Critics’ Picks

  • View of “The Best View in Town,” 2020.

    View of “The Best View in Town,” 2020.

    Mirak Jamal

    Galerie Sultana
    10 rue Ramponeau
    June 12–July 25, 2020

    Mohsen Jamal (b. 1941) began painting pastorals after he emigrated with his family from Tehran to Germany, fleeing Iran’s turbulent revolution. His son, Mirak Jamal (b. 1979), has been carving out a path as an artist for himself in Berlin. In this show, their respective oeuvres are juxtaposed, providing alternate ways of understanding diaspora through creative expression.

    A postcardlike scene hung against a painted lavender backdrop is the fulcrum of the exhibition. Completed by the elder artist in 1986, it is titled Römerberg, after the village where the Jamals first settled. The charged sociopolitical circumstances surrounding the family’s exodus are entirely absent in this sun-dappled canvas, which, in its respect to detail and eagerness to connect or at least capture a new context, typifies the artist’s output. By contrast, Mirak’s own practice, shaped by living and working in an art capital, offers a more splintered, surrealist view, the imagery tinged by an ambient malaise.

    The two bodies of work, created over three decades apart, indicate at once a shared artistic vocation and a clear rift: The parent’s admiring gaze on the seemingly placid countryside morphs into the son’s look askance at his metropolitan surroundings. Depicting tranquil houses and lush greenery with soft brushstrokes and pastels, the senior Jamal considers life in the West in earnest. Mirak’s 2019 works loosely respond with flatter, brighter planes of color, abstract and linear—a less worshipful gaze. His Great pillars of a civilization and what grows between spans a single tree against an angular monument, existential and spare, while Looking up at Gropiusstadt—a print transfer nestled within an oil painting—provides an even starker shift from the paternal panoramas. Instead, a looming social housing behemoth presides over a reclining figure. Greenery sprouts from below this brut urban topography, but it seems more parasite than promise.

  • View of “Sauvetage Sauvage,” 2020.

    View of “Sauvetage Sauvage,” 2020.

    Diego Bianchi

    Galerie Jocelyn Wolff | Romainville
    43 rue de la Commune de Paris
    May 13–July 31, 2020

    Diego Bianchi’s shows look like burnt plastic smells. For “Soft Realism” at Jocelyn Wolff’s Belleville gallery last year, that plastic was latex—black, thick, and gooey, coating various appendixes as inexorably as birds get oiled. Now, at “Sauvetage Sauvage,” the artist draped everything at Wolff’s Romainville location—walls, floors, staff desks—in sheets of transparent plastic. Pristine and crinkly, this material is less evocative of discount sex megastores than of a sanitary limbo: our “new normal” blown up to cathedral-like proportions inside the gallery’s three stories.

    A response to the pandemic, the show’s installation was made possible through video-conferenced guiding. Bianchi got the idea to wrap the space after watching an online tutorial in which a woman made a plastic curtain in order to safely hug her own mother. The eleven pieces, spaced as to be socially distanced, are disturbing, but to merely discredit them as “ugly” would be too easy. “Ugly” is a cultured feeling, as is its libidinized counterpart, known in artspeak as the “abject.” Where the latter plays on bodily taboos, presupposing a humanist, unified subject, the Argentinian artist’s sculptural installations address a commodified environment where subjectivity does not preexist the process of its machinic production. Runner, 2017—alongside the several freestanding limbs titled Standing Leg, 2015, Pink Sock, 2017, and Pubis, 2017—evokes a recent tradition of cyborgian sculptures in which the human or its organs emerge from a mesh of technical apparatuses (see Stewart Uoo, Renaud Jerez, Johannes Paul Raether, and Anna Uddenberg). Here, however, the human is not augmented but absent, a calcinated core and lost Modulor of mass-produced items: tennis shoes, jeans, a pink sock, all too new to have ever been used.