Critics’ Picks

Allora & Calzadilla, Blackout, 2017, electrical transformer core coil, ceramic insulators, steel, iron, oscillator, speaker, 54 3/4 x 103 1/8 x 50 3/4”.


Allora & Calzadilla

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni 4A
February 16–May 30

In recent years, Allora & Calzadilla have grown fond of deploying both the surreal and the kitsch, administering sociopolitical commentary to the public imagination in a direct and biting manner. At the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale, the duo represented the United States with a blatant j’accuse of both militarism and the myth of bodily perfection—most startlingly with Track and Field, 2011, a living monument in the Giardini section composed of an overturned tank conquered by an American Olympic athlete on a treadmill.

Here, the expressive dynamic of the artists, who live in Puerto Rico, is subtler but no less incisive. The linchpin of the exhibition is the sonic sculpture Blackout, 2017, made with the remains of an electromagnetic power transformer, owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, that exploded in 2016, causing a disastrous power outage. It is a sort of mechanical cadaver whose decomposition reflects the scandalous relationship between the Caribbean island’s use of energy and economy, which are subject to neocolonialist policies of the United States. This sculpture works as a diapason around David Lang’s droning vocal work mains hum, 2017, which is performed during the weekend. Sound is also central in Allora & Calzadilla’s video production; The Night We Became People Again, 2017, which uses luminosity contrasts to combine ancestral visions with postapocalyptic shots of a derelict petrochemical factory, is scored with nervous, primordial whirrs.

Considering the urgency of the artists’ themes in the wake of Hurricane Maria, these works at times risk a certain aloofness. Yet as a whole, the show—which also includes more ornamental works such as a collage of broken solar cells (Solar Catastrophe, 2016) and palmy silk screens (Contract, 2014–16)—provides a trenchant interpretation of the artists’ investigation of a nature-capital binomial.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.