Critics’ Picks

  • View of Roman Signer's “Skulptur/Fotografie.”

    Roman Signer

    Istituto Svizzero di Roma - Villa Maraini
    via Ludovisi, 48
    March 23 - July 1

    This survey of Swiss artist Roman Signer comprises thirty-four works that highlight the artist’s concept of “action sculpture,” a mode that combines empirical creation with the intrinsic potential of the object’s nature. The show begins on the villa’s exterior porch. Planschbecken mit Schwimmflügeln (Wading Pool with Water Wings), 2018, an inflatable pool full of water and floating plastic water wings—starkly superimposed against the circular geometry of the mosaic floor paving—establishes an immediate relationship with the architecture of the site. This piece opens up a central sequence that involves two other works: Teppich (Carpet), 2002, consists of a rifle resting on the ground, aimed at a target positioned beyond a raised-up red carpet. In Kayak Spitze (Kayak Tip), 2010, half a canoe is positioned vertically, similar to one outside that functioned as a spuming “volcano” during the opening performance.

    In large adjacent rooms, black-and-white photographs with identical gray frames, made between 1973 and 1986, reveal the enchanting and experimental qualities in Signer’s work. The artist uses man and nature to describe a world hovering between artifice and physical forces, preferring to capture on film the crystallization of experimental processes. This is evidenced by Tish, 1986, in which a table balances on buckets brimming with liquid, as if to illustrate Archimedes’s principle—or in Krater und Kegel (Crater and Cone), 1973, where, due to the force of gravity, a parallelepiped containing sand creates a cone and its corresponding void. Always products of their time, Signer’s works often make use of new technologies. Deckenbemalung (Ceiling painting), 2018, a constellation of blue dots painted onto the ceiling, was made using a drone equipped with a shaving brush.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

  • Ian Tweedy, Green Point, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 x 71 1/2."

    Ian Tweedy

    Monitor | Rome
    via Sforza Cesarini 43a Palazzo Sforza Cesarini
    April 19 - June 16

    “My Wall,” the title of this exhibition, feels like a statement. After an absence of many years, American artist Ian Tweedy has returned to Rome, the city where he took decisive steps in his art after a prolific career as a street and graffiti artist who went by the name Dephect. His return affirms an unavoidable need: to reclaim possession of the pictorial surface. Thus there is a perceptible swerve in his research. He abandons the small format he employed a decade or so ago with well-known compositions characterized by meticulous brushstrokes on old linen book jackets—works that formed the “Arrangements of Forgotten Stories” series, 2007–10—to expand his vision onto large-scale canvases. His palette has lightened up, diluting into warmer and more ethereal shades, while nuanced tones lick at the layers of paint.

    Although a mix of aesthetics rumbles in these muted yet vibrant works—including graffiti, sculpture, photography, collage, and drawing—Tweedy somehow now confines his lawless, prismatic visions to oils. The human figure is still present but almost always seen from the back, shorn of identity. Light often decomposes the subject, in a process that recalls the experiments with color in Sonia and Robert Delaunay’s Orphism, as in Fixed, Brush, and Green Point (all 2018). The human presence, deprived of defined contours, is reabsorbed into the surrounding natural landscape, scrambling the perspectival planes. The ideas of memory, identity, and belonging that characterized Tweedy’s early work have not been exhausted, but rather are strengthened here within a more intimate gaze, in which personal stories are filtered through collective ones and thus rendered universal.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

  • Allora & Calzadilla, Blackout, 2017, electrical transformer core coil, ceramic insulators, steel, iron, oscillator, speaker, 54 3/4 x 103 1/8 x 50 3/4''.

    Allora & Calzadilla

    MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
    Via Guido Reni 4A
    February 16 - May 30

    In recent years, Allora & Calzadilla have grown fond of deploying both the surreal and the kitsch, administering sociopolitical commentary to the public imagination in a direct and biting manner. At the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale, the duo represented the United States with a blatant j’accuse of both militarism and the myth of bodily perfection—most startlingly with Track and Field, 2011, a living monument in the Giardini section composed of an overturned tank conquered by an American Olympic athlete on a treadmill.

    Here, the expressive dynamic of the artists, who live in Puerto Rico, is subtler but no less incisive. The linchpin of the exhibition is the sonic sculpture Blackout, 2017, made with the remains of an electromagnetic power transformer, owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, that exploded in 2016, causing a disastrous power outage. It is a sort of mechanical cadaver whose decomposition reflects the scandalous relationship between the Caribbean island’s use of energy and economy, which are subject to neocolonialist policies of the United States. This sculpture works as a diapason around David Lang’s droning vocal work mains hum, 2017, which is performed during the weekend. Sound is also central in Allora & Calzadilla’s video production; The Night We Became People Again, 2017, which uses luminosity contrasts to combine ancestral visions with postapocalyptic shots of a derelict petrochemical factory, is scored with nervous, primordial whirrs.

    Considering the urgency of the artists’ themes in the wake of Hurricane Maria, these works at times risk a certain aloofness. Yet as a whole, the show—which also includes more ornamental works such as a collage of broken solar cells (Solar Catastrophe, 2016) and palmy silk screens (Contract, 2014–16)—provides a trenchant interpretation of the artists’ investigation of a nature-capital binomial.

    Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.