Daniel Birnbaum

  • View of “Philippe Parreno: Anywhen,” 2016, Tate Modern, London.

    Daniel Birnbaum

    1 PHILIPPE PARRENO (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY ANDREA LISSONI WITH VASSILIS OIKONOMOPOULOS) Parreno has turned the Turbine Hall into a mesmerizing machine producing light, sound, cinematic effects, and choreography: Inflated fish float in the air, huge planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivism ascend and descend inscrutably in the semidarkness, and a flickering apparatus seems to send out signals that trigger reactions throughout the entire museum. There are echoes of Duchamp and Cage, and even more obviously Richard Hamilton. But this expansive machinery goes beyond such precursors in

  • FLORAL IMPERATIVE: THE ART OF WILLEM DE ROOIJ

    WHETHER AS A CREATOR of ravishing bouquets and sumptuous textiles or as a curator of disparate but uniformly stunning objects, WILLEM DE ROOIJ has never shied away from beauty. But, as DANIEL BIRNBAUM argues in the pages that follow, de Rooij has been equally unflinching in his insistence on the political and historical dimensions of aesthetic experience, from imperialist tropes that have persisted across centuries to the modernist tension between allegory and abstraction. In advance of the Dutch artist’s exhibition at Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst–MMK 2 next month—a show that will trace the arc of de Rooij’s career, from works he created with Jeroen de Rijke to his practice as it has unfolded since his collaborator’s untimely death in 2006—Birnbaum elucidates de Rooij’s seductive investigations of form, both its engagement and its autonomy.

    IN THE LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, Dutch artist Melchior d’Hondecoeter painted a suite of curious avian fantasias. These pictures, whose extravagantly plumed subjects are depicted in elegant gardens or unspoiled wilderness, have lost none of their charm, but viewers today may feel a certain uneasiness in their contemplation. If you are used to thinking about art in terms of its historical and political contexts, you can hardly help noticing that in these beguiling scenes we find European and “exotic” birds improbably commingling under the dominion of the Western eye. Though d’Hondecoeter’s artistic

  • Anri Sala, Ravel Ravel, 2013, two-channel HD video, sixteen-channel sound installation, color, 20 minutes 45 seconds.

    “Anri Sala: Answer Me”

    Anyone who has followed Anri Sala’s career will have noticed the key role acoustics play in his films and installations: modernist music, free jazz, punk rock, even just the sound of a lone snare drum. Often distorted through delays and echoes, a tune might at first be indecipherable: In Tlatelolco Clash, 2011, for instance, a recognizable version of the Clash’s hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” emerges only toward the end. As in many of Sala’s works, the fractured music seems to echo the historical and political ruptures of the site where it is performed—here,

  • Robert Gober, Untitled, 2005–2006, aluminum leaf, oil, and enamel on cast lead crystal, 4 3/4 × 4 1/4 × 4 1/4".

    Daniel Birnbaum

    1 ROBERT GOBER (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ANN TEMKIN AND PAULINA POBOCHA) “The Heart Is Not a Metaphor” made the most enigmatic of artists even more inscrutable—and even more attractive. Although I first came across his strange sinks more than a quarter of a century ago, I still haven’t come to grips with Gober’s work; each time I returned to this show, the artist’s hyperreal, exquisitely rendered limbs, candles, and hairy legs got even weirder and better. “Minimal forms with maximum content,” as John Russell smartly characterized these intense objects back in 1985. But

  • View of “Elements of Architecture,” 2014, Central Pavilion, Venice. Fireplace display. From the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo: Francesco Galli.

    Daniel Birnbaum

    1 “KANDINSKY, MALEVICH, MONDRIAN: THE INFINITE WHITE ABYSS” (K20 KUNSTSAMMLUNG NORDRHEIN-WESTFALEN, DÜSSELDORF; CURATED BY MARION ACKERMANN AND ISABELLE MALZ WITH ANSGAR LORENZ) In a nice twist to the ubiquity of the modernist black square, this excellent show explored the use of white in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. The monochrome labyrinth of the exhibition space itself conveyed the sense of walking around inside a monumental Mondrian painting. Iconic works were given ample space presented alone on individual walls, while four compact laboratories introduced

  • View of “Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988,” 2014. Works from the series “Bichos” (Beasts), 1960–66. Photo: Thomas Griesel.

    Lygia Clark

    WHEN ONE OF YOUR HANDS touches the other, something peculiar happens: You become aware of the strange ambivalence that makes your body different from all other things. Your hand is an object in the world, but it is also something you experience from within. And the hand you touch is also both an object and a feeling, sensing part of your embodied self. The touched thing is also touching. This ambiguity of corporeal life—of the active/passive, inside/outside, subject/object—is what phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty spent his life trying to elucidate, and in the late 1950s, Brazilian

  • “Sturtevant: Double Trouble”

    This first major US retrospective of Sturtevant’s work, which will include some fifty pieces made between 1961 and 2014, is necessary. It is necessary both for the artist, who adopted style as her medium, and for MoMA, which, in seeing its canon reflected in her oeuvre, might come to understand itself better. Half a century ago, Sturtevant realized that if you take a work of art—a painting by Jasper Johns or a silk-screened print by Andy Warhol, say—and repeat it, something becomes visible. She called that thing the “understructure” of art.

  • Roberto Cuoghi

    There really is no one like Roberto Cuoghi, the brilliant Italian weirdo who launched his career as an artist by transforming himself into his own father. Physically. I will never forget encountering the young man on a terrace in Turin, a bit chunky with a gray beard, wearing a 1970s-style suit and glasses. He looked sixty-five. More recent projects are just as demanding and peculiar. Who else would spend two years learning ancient Assyrian well enough to write and perform an imaginary lament from 612 BC, accompanying the singing with his own

  • Roman Signer, Unfall als Skulptur (Accident as Sculpture), 2008. Performance view, Kunstraum Dornbirn, Austria, 2008.

    Roman Signer

    Roman Signer is the only artist that I know of who possesses an official license to blow things up. And it isn’t just for show. The Swiss artist, who creates much of his work outside, takes his sweeping native landscape as his studio, often staging destructive processes and massive performances involving fire. Though this exhibition will be installed predominantly indoors, it will nevertheless feature Signer’s signature alchemical transformations of everyday objects (such as chairs, tables, or a model helicopter) into assemblages of newly exploded

  • Arthur C. Danto

    IT WAS A SNOWY DAY in January 1994 when I knocked on the door of Professor Arthur C. Danto’s office at Columbia University for the first time. He opened it and looked at me with his strangely squinting eyes. I introduced myself as the new guest student from Sweden. “Terrific,” he said—I should definitely meet his Swedish wife. And that very night, unlikely as this might sound, I found myself having martinis at Danto’s apartment on Riverside Drive, with his not-so-Swedish but delightful wife, artist Barbara Westman. They had just been in Stockholm, it turned out, invited by the Nobel

  • View of “1938: Kunst, Künstler, Politik,” 2013–14. From left: Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Ausblick aus dem Nachtlokal (View from the Nightclub), 1930; Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Lissy, 1931; Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Eine Pflasterkolonne (II) (A Plaster Column [II]), 1931; Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, In der Barkasse (In the Barge), 1930. Photo: Uwe Dettmar.

    “1938: Kunst, Künstler, Politik”

    TO SAY THAT YOU LOVE THE AVANT-GARDE was once proof that you were on the right side of history. That moment is now over, as evidenced by the impeccable timing of the well-researched exhibition “1938: Kunst, Künstler, Politik” (1938: Art, Artists, Politics) at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. Conceived by critic Julia Voss, implemented by curator Eva Atlan, and designed by artist Tobias Rehberger and his studio, the show underscored the complex and traumatic intersections of political and cultural prerogatives during one fateful year.

    That annus horribilis is catching up to us. The recent discovery

  • “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Splendid Hotel”

    A luminous pavilion of glass and steel opened in 1887, Madrid’s technologically advanced Palacio de Cristal was capable of simulating equatorial climate conditions and was intended to showcase the exotic flora of the Philippines, a Spanish colony until 1898. In short, the structure—now owned by the Reina Sofía—already sounds like a work by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, so it is no surprise that the French artist was drawn to the site. In characteristic form, she is offering few details in advance of her show, a site-specific intervention. But given that the