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Mirosław Bałka

Pirelli HangarBicocca
Via Chiese 2
March 16–July 30

Mirosław Bałka, BlueGasEyes, 2004, HD video, color, sound, 3 minutes 37 seconds, two screens, steel, salt, 4 x 50 x 67". Installation view.

Eighteen works emerge from the dark in this huge industrial hall. The exhibition starts and ends with Holding the Horizon, 2016, which is installed above the entrance and shows a simple yellow horizontal shape that nervously moves up and down on a LED screen. Continuing through the exhibition, it becomes clear that this horizon introduces scale, balance, and orientation, just as it questions and disturbs all of this. It is an image making an effort to hold itself up.

Wege zur Behandlung von Schmerzen (Ways to Treat Pain), 2011, is emblematic of Mirosław Bałka’s attitude. This sculpture confronts us with something unpleasant, hidden, or impossible and, at the same time, transforms the encounter into a poetic or healing experience. Dirty water pours down from the ceiling through a tube high above, which can be seen only from a distance, as the huge size of the metal container where the water collects prevents the viewer from taking a closer look. Yet a spotlight directed onto the streaming water alters the contaminated liquid, making it appear lucid and clean.

BlueGasEyes, 2004, shows two ranges of gas flames projected onto rectangles of salt on the floor. The sound of the fires, plus their restless movement, has a disquieting effect, while the work’s title makes it hard not to think about the Holocaust. Though we are, in fact, just looking at a domestic kitchen scene––the blaze feels like two beautiful flowers of evil.

Jurriaan Benschop

Giulio Paolini

Galleria Christian Stein | Milan
Corso Monforte 23 Milan
November 10–April 29

Galleria Christian Stein | Pero
Via Vincenzo Monti, 46
November 10–April 29

View of “Giulio Paolini: FINE,” 2017.

Galleria Christian Stein has been a sympathetic supporter of Arte Povera, first in Turin and then in Milan. For his show, in celebration of the gallery’s fiftieth anniversary, Giulio Paolini has chosen the title “FINE” (End). The image that appears on the announcement is a closed curtain, a choice more suitable for a farewell than an anniversary. In fact, word is out that the gallery is rethinking its status and mission. Whether this is true or not, the feeling of an ending, of a final review, pervades the show, particularly in its Milan location, which features a large ad-hoc installation (FINE, 2016). It is a sort of raft laden with objects from Paolini’s studio—his worktable, a ladder, an overturned armchair—precariously piled up along with reproductions of works by others (Watteau, for example) that have inspired the artist throughout his career, white canvases, frames, and an empty music stand. This is a classic Paolinian self-reference to the artist’s tools but now pervaded by an unusual, almost dramatic urgency. In the long text that accompanies the show, the artist polemically defends his idea, pursued for more than half a century and now (in Nietzschean fashion) unfashionable, of art that is indifferent to social and political causes, closed off in the contemplation of its own enigmatic essence. “Mi limito a dire che l’arte fa da sé, non sa che farsene di noi e si manifesta senza interlocutori e intermediary,” he writes. (I limit myself to saying that art acts on its own, doesn’t know what to make of us and appears without interlocutors and intermediaries.) The second part of the show, in Pero (both are curated by Bettina della Casa), features a broad selection of works that focuses on Paolini’s output from the 1970s to the 2000s. Here, a few large installations, particularly Hic et nunc (Le Radeau de la Méduse) (Here and Now [The Raft of the Medusa]), 1991, an abstract evocation of Géricault’s famous painting, are alone worth a visit.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Simone Menegoi

Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani

MAXXI - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo
Via Guido Reni 4A
March 11–April 17

Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani, Freedom of Movement, 2017, three-channel HD video installation, color, sound, 9 minutes 45 seconds.

Abebe Bikila was the first African athlete to win an Olympic gold medal; he set a world record in Rome in 1960 after running the marathon, barefoot, in two hours and fifteen minutes. His historic achievement is the cornerstone of Freedom of Movement, 2017, a three-channel video installation by German artists Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani. Weaving a tale with threads of history and current events, the work conjoins the win’s strong social impact with a profound sense of humanity.

The first video blends archival film clips of the Ethiopian marathoner’s race and his epic victory beneath the Arch of Constantine, footage from Italy’s colonialist past in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), and images of the construction of the EUR quarter and Stadio dei Marmi sports stadium in the Foro Italico in Rome, both created at the behest of Mussolini as a celebration of his regime and the new empire. The second video reflects on the influx of migrants who cross the Mediterranean and on the role that sports play in their integration. A young immigrant recaptures the Olympic marathon experience, but his shoeless run begins at the beach at Ostia, as if he had just arrived from the sea, and ends at a sports complex on the periphery of Rome where young African refugees run, joyfully claiming their right to freedom of movement. In the third video, a choir of African adolescents sings on the roof of the monumental Colosseo Quadrato, or Square Colosseum, in the EUR. Declaring the phrase sculpted into the building’s facade, which attests, in Fascist rhetoric, to the greatness of the Italian people, they change the initial words, reversing the meaning and assuming a historical and cultural dignity they have too long been denied: “We come from the people of poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, seafarers, transmigrants.”

A spectacular aerial shot of the Colosseo Quadrato celebrates their touching attestation of identity. And it is precisely the notion of transmigration, opening up horizons of freedom and tearing down cultural and spiritual borders, that forces us to reflect on our identity and on the political, social, and psychological contradictions tied to the acceptance of the Other.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Ida Panicelli

Walid Raad

Fondazione Volume!
Via Di San Francesco Di Sales 86
February 3–April 28

View of “Walid Raad: Yet Another Letter to the Reader,” 2017.

More than thirty wooden transport crates form a kind of interlocking tapestry of paintings for Lebanese artist Walid Raad’s solo show. Building on an existing body of work that explores both the corruption at the heart of Lebanon’s system of cultural heritage and the Western-centric nature of the global art scene, this exhibition aims the spotlight on forgotten Middle Eastern painters. A space with a low arched, wooden ceiling appears to have been turned into an eclectic painter’s studio, with each crate featuring a reproduction of a work by an artist from the region. The pieces were painted in situ by a team of local assistants prior to the exhibition opening and range from figurative expression to Surrealism and abstraction.

The installation raises complex issues of authorship and identity as Raad strives to compensate for the way history has overlooked fellow artists—such as Khalil Gibran and Hassan Sharif—from the Middle East, based on the success that he himself has found in the West. Each work draws parallels with the history of Occidental art, yet together they form an independent collective identity. Re-creating these works gives them a new life and the audience they deserve. Of particular note is a copy of Marwan Kassab Bachi’s Munif Al Razzaz, 1965, a Kokoschka-esque portrait of a mustached and balding man who bears a depressive expression with furrowed brow. Another standout depicts a Fauvist landscaped garden with a Buddha statue in its foreground. The opportunity to see these paintings is a welcome one.

Mike Watson

Joan Jonas

Galleria Alessandra Bonomo
Via del Gesů, 62
November 30–April 10

View of “Joan Jonas: Minds of Their Own,” 2017.

The dramatic feel of the 2015 Venice Biennale US pavilion, featuring work by Joan Jonas and titled “They Come to Us Without a Word,” is woven through the artist’s third solo exhibition at this gallery. Viewers find themselves placed within a theatrical dimension, where their surroundings are subjected to the performative aspect that has always characterized her output.

In the first room is Minds of Their Own, 2016, an immersive video installation projected onto three separate screens. The performers in the video transform into diaphanous shadows. Here, Jonas seems to imagine a modern Platonic cave, where it is no longer possible to distinguish who is being looked at from who is looking (and viewers, passing in front of the projection to traverse the room, themselves become shadows). Several tables in the space present found objects and drawings, each a different size and produced on various supports (black cardboard, white drawing paper, and ivory, among others.). The second room of the show offers copious drawings to the point where it is almost obsessive. Outlines of animals—birds, seahorses, and tortoises—reduced to childlike strokes seem to lose weight and substance; indeed some are positioned on a small table of light-colored wood that brings to mind a nursery school setting. Jonas herself has aptly stated, “I think that children should figure out how to draw at the same time as they are learning how to read and write.”

A sound track by Jonas with some musical phrases by Jason Moran accompanies the show, which provides a narrative thread and, massaged by the artist’s mellow voice, creates an environment that is irrefutably immersive.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Marta Silvi