Critics’ Picks

Santiago Sierra, La fila (The Line), 2017. Performance view, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, March 29, 2017.


Santiago Sierra

Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea (PAC)
Via Palestro 14
March 29–June 4, 2017

Santiago Sierra’s name by now brings to mind ephemeral interventions in urban and natural landscapes, aggressive institutional critique, and, above all, controversial performances that stage the exploitative dynamics of capitalism. The challenge of this retrospective of the artist’s work since he began exhibiting in 1990 is to account for all these strategies, which are largely dependent upon their original contexts. The core of the exhibition, unsurprisingly, consists of panels of text, photographs, and black–and-white videos documenting situations that are impossible to present in the round. The show takes various approaches to avoid the monotony that might threaten an exhibition with so much documentary material. For one, archival elements alternate with a handful of works with powerful physical presences, primarily the striking 21 anthropometric modules of human faeces made by the people of Sulabh International, 2005–2006 (the title is a literal description of the work, which alone occupies the museum’s entire first floor). For another, particular emphasis is given to photographic and video works where the reproduced image more or less replicates the work itself (as with the enormous print Teeth of the last gypsies of Ponticelli , 2009); or competes with it in terms of impact (as in War veterans facing the wall, 2011–15, a long row of prints depicting lifesize subjects). Finally, the curators invited the artist to create a new performance for the show’s opening. The result was another paradoxical (and, as usual, controversial) work, La fila (The Line), 2017, wherein hundreds of homeless people formed a long line in front of the exhibition space, to receive ten euros each: payment, ultimately, for nothing more than the act of waiting in line.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.