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Mounir Fatmi

The Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts
El Badii Palace
January 30, 2016–May 30, 2016

Mounir Fatmi, As a Black Man, 2013–14, series of ten C-prints, 23 1/2 x 16".

There are too many faces in Who Is Joseph Anton, 2012. This psychedelic amalgamation of literary giants includes Salman Rushdie, Anton Chekhov, and Joseph Conrad. They may be three unique personalities, but Mounir Fatmi intends for them to be just one: Joseph Anton, a character who exists only in Rushdie’s mind, a pseudonym that the besieged writer uses to divert attention from his real identity in order to survive. On the opposite wall, a series of ten photographs document a man’s transformation from light to dark skinned in As a Black Man, 2014. The concept of “real” identity discomforts viewers and triggers questions: In which direction is he transitioning? Is he disappearing? Is this more than just one man? The answer to this last inquiry seems to be affirmative, and here, too, are multiple personalities. Motivated by his desire to understand the Other, American journalist John Howard Griffin—the subject of the portraits—attempted to turn himself from white to black. But how powerful is a staging of identity addressed only in black and white photographs? There are more psychological shades of gray to unpack in this intellectual interrogation.

Peering at the surgery in the operating theater depicted in the photograph The Blinding Light, 2013, there is no gore, but rather uncomfortably, the doctors’ heads have been replaced with those of classical saints. In what reads like a twisted prayer for the dying, the patient has a saint’s head, too. Fatmi’s images merge faith, science, and history in a visual narrative that asks the question: Who do you identify with?

Myrna Ayad

Kendall Buster

Commune.1
64 Wale Street
June 22, 2016–July 16, 2016

View of “Kendall Buster: Dis-assembling Utopias,” 2016.

In her 2008 book-length essay Architecture of the Off-Modern, Svetlana Boym remarks on the “paradoxical ruinophilia” that underlies artistic projects using the “remainders of history.” This is a useful point of entry into American sculptor Kendall Buster’s “Dis-assembling Utopias,” her first solo exhibition at the gallery. Examining architectural idealism, her show is dominated by a large model of cardboard and paper, Model City (Constraint), 2014–, which inventories—and parodies—architectural characteristics, particularly those associated with International Style modernism. Installed in the main gallery, the all-white sculpture includes structures mimicking airport observation towers, radially shaped public spaces, and walled-in enclosures without exits. Square and octagonal columns with rectangular windows hold this sprawling, pristine, and unpopulated cityscape aloft.

This piece evolved from an earlier work of discrete but interconnected architectural forms, titled Miniature Monumental, 2013, shown at the Lamar Dodd School of Art in Athens, Georgia. Viewed from the mezzanine gallery, where a complementary series of fifteen digital collages, “Fragments and Mutations,” 2015–16, is installed, Model City’s formal proportions come into sharper focus, including a number of hexagonal shapes that collectively resemble honeycomb. The architectural model’s asymmetric form also brings to mind Frank Stella’s mixed-media reliefs. Meanwhile, the collages, which are shown in three groups, compile photographs of urban structures such as tower blocks, cathedrals, and a landscaped park, all culled from issues of National Geographic published between 1970 and 1980. The tentacular forms of the individual collages, which include the odd human presence, extend into their clustered display.

Sean O’Toole

“A Place in Time”

Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park
24 Kromdraai Rd, Kromdraai, Krugersdorp
May 7, 2016–July 31, 2016

Mary Sibande, The Mechanism, 2016, mild steel and paint, 12 1/2' x 8' x 4'.

Monuments to white power and dominion have been a focal point of the culture wars gripping South Africa, prompting heated discussions about their survival. Yet Helen Pheby, the senior curator at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, doesn’t directly engage this ongoing volatility in “A Place in Time,” her guest showcase of fifty-two mostly new outdoor works by thirty-seven artists from Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK at this sculpture park northwest of Johannesburg. Inspired by the area’s fossil-rich landscapes, her survey of contemporary sculpture instead places these works in a continuum of human time by juxtaposing them against a museological display of archaeological fragments in a small gallery.

Richard Long’s Standing Stone Circle, 2011, composed of loose rocks found in the untended parts of the park, is a permanent installation. A literal outlier, it nonetheless animates Pheby’s central theme. Similar to Long’s remote piece, James Webb’s audio work There’s No Place Called Home, 2004–16, which plays foreign birdcalls from a tree in the landscaped garden, is subsumed by its organic context—a minority position, as most of the outdoor works are plainly legible as such.

Mary Sibande explores her long-standing interest in fashion in The Mechanism, 2016, a study of a mechanical sewing needle rendered at the scale of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s public works. Nearby, Nandipha Mntambo synthesizes mythologies in the outsize bronze figure Minotaurus, 2015. There is a corollary between this resolute figure and Thomas J. Price’s Mental Structure #19, 2014–15, a facsimile of a black male figure composed from Perspex and bronze that prefigures an encounter with Johan Thom’s Hanging Garden, 2016: two bronze feet set atop a glass vitrine on a wooden terrace covered in an off-white polyurethane sludge, its drained, white figure speaking to the changeable politics raging outside the park.

Sean O’Toole

Walter Battiss

Wits Art Museum
University of Witwatersrand
July 6–October 9

Walter Battiss, 5am Waking Dream, 1976, watercolor and gouache on paper, 14 x 20".

In 1979, three years before his death at age seventy-six, Walter Battiss published a monograph in which he is described as a “paunchy painter-poet,” “international artist,” “traveller,” and “philosopher.” It is easy to miss this volume, which is part of a display of more than seven hundred of his drawings, paintings, prints, books, and related ephemera, all drawn from the Jack M. Ginsberg Collection. Ginsberg is well-known in South Africa for his support of artists’ books, and his collection evidences his bias toward works on paper more generally, notably Battiss’s vivid and abstractly figurative prints and notational watercolors. Curated by Warren Siebrits, “I Invented Myself” chronologically charts Battiss’s passage from virtuoso naturalist to late-blooming member of the avant-garde. Along the way it details his periods as mimetic recorder of rock art, Post-Impressionist conjurer of Gauguin-like island wildernesses, and Pop printmaker.

Like Picasso, whom he met in 1949, Battiss was not wed to any particular style, technique, or media. Siebrits is aware of this. Drawing on letters written by Battiss to set designer Dacre Punt, a former student who became a secret lover and lifelong confidant, Siebrits burrowed into the artist’s submerged private life to “trace the artistic intentions in many of his major works.” Battiss didn’t produce a major work, not on evidence of this show; his genius existed in the abundance of his output, from his early books popularizing the art of South Africa’s first people to his florid paintings that willfully spurned this earlier art’s elevation of form over color. The final section is the show’s largest, and the most compelling. Devoted to his “Fook Island,” a protean cosmology informed by the artist’s island yearnings and aversion to censorship, it showcases the imaginative plenitude of an impish libertarian––some prefer “gentle anarchist”––operating in the age of high apartheid.

Sean O’Toole

Banele Khoza

Pretoria Art Museum
Schoeman St & Wessels St, Arcadia Park Pretoria
July 9–September 4

Banele Khoza, Our Bed, 2016, watercolor on paper, bed. Installation view.

Banele Khoza was a preteen living in Swaziland when Marlene Dumas, a South African based in Amsterdam, painted Moshekwa, 2006, a bruise-colored expressionist study of artist Moshekwa Langa. Khoza saw the portrait in 2008, the same year he moved to South Africa, and credits it with inspiring him to be a painter. His journey to reaching this goal was indirect: After completing high school he studied fashion, immediately hated it, and a year later enrolled in a fine-art degree. “Temporary Feelings,” an emotional showcase of recent paintings and works on paper that record his search for love and belonging in a carnal world, is his debut solo exhibition following his graduation in 2015. Khoza’s fifteen acrylic paintings, most of them portrait studies, are his strongest suit.

The artist cannily uses color to evoke his rudimentary figures. Union Pub (all works cited, 2016), a study of six human figures rendered in gradations of blue and red, describes a desperate hook-up at a local gay club. Fixated, a study of an ambiguously gendered torso created from cascades of blue, is the closest Khoza comes to resembling Dumas, whose figurative virtuosity he eschews in favor of cartoonish imprecision. Khoza’s watercolor-like handling of acrylic is evident when compared to a display of his actual small watercolors; they are strewn across a bed placed at the center of the gallery. This neatly orchestrated installation, Our Bed, belies the artist’s age, twenty-two, and his need to both declare and overcome his influences, which here is namely Tracey Emin’s My Bed, 1998. It is a flippant gesture, but so is painting a yellow-faced Caucasian emoji and titling it Move On, when clearly the heart doesn’t want to.

Sean O’Toole

Yeh Shih-Chiang

Hanart TZ Gallery
12 Pedder Street, 401 Pedder Building
April 21, 2016–June 4, 2016

Yeh Shih-Chiang, Nine-Finger Mountain at Hsu Yuan, 2008, ink and color on paper, 25 1/2 x 43''.

Yeh Shih-Chiang’s brushstrokes are arresting despite the deliberate simplicity of their compositions. The exhibition features twenty-eight of the artist’s large, tranquil landscapes painted in the last two decades of his life. Yeh used both ink and oil on paper and canvas, and many works are painted to the extreme edge of their surfaces, acting as windows into his world. He traveled to Taipei from Southern China in 1949 but never made it back. Estranged from the city, he learned to play the zither and created a Chan Buddhism–influenced body of work that resonated with his antiestablishment inclinations. His love for reclusiveness and nature is palpable in Grey Geese Among the Reeds, 2007. This oil-on-canvas waterside scene at first reads like an irregularly grayed rectangle, but closer inspection reveals depth and vibrancy via marks and scratches that craft a bursting flock of geese. The canvas’s subtle changes in color mutely signify shore, water, sky, horizon, and karsts.

An ink-and-color work on paper, Nine-Finger Mountain at Hsu Yuan, 2008, depicts from a dizzying perspective a vista of Yeh’s natal village in Guangdong province. Yeh’s balancing of movement is evidenced in The Great Seto Bridge, 2011, a rendering of the Japanese bridge in blue oil paints, with a single car that seems to be racing across its expanse. He also harmonizes stillness, as in the masterful Line of Trees and Rows of Houses, 2011, an ink painting that carves bamboos, squares for houses, and a patch of blue sky out of the empty space using energetic and blurry brushstrokes. Capturing his subjects as they emerge into cognition, he gives just enough clues to allow the viewer to grasp a landscape, often distant and expansive, while his steady hand maintains control, plucking our consciousness like a vibrating string.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Margaret Lee

Duddell’s
1 Duddell Street, Central, Level 3, Shanghai Tang Mansion
March 21, 2016–June 21, 2016

Margaret Lee, W.D.U.T.U.R. #5, 2016, photograph and acrylic paint, 28 x 42".

Margaret Lee’s first solo show in Asia doubles as the Dallas Museum of Art’s inaugural off-site project. The commissioned series encompasses photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture, and reflects the artist’s interest in challenging historic structures of identity and power. Ten watercolors in Untitled (all works 2016), in particular, reveal a fascination with calligraphic gesture and distillation of form that is traditionally linked to Western male artists such as Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein. Lee’s works borrow from Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism and also rely on the concept of the readymade. They are a deliberate mix of high and low culture and the fine and decorative arts. Given the wide scope of Lee’s preoccupations and the challenge of exhibiting in an unorthodox restaurant environment, the show is realized successfully with both focus and wit.

A sequence of cropped photographs, Untitled (Seven Views), neatly summarize the project. They include images of a portrait of George Washington, part of a Jasper Johns painting, and a black-and-white detail of the shower in Lee’s Dallas hotel room, a space with which the artist became obsessed. The first two are the only color images on view, in somewhat ironic deference to the nation’s first president and to the great painter. Who Do You Think You Are (Sink), a sculptural tableau, introduces motifs that recur throughout her conceptually concise exhibition. It consists of a large photograph of Brancusi’s Beginning of the World, ca. 1920, printed on metal and displayed alongside a high-end bathroom sink. Inside the sink are a plaster-cast cabbage and eggplant—stand-ins for genitalia that comment on shame and the sanitization of sex, and what the artist calls “human-ness.”

Samantha Kuok Leese

Chou Yu-Cheng

Edouard Malingue Gallery
33 Des Voeux Road Central, Sixth Floor
June 16, 2016–August 16, 2016

Chou Yu-Cheng, Chemical Gilding, Keep Calm, Galvanise, Pray, Gradient, Ashes, Manifestation, Unequal, Dissatisfaction, Capitalise, Incense Burner, Survival, Agitation, Hit, Day Light. II, 2015, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-Cheng’s current exhibition, “Chemical Gilding, Keep Calm, Galvanise, Pray, Gradient, Ashes, Manifestation, Unequal, Dissatisfaction, Capitalise, Incense Burner, Survival, Agitation, Hit, Day Light. II” is the second chapter of a project by the same lengthy name shown at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2015. Its focal point is a panoramic wallscape comprising paintings and other objects, with an enormous, central sheet of accordion-folded, gold-colored steel. In the work’s Berlin iteration, viewers were encouraged to chuck rocks at its gleaming surface; in Hong Kong, dents in the metal are the only records of earlier blows. Alongside, paintings are assembled at odd angles on top of silver surfaces resembling the facades of steel refrigerators, while white-painted dishes, pyramids, prisms, and cylinders lie as if haphazardly stored on shelves. Fruits, earthly symbols of domestic life and death, decay over the course of the exhibition.

The most ethereal presences are several gradient oil paintings, their hues emulating those of daylight: Each canvas contains seamlessly blended pastel tones of the sky at dawn. Painted a pale blue gray, the gallery’s walls seem to coyly mimic the canvases when reacting to shifting light. It’s not uncommon for Chou to transform spaces: His 2004 exhibition “Molyneux” saw an entire gallery floor covered in a bird-of-paradise-blue carpet. The show’s verbose title (which all the works share) is loosely based on psychological conditions surrounding social interaction and compulsive capitalism. In the main wallscape, strips of irregularly bent neon, acting as fragments of graphs, signify Taiwan’s rapidly increasing housing costs, while pie charts refer to surveyed happiness levels of the country’s citizens. Prayerful regard of the sublime and outright violence are two of humankind’s most natural channels for alleviating societal anxiety. Chou’s installation aestheticizes them both, evoking the awe inspired by the early morning sky, as well as the pent-up frustration that leads to stones being thrown. What else remains but such primal coping strategies, when one is left to navigate an increasingly unaffordable and unwelcoming world?

Elliat Albrecht

“That Has Been, and May Be Again”

Para Site
22/F, 677 King's Road, Quarry Bay, Wing Wah Industrial Building
June 11, 2016–August 21, 2016

View of “That Has Been, and May Be Again,” 2016.

Cocurated by Leo Li Chen and Wu Mo, this exhibition focuses on the 1990s in China—a period between the social upheavals of the ’80s and the postmillennial so-called new era— and showcases the often-neglected lived experiences existing beside the grand social and political narratives that constitute crucial references.

In the 1990s, Beijing began fulfilling the demands of the Western art market, thus turning the capital into a hub of interpersonal networks that shaped a group of artists into cultural vanguards and antiheroes. Despite simplified frameworks and regional limitations to traveling abroad, the ideas of passive resistance and escapism managed to spread. For Red Light District, 1998–1999—made after the artist moved to Hong Kong—Yan Lei relocated neon signage used for brothels in that city to the entrance of a local art institution, ridiculing the hidden interests at play in a nascent system that encouraged budding artists to exhibit abroad.

Wang Youshen uses the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily, his place of work, as source material with which to juxtapose the media’s role as a symbol of power and its invasions into the individual sphere. As an echo, Leung Chi Wo’s Silent Music Plane 1967, 2016, presents the Life magazine covers of that year and contemporaneous revolutionary and pop songs to showcase the disparate forms of media that were pushed into the trenches of ideological battle.

The exhibition sketches one picture of 1990s China, with its representational images, dynamic perspectives, and unambiguous references. One can use contemporary experience to re-create the details and contradictions that made up daily life—particularly for ordinary people—in the ’90s. The exhibition serves too as a reminder of the rhythm of historical cycles: The ’90s belong not only to the past, but also to the future.

Translated from Chinese by Chelsea Liu.

Li Qi (李棋)

Günther Förg

Massimo De Carlo | Hong Kong
Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street3F, 3F
May 27–September 3

Günther Förg, Untitled, 2008, oil and acrylic on canvas, 9 1/2 x 13'.

In Günther Förg’s lifelong relationship with abstract painting, he embraced colors even if it included limiting his use of them. He played unwaveringly with the sense of proportion on his canvases. The paintings on exhibit here were made after 2007 and after he had established a reputation for lead paintings and monochromes. But unlike his earlier Minimalist works, these varicolored renditions are abundantly expressive. For instance, Untitled, 2008—a large, white-primed canvas on which the artist energetically scribbled blocks of pink and ocher amid occasional incidents of blue, yellow, and green—is redolent with something close to desire. Seemingly hasty in gesture, the blocks consist of vertical lines and look almost like rubbings or smears. They appear disparate at first, but their constancy across the painting’s surface and the repetitious pattern form a definite composition. As a result, this series of paintings, five in total, energizes the atmosphere in the room. In another untitled canvas also from 2008, no particular hue dominates, but rather Förg has prioritized the distribution of sky blue, orange-red, and deep purple as groupings laid atop other color variations. They cohere with rhythm, and the painting seems to move from left to right, guided by the bright scribbles.

Förg’s blocks are prolific and appear to quiver, sometimes breaking away from their flocks. Ultimately, it is the white priming of their background, like the white of an eye, that allows them to react so strongly to one another. As if on the verge of a precipice, the viewer’s gaze is torn from a soft pink to a pine green, back and forth and over again. Each canvas enacts its own pace as Förg exploits the suggestive interrelations between his colored rectangular shapes to create an aesthetic experience that engages all the senses.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Wang Wei

Meta Project Space
Lane 212, Building 5 & 7, Wu Yuan Road | 五原路212弄5号和7号, Xuhui District | 徐汇区
May 14, 2016–July 20, 2016

View of “Wang Wei’s Guest,” 2016.

Meta Project’s inaugural exhibition, “Wang Wei’s Guest,” exploits its setting within the heart of Shanghai in a timeworn Western-style housing block where the householders are inquisitive and rarely keep secrets. Similar to Arrow Factory—an art space in a residential area of Beijing that the artist cofounded—such surroundings naturally foster a sense of reciprocated observation between artists and locals. This potential for art to interact with its context has always interested Wang, and his work here—Wang Wei’s Guest, 2016, an uninhabited, slightly lopsided but otherwise exact replica of a police security post set in the residential courtyard––superimposes a layer of contradiction and complexity onto the existing “see and be seen” relationship.

The detailed replication of the security post is evidenced by the placement of its air-conditioning unit and bits of packing tape still clinging to the window. We are compelled to peek inside—but, as with attempts to identify authoritarian power, it is impossible to know anything from the outside. By way of remedy, Wang has transferred all of the sentry box’s contents, including a standard-issue chair and a list of “booth personnel management regulations,” into Meta Project’s adjacent exhibition space. Owing to the security post’s erroneous placement, however, many passersby have overlooked this dimension to the artwork. The paradox he creates relies on the dismantling of the ready-made to achieve its apposition: indoor and outdoor realms are, in fact, parallel worlds that keep an eye on and serve to elucidate each other.

Clearly, neither the artist nor the curators at Meta Space are satisfied with the traditional, safe white cube. They instead focus on bringing invisible ideologies and assumptions into the exhibition space. In doing so, Wang has transformed a place of neighborly observation into a subject to be observed.

Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.

Han Jian

Chen Shaoxiong

Power Station of Art | 上海当代艺术博物馆
No.200, Hua Yuangang Road, Huangpu District
June 11–September 11

View of “Chen Shaoxiong,” 2016.

Chen Shaoxiong’s current solo exhibition is titled “Prepared,” and it lasts until September 11. Questions immediately spring to mind: For what has the artist been trying to get prepared? And how? Hou Hanru, the curator, has spoken of art as a way to work against fear in life. Although issues such as terrorism, political upheaval, and economic crisis are present in Chen’s work, it is the feeling of fear, rather than the conditions generating that emotion, that exist at its core. Ink Media, 2013, and Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown, 2007, point to the way that secondhand realities are fabricated by global image distribution, causing a trepidation both real and unreal to permeate everyday life—a paradoxical state that opens up spaces for the artist to approach his subject in various playful ways. In his video installation Anti-Terrorism Variety, 2002, a skyscraper in Guangzhou is transferred into a cunning living thing, nimbly adjusting its physical form in hundreds of unexpected ways to avoid hostile airplanes that target the building from all directions.

The show also sheds light on how art, as a practice can dissolve the artist’s fear of change, loss, and death—a theme foregrounded in Chen’s latest video installation, The Views, 2016, whose melancholic mood distinguishes it from his earlier works. Though he has explored various techniques, innovation of form is not Chen’s primary concern. There is always a low-tech character in his animation pieces, while the 2012 series “Collective Memory” adopts the plainest form of relational art: The artist invited members of local communities to compose images of neighborhood landmarks with their fingerprints. Instead, Chen sticks to certain kinds of media (ink painting and photography) and conceptual strategies (such as diary writing) over a long period of time. It seems that by turning art into daily routine and keeping traces of everyday life as present as possible in his practice, the artist has managed to live with, though never conquer, his fear of loss and death, for which humans may never be actually prepared. In this sense, the exhibition’s title is less an accurate epithet and more a bitterly sarcastic if elegant one.

Congyang Xie

“Digging a Hole in China”

OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal | 深圳OCT当代艺术中心
Enping Road, Overseas Chinese Town | 华侨城恩平路
March 19, 2016–June 18, 2016

View of “Digging a Hole in China,” 2016.

The title “Digging a Hole in China” plays on the Western Hemisphere’s fascination with the imaginary act of digging holes to China. Digging is a direct intervention with the land, and most works in this group exhibition relate directly or conceptually to soil. In the earliest work, Planting Geese, 1994, Zheng Guogu literally “planted” geese in the soil, like carrots, and documented the performance on video. In 2007, Liu Wei and Colin Chinnery collaborated on an intervention in the 798 Art Zone, _Propitiation, which has been re-created on-site. The artists have cut dozens of geometrically shaped holes from the concrete floor, and an adjacent human-size component made of green paint and white porcelain tiles can be walked into, producing the ritualistic feel of a sacred space in the exhibition’s center.

Since the establishment of the PRC, land in China has seen complicated developments: It has been privatized, collectivized, reprivatized, and nationalized. Two works explore this history of struggle between peasants and landlords and the relationship of social class to radical transformations of the land. Xu Tan’s Land and Turf, 2016, is a research-based video work dealing with land-tenure regulations and the social history of plants. Predating this are two films by Wang Jianwei that document the lives of Sichuanese peasants, Living Elsewhere and Production, both 1996. Separate from agrarian traditions, urban land reveals even more complex and abstract power relationships. Liu Chuang’s video Untitled, Dancing Partner, 2010, was filmed from the perspective of highway surveillance cameras; it shows two white sedans cruising in perfect synchrony as they circle Beijing.

Curator Venus Lau’s exploration examines the connections between land and humans, and could have also included the impact of the natural environment, which both shapes and resists human interaction, or simply encompasses human action itself.

Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.

Gu Ling

Himmat Shah

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
145, DLF South Court Mall, Saket
January 27, 2016–June 30, 2016

Himmat Shah, Hammer on the Square, 2007–2008, bronze, 13 x 18 x 9".

Comprising about three hundred works, “Hammer on the Square” is an exhaustive retrospective chronicling the career of Indian artist Himmat Shah. Curated by Roobina Karode, the exhibition charts Shah’s progression from his early work with paper and sculptural silver paintings done in plaster of paris, enamel, and silver foil to the terra-cotta and bronze sculptures that he is best known for.

The bronze sculpture Hammer on the Square, 2007–2008, opens the show in the first gallery, wherein Karode sets clusters of works in different media and from different periods in dialogue, revealing a kinship of form. Especially striking in this grouping are Shah’s burnt paper collages—all untitled and from 1962—arranged in a vitrine and juxtaposed with whimsical pen-and-ink drawings from the 1960s to the 1990s.

A large number of terra-cotta works, made between 1980 and 1999 and all untitled, are also on display. Many of these sensuous sculptures remind one of excavated objects: potshards, pillars, totems. Incidentally, Shah is no stranger to archeological sites, as he grew up in Lothal, an artifact-strewn village in Western India where the remains of an ancient Indus valley city were discovered in the 1950s. Some of his terra-cotta pieces hold small found objects glazed in gold, like seeds about to burst, reminiscent of the cosmic egg in creation myths. Among these are several excerpts from the series “Head,” 1980–99. Made to resemble human skulls and carrying scratches and folds made directly on wet clay, these sculptures stare mute in a pregnant, primordial silence as their gaze puts forth to the viewer an urgent yet unknowable question.

Nandini Thilak

Ryohta Shimamoto

eitoeiko
32-2 Yaraicho, Shinjuku-ku
May 14, 2016–June 11, 2016

View of “Living Funeral,” 2016.

With a one-man show masquerading as the artist’s own funeral, Ryohta Shimamoto challenges the religious rituals that are deeply embedded in Japanese Buddhism. He achieves this with a touch of sacrilege and irreverent black humor. Visitors to “Living Funeral” are greeted by a life-size figure reclining on a deathbed, Nevivor, 2015, a tableau that resembles Buddha’s parinirvana. Fittingly, a Shinto-esque funerary altar enshrines cinerary urns cast from the artist’s face and limbs alongside tiny ceramic pots that overflow with the nail clippings Shimamoto has diligently collected over several years. Hanging on the wall is new calligraphy work executed with bamboo brushes that incorporate strands of his hair—one kakejiku, or hanging scroll, mischievously painted with a brush made of his pubic hair reads: “The self is that other than the non-self.”

Troubling questions beset viewers who encounter Shimamoto’s assiduously lewd artworks: Can one’s nails and body hair still be considered extensions of the self once jettisoned from the body proper? Is artistic creation an intrinsically hygienic act equivalent to trimming one’s fingernails or removing genital hair? The most audacious piece on view is My Contaminated Water, 2016, a C.C. Lemon–branded plastic bottle in a vitrine. The lemonade-flavored fizzy beverage is widely consumed in Japan and appears harmless enough until the viewer learns this bottle’s contents are Shimamoto’s “carbonated urine.” The title also alludes to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Though Shimamoto stages his own funeral in an attempt to confront mortality and to escape anxiety about death, the viewer leaves this survey with a deep-seated helplessness regarding the future of the Japanese nation. Shimamoto’s generation (he is thirty years old this year) must be content living with an abiding fear of the indeterminate consequences of Fukushima’s radioactive fallout for decades to come.

Kohei Usuda

“Hisachika Takahashi by Yuki Okumura”

Maison Hermès Ginza
5 Chome-4-1 Ginza, 8F
June 4–September 4

Yuki Okumura, Study for Hisachika Takahashi in Israel, 2016, scanned and photoshopped cutout book page, 6 1/2 x 9".

After reading a blog post from curator Daniel Baumann titled “Who Is Hisachika Takahashi?,” Yuki Okumura set out to find the answer. The multimedia artist, born 1978 in Aomori, Japan, now based between cities in Western Europe, researched and eventually met with Takahashi, born in 1940, a former technician to Lucio Fontana and Robert Rauschenberg. The meeting led to Okumura and Takahashi working together. Both artists’ practices often employ collaboration to develop ideas concerning identity and memory. This exhibition constantly approaches but never quite answers the question of Baumann’s post. We learn about Takahashi but always through his collaborations and Okumura’s curatorial frame.

Throughout, new works by Okumura—playing on several by Takahashi as well as photographic documentation of him—are displayed alongside that artist’s old and newer output. Included is a series of US maps drawn from memory by the likes of Joseph Kosuth and Jasper Johns (From Memory, Draw a Map of the United States, 1971–72). For another playful work, Takahashi cut and sculpted the metal of a dried can of International Klein Blue paint, discovered in Klein’s former studio, into a bird—giving the cylindrical mass a set of wings. In a series of images opposite titled Hisachika Takahashi in Israel, 2016, Okamura, referencing Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953, has rubbed out all but Takahashi’s figure from photographs documenting his time working as Rauschenberg’s assistant in Israel. Takahashi in these images thus overshadows his famous employer.

Central to the exhibition is a video in which Baumann interviews Okumura, who plays the role of the older artist and relates stories from his life. Okumura’s interview and works interfere with and recontextualize Takahashi’s oeuvre, extending collaborative processes latent in the latter’s practice. Authorship, transience, and recollection emerge as themes from the various identity-obscuring works.

Calum Sutherland

“A Fact Has No Appearance: Art Beyond the Object”

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Rd
January 22, 2016–June 19, 2016

Tan Teng-Kee, Fire Sculpture, 1979, metal, wooden poles, newspaper, dimensions variable. From the work The Picnic.

Each of the three artists here is a maverick in his respective art scene: Redza Piyadasa, in 1972, created The Great Malaysia Landscape, the first image to deconstruct landscape painting in Malaysia; Johnny Manahan was the first artist in the Philippines to work with video; and Tan Teng-Kee’s 1979 The Picnic has been described as the first “happening” in Singapore. Their practices question the nature of the art object and thus relate to the larger Conceptual art discourse in the 1960s and ’70s.

Artworks in “A Fact Has No Appearance,” like the title’s linguist paradox, are eclipsed by ideas bigger than what they represent. Many of these works are predominately defined through a dense presentation of facsimiles and archival documents, while the original pieces are ephemeral, persisting only in the historical narratives spun from them. This is exemplified in the exhibition’s centerpiece: photo-documentation of Tan’s 1979 The Picnic. Although influenced by Joseph Beuys, Tan claims he had no inclination toward happenings but was more concerned with formalism.

Also represented through archival materials are works that were exhibited at regional and international platforms, such as Tan’s Rider, 1983, and Manahan’s video works Chose I and Chose II, both 1982. One of the most significant tenets of the exhibition is its silence on any direct exchange between the three artists. Thus, the preconceived regionalism of Southeast Asia that viewers may bring to the exhibition proves a tenuous supposition. What we often assume is a static region is, in fact, a convention endorsed by diplomatic vehicles such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Just as historical legacies can form around absent objects, assumed facts rarely need an appearance. However, exhibitions such as this one expose narrative layers; history rarely sits idle and pretty.

Kathleen Ditzig

Charles Lim Yi Yong

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore
Block 43 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks
April 30, 2016–July 10, 2016

View of “SEA STATE,” 2016.

The culmination of Charles Lim’s research since 2005 and the most comprehensive in a series of exhibitions, “SEA STATE” is an exhaustive lens through which a practice that seeks to understand national borders not through land but through the sea is revealed. Presented in a gallery with brilliant white floors and light-box ceilings, the art occupies an extremely white “white cube.” But such an archetypal exhibition space seems almost ironic given the inclusion of objects that in any other context could be material evidence, such as maps, a video interview multiscreen video works, and an appropriated buoy.

Suspended within such an atmosphere, works such as Sea State 7: Sandwich, 2015, featuring vertically oriented footage of harbors, and Sea State 3: Inversion, 2014, a 3-D sand print that details the negative space of the seabed surrounding Singapore, cultivate an aesthetics of information. Based on distilled geological data, the nonspecialist may find such work difficult to read––although everyone can appreciate an art object. Expanded on from its last iteration in the Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, this body of work delves deep into the modern history of the city-state’s land reclamation project. Particularly poignant is Sea State 9: Proclamation, 2015, an adapted map of the city-state’s recovered land that harks back to the Foreshores Act, a law that declares all reclaimed land as belonging to the state and absolved of any public or private rights asserted before it was repossessed.

The artworks presented in “SEA STATE” double as geopolitical residuals from borders that change rapidly and sometimes disappear altogether. Like the elusive delineations that they aim to capture, these objects are tensely poised between art and records of a politically charged and geologically impactful land grab in the region.

Kathleen Ditzig

“Double Vision”

NUS Museum, National University of Singapore
50 Kent Ridge Crescent, University Cultural Centre
June 9, 2016–July 31, 2016

Shireen Seno, Shotgun Tuding, 2013, 16-mm film, 13 minutes.

There is a silence around hegemony—a lack of diverse voices, born not of subaltern complicity, but of structural acceptance and, sometimes, forgetfulness. It is thus no surprise, in the global theater of art and film festivals, where hegemonic spectacle subsumes other projects into its main narrative, that an exhibition such as this one is so rare.

Curated by Singapore-based Siddharta Perez, the show features video work and experimental film by David Griggs, Gym Lumbera, Miko Revereza, Roxlee, Shireen Seno, Angel Velasco Shaw, Stephanie Syjuco, and Kidlat Tahimik—artists working in the Philippines or belonging to its diaspora. An incisive look at the country through the lens of American culture and Cold War policy, the exhibition imagines the Philippines as a “doubled” land and nation. For example, Syjuco’s abstract video work Body Double (Platoon), 2005, presents excerpts of Philippine jungle footage from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam film, Platoon (1986).

American tropes are recurrent in the other works presented, such as Seno’s video Shotgun Tuding, 2013, an appropriation of spaghetti western films; Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare, 1977, inspired by Voice of America radio broadcasts; and Grigg’s Where’s Francis?, 2013, a short film about two Filipino extras acting as severed heads in the film Apocalypse Now (1979). The satire and appropriation in the works rouse us with disquieting revelations, nowhere more poignant than in Where’s Francis?, when a protagonist, after thirty years of being stuck in the mud, claims that “Sheen had a heart attack and so now they forgot about us”—referring to actor Martin Sheen’s medical crisis that almost derailed the filming of Coppola’s classic.

Breaking the silence, “Double Vision” inspires an uncanny terror in the encounter with something insidiously familiar, returning our attention to the important, wordless, often forgotten implications of brushing against the soft power of a hegemonic culture.

Kathleen Ditzig

“Graphic Designs, 2005-2015, Seoul”

Ilmin Museum of Art
139 Sejongno, Jongno-gu
March 2, 2016–May 29, 2016

Sung Kim, A Maverick Leopard Jumps Over the Snow Lion and the Capitan Tiger in the Mountain Yosemite, 2016, digital print mounted on illuminated advertising frame, 6 x 19 1/2'.

Contrary to its title, “Graphic Designs, 2005–2015, Seoul” contains no graphic design works per se. Curators Hyungjin Kim and Min Choi, who are both graphic designers and independent publishers, believe that the products of graphic design are not meant to be displayed in a museum setting. However, they’ve invited twelve artists and artist collectives, critics, journal editors, architects, photographers, and graphic designers to respond to a museum commission in their own idiosyncratic ways.

For the exhibition, the curators compiled 101 Indexes, a catalogue of graphic designs dating from 2005 to 2015 sourced from small, independent studios. The artist collective Kiljong Arcade, with Kiljong Park and two others, derived technological and conceptual terms from the indexes, such as “centering,” “monochrome,” “repetition,” and “object-resembling letter/letter-resembling object,” and used steel and Plexiglas to translate them into three-dimensional artifacts and installations for Three Dimensional World Replies, 2015. Graphic designer Sung Kim presents perhaps the most graphically exciting work here, A Maverick Leopard Jumps Over the Snow Lion and the Capitan Tiger in the Mountain Yosemite, 2015, a digitally printed landscape of fantastic scenery that combines desktop images from eight generations of OS X, from Tiger (2005) to El Capitan (2015).

The show interrogates the validity of conventional boundaries between the autonomous sphere of art and the industrial realm of graphic design. It examines what socioeconomic conditions will lead young designers to establish independent studios instead of pursuing careers in large agencies. This collaborative exhibition of art and design not only demonstrates how the two disciplines are inherently related but also addresses questions about their differences, especially in regard to the nature of commissions, contexts, and their value in the marketplace.

Jung-Ah Woo

“Artspectrum 2016”

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu
May 12, 2016–August 7, 2016

Optical Race (Hyungjae Kim and Jaehyun Bahk), Family Planning, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“Artspectrum” is Seoul’s answer to the Whitney Biennial. Since 2001, it has supported emerging artists and showcased a broad spectrum of Korean contemporary art. This year, ten artists and artist groups are presented. For their contribution Art Spectral, 2016, the Okin Collective (Joungmin Yi, Hwayong Kim, and Shiu Jin) installed a wide wooden floor within the gallery and outfitted the space as a quasi-living room or lounge. They instruct visitors on how to enjoy it: Heat the pillow in the provided microwave, rest on it, read their publication (copies of which are scattered across the installation), and exercise your eyes by watching the simple movements of balls in a single-channel video. The book is a collection of writings by critics and curators on “vanishing” and “invisibility.” And through the work’s play on the exhibition title, Okin Collective refers to the unstable social status of the emerging artists in Artspectrum exhibitions, most of whom are required to “disappear” outside of the museum in order to pick up odd jobs to support themselves, giving their lives a ghostlike character.

Family Plan, 2016, suggests that this feeling of economic instability is shared by a generation. The artists, graphic designer Hyungjae Kim and information researcher Jaehyun Bahk, working as the duo Optical Race, collected and analyzed fiscal data about income, expenditures, and assets for single men and women in South Korea and set them alongside similar statistics for their parents. By pairing the different cases, they created four hundred virtual families whose combined incomes and assets are represented by color-coded circular mats arranged on the gallery floor. Visitors are inspired to stand on the circle that best reflects their own financial situation. The mats give an approximate location for their position on the social ladder and even project whether it would be possible for them to afford a proper wedding or sustain a family. Visitors to this high-profile exhibition may relax on warm rice pillows or enjoy soft mats on the floor, but these artworks manage to speak to the harsh reality outside the gallery.

Jung-Ah Woo

Bae Young-Whan

Platform-L
11 Eonjuro-133gil, Gangnamgu
May 12, 2016–August 7, 2016

View of “Pagus Avium,” 2016.

Demonstrating his dexterity across various media, Bae Young-Whan presents painting, sculpture, installation, and video in “Pagus Avium,” Platform-L’s inaugural exhibition. The first since his breakthrough solo exhibition at the Samsung Museum of Art in 2012, the show unveils new artworks that both reference and transgress Bae’s conceptual oeuvre.

Before one enters the first hall, the sound of large temple bells can be heard resonating throughout the space. The heavy, meditative repetitions are rousing, but they unexpectedly come from industrial-size speakers, amplifiers, megaphones, and loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling in Babel–1 (all works cited, 2016). Megaphone shaped pieces are also scattered on the floor near Speech, Thought, Meaning, a sculpture of a giant parrot hooded like a hunting falcon and perched atop a measuring stick. The non-standardized gold-color increments painted on the ruler are reminiscent of those that have appeared repeatedly in Bae’s past works. The parrot affirms the artist’s interest in birds as symbols of flight and captivity, a theme echoed upstairs in the four-channel video Abstract Verb—Can You Remember? On each screen a single, anonymous figure wearing a costume of bright orange fabric plumage dances energetically to the beat of drums. The dancer, whose face is obscured, spreads his “wings” in expressive gestures that strive to communicate without words. The viewer, moving slowly between the screens in observation, naturally becomes a predator.

Christine J. Park

Osang Gwon

Arario Gallery | Seoul
# 84 Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu
July 7, 2016–August 21, 2016

View of “Osang Gwon,” 2016.

Ten pieces from Osang Gwon’s series “The New Structure,” 2014–, pack the gallery’s basement floor. Finally presented together for the first time, their structures redefine the space to make a dynamic interplay possible between the visitors and the works.

Gwon’s best-known series, “The Deodorant Type,” 1998–, offers a response to sculptural convention. In order to avoid the heavy materials traditional to his medium, such as stone or steel, the artist has built up an armature of a human figure with a Styrofoam-like material and pasted thousands of detailed photographs on its surface. This blending of photography and sculpture blurs the border between image and object, between two-dimensional illusion and three-dimensional materiality.

“The New Structure” is an outcome of the artist’s ongoing interest in photosculpture and its formal construction. Alexander Calder’s “Stabiles” served as Gwon’s main source of inspiration, especially in their organic structure, abstract forms, intense presence, and sense of stability. Following Calder’s example, Gwon composed his own materials, then added enlarged photographs of objects he collected from Wallpaper, a UK-based magazine of architecture, design, and fashion. The outcome is a compelling accumulation of glossy images of well-crafted things such as shoes and forks. Modernist sculpture’s aloofness is replaced by the lighthearted enjoyment of contemporary leisure and consumption: according to Gwon, a means to “show the here and now in which we live.”

Jung-Ah Woo

Liu Xiaodong

ESLITE GALLERY 誠品畫廊
5F, No. 11 Songgao Road
May 14, 2016–June 5, 2016

Liu Xiaodong, Heading South to South Africa #16, 2014, watercolor, 19 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Liu Xiaodong in South Africa” presents a collection of fifty works commissioned for Louis Vuitton’s “Travel Book” series, which led the artist to take a trip to the country in August 2014. The exhibition emphasizes the impossibility of recording all the details of a place by highlighting Liu’s various artistic formats—his journals, discussed in an accompanying video, and his photographs and watercolors, which play off one another in the show. In many of the latter works, light pencil marks bracket the four corners of the center of the xuan paper like a camera’s viewfinder, providing a reminder to viewers that they are seeing an image framed by the hands and eyes of the artist. There are instances when Liu extends beyond the brackets, however, as with a scene of three lions dozing off under the sun in Heading South to South Africa #10, 2014, which was inspired by a vast landscape that cannot be contained within the work’s frame. In others, as in Heading South to South Africa #16, 2014, Liu directs viewers toward the subject of his gaze, here focusing on a white couple looking out at two black Africans and their dog from within the comforts of their train compartment. The ample white space surrounding the image forces viewers to look closely, drawing their eyes toward the center of a work that subtly homes in on the complexity of looking. Throughout the show it appears that Liu is vividly aware of his own position—as if he were also looking through a window—which provides a safe distance between the artist and what he sees.

Daphne Chu

Yuko Mohri

Project Fulfill Art Space 就在藝術空間
No.2, Alley 45, Lane 147, Section 3, Sinyi Road
June 11, 2016–July 17, 2016

Yuko Mohri, I/O – Circus Without Circus, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Inspired by John Cage’s performance piece Musicircus, 1967, which invites musicians of different genres to perform together, Yuko Mohri, in her latest exhibition, simulates Cage’s multi-ring conception of the circus. The piece I/O – Circus without Circus (all works cited 2016) spans the gallery space: scrolls of paper draped from rotating and stationary black tubes, suspended from two shelves hung from the ceiling; lightbulbs flickering; cables twitching and tapping at their ends, while connected to everyday objects—a ladle, a plastic bag, a pair of window blinds, a set of spoons, and an accordion sounding off against a wall. As in an orchestra, each element has its own sound and role, occasionally making a noise to catch your attention; and stopping just as you look in its direction. The work operates as an event and performance about light, gravity, and heat, never repeating and always in flux. It is perhaps fittingly stationed next to the single-channel video Everything Flows, with scenes of tree branches swaying in the wind, a pair of rings dangling on a sign, a garbage can turned on its side and blowing around, curtains swaying lightly in a room, and drapes of fabric from a window gently moving in the breeze. As Mohri reminds us, everything is connected, either by wire, circuits, or forces unseen by the human eye, and everything in essence ebbs and flows—has an input and output—conserved in this very symphony.

Daphne Chu

“A New Horizon for New Horizons”

Museum of Art, Ein Harod
Kibbutz Ein Harod
February 27, 2016–July 31, 2016

View of “A New Horizon for New Horizons,” 2016.

Founded in 1948, the Ofakim Hadashim, meaning “New Horizons,” group of twenty-some artists hung together for well over a decade, and their embrace of such movements as Cubism, Surrealism, and biomorphism, among others, coincided with the formation of modern Israeli art. From the beginning, there was a dual imperative to acknowledge, even synthesize, the stylistic proclivities of an international art world and to form, through such appropriations, a distinctly national school. “A New Horizon for New Horizons” is the first comprehensive exhibition since 1966 to show the work of this cohort, and it complements the publication of a revised and annotated edition of Gila Balas’s 1980 monograph and exhibition history of the group.

The cracked surfaces of paintings and original frames evidence their hiatus from public view. To be sure, much has changed in the fifty years since, and this current outing makes clear both the historical ambitions of and the later developments in Israeli art inspired by their work. Installed chronologically, the show deftly reveals the move of so many individual practitioners from figuration to some mode of abstraction—as with Robert Baser and Joseph Zaritsky—and from a darker palette to one ever lighter, even sun-bleached, as in Raffi Lavie’s untitled painting from 1962. And yet, such supposed advances coexist with other notions of painting, sculpture, and works on paper, which admits the uneven reception of art from elsewhere—many of these artists, including Zaritsky, spent time in Europe—and the competing priorities within what had become a moribund style.

Still, much of the work feels vital beyond its historical importance. The fact that the last gallery houses works by contemporary artists contributes to this argument of generational passage and homage from within, paradoxically bringing the wider relevance of such forbearers into the present tense.

Suzanne Hudson

Efrat Natan

Israel Museum
Derech Ruppin 11
April 20–October 29

View of “Efrat Natan: Whitewash and Tar,” 2016. Foreground: Swing of the Scythe Sculpture, 2002. Background: The Big Window, 2015.

Efrat Natan was raised during the middle of the twentieth century on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin, in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley. Without relying too heavily upon her life story, this thoughtful forty-year survey underscores how Natan connects the everyday materials of that time and place to broader, elemental forces. Undershirts, tent fabric, netting, vinyl records, and farm implements are among the items Natan transforms into sculptures, installations, performance props, and other artworks. As a first-time visitor to Israel, I’m sure I missed this art’s many resonances with the nation’s history and terrain. But Natan’s awareness of American and European art of the 1960s and ’70s was manifest. Her artwork aligns with Trisha Brown and Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys and Valie Export; as such names suggest, for Natan, the relationship between the body and the landscape is paramount. She locates, and expresses concisely, the cosmological import of that relationship. Her use of scythes conjures bodily and seasonal rhythms; a large tent hung high on one wall evokes the sun; wisps of white fabric against dark backgrounds summon thoughts of constellations. Nearly everything in the show is black, gray, or white. This visual austerity can lead viewers to think of the artist as a shaman or priestess. But the Conceptual rigor of these pieces reminds us that focused thinking can open up new worlds, too.

Brian Sholis

Zik Group

Tel Aviv Museum of Art
27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard
May 12–November 5

Zik Group, Minaret of Defense, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Zik Group’s recent installation poignantly remarks on the shaping and narrating of local topography. With an eighty-two-foot-high wooden construction that extends through several stories and with a pool of black water at its base, made almost unapproachable by the pool’s high walls, Minaret of Defense, 2016, highlights the proximity of the museum to the nearby army base Ha’Kirya, whose most recognizable attribute is the Marganit Tower: a tall, flickering center of secretive communications, overlooking the city. Minaret is inspired by the physical appearance of the army base’s structure and its ominous presence in a civilian, urban setting and simultaneously echoes another architectural type—the mosque. More broadly, towers have another significance in local history, since Zionist settlements in pre-state Palestine were marked by single towers, erected overnight, as means to assert ownership and maintain strategic advantage. Consequently, Zik members inevitably invoke the history of Tel Aviv, which was partially formed on the ruins of Arab villages, among them Salame, Abu Kabir, and Sheiskh Munis.

Minaret opened to the public during Israel’s sixty-eighth Independence Day, a date associated with institutional celebrations and not with the emergence of subversive narratives. As public discourse in Israel becomes less democratic with the unapologetic tightening of government control over media and the ongoing trampling of human rights, the mere presence of the installation in a central, mainstream institution bears an even greater importance. Established in 1985, Zik is considered a leading, veteran art collective. From a mountain-based studio near Jerusalem, the group creates elaborate multimedia installations that are often burnt or destroyed in a series of performative gestures. Their avant-garde approach offers a conceptual antithesis to ideas of collectivity rooted in Israeli culture, ideas articulated by the failed enterprise of socialist kibbutzim. As Minaret pierces through the floors of the museum, it uncovers concealed contradictions that coincide in the landscape while highlighting the idiosyncratic practice, history, and identity of its creators.

Rotem Rozental

Rania Stephan

Marfa'
1339 Marfa’ District
May 25–August 31

From left: Rania Stephan, Still Moving, 2016; 64 Dusks, 2010–16.

Rania Stephan’s gallery debut comes at a point when a midcareer museum survey might have made just as much sense. She is better known as a filmmaker. Her work began migrating only recently from film festivals to exhibitions. Stephan got her start in the 1990s, as an assistant director to the filmmakers Simone Bitton and Elia Suleiman. In parallel, she developed her own work along two very different paths. On one side, she makes quick, powerful slice-of-life documentaries. On the other, she composes essayistic videos that toy with notions of memory, montage, and the obsolescence of materials such as Video8, Hi8, and VHS.

The latter works tend to mysteries and crumbled glamour: Tribes, 1993, is a tribute to Marlene Dietrich, among other things; The Three Disappearances of Souad Husni, 2011, narrates the wild and desperate life of an ill-fated Egyptian movie star, using only pirated videocassettes of her films; Stephan’s trilogy in progress, Memories for a Private Eye, 2015–, braids together material from classic Hollywood noir (Mark McPherson’s 1944 film Laura), a short-lived detective show (“Mufetish Wahid”) that ran on Lebanese television in the 1970s, and home movies outlining a devastating personal loss (the death of her mother in a bombing during Lebanon’s civil war).

“On Never Simply Being One” splices together the Souad Husni and Private Eye projects, including the video 64 Dusks, 2010–16, Stephan’s camera literally circling around the site of Husni’s suicide, never shown publicly before, and a related series of photographs, arranged dramatically in a long, straight line. Adjacent to 64 Dusks is a projection of Husni’s face, eyes beseeching through the thickest mascara. Slowly, damage to the VHS tape plays across the image in a slow, gorgeous dissolve of abstract imperfections. Two found photographs hung back to back round out the reconciliation of dualisms of view. One is a saccharine portrait of Husni posing with a camera. The other is a sultry pinup of the starlet in lingerie. Both were taken by a studio photographer Stephan found by chance, who had worked on the set of two films Husni shot in Lebanon. Pulling viewers around their installation to uncover their story, they show an artist as capable in space as she is in sequence.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“Let’s Talk About the Weather: Art and Ecology in a Time of Crisis”

Sursock Museum
Greek Orthodox Archbishopric Street, Ashrafieh
July 14–October 24

Claire Pentecost, Amor Fati, 2016, polluted water from Lebanese sources, hand-blown glass, recycled paper, printed banner, dimensions variable.

When this museum reopened last year after a long and painful renovation, it had transformed like a butterfly. The old cocoon was dainty and provincial. The new creature was colorful and strange—and also quite big, nearly five times its previous size, featuring an 8,600-square-foot exhibition hall, with double-high ceilings, plunged two stories underground. Before now, the museum had filled that cavernous new space with a major survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings (primarily) about Beirut, and a smaller, more intimate monographic exhibition for a largely unknown Lebanese modernist named Assadour. The first show to really own the renovation and prove the museum’s seriousness—about contemporary art, politics, and the lives of inhabitants of the city today—is now on view, organized by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Nora Razian.

The broader historical backdrops here include climate change, financial crisis, and the real-world usefulness of terms such as Anthropocene or its louche, renegade sister, Capitalocene. Closer to these contexts, this is the first such show to meaningfully respond to Lebanon’s mind-boggling political failure to sort its own garbage, both literally and metaphorically. (The country made headlines last summer when a confluence of factors—including governmental mismanagement, corruption in the private sector, and angry protests by an exasperated public—caused a total breakdown in trash collection services, leading to mountains of waste piling up in the streets.) The photographs, videos, sculptures, sound installations, publications, and prints by seventeen artists here take up themes of contamination, resource extraction, ruin, and waste. Sammy Baloji’s images of Congolese mines set the tone. Pedro Neves Marques’s animations, projecting economic growth and its catastrophes, lend the show a futurist edge. Monira Al Qadiri’s sculptures of pearl-colored deep-sea drill heads give it a sense of humor. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige’s drawings, photographs, and speculative archeological narratives about core samples from construction sites bring it all back home to postwar, reconstruction-era Beirut, debates about which first animated the city’s most interesting art scene twenty years ago, only to fall eerily silent since.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Diana Al-Hadid

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
New York University Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island Campus
March 3, 2016–May 28, 2016

View of “Diana Al-Hadid: Phantom Limb,” 2016. From left: Phantom Limb, 2014; Counter-Attack, 2016.

It is immediately palpable that there is something tremendously aged about this exhibition. Most of the pieces look like relics of a bygone era: Antiquated, fragmented, and in ruin, they appear like archaeological remains ready to tell of a forgotten past. Something even seems to have burned through The Sleepwalker, 2014, the first of Diana Al-Hadid’s works here. Perhaps the flames of history have licked across this piece set into the wall—a provocative welcome that sets an eerie mood of demise. Amusingly enough, though, the cavities in this polymer gypsum sculpture create charming shadows on the parquet floor.

A trio of works titled Attack, 2015, Attack Again, and Counter-Attack (both 2016) recall Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. But move a little closer and observe the plethora of colors—there’s something almost too pleasing about them. Another wall-mounted work, Still Life with Gold, 2014, glistens with the color of wealth. Smaller sculptures become dwarfed in this show, especially by Gradiva’s Fourth Wall, 2011, a monumental piece resembling a mythical relic.

At the center of the gallery is the show’s namesake installation, Phantom Limb, 2014, and, as its title suggests, there is a haunting, deep sense of morbidity here. It feels like a frightening wraith or an otherworldly being, shattered and fractured with the passing of time, the grief of neglect, or even the infliction of evil. Layer after delicate layer of this appendage speak of sorrow, but its creamy color induces a sense of awe, perhaps because it beckons death. Should we read a prayer for it, or blow and watch it turn into dust?

Myrna Ayad

“Lest We Forget: Emirati Family Photographs 1950-1999”

Warehouse421
Mina Zayed
November 19, 2015–June 18, 2016

HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Pakistan, ca. 1970s.

Sentiment is often at odds with contemporary art: If it is palatable, familiar, or familial, then it is not considered revolutionary, experimental, or new. This exhibition, “Lest We Forget: Emirati Family Photographs 1950–1999,” taken from an ongoing project started in 2010 on the women’s campus of Zayed University, proves otherwise by featuring a living archive of amateur photographs and films taken by Emirati citizens. It starts at a time when film reached the mass market and ends when digital cameras replaced analog technology. Families are encouraged to donate their own images to the display.

The viewer is exposed to a corrective measure toward a social history not accessible to the journalists and diplomats—themselves outsiders—who often illustrate Abu Dhabi for the rest of the world. The city has expanded at an unprecedented rate in the past decade, so it makes sense that these scratched, achromatic photos on torn scraps, bits of home videos with unsynchronized sound, and installations of vintage telephones, televisions, and Coca Cola bottles are contained in a severe, modern environment. The pristine space catalogues these notes of nostalgia in modular, clinical light boxes and interactive touchscreens displaying orderly family portraits and babies posed on carpets. Global clichés here expose the curiosities of modernity in a place that resembles a near-future science fiction, though one entrenched in its particular antiquities of tradition: Women appear to be mostly phased out of documentation after maturity, and a young HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan parades a falcon on his lap in the 1970s. The accompanying notation explains that the bird is rewarded with the heart of its prey—cut out by the boy’s father—and is served water in an Arabic coffee cup.

Jennifer Piejko

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige

Sharjah Art Foundation
Arts Area
March 12, 2016–June 12, 2016

View of “Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige,” 2016

Pictorially speaking, the modern history of Lebanon forms the predominant narrative in this room. This exhibition opens on a glorious note, with a large-scale aerial image of Beirut in Circle of Confusion, 1997–2014. Both the piece and its intended tryst with the viewer are romantic: mountains on one side, the Mediterranean on the other, and between them, a fabric of sun-drenched buildings in the Lebanese capital. Take a piece of Beirut with you; reach out—you’re invited to do so, as a viewer—and take one of the three thousand photographs on tiled paper squares that make up this artwork portraying this city. Watch the city gradually disappear, and watch yourself appear in a mirror that forms the hidden layer underneath. This is not just a thoughtful musing; it’s an emotional twister. Beirut is gone, but I am still here?

Awe-inspiring for its sheer size is The President’s Album, 2011, an arresting installation of a rocket made out of individual folded sheets of paper, which hangs on the left. Like the other artwork, it is fragmented, here in thirty-two parts. Why is the story of Lebanon so torn? Come closer to each Plexiglas box, discover a folded page within, and behold a great many secrets locked in these sheets. In these albums is the story of one Arab nation’s ambitious plans to join the space race.

Beside this work is another memorial: Photos of faceless men, whose images seemingly deteriorate over time, hang from the wall in Faces, 2009. Unidentified martyrs and politicians hauntingly stare back from their sepia-stained portraits. Does one need a face to remember? Perhaps. The next installation, 180 Seconds of Lasting Images, 2006, almost answers that question: In viewing 4,500 white-colored negatives that make up an abstract mosaic, one realizes that faces are extraneous. Here is a presence, a phantom, even. This is the show at its core: a spirit that remains.

Myrna Ayad

Noel McKenna

Darren Knight Gallery
840 Elizabeth Street
May 14, 2016–June 11, 2016

Noel McKenna, Liam Neeson and friend walking Central Park, NY, 2016, oil on plywood, 21 1/2 x 23 1/2".

By turns naive and discerning, Noel McKenna’s work is well known in Australia for its examination of the minutiae of suburban life. Based in Sydney since 1981, McKenna originally hails from Brisbane—a city that has only recently outgrown its reputation as a large country town—and a regionalist or “outsider” viewpoint is central to his work, which combines shrewdly observed scenes of everyday life with the aesthetics of amateur painting, replete with awkward three-dimensional perspectives, subdued colors, and idiosyncratic fixations. In his latest exhibition (which consists of fourteen small paintings as well as ceramic tiles, lithographs, and an ink-on-paper work), McKenna, now in his sixties, turns his eye to New York City, to which the artist has been traveling regularly over the last five years. The title, “Seltzer,” alludes to the Gomberg Seltzer Works in Brooklyn, a family-run business that has become a particular source of fascination for McKenna. A bottle of the beverage features in a still life of a drab-looking lunch, Beef Brisket on rye, Katz’s NY $16.95 US (all works cited, 2016).

Characteristic of the artist’s folkloric sensibility, customers having their shoes polished in Shoe Shine NY and Shoe Shine NY 2 are presented in vast and mostly empty interiors, as if self-conscious participants in an urban ritual. The works compel further engagement through subtle details, such as a hastily painted wall or a particularly pleasant shade of green. McKenna’s outdoor scenes of New York are the standouts, especially his dispassionate Water Tower A. NY and Water Tower C. NY, which pay homage to Bernd and Hilla Becher. Archetypal touristic observations are also featured, such as the queue for lunch in Katz’s Delicatessen NY and a random celebrity encounter in Liam Neeson and friend walking Central Park, NY. Less a paean to the city than a muted celebration of the overlooked, McKenna’s exhibition rewards patience, appearing as the product of someone who values privacy and who uses art to record things in the process of being lost.

Wes Hill

Darren Sylvester

Sullivan+Strumpf | Sydney
799 Elizabeth St
July 16, 2016–August 20, 2016

View of “Darren Sylvester: Broken Model,” 2016. Foreground: To Live, 2016; Background: Broken Model, 2016.

Darren Sylvester’s photographic and installation-based work transforms irony into sincerity, conflating commodity fetishism and ethereality in a way that recalls Jeff Koons’s well-honed aesthetic. The centerpiece here, from which the exhibition’s title is derived, is a more than ten-foot-wide photograph, Broken Model (all works 2016), which depicts a collapsed female model on a glittered stage, cared for by another model while three others stand in the background. Re-enacting a scene from Jean Paul Gaultier’s final womenswear show in Paris in 2014––where Canadian model Coco Rocha contrived a fainting spell––Sylvester exploits such theatrics to create a beauty-pageant version of a Renaissance tableau, at once touching and glamorously anemic. All five women appear again together in another large-scale photograph, Green Editorial, which shows them smiling straight into the camera with turquoise glitter-paint on their faces, referencing the joyous visages found in cosmetics advertisements.

In To Live––a sculptural installation of a catwalk covered with purple sand and an array of whole and halved coconuts made from bronze and porcelain––the clichéd images of tropical island life and the aspirational tone of high-end fashion become entwined, in a style that would not be out of place in a Louis Vuitton window display. Alluding to the artist’s recurrent use of modeling techniques, where scenes are re-created from everyday life and popular culture, the show avoids overt critique and wholeheartedly embraces artificiality and detachment to amplify uncertainty and polarize interpretation.

Wes Hill

Voluspa Jarpa

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba)
Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415
July 15–October 3

Voluspa Jarpa, Algunos estamos amenazados de muerte (Some of Us Were Threatened with Death), 2016, slideshow, dimensions variable.

The assassinations and espionage operations carried out in Latin America by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1948 to 1994 are the basis of Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa’s aesthetic criticism in this show. “En nuestra pequeña región de por acá” (In Our Little Region Over Here) revolves around the deaths and disappearances of forty-seven emblematic Cold War–era Latin American political leaders. The works on view have a number of commonalities: They are the product of fifteen years of research on the relationship between different Latin American governments and the CIA, and through many declassified CIA documents, they show erasure and censorship. The works in the exhibition also formulate a compelling hypothesis, indebted, perhaps, to Frances S. Saunders’s work on the funding of the CIA and the development of some North American cultural institutions and of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Jarpa’s critique points out that while the US was coordinating and undertaking shady political operations in alliance with secret organizations throughout Latin America, it was also bolstering Minimalism. In a context of elaborate acts of foul play and plans to put down social and economic demands, a “clean” and seemingly apolitical abstract aesthetic was taking hold. Jarpa envisions Donald Judd’s cubes—which the artist replicates and intervenes on here—as the symbol of that relationship.

While a large site-specific installation takes center stage in the exhibition, a small piece displayed in a tucked-away hallway of the museum is also of interest. The installation, Algunos estamos amenazados de muerte (Some of Us Were Threatened with Death), 2016, consists of a slide projection of images related to the deaths of prominent figures and the positions they held (bishops, senators, presidents). This work reveals, in a discreet and subtle fashion, the underbelly of public life.

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.

Mercedes Pérez Bergliaffa

Willys de Castro

Instituto de Arte Contemporanea (IAC)
Rua Alvaro Alvim 90, Vila Mariana
March 30, 2016–July 9, 2016

View of “Lado a Lado,” 2016.

The work of Willys de Castro is less silent than we assume. Sparsely hung with only two or three artworks in each of the exhibition’s four rooms, the Neo-concrete artist’s latest solo show gives his “Objeto Ativo” (Active Object) series, 1959-1962, enough space to breathe. Some of his most famous and influential pieces are on display, and the slender pieces of wood covered in geometric patterns engage with poems by the artist—many unknown until now—that are shown alongside the works.

Lado a Lado,” Portuguese for “side by side,” is the title of one such poem and also the name of the exhibition. It couldn’t be more fitting, as each artwork in “Objeto Ativo” is painted with a balanced and dualistic composition of complementary colors. On the typed page, the a in “lado a lado” is slightly below the rest of the words, occupying a place analogous to that of the viewer standing before the art, which hangs at a slightly elevated position on the wall. Somewhere in between, beholders are subject to the faint glow of two distinct chromatic experiences merging.

When he invented the Objeto Ativo in 1959, Castro was thinking about how art can trigger spontaneous choreographies in space. He hoped to manipulate the bodies of his audience in much the same way as Neo-concretists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. But unlike his Carioca colleagues, Castro lived in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, and sustained some of the austerity of the Concrete school that originated there. His oeuvre is thus closer to industrial design and less organic in nature. Here, we see him at his peak, poised between the rigidity of the concrete jungle and the Neo-concretist desire for movement that blossomed in Rio.

Silas Martí

Regina Silveira and Leandro Erlich

Luciana Brito Galeria
Avenida Nove de Julho 5162
June 11, 2016–August 13, 2016

Leandro Erlich, Blind Window, 2016, glass, fiberglass, 91 x 74 x 51".

When you approach this new space, it’s not easy to tell that it’s an art gallery, because what you first see is a house, which was designed in 1958 by Rino Levi, with landscaping by Roberto Burle Marx. It’s rooted in a peculiar relationship between interior and exterior in which nature, in the form of two outdoor gardens, makes its way in through the building’s glass walls. With Regina Silveira’s works and Leandro Erlich’s installation, this indoor-outdoor relationship is particularly gratifying. The concept has been a long-standing interest of both artists.

An exhibition of Silveira’s work at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in 2010 is the origin of her exhibition here. In the museum installation, the artist covered the glass facade with images of clouds. This exhibition is also suggestive of the atmosphere, as Silveira overglazes ceramic tiles—such as those that comprise the stunning panel Dreaming of Blue I (works cited 2016)—to re-create the sky indoors. Silveira has always been interested in encoding, and the cross-stitch patterns illuminate and simultaneously obfuscate meaning within these elegantly wrought pieces. Installed in the living room, Erlich’s Blind Window consists of a glass sheet with a window in the middle. Sealed off by bricks, this window gives rise to myriad speculations on the (in)visibility of the relationships between private and public space.

In the front garden and down in the cellar of the venue, several works from “Residência moderna” (Modern Residence)—the first exhibition held at this new site, just before this one—remain on display. The gallery continues to create a fluid and dynamic visual rapport between the works of art and the home that cradles them.

Translated from Portuguese by Jane Brodie.

Alexandre Melo