Noemi Smolik

  • “Alternative Theses”

    There’s a growing sense of discontent with contemporary art. It is too homogeneous, critics argue, and curators seem fixated on a narrow set of themes—migration, gender and minority issues, environmentalism—that make exhibitions predictable and their concerns inauthentic. But that’s hardly true of the art being made today in the young republics of central Asia. “Alternative Theses,” a show curated by Togzhan Sakbayeva at Esentai Gallery in Almaty, Kazakhstan, presented plenty of examples of fresh perspectives, with works by twenty-four artists of different generations from Afghanistan,

  • Mario García Torres

    Mario García Torres’s recent exhibition worked like a puzzle. The visitor encountered various parts that at first blush did not coalesce into a coherent pattern or image: Minimalist glass circles suspended from the ceiling (The Belonging Game [all works cited, undated]), a construction of bronze-rod triangles (An Impossible Crack in Reality), an animatronic plastic turtle crawling across the floor (So You), wandering spotlights that lent the setting a theatrical aspect, and—on several occasions during the show’s run—a performer: an elderly gentleman delivering a nonstop oration that

  • Sráč Sam

    In Eastern Bloc countries, socially engaged art has long meant something different from what it means in the West. Under Communist Party rule, such art had to conform to strict guidelines: Artistic autonomy, individualism, and the exercise of the imagination were all considered dangerous. It is for this reason that, when the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989, most artists turned to art that foregrounded subjective expression. They only became aware of their social responsibility later.

    The artist Sráč Sam has faced this responsibility for many years now. Far from the bustle of Prague, she runs

  • Louisa Clement

    On first glance, it was hard to say what was depicted in these glossy black photographs. They might be pictures of extremely complex devices, perhaps the kind used in scientific experiments, or they could be of fine machine parts or the dissected limbs of an insect under a microscope. These photos were puzzling in a way that made them uncanny, and like all uncanny things, they triggered curiosity and repulsion at once: Did you really want to know what these images show? It could be something unpleasant.

    But yes, you wanted to know. The subjects are mannequins that Louisa Clement photographed with

  • Christian Freudenberger

    In his recent exhibition “‘tic,’” Christian Freudenberger presented three paintings, all dated 2017 and Untitled, with differing parenthetical subtitles containing the French word that also named the show as a whole. Denoting, as in English, a nervous twitch or tremor caused by involuntary muscle contractions, the term may bring to mind a syndrome that disrupts everyday activities; the power of the unconscious, which eludes deliberate control; or any anomaly that calls normality into question. The titles are programmatic, because these three dimensions—the disruption of ordinary perception,

  • Claus Richter

    “Everything I do here I do with pleasure, and I admit I’m a bit ashamed of that,” says the Cologne-based artist Claus Richter. And a visit to his exhibition “Living in another world” offered a similar experience of guilty pleasure. I laughed at the kitschy plastic orchids in his Singing flowers/Omi Ursula (all works 2017), which hop up and down while singing in what sounds like a squeaky girl’s voice (actually the artist’s), and at the robot in Your little helper (Robot). The latter is a beat-up R2-D2–like mechanical butler whose loose wires hang out of its insides and which kept assuring me,

  • Wolfgang Plöger

    “To use a search engine is potentially a political act,” writes Paul Soulellis, founder of the Library of the Printed Web, in the brochure accompanying Wolfgang Plöger’s exhibition “Inherited Lies.” By using a search engine, Soulellis explains, we become involved, whether we like it or not, in an ensemble of hierarchies, preferences, parallels, and comparisons predetermined by algorithms. The moment we hit the “search” button, we subscribe to the order it imposes. But what does that order actually look like? Which hierarchies does it entail, which priorities does it implement, what does it

  • Dike Blair

    For more than three decades, the American artist Dike Blair has dedicated himself to an increasingly rare kind of painting. It’s been overshadowed on the one hand by neo- and post-expressionist styles feigning an authenticity that doesn’t exist anymore, that’s no longer possible, and on the other hand by a post-Conceptual approach whose practitioners often act especially cool to cover up the fact that they don’t actually believe in their jaded view of their métier. Blair, by contrast, is all about painting, and about seeing. That may not sound exactly thrilling, and it’s taken critics a long

  • picks December 05, 2016

    Moritz Grimm

    Eve is the name of humanity’s Urmutter, or first mother. Eve also stands for temptation. Both the original mother and attraction are motifs in the exhibition “EVA” by the young artist Moritz Grimm. The title of the show was borrowed from the artist’s partner’s mother, who died before Grimm could meet her. However, he did move into her furnished apartment. Enticement and the mother, especially of one’s own girlfriend, are subjects upon which many would founder. Not so for Grimm. For he turns the topic toward the fairy-tale-like, bringing the gruesome and the fantastic—which together constitute

  • Florian Meisenberg

    German artist Florian Meisenberg has repeatedly staged confrontations between painted pictures and their digital siblings, and this was the case again in his recent exhibition with the lengthy title “Um, nice guy, good hospitality, but . . y’know . . I-I- I don’t think he knows how to turn on a computer. (brief pause) So . . . but th-the good thing is he’s filling the void . . uh, with coverage in xxxxxxxxxx at the moment so y’know they’re-they’re not drowning.”

    Three sets of pictures were on view: a digital video tiled across four monitors, projections on the floor, and paintings on canvas. The

  • Marvin Gaye Chetwynd

    Some sights are unforgettable. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s performance Camshafts in the Rain, 2016, produced several such sights, including beetle-like actors wearing enormous colorful paper turbans while stalking around the gallery with the mechanical motions of automatons and a seated Medusa whose head, fringed with giant snakes, rose as a handle was cranked, then collapsed back on her shoulders with a heavy thud. The action was punctuated by moments of silence when the turbaned figures stopped as though glued to the spot. The spectators present the production with the wide-eyed awe of children.


  • Adam Vačkář

    Gorgeous color photographs, as elegant and beguiling as advertising pictures, showed crisply illuminated vases holding a variety of bouquets before white backdrops. And no less elegant were the steles that were set up in the middle of the gallery. Yet something about this installation by Prague-based artist Adam Vačkář felt disquieting. The series of bouquets bears the title “Beautiful & Damned,” 2014, and they are no doubt beautiful—but why are they damned? Look more closely and you’ll discover that some of the flowers, slipped in among others gleaming in diverse colors, have wilted. And

  • Aaron Angell

    Aaron Angell makes strange pictures. Strange because of their indeterminate age (they might be a hundred years old) and cultural background (they might be the work of an Asian or Arab artist, or else pieces of European folk art; in fact, the artist was born in Kent, UK, in 1987 and lives in London). Even odder is the technique with which they were executed. Their surfaces look like terrazzo floors in Italian villas, cold and a bit forbidding and yet—perhaps there is no contradiction here—quite elegant. As it happens, they were painted, or, more properly speaking, spray-painted, on the

  • Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr

    Psychedelia is back, or so Benedikt Sarreiter and Paul-Philipp Hanske insist in their 2015 book Neues von der anderen Seite: Die Wiederentdeckung des Psychedelischen (News from the Other Side: The Rediscovery of the Psychedelic). The two journalists champion a reassessment of psychotropics, whose sophisticated use, they argue, can help us navigate the vicissitudes of life. They note the current renaissance of these drugs—which had fallen out of favor after their heyday as the favorite hallucinogens of the counterculture—at the Burning Man festival, for example, which draws thousands

  • Dóra Maurer

    I first encountered Dóra Maurer’s films at a 2012 symposium on aspects of Central European art at the Sächsische Akademie der Künste in Dresden, and I still have a vivid recollection of watching them as though in thrall; their power drew me in. Starting in the 1970s, the artist, who was born in Budapest in 1937 and still lives in the Hungarian capital, undertook a searching examination of change through experimental films, photographs, paintings, collages, and drawings. How can an image embody change? Any change implies movement, so one can always analyze it, break it down into component images,

  • FORT

    Although it is often rendered in English as “uncanny,” the nuances of the German word unheimlich are famously difficult to translate. The negative prefix un- modifies heimlich, which derives from Heim, home, and originally means “familiar.” Unheimlich, then, is what is unfamiliar, strange, and, by extension, vaguely menacing. And the objects, installations, and performances of FORT, an artists’ group founded in 2008 by Alberta Niemann, Jenny Kropp, and Anna Jandt, who left in 2013, are certainly strange. Unheimlich also aptly describes the objects in their recent exhibition “About Blank.”


  • Thomas Locher

    As if to recall the consistency of his project over the decades, some of the works in Thomas Locher’s exhibition “Post-Information” were as much as twenty-five years old. Gestell (Frame), an aluminum shelf engraved with letters, numbers, and black rectangles, dates from 1990. A.1–Z.2, a wooden board on which horizontal black bars as well as letters and digits are inscribed, is even older, from 1989. On the facing wall were two reliefs, composed of rectangular panels of varying thickness painted in different colors. Each is marked with a letter. Insisting on their objecthood and defying any

  • Rita McBride

    If ever there was an exhibition of art that seemed totally secure, literally under lock and key, it was Rita McBride’s “Gesellschaft”: The show included plenty of keys as well as several locks and then more keys. But where is the door they unlock?

    The ten-millimeter steel plates from which the locks and keys were cut were on view as well, although their meaning remained likewise obscure. The use of metal slabs brought Richard Serra’s work to mind, and the installation—most of the objects were arrayed along the gallery’s walls—clearly suggested a Minimalist sensibility in the use of

  • Renata Lucas

    A few years ago, Renata Lucas was asked what she thinks art is for. She replied, “Perhaps it’s one of the few things left that allows us to declare that we don’t fit the given standards.” Her own investigation of those given standards operates in the field of urbanism—more specifically that of metropolitan architecture. Studying the relationship between public squares and private spaces, the intricate workings of traffic hubs, or the ways in which sidewalks form trajectories of experience and social life, she deftly devises ways to break prevailing architectural and social molds, often with

  • Maria Bartuszová

    Imagine a form that exudes vulnerability as well as resolve, pliancy as well as recalcitrance, that features geometric shapes and is nonetheless organic, that looks provisional and yet is timelessly self-contained, that is alive with tension but still imparts a sense of calm, that suggests the most intimate eroticism while attesting to the most refined purity. If this seems impossible to conjure, then look at the work of Maria Bartuszová. Such ambivalence is the defining characteristic of her art and probably accounts for the incomprehension with which these wonderful objects have often been