Critics’ Picks

Tommy Hartung, King Solomon's Mines, 2017, HD video, color, sound,16 minutes 13 seconds.

Tommy Hartung, King Solomon's Mines, 2017, HD video, color, sound,16 minutes 13 seconds.


Tommy Hartung

Rose Art Museum
415 South Street Brandeis University
February 17–June 11, 2017

Tommy Hartung is one of a number of artists—including Huma Bhabha, Ry Rocklen, and Allyson Vieira—who assemble scavenged materials to make sculpture that evokes ancient civilizations. Hartung sets himself apart largely through his use of video and animation. The centerpiece of this compact overview, which also includes a selection of sculptures resembling African or Phoenician statues and a series of dreamlike Polaroid photographs, is the twelve-minute video King Solomon’s Mines, 2017. The video is the second installment in a three-part series inspired by Solomon, the biblical figure of vast wealth who serves as a perfect foil for the artist, who is fascinated by religion, epic tales, and the insurmountable gulf separating the rich from the poor. Although it doesn’t quite reach the level of Hartung’s astonishing masterpiece, THE BIBLE, 2014, this video has the same hypnotic energy and arresting imagery, such as a recurring figure in a turban who has, where his face should be, a moving image featuring white fluffy clouds in a blue sky. Also memorable is footage of a van traveling through the desert, kicking up a trail of dust in its wake as a crowd of riders cling to the roof and sides, and a clip from a commercial for a Land Rover, showing it as a rotating, gleaming object of desire. The title of the video is borrowed from that of an 1885 book by H. Rider Haggard, which is set in a fictionalized realm in Africa. Hartung, ever-sensitive and thoughtful, strikes a delicate balance between critiquing cultural tourism as exploitative and patronizing, and himself exploiting images of the Sahara (specifically the Tibesti Mountains in Chad) for its harshly sublime landscape. Using videos from a French tourist company, he taps into a history of the Sahara as a route for those seeking capital or imperialist gain, used by both adventure-hungry tourists and human traffickers.