Critics’ Picks

  • Invernomuto and Jim C. Nedd, PICÓ: Un parlante de África en América, 2017, HD film, color, sound, 61 Minutes.

    Invernomuto and Jim C. Nedd, PICÓ: Un parlante de África en América, 2017, HD film, color, sound, 61 Minutes.

    London

    “PICÓ: Un parlante de Africa en America”

    Auto Italia
    44 Bonner Road
    October 10–December 13, 2020

    Barranquilla and Cartagena, the vibrant port cities of Colombia’s north Caribbean coast, were once slave-trading posts during Spanish rule. Since the 1950s, a music and dance culture emerged, manifesting in fluorescent, mobile sound systems called picós, apocryphally named after the pickup trucks that transport them to parties along the coastline. This history is the subject of an hourlong documentary, on view here, by the Italian artist duo Invernomuto in collaboration with the Afro-Colombian visual artist Jim C. Nedd., currently on show at Auto Italia South East in London.

    Filmed in 2017, PICÓ: Un parlante de Africa en America, follows the woodworkers, technicians, and craftsmen who assemble picós from scratch, hooking up recycled turntables to gigantic speakers, sometimes numbering a dozen. Each picó is idiosyncratic, named and decorated with kitsch aerosol imagery emblazoned on the speaker grills, featuring neon wolves, revolutionaries, and Norse gods.

    Full of exquisite, comic shots of the DJs (known as picoteros) posing beside their gear, the documentary also maps the deeper, synergized histories of enslavement, music, and resistance of sound system culture. The high-decibel, thunderous beats blasted from the picós matured across the 1970s, when records from West Africa were first imported to Barranquilla. Picó culture became the bass-heavy Afro-Colombian fusion it is today through a mashup of juju, highlife, and Afrobeats spun together with Colombian salsa and rumba. Most significantly, the documentary traces the origins of transatlantic sonic styles inland to a village named Palenque, founded in the 1590s by West Africans who escaped slavery and occupied by their descendants. If across the last century Afro-Colombian history has been overshadowed by the Colombian civil conflict, the filmmakers suggest that picó music is a remedy to this amnesia.

  • Ron Nagle, Signature Scent, 2017, wood, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 6 × 4 1/2 × 4 3/4".

    Ron Nagle, Signature Scent, 2017, wood, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 6 × 4 1/2 × 4 3/4".

    London

    Ron Nagle

    Modern Art Helmet Row
    4-8 Helmet Row
    September 10–December 12, 2020

    This exhibition’s eponymous Lincolnshire Squire, 2018, is not a noble medieval courtier, as one might speculate, but rather a pint-sized sculpture. As is typical with Ron Nagle’s practice, some titles are red herrings, while others playfully experiment with alliteration and punning. This is perhaps best epitomised by Mail Impotence, 2018, which takes the form of an engorged arrow, its point buried, with cartoonish, phallic fletching.

    Nagle fabricated the “squire” itself in his hallmark idiosyncratic combination of ceramic, epoxy resin, and catalysed polyurethane. The work is comprised of three elements: a crimson form analogous to a scallop shell is fused to an asphalt base on which a masticated-looking white rock has been placed. This gravelly texture recurs in different hues throughout the show, often combined with segments of gilded or lustrous oozing glazes, from the acidic aquamarine of Planetary Honorarium, 2020, with its psychedelic lilac edges, to the earthy ochre tones of Editorial Conjecture, 2019. The lurid colours and irregular textures complement each other, synthetic smoothness viscerally juxtaposed against stuccoed surfaces.

    Along with a selection of preliminary drawings, there are eighteen sculptures in the show, some of which are exhibited in individual square recesses in the gallery walls, spot-lit like antiques in a museum; others sit protected in glass vitrines placed on plinths which offer a full 360-degree view. The intimate scale of these works, all of which are between three and seven inches high (similar to the dimensions of a Fabergé egg), force the viewer to peer closely and make her own speculative visual associations. In Signature Scent, 2017, what looks like latex gloves or chicken giblets protrude from a knobbly, mint-chocolate-chip wall. In Nagle’s ­sculptures I perceive stick bugs, hamburgers, a quill, tongues, ashtrays, sardine cans, udders, tombstones, and teardrops. Like Gestalt optical illusions, the references are fleeting, morphing back and forth.

  • Jack Whitten, Birth Of An Enigma, 1964, oil on canvas with burlap collage, 50 x 84 x 1".

    Jack Whitten, Birth Of An Enigma, 1964, oil on canvas with burlap collage, 50 x 84 x 1".

    London

    Arshile Gorky and Jack Whitten

    Hauser & Wirth London | Savile Row
    23 Savile Row
    Online only. May 20 - December 31, 2020

    Arshile Gorky and Jack Whitten were both exiles who saw painting as a place. Gorky’s family fled the Armenian genocide when he was a child, eventually settling in New York City in 1920. Whitten, an African American born in segregated Alabama, inevitably experienced color as a more punitive index. Both artists suffused their work with a tension between the rural and the city as a space of self-reinvention, creating vivid sense impressions as buoyant and evanescent as butterflies in a net.

    Despite the generation gap—Gorky took his own life in 1948; Whitten began painting in the early ’60s—these works talk to each other: a kinship plotted through restless surfaces attuned to displaced souls. In Gorky’s Virginia Landscape, c. 1944, fiery pockets of crayoned yellow and cerise bloom into white clouds, rendering the Southern bucolic with trembling vitality. From the same vintage, Untitled, c. 1944–45, unstrings the topography and scatters it like beads. Patches of pastel emerald float amid bright organic shapes of speckled orange and ash. Skeletal, unadorned pencil lines evoke a tree shedding its leaves.

    Whitten’s King’s Wish (Martin Luther’s Dream), 1968, is a chromatic explosion, all distorted human faces emerging from a swirl of deep pinks and swollen purples. In Birth of An Enigma, 1964, forms pulse and vibrate as if seen through a microscope: strange, swimming globules, though one can make out prison bars on the burlap, too. This echoes Gorky’s Pastoral, 1947, a Surrealist mass of fleshy humanlike parts, all the queasier in our new, screenbound life.

    Finally, Quantum Wall, VIII (For Arshile Gorky, My First Love in Painting), 2017, is Whitten’s valentine to the elder abstractionist. Created a year before Whitten’s death at seventy-eight, the vibrant acrylic tessellation joins two artists who embraced the canvas as a route toward spiritual freedom; another diaspora through which they tried to find a home.