Monuments to white power and dominion have been a focal point of the culture wars gripping South Africa, prompting heated discussions about their survival. Yet Helen Pheby, the senior curator at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, doesn’t directly engage this ongoing volatility in “A Place in Time,” her guest showcase of fifty-two mostly new outdoor works by thirty-seven artists from Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK at this sculpture park northwest of Johannesburg. Inspired by the area’s fossil-rich landscapes, her survey of contemporary sculpture instead places these works in a continuum of human time by juxtaposing them against a museological display of archaeological fragments in a small gallery.
Richard Long’s Standing Stone Circle, 2011, composed of loose rocks found in the untended parts of the park, is a permanent installation. A literal outlier, it nonetheless animates Pheby’s central theme. Similar to Long’s remote piece, James Webb’s audio work There’s No Place Called Home, 2004–16, which plays foreign birdcalls from a tree in the landscaped garden, is subsumed by its organic context—a minority position, as most of the outdoor works are plainly legible as such.
Mary Sibande explores her long-standing interest in fashion in The Mechanism, 2016, a study of a mechanical sewing needle rendered at the scale of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s public works. Nearby, Nandipha Mntambo synthesizes mythologies in the outsize bronze figure Minotaurus, 2015. There is a corollary between this resolute figure and Thomas J. Price’s Mental Structure #19, 2014–15, a facsimile of a black male figure composed from Perspex and bronze that prefigures an encounter with Johan Thom’s Hanging Garden, 2016: two bronze feet set atop a glass vitrine on a wooden terrace covered in an off-white polyurethane sludge, its drained, white figure speaking to the changeable politics raging outside the park.
In 1979, three years before his death at age seventy-six, Walter Battiss published a monograph in which he is described as a “paunchy painter-poet,” “international artist,” “traveller,” and “philosopher.” It is easy to miss this volume, which is part of a display of more than seven hundred of his drawings, paintings, prints, books, and related ephemera, all drawn from the Jack M. Ginsberg Collection. Ginsberg is well-known in South Africa for his support of artists’ books, and his collection evidences his bias toward works on paper more generally, notably Battiss’s vivid and abstractly figurative prints and notational watercolors. Curated by Warren Siebrits, “I Invented Myself” chronologically charts Battiss’s passage from virtuoso naturalist to late-blooming member of the avant-garde. Along the way it details his periods as mimetic recorder of rock art, Post-Impressionist conjurer of Gauguin-like island wildernesses, and Pop printmaker.
Like Picasso, whom he met in 1949, Battiss was not wed to any particular style, technique, or media. Siebrits is aware of this. Drawing on letters written by Battiss to set designer Dacre Punt, a former student who became a secret lover and lifelong confidant, Siebrits burrowed into the artist’s submerged private life to “trace the artistic intentions in many of his major works.” Battiss didn’t produce a major work, not on evidence of this show; his genius existed in the abundance of his output, from his early books popularizing the art of South Africa’s first people to his florid paintings that willfully spurned this earlier art’s elevation of form over color. The final section is the show’s largest, and the most compelling. Devoted to his “Fook Island,” a protean cosmology informed by the artist’s island yearnings and aversion to censorship, it showcases the imaginative plenitude of an impish libertarian––some prefer “gentle anarchist”––operating in the age of high apartheid.
Banele Khoza was a preteen living in Swaziland when Marlene Dumas, a South African based in Amsterdam, painted Moshekwa, 2006, a bruise-colored expressionist study of artist Moshekwa Langa. Khoza saw the portrait in 2008, the same year he moved to South Africa, and credits it with inspiring him to be a painter. His journey to reaching this goal was indirect: After completing high school he studied fashion, immediately hated it, and a year later enrolled in a fine-art degree. “Temporary Feelings,” an emotional showcase of recent paintings and works on paper that record his search for love and belonging in a carnal world, is his debut solo exhibition following his graduation in 2015. Khoza’s fifteen acrylic paintings, most of them portrait studies, are his strongest suit.
The artist cannily uses color to evoke his rudimentary figures. Union Pub (all works cited, 2016), a study of six human figures rendered in gradations of blue and red, describes a desperate hook-up at a local gay club. Fixated, a study of an ambiguously gendered torso created from cascades of blue, is the closest Khoza comes to resembling Dumas, whose figurative virtuosity he eschews in favor of cartoonish imprecision. Khoza’s watercolor-like handling of acrylic is evident when compared to a display of his actual small watercolors; they are strewn across a bed placed at the center of the gallery. This neatly orchestrated installation, Our Bed, belies the artist’s age, twenty-two, and his need to both declare and overcome his influences, which here is namely Tracey Emin’s My Bed, 1998. It is a flippant gesture, but so is painting a yellow-faced Caucasian emoji and titling it Move On, when clearly the heart doesn’t want to.
In the “Honor” portion of Wang Xingwei’s latest solo exhibition, “Honor and Disgrace” (co-organized by Platform China Contemporary Art Institute), the saintly figure of Dr. Norman Bethune, a renowned Sino-Japanese War hero, is placed at the center of an absurd composition stirring with restless human bodies. Isolated from the surrounding crowds and picturesque white clouds against the blue sky, Bethune’s image, continuously constructed through historical discourses, has never seemed so unfamiliar. Operating on a wounded soldier, his face twisted with resolve, Bethune seems barely distinguishable from an insane person. Similarly, monk Ji Gong and Sino-Japanese War soldier Xiao He’s larger-than-life scale reinforces the protagonists’ stubborn naïveté, furthering Wang’s exploration of grand heroism in its historical incarnations. The “Disgrace” portion focuses on depictions of antiheroes and reinvents ridiculous narratives of foreign invaders and traitors from World War II. Here, the artist’s marked attention to the “shameless” can be read as a personal political appeal. Wang flattens the picture surface to strengthen color expressions; his baroque lines elevate the overall composition to a sensory fullness. Also noteworthy is the calligraphically inscribed doggerel in each painting—straightforward, “idiotic” texts that rid his subjects of prescribed historical burdens.
Wang’s monumental paintings, with their mix-and-match aesthetics, address the representation of reality via pictorial language. The dialectical relationships underlying the exhibition not only involve honor and disgrace but also allude to organic fluctuations between realistic and reworked representations that constitute painting’s constant self-invention. The exhibition’s bold emphasis on contradictions may well, then, be Wang’s response to a contemporary reality where meaning is incessantly processed and dissolved.
Translated from Chinese by Yitong Wang.
Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-Cheng’s current exhibition, “Chemical Gilding, Keep Calm, Galvanise, Pray, Gradient, Ashes, Manifestation, Unequal, Dissatisfaction, Capitalise, Incense Burner, Survival, Agitation, Hit, Day Light. II” is the second chapter of a project by the same lengthy name shown at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2015. Its focal point is a panoramic wallscape comprising paintings and other objects, with an enormous, central sheet of accordion-folded, gold-colored steel. In the work’s Berlin iteration, viewers were encouraged to chuck rocks at its gleaming surface; in Hong Kong, dents in the metal are the only records of earlier blows. Alongside, paintings are assembled at odd angles on top of silver surfaces resembling the facades of steel refrigerators, while white-painted dishes, pyramids, prisms, and cylinders lie as if haphazardly stored on shelves. Fruits, earthly symbols of domestic life and death, decay over the course of the exhibition.
The most ethereal presences are several gradient oil paintings, their hues emulating those of daylight: Each canvas contains seamlessly blended pastel tones of the sky at dawn. Painted a pale blue gray, the gallery’s walls seem to coyly mimic the canvases when reacting to shifting light. It’s not uncommon for Chou to transform spaces: His 2004 exhibition “Molyneux” saw an entire gallery floor covered in a bird-of-paradise-blue carpet. The show’s verbose title (which all the works share) is loosely based on psychological conditions surrounding social interaction and compulsive capitalism. In the main wallscape, strips of irregularly bent neon, acting as fragments of graphs, signify Taiwan’s rapidly increasing housing costs, while pie charts refer to surveyed happiness levels of the country’s citizens. Prayerful regard of the sublime and outright violence are two of humankind’s most natural channels for alleviating societal anxiety. Chou’s installation aestheticizes them both, evoking the awe inspired by the early morning sky, as well as the pent-up frustration that leads to stones being thrown. What else remains but such primal coping strategies, when one is left to navigate an increasingly unaffordable and unwelcoming world?
Cocurated by Leo Li Chen and Wu Mo, this exhibition focuses on the 1990s in China—a period between the social upheavals of the ’80s and the postmillennial so-called new era— and showcases the often-neglected lived experiences existing beside the grand social and political narratives that constitute crucial references.
In the 1990s, Beijing began fulfilling the demands of the Western art market, thus turning the capital into a hub of interpersonal networks that shaped a group of artists into cultural vanguards and antiheroes. Despite simplified frameworks and regional limitations to traveling abroad, the ideas of passive resistance and escapism managed to spread. For Red Light District, 1998–1999—made after the artist moved to Hong Kong—Yan Lei relocated neon signage used for brothels in that city to the entrance of a local art institution, ridiculing the hidden interests at play in a nascent system that encouraged budding artists to exhibit abroad.
Wang Youshen uses the newspaper Beijing Youth Daily, his place of work, as source material with which to juxtapose the media’s role as a symbol of power and its invasions into the individual sphere. As an echo, Leung Chi Wo’s Silent Music Plane 1967, 2016, presents the Life magazine covers of that year and contemporaneous revolutionary and pop songs to showcase the disparate forms of media that were pushed into the trenches of ideological battle.
The exhibition sketches one picture of 1990s China, with its representational images, dynamic perspectives, and unambiguous references. One can use contemporary experience to re-create the details and contradictions that made up daily life—particularly for ordinary people—in the ’90s. The exhibition serves too as a reminder of the rhythm of historical cycles: The ’90s belong not only to the past, but also to the future.
Translated from Chinese by Chelsea Liu.
In Günther Förg’s lifelong relationship with abstract painting, he embraced colors even if it included limiting his use of them. He played unwaveringly with the sense of proportion on his canvases. The paintings on exhibit here were made after 2007 and after he had established a reputation for lead paintings and monochromes. But unlike his earlier Minimalist works, these varicolored renditions are abundantly expressive. For instance, Untitled, 2008—a large, white-primed canvas on which the artist energetically scribbled blocks of pink and ocher amid occasional incidents of blue, yellow, and green—is redolent with something close to desire. Seemingly hasty in gesture, the blocks consist of vertical lines and look almost like rubbings or smears. They appear disparate at first, but their constancy across the painting’s surface and the repetitious pattern form a definite composition. As a result, this series of paintings, five in total, energizes the atmosphere in the room. In another untitled canvas also from 2008, no particular hue dominates, but rather Förg has prioritized the distribution of sky blue, orange-red, and deep purple as groupings laid atop other color variations. They cohere with rhythm, and the painting seems to move from left to right, guided by the bright scribbles.
Förg’s blocks are prolific and appear to quiver, sometimes breaking away from their flocks. Ultimately, it is the white priming of their background, like the white of an eye, that allows them to react so strongly to one another. As if on the verge of a precipice, the viewer’s gaze is torn from a soft pink to a pine green, back and forth and over again. Each canvas enacts its own pace as Förg exploits the suggestive interrelations between his colored rectangular shapes to create an aesthetic experience that engages all the senses.
At the entrance of Wong Wai Yin’s first solo exhibition in five years, a small monochromatic video shows the artist lying facedown on the ground, dressed in black (Reborn Every Second, all works 2016). Repeatedly, spirit-like versions of Wong rise from her body and walk away. The work sets the tone for the rest of the show, in which Wong’s videos, paintings, and installations form a wry and resonant account of the feelings, including guilt, anxiety, and fear, that she confronts as a first-time mother. The artist’s psychological (and, to a lesser extent, practical) adjustment to motherhood is the exhibition’s main concern.
Her works are about catharsis and recalibration. In Clearing Ten Thorns, Wong is filmed stomping on pieces of produce, to each of which she has assigned a problematic idea. Patriarchy, for example, is a blueberry—easily squashed. The work that shares the exhibition’s title, Without Trying, comprises a series of watercolor posters that distort and thereby subvert cliché phrases.
The ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself.” If the show is an experiment in self-exposure, it is all the more impressive because that does not seem to come easily to Wong. Her works feel honest and deliberate—an act of will overcoming her nature, as summed up in Don’t Resist the Lightning, an acrylic orange lightning bolt that strikes from the ceiling to the height of Wong’s head, alluding to her anxiety disorder. The exhibition’s focal point is an installation titled Wish You Were Eternal, in which the artist has destroyed all her old works still in her possession and entombed them in three wooden pyramids—a process that must have been as difficult and sad as it was freeing.
The inaugural exhibition at the M+ Pavilion, “Nothing,” comprises a new site-specific commission of the same name made by Tsang Kin-Wah, who represented Hong Kong at the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale. Tsang’s immersive installation uses black-and-white video, sound, and text, and was inspired by the famous verse from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow . . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
One small image, depicting a heavily burdened donkey, is projected onto the floor. Another picture takes up an entire wall, showing young men walking through a prison in slow motion. A third part of the installation is displayed separately, in a black room: An abstract video is projected onto the walls to the sound track of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” Gradually, then more quickly, the familiar music warps into noise, the shapes of the video start to move violently, and words begin to flash across the screen at random: “silence . . . death . . . flee . . . live . . . danger . . . worth . . . happiness . . . nothing.” The text, drawn from lyrics by Kurt Cobain, brings into focus Tsang’s preoccupation with the paradox of being, but at this point it feels almost unnecessary. The artist’s angst is conveyed powerfully by the sound and imagery alone.
The installation’s final component is a large-scale projection of a tree slowly losing its leaves. It is quiet and redemptive: The leaves, one assumes, will grow back. The cycle will begin again. “Nothing” is a poetic work in four acts distilling the course of a human life—the poor player’s hour upon the stage.
Danh Vō excels in arranging striking presentations from improbable associations between autobiographical innuendos and artifacts. On the ground floor, Lick Me, Lick Me, 2016, a fridge cooling a sixteenth-century wooden Jesus head, acts as a pedestal for a lump from a Roman Empire marble support. Or is it the marble, like an oversize paperweight, keeping the fridge grounded? The stairway holds 2.2.1861, 2009, one of the laborious transcriptions the artist’s father, Phùng Vō, has made of Théophane Vénard’s last correspondence to his father in 1861. In it, the French missionary compares his soon-to-be decapitated head, by way of a swift sword, to a freshly picked spring flower. Suggestively placed at the top of the stairway is Untitled 2016, a fourteenth-century crusader saber.
But the centerpiece of the exhibition is an installation on the first floor made of 450 variegated mammoth fossils and a seventeenth-century ivory Christ statuette suspended from the ceiling, its title a lengthy series of quotes from the 1973 film The Exorcist, including “Let Jesus fuck you!” and “You mother-fucking worthless cocksucker.” In contrast to its first showing in 2015, at the Crystal Palace of the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofía in Madrid, where the Greek cross-shaped glass building designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco cased the installation in a sacred atmosphere, here the white walls and lights offer a rather undermining, forensic background.
One is then left amid the vulnerable yet enduring bones and wood, rolling between extremes in piety, guileless fervor, and blasphemous stupor.
Yu Honglei frames his work in Platonic universals: It’s about flattening the architecture he lives in, the popular media he consumes, and the art history he has studied into a single plane of forms and ideas that coalesce into a practice.
Perhaps this is what every artist does in principle, but it’s rare to see one who enjoys working with such playful intellectual purity. It’s refreshing that this body of work comes without a mission statement, and more than a little fun to guess at the semiotic connections between sculptures and their seemingly nonsensical titles. In this exhibition, Yu positions eleven sculptures on seafoam-green pedestals of equal size, the better to frame the idea that every piece is about the principles of composition in general. He allows process to produce meaning, as in Elephant, 2016, which consists of two cartoonishly thin copper bird feet that merge with bamboo segments modeled after the same source, a simple visual rhyme said to have emerged accidentally while he was looking for techniques to extend the legs.
A new video, En Route, 2016, continues the art-historical appropriation of his video Take a Walk, 2014, this time utilizing only one source: Lawrence Weiner’s text works. The elder Conceptualist’s stark compositions are overlaid on moving images from car-centric films, creating the effect of a weirdly futuristic exploration of barren and primitive worlds—a road trip through fields of symbolic debris, not unlike the physical experience of being present in Yu’s exhibition.
Chen Shaoxiong’s current solo exhibition is titled “Prepared,” and it lasts until September 11. Questions immediately spring to mind: For what has the artist been trying to get prepared? And how? Hou Hanru, the curator, has spoken of art as a way to work against fear in life. Although issues such as terrorism, political upheaval, and economic crisis are present in Chen’s work, it is the feeling of fear, rather than the conditions generating that emotion, that exist at its core. Ink Media, 2013, and Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown, 2007, point to the way that secondhand realities are fabricated by global image distribution, causing a trepidation both real and unreal to permeate everyday life—a paradoxical state that opens up spaces for the artist to approach his subject in various playful ways. In his video installation Anti-Terrorism Variety, 2002, a skyscraper in Guangzhou is transferred into a cunning living thing, nimbly adjusting its physical form in hundreds of unexpected ways to avoid hostile airplanes that target the building from all directions.
The show also sheds light on how art, as a practice can dissolve the artist’s fear of change, loss, and death—a theme foregrounded in Chen’s latest video installation, The Views, 2016, whose melancholic mood distinguishes it from his earlier works. Though he has explored various techniques, innovation of form is not Chen’s primary concern. There is always a low-tech character in his animation pieces, while the 2012 series “Collective Memory” adopts the plainest form of relational art: The artist invited members of local communities to compose images of neighborhood landmarks with their fingerprints. Instead, Chen sticks to certain kinds of media (ink painting and photography) and conceptual strategies (such as diary writing) over a long period of time. It seems that by turning art into daily routine and keeping traces of everyday life as present as possible in his practice, the artist has managed to live with, though never conquer, his fear of loss and death, for which humans may never be actually prepared. In this sense, the exhibition’s title is less an accurate epithet and more a bitterly sarcastic if elegant one.
A simple vertical line is the motif that ties together the pieces of Jiang Pengyi’s parallel series “Grace” and “Trace,” both 2014–16. The latter, housed in one building of this venue, comprises thirty-six small Polaroid and emulsion prints—some are lush, and others are tiny seas of washed-out pinks and blues, soft and comforting in the way only instant film can be. A white line either floats within or bifurcates each piece, or, in the case of his emulsion lift prints, sheets of color hover like fabric or wrinkled flesh around the line of a pin protruding from the paper. “Trace” is control and fresh starts. “Grace,” meanwhile, presents a dark, consummating vision, occupying the second building, as a collection of large-scale silver gelatin prints that turn the artist’s three-year excursion through the Southern Hemisphere into haunting, spectral landscapes. These photographs are meant to seduce. They do. The white streaks of waterfalls (some alone and some in groups) in all the prints in “Grace” form visual rhymes with the lines of “Trace” but function as their antithesis: Lines are not made; they declare themselves, dominating landscapes real or imagined. Each photograph is filled with intricate detail, yet the mountains and jungles are muted in twilight, crags barely visible in dim chiaroscuro. Pengyi records these scenes like a last Argonaut, the final witness on a journey through a world now hollowed out. Like drivers on a lonely highway at night, eyes heavy, then suddenly shaken, we are jarred by Pengyi’s landscapes seconds after being lulled. “Grace” records the last vestiges of a natural world freeing itself from the grips of a humanity dozing through the Anthropocene.
Having reached an era when the genre of street photography might feel passé, two concurrent solo exhibitions by the Hong Kong–based German photographer Michael Wolf and the preeminent Chinese photographer Fan Ho bring views of urban life in Hong Kong past and present, which succinctly unites the two shows. Fan, who passed away last June at the age of eighty-five, was part of the Chinese diaspora that fled the mainland for Hong Kong in 1949. Fan’s black-and-white gelatin silver prints, from the 1950s to the 1970s, tell a compelling story through the lens of young refugee dealing with the crisis of displacement and assimilation. The title of the exhibition, “On the Stage of Life,” is in keeping with Fan’s dramatic use of light and shadow. At times suggesting the cinematic, his images of daily life—from lonely back streets to bustling city stairways—convey that an older, long-ago Hong Kong will leave an enduring legacy.
Wolf’s “Informal Solutions” fast-forwards the viewer by looking beyond contemporary Hong Kong’s glitzy skyscrapers and megamalls to its disappearing alleyways. Over the past twenty years, Wolf has photographed disparate but familiar everyday objects—industrial gloves, discarded umbrellas, mops, and abandoned plastic or wooden chairs—found during his daily wanderings to create an ongoing series, also titled “Informal Solutions,” 2003–, of individually framed eight-by-ten color prints that he then clusters together in groups of five to eighteen. Included in this tableaux of artifacts are actual objects collected by the artist along the way—small improvised stools and counter weights to secure tarpaulins for temporary shelters—along with looped thirty-second video clips, such as a single fluttering glove tethered to an exhaust fan, presented on a screen no larger than the color prints. Seeing this installation as a form of visual anthropology, Wolf asserts how Hong Kong’s vanishing back-alley street life constitutes an authentic part of the city’s grassroots culture while also documenting survival strategies of the city’s working poor.
“Overpop” is a curatorial collaboration between Jeffrey Deitch and Karen Smith featuring works from seventeen artists who define a “new contemporary aesthetic” (as Deitch calls it) across two distinctive artmaking contexts. The curators describe this as a dialogue. Viewing it feels like eavesdropping—we gaze longingly at the cool Chinese and American kids sitting together in the lunchroom; we feed on their cues. The show is an arousing curatorial vision filled with beauty and gall that keeps its viewers at an admiring distance.
A few artists make “Overpop” exceptional. Ian Cheng’s video projection Emissary in the Squat Gods, 2015, explodes with scenes of ancient, carnivalesque violence, like an 8-bit version of Pasolini’s Salò (1975). As priests and acolytes maneuver awkwardly through pixelated scenes of sacrifice, the video holds us transfixed, teetering on the edge of irony. Wu Di’s The Mother’s Milk – Hi Mama, 2012, toys with both Lucas Cranach the Elder and Jeff Koons: A painting of a woman’s torso, breast emitting cartoon milk, sits behind a yellowing plaster cast of a hybrid Shar Pei–human child. With nightmare machines, animals, and baby-doll parts, Kunniao Tong reminds us that these artists have gone to art school. Camille Henrot’s simple and otherwise prim paintings turn brilliantly toward dark sexual tropes (think New Yorker cartoons with boners and regret). Borna Sammak’s seductive video screens of nature films spliced into splatters of Guy Fieri–style action painting are the perfect summary of the exhibition’s tangle of technology and wit.
Tantalizingly delicate, Mark Prime’s aluminum and brass rod sculptures resemble that first tangle of forms in the game Mikado, after the thin bamboo sticks gathered in a bundle are released and fall to the ground. Only here, the artist’s sticks, or rods—mounted on planes attached to walls or on colored tabletops—produce jagged piles of metal bramble, for the series “Untitled,” 2015–16, and for Ghost I, II, and III, each 2016. Their individual stems are identically clean in edge and surface, and joined to each other with minuscule handcrafted rivets.
The disinterest in monolithic historical Minimalism is obvious. Instead, we experience the invigorating perceptual effects of minute fluctuations of cant, geometry, and shadow within these groups of sculptures. Also installed are Untitled, 2014, and Untitled, 2015, two large photographic works featuring what look like gleaming light sculptures but are in fact installations of high-intensity lasers and mirrors, shot in the dark, and a similar set of four smaller images. It is these almost forensic frames, on which Prime models his metal sculpture, that also reveal the split soul of his work, born into light but aching to get away from its everydayness. The artist, who is a long-term resident of Mumbai and a reputable light designer for exhibitions, seems to want to extrapolate concrete values from the immateriality of light by lending its rudimentary element—piercing rays—the heft of things that tangibly intervene in space.
There is, of course, the danger of mistaking these works for a bunch of disarticulated lighting fixtures. This is where the emphasis on monumental proportion, reduced to a modest, interactive scale, preserves the tension in what looks ordinary but is akin to a burst of minor, repeating ecstasies.
After reading a blog post from curator Daniel Baumann titled “Who Is Hisachika Takahashi?,” Yuki Okumura set out to find the answer. The multimedia artist, born 1978 in Aomori, Japan, now based between cities in Western Europe, researched and eventually met with Takahashi, born in 1940, a former technician to Lucio Fontana and Robert Rauschenberg. The meeting led to Okumura and Takahashi working together. Both artists’ practices often employ collaboration to develop ideas concerning identity and memory. This exhibition constantly approaches but never quite answers the question of Baumann’s post. We learn about Takahashi but always through his collaborations and Okumura’s curatorial frame.
Throughout, new works by Okumura—playing on several by Takahashi as well as photographic documentation of him—are displayed alongside that artist’s old and newer output. Included is a series of US maps drawn from memory by the likes of Joseph Kosuth and Jasper Johns (From Memory, Draw a Map of the United States, 1971–72). For another playful work, Takahashi cut and sculpted the metal of a dried can of International Klein Blue paint, discovered in Klein’s former studio, into a bird—giving the cylindrical mass a set of wings. In a series of images opposite titled Hisachika Takahashi in Israel, 2016, Okamura, referencing Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953, has rubbed out all but Takahashi’s figure from photographs documenting his time working as Rauschenberg’s assistant in Israel. Takahashi in these images thus overshadows his famous employer.
Central to the exhibition is a video in which Baumann interviews Okumura, who plays the role of the older artist and relates stories from his life. Okumura’s interview and works interfere with and recontextualize Takahashi’s oeuvre, extending collaborative processes latent in the latter’s practice. Authorship, transience, and recollection emerge as themes from the various identity-obscuring works.
There is a silence around hegemony—a lack of diverse voices, born not of subaltern complicity, but of structural acceptance and, sometimes, forgetfulness. It is thus no surprise, in the global theater of art and film festivals, where hegemonic spectacle subsumes other projects into its main narrative, that an exhibition such as this one is so rare.
Curated by Singapore-based Siddharta Perez, the show features video work and experimental film by David Griggs, Gym Lumbera, Miko Revereza, Roxlee, Shireen Seno, Angel Velasco Shaw, Stephanie Syjuco, and Kidlat Tahimik—artists working in the Philippines or belonging to its diaspora. An incisive look at the country through the lens of American culture and Cold War policy, the exhibition imagines the Philippines as a “doubled” land and nation. For example, Syjuco’s abstract video work Body Double (Platoon), 2005, presents excerpts of Philippine jungle footage from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam film, Platoon (1986).
American tropes are recurrent in the other works presented, such as Seno’s video Shotgun Tuding, 2013, an appropriation of spaghetti western films; Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare, 1977, inspired by Voice of America radio broadcasts; and Grigg’s Where’s Francis?, 2013, a short film about two Filipino extras acting as severed heads in the film Apocalypse Now (1979). The satire and appropriation in the works rouse us with disquieting revelations, nowhere more poignant than in Where’s Francis?, when a protagonist, after thirty years of being stuck in the mud, claims that “Sheen had a heart attack and so now they forgot about us”—referring to actor Martin Sheen’s medical crisis that almost derailed the filming of Coppola’s classic.
Breaking the silence, “Double Vision” inspires an uncanny terror in the encounter with something insidiously familiar, returning our attention to the important, wordless, often forgotten implications of brushing against the soft power of a hegemonic culture.
“Artspectrum” is Seoul’s answer to the Whitney Biennial. Since 2001, it has supported emerging artists and showcased a broad spectrum of Korean contemporary art. This year, ten artists and artist groups are presented. For their contribution Art Spectral, 2016, the Okin Collective (Joungmin Yi, Hwayong Kim, and Shiu Jin) installed a wide wooden floor within the gallery and outfitted the space as a quasi-living room or lounge. They instruct visitors on how to enjoy it: Heat the pillow in the provided microwave, rest on it, read their publication (copies of which are scattered across the installation), and exercise your eyes by watching the simple movements of balls in a single-channel video. The book is a collection of writings by critics and curators on “vanishing” and “invisibility.” And through the work’s play on the exhibition title, Okin Collective refers to the unstable social status of the emerging artists in Artspectrum exhibitions, most of whom are required to “disappear” outside of the museum in order to pick up odd jobs to support themselves, giving their lives a ghostlike character.
Family Plan, 2016, suggests that this feeling of economic instability is shared by a generation. The artists, graphic designer Hyungjae Kim and information researcher Jaehyun Bahk, working as the duo Optical Race, collected and analyzed fiscal data about income, expenditures, and assets for single men and women in South Korea and set them alongside similar statistics for their parents. By pairing the different cases, they created four hundred virtual families whose combined incomes and assets are represented by color-coded circular mats arranged on the gallery floor. Visitors are inspired to stand on the circle that best reflects their own financial situation. The mats give an approximate location for their position on the social ladder and even project whether it would be possible for them to afford a proper wedding or sustain a family. Visitors to this high-profile exhibition may relax on warm rice pillows or enjoy soft mats on the floor, but these artworks manage to speak to the harsh reality outside the gallery.
Demonstrating his dexterity across various media, Bae Young-Whan presents painting, sculpture, installation, and video in “Pagus Avium,” Platform-L’s inaugural exhibition. The first since his breakthrough solo exhibition at the Samsung Museum of Art in 2012, the show unveils new artworks that both reference and transgress Bae’s conceptual oeuvre.
Before one enters the first hall, the sound of large temple bells can be heard resonating throughout the space. The heavy, meditative repetitions are rousing, but they unexpectedly come from industrial-size speakers, amplifiers, megaphones, and loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling in Babel–1 (all works cited, 2016). Megaphone shaped pieces are also scattered on the floor near Speech, Thought, Meaning, a sculpture of a giant parrot hooded like a hunting falcon and perched atop a measuring stick. The non-standardized gold-color increments painted on the ruler are reminiscent of those that have appeared repeatedly in Bae’s past works. The parrot affirms the artist’s interest in birds as symbols of flight and captivity, a theme echoed upstairs in the four-channel video Abstract Verb—Can You Remember? On each screen a single, anonymous figure wearing a costume of bright orange fabric plumage dances energetically to the beat of drums. The dancer, whose face is obscured, spreads his “wings” in expressive gestures that strive to communicate without words. The viewer, moving slowly between the screens in observation, naturally becomes a predator.
Ten pieces from Osang Gwon’s series “The New Structure,” 2014–, pack the gallery’s basement floor. Finally presented together for the first time, their structures redefine the space to make a dynamic interplay possible between the visitors and the works.
Gwon’s best-known series, “The Deodorant Type,” 1998–, offers a response to sculptural convention. In order to avoid the heavy materials traditional to his medium, such as stone or steel, the artist has built up an armature of a human figure with a Styrofoam-like material and pasted thousands of detailed photographs on its surface. This blending of photography and sculpture blurs the border between image and object, between two-dimensional illusion and three-dimensional materiality.
“The New Structure” is an outcome of the artist’s ongoing interest in photosculpture and its formal construction. Alexander Calder’s “Stabiles” served as Gwon’s main source of inspiration, especially in their organic structure, abstract forms, intense presence, and sense of stability. Following Calder’s example, Gwon composed his own materials, then added enlarged photographs of objects he collected from Wallpaper, a UK-based magazine of architecture, design, and fashion. The outcome is a compelling accumulation of glossy images of well-crafted things such as shoes and forks. Modernist sculpture’s aloofness is replaced by the lighthearted enjoyment of contemporary leisure and consumption: according to Gwon, a means to “show the here and now in which we live.”
Artsonje Center’s yearlong renovation work has been temporarily suspended while the venue stages “Connect 1: Still Acts”—which presents work by three artists: Lee Bul, Chung Seoyoung, and Kim Sora, all of whom previously had solo exhibitions here. On the third floor is Lee’sMajestic Splendor, 1997/2016, for the first time since its scandalous debut: Ninety-eight pieces of sea bream are ornamented with beads and sequins, individually packed in plastic bags, and attached to the wall in seven rows. When the fish have rotted away, foul air will pervade the gallery—where Lee’s Cyborgs W1–W4, 1998, also dangle from the open ceiling.
In contrast with the sense of chaos and decay expressed, the second-floor space containing Chung’s art seems almost ascetic. Her wooden sculpture Lookout, 1999, standing in the middle of the vast, empty gallery, in fact, resembles a lifeguard tower of the kind one finds on a beach, but it affords no views of anything, thanks to its location and reduced size. Kim, meanwhile, has transformed the museum’s first-floor lobby into a library (Library, 2016). After asking her friends and acquaintances to send her their unwanted books, she created performance scores based on the contents of the ninety-six volumes submitted. Different performers reinterpret each performance throughout the duration of the exhibition, showing how disparate perspectives lead to an idiosyncratic array of content consumption. Overall, by revisiting the museum’s earlier years while simultaneously involving its physical reconstruction as a backdrop, the current exhibition attempts to “connect” its past to the future.
In this exhibition, Chen Po-I presents a collection of photographs created in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot in 2009 in the most severely damaged area of Taiwan, between the Bo-lai and Fu-xing villages of Laonong River. The series includes images of brown, grayish mountainous landscapes, with plastic mesh, chicken wire, concrete boulders, and containers camouflaged in the environment, while the only black-and-white image, Post Morakot, Shengjing Bridge II, 2015, captures a stark, abraded mountainside next to forested lushness, its surface gridded to make way for roads and a highway bridge. In contrast with geological time, the “artificial geological events” with which the artist is concerned are swift, ruthless, and most apparent when the landscape is altered in the name of human development.
Though Chen is consistently neutral—almost scientific—in his approach to documenting developments following the typhoon, the diptychs in the exhibition are never completely flush with one another and are hung askew or at different heights, suggesting that these developments have a long-lasting effect on the environment that cannot be rectified. To further the case, Chen implies that human attempts to redevelop and control the landscape are futile in Post Morakot, Lumao Bridge (Kaohsiung), 2014, in which the bottom of a rock wall—constructed with plastic mesh and lined with planters across its top—has already eroded, indicating that this process has taken place before, and despite all efforts, will more than likely reoccur.
Moving through the dark labyrinthine space of “The Serenity of Madness,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first survey of video installations and short films in his home country of Thailand, which later travels to Para Site in Hong Kong, is like making a nocturnal journey into a primitive cave of delirious unknowns. In other words, it is an experience not dissimilar to indulging in any one of his films.
The selected works span from 1994, when he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to 2014. His earliest experimental films are the most revealing. In Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves (Mae Ya Nang), 1994; 0116643225059, 1994; and Windows, 1999, most of the elements—in both style and substance—associated with Weerasethakul are already established, including structural dualities, play with light and shadow, poetic intensity, mnemonic autobiographical anecdotes, superstitions and local tales. Weerasethakul is arguably one of few leading directors who move effortlessly and successfully between the film and art worlds. His films and installations feed and implement each other symbiotically: Most of his short works are experimental sketches for feature films.
Given Weerasethakul’s nonlinear, dreamlike works one can presume why the thirty-two pieces at the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum are presented in nonchronological order and with little contextual information, though these curatorial choices might work less successfully for audiences unfamiliar with his oeuvre. However, for avid followers of the artist-director, this show offers a rare opportunity to perform poetic and political excavations through layers of strangely familiar images, to trace his works from the quiet mystery to the surreal spectacle of the mundane, and to be, as Weerasethakul once said, “suffocated by beautiful memories.”
This yearlong three-part show offers an alternative for future generations—its thesis bluntly states that communism is alive and kicking and that it is the solution for contemporary universal matters. Focusing on past events as well as present philosophical discourses, the exhibition’s ideas are supported by sci-fi scenes and outer-space images that trace the technological shift of the twentieth century and the era of Soviet-style “real socialism.” For example, The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 2016, a bookcase designed by Nicole Wermers, displays an edition of the compilation. In the spirit of space exploration, the bookcase travels to a different part of the museum for each exhibition installment, and, in an ongoing lecture series, artists and scholars are invited to use the resource to analyze current affairs. Nearby, Noa Yafe’s “The Red Star,” 2016, is a series of captivating framed photographs and holograms depicting space shuttles and Mars, inspired by Alexander Bogdanov’s sci-fi novel exploring a Communist society on that planet.
Works by Anna Lukashevsky, Jonathan Gold, and Raanan Harlap examine the Israeli Communist experience through colorful portraits of Russian immigrants in Haifa today, a large-scale mural, and reliefs of public housing. The curator, Joshua Simon, also presents a video and photographic documentation as part of a series titled “Year One: Jewish-Arab Brotherhood,” 2016, which traces the activities of the local Communist Party that has existed in Mandatory Palestine since 1919. In the short video-interview, two of the members, an Arab and a Jew, express the joy of working together, hinting at the potential of living in equality and peace.
Founded in 1948, the Ofakim Hadashim, meaning “New Horizons,” group of twenty-some artists hung together for well over a decade, and their embrace of such movements as Cubism, Surrealism, and biomorphism, among others, coincided with the formation of modern Israeli art. From the beginning, there was a dual imperative to acknowledge, even synthesize, the stylistic proclivities of an international art world and to form, through such appropriations, a distinctly national school. “A New Horizon for New Horizons” is the first comprehensive exhibition since 1966 to show the work of this cohort, and it complements the publication of a revised and annotated edition of Gila Balas’s 1980 monograph and exhibition history of the group.
The cracked surfaces of paintings and original frames evidence their hiatus from public view. To be sure, much has changed in the fifty years since, and this current outing makes clear both the historical ambitions of and the later developments in Israeli art inspired by their work. Installed chronologically, the show deftly reveals the move of so many individual practitioners from figuration to some mode of abstraction—as with Robert Baser and Joseph Zaritsky—and from a darker palette to one ever lighter, even sun-bleached, as in Raffi Lavie’s untitled painting from 1962. And yet, such supposed advances coexist with other notions of painting, sculpture, and works on paper, which admits the uneven reception of art from elsewhere—many of these artists, including Zaritsky, spent time in Europe—and the competing priorities within what had become a moribund style.
Still, much of the work feels vital beyond its historical importance. The fact that the last gallery houses works by contemporary artists contributes to this argument of generational passage and homage from within, paradoxically bringing the wider relevance of such forbearers into the present tense.
Efrat Natan was raised during the middle of the twentieth century on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin, in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley. Without relying too heavily upon her life story, this thoughtful forty-year survey underscores how Natan connects the everyday materials of that time and place to broader, elemental forces. Undershirts, tent fabric, netting, vinyl records, and farm implements are among the items Natan transforms into sculptures, installations, performance props, and other artworks. As a first-time visitor to Israel, I’m sure I missed this art’s many resonances with the nation’s history and terrain. But Natan’s awareness of American and European art of the 1960s and ’70s was manifest. Her artwork aligns with Trisha Brown and Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys and Valie Export; as such names suggest, for Natan, the relationship between the body and the landscape is paramount. She locates, and expresses concisely, the cosmological import of that relationship. Her use of scythes conjures bodily and seasonal rhythms; a large tent hung high on one wall evokes the sun; wisps of white fabric against dark backgrounds summon thoughts of constellations. Nearly everything in the show is black, gray, or white. This visual austerity can lead viewers to think of the artist as a shaman or priestess. But the Conceptual rigor of these pieces reminds us that focused thinking can open up new worlds, too.
A large and meditative canvas showing a very hazy view from Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to view but not to enter the Promised Land; a monochrome drawing of a grotto in Rosh Hanikra, where the historic Palestine Railways passed from the Galilee to Lebanon until it was bombed in 1948; and a realistic rendering of a Palestine one pound note: These are few examples of Lihi Turjeman’s retracing of past narratives combining myth, history, and contemporary politics featured in this exhibition.
At the heart of the show is Center of Gravity, 2016, a canvas placed on the floor, which depicts the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, flattened like an aerial topographical plan seen on Google maps. We hover above it, knowing that the octagonal structure guards a foundation stone from which, according to monotheistic tradition, the world was created. It is believed to cover the abyss, to be the source of water, the burial site of the first man, and the binding stone where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. There are numerous stories about this stone, which is both fabled and concrete. And this is exactly the force of Turjeman’s art: laboriously manipulated raw materials—pigments, glue, and gravel—portraying real locations that are themselves pushed to the outmost mythical realm, hovering between the virtual and the real.
Zik Group’s recent installation poignantly remarks on the shaping and narrating of local topography. With an eighty-two-foot-high wooden construction that extends through several stories and with a pool of black water at its base, made almost unapproachable by the pool’s high walls, Minaret of Defense, 2016, highlights the proximity of the museum to the nearby army base Ha’Kirya, whose most recognizable attribute is the Marganit Tower: a tall, flickering center of secretive communications, overlooking the city. Minaret is inspired by the physical appearance of the army base’s structure and its ominous presence in a civilian, urban setting and simultaneously echoes another architectural type—the mosque. More broadly, towers have another significance in local history, since Zionist settlements in pre-state Palestine were marked by single towers, erected overnight, as means to assert ownership and maintain strategic advantage. Consequently, Zik members inevitably invoke the history of Tel Aviv, which was partially formed on the ruins of Arab villages, among them Salame, Abu Kabir, and Sheiskh Munis.
Minaret opened to the public during Israel’s sixty-eighth Independence Day, a date associated with institutional celebrations and not with the emergence of subversive narratives. As public discourse in Israel becomes less democratic with the unapologetic tightening of government control over media and the ongoing trampling of human rights, the mere presence of the installation in a central, mainstream institution bears an even greater importance. Established in 1985, Zik is considered a leading, veteran art collective. From a mountain-based studio near Jerusalem, the group creates elaborate multimedia installations that are often burnt or destroyed in a series of performative gestures. Their avant-garde approach offers a conceptual antithesis to ideas of collectivity rooted in Israeli culture, ideas articulated by the failed enterprise of socialist kibbutzim. As Minaret pierces through the floors of the museum, it uncovers concealed contradictions that coincide in the landscape while highlighting the idiosyncratic practice, history, and identity of its creators.
Rania Stephan’s gallery debut comes at a point when a midcareer museum survey might have made just as much sense. She is better known as a filmmaker. Her work began migrating only recently from film festivals to exhibitions. Stephan got her start in the 1990s, as an assistant director to the filmmakers Simone Bitton and Elia Suleiman. In parallel, she developed her own work along two very different paths. On one side, she makes quick, powerful slice-of-life documentaries. On the other, she composes essayistic videos that toy with notions of memory, montage, and the obsolescence of materials such as Video8, Hi8, and VHS.
The latter works tend to mysteries and crumbled glamour: Tribes, 1993, is a tribute to Marlene Dietrich, among other things; The Three Disappearances of Souad Husni, 2011, narrates the wild and desperate life of an ill-fated Egyptian movie star, using only pirated videocassettes of her films; Stephan’s trilogy in progress, Memories for a Private Eye, 2015–, braids together material from classic Hollywood noir (Mark McPherson’s 1944 film Laura), a short-lived detective show (“Mufetish Wahid”) that ran on Lebanese television in the 1970s, and home movies outlining a devastating personal loss (the death of her mother in a bombing during Lebanon’s civil war).
“On Never Simply Being One” splices together the Souad Husni and Private Eye projects, including the video 64 Dusks, 2010–16, Stephan’s camera literally circling around the site of Husni’s suicide, never shown publicly before, and a related series of photographs, arranged dramatically in a long, straight line. Adjacent to 64 Dusks is a projection of Husni’s face, eyes beseeching through the thickest mascara. Slowly, damage to the VHS tape plays across the image in a slow, gorgeous dissolve of abstract imperfections. Two found photographs hung back to back round out the reconciliation of dualisms of view. One is a saccharine portrait of Husni posing with a camera. The other is a sultry pinup of the starlet in lingerie. Both were taken by a studio photographer Stephan found by chance, who had worked on the set of two films Husni shot in Lebanon. Pulling viewers around their installation to uncover their story, they show an artist as capable in space as she is in sequence.
When this museum reopened last year after a long and painful renovation, it had transformed like a butterfly. The old cocoon was dainty and provincial. The new creature was colorful and strange—and also quite big, nearly five times its previous size, featuring an 8,600-square-foot exhibition hall, with double-high ceilings, plunged two stories underground. Before now, the museum had filled that cavernous new space with a major survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings (primarily) about Beirut, and a smaller, more intimate monographic exhibition for a largely unknown Lebanese modernist named Assadour. The first show to really own the renovation and prove the museum’s seriousness—about contemporary art, politics, and the lives of inhabitants of the city today—is now on view, organized by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Nora Razian.
The broader historical backdrops here include climate change, financial crisis, and the real-world usefulness of terms such as Anthropocene or its louche, renegade sister, Capitalocene. Closer to these contexts, this is the first such show to meaningfully respond to Lebanon’s mind-boggling political failure to sort its own garbage, both literally and metaphorically. (The country made headlines last summer when a confluence of factors—including governmental mismanagement, corruption in the private sector, and angry protests by an exasperated public—caused a total breakdown in trash collection services, leading to mountains of waste piling up in the streets.) The photographs, videos, sculptures, sound installations, publications, and prints by seventeen artists here take up themes of contamination, resource extraction, ruin, and waste. Sammy Baloji’s images of Congolese mines set the tone. Pedro Neves Marques’s animations, projecting economic growth and its catastrophes, lend the show a futurist edge. Monira Al Qadiri’s sculptures of pearl-colored deep-sea drill heads give it a sense of humor. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige’s drawings, photographs, and speculative archeological narratives about core samples from construction sites bring it all back home to postwar, reconstruction-era Beirut, debates about which first animated the city’s most interesting art scene twenty years ago, only to fall eerily silent since.
Through work that is visually and materially distinct, Christine Kettaneh and Monika Grabuschnigg subtly scramble assumptions and subvert stereotypes by smuggling unexpected references and meanings into forms and formats that appear, at least initially, familiar. In Mute Melodies, 2013, Kettaneh deploys the amorphous shapes of the parts removed when keys are cut as an arcane vocabulary, their undulating contours uncannily approximating Arabic script. Presented in a four-by-five grid, each laser-engraved plywood panel, whose surface resembles a sheet of yellowing paper, features a few neat lines of these etched forms, suggesting an unconventional score or a cryptic poem, texts that appear legible but remain unintelligible. However, each panel actually constitutes a symbolic portrait of one of the artist’s friends through a succession of marks that index, through absence, a set of keys and, by extension, the intimate objects and spaces they provide access to.
Flirting with the desire for and consumption of the exotic, Grabuschnigg draws inspiration from rugs produced during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In these curiously hybrid artifacts, the weavers introduced a stylized iconography of war into traditional patterns to reflect everyday encounters with instruments of violence; subsequently coveted and collected in the West as vernacular fetishes of war, they continue to be produced for the tourist market. Bits of this iconography reappear as pattern on the surfaces of Grabuschnigg’s whimsically delicious ceramics. Riots of gilded ornament and drippy, gooey candy-colored glazes, these seductive objects also cleverly adapt common ceramic formats, like vases and lamp bases, to suggest sickly sweet bombs and grenades. Two of them feature inverted triangles topped with small vertical protrusions, transforming the rear half of a fighter jet into a macabre candelabra. And some, with their broad, flat bases and baroque surfaces, resemble oversize butt plugs, joyfully queering the phallic. Like Kettaneh’s pseudo-language, these uncertain cultural forms oscillate between social and aesthetic reads, communicating but not declaring meaning through palpable silence.
Darren Sylvester’s photographic and installation-based work transforms irony into sincerity, conflating commodity fetishism and ethereality in a way that recalls Jeff Koons’s well-honed aesthetic. The centerpiece here, from which the exhibition’s title is derived, is a more than ten-foot-wide photograph, Broken Model (all works 2016), which depicts a collapsed female model on a glittered stage, cared for by another model while three others stand in the background. Re-enacting a scene from Jean Paul Gaultier’s final womenswear show in Paris in 2014––where Canadian model Coco Rocha contrived a fainting spell––Sylvester exploits such theatrics to create a beauty-pageant version of a Renaissance tableau, at once touching and glamorously anemic. All five women appear again together in another large-scale photograph, Green Editorial, which shows them smiling straight into the camera with turquoise glitter-paint on their faces, referencing the joyous visages found in cosmetics advertisements.
In To Live––a sculptural installation of a catwalk covered with purple sand and an array of whole and halved coconuts made from bronze and porcelain––the clichéd images of tropical island life and the aspirational tone of high-end fashion become entwined, in a style that would not be out of place in a Louis Vuitton window display. Alluding to the artist’s recurrent use of modeling techniques, where scenes are re-created from everyday life and popular culture, the show avoids overt critique and wholeheartedly embraces artificiality and detachment to amplify uncertainty and polarize interpretation.
In its persuasive mix of poetic imagery and realist methodologies, Lewis Fidock’s first solo exhibition at this gallery cannot help but invoke the legacy of Surrealism—and, in particular, the movement’s capacity to be reinvented with each generation. The centerpiece here is a small and enigmatic sculpture, Brain (all works 2016), comprising five legs of a rubber octopus that have emerged from an L-shaped trough, as if seeking traction on the gallery floor. The work, replete with fake water and real cobwebs, resembles an object from an amusement park while also recalling the films of Jean Painlevé, whose studies of octopi and sea horses connected the Surrealists’ fondness for the uncanny to the wonders of the natural sciences. Given its loaded title, Brain might function, paradoxically, as a visual metaphor for the artist’s antididactic approach to art—a Surrealist archetype exalting blind and intuitive artistic exploration. In contrast, Fidock’s surrounding sculptural works, Muscle, Middle Child, and Rover, were constructed through close formal observation, each one a scaled-down replica of a different easel—one found discarded, one still in use at an art school in Melbourne, and one belonging to an artist friend—delicately re-creating all their incidental blobs and splashes of paint.
Although thematically connected to the medium of painting, the three easel works are steeped in the language of sculpture; their change of scale heightens their anthropomorphic qualities, and each faces directly toward Brain as if engaged in a mind-body stare-down. At once bold and understated, Fidock’s exhibition conveys an acute sensitivity to the relation between observation and imagination—and between order and disorder—drawing attention to small details in order to amplify an ambiguous bigger picture.
The assassinations and espionage operations carried out in Latin America by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1948 to 1994 are the basis of Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa’s aesthetic criticism in this show. “En nuestra pequeña región de por acá” (In Our Little Region Over Here) revolves around the deaths and disappearances of forty-seven emblematic Cold War–era Latin American political leaders. The works on view have a number of commonalities: They are the product of fifteen years of research on the relationship between different Latin American governments and the CIA, and through many declassified CIA documents, they show erasure and censorship. The works in the exhibition also formulate a compelling hypothesis, indebted, perhaps, to Frances S. Saunders’s work on the funding of the CIA and the development of some North American cultural institutions and of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Jarpa’s critique points out that while the US was coordinating and undertaking shady political operations in alliance with secret organizations throughout Latin America, it was also bolstering Minimalism. In a context of elaborate acts of foul play and plans to put down social and economic demands, a “clean” and seemingly apolitical abstract aesthetic was taking hold. Jarpa envisions Donald Judd’s cubes—which the artist replicates and intervenes on here—as the symbol of that relationship.
While a large site-specific installation takes center stage in the exhibition, a small piece displayed in a tucked-away hallway of the museum is also of interest. The installation, Algunos estamos amenazados de muerte (Some of Us Were Threatened with Death), 2016, consists of a slide projection of images related to the deaths of prominent figures and the positions they held (bishops, senators, presidents). This work reveals, in a discreet and subtle fashion, the underbelly of public life.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.
When you approach this new space, it’s not easy to tell that it’s an art gallery, because what you first see is a house, which was designed in 1958 by Rino Levi, with landscaping by Roberto Burle Marx. It’s rooted in a peculiar relationship between interior and exterior in which nature, in the form of two outdoor gardens, makes its way in through the building’s glass walls. With Regina Silveira’s works and Leandro Erlich’s installation, this indoor-outdoor relationship is particularly gratifying. The concept has been a long-standing interest of both artists.
An exhibition of Silveira’s work at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in 2010 is the origin of her exhibition here. In the museum installation, the artist covered the glass facade with images of clouds. This exhibition is also suggestive of the atmosphere, as Silveira overglazes ceramic tiles—such as those that comprise the stunning panel Dreaming of Blue I (works cited 2016)—to re-create the sky indoors. Silveira has always been interested in encoding, and the cross-stitch patterns illuminate and simultaneously obfuscate meaning within these elegantly wrought pieces. Installed in the living room, Erlich’s Blind Window consists of a glass sheet with a window in the middle. Sealed off by bricks, this window gives rise to myriad speculations on the (in)visibility of the relationships between private and public space.
In the front garden and down in the cellar of the venue, several works from “Residência moderna” (Modern Residence)—the first exhibition held at this new site, just before this one—remain on display. The gallery continues to create a fluid and dynamic visual rapport between the works of art and the home that cradles them.
Translated from Portuguese by Jane Brodie.
First, darkness sets in. Then, white rectangles of light slowly emerge on the walls, like windows looking out on a blank landscape. As the lights come back on, these luminous intervals start to blend in with the color of the walls until they disappear altogether. At the entrance to Lucas Arruda’s show is a new installation anchored on a cyclical experience of dawn and dusk, harking back to the ancestral idea of painting as a framed mirror of the world.
Arruda’s world is devoid of human presence and architecture—empty like his spectral landscapes. His is a deep study of atmosphere, of nothingness. His latest paintings, in tune with the budding oeuvre that has made him one of the most intriguing and coherent painters of the up-and-coming Brazilian scene, depict daybreaks and sunsets, while clinging to a dense palette of whites and yellows, grays and blacks.
Oddly, the strength of Arruda’s compositions seems to lie in that lack of structure and substance that make up our vision of the sky and the horizon. Nothing seems to delineate the insignificance of humanity on this planet better than sublime, unimpeded views of an open field or of the sea, sprawling under infinite skies. The artist here subverts that notion of openness with luminous, airy pictures confined to the smallest possible surface. The timid scale of his worldview has the inverse effect of denouncing the heaviness of existence; it lays bare the diffuse design of our environments, and, perhaps, of all that shapes every breath we take.
Vik Muniz’s latest collages are a rare foray into lighthearted abstraction, with swaths of bright color, and textures produced by simple arts-and-crafts processes. Frames enclose sheets of paper that have been crumpled, torn, and layered; punched with holes, stitched with yarn, festooned with ribbons—or so it seems. Each of the works is a partial trompe l’oeil, for which Muniz has combined material process with highly rendered photographs. The photos downplay their own slickness, upholding the pretense that the show’s title, “Handmade,” suggests. The jagged white edges of torn colored paper comprising Untitled (colored tears), 2016, seamlessly alternate with extremely detailed photographs of jagged white edges. Elsewhere, in Untitled (Crumpled paper ultramarine Blue Squares), 2016, we’re fooled into thinking Muniz has cut squares out of a rumpled sheet of paper. In reality, the paper is smooth but convincingly printed with images of wrinkles and square-shaped holes, drop shadows and all. Muniz’s punch lines are reminiscent of bubble gum: brief thrills taken from candy-colored paper.
The works on display seem to magnetically draw the viewer in for closer inspection. But mounted out of reach, inconspicuously above the inside of the gallery door, is a piece of photographic paper curling at its edges, shaded by a gradient from top to bottom. The 1987 Two Nails—which hails from early in Muniz’s career, before he came to focus on figurative collages with weighty political subtexts—is an image of a nail with multiple shadows affixed to the wall with an actual nail. An unfamiliar viewer would be hard pressed to discern which is which, or even whether the work is actually on a piece of paper or is simply another well-executed sleight of hand. From down here, it’s quite difficult to tell.