Critics’ Picks

View of “Rirkrit Tiravanija,” 2010.

View of “Rirkrit Tiravanija,” 2010.

Bangkok

Rirkrit Tiravanija

100 Tonson Foundation
100 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan
August 5–August 29, 2010

The title of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s first solo show in his ethnic homeland is “(who’s afraid of red, yellow and green)”—surely a reference to the 1982 attack on Barnett Newman’s similarly titled painting in Berlin. The vandal defended himself by claiming Newman’s painting was a “perversion” of the German flag. In Thailand, the colors of Tiravanija’s title represent factions within local nationalist politics: Those protesting the recent governments have organized themselves under the mantles of “red shirts” and “yellow shirts.” (Green, one can assume, is a reference to the army). His show comes in the wake of a protracted occupation of central Bangkok by the red shirts, and its bloody resolution. But while Newman’s title was provocative, Tiravanija’s use of parentheses and lowercase letters suggests the explanatory or implied. Indeed, who is afraid of the local divisions signified by these colors?

The show unites Tiravanija’s signature culinary work with his ongoing series of drawings derived from protest imagery. The drawings, rendered large on the walls, reference the demonstrations alongside related historical images. The faintly acrid smell of old cooked food brings to mind the aftertaste of a large gathering of people, or perhaps mob management. Looking at the drawings amid an abundance of cooking utensils on a makeshift steel floor, viewers can imagine a site now emptied of its temporary occupants.

Here Tiravanija has somewhat “answered” the critique levied by Claire Bishop in a number of publications that he generally creates a utopian sense of community with none of its “inherent frictions.” We all agree that Thailand should be a better place, but we need to see the problem of its divisions written on the wall; between his drawings and cooking detritus, and the context of local political strife, Tiravanija’s latest exhibition maps violent antagonism and disjuncture.