Critics’ Picks

Sam Durant, Aim Takeover of Bia HQ, Wash. DC, 2004, graphite on paper, 22 x 30".

Sam Durant, Aim Takeover of Bia HQ, Wash. DC, 2004, graphite on paper, 22 x 30".


“Animal Spirits”

Deste Foundation
8, Omirou Street
June 22–September 23, 2012

Even on Hydra, Greece’s answer to Saint-Tropez, vacationers can be reminded of the violence of global politics—in the form of “Animal Spirits,” a group show that deploys art as a form of resistance in an ex-slaughterhouse perched on this island’s edge. A macabre triptych sets the tone from the outset: Tom Sachs’s 2003 reproduction of the American presidential seal, Folkert de Jong’s sculpture of a head on a stake (Soldier’s Death, 2007,) and one of Paul Chan’s characteristic alphabets (The body of Oh Junior George (true type font), 2008), in which, for instance, the capital P corresponds to the phrase “For Profit,” and the Q to “For Victory.” These three works are located in an outdoor space, separated into three compartments by cage dividers, through which visitors proceed into a cluttered salon-style hanging in the show’s main space, an oppressive stone-walled room where animals were once butchered. Inside, works including Chan’s 2012 portrait of an unkempt, just-arrested Saddam Hussein and Adam Helms’s print series depicting insurgents (Untitled Shadow, 2008–11) present a not-too-distant history of destructive acts undertaken for questionable gains that continue to shape the world and its conflicts.

The venue’s history as an abbatoir frames a key reference: John Maynard Keynes’s idea of animal instincts that drive human actions and thus perpetuate social, political, and economic systems. And while such instincts are usually connected to personal interests—crudely mirrored in Chan’s 2009 illustrations Teabaggers descending whatever, Larry King had it easy, Senate finance committee, and 30 year fixed, which literally show people fucking or being fucked—Sam Durant’s graphite documentation of a 1972 American Indian Movement occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Aim Takeover of Bia HQ, DC., 2004, illuminates another, perhaps more suppressed, instinct haunting human nature: the desire for community. This instinct is evident in Durant’s drawing of a group holding a protest sign reading WE ARE ALL OUTLAWS IN THE EYES OF AMERICA—words that come from the opening line of Jefferson Airplane’s 1969 protest song “We Can Be Together.” The song recalls poet John Donne’s observation made nearly four hundred years ago that no man is an island—a spirit of togetherness this exhibition seeks to revive.