Critics’ Picks


Mircea Cantor

Fondazione Giuliani
via Gustavo Bianchi 1
October 13–December 16, 2017

A charged olfactory environment meets visitors to Mircea Cantor’s latest show. The perfume of Aleppo soap fills one’s nostrils: a unique smell, indelible for those who have walked at least once through Syrian souks.

In addition to the soap, water and peace lilies, which are known to purify the air, (in Disrupted Air (Still Life), 2017) fill Cantor’s exhibition. The artist seems to create a hymn to rebirth, framing it as an indispensable contemporary condition. But for Cantor, that restoration is also a consequence of ruin and loss—of heritage, traditions, sociopolitical equanimity, freedom, and innocence. The soap takes the form of large columns representing the archetype of a menhir, their tortile shapes resembling architectural elements of Solomon’s Temple. There are four such soap columns in total, of different hues and orientations: Two stand erect, one leans sideways, bursting through an elastic trampoline sprinkled with debris, and one lies flat on the ground (Vertical Aleppo, Diagonal Aleppo, and Horizontal Aleppo, all 2017). In Hand Fountain, 2017, meanwhile, digital and organic elements collide, as a video shot with a thermal camera appears within a well containing water.

Paradox and bitter irony are recurrent themes in Cantor’s practice. A definitive example of these interests is one wall work that seemingly either opens or closes the show: The World Belongs to Those Who Set It on Fire, 2016. Here, the shadowy continents of a world map turn out to have been burnt into the paper with candle smoke—an effective, and incisive, explanation of international politics.