Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  • Left: Curator Simon Njami with artist Mona Hatoum. Right: Artist Imran Channa and curator Nadira Laggoune. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)
    diary December 09, 2011

    Return Favor

    THE ALGERIAN EMBASSY in Beirut is not a friendly place, but you’ll never hear me say the staff there are inefficient. After weeks of rejection and indifference, they finally agreed to give me a visa just twelve hours before the flight I’d booked to Algiers was scheduled to depart. Before I could fully process the fact that I’d actually scored the page I needed in my passport, I found myself sitting in the middle of a Zineb Sedira film—in the restaurant of the Hotel Safir, the grand, dilapidated setting for the artist’s mesmeric, split-screen video installation Saphir.

    That work is a slow-moving

  • Left: Architect Youssef Tohme and Ashkal Alwan director Christine Tohme. Right: Arab Image Foundation director Zeina Arida. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)
    diary November 30, 2011

    Home Improvement

    FOR MUCH OF THE PAST THREE DECADES, Beirut has seemed like a bonkers place to be for anyone without a compelling reason to call it home. Lebanon’s civil war may have ended twenty years ago, but life in the capital has since been routinely blindsided by assassinations, explosions, occupations, and more wars, to say nothing of the humdrum horror of dealing with corruption, chaos, the slowest Internet connection on earth, and three-hour power outages every single day. No surprise, then, that the city’s feisty young arts organizations, who basically willed Beirut’s contemporary art scene into being

  • Oded Hirsch, Tochka, 2010, still from a single-channel video, 14 minutes 20 seconds.
    picks November 07, 2011

    “The Workers”

    In Oded Hirsch’s fourteen-minute video Tochka, 2010, a dozen men build a rickety bridge across a shallow gorge in a lush green landscape. Dressed in blue workmen’s uniforms with white hats pulled low over their eyes and yellow buckets strung from their hips, the men toil with a ridiculous assortment of tools and materials––sticks, shovels, mud, rope, an enormous steel spool––to create a contraption that looks more like a medieval catapult than a practical overpass and which, in the end, nearly collapses when they cross. One of the more striking pieces in this ten-month-long exhibition on the

  • Left: Arsen Kalfayan and Yuli Karatsiki of the Kalfayan Galleries in Athens and Thessaloniki. Right: Thessaloniki Biennial co-curator Marina Fokidis. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)
    diary September 26, 2011

    Crisis Center

    “YOU GET A STRANGE IMPRESSION of a city when you arrive and everything is closed because it’s Sunday,” mused Sueyun Locks, art patron and owner of the Locks Gallery in Philadelphia. A parade of shuttered storefronts on the streets of Thessaloniki passed by the windows of a shuttle bus bringing Locks and a half dozen other people to the opening of the city’s third biennial on September 18. “Due to the crisis, everything will be closed on Monday as well. Just so you don’t have the wrong impression,” said Margarita Pournara, a tough-nosed critic from an Athens newspaper, an edge of steely humor in

  • Left: Istanbul Biennial curators Adriano Pedrosa and Jens Hoffmann. (Photo: Muammer Yanmaz) Right: Witte de With director Defne Ayas and artist Elif Uras in the Galatasaray Hamman. (Except where noted, all photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)
    diary September 22, 2011

    Torres Trap

    THE GREAT THING about the Istanbul Biennial is that it doesn’t knock the city’s nose out of joint. With a population of some fifteen million people, incredible urban density, hectic day-to-day rhythms, and some two thousand years of tough and messy history, Istanbul easily absorbed the four thousand–plus guests who dropped in for the opening of the exhibition’s twelfth edition last week. For four days straight, a mob of artists, dealers, collectors, and curators joined the general melee, dragging themselves up and down the city’s insanely steep hills, zipping across the Bosphorous, and mostly

  • Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin and Michael Morris, Heterotopia, 1992, mixed media, 98 1/2 x 65".

    Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin

    Among the works in Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin’s exhibition “I Am Not a Studio Artist” was a dazzling assemblage of objects including an old-fashioned typewriter, a plastic model of a taxicab, a hammer, a letter opener, rubber stamps, two clocks, four bars of soap, passports, license plates, ledgers, a bottle of rum filled with matchsticks, a bottle of vodka filled with shreds of newspaper, a currency exchange sign in four languages, a calendar, fishing tackle, four bottles of antiseptic, a rusted padlock, a tin of shoe polish, a copy of The Histories of Herodotus, a flyer for a boxing match, and

  • Rasha Kahil, Caledonian Road, N7, London, 2011, color photograph, 35 x 23”.
    picks July 15, 2011

    Rasha Kahil

    Although she has been exhibiting her work for only three years, the Beirut-born, London-based artist Rasha Kahil has built up an impressive output, from the mischievous Untitled (le cul) (Untitled [the ass]), 2010, a carved gypsum sculpture of a woman’s bum upturned to reveal the folds and textures of a disconcertingly large vagina, to the disturbing The 6th Attempt at Understanding the Physical Act of 47 Stabs, 2009, a one-minute, black-and-white video of the artist in her underwear, straddling a chair and ramming a knife into its tattered upholstery over and over and ever more perilously close

  • Entrance of the Sharjah Art Museum with Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s Lebanese Rocket Society: Elements for a Monument, 2011, opening day of Sharjah Biennial 10, UAE, March 16, 2011.

    Sharjah Biennial 10

    IN RETROSPECT, the curators of the Tenth Sharjah Biennial were probably asking for trouble when they decided to create an exhibition about conspiracy, subversion, and betrayal in one of the purest autocracies on earth. Suzanne Cotter, Rasha Salti, and Haig Aivazian invited 119 artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers to participate in “Plot for a Biennial,” which was conceived as a film treatment, divided into vignettes, and arranged around themes (corruption, devotion, insurrection) and characters (traitors, translators, and traducers). Most of the works were completed well before the Arab

  • Left: Curator Vasif Kortun with archivist and librarian Sezin Romi of Salt. Right: November Paynter of Salt with writer and curator Shumon Basar. (All photos: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie)
    diary April 14, 2011

    Salt Shaker

    ON ANY GIVEN DAY, as many as three million people promenade along Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi, ping-ponging across a two-mile pedestrian stretch that has become a generically global, thoroughly gentrified, open-air shopping mall. But in between Nike and Camper and Benetton and the obnoxiously oversize Sephora and the umpteenth Starbucks, Istiklal reveals some of the weirdest dimensions of Istanbul’s contemporary art scene.

    The major players are banks: Garanti, Akbank, and Yapi Kredi, among others. Behind those banks are wealthy industrial families, which inevitably makes any discussion of the

  • Paola Yacoub, Cast of a Bullet Hole from a North/South Wall Situated on the Green Line, Beirut (detail), 1995, wood paste, dimensions variable.
    picks April 04, 2011

    Paola Yacoub

    The Beirut- and Berlin-based artist Paola Yacoub is best known for her collaborations with the French artist and architect Michel Lasserre. Since 2000, they have produced numerous projects that place words and images in curious conversation. Their self-described “synoptic pictures” and “elegiac landscapes” pair unspectacular, panoramic shots of Beirut and South Lebanon with texts of varying lengths, from brisk captions to expansive essays. Inextricably linked to the politics of Beirut’s postwar reconstruction, these works explore how a few words, paragraphs, or pages drastically alter one’s

  • Mohamad-Said Baalbaki, The von Königswald Collection (detail), 2010, fifteen objects in display case; silver, terra-cotta, porcelain, bronze, ceramic, dimensions variable.

    Mohamad-Said Baalbaki

    Mohamad-Said Baalbaki’s recent exhibition “Al-Buraq” was filled with elegant glass-fronted display cases made of dark wood and deep red velvet, light cascading into them through intricate cutouts in a pattern of eight-pointed stars. Each case was a cabinet of curiosities, filled with old books, maps, letters, sketchbooks, vintage photographs, miniature paintings, and plaster casts, some of them gilded, of mysterious bone fragments.

    One case held a gorgeous collection of what were said to be ancient artifacts: a tiny Etruscan funerary vase adorned with a representation of Pegasus from around 300

  • View of “Setareh Shahbazi,” 2010.

    Setareh Shahbazi

    Toying as they did with notions of time, space, depth, distance, and displacement, the works that made up Setareh Shahbazi’s first solo exhibition in Beirut could more accurately be considered a single installation functioning as a spatial intervention. The 98Weeks Project Space, run by the cousins Marwa and Mirene Arsanios, is essentially a hole-in-the-wall, a tiny storefront in the neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, with a bathroom and a set of stairs leading to a study area furnished with shelves, makeshift tables, and mismatched chairs.

    Although Shahbazi was once aligned with one of Lebanon’s