Critics’ Picks

Theo Eshetu, Adieu Les Demoiselles, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 45 seconds.

Theo Eshetu, Adieu Les Demoiselles, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 45 seconds.


“The Sorcerer's Burden: Contemporary Art and the Anthropological Turn”

The Contemporary Austin | Jones Center
700 Congress Avenue
September 14, 2019–January 19, 2020

For this timely exhibition’s catalogue, British and Ethiopian artist Theo Eshetu contributed a 1978 snapshot of his brother, whose face is obscured by what looks like an African mask. The image presages Eshetu’s interest in using a lens to explore the intricacies of identity. It also points to a question central to this show, which features work by eleven artists sensitively curated by Heather Pesanti: How have artists, like anthropologists, not only problematized the concept of the “other” (especially as it overlaps with the colonial project) but also shaped it?

Eshetu provides an exacting response to this question with his dislocating video Adieu Les Demoiselles, 2019, for which he projected an oversize image of Picasso’s famous painting and recorded women of various ethnicities using their bodies as projection surfaces or silhouettes. Picasso’s painted women, whose faces and bodies were informed by the modernist’s interest in African masks and Iberian sculpture, fall onto Eshetu’s models, visualizing layers of cultural history and influence. Other artists, such as Nathan Mabry, look at how value is assigned to different traditions. Mabry's terra-cotta sculptures of pre-Columbian vessels and his bronze versions of African masks rest on austere boxes reminiscent of those Donald Judd created after studying pre-Columbian structures.

Dario Robleto offers an ethereal portal between present and past, the self and other, with his renderings in soot of early visualizations of human heartbeats, notated with the year of data collection and the subject’s emotional state (for example, “Anger, 1874,” or “Religious guilt, 1878”). Marie Lorenz’s installation is a particularly poetic reflection: Her sea-fishing traps and mass of ancient-looking ceramic amphora are marooned on the shores of a residential lake bordering the museum. The incongruous sight of inland traps and uncovered artifacts makes different worlds, times, and ways of being collide.