PRINT December 2017

Anne Dressen

1 VIRGINIE DESPENTES, VERNON SUBUTEX TRILOGY (ÉDITIONS GRASSET) Virginie Despentes is one of the best and boldest living French writers, and among the only ones I can also find at every train-station newsstand. I wish Vernon Subutex, her trilogy whose volumes came out one by one during the past three years, would never end. The titular main character and his entourage are contemporary antiheroes in the best sense of the term. Despentes succeeds in emphasizing the obscurantism, social crisis, and loss of humanity of the current times, inventing a new version of Balzac’s La comédie humaine.

Cover of Virginie Despentes’s Vernon Subutex 2 (Éditions Grasset, 2015).

2 LEE LOZANO (MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFÍA, MADRID; CURATED BY MANUEL BORJA-VILLEL AND TERESA VELÁZQUEZ) This retrospective revealed the mind-blowing, disturbing work of an artist who stands on high alongside Sturtevant and Carol Rama in my pantheon. In a ten-year span, she not only invented a cartoonish surrealist expressionism, but also linked Pop art to Conceptual art and made haptic and sensual textile-like abstractions—all with a strong sexual charge and a critique of capitalist phallocentric machinery. By 1971, she had withdrawn from the art world and embarked on a “boycott of women” that was to last until the end of her life. Thankfully—and even though she chose to be buried in an anonymous grave in 1999—her extreme personal revolution was again visible.

Lee Lozano, No Title, ca. 1962, oil on canvas, 42 × 46".

3 OSCAR TUAZON, UN PONT (A BRIDGE) (BELFORT, FRANCE) Last November, I went to the formal opening of Un Pont, on a roundabout outside Belfort, France. A few years earlier, an association of World War II veterans lobbied for a memorial to the forgotten sacrifice of the Algerian commandos who fought against the Germans in 1944. Xavier Douroux, the passionate organizer behind the Nouveaux Commanditaires (New Patrons) project until he passed away last June, suggested Oscar Tuazon, who designed a wooden bridge with two crossing platforms oriented toward the Lion of Belfort in France and Staouéli in Algeria. It is the chasm in between that gives space for an urgent recognition of French colonial blind spots.

Oscar Tuazon, Un pont (A Bridge), 2016, wood. Installation view, Belfort, France.

4 ZANELE MUHOLI (STEDELIJK MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM; CURATED BY HRIPSIMÉ VISSER) I was literally hypnotized by the “brave beauty” (to quote one of her titles) of Zanele Muholi’s film documenting the lesbian wedding of Ayanda and Nhlanhla near post-apartheid Johannesburg. Muholi is not only a talented photographer and filmmaker but also an engaged activist, whose online platform, Inkanyiso, is a sharp and systematic response to the lack of visual histories of South African LGBTQI community members, who are frequently victims of harassment and undocumented hate crimes. Her portraits show strong women, rarely smiling, facing Muholi and every viewer since: Through these images, they exist but also resist.

Zanele Muholi, Nathi Dlamini, Grand Beach, Cape Town, 2017, ink-jet print, 39 3/8 × 26 3/8".

5 TONE VIGELAND (PINAKOTHEK DER MODERNE, MUNICH; CURATED BY PETRA HÖLSCHER) A major figure in Norway since the 1960s, both for studio jewelry and, recently, sculpture, Vigeland just had her first major European solo show outside Scandinavia. Though largely unknown to the art world, she is a pioneer of the so-called International Contemporary Jewelry scene, which redefines jewelry as “antistatus,” or as more conceptually driven. Her work evokes ethnic jewelry as well as modernist sculpture, and reaches a state that is anything but accessory.

Co-organized by Die Neue Sammlung, Munich, and the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Trondheim, Norway, where it will be on view January 26–April 1, 2018.

Tone Vigeland, untitled, 2006, iron, stainless steel. Installation view, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2017. Photo: A. Laurenzo.

6 DANNY MCDONALD (HOUSE OF GAGA, LOS ANGELES) One of the most relevant contemporary artists, if too rarely seen, McDonald did not wait for Donald Trump’s presidency to portray America’s insane internal contradictions. His work now takes an even more biting tone. Covering the windows of the LA gallery space with red gels, he supplied an asphyxiating, bloody light for his new sculptures showcased inside. Nightmarish ready-made collages of cheap objects and action figures (Jesus, Santa Claus, Pee-wee Herman, Ronald McDonald), this art says so much about our confused, complacent world as it becomes more and more absurd and freaky.

View of “Danny McDonald: Nightmare Scenarios,” 2017, House of Gaga, Los Angeles. From left: Trigger Finger, 2017; Trolling, 2017; Questionable Selfie, 2017; Science Fiction vs. Comedy, 2017; Political Junk Food, 2017. Photo: Jeff McLane.

7 “L’ESPRIT FRANÇAIS: CONTRE-CULTURES, 1969–1989” (LA MAISON ROUGE, PARIS; CURATED BY GUILLAUME DÉSANGES AND FRANÇOIS PIRON) With a willfully polemic title, this group exhibition took place in the midst of the violent xenophobic debates that preceded the French elections. It aimed to bring back the radical positions of the French intellectual left and underground of the 1970s and ’80s, often influenced by Marquis de Sade’s spirit, with magazine covers (from Hara Kiri to early Charlie Hebdo), artworks (by Michel Journiac, Daniel Pommereulle, Pierre Klossowski, Marie France, and Pierre Zucca), and audio tracks (radio programs, Serge Gainsbourg, Bérurier Noir). The show avoided both didacticism and fetishizing and acted as a safeguard against cynical apathy.

8 NICOLAS CECCALDI (LE CONSORTIUM, DIJON; CURATED BY STÉPHANIE MOISDON) Knowing the artist’s paintings are usually made under the influence of dark metal and goth aesthetics, Ceccaldi’s show’s title, “Ode to Joy,” sounded perfectly ironic. Invited to sit alone with headphones in the middle of a large room, visitors could hear a soundtrack reinterpreting themes by Beethoven, Pergolesi, or Graveworm while viewing the twenty-four works aligned on the walls. Satanic inverted crosses, V for Vendetta masks, and avant-gardesque gestural representations at times gave way to authentic snail shells, a vivid Burgundian specialty, all encircled in kitschy baroque frames. The faiths of the Western world—in terms of religion, politics, and culture—were brilliantly delivered, backward and upside down.

On view through January 7, 2018.

Nicolas Ceccaldi, Euphoria Noctis, 2017, snail shells and acrylic on canvas, plastic frame, 23 5/8 × 15 3/4 × 4 3/4".

9 BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (ROBIN CAMPILLO) This vibrant film commemorates the legacy of the French version of the direct-action group act up, which demanded immediate, large-scale research in the fight against aids. If the fictional film, by a former insider, relates some internal and philosophical dissensions in the group’s strategies, it does not include the crucial topic that critically divided it later: Guillaume Dustan’s defense of bareback sex. Partial and personal, it is nevertheless a strong testimony of a time before PrEP medication was even thinkable.

Robin Campillo, BPM (Beats Per Minute), 2017, 2K video, color, sound, 144 minutes. Nathan (Arnaud Valois).

10 DOCUMENTA 14 (KASSEL AND ATHENS) There was undoubtedly much to be seen but also learned from the massive project of doubling Documenta. Because of the nearly opposing contexts of Kassel and Athens, strict repetition never occurred, and artists were selected (mostly) from outside the market. I enjoyed encounters with some of my favorites: Annie Sprinkle (with Beth Stephens), Maria Lai, Christopher D’Arcangelo (whom I hesitate to list, to respect his will to disappear), Beau Dick, Hans Haacke, and les gens d’Uterpan. I also particularly liked Georgia Sagri’s running performance, Köken Ergun’s military video, Lorenza Böttner’s queer drawings, and the narrative textiles of the Sámi Artist Group. Thanks to the ambitious program of talks and publications, the experience went beyond the exhibitions.

Anne Dressen is a curator at ARC, the contemporary department of the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. She recently curated “Medusa: Jewelry and Taboos,” which approached jewelry through its relationship to identity, values, art, and rituals. She is currently preparing a ceramics exhibition.