Critics’ Picks

View of “Anna Boghiguian: The Loom of History,” 2018.

New York

Anna Boghiguian

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 2 - August 19

Anna Boghiguian’s first museum exhibition in the United States comes curiously late in her life and career. Boghiguian is a legend in Cairo, the city where she was born, and her cluttered rooftop studio, occupied for decades and almost worryingly stuffed with materials, is a tiny windswept palace of wonders and curiosities. It is also a place to listen and learn, as she habitually unspools a good many lessons in literature and history. That sense of Boghiguian holding forth translates well in this show.

“The Loom of History” fills a wide room in the New Museum’s ground-floor galleries. The walls are painted in two broad stripes of black and gold. Boghiguian has painted paragraph-size blocks of text onto the upper part, such that one doesn’t so much see the exhibition as read through its long narrative line. Plodding along, the viewer comes to understand that Boghiguian has taken her long-standing interests in empire, tyranny, exile, colonialism, and revolt and sunk them into American soil, moving from Alexis de Tocqueville, Vasco da Gama, and the spice trade to the Dutch port of New Amsterdam, slavery, and its effects on the Egyptian cotton trade.

Clamoring everywhere in between are Boghiguian’s fabulously messy collages, sculptures, paintings in beehive frames, cutout paper figures, and a large painted sailcloth. The eight parts of the mixed-media drawing Nietzsche, 2016, are spare and illustrative: In one section, opposite arrows point to the names “Dionysus” and “Apollo,” for example. The panels in the beehive frames, such as In the World: East and West, North and South I, 2017, are busier, suggesting more complex histories unraveling (one juxtaposes portraits of Gandhi with images of Alfred Hitchcock pointing to his watch). The mandatory reading is a touch oppressive, so these moments out of it offer relief—as well as an accurate accounting of Boghiguian’s wild imagination and frenetic spirit.