PRINT December 2016

Claire Bishop

Anna Boghiguian, The Salt Traders (detail), 2015, mixed media. Installation view, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Photo: Peter Cox.

1 ANNA BOGHIGUIAN, THE SALT TRADERS (VAN ABBEMUSEUM, EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS; CURATED BY ANNIE FLETCHER) At the center of an unexpectedly devastating group exhibition featuring the nomadic Cairo-based septuagenarian was the stunning installation The Salt Traders, 2015: a wooden grid of drawings, paintings, and collages, alternating with pungent honeycombs and salt. Boghiguian assembled a cosmos of research on the colonial use of salt, its centrality to the slave trade, and the contemporary legacy of this history—including the deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police. After so much dry and laborious “research-based” art that merely re-presents archives, The Salt Traders offers a hugely impressive synthesis of knowledge (and anguish), translated into a singular and forceful aesthetic.

2 METTE INGVARTSEN, 69 POSITIONS (MoMA PS1, NEW YORK, JANUARY 15–17) The Danish choreographer offered a lecture-demonstration on ritual and eroticism in 1960s performance, delivered with clinical sangfroid even as she began to remove her clothes. Soon audience members were simulating orgasms and participating in an orgy sculpture. The piece ended with a contemporary case study of object-oriented pleasure: Sitting naked on a table, Ingvartsen dispassionately licked a lamp and then rhythmically climaxed with a chair. A mesmerizing hybrid of historical research, artist’s talk, and participatory installation, all wrapped up in a solo performance.

3 JAN FABRE, THE POWER OF THEATRICAL MADNESS (STADSSCHOUWBURG, AMSTERDAM, JANUARY 12) The revival of the Belgian artist’s breakthrough four-and-a-half-hour performance from 1984 was not short on pomposity, overconfidence, and theatrical navel-gazing, to say nothing of ’80s power suits. Yet it contained some of the most exquisitely hypnotic choreography I have seen in years—above all, a sequence in which six dancers run in place, shouting the dates of seminal performances, until they are physically unable to carry on.

4 A WEEKEND IN DETROIT In April, I was given an unforgettable tour of the city’s alternative spaces and outsider art projects—too many to mention here. But the throbbing artistic heart of this disintegrating metropolis is still Detroit Industry, 1932–33, Diego Rivera’s tremendously powerful mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The sublime force of machinery and the injustices of capitalism brush up against humanity’s mythic beginnings across the four corners of the world. Plenty of contemporary artists work on this scale, but instead of speaking truth to power, they choose to flatter it.

5 RENÉ POLLESCH, KILL YOUR DARLINGS! THE STREETS OF BERLADELPHIA (VOLKSBÜHNE, BERLIN, JUNE 13) I was lucky enough to catch a June performance—and the final intervention by the late stage designer Bert Neumann—at this beloved German theater before it enters an already controversial regime under incoming director Chris Dercon. A charming Fabian Hinrichs (sporting rainbow leggings) carried this visually riveting revival of the 2012 production, pondering love and exchange value—accompanied by fifteen young gymnasts. This kind of work needs a preservation injunction: It’s too idiosyncratically political (and proudly local) to survive the new world order of bloated megaspectacle.

Maria Hassabi, PLASTIC, 2015. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 2016. Photo: Jason Schmidt.

6 MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, WARSAW In May, the museum was forced to leave the Emilia pavilion complex, made up of the 1970s-era former furniture store that had been its home since 2012 and the 1967 residential building just behind it, where the museum had resided since 2008. Predictably, the city sold the land to developers. The move is lamentable, as this socialist-modernist glass pavilion was central to the museum’s approachable, unpretentious atmosphere. Poland, like the former East Germany, is too keen to erase the traces of Communism in its rush to join global corporate homogeneity.

7 MARIA HASSABI, PLASTIC (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 21–MARCH 20) Hassabi’s radically decelerated performance finally made its way to MoMA’s atrium, after presentations at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and the Hammer in LA. The Cypriot choreographer dared to perform on the main staircase, where she was constantly on the verge of being trampled by the tourist hordes. The most memorable (and troubling) aspect of PLASTIC was precisely this social choreography: The performers were photographed and ogled for long durations, but also stepped over, tiptoed around, rushed past, and ignored.

8 “DAVID HAMMONS: FIVE DECADES” (MNUCHIN GALLERY, NEW YORK) We’ve waited years for a survey of work by this grittiest of New York artists, and finally a concise presentation of his greatest hits since the late 1960s appears . . . at a posh gallery on the Upper East Side? Hammons is notoriously particular and knowingly attuned to the market and clearly enjoyed this disjunction, but one of the city’s museums needs to negotiate a full-on retrospective.

Ryan McNamara, Battleground, 2016. Performance view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, May 4, 2016. Brandon Washington. Photo: Sam Roeck.

9 RYAN MCNAMARA, BATTLEGROUND (SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, NEW YORK, MAY 2–4) There are artists who spend months devising torturous justifications for the strategic emptiness of their own painting (Fuck Seth Price, anyone?), and then there are artists who spend that time creating a vivid site-specific ballet to be performed only three nights and in all probability never restaged again. Battleground didn’t have the punishing humor of McNamara’s brilliant visualization of internet-era attention, ME3M: A Story Ballet About the Internet, 2013, but it did consolidate his voracious choreographic vocabulary (and distinctive costume aesthetic) and slyly skewered the talkback.

10 ANNE TERESA DE KEERSMAEKER, RAIN (CIRQUE ROYAL, BRUSSELS, OCTOBER 4) I’m not sure what thrilled me more: watching this revival of the Belgian choreographer’s pink-drenched 2001 production or hearing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (1974–76) played so exuberantly by the ensemble Ictus. Together, they were explosive: At the so-called golden section, two-thirds of the way through, the ten dancers burst through the set’s semicircle of hanging ropes and danced in unison, the whole stage throbbing with dynamic movement and electric color. Unforgettable.

Claire Bishop is Professor in the Ph.D. program in art history at CUNY Graduate Center. Her books include Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012), and her current research focuses on the impact of digital technology on contemporary art and performance after 1989.