Critics’ Picks

View of “Them,” 2015.

Berlin

“Them”

Schinkel Pavillon
Oberwallstrasse 1
June 27 - July 26

Before her death in 1973, Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow cast the effects of sickness on her body into sculptures. Bits of synthetic female flesh—lips, breasts, bellies—are severed like limbs, suspended in a performance of pain and its counterpart, pleasure. The Bachelor’s Ashtray I, 1972, for instance, is a two-faced head sliced open just below the nose, its wound a repository for matches and cigarette butts. This is one of many works by Szapocznikow in “Them,” which sets a group of younger artists who have specific associations with post-Internet art into conversation with the feminist concerns of Szapocznikow and Carolee Schneemann, whose seminal performance Meat Joy, 1964, featured nearly nude performers convulsing on the ground with raw fish, chicken, and sausages.

Yet if the struggle these women’s works testifies to is the show’s central tenet, then “Them” is a perturbingly slick affair. The exhibition architecture of an MDF yellow ground coalescing around an elegant off-white platform functions much like the display apparatus of a luxury-goods store. Sitting atop, the works masquerade accordingly, their originary friction smoothed into tactile pleasure, though some more readily so than others. Rising to the occasion, Anicka Yi’s 235,681K of Digital Spit, 2010, a transparent Longchamp handbag glinting under a spotlight and containing hacked-up cow intestine in limpid hair gel, slyly reveals its duplicity. But perhaps most mischievous is Sarah Lucas’s infamous sculpture Bunny Gets Snookered #3, 1997, which copes with dejection and debasement like its feminist predecessors and so absorbs any further compromise. Although one must wonder if popularity’s mollifications have triumphed again, deviance still sneaks through, and when it does, it stings.