Critics’ Picks

Alexander Obrazumov, Karma (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Moscow

“The Coming World: Ecology as the New Politics 2030–2100”

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
Krimsky Val, 9
June 28–December 1, 2019

Looking toward a not-too-distant future, this blockbuster exhibition raises environmental concerns in a country whose president officially finds climate change economically advantageous. “The Coming World” welcomes both a realistic, pessimistic prognosis and utopian visions of alternative cohabitation of the planet. The first room, housing a conceptual “engine” akin to Documenta 13’s famous “brain,” convenes precious canvases, pieces of design, and blueprints. Classic Flemish tapestry and Dutch landscapes hang alongside Soviet historical and neo-avant-garde works rarely presented in this context, next to the Organic Culture movement’s wooden readymades and documentation of the Gnezdo (Nest) group’s 1977 happening A Minute Without Breathing.

This reliquary valorizes the individual works of more than fifty contemporary artists, many installed in a kind of capsule that invites viewers to reestablish sensual relationships with the reified world. In Anastasia Potemkina’s Pass Me the Salt, Please, 2019, one can undergo halotherapy (breathing salty air), while in the controversial live installation Together Again, 2017/2019, spectators can observe a captive-born wolf sharing a cage with Hayden Fowler, who is wandering through the natural habitat of the animal by means of VR glasses. Purple, 2017, John Akomfrah’s six-channel sublime video-landscape, grieves Earth’s fragility as it bends nature’s aestheticization to new extremes, transcending the melancholic, defeatist atmosphere that this show often cultivates.

Indeed, the prevailing attitude shifts responsibility from political systems onto humanity at large, at times even individualizing the guilt. As curators Snejana Krasteva and Ekaterina Lazareva claim, some works “present a political problem as everybody’s personal matter.” Alexander Obrazumov’s Karma, 2019, serves as an antidote to this flagellation, “estranging” a sterile office with artificial grass growing through lamps: a denouncement of mainstream environmentalism as neoliberal ideology. The natural world, Adorno once suggested, usually accrues value in times of political impotence and social atrophy. By satirizing corporate obsession with eco-friendly lifestyles, Obrazumov reminds us how the reduction of collective struggle to self-gratifying ethical consumption is beneficial for big institutions—a reality that Garage, in this idea-driven enterprise, nimbly avoids.