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“Calibrating Wonder”

SMITH Studio
56 Church Street
June 22–July 22

View of “Calibrating Wonder,” 2017. From left: Lyall Sprong, Juggling Balls, 2017; Brendan Bussy, Lyall Sprong, Tristan Nebe, Conflict, 2017.

In a future history of South African art, Cape Town–based artist Daniella Mooney should receive due credit for her exploratory, left-field sculpture practice, which, since her Terry Riley–quoting BFA show in 2009, has eschewed the dominant rubrics of postcolonial identity and spectacular monumentality. Her contribution to this showcase of sixteen artists, organized by designer and artist Lyall Sprong, includes Three New Wands I, II, and III (all works cited, 2017), eccentric fabrications in wood of a wand she made as an adolescent. Mooney’s attenuated and bulbous pieces are hopelessly clumsy, but as speculative objects they arrest the imagination. In a clipped catalogue note, Sprong refers to them as “personal tools,” an interpretation he extends to all the aggregated objects installed in alcoves fashioned from hanging sheets of tinfoil: paintings, works on paper, video, flower pressings, and all manner of soft, mirrored, kinetic, flying, or sonic sculptures.

The sound pieces intrigue. Simon Kohler’s Mother Tone Reflections is a display of sixteen dolerite rocks with two speakers replaying an original composition made with these so-called rock gongs. His other work, Entry Point, a speaker where the volume increases in concert with a viewer’s proximity, hints at affinities with Alvin Lucier. Sprong’s collaboration with Brendan Bussy and Tristan Nebe, titled Conflict, is a suspended indigo wheel that when spun re-creates the sound of water gushing. This neo-hippie experimentalism, while earnest, acknowledges joyfulness. It is also not without levity: A collaboration between Amy Rusch and Sprong, Ubu Mooi is a cardboard unicorn mask that mockingly references playwright Alfred Jarry, a proto-Dadaist revered by an earlier generation of South African artists. Shifting the tone, Marsi van de Heuvel’s compelling slow-motion film Gravity and Grace shows four performers, each willing themselves to fall over. Somber and elegiac, it points to artistic discovery in acceptance and collapse.

Sean O’Toole

Taryn Simon

Gagosian | Hong Kong
12 Pedder Street, 7/F Pedder Building
May 25–August 5

Taryn Simon, Animal Corpses (Prohibited), Animal Parts (Prohibited), Animal Skeletons (Prohibited), Animal Specimens (Prohibited), Butterflies (Prohibited), Snails (Prohibited) (detail), 2010, 15 archival ink-jet prints in Plexiglas boxes, dimensions variable.

An uncomfortable portrait ushers viewers into American artist Taryn Simon’s first exhibition in Hong Kong: The single-channel video Cutaways, 2012 shows footage of the artist making prolonged eye contact with newscasters for Russian prime time. Simon was asked to stare in silence for several minutes after an interview on the network, so that the footage—which she obtained from the program’s producers—could be used in the editing process. The work sets the tone for several of Simon’s other projects on view, which use photography to illustrate controlling systems or authorities: At the center of the show, the piece Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015, dissects the symbols of power present at the signing of international accords. Simon carefully re-creates and photographs bouquets beside which powerful men stand during significant diplomatic deals. (The flowers are both markers of femininity and reminiscent of “impossible bouquets,” a seventeenth-century Dutch painting trope of flowers whose existence would be inconceivable in the seasons and climates of their settings.) She houses the images in large, wooden museum-cabinet frames with textual details of their circumstances inscribed into the panels. Other series examine, through photographs and meticulous research, the bloodlines of albino families in Tanzania targeted for their supposed magical powers, or the family members of a South Korean man believed to have been kidnapped by the government of the North. In the final room of the gallery, Contraband, 2010, comprises hundreds of photographs of items confiscated during Simon’s five-day stint with customs at JFK airport in New York. Among the objects are beans, weapons, sausages, pirate videos, sexual-enhancement drugs, and one dead bird; the work is a motley archive of desire, violence, and restraint.

Elliat Albrecht

Praneet Soi

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
91 A, Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijbai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marg, Byculla East
May 12–July 25

Praneet Soi, Notes on Labour, 2017, metal, wood, acrylic paint, acrylic sheets, laser-jet prints on paper, 16 x 8'.

The latest in the museum’s series of exhibitions intended to stoke dialogue between contemporary artists and the institution’s archive begins with a large freestanding curved painting, titled Notes on Labour, 2017, installed in the foyer. The twisted figures in the composition lurch into a void. Perhaps this speaks to the show’s premise—for history to meet with the present, one must accept a certain degree of freewheeling association. The absurdity here is in the juxtaposition: The lavishly refurbished colonial interiors of the museum house Praneet Soi’s investigations into the labor processes of the decorative arts.

The show brings together works the artist has made in collaboration with traditional craftsmen from Kolkata and Srinagar in India, as well as Guangzhou in China, since 2008. Some of the resulting pieces—including the papier-mâché tiles of Tile as Archive, 2016—are prominently displayed and inscribed with dense floral Kashmiri motifs. Small handwritten labels accompany the inlaid flowers, indicating the names of the artisans’ designs in Urdu and English. In a designated room, the series “Astatic Machines,” 2011–, features printed sheets of acetate that may be placed on an overhead projector, and visitors are encouraged to trace the design thrown onto the wall with chalk. These include a selection of drawings by Lockwood Kipling from the Journal of Indian Art and Industry Vol. 2 (1888), which are part of the institution’s archive. This type of interactive installation engages audiences of diverse class backgrounds—rare for local contemporary art institutions.

The individual objects on view act as notes, the pictorial equivalent of a series of quick recordings. This is where Soi reaches clarity—if the intention of labor and process is to reach finished products, here the work is deliberately left undone.

Skye Arundhati Thomas

“Stretched Terrains”

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
145, DLF South Court Mall, Saket
February 2–July 31

View of “Stretched Terrains,” 2017.

This ambitious show is part of a series at the museum that reconsiders modernism in postindependence India, in the era of decolonization and liberalism that is in crisis today. It showcases the work of eighteen artists, photographers, and architects through eight themed galleries. The first room, “Delhi: Building the Modern,” charts civic architectural projects that were part of the Nehruvian vision for a new India. The recent demolition of the Hall of Nations (1972), despite local and international outcry, makes the inclusion here of architect Raj Rewal’s original scale model and Madan Mahatta’s photographs of its construction particularly poignant memorials.

While the show foregrounds the well-known cadre of the Progressive Artists’ Group, it’s their lesser-known works that are most compelling, such as M. F. Husain’s vivid sketches and his film Through the Eyes of a Painter (1967). S. H. Raza’s paintings of cityscapes in Italy from the 1950s signal the beginning of his move toward the purer abstraction of his later works. A heavy velvet curtain provides a measure of privacy for viewing a room of F. N. Souza’s loving and thickly rendered paintings of women, some gazing impetuously at us with their skirts drawn up.

The inclusion of works by the late 1960s Bombay-based collective Vision Exchange Workshop (VIEW) artists Akbar Padamsee and Nalini Malani gestures toward the need to expand the Indian modernist canon to embrace photography and film. Ashim Ahluwalia’s 16-mm film Events in a Cloud Chamber (2016) strikes a wistful note by re-creating Padamsee’s lost film of the same name (1969). When Ahluwalia asks about Event’s score, Padamsee vaguely recalls “a Sarabhai woman” of whose death he was unaware—composer Geeta Sarabhai, a colleague of John Cage—which reminds us that there are some histories that remain occluded in our attempts to retrieve others, but that something beautiful can arise in reimaginings.

Sadia Shirazi

Paphonsak La-or

2198/10-11 Soi Taweewattana, Narathiwas 22), Chong Nonsi, Yan Nawa
June 17–July 22

Paphonsak La-or, Far from Home (SWEDEN), 2017, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60".

At first glance, Paphonsak La-or’s solo exhibition “Klai Ban” (“Far from Home”) seems to consist of a few dozen innocuous paintings of mountains in various foreign locales, but upon closer inspection, it yields a much more subversive and multilayered interpretation of the current political turmoil in Thailand. Paphonsak is among a handful of young Thai artists whose works have consistently addressed issues of censorship and freedom of expression, which has been severely restricted by the military regime and by regal intervention in recent years.

The colorful, picture-perfect landscape paintings in this exhibition portray the highest peaks in thirteen countries where twenty-eight Thai political exiles currently reside. Mountains often delineate national borders, across which many exiles have to trek to find freedom. Their traversals of these natural barriers are reminders that the mountainous boundary can either impede or provide freedom, ensconcing and defining the realms of sovereign powers that protect émigrés. These paintings are a devastating cartography of the displaced.

The show’s title itself offers one significant clue: “Klai Ban” is a well-known series of letters King Chulalongkorn sent to his family while visiting Europe in 1907. Considering that most Thai political exiles had to flee the country because of the draconian lèse-majesté, or the royal defamation law first enacted during Chulalongkorn’s reign, the juxtaposition of the king’s and his subjects’ expeditions could not be more poignant.

Narawan Pathomvat

Etti Abergel

Bar David Museum for Jewish Art and Judaica
Kibbutz Baram
February 25–October 31

View of “Archaeology of Others,” 2017.

For nearly four decades, Etti Abergel has been investigating and expressing a lineage of exile: Her parents, who were born in Morocco and fled to Israel in the late 1940s and 1950s, have struggled with their new location and identity. A sense of estrangement has been passed down to Abergel, despite her being born and raised in the Jewish state. Her current exhibition is a parting ceremony from her migrant identity.

A wooden bridge leads viewers through the length of the gallery. Without a real aim or purpose, the bridge, decorated with metal-can mobiles and plastic tote bags—materials the artist associates with migration and adaptation—directs the viewer to a wooden cabin. Titled Transitional Cell, 2017, this small meditative space seems to be a place for rituals. In it is a plaster-casted floor pillow installed near a large industrial porcelain plate, while the cell’s roof is partially covered with twigs taken from the artist’s hometown, Tivon. Portions of the walls are covered with expressive black vertical lines that look like scratches and feel like a silent scream.

Numerous items are housed within Library of Objects, 2017, a large shelving unit. Some, such as Footstool, 2015, and Knot, 2003, are taken from Abergel’s previous shows. Together, the works in this library offer a sense of fragility and obstruction: A broken bowl covered with plaster, ballpoint pens tied into a delicate nest-like structure, and dice trapped in plaster and placed under a glass cup are also on view. The exhibition concludes in the museum’s small archeological room, where Tape Measures, 2017, a chandelier of measuring tapes, hangs from the ceiling, as if scaling the artist’s virtues. It is a symbolic form of contemplation about one’s past choices, faith, and paths.

Naomi Lev

“Ghosting of Beings and Worlds”

Grey Noise
Unit 24, Alserkal Avenue, Street 8, Al Quoz 1, Exit 43 - SZR
May 22–July 31

Paul Hage Boutros, Prosthetic Love, 2016, paper, chair, 10 x 7". Installation view.

Hidden above viewers’ line of sight on the gallery’s left wall is a mathematical formula, titled Vitesse de Fantomisation (Speed of Ghosting), 2010, used for calculating ghosting: the speed of the disappearance of felt moments. Inspired by Laurent Derobert’s 2012 text Mathémathiques Existentielles, which attempts to capture feelings with equations, this monochromatic exhibition is less a foray into apparitions and more an elegant encounter with emotional ephemerality.

Paul Hage Boutros’s five-year documentation of SMS messages with his partner (Prosthetic Love, 2016) is an entry point to the show’s intimacy and aesthetic subtlety. Their exchanges fill a white book and imply both the blanking effect of time and the lingering wisps of subjective narrative as imprinted into memory. Though the nine artists’ works are better at soliloquy than dialogue, each piece’s adherence to the organizing concept ensures cohesiveness, from curator Charbel-joseph H. Boutros’s burnt blankets as dream catchers (selections from his series “Night Cartographies,” 2017) to Ange Leccia’s video where he clearly awaits something (Autoportrait à l’atelier [Self-Portrait in the Studio], 2016). Invisible auras and the ensuing delicate residues are all that remain, save for the Minimalist works that attempt containment.

However, “Ghosting of Beings and Worlds” may be more neatly wrapped up than needed—thematic oversimplification risks undermining the poetry of the works as they guide viewers between speculation and infiltration. Yet poetic traces are resistant to entrapment, and this exhibition reinforces that some things are best, and purposefully, left enigmatic.

Katrina Kufer

Hugo Aveta

Centro Cultural Haroldo Conti
Av. del Libertador 8151 C.A.B.A.
March 18–July 30

Hugo Aveta, Síntomas (Symptoms), 2015, 84 doors, dimensions variable.

The door may well be one of the most ingenious human inventions ever. How could we envision culture—or life itself—without the image of opening and closing doors, making way or blocking passage, and, most of all, isolating ourselves? Síntomas (Symptoms), 2015, an installation by Hugo Aveta, looks to the symbolic power of the door without losing sight of its function. The severe architectural block that rises up in the back of the gallery indicates what cannot be seen. Yet, as is often the case, the very act of imposing a limit is an invitation to cross it. And so one of the eighty-four doors laid out in a prism opens, and the visitor has access to an experience that this review cannot even attempt to convey.

The show, “La conciencia íntima de los objetos” (The Intimate Consciousness of Objects), consists of four installations, as well as photographs, videos, and drawings that Aveta has shown individually in different venues in Latin America and Europe. It is not coincidental that he has brought them together in this space, the location of a clandestine detention center during this country’s last military dictatorship. Though not overtly political, Aveta’s work demands constant engagement with memory, both individual and collective. What at first glance may seem like the staging of a closed metaphor immediately goes astray due to the marks that time has left on the objects and the drives that those same objects unleash in our own history. We find ourselves alone, then, in a sort of limbo.

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.

M.S. Dansey

Ricardo Basbaum

Galeria Jaqueline Martins
Rua Dr. Cesário Mota Júnior, 443
June 10–July 26

View of “Ricardo Basbaum,” 2017

Among the artists of Brazil’s so-called Geração 80 (’80s Generation), referring to the main wave of new creators of that decade, Ricardo Basbaum was a dissonant presence. Although he was included in the seminal 1984 exhibition “Como vai você, geração de 80?” (How Are You Doing, ’80s Generation?), Basbaum’s practice challenged misreadings of the group, which was stereotypically associated with a return to painting from the politically engaged art of the previous decades, after a twenty-year dictatorship. He has continued to be open to a variety of processes and mediums, and attentive to the artist’s relationship with systems of artmaking and distribution. Not accidentally, he was one of the first to call for a thorough retroactive critique of that period, in his 1988 text “Painting from the ’80s: A Few Critical Observations.”

His writing is one of the starting points to his recent solo show. Devised with an eye to historiography, the exhibition includes projects from 1981 to 1996, focusing on three of the artist’s most consistent series: “Olho” (Eye), 1984–1990; “Corte de cabelo” (Haircut), 1985–86; and “NBP - Novas Bases para a Personalidade” (NBP - New Bases for Personality), 1990–. The works on canvas—nods to the fetishization of this 1980s output—appear at the end of the show and underscore the artist’s interest in contamination of elements between various series. Similarly, in Diagrama, cut-contamination-contact, 2017, the artist cleverly drew diagrams whose cells multiply on two walls and meet at a corner, encouraging viewers to move around in order to see the work in its entirety. His long interest in contamination seems particularly prescient of the digital revolution, such as notions of virality and of the open-ended archive.

Nathalia Lavigne

Guilherme Vaz

SESC | Pompéia
Clelia street, 93, Pompeii
May 5–August 6

Guilherme Vaz and Carlos Bedurap Zoró, untitled, 1999, oil on canvas, 68 x 56".

With Hélio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles, and Artur Barrio, the artist and composer Guilherme Vaz was among the four Brazilian participants in Kynaston McShine’s 1970 “Information” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A retrospective of Vaz’s work took place last year at Rio de Janeiro’s CCBB, and this venue hosts another iteration of the show. It opens with two films for which Vaz created the sound track. One, Fome de Amor (1968), is a Nelson Pereira dos Santos–directed Nouvelle Vague–era work shot in Angra dos Reis and New York, and widely considered the first Brazilian film to feature musique concrète. The score for the other, Brasiliários (1986), stems from a collaboration with director Sérgio Bazi and was inspired by a text from writer Clarice Lispector. Akin to much of Michelangelo Antonioni’s work, Bazi’s heralded film portrays a woman—Lispector as played by Cláudia Pereira—and her journey through Brasilia’s iconic modernist architecture.

Both of these films are accompanied by parts of Vaz’s composition scripts, as well as a vitrine with documents related to the artist’s music production over a number of decades as he moved between Brasilia, Bahia, and Rio de Janeiro. It also includes correspondence with the late Bahia-based musician Walter Smetak, the now-defunct German Telewissen collective, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder collaborator Peer Raben. As part of a presentation of Vaz’s Crude, 2015, viewers are invited to improvise tonal arrangements by activating six wall-mounted paper sculptures featuring contact microphones. It all concludes with a series of sound and video works as well as six untitled paintings from 1999, the latter of which the artist produced in partnership with indigenous populations in central and northern Brazil.

Tobi Maier