Gilda Williams

  • Jenkin van Zyl, Surrender, 2023, 4K video, color, sound, 48 minutes 46 seconds.

    Jenkin van Zyl

    Nothing could have prepared me for Jenkin van Zyl’s extreme visual extravaganza, the nearly fifty-minute film Surrender, 2023. Not the enormous, room-size, rodent-faced, silver inflatable hellmouth at the gallery’s entrance, or the subsequent corridors, filled with a tangle of Lamson pneumatic tubes (an antiquated building-wide tentacular delivery system). Not the four white-sheeted hotel beds, equipped with Soviet-era medicine cabinets, which provided the screening-room’s seating. Van Zyl’s scattergun panoply of interests read like random Google search terms, encompassing not only theatrical

  • View of “Veronica Ryan,” 2022. Photo: Eva Herzog.

    Veronica Ryan

    Veronica Ryan’s many varieties of small sculpture often feel cushioned from the world. In the Turner Prize-winning artist’s floor works Momento Mori I and III, both 2022, cast-bronze life-size seeds and fruit—each about the size of your hand—rested comfortably on spongy medical pillows. Quilted fabric softly encased broad beans in the wall work Collective Moments VIII, 2001. In Oblong Space in the Corner, 2022, a stack of cardboard containers kept cast-bronze mango seeds aloft, as if they were resting atop countless tiny mattresses. Each lightweight sculpture was placed idiosyncratically, whether

  • Leilah Babirye, Nansamba II from the Kuchu Ngabi (Antelope) Clan, 2021, glazed ceramic, bicycle-tire inner tubes, found objects, 48 × 29 × 31".

    Leilah Babirye

    Leilah Babirye’s ceramic head Nansamba II from the Kuchu Ngabi (Antelope) Clan (all works 2021) is a powerful, astonishing sculpture. With eyes closed, apparently lost in bliss or meditation, the magnificent piece, some four feet tall, patiently allows multiple washes of glossy blue glazes to stream down its huge smooth face. Nansamba II’s elaborate hairstyle is a tall and tangled wonder, rising almost architecturally about one and a half feet above its scalp. Constructed from old bicycle-tire inner tubes, this spectacular bouffant refers to, among other things, the artist’s former employment

  • Kapwani Kiwanga, Sisal #1, 2021, sisal fiber on mild steel oval rings, dimensions variable.

    Kapwani Kiwanga

    Both meanings of the word plot—a storyline and a parcel of land—overlapped in Kapwani Kiwanga’s complex exhibition “Cache.” Fifty years ago, Jamaican writer Sylvia Wynter brilliantly drew a connection between the two disparate meanings: Both kinds of plots, Wynter observed, were transformed by the founding of a market economy. Small single-family holdings that connected humans to the earth through cultivation, ancestry, and folklore vanished with the rise of vast, single-crop, labor-intensive estates. Around the same time, the novel innovated literary narratives centering on protagonists freed

  • Matt Bollinger, Between the Days, 2017, painted stop-motion animated video, color, sound, 18 minutes.

    Matt Bollinger

    The blistering Kansas City sun was a central protagonist in Matt Bollinger’s exhibition “Collective Conscious,” joining a cast of characters that also included Candy, a middle-aged woman alone in her shadow-filled living room in the painting Daytime Soaps, 2020, and Carolyn and James, a mother and son observed in the stop-motion animation Between the Days, 2017, as they go about their soul-numbing daily routines. Toward the beginning of that eighteen-minute-long work, the pearly glare of Midwestern morning sun gently spreads over a car window before James arrives and drives to work, as he does

  • A performance at Pace Gallery of Jean Dubuffet’s Fragments - Coucou Bazar, first staged at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1973. All photos by author.
    diary June 13, 2021

    Open Season

    THE HARDEST PART of the first-ever London Gallery Weekend wasn’t attempting to visit the 130 official galleries, plus dozens of unlisted events, in a city about twice the area of Berlin or New York. The real challenge was recognizing people you’d not seen in a year only from their eyes, peering above face masks. Resocializing after a year spent cocooned in one’s tiny domestic bubble—relearning to chat with humans unable to finish your every sentence, for example—proved a newfound struggle. And is it safe to hug hello? Or must we perform that weird elbow rub, with its masonic secret-handshake

  • Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers), An Occidental Incident at the Oriental Gardens at Kew. A failed assassination attempt on Helen, the Crimson Queen, by disgruntled members of the Force Liberté, a guerilla unit operating in the African and Caribbean theatre. Atari., 2020, acrylic and ink on canvas, 44 × 30".

    Umar Rashid (Frohawk Two Feathers)

    The botanical gardens of Kew were founded in 1759—roughly the midpoint of Umar Rashid’s epic, image-and-text fiction about the Frenglish Empire, an imagined colonial superpower that lasted from 1658 through 1880. The canvas whose very long title begins An Occidental Incident at the Oriental Gardens at Kew, 2020, presents rows of warring white and Black soldiers, all dressed in hybrid military costumes combining British redcoat elegance with Napoleonic finery. These stylized armies of nearly identical Black or white men—sometimes repeated like paper-doll cutouts, a few curiously sporting today’s

  • Amalia Ulman, El Planeta, 2021, DCP, black-and-white, sound, 79 minutes. Leonor and María (Amalia Ulman and Ale Ulman).
    film January 31, 2021

    Continental Grift

    EL PLANETAbilled as “a comedy about eviction” and the first feature film by artist Amalia Ulman, is loosely based on the real-life Spanish mother-daughter petty-crime duo Justina and Ana Belén. Arrested in 2012, the penniless yet elegant pair posed as wealthy ladies and scammed countless restauranteurs and shop-owners—who’d trusted the apparently well-heeled women to eventually settle their bill­—out of thousands of euros. In El Planeta, lead actor Ulman (who also wrote the screenplay) plays fashion student Leonor who, in the aftermath of her father’s death, can no longer afford her London

  • Tavares Strachan, No Name in the Street, 2020, two panels, oil, enamel, and pigment on acrylic, overall 96 × 96".

    Tavares Strachan

    Encyclopedia of Invisibility, 2018, is a massive, 2,400-page volume in which Bahamas-born, New York–based artist Tavares Strachan collected extraordinary yet “invisible” histories, often of overlooked people of color. These include North Pole explorer Matthew Henson; NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson; and the first African American astronaut, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. Henrietta Lacks’s cells have been used in vital laboratory experiments since her untimely death in 1951—her “anonymous” DNA has been on permanent loan to science, without her consent. Alicia Alonso was the Cuban-born star of

  • Khadija Saye, Limoŋ, 2017, silk screen on vinyl, 24 1/8 × 19 3/4". © The Estate of Khadija Saye.

    Khadija Saye

    More than seventy people perished in the Grenfell Tower blaze of June 2017, when a fire began in a fourth-floor apartment and, owing to the building’s treacherously inflammable exterior cladding, rapidly spread to engulf the entire social-housing tower. Among the dead was British Gambian artist Khadija Saye, at home with her mother on the twentieth floor, presumably obeying the firefighters’ advice to stay put until help arrived. Only twenty-four years old when she tragically died, Saye was “on the cusp of something special,” as London Member of Parliament David Lammy said at the momentous

  • No Martins, Campo minado (self-portrait) (Mine Field [Self-Portrait]), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 7'2 5/8" × 14'1 1/4".

    No Martins

    In the mid-twentieth century, Brazil’s multishaded racial democracy may have looked good compared to Jim Crow policies in the United States, but lately, bolstered by the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, the “tropical Trump,” racism in Brazil has violently worsened. In a country where about half the population is nonwhite, three-quarters of the victims of police killings are black.

    This was the grim context for the exhibition “Social Signs,” displaying four of Brazilian artist No Martins’s large, brightly colored figurative paintings. His black-skinned subjects include a defiant-looking mother standing

  • Joey Holder, Semelparous, 2020, still from the 7-minute, 47-second 4K video component of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising digital prints, wood, MDF, and paint.

    Joey Holder

    By the time female European eels complete their three-thousand-mile, one-to-two-year-long swim from the continent’s rivers back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, they’ve devoured most of their own skeletons and muscle mass and basically resemble mobile sacks of eggs. Eels are semelparous, meaning they reproduce only once during their lifetime, investing all their energy, body weight, and existential drive (so to speak) in that single journey.

    Although European eels are critically endangered (their population is down by roughly 90 percent since the 1970s in great part due to illegal overfishing), Joey