Critics’ Picks

Mona Hatoum, Homebound (detail), 2000, kitchen utensils, furniture, electric wire, light bulbs, dimmer unit, amplifier, and two speakers, dimensions variable.


Mona Hatoum

The Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross Street
October 13–February 25

The first survey of Beirut-born Mona Hatoum’s work in a United States museum in twenty years is revelatory and destabilizing. Curator Michelle White has organized more than twenty major sculptures and installations and dozens of smaller pieces and works on paper made since the 1980s in several galleries and among the museum’s collection. The exhibition foregrounds Hatoum’s ability to shift the scale and materials of familiar and oftentimes domestic objects (hair, light bulbs, and cheese graters, but also grenades and maps) in a manner that suggests a relationship both to Surrealist pieces hanging nearby and to her biography—at the onset of the Lebanese Civil War, in 1975, she settled in London—while also casting a broader chill.

Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma” includes the artist’s well-known works featuring weapons and maps. Consider Misbah, 2006–2007, a darkened room illuminated by lamps found in mosques and homes, though here decorative cutouts include representations of gun-toting soldiers. The region’s cartography is memorably presented in 3-D Cities, 2008–2009, here on study tables with circular areas partially excised, as if depicting explosions.

Hatoum’s larger installations evoke universal dangers. La Grande Broyeuse (Mouli-Julienne x 17), 1999—a hand-cranked food mill fabricated seventeen times its normal size—towers over and menaces the body. In Homebound, 2000, an entire room is caged off by wires, installed with institutional furniture (chairs, table, crib, bed) linked by cables powering bare bulbs and crackling with electricity. A haunting piece sits in a corner: The tilted frame of a steel wheelchair is spiked at the handles, endangering would-be patients and caretakers alike (Untitled (wheelchair II), 1999). In Hatoum’s world, threats are everywhere, and even the home is terra infirma.