Critics’ Picks

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2009, VHS tapes, glue, table, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Mounir Fatmi, Save Manhattan 02, 2009, VHS tapes, glue, table, dimensions variable. Installation view.

New York

“The Storyteller”

Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery
66 Fifth Avenue at 13th
January 29–April 9, 2010

The somewhat infelicitous title of this exhibition—one half expects a wizened old raconteur to greet visitors—belies a nuanced attention to the iterations and variations of narrative in contemporary art. Curated by Claire Gilman and Margaret Sundell (as part of Independent Curators International), “The Storyteller” earns part of its considerable merit by recasting preconceptions that underlie this most ancient of practices, from the basic anecdote to our grander notions of history as shaped by aesthetics. If the latter endeavor has, since postmodernism, seemed a kind of hubristic folly, “The Storyteller”’s carefully chosen components suggest that history is less than the sum of its fitful parts, and that this fragmented partiality need not preclude an enriched contemplation of both its commendable and more ignominious chapters.

The majority of the works address the darker moments: vicissitudes of war, conflict, labor, trade. The watercolor and ink sketches of Steve Mumford’s Iraq, 2003–2005, address the spotty media coverage of the Iraq war—not through an attempt at some comprehensive chronicle, but precisely in the works’ schematic plainness. Joachim Koester’s Kant Walks, 2003, lends visual form to individual subjectivity, reimagining, in a series of large photographs, Immanuel Kant’s view on his morning ambulations through his Prussian hometown of Königsberg. A video installation by the Missing Books collective proffers another imagined itinerary: that of the Argentine journalist Rodolfo Walsh, twenty minutes before he was murdered on the street in Buenos Aires in 1977 for his opposition to the military junta. Juxtaposed with a mosaic-like stack of Walsh’s previously unpublished volume Un oscuro día de justicia (A Dark Day of Justice), the installation transposes some of its energies into the language of abstraction: the implicit and unspoken presence of a narrative stifled and suppressed. If Hito Steyerl’s single-channel video Journal, 2007, gives voice to a personal narrative of the Bosnian war, Michael Rakowitz’s multimedia installation Return, 2006–, brings a more collective history (of the Iraqi embargo and family business) literally alive inside the gallery walls, in the form of a living date palm.