Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  • View of “Four Artists-Craftsmen: Ruth Asawa, Ida Dean, Merry Renk, Marguerite Wildenhain,” 1954, San Francisco Museum of Art. Photo: Blair Stapp.

    PRODUCTIVE TENSIONS

    CAST YOUR MIND, if you can bear it, back to the disorienting first year of the pandemic. Late in the summer of 2020, a crackling moment of possibility broke through the leaden mood, albeit briefly, when all of a sudden it seemed as though one extraordinary woman might be poised to save not only the United States Postal Service but the practice of voting and democracy itself. Ruth Asawa’s commemorative stamps launched in San Francisco on August 13. In place of in-person events, a handful of online festivities and formalities heralded their arrival. Often described as an artist’s artist, Asawa

  • Bassem Saad, Congress of Idling Persons, 2021, 4K video, color, sound, 36 minutes.

    CLOSE-UP: THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS

    THE SET OF BASSEM SAAD’S assured, playful, and provocative video Congress of Idling Persons, 2021, is strewn with the accoutrements of pandemic and protest: a tent, a table covered with onions, a spirometer (for testing lung capacity), bottles of medicine that a young woman compulsively cracks open and closes. Some of the objects are for aiding a patient’s recovery from illness, others for enduring protracted demonstrations or mitigating the effects of tear gas. Shot in part inside the theater of a much-loved Beirut cabaret, Congress meticulously braids together three tumultuous events, four

  • Etel Adnan, Turkey, ca. 1973–74. Photo: Simone Fattal.

    ETEL ADNAN (1925–2021)

    IN SHIFTING THE SILENCE (2020), her last book of poetry published in her lifetime, Etel Adnan begins with the word yes and ends, just seventy-four pages later, with an image of night falling like snow, erasing a landscape she has conjured from memory or imagination. In between, Adnan assembles a delicate inventory of the places and ideas she loved over nearly a century. Her colorful and unabashedly cosmopolitan life crisscrossed a world of upheaval—the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse; the cruelties of French colonization; the breakdown of the state in Lebanon; wars in Algeria, Vietnam,

  • Shuruq Harb, All the Names, 2011/2021, steel and vinyl, 9' 2 1⁄4" × 16' 6 7⁄8".

    Shuruq Harb

    The showstopper of Shuruq Harb’s “Ghost at the Feast” was a freestanding wall full of names and dates, 207 of them in total, placed flush on small rectangular plates made of steel, paint, and vinyl. Taller than a person and wider than a truck, the work bisected the largest exhibition hall in the Beirut Art Center, obscuring one of the doors to the venue’s theater, where rights groups such as Legal Agenda were meeting to discuss issues well beyond art. The nameplates, made in the style of the city’s neighborhood-level street signage, featured crisp white print on deep-blue backgrounds—reminiscent,

  • Ouattara Watts, Vertigo #2, 2011, acrylic, paper pulp, fabric, and fur on canvas, 9' 10 1⁄4" × 13' 9 1⁄2" × 33⁄4".

    MAXIMUM IMPACT

    MYTHOLOGIES RARELY SERVE the artists who inspire them. Ouattara Watts has now entered his fifth decade of painting. His oeuvre consists of the large-to-monumental canvases he has been making prodigiously for forty-five years, alongside lesser-known watercolors, gouaches, drawings, and collages. Over time, he has developed an expansive and wildly complex visual language. It is also unabashedly joyful, even beautiful, insisting on a universal purpose for painting. More than a body, his is a forest of works, too vast, dense, and important to be detoured by an origin story. And yet the origin story

  • Jumana Manna, A Magical Substance Flows into Me, 2016, DCP, color, sound, 66 minutes.
    film May 30, 2021

    Freedom Songs

    IN 1935, a German ethnomusicologist named Robert Lachmann was fired from his library job and fled from the Nazis to Jerusalem. Born in Berlin to a Jewish family, he had learned to speak fluent Arabic as a young man and had begun to study the forms and structures of Arabic song while working as an interpreter for North African POWs during World War I. He later traveled to Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, conducting extensive fieldwork on secular and liturgical music while developing a wide area of expertise ranging from medieval to modern songs and encompassing everything from Kurdish and

  • Sirine Fattouh, Fida Bizri, and Sylvie Ballyot’s children’s art workshop, Beirut, August 19, 2020. Photo: Sirine Fattouh.

    ON THE GROUND: BEIRUT

    IN THE SUMMER OF 551, a massive earthquake struck the Eastern Mediterranean. It was late in the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian I. Beirut at the time was famous for its law school. The city had already been settled for thousands of years. It had been destroyed and rebuilt several times over by ransacking armies who prized the maritime possibilities of its port. The quake of 551 triggered a fire, a landslide, and a devastating tsunami, which pulled back the sea and then pounded the coast. Beirut was leveled. More than thirty thousand people are thought to have died. The city remained in

  • Moyra Davey, i confess, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 56 minutes 46 seconds.

    SPEAKING VOLUMES

    OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS, the artist Moyra Davey has made ten ever more luminous and ambitious films. Each of them is at once a work of continuity and rupture, from the quirky Hell Notes, 1990, which scours the bedrock of Manhattan and loops around the island’s coastline while piecing together a collage-like Super 8 meditation on the subjects of land, money, sewage, and waste, to the prickly i confess, 2019, which links a passionate rereading of James Baldwin’s ravishing novel Another Country (1962) to an extremely discomforting reconsideration of the writer Pierre Vallières, who led the

  • 1943 catalogue card of Neo-Hittite orthostats from Tell Halaf, Syria, 10th–9th century BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

    LET THE RECORD SHOW

    TWO COLOSSAL STONE BEASTS guard the archway over the threshold of gallery 401, on the second floor of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, just south of the grand balcony overlooking the architectural splendor of the institution’s great hall. The alabaster figures are about three thousand years old and weigh some sixteen thousand pounds each. Known as lamassu, they represent supernatural creatures, protective spirits, hybrid deities with human heads and animal bodies. Impressive feathered wings extend backward from their shoulders. Long geometric beards hang from their faces. They wear horned

  • View of “Pittura/Panorama: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952–1992,” 2019, Museo di Palazzo Grimani, Venice. Left: For E.M., 1981. Right: Riverhead, 1963. Photo: Matteo De Fina.

    Helen Frankenthaler

    “THE BEAUTIES OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER’S WORK are various and dramatic,” wrote the poet and critic Frank O’Hara. The year was 1960, and Frankenthaler, just thirty-one, was enjoying her first major survey, at the Jewish Museum in New York. “She is willing to risk the big gesture, to employ huge formats so that her essentially intimate revelations may be more fully explored and delineated,” O’Hara continued in his catalogue essay. “She is willing to declare erotic and sentimental pre-occupations full-scale and with full conviction.”

    Tragically, O’Hara lived to see only the first few movements in the

  • FEINT PRAISE

    IN THE MID-1980S, the Egyptian writer Mahmoud Abdel-Razik Afifi noticed that whenever fans gathered in a stadium in Cairo to watch football, their attention was easily drawn to pigeons flying overhead. Afifi wrote popular novels about sex, religion, and fame. According to a critic at Cairo University, he was a literary outcast who appealed to marginalized readers. The press snubbed him, as did the mainstream publishing industry. As a result, Afifi was primarily self-published. Following his avian epiphany, he developed a set of ingenious publicity stunts. He gave himself the nickname Adib

  • The Otolith Group, O Horizon, 2018, 4K video, color, sound, 81 minutes 10 seconds.

    4th Kochi-Muziris Biennale

    THE MOST HAUNTING IMAGE from “Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life,” Anita Dube’s strong, sensitive exhibition constituting the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, is an old photograph that appears nowhere in the show itself but accompanied virtually all of the early press releases announcing the event. The image is undated and the author is unknown. Shot in what looks like an abandoned field or parade ground, it captures the wildly engaging forms of artist K. P. Krishnakumar’s Boy Listening, 1985. Made of painted plaster, cloth, and fiberglass, the otherworldly sculpture groups