Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  • “The Arab Nude”

    THE SUMMER OF 2016 was not a particularly auspicious time in the Arab world for art deemed sexually explicit. It was in many ways a terrible season all over the world, marked by intense spasms of violence. It was also a summer when the strain of living in close proximity to so many grueling conflicts and situations (the protracted wars in Syria and Iraq; a revanchist military dictatorship in Egypt; an unrelenting refugee crisis sending men, women, and children to their deaths on the Mediterranean Sea; a violent coup attempt and crackdown in Turkey; and the hyperconservative, medieval ideologies

  • “Basim Magdy: The stars were aligned for a century of new beginnings”

    Rainbows, prisms, and a bouquet of tulips with playful faces drawn on their petals. Industrial wastelands and barren cityscapes. Soldiers, superheroes, skeletons, and a giant squid paired with a rocket. Basim Magdy’s first-ever US museum survey offers an introduction to the Egyptian artist’s sprawling, cheerfully sinister visual vocabulary via thirty-six works from the past decade, including drawings, paintings, films, photographs, and installations that reveal a perpetual remixing of tragicomic iconography. Magdy’s materials (gouache, spray paint, pen, Super 8 film dyed

  • picks August 16, 2016

    “Let’s Talk About the Weather: Art and Ecology in a Time of Crisis”

    When this museum reopened last year after a long and painful renovation, it had transformed like a butterfly. The old cocoon was dainty and provincial. The new creature was colorful and strange—and also quite big, nearly five times its previous size, featuring an 8,600-square-foot exhibition hall, with double-high ceilings, plunged two stories underground. Before now, the museum had filled that cavernous new space with a major survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings (primarily) about Beirut, and a smaller, more intimate monographic exhibition for a largely unknown Lebanese modernist

  • picks August 15, 2016

    Rania Stephan

    Rania Stephan’s gallery debut comes at a point when a midcareer museum survey might have made just as much sense. She is better known as a filmmaker. Her work began migrating only recently from film festivals to exhibitions. Stephan got her start in the 1990s, as an assistant director to the filmmakers Simone Bitton and Elia Suleiman. In parallel, she developed her own work along two very different paths. On one side, she makes quick, powerful slice-of-life documentaries. On the other, she composes essayistic videos that toy with notions of memory, montage, and the obsolescence of materials such

  • picks August 12, 2016

    Danny Lyon

    Moving deftly through all the major stages of Danny Lyon’s work to date, “Message to the Future” touches on police brutality, civil rights, sexual ambiguity, wayward masculinity, violence heaped upon immigrants and the working class, and the strange, shifting sands of democracy in the United States at a time of near-frantic discontent. It is, in other words, timely and prescient in ways that no one involved probably imagined it would be in the summer of 2016.

    The artist’s emotional range here is vast and volatile: In one image, Stokely Carmichael smolders in anger. In another, James Baldwin turns

  • Bucharest Biennale 7: “What are we building down there?”

    Some of the most interesting thinking about biennials today is coming from curators who are abandoning standard exhibition formats, staging a season of performances, for example, or a series of talks instead. The team organizing the seventh Bucharest Biennale is making one such radical departure, shifting the focus away from traditional venues and on to twenty-one advertising billboards scattered throughout the city. For the Brooklyn-based Van Tomme, the decision is partly practical and mostly conceptual, a bold response to the strange, multifaceted phenomenon of

  • passages April 22, 2016

    Leila Alaoui (1982–2016)

    LEILA ALAOUI’S BEST-KNOWN WORK is a series of photographs called “The Moroccans” (2010–14). Each picture shows a man or woman wildly dressed, dramatically lit, and set against the same black background, eyes locked on the camera. As portraits go, the images in “The Moroccans” are intense. Alaoui’s subjects stare down the lens with a look of playful or defiant challenge. They rarely smile but always sparkle—whether in the confidence of their pose, the glint in their eyes, or their dazzling array of costumes and accoutrements. Taken together, the series offers a jumble of facts and attitudes to

  • Marwan Rechmaoui

    A clocktower, a lighthouse, a mosque, an aerial view of a public park, a racetrack, a forest of pine trees, a branch of jasmine blossoms, a disused cinema, a derelict hotel, a Ferris wheel, a cemetery, another mosque, a newspaper building, statues of a former president and a poet and a painter, the logo of the first department store to employ women in the Middle East, the fortresslike headquarters of the Druze community in Lebanon, and a stacking sculpture by the inimitable modern artist Saloua Raouda Choucair, one of the few public artworks of note in Beirut: All of these things—and many

  • film March 09, 2016

    Come Undone

    IMAGINE. A shitty day in the loud, aggressive city you adore and deplore. You’re trying to work out a mess of impossible problems in your head when suddenly, in a place of some eighteen million people, you see someone you know. In fact, someone you once loved. And seeing her now, sitting alone in a café across the street, you realize you still love her. And so shitty is your day that you think, what the hell, and you call her. And then, holding the phone hopeful to your ear, you wait, feeling better already, about to smile at the sound of her voice. Or not. Because what happens next? She looks

  • Walid Raad

    SINCE THE LATE 1990s, Lebanese artist Walid Raad has embarked on two major long-term projects, each generating a wealth of videos, installations, performances, sculptural objects, and photographic prints. The first, known as the Atlas Group, concerns the recent history of Lebanon, including the country’s devastating fifteen-year-long civil war and the stalled and controversial reconstruction of its capital, Beirut. The second, titled Scratching on things I could disavow, 2007–, considers the fraught processes by which institutions are shaping the categories of modern and contemporary Arab

  • Marrakech Biennale 6: “Not New Now”

    The Marrakech Biennale’s first eleven years have been quite a roller-coaster ride. Now the Palestinian curator Reem Fadda, an art historian by training, is stepping in to give the event a sounder structure and a wealth of new ideas. The sixth edition is set to explore the legacies of decolonization and the efforts and failures of the once-grand Pan-Arab and Pan-African projects, as well as the tensions between futurism and nostalgia that often underlie political urgency and civic responsibility. Fadda is organizing a tight exhibition—three venues, fewer than fifty

  • diary November 29, 2015

    So You Think You Can Dance

    AT THE END OF MAO II (1991), Don DeLillo’s prescient yet strangely underappreciated novel of art, terrorism, and mass hysteria, a New York photographer named Brita turns up in Beirut’s southern suburbs to photograph a shadowy militia leader called Abu Rashid. It’s the later stages of the civil war, and Brita is on assignment, winding her way through destroyed buildings and a stubbornly vibrant street life. “Her driver is a man about sixty who pronounces the second b in bomb,” writes DeLillo. “He has used the word about eleven times and she waits for it now, softly repeating it after him. The

  • diary October 29, 2015

    Sudden Bloom

    IT’S LATE ON A WARM FRIDAY EVENING and I’m wandering around a new addition to an old museum, feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland. For all the years I’ve known it, the Sursock Museum has been a quaint but sleepy place to visit, housed in an ornate little palace on a quiet tree-lined street in one of Beirut’s wealthier, historically Greek Orthodox neighborhoods. Built at the end of the Ottoman Empire, the pile belonged to an aristocratic family whose patriarch, after the formation of the Lebanese state, donated the building to Beirut—on the condition that it become a museum after his death,

  • Nathalie Khayat

    Nathalie Khayat’s exhibition “The Eye Above the Well” featured twenty-seven porcelain and stoneware vessels that were all roughly the size of a person’s torso. Eleven of them were displayed together on a low platform. The rest were placed on waist-high pedestals throughout the space. The effect was sculptural, or rather statuesque—as if one were regarding figurative presences rather than vases. What’s more, every single one of these bodies was damaged in some way: cracked, folded, knotted, torn, punctured, seemingly sutured, or halfway collapsed.

    Khayat, who makes both functional design

  • diary September 07, 2015

    Breaking the Waves

    IT’S EARLY MORNING in Istanbul and from the upper deck of a small pleasure boat I’m watching the sun pop over the hills, an improbably pink orb playing hide and seek with the clouds and fog. There are thirty of us here wiping the sleep from our eyes as we chug north on the Bosphorus, heading for the Black Sea. We’ve only just discovered our destination. The boat is strewn with microphones, musical instruments, two dozen glass teacups, a well-read copy of an Elif Şafak novel, and a cigarette long abandoned in its ashtray, burning away. No one seems to know what comes next.

    The occasion for this

  • “From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics”

    “There is a train track in the history of art that goes way back to Mesopotamia,” Willem de Kooning once said. “Duchamp is on it. Cézanne is on it. Picasso and the Cubists are on it; Giacometti, Mondrian and so many, many more,” including, one might add, the organizers of this small, studious, remarkably concise exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. “From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics” took that train running the opposite way, following archaeological objects from Mesopotamia to the present day. The show featured two lush, powerful,

  • Walid Raad

    The heart of Walid Raad’s first major museum survey in the US is neither a sly series of photographs nor a lo-fi video slipping between fact and fiction, but rather a theatrical stage set, built into MoMA’s vast atrium. There, Raad is scheduled to perform Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: Walkthrough, 2013, more than seventy times in total. Originally commissioned for Documenta 13, Walkthrough is the linchpin of a long-term project that explores the institutions and infrastructures of contemporary art in the Arab world. Raad’s first was, of course, the Atlas Group, the

  • 14th Istanbul Biennial: “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”

    With more than eighty participants, thirty venues, and the admonition to set aside three days to see everything, the Istanbul Biennial promises to make greater use of the city than ever before. For this edition it’s not only the city but also the Black Sea, the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmara; also boats, islands, and Istanbul’s Asian side. New locations privilege the intimate—the house where Trotsky sought exile in 1929, the apartment where journalist Hrant Dink lived until his assassination in 2007—and taken together, they evince the ways in

  • Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

    IN SONALLAH IBRAHIM’S NOVEL Beirut, Beirut (1984), an unnamed Egyptian writer leaves his home in Cairo and boards a plane for the Lebanese capital. The year is 1980, and the writer has hidden a manuscript in the lining of his luggage. Detecting a lull or possibly an end to the civil war that broke out in Lebanon five years earlier (it would continue for another decade), he is traveling to see a publisher. His manuscript is politically damning and sexually daring and nobody in the Arab world will touch it—except possibly in Beirut, which is historically known for publishing books that would

  • Fouad Elkoury

    In 1849, Gustave Flaubert and Maxime Du Camp set off on an adventure to the East. For two young Frenchmen of the mid-nineteenth-century haute bourgeoisie, the East meant Egypt, so they made their way from Paris to Marseille, where they boarded a ship for Alexandria. From there they traveled south to Cairo and on to the city of Esna. They continued to Karnak, Beirut, and Jerusalem before heading home. Du Camp took more than two hundred pictures, many of which were bound into the book Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie (1852), a landmark in the history of photography. Flaubert, of course, found