PRINT December 2008

Christine Macel


1 Monika Sosnowska (Schaulager, Basel) This thirty-six-year-old Polish artist mounted the most compelling exhibition I saw this year (curated by Theodora Vischer). For the first time in her career, Sosnowska brought together old work and some new—nine sculptures, both tiny and huge, each engaging the problem of scale. I’ll never forget her enormous hanging/dropped ceiling, with pieces of its center having fallen onto the floor; her human-size sculpture on “legs”; her mini-city in a paper bag.

2 Anri Sala (Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris) As a reflection on the notion of site, both its space and its time, this exhibition had a subtle pace set by the temporal succession of the different pieces. Two works in particular have stayed with me: After Three Minutes, 2007, a two-channel video projection of a cymbal lit by a strobe and filmed first in video, then at two frames per second without sound, generating an arrhythmic syncopation within and between images; and Title Suspended, 2008, a small sculpture of two hands gloved in purple plastic and spinning in place side by side. They were moments of grace.

3 Philippe Parreno (Pilar Corrias, London) What would a work of art be if it were a functional object for just one month out of the year? A Christmas tree, of course. Parreno’s Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year It’s an Artwork and in December It’s Christmas (October), 2008, is an aluminum tree sculpture painted by hand, covered in artificial snow and chrome ornaments. The idea came to him eighteen years ago: It is an anachronistic gift that, in Parreno’s words and true to its title, “troubles time.”

4 Ziad Antar (Blank, Paris) How does one make art today in a torn Lebanon, a nation just out of war with Israel and where nearly one hundred people died in Beirut’s civil conflict this past winter? Antar attempts to answer this question, working between Paris and Saïda, Lebanon, and creating videos and photographs that suggest far more than they name. La Marche Turque (Turkish March), 2007, a minimal video piece charged with emotion and exhibited at the independent space Blank, presents a high-angle view of a young woman playing Mozart’s “Alla Turca” sonata while dampening the sounds, so that we hear only the blunted tones of the keys, like a silent military march. One of the year’s very elegiac pieces.

5 Mélik Ohanian (Le Plateau, Paris, and various locations) Rather than choosing a single venue, Ohanian selected fifteen sites in Paris and on its outskirts for “From the Voice to the Hand,” a series of simultaneous retrospectives of sorts. The installation at Le Plateau, for its part, rambled through space with a waist-high horizontal fluorescent tube and sculptural letters piled on the ground, citing the likes of Henri Bergson, Jean-Luc Godard, and Louis Althusser. While readability was lost in favor of sheer visibility, one could listen to each phrase, a series of meditations on art and philosophy, through a related website (albeit only once). Continuing to expand the traditional spaces of exhibition into the discursive and the digital, Ohanian reconfigured the time frame of the piece with brio.

6 5th Berlin Biennial, “When Things Cast No Shadow” Very different from the wonderful edition organized by Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnik, this year’s Berlin Biennial again turned to one of today’s major questions, the legacy of modernism. Curated by Elena Filipovic and Adam Szymczyk, the show proposed a thesis statement that was unquestionably a bit weak and obvious, suggesting merely that the work of art, in the end, belongs to the viewer. But there were still some very fine moments, like the presentation at the Neue Nationalgalerie—a gem in terms of exhibition hanging. I cherish, for instance, my memory of the giant flags Daniel Knorr installed around Mies van der Rohe’s iconic building, fluttering in the wind. Each flag was a different color and evoked Berlin’s many student communities.

7 “As Soon As I Open My Eyes I See a Film” (Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw) The temporary headquarters for the Museum of Modern Art lies in the heart of Warsaw (a new building is currently being developed elsewhere in the city); here, curator Ana Janevski mounted a fascinating exhibition on the 1960s and ’70s Eastern European avant-garde—its underground, experimental cinema, and “anti-art” scene. Who would have thought that so much happened beyond the well-known work of Marina Abramović in Zagreb, Belgrade, Ljubljana, Novi Sad, and Split during this moment? A few favorites (along with a contribution from Monika Sosnowska that took the form of extra-simple architecture): Goran Trbuljak’s conceptual film piece, the spiritual performances of David Nez from the OHO group, and a film featuring my heartthrob, Neša Paripović.

8 Laurent Quintreau, Marge brute (Paris, Les Éditions Noël, 2006; translated as Gross Margin, London, Harvill Secker, 2008) If Danté were to rewrite The Divine Comedy today, he would have little choice but to populate hell with executives from a multinational company. With Marge brute, the writer and trade unionist Quintreau in effect takes up this scenario and delivers the sharpest, funniest book of the year. A founding member of the famed ’90s magazine Perpendiculaire—along with Nicolas Bourriaud, Michel Houellebecq, and others (Houellebecq’s film about the publication, La possibilité d’une île, is the flop of the year)—Quintreau created monologues for eleven frustrated executives sitting around a table at a management meeting with their cynical president. Delicious and damning.

9 “Monument to Transformation, Fragment #7: Communism Never Happened*/Vocabulary” (Tranzit Workshops, Bratislava, Slovakia) This initiative overlapping art and theory, organized by Czech artist Zbyněk Baladrán and critic Vit Havránek, explores the collective and personal memory around the Czech social and political changes that transpired between 1989 and 2009. How to consider the phenomenon of transformation through an exhibition, but also through texts and a collective dictionary? This seventh segment of an ongoing exhibition and publication series was centered around the idea of a collaboratively compiled glossary, uniting the work of artists such as Yael Bartana, Anri Sala, and Fernando Sanchez Castillo, as well as texts by Chantal Mouffe, Slavoj Žižek, and others. Multisided truth bringing the possibilities of hypertext to the fore.

10 Olafur Eliasson, “Life in Space 3 (LIS 3),” May 9, 2008 (Studio Eliasson, Berlin) “Life in Space” is a daylong experimental event organized annually by Eliasson in his Berlin studio. This year, the occasion revolved around the theme of “the relativity of light and color.” Bringing together friends, collaborators, and experts in art, architecture, and the social and natural sciences, this year’s presentations—which are already published in a catalogue for the event—nevertheless made me consider a truth neuroscientists have been shedding new light on for the past thirty years or more: The brain processes reality, rather than reflects it. Color, form, line: translations and transformations of the real. Very Zen.

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.

Christine Macel is chief curator of contemporary art at Paris’s Centre Pompidou, where she has staged many monographic and group shows, such as Sophie Calle, 2003–2004; “Dionysiac,” 2005; and “Airs de Paris,” 2007. She is currently preparing an exhibition of the work of Philippe Parreno for June 2009.