This intricately composed show of work by international artists living between two places is deeply self-reflective about the ways that human habitation is fundamentally shifting before our eyes. The nomadic art world is a relatively privileged site from which to observe these shifts, but it operates on many of the same principles that dictate mass migration and population relocation: opportunity, flexibility, annual patterns of movement, and an ever-increasing economically driven need to be able to be in more than one place at a time.
Here, sites overlap both in a literal sense, as in When 2 Places Look Alike, 2012–13, Clarissa Tossin’s study of Ford factory towns in Michigan and the Amazon forest that offers worker-housing analogues, and at a more abstract level: Formal layering and overlapping dominates the show, whether between the interactions of living and taxidermy birds in Dana Levy’s Silent Among Us, 2008, or in the surprisingly affecting small pebbles covering the windows of airplanes on postcards in Runo Lagomarsino’s OtherWhere, 2011. The lodestone of “Lives Between” is Enrique Ramírez’s International Sail, 2017, a tattered and heavily mended sail from a one-person Laser sailboat. Mounted upside down to both disorient and point to the global south, it yields a rich metaphor for precarious international workers caught up in currents, winds, and tides beyond their control. The overall curatorial argument suggests that, increasingly, the model for living between forgoes simple back-and-forth trajectories, demanding instead a simultaneous absence and presence in multiple places.
In this group exhibition, twenty-five artists depict the spiritual and physical ways in which water preserves life on this earth. Many of these works also politically attest to how water in various areas is being threatened. The exhibition’s title, “Échame Aguas” (“Keep a Lookout for Me”), gestures to solidarity with these communities and, ultimately, the wellbeing of the planet.
Blue flows throughout, from the walls to various pieces on view, suggesting the circulation of water. But even the gallery itself addresses a current crisis, through the installation Flint, Michigan, 2017, where visitors are asked to create prayer bundles that drape down from each letter of the city’s name, in order to commemorate those who are fighting for access to basic necessities every day. One wall showcases thirteen Risograph prints—each produced by a different artist from the Justseeds collective—that make a personal statement about the value of water. One, by Colin Matthes, titled Improvised Water Filters, 2016, presents three possible means of enhancing current filtration methods. Bec Young’s What We Do to Water, 2016, depicts a young child sitting by a lake containing roughly sketched bodies attempting to reach the surface. This image rests above a caption that reads: “what we do to water, we do to ourselves.” These works’ messages, positioned so closely to one another, highlight the necessity of a critical comprehension of water’s impact on all beings and communities in order to protect it accordingly for generations to come.
In 1987, Bay Area Conceptualist David Ireland focused a talk at the San Francisco Art Institute on Giacometti’s concept of the “disagreeable object,” a term the surrealist artist had used to refer to a group of his small, ugly sculptures that were meant to be thrown away. This new exhibition of Ireland’s work, along with astute interventions by Virginia Overton, considers the disagreeable object as a traveling, translated concept.
The centerpiece is Ireland’s A Decade Document, Withcomet, Andcomet, Andstool, 1980–90, a post-Minimalist tribute to ten years worth of toilet paper tubes. But the show’s crucial language can be found in the many small concrete, potato-like untitled sculptures the artist has called “torpedoes”—his own version of the disagreeable object—that irregularly punctuate the space (including the ceilings) like exclamation marks. Hovering in a state somewhere between abstraction and mere detritus, they emphasize the inherently humorous failure of Ireland’s other makeshift, ramshackle sculptures here.
Within this conversation, Overton’s site-specific sculptures and installations add a subtly different flavor by affecting cartoonish awkwardness and impending disaster, as in Untitled (Ham Chandelier), 2017, a huge cured ham that hangs precariously in the dining room of the venue, and out on the roof is an untitled section of a wooden piling beam bisected by a sheet of Plexiglas, as though it fell from invisible window above. The positioning of the show at this site, where Ireland lived for decades and where much of his work and collections reside as well, deepens the intimacy of the conversation among the three artists.
Tommy Hartung is one of a number of artists—including Huma Bhabha, Ry Rocklen, and Allyson Vieira—who assemble scavenged materials to make sculpture that evokes ancient civilizations. Hartung sets himself apart largely through his use of video and animation. The centerpiece of this compact overview, which also includes a selection of sculptures resembling African or Phoenician statues and a series of dreamlike Polaroid photographs, is the twelve-minute video King Solomon’s Mines, 2017. The video is the second installment in a three-part series inspired by Solomon, the biblical figure of vast wealth who serves as a perfect foil for the artist, who is fascinated by religion, epic tales, and the insurmountable gulf separating the rich from the poor. Although it doesn’t quite reach the level of Hartung’s astonishing masterpiece, THE BIBLE, 2014, this video has the same hypnotic energy and arresting imagery, such as a recurring figure in a turban who has, where his face should be, a moving image featuring white fluffy clouds in a blue sky. Also memorable is footage of a van traveling through the desert, kicking up a trail of dust in its wake as a crowd of riders cling to the roof and sides, and a clip from a commercial for a Land Rover, showing it as a rotating, gleaming object of desire. The title of the video is borrowed from that of an 1885 book by H. Rider Haggard, which is set in a fictionalized realm in Africa. Hartung, ever-sensitive and thoughtful, strikes a delicate balance between critiquing cultural tourism as exploitative and patronizing, and himself exploiting images of the Sahara (specifically the Tibesti Mountains in Chad) for its harshly sublime landscape. Using videos from a French tourist company, he taps into a history of the Sahara as a route for those seeking capital or imperialist gain, used by both adventure-hungry tourists and human traffickers.
The community of artists and writers revolving around salonièrre Mabel Dodge Luhan’s compound in Taos, New Mexico, in the early twentieth century provides the fulcrum for this sprawling exhibition. Works by well-known artists, such as Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin, occupy space alongside pieces by more obscure figures, including Rebecca “Beck” Salsbury James, Dorothy Brett, and Agnes Pelton. Many artists and writers traveled to Taos at the behest of Luhan, a prolific writer herself. Her fourth husband, Taos Pueblo Indian Antonio Lujan, opened the community to artists and writers, thus fostering a creative exchange between modernist and native traditions.
A highlight of the exhibition is an upstairs gallery where Pueblo artist Awa Tsireh’s watercolors and Brett’s vivid paintings depict native dances. The exhibition repeatedly refers to Luhan’s own complicated relationship with New Mexico’s multicultural heritage; her relocation to Taos was partly motivated by what she believed was a need to “save” the Pueblo culture endangered from American encroachment. Luhan’s exhibition of “primitive” (her term) devotional objects as modern art in a New York exhibition in 1919 likewise points to Luhan’s—as well as many modernist artists’ and audiences’—difficulty accepting the art of non-Anglo cultures on its own terms. A striking visual example of this complex dynamic between modernism and Hispanic art is on view in another gallery, in which Luhan’s own Hispano santos, which she donated to the Harwood after she was criticized for her treatment of the paintings in a 1925 essay she wrote, appear with Hartley’s own riff on a santo. The juxtaposition underscores the ways in which modernist artists often appropriated other cultures’ works, emptying them of original meaning yet creating new meaning as well.
The show’s thirteen artists inhabit a dual space straddling the US–Mexico border: All either split their time between the two countries or have immigrated from one side to the other. Asked to engage with the idea of home, the artists present simultaneously personal and political works; issues of identity, social justice, and history all coalesce in this multifaceted and complex exhibition.
In One-Way Mirror, 2017, Jaime Carrejo projects two videos—one of the Mexican landscape shot from El Paso, and one of El Paso as seen from Mexico—on the acutely angled walls of a cavernous passageway. Bisecting the projections, a surface of tinted acrylic both obscures and reveals the scenes behind it, evoking the sense of limited access and desire inherent in the borderland experience. Some artists in “Mi Tierra” collaborated with Denver’s immigrant population: Daniela Edburg’s knitted Alpaca wool reproductions of local rocks, grasses, and lichen accompany photographs of Denver residents styled after Hans Holbein paintings, while Daisy Quezada combines porcelain castings of clothing—much of it worn by recent immigrants either during or after border crossings—with sound recordings of narrated migration experiences. Sometimes abstraction conveys notions of place and identity: In Xochi Solis’s large-scale collages, solid colors and imagery from books and magazines together become a metaphor for lives formed by multiple national identities or environments. In Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus No. 36, 2016, thousands of threads form a gossamer prism spanning an entire gallery wall. Inspired by the strict gender binaries governing Dawe’s own boyhood in Mexico (he was not allowed to sew as a child), the work exuberantly celebrates transcending cultural limitations.
It’s tempting to remark on the timeliness of a show featuring work that confronts issues surrounding immigration and identity during such a contentious period in United States history. But one should also note that the exhibited artists’ practices predate the election—and these concerns have informed their work long before the rest of the country awoke (or were reawakened) to their importance.
For two days during the winter of 1993, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco performed as ostensible natives from the mythical island of Guatinaui in the main lobby of Chicago’s Field Museum. In a sturdy cage, the pair of artists enacted supposedly traditional dances, crafted voodoo dolls, watched TV, and paced the interior perimeter of their confine. Fusco wore a grass skirt and face paint, while Gómez-Peña donned a wrestling mask and blue shorts. The performance was an act of absurdist cultural appropriation, which in turn exposed the unethical and routine practices of Western colonization and museology. The outrageousness of this work was stunning then, and more recently I found myself craving its critical brazenness when viewing Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition of hard-edge paintings and beaded works that also challenge assumptions of cultural ownership.
Gibson, who is half Cherokee, draws a formal line from the visual languages of native heritages to that of twentieth-century modern abstraction. These expertly converge in an acrylic painting made up of gradient bands of orange, red, green, and blue. Titled Thinking of You, 2015, the diptych supports a substrate of stretched rawhide that is visible along the edges of the triangular composition. This painting, along with the artist’s other acrylic abstractions, stands in contrast to his bedazzled objects. For example, a red radiant square motif densely patterned with glass beads, copper jingles, and metal studs is branded with beaded text that reads “In numbers too big to ignore,” abandoning abstract painting’s formal and analytic discourse for a radically indeterminate investigation into the contemporary complications of originality, invention, and authority. Moreover, all of Gibson’s beaded work addresses the ethically fraught issues and critical potential of cultural appropriation, a subject as pressing today as it was when Fusco and Gómez-Peña performed as “natives” in a natural history museum.
An international group show featuring work by twenty-three artists, “Question the Wall Itself” probes compromised interiorities; the political bleeds into the domestic, while the institutional frames emotional bonds and bodies alike, most palpably in Akram Zaatari’s installation All Is Well on the Border, 2008. Poetic and cerebral, the exhibition features a wide range of media, including paintings, tracings, texts, drawings, moving images, sculptural objects, and room-filling installations, such as Rosemarie Trockel’s ominous As Far as Possible, 2012—an uncomfortably bright, white-tiled room where caged mechanical birds flutter and a plastic palm tree protrudes stalactite-style from the ceiling.
Curated by Fionn Meade with Jordan Carter, the show is dense with allusions to the history of art, architecture, and décor. To convey the unreliability of these echoes, Marcel Broodthaers’s parrot from Dites partout que je l’ai dit (Say Everywhere I Said So), 1974, presides over the works on view. Shifts in scale, color, and perspective heighten a degree of disorientation, as in the miniature tinted interiors shown upside down in Paul Sietsema’s film Empire, 2002. Materials, too, imbue objects with ambiguous sensibilities: oil on canvas masquerades as marble in Lucy McKenzie’s Loos House, 2013, while ceramic floor tiles mimic cracked dirt and raw cement in Nina Beier’s Tileables, 2014. Things are not as they seem.
The air of uncanny déjà vu thickens with Cerith Wyn Evans’s slowly rotating potted palm. As the show unfolds, objects appear increasingly withdrawn, and our ability to know them, dubious. The empty vitrine in Danh Vō’s All Your Deeds Shall in Water Be Writ, but This in Marble, 2010–, best intimates the pervasive sense of suspended certainties, which is perhaps all the more reason to question the walls that surround us, any and all walls.
Claire Morgan refigures the tradition of Minimalism and post-Minimalism in the whimsical yet startlingly affecting works in her first solo exhibition in the United States. Using nylon thread to stitch together shreds of plastic, insects, small pieces of lead, butterflies, and other materials into constellations of three-dimensional geometric shapes, Morgan creates a meditative fragility out of the scraps of environmental degradation. Caught within the ghostly matrix of her sculptures are taxidermy animals, seemingly trapped by the artist’s meticulous structures. If you go down to the woods today, 2014, quietly dominates an entire gallery with its subtle forms. The wraiths of three boxlike forms emerge as the viewer walks around the work, with tiny fragments of pastel orange polythene absorbing the room’s dim lighting and producing a suffused, contemplative aura. Butterflies punctuate the exquisite web and a small taxidermy Muntjac deer stands tensely amid the gossamer threads, as if awestruck by its strange surroundings.
The show also displays a number of Morgan’s two-dimensional works. The large 2016 triptych Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds imagines ecological devastation as a quiet apocalypse playing out on the surface of a nearly blank canvas that the artist used as a preparation surface for the taxidermy process. Gestural black marks and the barest outline of a snarling, supine creature appears from the dried fluids of dead animals, succinct but messy moments of crisis in a void of white.
In this solo exhibition comprising primarily live performances and installations, the Los Angeles–based and gender-nonconforming artist Cassils uses their naked body to explore the often pervasive violence against LGBTQI subjects. Their performance Becoming an Image, 2013–, pivots around the artist pummeling a 2,000-pound mass of clay in a pitch-black room. What the audience experiences, positioned around this main action, is chiefly aural: They hear Cassils breathing or the moments when their fists hit the clay. However, the artist has strategically positioned a photographer, whose camera’s flash illuminates the scene for brief moments of time. The resulting, spectral afterimage is a metaphor for the fugitive yet irrepressible histories of trauma hinted at by the exhibition’s title, “Phantom Revenant.”
When the light intrudes, the passive viewer becomes visible, too. The six-channel video installation Powers That Be, 2015–17, further meditates on those who bear witness to trauma yet fail to act. Each channel plays a recording of a performance in which Cassils has a brutal fight with an invisible opponent. The video is composed entirely of an amalgamation of cell-phone recordings of this scene by an audience, who become implicated as voyeurs.
Also on view are selections of ephemera from the Queer Omaha Archives. They ground the exhibition within the queer culture of Nebraska, as will a performance on April 29 involving the artist pushing a 1,300-pound bronze piece—cast from the clay of a previous iteration of Becoming an Image—around locations in downtown Omaha where violence against LGBTQI people has taken place.
Jessica Halonen’s exhibition has more than the color blue in common with author Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009), which features a prose style that threads together 240 fragments around blue and its many historical associations. Halonen’s elegantly precise exhibition comprising four discrete works advances an appreciation for refined craft, art history, the aesthetic of wonder, and scholarly research into the eighteenth-century discovery of Prussian blue. Similar to the literary snippets of Bluets, each contribution to this show commingles the familiar with the inexplicable, science with enchantment, history with illusion. Yet taken together, the installation also hums with classical representations of beauty.
New Years Gift 1883 (Flowers after Manet), 2016, is an iconic blue cyanotype reproducing one of Manet’s last still lifes. Halonen printed the appropriated image on a piece of unstretched linen and juxtaposes it with an uncommonly long horizontal composition titled A Clock Stopped (Flowers after Manet), 2017. This acrylic painting depicts twelve bouquets against a nondescript black ground. Gestural yet homogenous brushstrokes that make up the colorful peonies, roses, and lavender glow like stained glass and offer a contrast to a graphic beige painting Mother’s Day (White Vase), 2016, which hosts a generic silhouette of vase incised with bands of parallel lines. The sole sculpture in the collection, Untitled (Interior Wall), 2016, imitates a stud-and-frame construction. Wrought in reclaimed pine and set perpendicular to the gallery wall, a decorative and heavy plank of marble takes the place of a cross support in this faux wall framework. But as with the transitional light of the blue hour, that fleeting moment of time between day and night, Halonen’s work also reminds us that Manet’s realism, cut flowers, polished marble, and this hue are unstable, unknowable, and ephemeral.
One can circulate around Jennifer West’s latest installation, Film Is Dead . . ., 2016, but it is most potent when you are standing in front of it. A giant static curtain of 70-mm filmstrips comes down to the floor and spreads toward three seamlessly joined horizontal monitors positioned on the ground, creating a peculiar silent landscape. The screens play digitized versions of the filmstrips’ movies, resulting in vibrant, hypnotic, often colorful abstract collages in motion.
Although there is no explicit narrative in these films—made with leftovers from the artist’s hand-manipulated, camera-less films and film stocks—a story lies behind each strip, one that goes beyond the aggressive handling of both the materials and the ideology of Hollywood cinema. Observing how the artist applied salt, a nipple, spray-paint marks, or even stabs, kisses, red splashes, and stripes—all alluding to the movie industry, except for the stripes, which is a wink to Godard—on these ribbons and then translated them to the screen is as fascinating as trying to decipher what is secreted by each of them. Her gestures and multiple references to cinema history, as well as the artist’s own background, are intensely embedded in the celluloid.
The shift from analog to digital is incarnated in this monumental installation, as are the origins of cinema: attraction and spectacle. The obsolescence or death of analog film is clearly the subject here, though, and West is able to convey the melancholy such a passage engenders. It is indeed dying, but it can still enthrall.
For her latest exhibition, Peruvian artist Ximena Garrido-Lecca has turned the gallery into a botany lab. A wooden structure that climbs up three walls like bleachers supports bean plants (grown and nurtured for five months) and an irrigation system made of clay inside a room with a regulated temperature and water supply. The exhibition’s subtitle, “Phaseolus lunatus,” references this species of bean, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times. On a small table facing the botanical structure, a copy of an Edict Against Idolatry (written in 1621) regarding the native tradition of worshiping plants is placed next to a wooden grid that will be periodically filled with a selection of beans during the exhibit, enacting a cultural (re)assessment and restitution of the edict as a metaphor of other beliefs condemned by the Spaniard missionaries—for instance, that no Moche language ever existed (the Moches where the original settlers in the area), even though archeologists have determined they had a spoken language represented in ideograms. Garrido-Lecca effectively and symbolically turns the invader’s language back on itself as she’ll perform a shamanistic translation of the edict from Spanish into a graphic form using the beans during the exhibition. The particular shape and colors of each bean placed inside the wooden grid will be painted on the facade of this institution as the work evolves. Botanical, sculptural, and architectural in nature, the entire installation works on an aesthetic level, but also on a historical-political one.
The show develops questions about colonialism and its burdens—issues that remain relevant today—and the reticent existence of these pinto beans. Each time a leaf sprouts, the plants continue to vanquish their violent past, and it is this work’s underlying hope for survival that allows us to breathe.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.