This retrospective of Walter Pichler’s work makes it clear that he remains profoundly influential, both in his native Austria and beyond. Simultaneously working in sculpture, architecture, graphic design, furniture, industrial design, drawing, and occasionally writing, he liberally blurred the disciplinary boundaries between these fields and heralded an expanded notion of what an artist might be.
Take, for instance, Table for Oswald and Ingrid (Prototype 8), 1967. It is purportedly a dining table for two, with inflatable legs and a plastic top with indentations that are meant to function as plates. Embossed with the names of its prospective users—the jazz musician and writer Oswald Wiener and his wife, Ingrid Schuppan-Wiener, whose home was a gathering place for the Viennese avant-garde in the 1960s—it is hilarious as a piece of furniture, but its idiosyncratic form clearly marks it as sculpture. This piece questions both the autonomy of art objects and the “form follows function” philosophy of modernist design while acknowledging the social context of its presentation. Moreover, Pichler’s use of inflatable PVC and other then-new materials further muddied the distinction between design and sculpture.
The artist, in dialogue with interlocutors including architect Hans Hollein, aimed to integrate art into everyday life. With works such as Dormitory, 1968, consisting of four beds (one lost) with sculptural forms, radios, or photographs embedded in each mattress, he expanded the contexts available for artistic endeavors. The strength of this exhibition ultimately lies in the fact that it offers aesthetic strategies that are still highly effective at situating art outside its isolation in order to both trouble and enrich it.
Like living creatures, the waves scurry over the surface of the sea—a viewer can hardly escape their delicacy. Like living creatures, these fleeting apparitions in Hans Weigand’s latest exhibition move through the gallery. Here, the artist exhibits large-format watercolors with india ink on wood with surprising subjects, in the style of Katsushika Hokusai. It is, however, not the actual graphics that are to be seen but rather the wooden blocks with backgrounds and surfaces that shimmer in mauve and ocher tones. The image brought forth from the wood—wave riders and their boards, for instance—are dyed black and bring a necessary contrast to the images.
Weigand draws on an image archive he has been compiling for decades. Trouble in Paradise (Falling J . . .), 2016, for example, shows Christ, clad in a loincloth, plunging into a breaking wave. In the diptych made up of Ghostsurfer 5 and Ghostsurfer 6, both 2016, the waves have just swallowed their riders—only the surfboards are vaguely perceptible. The high point of the exhibition is Gesiterwelle aus dem 16. Jahre (Wave of Spirits from the Sixteenth Century), 2015, a nearly seven-foot-wide work in which a turquoise tidal wave sweeps over the eggplant-colored surface of the sea. The sprawling valleys and peaked ridges of the water figure seem to be assembled from human bodies and drive the entire mass over the calm ocean. The depth of the printing block into which the wave is gouged makes the image appear as a living creature.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Just how many exhibitions there are in this show, with the promising title “Exhibition/s,” is open to debate. On the other hand, that Andreas Fogarasi always addresses the functionality and logic of exhibiting in his own artistic practice, or makes them the main object of investigation, is clearly staked out. Focusing on works from the past five years, the show considers the intersection of architecture, design, and visual arts. Questions as to how cities and the events generated in and by them are transformed into images, which then inscribe themselves in the collective memory, run like a red thread through the artist’s haunting formal language.
In the second room is Study Desk (Two Tiles from a Specific Place, Three Specific and Unspecific Samples), 2017, a work that that sets the tone for the rest of the installation. On a piece of particle board cantilevered by steel brackets—a display common in hobby and hardware stores—are inlaid tiles, cement, wax, tin, and resin. As in marquetry, the different materials conjoin to form a total image that can be read as a mood board for an interior decorator or as an abstracted city plan from a bird’s-eye perspective, but rendered using a constructivist vocabulary. With more than thirty objects, videos, sculptures, architectural models, and photographs, the entire exhibition is, like this piece, organized as bricolage. Taken as a whole, the display admittedly adds up to an exceedingly dense image, but when considered in fragments, the multiplicity implied by the show’s title becomes apropos.
This first survey of Bruce Nauman’s work in Scandinavia, which coincides with the artist’s seventy-fifth birthday, is a fitting choice for Copenhagen’s newest contemporary art space. Rather than serving as a retrospective, the show demonstrates how relevant and timely Nauman’s challenge to viewers’ perception is today. The twelve pieces on display date from the 1960s through the 1990s and cover almost all media in which the artist has worked, from his neon word plays and experimental videos to his major installations. Set within cavernous halls lit by large industrial windows in a former paper manufactory, Nauman’s installations in particular resonate with a multitude of sensory shifts that activate both the surrounding space and the viewer’s interaction with the work. The cold light emanating from Green Light Corridor, 1970, along with the glistening reflections on the walls of Copenhagen’s inner harbor, illuminates one hall. Just as the work draws visitors in to encounter its confined interior space, it provides glimpsed vistas of the historic Nyhavn streets through the massive windows the passageway faces. Hanging Carousel (George Skins a Fox), 1988, also plays with dissonance, its dangling casts of taxidermic animal parts elegantly revolving around a video screen depicting a hunter skinning a dead fox. What at first appears playful and childlike becomes a grotesquely morbid wheel of life. Such monotonous repetition is carried even further in the most recent work in the show, Setting a Good Corner, 1999. The movie-length video records the countless mundane activities that went into the artist’s construction of a fence on his ranch. Shown on a continuous loop, both the video itself and the activities it records are analogous to the many unseen dull efforts that go into the creation of a work of art. The exhibition forms a dynamic foil to the other interactive installations on display by artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Pettersen & Hein, highlighting how deeply Nauman’s early experimentation with sensory effects and viewer involvement has resonated with younger artists.
“Grey Area,” the title of the first-ever retrospective for the Finnish artist duo Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, known as Grönlund-Nisunen, refers to the way their site-specific works occupy a space somewhere between visual art, natural sciences, architecture, and electronic music. According to Paul Klee, “art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible.” Grönlund-Nisunen seem to have taken his words literally, as they investigate various physical forces and natural phenomena that are beyond the reach of our senses but which still impact our daily existence. If everything is going smoothly, we don’t ask questions about phenomena such as gravity, electricity, magnetism, or lurking radiation. Using simple but effective technology, including a variety of sensors, transformers, and amplifiers, the artists make the unseen audible and turn the intangible into light, heat, or movement. Though it may sound dry, this exhibition shows that their works plumb surprisingly deep and powerful depths, from sheer joy and wonder to unease and even fear, as in the sine wave sound piece Ultrasound Installation, 1996, that changes its pitch in response to impulses from a radiation-measuring Geiger counter.
Grönlund-Nisunen’s works are more like instruments than sculptures. They are purely pragmatic machines in the modernist sense, in which function dictates form. These shiny metal constructions are beautiful for what they do, rather than how they look.
An exhibition of watercolors and photographs by Paolo Colombo portrays an intimate and mysterious cosmos populated by everyday objects (all works untitled and 2016). Several photographs capture artifacts on the artist’s worktable—tiny shells, pottery shards, and beach stones—imbued with the significance of personal talismans. Three photos of plastic Greek baskets embellished with floral motifs, collected by Colombo in the 1970s, look as precious as china against luminous marble backgrounds.
In the paintings, simple geometric shapes or flat forms of birds and human hands interrupt fields of color composed of interweaving lines of two hues—Prussian blue and opera pink, for example. These intricately wrought compositions convey a sense of animation in their fine, quivering crosshatched lines. The intersecting strokes seem too regular to have been drawn by hand yet too wobbly to have been mechanically aided, interrogating the nature of perfection, even its desirability. The artist has purposefully incorporated asymmetry throughout these images, such as uneven gaps between the color matrices, making the pictures seem to float off the paper, as ephemeral as memories.
Colombo is descended from a family of Italian fabric vendors, and the formal elements in his work—grids, squares, diamonds, and dots—echo textile textures and details. Three empty holes in one composition, arranged like buttons between the two panels of a man’s suit, were inspired by what the artist remembered, not entirely accurately, as the jacket worn by Pierrot in Jean-Antoine Watteau’s cryptic 1719 painting. Half hidden around a corner in the gallery is a photograph of a Piet Mondrian painting as displayed on the white wall of a museum, and next to it a still life of Colombo’s brush and drawing pencil atop a work in progress. Like the Dutch artist’s work, this artist’s compositions embody the rhythm of life with an elegant efficiency.
Coinciding with Iceland’s election week was the opening of the second iteration of the Cycle Music and Art Festival in Kópavogur, an extensive program of concerts, performances, and lectures accompanied by a longer-running group show titled “That Time,” curated by Eva Wilson. Derived from Samuel Beckett’s one-act play, the show’s title refers to how art and music exist differently in time. The festival attempts to defy habitual approaches of presenting art and music as separate fields through a strong emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary practices. It presents work by about fifty artists, both local and international; some participate in the exhibition through ongoing radio broadcasts and performances. Standout works include David Levine’s Sepulchral City, 2016, a performance by actors who recite Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as they move freely through various spaces in the museum. The actors perform for everybody and nobody, yet always for themselves, allowing for the audience to wander in and out of the work and to listen while engaging with other pieces. In contrast to this is the installation Surface Costumes, 2015, by Rachel de Joode. Here, the Dutch artist has photographed and then reworked tangible surfaces such as clay, paint, and stone through an extensive technique in Photoshop. By making these images into costumes, she turns these materials back onto themselves, creating a strange feedback loop. Beyond how temporal awareness is composed and utilized through art and music, the title of the show refers to a time and a world beyond our human perception, which in the geological wonder of Iceland seems a little closer to grasp.
Marinus Boezem has long harbored a passion for Gothic architecture. One of his well-known works, The Gothic Growing Project, 1978–87, is a grove of poplar trees whose arrangement reproduces the plan of the Reims Cathedral. The recorded sound of the wind among those poplars can be heard now, in an actual Gothic cathedral, in Transformation, 2016. Installed in the magnificent Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, the show alternates Boezem’s pieces from the 1960s with his new creations. The artist takes a sensitive, measured approach to the solemn site, and the works, even when large in scale, have a delicate touch: an aerial architecture of white veils wafted by fans (Labyrinth, 2016); shattered mirrors on the floor (Meteorites, 2016); a large sheet stretched out on a table, at which a group of parishioners spend several hours a day embroidering the plan of the cathedral, evoking the collective but anonymous nature of medieval craftsmen (Gothic Gestures, 2016). In this context, even Boezem’s earliest works, which are dryly conceptual, are charged with poetic resonance. For example, the wind report (Windschaal / Wind Scale, 1968), which was included in a landmark 1969 exhibition titled “Op Losse Schroeven” at the Stedelijk Museum, here seems to speak of a pneuma, or spiritual breath, like the sound of the wind recorded among the columns. Into the Air, 2016, instead, is subtly blasphemous and consists of a hoist that lifts viewers up to just beneath the vaults of the cathedral, allowing them a viewpoint that the Gothic architects reserved for God. (Boezem has hung a text up there, which warns whoever ascends: “Wait until you hear from me.”) After standing in line for my turn in the hoist, I backed out at the last minute. The official reason was my fear of heights; in reality, it was my fear of divine punishment.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Inaugurating the newly opened Museum Voorlinden (an initiative of Dutch collector Joop Van Caldenborgh) is the first posthumous Ellsworth Kelly exhibition, which features the painting Blue Ripe, 1959, one of Caldenborgh’s earliest purchases, as a central work. Presenting an impression rather than an overview of the artist’s oeuvre, “Ellsworth Kelly, Anthology” nonetheless includes eighty works—both paintings (from Atlantic, 1956, to White Form over Black, 2015) and works on paper. Curator Rudi Fuchs arranged the works in the galleries with the ease of someone molding wax, creating a spatial unity throughout while following a largely chronological hanging.
The first two rooms present a two-fold introduction, establishing both “Line Form Color,” 1951 (Kelly’s series of forty ink-and-gouache pieces on paper) and a selection of leaf drawings from 1949 to 1992 as groundwork for his oeuvre. The former shows the twenty-eight-year-old artist as a resolutely analytical researcher of the development of line into plane and color, and the latter taps into the life-long inspiration he drew from natural forms.
The exhibition’s spatial concerns are also evident––for instance, Fuchs lets the visitor obliquely approach the red Broadway, 1958, creating a three-dimensional effect, as if Kelly’s shaped canvases from later in his career are already waiting to burst forth. Meanwhile, his dramatic turn from the analytical to the lyrical is emphasized in the last room, where the grand Series of Five Paintings, 1966, and Blue, Black and Green, 2000, are juxtaposed. It is Fuch’s coup de théâtre, allowing the viewer to experience, in a single glance, two aspects of the same painter.
Consider a screen showing what appear to be DIY recordings of military life. The seven projected vignettes each give a short glimpse into the life of war as seen through the lens of a 16-mm camera: military vehicles camouflaged in the Vietnamese jungle, silent moments of reading letters from home, swimming in rivers. Something, however, confuses the analogue and historical surfaces of the film: Virtual fruits appear on the screen, rupturing the reality of the original.
This work, Division Movement to Vungtau, 2016, a digital video made by Benjamin Crotty in collaboration with Bertrand Dezoteux, is installed in the middle of the exhibition space, where one can view the four minutes and twenty-seven seconds of transferred archival material from the Vietnam War, found by the artist in the US National Archives. At the back of the gallery space, five small images of typewritten texts, layered with pictures of food, are installed on the wall. This series, “Menu No. 1–15,” 2016, displays archival records of meals eaten by President Harry S. Truman. The exhibition emphasizes that the archive is no longer a dusty room filled with endless folders and documents, as Hal Foster has written. Instead, as archives themselves, the works manifest a different approach in a world where human beings are not the only ones capable of memorizing, desiring, and perceiving.
Adding digital subjects to archival footage or information, though, does not demolish the history of the Vietnam War. Rather, it stresses the biopolitical concerns of bodies and objects. Here, the filmic image is not a surface—or film per se—with an indexical relation to the Real, but instead a complex assemblage where concepts of memory, reality, and life itself are under investigation.
“The nation is, like new Western brands of tinned food, as little touched by the human hand as possible,” wrote the lauded Bengali poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore in response to the advance of British colonization in Bangladesh. Tagore’s reading of how capitalist technology dehumanized politics gains new, brutal significance in our current era. The poet is the shadow figure behind “The Missing One,” an exhibition of twenty-two artists from the Indian subcontinent. Titled after an 1896 science-fiction tale written by writer and scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, the show considers the role of speculative fiction in contemporary art from this region of the world.
Resurrection, ca. 1922, a gouache-on-paper painting by Gaganendranath Tagore (Rabindranath’s nephew), provides a historical anchor. The composition places a saintly figure and cross at the center of a quasi-Cubist rendering of billowing clouds, evoking both sublime ascension and spectacular violence. The other works here have all been made since the late 1990s and are separated into three categories: “Staring Up at the Sky,” “Alienation,” and “Light Blindness.”
Spirituality meets rationality in the sky-gazing section. Works such as Lahore-based artist Mehreen Murtaza’s photograph on copper of a comet, perched on a fluted wooden base (Comet Bennet over Delhi, Humayan’s Tomb March 1970, 2013), express a collision of technology and tradition. The exhibition’s strength, however, lies in the pieces that relate a South Asian aesthetic to Afrofuturism. These include Aamir Habib’s spectacular photo, acrylic, and LED sculptures and Mariam Suhail’s There were sightings . . . this will be a significant year, 2007. The latter, a video, depicts figures in Tyvek suits at the then-new National Art Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan, examining artworks as though they were extraterrestrial specimens. Tejal Shah’s Landfill Dance, 2012—a video created as part of her Documenta 13 project, Between the Waves—infuses sci-fi with a pop twist, as otherworldly white-clad figures dance through a junkyard.
Over the span of a mere fifteen years, Jarosław Kozłowski developed a vast body of work that stands as a testimony to the vitality of his artistic production under adverse social and political conditions. This survey exhibition, which contains more than sixty pieces, presents a compelling case for Conceptualism not only as a space of intellectual exploration but also as a bulwark against the repressions of the state.
Kozłowski isn’t well known outside of Poland, though he ought to be. The artist’s early works, such as the mixed-media assemblage Present X, 1966–67, incorporate motifs of eyes or partially obscured faces that stare at the viewer, suggesting a reckoning with the psychological ramifications of constant surveillance under Communism. It’s difficult not to feel the uncomfortable reverberations of this in our present moment, in which not only our physical movements but also our voices and even our keystrokes are under continual observation by a host of entities, both human and machine.
Much of the rest of the exhibition showcases the artist’s energetic experimentation, mordant humor, and fascination with the ways that language gives rise to the political. Many works incorporate text or rely on it entirely. Mimicking the format of a grammar-school primer, Lingual Exercises, 1972, presents simple words, such as “man,” “bag,” and “egg,” with their letters rearranged to form nonsensical combinations, as if presenting a methodology for un-learning. Twenty-one signs reading “STREFA WYOBRAŹNI” (Imagination Zone, 1970/2015), originally placed in public spaces in Osieki and Koszalin, make a playfully ironic claim for the imaginary as a space of political resistance. Though the works here are a half-century old, Kozłowski’s inventiveness and incisive wit still feel relevant today, asserting once again the radical potentials that lie in conceptual practice.
“Luanda, Los Angeles, Lisbon,” a retrospective of Angolan artist António Ole, offers a unique opportunity to delve into the story of a diverse imagination who is a source of inspiration to recent generations of Angolan artists. Viewers also get to further understand Angola, a country with a complex history that has much to say about social transformations in Africa and post–Cold War colonialism.
World of Writing, 1985—produced in Los Angeles, where Ole studied film—brings to mind comic strips and the post-Pop discourses that influenced the artist in the 1970s. Sobre o consumo da pílula (On Taking the Pill), 1970, for instance, connects the birth-control pill to Pope Paul VI. Elsewhere is Untitled (Portraits Series), 1973–79, a piece composed of six black-and-white portraits. The everyday people in these somber pictures feel like silent witnesses to Angola’s fight for identity and independence from Portugal. We experience the documentary facet of Ole’s work as well through a number of his films. Conceiçăo Tchiambula, um dia, uma vida (Conceiçăo Tchiambula, One Day, One Life), 1982, explores the daily life of a female rural worker, and No caminho das estrelas (On the Road to the Stars), 1980, is an examination of Agostinho Neto, the first Angolan president after the country’s separation from colonial rule. The artist offers up more personal and poetic ways of experiencing history, too: Margem da zona limite (On the Margins of the Borderlands), 1994–95, is his first large-scale installation that includes video. It features a canoe cut in half with, among other things, bricks, taxidermied crows, and bundles of paper. It suggests a dramatic split—perhaps a reference to Angola’s civil war, which dragged on until 2002.
Township Wall, 2004, is a vast and colorful panel comprising found objects, wood, corrugated plastic, iron sheets, and glass. This “mural” is a testament to the creativity of disadvantaged urban populations who manage to build something from nothing, surviving through artistic transfiguration.
A ferocious noise assaults visitors on the top floor of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. It stems from a film in which men in gray uniforms shout fragments of speeches by Tito and Mussolini while wartime imagery flickers behind them. The film is of a concert at the Ljubljana Novi Rock Festival in 1982 by the group Laibach, who established the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective two years later with the artist groups IRWIN and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Never before has an exhibit explored in such depth NSK’s vast output of writing, films, posters, and paintings. Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, where it originated, the show traces NSK through 1992, as it probed the deadlock of modern utopian projects at the end of the Soviet era.
Guiding the exhibit is NSK’s “retro” principle: The horrors of the past must be addressed rather than brushed aside. The work brims with images and sounds from the Soviet avant-garde, the punk scene, pop “authoritarians” like the Beatles, the region’s socialist present, Slovenian nationalism, and its fraught historical encounters with German fascism. NSK excavated its world in order to roughshod the fault lines of conformist societies.
This process of flouting tradition, of pressing life’s more severe bodily and psychic limits, of embracing and rejecting the arrival of Western capitalism and its international art market, unleashed fierce creative energy. Signs of this are everywhere at Garage, in woodcuts of bodily mutilation, in the collaboratively painted “Was ist Kunst?” series, and in the globally minded State in Time project, which since 1992 has issued fourteen thousand membership passports to the “non-territorial” artist community. Through the manifestos that paper the show’s walls, we follow NSK restlessly seeking forms alternative to itself, lending the pursuit of alternative forms of governance a rare and bracing urgency.
La incorrupta (The Uncorrupted), 2016, a video by Brazil-born, Copenhagen-based artist Tamar Guimarăes, revolves around a female curator’s project that explores corruption. The curator’s proposed exhibition hinges on the display of a relic, the hand of Saint Teresa of Avila. The thirty-six-minute work follows actors and amateurs, many of whom work at the Reina Sofia, as they discuss her show’s premise privately and in public. As expected power plays of institutional politics spiral out, the artist’s narrative weaves together physical and social bodies, religion and superstition, collusion and exploitation, dictatorship and decolonization.
Absence is critical here despite the earnest richness, if not outright sensuality, of what is heard and seen. The relic is never shown and the museum’s commitment to securing its loan remains dubious. This absence pressures the museum’s exhibitionary role, its practice of representation. The institution’s other key function, conservation, aims to maintain objects’ integrity, to safeguard them from physical corruption. And in the video, conservation is also put in the service of institutional preservation—as a reason why the relic couldn’t be shown. Relics, of course, are complex objects that draw much of their authority from metonymy, as delegates for wholes. Here, the missing relic merges the dictatorial legacy of Franco, who always kept the hand by his side, with Western institutions’ constitutive practice of secularizing objects that hold significance in other cultures, of reducing them to aesthetic objects. As the curator reminds us, co- accompanies ruption in corruption: It requires complicity. In the end, Guimarăes’s video celebrates the hold objects have over us while updating institutional critique and its relevance.
Joana Cera Bernad’s first exhibition at this gallery features an hourglass on a small shelf at one end of the gallery—Un segundo de tierra (One Sand Second), 2009—a minuscule device that registers the passing of only one second, derisively whittling time down to its elementary unit. With its anomalous pace, the piece seems rara avis, given the rest of the intensely meditative works on view, but it poses a question that immediately links it to them: How much sand fits in one second?
In a number of works installed on both the floor and the walls, Cera Bernad mixes stones she found with ones that she has modified. Hailing from a family of craftsmen, the artist has a profound knowledge of the specific qualities of a variety of stones and gems, and here she marshals such materials into uneven, raw forms. Polished shapes stick oddly to lichened surfaces, as in Untitled (Albarracín series), 2010, and a blend of temporalities arises, like small human gestures juxtaposed with geology’s bedrock of time. These arrangements eschew harmonious compositions but, in their own puzzling way, are the best works in the show. Coming back around to this question of sand, one must also consider how much time matter is capable of gathering.
Since its inception, Elena Alonso’s drawing practice has continually redefined its own formal limits. It was only a matter of time for her motifs to evolve into sculptural entities. The artist cultivates an ambiguous terrain in her iconography, somewhere between geometric abstraction and organic representation with allusions to the body.
This site-specific project, titled Visita Guiada (Guided Visit), 2017, is a newly commissioned work installed in the cold storage of a former slaughterhouse in Madrid. That she has so successfully translated her personal language, her profound sense of intimacy, into such an overwhelming and complex scenario is stunning. Drawing evolves into space in the form of a hand railing that runs around the columns, which she has covered with a rhythmic succession of materials ranging from copper wire to softly carved wood or plaster, and the architecture of the installation, rather than its surface appearance, comes to the fore. A number of holes in the ceiling provide the only illumination in the show. These were once covered but now allow light to flow down from the floor above. This lighting is eminently unspectacular, as if not seeking to brighten the installation but to emphasize the singularity of the space.
“The only interesting answers,” Susan Sontag wrote, “are those which destroy the questions.” “FAKE. It Is Not True, It Is Not a Lie” is one of those rare exhibitions that illustrates her point. Organized by Jorge Luis Marzo, this show encompasses fifty artists and art collectives that hijack mass communication, invent artistic identities, and create false documentaries, exposing not only our gullibility but the fault lines of our most preciously held convictions.
In the videotaped action Real Snow White, 2009, Finnish artist Pilvi Takala, dressed as Snow White outside Disneyland Paris, generates excitement and photo ops before being apprehended by security and escorted to the restrooms to change. A mother pulls her child away—“Come on, it’s not the real Snow White.” In 2011, artists Montse Carreńo and Raquel Muńoz commissioned Chinese forgeries of five paintings lost during the Spanish Civil War, for their piece Las cajas chinas (The Chinese Boxes), and anonymously delivered them to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, astounding museum officials who eagerly ran forensic tests and then called the police. The signed copies are shown here.
As we descend further in, there’s a video excerpt from The Yes Men Fix the World, 2009, where the Yes Men impersonate Dow Chemical representatives promising a $12 billion payout to victims in India for the environmental disaster the company caused there in 1984. Their hoax sent the company’s stocks plummeting. Deeper in the exhibition, a 1944 Nazi propaganda film of a concentration camp illustrates the most horrific and heartbreaking falsity of all. Here, we reach the dark heart of the matter: not only the way fiction can co-opt reality, but the way we, the audience, are often doing the reverse. On social media, the boundary between true and false is so abraded it defies precedent. Yet there is genuine danger in ascribing truth to falsity, in believing in a “real” Snow White.
The Swedish welfare state is internationally famed as egalitarian and progressive. Less acknowledged is the fact that it was co-constituted with the birth of industrial society in the country, which lifted it out of poverty and created the wealth necessary for redistribution but also engendered a multitude of political, cultural, and ecological changes. This exhibition’s title, “The Society Machine,” furtively evokes the churning of gears behind social cohesion, while the curation juxtaposes contemporary artworks with objects from various collections—normally separated into natural-, industrial-, and cultural-history displays—across the city-museum complex.
Several works address the long-term consequences of industrialization. Kalle Brolin’s compelling video Jag är Skĺne - förbindelser mellan skĺnska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, brings together two major productions in southern Sweden, sugar-beet farming and coal mining, creating a historical parallel in which sugar fuels workers like coal fuels machines. The show also productively connects the idiosyncratic Swedish system to the global economy on which it depends. In Sara Jordenö’s installation Diamond People, 2005–15, a glowing 1985 sermon speaks of the distant yet manifest bond between the apartheid regime and the Swedish workers’ livelihoods that rely on the South African–owned synthetic diamond factory in their town. Artworks alongside items such as a taxidermied specimen of the now almost extinct yellowhammer bird elucidate how the welfare state’s history parallels an unprecedented transformation of landscapes by timber monocultures, large-scale farming, and iron mining. At a time when redistributive national systems are under attack around the world, even in Sweden, it seems all the more vital to build models of society that protect people beyond northern enclaves, and networks of solidarity capable of supporting species that are not ours to own.
In Lovisa Ringborg’s second exhibition at this gallery, the artist upholds the argument that displaying a set of harmonious works can be more potent than a plethora of free-floating entities. Showing nine C-prints of varying dimensions, Ringborg infuses the works with an entrancing mood of eerie denouement: Visitors may feel as if they arrived too late for a significant event, ending up instead engulfed in the isolation that follows an abandoned exploit. The photographer convinces viewers to enter a slippery world highlighting dreams and speculation. Nesting (all works 2017) emphasizes Ringborg’s talent for expressing the elusive; multiple bodies are partially covered by blankets, leaving only intertwined limbs in view. In another work, titled Shapeshifter, what is presumably a female body is seen from the side, wearing a furry coat; the viewer is again denied access to the head, which extends beyond the frame. Bodies here are notably disjointed; anonymity and alienation are concerns that loom large in the artist’s practice—which at times blurs the line between photography and painting (for instance, Dancing Wall seems impressionistic yet also realistically resembles moss on rock).
Other works embrace an amorphous realm where the natural world of tenacious life cycles is cherished. In Wormhole and Cloudstorm, cumulus clouds and sun rays are in focus—quotidian yet not readily taken for granted. The cloudy haze also presents itself in Neon Vessel, in which soft pink flesh tones suggest a humanly vessel. With works fostering bodily estrangement but also existential relief, Ringborg presents a rapt collection of Baroque-inspired photographs that both prompt meditation and romanticize spectral transformation.
“There won’t be a certain white-balance setting for this film,” a soft-spoken Aykan Safoğlu narrates in Turkish as the malfunctioning camera struggles to find focus in Off-White Tulips, 2013, a video essay that uses the years James Baldwin spent in Istanbul––the artist’s birthplace––in the 1960s to explore a range of identity-based political questions. The voice-over addresses Baldwin directly: “You felt more comfortable here as a black man. You felt less oppressed.” A small bouquet of off-white tulips is placed onto a brown surface along with tasteful shifting formations of photographs, patterns, and magazine clippings. The golden era of the Ottoman Empire was called the “Tulip Era,” while the Turkish phrase for “off-white” is also slang for gay or queer. These flowers thus index experiences of Turkish national identity: Safoğlu’s own sense of belonging as a gay man now living in Western Europe and how Baldwin’s relationship to his race and sexuality was changed by the Turkish context.
Through a host of characters, from Turkish child stars to the cast of Dallas (1978–91), and the friends Baldwin made among Istanbul’s literati, Safoğlu poses a series of complex questions about race, nationality, sexuality, and creativity. We learn from a sequence of photographs that the artist’s mother became increasingly blond throughout the 1970s––as Baldwin would say, “there are no untroubled countries.” The artist’s youthfulness, characterized by his impatience and indignation, sits as a rift on the surface of the film, a kind of punctum that marks it with an earnest fallibility. Refreshing in a time with so much irony, Safoğlu puts himself on the line as he forges thought-provoking relationships between personal and collective histories.
“Dead-End of Bliss,” Yasemin Özcan’s first solo presentation at this gallery, is an object-theater of sorts that funnels mostly domestic objects into a Duchampian freeze, transforming their homely associations into uncanny proposals for survival in modern Turkey.
A quote from Brian Friel’s 1980 play “Translations” is incorporated into the title of Özcan’s To Remember Everything Is a Form of Madness 2/40 (all works cited, 2016): These words appear in Turkish on three ceramic tiles among a horde of others that are predominantly pink, cream, or floral patterned. Each tile serves as a metonymic device for individual homes furnished in a variety of styles by different social classes, thus stifling the viewer in an overdose of interiority. This archive is interested in our most intimate moments—the artist herself confesses that the installation features a tile from her own bathroom. The piece inevitably resonates with the collective sense of vulnerability prevalent in the country following the attempted coup, yet it also suggests healing is possible.
Good for One and Justice Tea Garden are installed across from each other. The former is a pan sized to cook for one—a gift to the artist—cast in brass with a stacked base approximately eight inches thick, an attempt to measure the emotional weight of living as a single woman. The latter features three identical cylindrical ceramic containers decorated with the same red flower, the type most commonly used on tea or sugar vessels in Turkey, and the Turkish words for “Justice,” “Tea,” and “Garden.” In a country where justice is indolently delivered at the laid-back pace of a garden tea, Özcan hints that patience may be a delicious virtue after all.