Critics’ Picks

View of “Sophia Al-Maria: EVERYTHING MUST GO,” 2017.


Sophia Al-Maria

The Third Line
Street 8, Al Quoz 1, Alserkal Avenue Warehouse 78 & 80
February 22–March 25

In Sophia Al-Maria’s exhibition “EVERYTHING MUST GO,” the Gulf is presented not as a poreless luxury or futurist rendering, but rather as a teeming hypermarket. The artist mines a territory of frenzied consumerism similar to that depicted in her powerful installation at the Whitney last fall, yet here the dark, eschatological terror of that show is sanitized, and images of the Gulf are sold back to it, with markup.

The thing about Gulf futurism is that it requires some distance from its source. It’s most seductive abroad, tending toward banality when reimported. Looped in a deadened side room, without the accompanying sandy tangle of wires, old devices, and shrapnel included in its Whitney iteration, the video Black Friday, 2016, suffers this fate. More exciting are the newer works on view, where Black Friday’s threatened kitsch becomes a full-throated embrace of camp, with a deliciously pulpy B-movie feel. In the installation Litany, 2016, a pileup of shopping carts overflowing with torn value packs of local childhood snacks are embedded with cell phones looping lo-fi clips that seem to scream in a Munchian visual pun. In particular, the inclusion of several different kinds of Iranian-origin pofaki-style corn puffs nods to regional geopolitics and nationalist branding exercises.

The installation is encircled by a 2017 series with the same title, comprising ninety-nine digital prints featuring stills from Litany’s videos overlaid with glowing phrases culled from beauty packaging. The words could function as magnetic poetry, rearranged to form new compound products—a Post-Truth Plumper promising a Silky Smooth finish, perhaps, or maybe a Micellar Water that is also Mattifying and Heart-Ossifying. The lights are too bright and the bargains too dear, and everything is exactly as it should be.