Critics’ Picks

Elina Brotherus, Baigneuse, orage montant (Bather, rising storm), 2003, color photograph, 27 1/2 x 31”.

Elina Brotherus, Baigneuse, orage montant (Bather, rising storm), 2003, color photograph, 27 1/2 x 31”.

La Carte d’Après Nature,” “Second Hand,” Elina Brotherus

Surprise is a legitimate reaction to finding one of the year’s best contemporary exhibitions in Monaco. The inaugural show at the Nouveau Musée Nationale de Monaco’s Villa Paloma, La carte d’après Nature (The Map After Nature),” curated by photographer Thomas Demand, acknowledges that surprise. The show plays on the deep strangeness of the one-mile-squared leisure kingdom, on its heights of both nature and artifice, in works like Chris Garofalo’s intricate ceramic models of impossible sea creatures and Saâdane Afif’s absurd topographical map of a wave (Strategie de l’inqiétude [Strategy of Unrest], 1998). The artist-as-curator is one of the most interesting features of the show: For example, in designing a trompe l’oeil velvet-curtain wallpaper to surround Magritte’s paintings, he has (in his words) “taken many liberties where a professional curator might be accused of infringing.”

Liberties taken by professional curator Anne Dressen at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris created the dynamism of “Second Hand,” a seven-month-long group show in which the expansive, permanent modern-survey collection of the museum was “infiltrated” by copies, imitations, and appropriations, from a Modigliani by legendary forger Elmyr de Hory to Olivier Mosset’s striped canvas Untitled, 1974, whose uniform bands are only infinitesimally wider than Daniel Buren’s. Playful interspersing of the “lookalikes” threw the spectator into investigative mode, ready to examine the authenticity of the masterpieces of the permanent collection.

Elina Brotherus’s photographs and videos have a consistent relationship with the history of painting, but one that is subtler than direct copy or citation. In a retrospective and then a follow-up show of new work at gbagency in February and March, one saw an initial confessional phase in the 1990s give way to an investigation of the compositional conventions of nineteenth-century painting, from the romanticism of Model Studies, 2002–, in which figures are viewed from the back against expansive landscapes reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich, to the academicism of a marmoreal nude in Baigneuse, orage montant (Bather, rising storm), 2003.

Julia Langbein is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Chicago.