Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Piedra quemada,” 2018.

    Donna Huanca

    Lower Belvedere and Orangery
    Rennweg 6
    September 28 - January 6

    Spread over eight rooms in the Baroque former summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736), Donna Huanca’s current exhibition has an opulence all its own. Bright and dim spaces alternate throughout the Lower Belvedere, evoking an initiatic journey into a brave new world. Nude models—sixteen at the opening and two for the duration of the exhibition—with bodies painted in canary-like greens, oranges, and blues starkly contrast with their life-size marble and plaster counterparts, culled from local sculpture collections and arranged in a circle in the penultimate gallery. Huanca calls her female and androgynous models “live paintings,” though they function as both canvases and brushes. Some wear elaborate headpieces of what looks like melted, amorphous plastic, or pose perfectly still on pedestals; others move slowly along the white walls, leaving behind traces of their passage. The resulting wall rubbings inevitably nod to Yves Klein, but they also recall the excesses of Viennese Actionism and hint at Ana Mendieta’s earth-body works.

    In the sound piece Teco y Zenon, 2018, the artist’s father teaches her mother Quechua, harkening to Huanca’s Bolivian roots. The same is true of the evocative Spanish titles, including that of the exhibition as a whole. “Piedra quemada” (Burnt Stone) culminates in the elemental soundscape of birdsong, crickets, crackling fire, and gushing water, heightened by the faint aroma of charred wood that permeates the final room. Animated by Huanca’s models and the lustrous, metallic, and velvety materials, the wall paintings and richly textured sculptural assemblages come together in a setting designed to solicit all our senses.

  • View of Anna-Sophie Berger, “Don't smoke,” 2018.

    Anna-Sophie Berger

    Galerie Emanuel Layr | Vienna
    Seilerstätte 2/26
    November 13 - January 12

    A couple steps connect the halves of this exhibition hall; it is here, in this zone of architectural transition, that Anna-Sophie Berger has chosen to position the cluster of modular objects that make up the nucleus of “Don’t smoke” (all works 2018). Each piece is named after a country in the EU, and, wrapped in color-block polar fleece, looks vaguely functional, like human-size Legos. Mounted on rollers and interlinked by hooks and eyes, together they create a large-format piece evoking a landscape of scratching posts for cats. Deutschland (Germany) takes the form of a black-red-gold staircase, while Frankreich (France) is reminiscent of a slice of cake in blue-white-red; Italien (Italy) adapts itself to the steps, Irland (Ireland) is a bench, and Spanien (Spain) is an aquarium with red-gold edging. The elements suggest a potential for being altered, expanded, or adapted at any moment, but given their size and bulkiness when bound together, they hardly seem mobile at all.

    It’s unclear if the installation is about a community of states in the process of transformation or a sculptural finger exercise. The same goes for the eponymous print, Don’t smoke, 2018, which supplements the sculptures and is composed of no-smoking symbols that evoke the clutter of Google image-search results. Whether Berger was attempting to stop smoking herself or to investigate the recent Austrian antismoking referendum is left unsaid; for a practice that investigates the slippery nature of the contemporary language of forms—through which political content is kept in circulation and transition—this vagueness makes sense. It’s exactly this uncertainty, this intermediate stage, that lends precision to the artist’s thematic as well as her formal and material approach.