Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  • Saloua Raouda Choucair

    The first major exhibition in more than thirty-five years for the Lebanese artist Saloua Raouda Choucair opened with an enormous photograph of the artist’s studio, taken in 2000, strategically placed in the foyer of the Beirut Exhibition Center. Turning left, you entered a space the size of an airplane hangar to get an eyeful of Raouda Choucair’s monumental sculptures in stone, metal, and wood, all evoking sinuous movement from a play of lines, forms, and volumes. Turning right, you found a more intimate room filled with her curious experiments in centrifugal tension—objects made from

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

    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

  • 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

  • Sharjah Biennial 10

    Suzanne Cotter and Rasha Salti with Haig Aivazian

    The Sharjah Biennial is a strange bird. It began as a local, folkloric affair, then tacked to become a generically international event. Then it tacked again to become a regional powerhouse and an incubator for new work and noncommercial practice. Where it will go next is anyone’s guess. The tenth edition, dubbed “Plot for a Biennial,” is conceived as a film treatment and arranged around words such as treason, insurrection, corruption, and devotion. Proposing a series of scripted encounters in sites throughout the city, the show invites

  • picks November 28, 2010

    Yto Barrada, Etel Adnan, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Tania Bruguera

    The best and most boisterous show of the year in Beirut came courtesy of two artists who would seem, on paper, totally incongruous together. Yto Barrada is a young French-Moroccan photographer and filmmaker who has been experimenting lately with rambunctious sculptures and automated matchbox car racetracks. Etel Adnan is an octogenarian Greek-Lebanese poet and painter who has been making diminutive canvases of abstracted mountain vistas for decades. Their double-barreled exhibition, which ran from April through July, was Galerie Sfeir-Semler’s strongest to date, and the first to really fill the

  • diary November 15, 2010

    West Point

    WITH SO MUCH HAPPENING elsewhere in Istanbul—an opening at Rampa for the painter Ahmet Oran, a very VIP preview of Kutlug Ataman’s retrospective at Istanbul Modern, a new project by the critical darlings xurban_collective at Sanat Limani, Banu Cennetoglu’s first solo show at Rodeo, and a timely debate at Depo on the often violent relationship between art and gentrification—it was slightly frustrating to spend three full days stuck inside the Istanbul Technical University’s Faculty of Architecture for a “research congress” organized two weeks ago by Former West. I’m sure there were worse places

  • diary November 05, 2010

    Remember the Time

    MAYBE MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE still buy sports cars, marry their secretaries, or suffer spectacular nervous breakdowns. But arts initiatives of a certain age? They organize conferences. And so it was that the “Speak Memory” symposium on archival practices commenced at the twelve-year-old Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art in Cairo last Thursday.

    Taking its title from Nabokov’s memoir––which was, incidentally, published in the US as Conclusive Evidence, a name far less serviceable for this particular affair––“Speak Memory” gathered together an eclectic group of artists, curators, and researchers.

  • OPENINGS: CAMP

    EARLY IN JANUARY 2007, the artists Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran hung a battery-powered remote control from a tree across the street from their apartment in Mumbai, along with a sign informing passersby (in Hindi and in English) that this was a public switch, which, when pressed, would turn lights on and off in apartment 23 of the building behind them. Whenever people operated the remote control and turned to locate the apartment, Anand or Sukumaran (or whoever happened to be over at the time) would walk to the windows and wave.

    After thirty days, a counter attached to the receiver had recorded

  • diary September 19, 2010

    Break a Lag

    JET LAG IS BORING, it really is. And it has become such a common feature of the biennial experience that the mere mention of it feels obvious, embarrassing, and trite. Still, three sardine-can flights and twenty-four hours of bleary-eyed, every-airport-is-uncomfortably-the-same travel for the opening of the Tenth Taipei Biennial on September 7, and I felt an irrepressible need to reread the first page of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition, on which he lays out his (or his character’s) memorable theory of jet lag: “that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly

  • Walid Raad: Miraculous Beginnings

    This show, and its accompanying catalogue, will create an intriguing echo chamber for reflections on art, politics, and the ruthless economy of culture.

    In his 2007 book, Undeserving Lebanon, theorist Jalal Toufic writes that, in the aftermath of wars and invasions, the process of working through what has happened must not be left to the perpetrators and victims alone. Walid Raad’s practice not only speaks to Toufic’s challenge but complicates it. In an exhibition that juxtaposes a decade of key works by Raad’s Atlas Group (investigating the history of Lebanon’s civil wars) with a selection from A History of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Arab World (another Raad project, exploring the creation of infrastructures