which the artist walks barefoot through the streets of Brixton, a pair of Doc Martens tied to her ankles. The lumbering boots, tailing Hatoum’s every step, as would a policeman or a skinhead stalker, foreshadow the uneasiness that will dog the visitors who snake their own path through the rest of the show. Another video, The Negotiating Table, 1983, depicts the artist motionless wrapped in a body bag; entrails are smeared over her body, which lies atop a wooden table. Nearby loom the more recent sculptures Daybed and Paravent, both 2008, threatening, over-dimensioned cheese graters refashioned as injury-inducing furniture. The intensity of The Negotiating Table seems to infect this sculptural duo: The bloodied, static body in the video prefigures the potential for bodily harm that the visitor might encounter by grazing the enlarged implements.
The notion of latency is central to Turbulence, 2012, the centerpiece of the show. The installation comprises thousands of glass marbles. This fragile balance lurking in a carpet of tiny spheres (and the potential for havoc should it unravel) conjures up Hatoum’s greater oeuvre and what Edward Said called “object(s) without a conclusion”—works that foreground the irreconcilable, full of unease and irresolution.
As the plasma of energetic young art in Beijing and its feeder cities congeals around multiple discrete positions, at least four rival factions join the melee in this exhibition. The highest-profile subculture on view could be called conceptual painting (accompanied here by its de rigueur installation elements): Gao Lei, for instance, has connected a beehive, by way of metal tubing, to an astronaut in an armchair—the latter image a separate painting. Elsewhere, Yang Dongxue pairs a framed drawing with a motorized device of uncertain function. Largely flaccid and predictable, both these “combines” fail to measure up against the more formally confident work in the show, which sticks to single genres, forming an art of reference and quotation, hyperaware of the systems within which it circulates.
In Shiyuan Liu’s We Were Never Alone Never Bored, 2014, an apple and a pear are affixed to a sheet of paper printed with bright gradients; the object is so sensual and photogenic that one wonders what, if anything, it wants to say. Meanwhile, Tan Tian’s two sculptures delight with subtle yet forthcoming formal references: One is titled Thea Djordjadze + Mona Hatoum + Franz West, 2014, and the other, Jessica Jackson Hutchins + Nika Neelova + David Batchelor, 2013–14. The former is a chubby, cast pink pillow and a plasticky bright-yellow quilt, pinched in their middles by black iron chains; the latter appears as three logs coated with rainbow-tinted resin, piled onto a cushion near two shiny black balloons.
Figurative painting sheds its staid status here, appearing as vital as ever. Gong Jian stands out, with a depiction of a sunlit sculpture in a park, by working in a style far less melancholy than his peers—Zhai Liang, Tang Dayao, Wang Qiang, and Wang Min among them. However, they all use form and composition to develop a complex conversation about the fundamental problems of art: What does it mean to be an observer? To document? To reimagine? These are questions each generation considers anew, their answers echoing far beyond the discourse of painting alone.
Visitors to Antony Gormley’s current show at White Cube, “States and Conditions, Hong Kong,” are greeted by a stumbling block. Ease, 2012, a lump of iron boxes, is placed directly in front of the gallery’s main entrance. It’s a deliberately jarring placement that forces a small detour and a shift in perception; think of it as a palate cleanser that readies visitors for what lies ahead.
The exhibition nods to Hong Kong’s hyperdense high-rise environment and the ways in which it is experienced. This is made clear by Murmur, 2014, an enormous structure of overlapping steel frames that fills the entire ground-floor gallery. The piece is mirrored by another work upstairs, Form, 2013, which is small and dense but has a presence that is in some ways even more intrusive than that of Murmur. Indeed, Gormley has clearly taken pleasure in exploring the nuances of White Cube’s two-story space. Three works occupy the staircase between the floors. The iron-block sculpture Small Prop III, 2013, sits halfway up the stairs, leaning forward like a complaisant butler, while the steel bars of Strain II, 2011, installed high up on the wall, map the contours of a human body. The same steel bars are used by Co-ordinate, 2014, to bisect the entrance to the second floor, a rebuke to the natural order suggested by the gallery’s architecture. Two more steel-bar sculptures, Secure, 2012, and Transfer, 2011, are installed in a corridor that also serves as a library, drawing attention to the service elements that lurk around the margins of the gallery space: light fixtures, water pipes, and exit signs.
It is these playful touches that make Gormley’s exhibition so successful, highlighting not only the links between human form and architecture, but the public’s understanding of built space. Rarely is one so conscious of every step taken through a gallery. The effect lingers even after leaving White Cube and plunging back into the concrete canyons of Hong Kong.
Billy Childish’s latest solo exhibition, “Edge of the Forest,” reinstates the instinctive, as opposed to the overtly intellectual, relationship between work and viewer. The six intensely personal paintings on view recalibrate the experience of looking, drawing us into a world of slow, simple pleasures.
United by Childish’s palette of turquoise, fuchsia, ochre, and deep purple, and evincing broad, sweeping strokes, the paintings were executed on a monumental scale, the exposed oatmeal gray of the linen canvas becoming a baseline for the work. The collection comprises self-portraits, family portraits, and bucolic scenes captured near the artist’s home in Kent (known to the British as the Garden of England). For instance, in the titular Edge of the Forest (all works 2013), the gaunt and quizzical figure of the artist can be seen emerging from the protective camouflage of a low tree branch. In Amongst Cactus, a father and daughter stand surrounded by a riot of cacti and fuchsia-bearded trees, the father’s heavy Depression-era silhouette contrasting with the daughter’s bare feet. Reticent and wary, the girl stands some distance behind her forebear, who seems to address the viewer with the formality reserved for a guest. The figures in Girl with a Stick, dressed for winter, resplendent in astrakhan hat and fedora, appear to have been interrupted on their walk amongst the naked trees, pausing politely and self-consciously for the viewer.
The exhibition manages to bypass the default settings of our experiences of contemporary art, resolutely evoking an age of innocence that has since been lost. Visceral and intuitive, the works defy categorization, making any attempt to critique them on ideological, or other such grounds seem heavy handed and perhaps a little churlish.
For his first exhibition in Japan, Danh Vo’s flattened-boxes motif is given a local treatment. 麒麟 (Kirin), 2014, uses boxes with labels for Kirin beer. The way these boxes are neatly stacked and bound resembles the way in which Tokyo households leave their paper products outside on recycling day. Once holding something of value—in particular, a product associated with reward and celebration for many Japanese people—the boxes are now empty, transformed from an item of possibility into an item of waste stacked on street corners.
Waste and objects left behind seem to be unifying themes across all pieces in this sparse exhibition. Bones are referred to many times, including in the show’s title, “Wishbone.” Close to the boxes is a chicken skeleton, hanging by its bound feet. The positioning is reminiscent of a sheep’s or pig’s corpse hung by its hind feet as it is prepared for consumption at an abattoir. In another part of the gallery, a photograph of a young man’s back is displayed, with his shoulder blade (or “wing” as it is called in the work’s title, Gustav’s Wing, 2013) sticking prominently out from his slim, hunched frame. In a similar light, two works on paper, Death of a Moth, 2013, and 2.2.1861, 2009–, feature “Death of a Moth,” an essay from 1942 by Virginia Woolf, and a reproduction of a nineteenth-century letter from French missionary Théophane Vénard on the eve of his execution. The texts’ themes—a living being’s inherent desperation to hold on to meaning in life—ring true among the exhibition’s collection of things that stubbornly remain, even after the original “life” or value of the objects has long since gone.
This exhibition, which chronicles an ambitious historiography of audio materials, could be renamed “A People’s History of Taiwanese Sound,” as it traces various political, artistic, expressionist, and ethnomusicological impulses, as well as movements of sound-making since the 1940s, most of which were banned, neglected, or rejected by authorities or the entertainment industry. Curators Ho Tung-hung, Jeph Lo, and Amy Cheng—active figures in Taiwanese sound production industries and curatorial initiatives—have filled the four floors of this museum with recordings, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera, including zines, posters, and album art, energizing the space with rich and often provocative visual and audio elements.
A 1997 commercial release of a recording of crashing waves billed as “the voice of Taiwan” powerfully introduces the show and defines its revisionist tone. The presentation poignantly captures the intersection between sound cultures and their social context, from production to documentation, institutional control to grassroots organizing, outdoor music festivals to underground raves, and experimental sound art to lowbrow X-rated material. The exhibition’s complex sonic landscape demonstrates the plurality of the loaded term “nativism” (bentu), which has circulated since the 1970s in both academic and popular discourses, and is in need of clarification. The curators’ biggest challenge and success is delineating the diverse yet entangled influences that trigger the question of what Taiwanese nativism is, or could be, in the first place, and they include: Japanese colonial heritage, Kuomintang government censorship, American rock-music imports, sounds and rituals of the indigenous population, and folk music, as well as social movements.
Works by artists Chen Chieh-jen, Yao Jui-chung, Wang Fujui, Teng Chao-ming, and a few sound collectives and documentary filmmakers punctuate the show, demonstrating how aural productions and contemporary art share certain points of view and practices that manifest in performance, installation, and video, as well as in venues such as experimental theaters, artist-run spaces, and the street. Almost like a minimuseum of sound, the dense and informative exhibition charts the shifting of social values and aesthetics in Taiwanese society, raises questions about the collective memory, and most important, contextualizes the emergence of conceptual, radical art on the island.
Xu Bing left China in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and moved to the United States, where he infused themes of cultural transference into his linguistically sensitive work. Weeks before his relocation, however, he initiated a large-scale stone rubbing of part of a Great Wall bell tower, Ghost Pounding the Wall, 1990–91, as a personal memento and a critique of the monolithic isolationism of the Chinese state. For his current retrospective, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum is presenting this immersive 104-foot-long installation—part appropriation, part relief print—in its lobby, and it foreshadows change.
Curated by Chia Chi Jason Wang in collaboration with the artist’s New York studio, the show focuses on the literary aspects of Xu’s oeuvre. It features the solemn but unreadable installation Book from the Sky, 1987–91, which is on loan from the Hong Kong Museum of Art (the smaller artist’s edition is currently on view in “Ink Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). The piece consists of a set of three long scrolls hung atop rows of opened handmade books: These texts all suggest authority and tradition, but they are empty of meaning, written in over four thousand invented characters. A conceptual and technical tour de force, this initially confusing work draws its power from the discrepancy between formal display and content, a strategy the artist uses in many of his large-scale installations, prints, and videos—twenty-two of which are on view here. Dense with visual references culled from his forty-year oeuvre, The Characters of Characters, 2012, a short, handpainted animation, best summarizes Xu’s mythology by beautifully unifying calligraphy and contemporary imagery—bones, military deployments, smokes, brushstrokes, hair, and traffic jams, among others.
Xu returned to Beijing in 2007 to become vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and though his goals have moved towards advocating Chinese cultural singularity in its struggle with Western materialism, ultimately, his work and this show demonstrates the possibility of cultural convergence.
Christian Jankowski’s debut solo exhibition in Israel plows headfirst into two subjects that register deeply: history and the media. For the show’s title piece, Heavy Weight History, 2013—a twenty-five-minute video and series of photographs—Jankowski invited Polish weight-lifting champions to attempt to levitate several historic monuments in Warsaw. The absurdity of the symbolism seems most pronounced when statues of Willy Brandt and Ronald Reagan decline to budge. Accompanied by a sports announcer who delivers a blow-by-blow account of the team’s successes and defeats, as well as by interviews with the athletes and giddy spectators, Heavy Weight History transforms a physical challenge into a matter of nationalistic pride.
Heavy Weight History stands out within Jankowski’s oeuvre in that the work’s subject does not explicitly refer to his role as the artist. Tableau Vivant TV, 2010, Discourse News, 2012, and The Perfect Gallery, 2010, all in the show, rely on this construct, which detracts when seen against the achievement of the exhibition’s centerpiece. By reaching outside the field of art and his status within it, Jankowski arrives at a more profound expression of art’s capacity to mediate our experience of the world.
Also on view is Jankowski’s Visitors, 2010–14, a series for which he borrows comments written about other artists’ shows in the guestbook of the venue where he is currently exhibiting. Here, a white neon sign in handwritten Hebrew script reads, I FEEL LIKE I VIEWED AN AMAZING, WORLD-CLASS WORK OF ART. The line proclaims a degree of provincialism that—in spite of its apparent sincerity— is alarmingly funny. Throughout the show, the humor delivered through great seriousness reminds us of the fine line between the comic and the sinister.
“Voice and Reason,” a collection-driven group show that concentrates on aesthetic exchanges between indigenous and nonindigenous Australian artists, extends this gallery’s focus on cultural integration, a mission it has pursued since the inauguration of the Asia-Pacific Triennial in 1993. Although the exhibition’s title and premise awkwardly cast indigenous Australian art in terms of vernacular culture—in contrast with the reason-oriented West—the show itself is subtler, employing astute spatial arrangements that contest past ethnographic representations of aboriginal culture.
The first two galleries are particularly arresting: These rooms feature a selection of Michael Boiyool Anning’s vibrant shield works from 2003, which are modeled on traditional North Queensland warfare objects; Margaret Preston’s Aboriginal Still Life, 1940, a painting that depicts a shield resembling one of Anning’s works; and Gordon Bennett’s Home decor (after Margaret Preston) no. 1, 1996, a canvas that appropriates Preston’s 1940 painting Aboriginal Still Life. Such curatorial decisions evoke colonialist and postcolonialist ideologies to reveal how both are largely defined through a symbolic reconfiguring of the past. Throughout the exhibition, such historically loaded configurations acquire additional nuances through their juxtaposition with surrounding works that spark more formal associations, as in Joe Ngallametta’s austere milkwood sculptures Thap yongk (Law poles), 2002–2003, and Brook Andrew’s ironic print Sexy and dangerous, 1996, both of which incorporate white handpainted lines.
Selected works from Luke Roberts’s photographic series “AlphaStation/Alphaville,” 2009, end the exhibition on a satirical note. For instance, in the diptych The Spearing (A) and (B), 2009, Roberts, dressed in a kitsch cowboy outfit, is depicted in the Australian bush reading a book titled Tyranny while fellow artist Richard Bell stands alongside in a white studio backdrop, menacingly aiming a spear in his direction. In the same gallery, Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe’s watercolors from the early 1880s sensitively document the indigenous people of Alpha Station, Queensland, where Roberts’s photographs are set, providing a counterpoint typical of the exhibition’s inventive dialogical representation of Australian art.
Steve Carr’s solo exhibition comprises three works, but the six-channel video projection titled Transpiration, 2014, is the showstopper. Large-scale hyperrealistic carnations are strewn across two gallery walls—a pastel spectrum of baby blue, pink, and yellow—their quivering tissue-paper petals much larger than life. The effect is exhilarating and just a touch embarrassing, since the carnation is a lowly flower, ubiquitous and a bit tacky, and offers longevity over beauty.
Carr revels in offering the viewer the iconic and the imperceptible, the instant gratification and the longue durée, so things are not how they first appear. These luscious images eventually reveal movement, a glimpse of a petal folding or fluttering, and the carnations’ colors change, too, each pink, yellow, and blue slowly deepening. Carr has filmed a classroom science experiment with a time-lapse camera: Place a white carnation into dyed water, and the flower absorbs the water through its stem, adopting its dyed color in the process. The work’s points of reference are as avant-garde as they are populist: for instance, Warhol’s flower paintings that were in turn inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1959 film Testament of Orpheus (thus Carr returns the flower imagery to its cinematic roots).
But the video installation on view is astonishing for its perceptual rather than metaphorical effects and is, ultimately, a gift for the patient viewer. Time sped up, then slowed down, and presented in high-definition lushness hints at other orders of perception. This is true as well for the two works that bookend Transpiration. They include a wall of perfectly gridded prototype golf balls for pro golfers, sliced in half to reveal their multicolored concentric interiors, and a small video projection of a mechanical bird set in front of a theatrical backdrop, filmed over the course of a day, but now condensed into seemingly artificial cycles of light and shadow.
While experimenting with graffiti in the late 1970s, the São Paulo–based artist Hudinilson Jr. founded the collective 3NÓS3 with Mario Ramiro and Rafael França. They collaborated on a series of urban interventions, obscuring monuments with bags and obstructing street crossings with tape during the height of the military dictatorship. Marginalized in the Brazilian art world for decades and now rediscovered (with a simultaneous focus on his work in the current edition of the Glasgow International), Hudinilson Jr. passed away in August 2013. This exhibition, the first solo presentation of his work in his hometown, introduces his vast erotic universe. Curated by Marcio Harum, the show brings together a selection of collages, sketchbooks, mail art, photographs, Xeroxes, as well as sculptures produced with acrylic paint on starched clothing.
The narcissism of Hudinilson Jr.’s work unfolds here. A vitrine features the undated series “Espelha-Me/Espelha-Me” (Mirror-Me/Mirror-Me), in which the artist used a photocopier to create portraits of his nude body. Another vitrine showcases one of his many sketchbooks, which is open to a love poem that he penned in red ink: “love = solitude . . . the artist is alone and solitary while working in the studio, I’d like to be alone while creating—but my entire life,” he wrote. In an attempt to convey the artist’s tales and histories further, the exhibition presents a revealing video interview from the 1980s with Hudinilson Jr., recorded and edited by artist Vitor Butkus, titled Tratado do Narciso (Treaty of Narcissus). Hudinilson Jr. himself features only as reflection from the mirrors in the midst of his apartment atelier, as the camera moves across the walls densely hung with art and ephemera and the carefully arranged sculptural ensembles of relics such as Greek statuettes, toy rhinoceroses, and religious symbols.
Tino Sehgal’s debut and simultaneous exhibitions in Brazil (at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro and at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo) transpire within the historical, social, and political contexts of this country's legacy of relational actions, structures, and objects, and underscore the importance of human interaction with an art museum. As one enters the show—the artist has requested no documentation—two uniformed guards perform Sehgal’s This Is New, 2003, in which they whisper headlines from the day’s local papers while scanning barcodes on entrance tickets. On the day of the exhibition’s opening, visitors learned that state prosecutor Joaquim Barbosa had reached a decision about the prison conditions for former politician José Dirceu. Another headline revealed the liberation of three military police officers who mistreated a woman after she had been wounded during a shooting in Rio. As news changes on a daily basis over the course of the exhibition, so will the contents of This Is New.
On the second floor, another, rather eternal, performance is presented adjacent to two bronze sculptures of Echo and Narcissus. While in Greek mythology Echo was a mountain nymph who tragically fell in love with the young Narcissus, who left her heartbroken, here two actors perform The Kiss, 2007—a slow-moving exchange of variegated body positions consumed with desire. Contemplating the entangled couple, visitors simultaneously perceive the echo of a uniformed singer proclaiming, “This is propaganda,” in This Is Propaganda, 2002. Placed around the corner from The Kiss and near a bridge overlooking the museum’s octagonal atrium, it is as if the singer’s stage resembles Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, evoking the idea of institutional critique that is often cited as one of the main characteristics in Sehgal’s work.
In a more intimate rear gallery, an additional uniformed actor presents This Is Good, 2001. Positioned between nineteenth-century oil paintings by Jules Victor Genisson of the Amiens Cathedral interior and Santi Corsi’s The Saturn Room, Palazzo Pitti, ca. 1920, in Florence, the actor performs a jumping jack whenever a new visitor enters the room. While these historical paintings convey a rather sacrosanct atmosphere, the presence of the actor in this gallery extends the instance of institutional critique with a prank.