Kate Sutton

  • picks November 18, 2015

    Akosua Adoma Owusu

    Half man, half arachnid, the character of Kwaku Ananse has spawned an entire body of “spider tales” within West African folklore. In some fables, Kwaku Ananse appears as a hapless hustler, using his cleverness and cunning to overcome his physical limitations; in others, he is no less than the god of storytelling, spinning tales as easily as the silken strands of his web. In this context, then, the act of weaving serves more as a means of cultural transmission than a commercial product.

    In her roughly five-minute short film Intermittent Delight, 2007, Akosua Adoma Owusu splices footage of West

  • diary November 15, 2015

    Light and Space

    EARLIER THIS YEAR, after getting grilled over delays on his latest project, The Revenant, filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu reasoned: “Nobody will go to a movie because the guys were on schedule and on budget. Mission and ambition should never be compromised.”

    If you took Iñárritu’s advocacy for taking one’s time with a project and multiplied it by, say, forty years, you would have James Turrell’s Roden Crater. The artist has been working since the early 1970s to convert an extinct cinder volcano in the Painted Desert into “a controlled environment for the experiencing and contemplation of light.”

  • diary November 03, 2015

    All Tomorrow’s Parties

    IN 1956, London’s Whitechapel Gallery hosted Pop art’s coming-out party, a twelve-part exhibition uniting artists, architects, designers, and musicians under the rubric “This Is Tomorrow.” Last year, Stockholm’s Tensta Kontshall, the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art in Riga, and the Zagreb-based curatorial collective WHW/What, How & for Whom (Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić, and Sabina Sabolović) appropriated the title for a programming initiative that looks at what happens after the party’s over, institutionally speaking.

    “We realized we were all facing the same questions of what it means

  • “Absolute Beauty”

    Shot in the Neoclassical splendor of Saint Petersburg, Russia’s Mikhailovsky Palace, Igor Bezrukov’s eight-minute-long film The Red Square, or the Golden Ratio, 1999, follows a would-be painter (played by gender-bending artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe) who, after carefully studying the Venus de Milo, paints a red square. Enraged, his teacher (artist Timur Novikov in a top hat and monocle, though he had recently gone blind) bends his pupil over and proceeds to spank the avant-garde out of him. The parable concludes with the student producing a perfect Aphrodite as the master looks on, beaming.

  • picks October 19, 2015

    “Inside an Event”

    “Inside an Event” challenges three artists to imagine the structure of time as one that is open to intervention. The conventional tallying of hours and minutes is dismissed in Alexey Mandych’s Animal Farm Symphony (all works cited, 2015), which fills a Plexiglas case with orderly rows of black stalks, each topped with the metallic bloom of a digital watch. Originally, these machines were perfectly synchronized, but as time passes, milliseconds slip by uncounted, spurring slight discrepancies among the displays. Accordingly, alarms that once sounded in unison start to diverge, all the while

  • performance October 15, 2015

    Out of Shape

    WHEN THE DEVIL COMES TO MOSCOW, he puts on a vaudeville show.

    At least, that was his M.O. in Mikhail Bulgakov’s mesmerizing The Master and Margarita, which was written in the prime purge period from 1928–1940, but could only be published in 1967. Dazzling and dense, the book splices a reverie on writer’s block, a defense of Pontius Pilate, and a razor-sharp critique of the early Soviet state—though to be fair, that last one writes its own jokes.

    The novel opens with a kitsch-schilling poet and the director of the Writers Union in conversation at Moscow’s Patriarch’s Ponds. The city is slathered

  • diary October 11, 2015

    Gathering Storm

    WHEN CRITIC BORIS GROYS heard that this year’s Moscow Biennale would be called “How to Gather?” he reportedly replied: “Simple. As enemies.”

    This sentiment saturated the event’s closing keynote, which was delivered last Thursday with moderate fanfare by Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece (and sometime desk editor of Witte de With’s online journal, WdW Review). To start, Varoufakis acknowledged the occasional upsides to conflict, quoting Orson Welles’s famous line from The Third Man: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed,

  • diary September 20, 2015

    Pregnant Pause

    FORGET YOUR GETAWAY SPEEDBOAT. For the latest in stunt curating, it’s hard to top Massimiliano Gioni: The curator missed the official August 25 opening of “The Great Mother,” his sweeping exploration of maternity and its discontents, to be present for the birth of his first child. So did pregnancy inspire the exhibition or the other way around? “I can’t answer that in front of the press!” Gioni laughed. “Let’s just say the show was talismanic.”

    As a gesture of goodwill, exhibition organizers Fondazione Nicola Trussardi decided to kick off the season last Tuesday with a delayed celebration dinner

  • picks September 17, 2015

    Becky Beasley

    “Sleep is when you grow” offers a meditation on death and regeneration, tied to the artist’s recent experience of motherhood. With lancing exactitude, Becky Beasley uses evocative materials such as walnut, pear, and acacia wood, and black glass to mingle familiarity and estrangement, planting echoes of forms throughout the exhibition.

    This disorientation is embodied in Bearings IV, 2014, a suspended bronze cast of six twigs forged into one long stick that spins steadily in the central gallery, a compass arrow at a loss. In a side gallery, Shelves for My Parents (A Shelf for My Mother, a Shelf

  • diary September 03, 2015

    Looks Good on Paper

    “I’M PRETTY SURE I blew most of my production budget on figs,” artist Asad Raza announced last Thursday evening. We were sitting at a table-lined terrace outside Ljubljana’s International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC) nestled in Tivoli Park, a lush garden designed by the city’s premier architect, Jože Plečnik. Raza hoisted two heaping baskets of fruit toward my tablemates artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar, curator Tenzing Barshee, and dealer Emanuel Leyr, who each dutifully took a fig.

    If Raza seemed at home, it might have been because he had spent the past few months living off and on in the institution’s

  • diary August 20, 2015

    Curricula Vitae

    IN 1974, the Venice Biennale was effectively canceled in a unilateral statement protesting the US-backed coup that put Chilean general Augusto Pinochet in power. That year, there were no themed exhibitions and no national pavilions. Instead, the Giardini served as a site for theater performances, mural paintings, and public conversations. “Can you imagine such a massive act of political solidarity and refusal happening in any biennale today?” artist Emily Jacir wondered onstage last Tuesday at the Arsenale’s Teatro alle Tese, home to one of two Creative Time Summits this year. (A second is slated

  • picks August 11, 2015

    Otobong Nkanga

    All that glitters is not gold: This much we know is true. Take vermiculite, a mineral from the mica family of silicates whose dull glint gives it the appearance of gleaming rabbit pelts. Its root trace back to the Latin verb micare, “to glitter,” but also to mica, “crumb.” This etymological slippage sets the terms for Otobong Nkanga’s exhibition “Crumbling Through Powdery Air,” which quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald in picking up from the artist’s 2014 project, In Pursuit of Bling, a shadow history of all things shiny.

    Eschewing champagne lounges and VIP rooms for the great, yawning gaps in the deserts

  • diary July 22, 2015

    Sixty Shades of Gray

    THE JOY-TO-ANXIETY RATIO around birthdays tends to be parabolic, with celebration less fraught the closer you are to either end of the spectrum—very young or very old. When you’re somewhere in the middle, however, there may be more to commemorate in theory, but in practice it feels like there’s just a whole lot more you hope no one brings up.

    So it was with Documenta, which celebrated its sixtieth birthday on Sunday with an all-day, Kassel-wide festival mixing in a chamber orchestra; a panel discussion with founder Arnold Bode’s daughter, E. R. Nele; tours of past commissions by artists such as

  • picks July 20, 2015

    “On Paper II”

    If this group exhibition feels breezier than most, it’s not just the five electric fans in László László Révész’s drawing Verti, 2008. This breath of fresh air comes courtesy of curator Zita Sárvári, whose “On Paper II” takes the popular conceit of the summer works-on-paper show and infuses it with a vibrancy and spontaneity rarely associated with the genre. Some of this dynamism stems from Sárvári’s rejection of the unspoken mandate that works on paper must be limited to two dimensions: Ádám Ulbert’s watercolors are slathered in polyurethane then dangled from laths using pins; Csaba Szentesi

  • picks June 25, 2015

    Yan Lei

    In 1997, Yan Lei quite literally made a name for himself in the art world as Mr. Ielnay Oahgnoh, a pseudonym derived by reversing the name of the artist and that of his coconspirator Hong Hao. This mysterious Mr. Oahgnoh mailed out over a hundred invitations to participate in Documenta to a sizable chunk of the Chinese art community, in an action later known as Invitation Letter, 1997. Fifteen years later, Yan Lei himself was asked to show at Documenta 13, where he further scorned the conceit of the “successful artist” with the Limited Art Project, 2012: a salon-style hanging of 377 oil paintings

  • picks June 09, 2015

    Ciprian Mureșan and Enric Fort Ballester

    “Once upon a time, there was a kitten. She was very dutiful.” So begins one of the tales tucked into Ciprian Mureșan’s latest film, an untitled collection of vignettes based on transcripts from puppeteering workshops that the artist conducted with children. Mureșan then hired adult puppet masters to reenact the children’s compositions, using marionettes made to look like little kids. The puppeteers appear in dark gray costumes, reading alternately as cartoon sharks, chess pawns, or big pewter penises. In a similar mix of comedy and menace, the stories they tell follow the inimitable logic of

  • “SOGTFO”

    In October 2014, the grassroots organization Hollaback! released a two-minute video of hidden-camera footage in which a curvaceous brunette is catcalled as she walks the streets of New York. Intended as a public-service announcement, the video promptly went viral. Within the art world, discussions in its wake revisited conversations initiated by artists such as Adrian Piper and VALIE EXPORT, whose practices question the conditions under which women are allowed to occupy public space. The same mechanisms of social control that police a woman’s physical presence can extend to the virtual realm,

  • picks May 29, 2015

    Hale Tenger

    In 1995, Hale Tenger’s contribution to the fourth Istanbul Biennial was a portrait of her country as a cramped, one-room guard house, cordoned off in a concrete yard by a towering barbed-wire fence. Inside the structure were the barest necessities for passing time in the isolation of guard duty; walls were plastered with postcard scenes of natural wonders, including some of Turkey’s most breathtaking vistas. The images indicate that whoever served their time in that space dreamt of life outside the fence, suggesting the guard as a kind of prisoner. This play of perspective echoes in the

  • picks May 05, 2015

    Iman Issa

    With the seminal 1965 piece One and Three Chairs artist Joseph Kosuth laid down a semiotic three-of-a-kind and dared viewers to call his bluff. For the exhibition “Lexicon,” Iman Issa slyly tweaks this format, finding her referents not in functional objects like chairs, but rather in something more difficult to define: a series of paintings. While they themselves are not on view, we are told that they vary in style, subject matter, and setting and that they are unified only by a shared attempt to convey a significance greater than the narrative sum of their content—in short, they are paintings

  • “Specters of Communism: Contemporary Russian Art”

    In perhaps his most popular one-liner, perestroika-era satirist Mikhail Zadornov dubbed Russia “a country with an unpredictable past.” Spanning two continents and eleven time zones, the state now known as the Russian Federation lays claim to conflicting inheritances, from Kievan Rus and the Third Rome to the czarist Russian empire and the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin was able to consolidate power by cherry-picking aspects from each of these legacies and placing them under the banner of his political party, United Russia; the liberal opposition, however, is having a much harder time formulating