Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Lorna Simpson: Unanswerable,” 2018.

    Lorna Simpson

    Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
    23 Savile Row
    March 1 - April 28

    American politics is tragically comic, with a hyperawareness of injustice matched only by often-futile attempts to generate change. For decades, Lorna Simpson has keenly observed this closed loop of progress and regression in the fight for civil rights across the United States. Ice is her latest tool in this Sisyphean labor for equality. Simpson asks viewers to read ice as both a symbol of endurance and an allusion to how the government freezes black people out of society through mass incarceration and other methods of disenfranchisement.

    Opening the exhibition is a wall of forty small photocollages that together compose the show’s title work, Unanswerable (all works cited, 2018). Many of the images are hybrids, matching a black woman’s head to another body, be it human or animal. Alarmingly, a handful of collages depict black women testifying in court, mountains of snow accumulating around them. Will their testimonies be heard? Will they be trusted? The work is a clever prologue to the show, establishing the thematic connections between ice and distortion.

    Behind a wall, we see one of Simpson’s collages realized in three dimensions. Frostbitten and forlorn, Woman on Snowball is an image of despondency. Huddled in a fetal position, she casts a gloomy look across the gallery. Below her gaze is 12 Stacks, a suite of makeshift sculptures composed of Ebony and Jet magazines (documents of black pride and glamour), found stools, and glass shaped to resemble ice blocks. The blocks disfigure the magazines, warping cover models into nightmarish forms and clownish distortions. With the figures’ eyes bulging and their lips pursed, the visual trickery reminds the viewer that even innocent-looking items can have racial dimensions; everything is politically coded. An image may last, but a caricature lingers.

  • View of: “Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness,” 2017–18.

    Leonor Antunes

    Whitechapel Gallery
    77 - 82 Whitechapel High Street
    October 3 - April 8

    Leonor Antunes’s exhibition here, “the frisson of the togetherness,” thrills as rapturously as an eagerly anticipated kiss. Her materials, forms, and techniques coalesce to stirring effect, producing an atmosphere that carefully weaves the viewer into her mesmeric installation.

    Soft light from freestanding lamps, which casts gentle shadows, caresses the perforated shapes that divide the gallery. Leather horse bridals sit within tangled trellises; teak panels, reminiscent of room partitions, are laced together and fan out (permutations, all works cited, 2017). They’re punctured with large, triangular apertures through which to peep. One piece of rope, titled Ernö, spans the entire ceiling and is repeatedly bound to the floor through metal loops. It feels like a modernist jungle by Charles and Ray Eames: the liana-like cordage modulates the space while enabling a sense of openness and play. It’s elegant, seductive—Antunes wants you to be aware of your own and others’ bodies as you move through the space. Her menagerie encourages a tender togetherness that subverts the quiet contemplation of the art-viewing experience.

    Antunes often incorporates works by overlooked women artists into her installations. Here, the drawings of British artist Mary Martin (which inspired the geometric cork-and-linoleum floor) and Brazilian artist Lucia Nogueira’s jewelry are presented in glass display cases by Nanna Ditzel, a Danish designer. Antunes reignites the past by repositioning modernism within the twenty-first century, where everyone is invited into the mix and women claim the space that they deserve.

  • Mona Hatoum, Natura morta (bow-fronted cabinet), 2012, Murano mirrored glass, wood, glass cabinet, 51 x 24 x 12".

    “Age of Terror: Art since 9/11”

    Imperial War Museum
    Lambeth Road
    October 26 - May 28

    The “Age of Terror”—could there be a more dismal art show for the grimmest museum in London? And yet there are seemingly jaunty works to be found here, with Mona Hatoum’s Natura morta (bow-fronted cabinet), 2012, showing gaudy glass hand grenades resembling Christmas-tree decorations, and Jitish Kallat’s miniaturized security-line figurines—Circadian Rhyme 1, 2011—looking like an adult Playmobil set. Whether inadvertent or not, it is telling that this large fifty-piece show problematizes the representation of war. There is Cory Arcangel’s thrift-store find Bomb Iraq, 2005, an innocent-looking homemade video game from the 1991 Gulf War, and Gerhard Richter’s September, 2009, a print of a painting of the Twin Towers aflame that feels uncomfortably like hotel kitsch.

    A protagonist in Don DeLillo’s novel Falling Man (2007), reflects about a friend: “Maybe he was a terrorist but he was one of ours, she thought . . . which meant godless, Western, white.” Such disconcerting ambiguities mark the best work here, including Kerry Tribe’s casting-call film Untitled (Potential Terrorist), 2002, and John Smith’s perfectly guileless video Throwing Stones, (Hotel Diaries #3), 2004, where his camera surveils a room as he idly soliloquizes about inconsequential and world-changing events.

    But the main grouping of relatively detached and conceptually assured art-world familiars is mirrored by a selection of artists from countries the West has, in the wake of 9/11, bombed to oblivion. Three brutally direct videos stand out in particular. Khaled Abdulwahed’s Tuj, 2012, shows a child’s soccer ball repeatedly bouncing off an interior wall in Damascus as sounds of outside explosions increase. In Lida Abdul’s White House, 2005, she whitewashes the ruins of a presidential palace on the outskirts of Kabul, while in Homesick, 2014, Hrair Sarkissian demolishes a model of the Damascus apartment building his parents refuse to leave. Such art goes straight to the heart of the matter.