Critics’ Picks

Olaf Nicolai, That's a God-forsaken place, 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

St. Gallen

Olaf Nicolai

Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
Museumstrasse 32
July 7–November 11

Artworks that reflect the conditions of their own formation often leave a lasting mark, like an astronaut’s boot print on the surface of the moon. The ploys of the conceptual artist Olaf Nicolai do, though their impressions tend to reshape themselves in one’s mind; his work stokes doubt and mines the rich and relevant tensions between history and fiction, fact and conspiracy.

At this exhibition’s entrance, visitors are invited to pick up a hand-sized meteorite-like rock titled Visitor, be my guest, 2015. But whether it is an emissary from space, as the exhibition title suggests––“That’s a God-forsaken place; but it’s beautiful, isn’t it?” is a quote from American astronaut Charles Conrad Jr. during his 1969 lunar travels––or whether it’s a playful art stunt, remains unclear.

Entering the museum’s central space, visitors encounter That’s a God-forsaken place, 2018, a vast cratered landscape composed of tons of sand. They stagger through in half darkness, their navigation aided only by two green walls that illuminate the inhospitable terrain with fluorescent UV light. This participatory playground speaks to the entertaining levels of various references that intersect in Nicolai’s work. What story is told by the nocturnal, flash-intensive landscape photograph series “Zabriskie Point,” 2010? Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film of the same name is filled with dream sequences; Zabriskie Point is also where Foucault first took LSD, if we’re to trust the “previously unpublished texts by Simeon Wade,” installed in vitrines throughout the exhibition. Isn’t there a chance that the 1969 moon landing was an elaborate hoax? Take the story of Butades, in which his daughter eternalizes her beloved by tracing the outline of his shadow—the so-called origin of painting. How believable are films, photographs, documentations? My own trace?

Translated from German by Diana Reese.