PRINT December 2016

Daniel Birnbaum

View of “Philippe Parreno: Anywhen,” 2016, Tate Modern, London.

1 PHILIPPE PARRENO (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY ANDREA LISSONI WITH VASSILIS OIKONOMOPOULOS) Parreno has turned the Turbine Hall into a mesmerizing machine producing light, sound, cinematic effects, and choreography: Inflated fish float in the air, huge planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivism ascend and descend inscrutably in the semidarkness, and a flickering apparatus seems to send out signals that trigger reactions throughout the entire museum. There are echoes of Duchamp and Cage, and even more obviously Richard Hamilton. But this expansive machinery goes beyond such precursors in scale, as well as in speculative ambition, hinting (as we’ve seen before in Parreno’s works) at a grand synthesis of the organic and artificial realms. This vision of futuristic biocomputing materializes as a flagon of yeast whose fluctuations allegedly control the colossal orchestration of the building. True or not, it’s the kind of idea that endows Parreno’s most ambitious works with a metaphysical dimension, one that everyone in the electrified crowds standing on that gray-carpeted floor must have felt at what was this year’s most elevating opening night.

On view through April 2, 2017.

2 JORDAN WOLFSON, COLORED SCULPTURE (DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK) I had no compassion for this evil-looking Huckleberry Finn figure when his skinny body and big, ridiculous head smashed into the floor during a manic dance to Roy Orbison’s and Perry Sledge’s awful hit songs. I care little about the future of the sensor technologies and animatronics that may be on display—the guy is simply repulsive. But that doesn’t mean I could stop watching him. And, more surprising when it comes to works of art: He kept shamelessly staring at me. I’ll do my best to forget him.

3 ANNE IMHOF, ANGST II (HAMBURGER BAHNHOF—MUSEUM FÜR GEGENWART, BERLIN, SEPTEMBER 14–25; CURATED BY ANNA-CATHARINA GEBBERS AND UDO KITTELMANN) At their most critical moments, Imhof’s stylized performances produce an altered sense of time in which things move too slowly, too abruptly, or not at all, as if leaping between discrete frames. Described as an opera in three acts, the Berlin installment of “Angst” deployed the artist’s signature effects with the help of actors and sculptural elements, live falcons and controlled drones. Her performances have been described in these pages as akin to rare public appearances of a secret society that operates according to strict but inscrutable rules. Indeed—but somehow this made the experience that much more engrossing.

4 “APOLLINAIRE, THE VISION OF THE POET” (MUSÉE DE L’ORANGERIE, PARIS; CURATED BY LAURENCE DES CARS) Focusing on the years between 1902 and 1918—the period in which Apollinaire invented almost everything we associate with modernism—this is the most elaborate exhibition about criticism (with all the poet’s famous artist friends in tow) I’ve ever seen (not that I can recall any other).

5 FRANCIS PICABIA (KUNSTHAUS ZÜRICH; CURATED BY CATHÉRINE HUG AND ANNE UMLAND) The pluralist of pluralists produced some masterpieces and more unbelievably ugly paintings than any other artist in the twentieth century—besting even Sigmar Polke and Martin Kippenberger—and I cannot stop myself from loving them all.

Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it is on view through March 19, 2017.

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2015–16, ink-jet print on canvas. Installation view, Le Consortium, Dijon, France. Photo: André Morin.

6 BARNETT NEWMAN AND MARK ROTHKO (NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, DC; CURATED BY HARRY COOPER) Entering the newly installed double display of ten Rothko paintings and Newman’s complete “The Stations of the Cross,” 1958–66, I thought that this juxtaposition must have been created as a kind of scientific experiment to finally establish whether a work of genius can eclipse another work of genius. The answer—now we know for sure—is no.

7 WADE GUYTON (LE CONSORTIUM, DIJON; CURATED BY NICOLAS TREMBLEY) That Guyton is the master aesthete of his generation shows not only in his paintings but in their hanging. He knows how to install his own work better than anyone. Was this building especially constructed to host his paintings? It wasn’t, but the exhibition presented moments of exceptional spatial perfection where this seemed almost possible.

Co-organized with Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva, where it is on view through January 29, 2017.

8 JEAN-MARIE STRAUB AND DANIÈLE HUILLET (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JOSHUA SIEGEL) I wish I could have seen all the films presented at this complete retrospective. I missed the legendary Einleitung zu Arnold Schönbergs Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene (Introduction to Arnold Schönberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene,” 1973), juxtaposing footage of American planes dropping napalm bombs on Vietnam and headlines declaring the exoneration from war crimes of major Nazi architects with the composer’s score instruction: “Threatening danger, fear, catastrophe.” The duo’s Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968) and cinematic version of Schönberg’s Moses und Aron (1975)—the films I did see—may seem to be extreme versions of l’art pour l’art in the ivory tower. But their rich production is invaluable for anyone interested in the possibility of renegotiating art’s relationship to politics—and gives more food for thought than volumes of critical theory.

9 HANNE DARBOVEN (HAUS DER KUNST, MUNICH; CURATED BY OKWUI ENWEZOR AND ANNA SCHNEIDER) Darboven’s art is very boring. I’ve known this for decades and accepted that this somehow is the point. Thanks to this show, I now realize—for the first time—that, when presented in huge quantities in a vast space, her work can also be as grandiose and hypnotic as a piece of serial music.

Co-organized with the Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, and the Hanne Darboven Stiftung, Hamburg.

10 “ALLAH’S AUTOMATA: ARTIFACTS OF THE ARAB-ISLAMIC RENAISSANCE (800–1200)” (ZKM|CENTER FOR ART AND MEDIA, KARLSRUHE, GERMANY; CURATED BY SIEGFRIED ZIELINSKI WITH ECKHARD FÜRLUS AND DANIEL IRRGANG) Whoever thought that robotics was a recent invention should take a look at the divine machines in this unbelievable show of automatons built in the Arab world between 800 and 1200 CE. Focusing on devices described in four manuscripts by master designers of automatons from Baghdad, northern Mesopotamia, and Andalusia, the exhibition makes clear that the Arab world already had its own Jordan Wolfsons—producers of artifacts that seem to be alive—some twelve hundred years ago. I particularly liked the reconstruction of Ibn al-Razzāz al-Jazarī’s twelfth-century masterpiece, the so-called elephant clock, a heavenly object for hearing and seeing time; and a reproduction of an Islamic jukebox—The Instrument Which Plays by Itself—described in a manuscript from ca. 850.

Contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum is the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm and a member of the board of directors of Nobel Media, which manages the programs surrounding the Nobel Prizes. He cocurated “Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen” at the Serpentine Galleries in London earlier this year.