PRINT December 2017

Vince Aletti

1 “UPRISINGS” (JEU DE PAUME, PARIS; CURATED BY GEORGES DIDI-HUBERMAN) I saw this exhibition the day after the US elections, so its photographs, prints, posters, and videos on the theme of rebellion, protest, and disruption could not have seemed more urgent. But Didi-Huberman wasn’t just trying to agitate viewers; for all its provocations, his installation was shrewdly modulated, subtle, and surprising. From Goya to Tina Modotti, John Heartfield to Lorna Simpson, his choices resonated, and every passage of the show felt electric, invigorating. Although a history of insurrection—ongoing, unending—risks winding down into futility, I left furious, ready to storm the barricades.

Lorna Simpson, Easy to Remember, 2001, 16 mm transferred to digital video, black-and-white, sound, 2 minutes, 35 seconds. From “Uprisings.”

2 ARTHUR JAFA, LOVE IS THE MESSAGE, THE MESSAGE IS DEATH, 2016 (GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE, NEW YORK) and KAHLIL JOSEPH, FLY PAPER (NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK) Taking the black experience as cultural common ground, these two filmmakers bring viewers along on a deep dive through our collective image bank and into fraught emotional territory. Both mine the visual history of dance, oppression, and resistance and suggest the past is ever present. Joseph, inspired by Roy DeCarava, explores the social landscape of Harlem, both public and private, with Ben Vereen providing an impassioned commentary in dance. Jafa’s film is shorter and so more compressed, agitated, and allusive. Cutting between pleasure and pain so quickly that some images feel subliminal, he leaves the viewer breathless, devastated.

Arthur Jafa, Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death, 2016, video, color and black-and-white, sound, 7 minutes 25 seconds.

Kahlil Joseph, Fly Paper, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes, 17 seconds.

3 CAROL RAMA (NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY HELGA CHRISTOFFERSEN AND MASSIMILIANO GIONI) I wasn’t prepared for Rama’s New Museum show. I went knowing nothing; I left wired, overwhelmed. Rama’s range and energy—manic, unhinged—were astonishing. Bicycle-tire inner tubes, animal claws, human teeth, syringes—she made art out of anything she could put her hands on and turned Arte Povera into something raw and fetishistic. Dubuffet, Hans Bellmer, and Louise Bourgeois came to mind, but Rama was clearly in a world of her own, where she was outrageous, obsessive, and fearless.

Carol Rama, Maternità (Maternity), 1966, mixed media on canvas, 35 1/2 × 27 1/2". © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin.

4 REI KAWAKUBO (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ANDREW BOLTON) The Met’s Costume Institute survey of garments by the Japanese designer was the year’s most surprising sculpture show. Displayed in a series of bone-white huts and closets or perched on overhead scaffolding and draped on mannequins that were often no more than mummy-like torsos, Kawakubo’s outfits looked less like clothing than like appendages—freakish, alien growths, gorgeously grotesque. The best of the work seems entirely independent of the body—any body—but it’s never empty.

View of “Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” 2017, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

5 KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (MET BREUER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY IAN ALTEVEER, HELEN MOLESWORTH, AND DIETER ROELSTRAETE) Marshall’s densely worked, vivaciously detailed visions of America—the beauty parlor, the barber shop, the community garden—never try to resolve the tension between the real and the ideal. His most expansive pieces are history paintings whose grand sweep always acknowledges intimate, ordinary moments—and the people too many histories leave behind. At a time when it’s hard to recognize this country, Marshall’s town—Our Town—is where I want to live.

Co-organized with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled, 2008, acrylic on fiberglass, pine frame, 79 × 116".

6 TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (DAVID LYNCH) Maddening, repetitive, and certifiably insane, Lynch’s reboot of his cult TV series was also the best avant-garde film I’ve seen in years. Part 8, with its long, hallucinatory descent into a nuclear firestorm and the series of horrifying tangents that follow, was the one that clinched it for me. But Twin Peaks was also an endurance test. All but plotless, with long, wordless, pitch-dark scenes followed by bursts of gibberish and shattering noise, it didn’t just fuck with our expectations of broadcast TV, it existed on a whole other plane. And the soundtrack, with music from the likes of Otis Redding to Angelo Badalamenti to Nine Inch Nails, was beyond genius.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Part 8.

7 “QUEER BRITISH ART 1861–1967” (TATE BRITAIN, LONDON; CURATED BY CLARE BARLOW WITH AMY CONCANNON) It may not be possible to make a major show of mostly minor art, but this was a brilliant one—smartly conceived and utterly engrossing. With the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell for punctuation and work by Duncan Grant, Cecil Beaton, Claude Cahun, and Francis Bacon to ground us, a host of less familiar artists helped to fill out a history extending from the era of strictly coded desires to gay liberation. I left dreaming of a similarly enlightening exhibition of American art.

8 “THE COFFINS OF PAA JOE AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” (THE SCHOOL, KINDERHOOK, NY, AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK) and “IF I HAD POSSESSION OVER JUDGeMENT DAY: COLLECTIONS OF CLAUDE SIMARD” (FRANCES YOUNG TANG TEACHING MUSEUM AT SKIDMORE COLLEGE, SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY; CURATED BY IAN BERRY) Both of these exhibitions drew on collections so diverse that they were hard to pin down to a single sensibility. Maybe that’s because this wildly idiosyncratic taste was shared by Jack Shainman and Claude Simard, erstwhile gallery partners whose enthusiasm for the art of Africa, India, and the international avant-garde knew no bounds. Simard, who died in 2014, was celebrated at the Tang with a lively installation that ranged from works by Nick Cave and Malick Sidibé to Tantric drawings and Ghanaian patchwork flags. Shainman’s upstate outpost the School overflowed with a similarly eclectic mix of historical and contemporary work, including seventeenth-century Spanish religious paintings, a Tibetan Buddha, and a spectacular El Anatsui assemblage.

View of “The Coffins of Paa Joe and the Pursuit of Happiness,” 2017–18, the School, Kinderhook, NY. Photo: Roger Archer.

9 PAUL MPAGI SEPUYA (YANCEY RICHARDSON, NEW YORK) Although there were a few straight-ahead portraits in Sepuya’s show, most of the photographs were about his subjects’ elusiveness and the slippery nature of representation. Shooting from behind a black cloth or into a mirror collaged with other photographs, Sepuya is a directorial presence: the artist at work. But because he and the boys he’s photographing are seen only in naked, tantalizing fragments, his pictures often turn into precariously balanced, wonderfully satisfying still lifes.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, A Sitting for Matthew, 2016, ink-jet print, 51 × 34".

10 “AVEDON’S FRANCE: OLD WORLD, NEW LOOK” (BIBLIOTHÈQUE NATIONAL DE FRANCE, PARIS; CURATED BY ROBERT M. RUBIN AND MARIANNE LE GALLIARD) Richard Avedon made many of his most famous fashion photographs in Paris after the war, in the hope of reviving that city’s badly bruised joie de vivre. Those fantasies of French glamour and sophistication were at the heart of this show, but the curators had something much more wide-ranging in mind. One gallery was devoted to portraits—of luminaries from Jean Genet to Jeanne Moreau—hung floor to ceiling; another was wallpapered with his late-career contributions to the oversize culture-and-fashion magazine Egoïste. Every page of Diary of a Century (1970), the book that introduced (Avedon’s inspired edit of) Jacques-Henri Lartigue to the American reader, filled yet another wall, suggesting that Avedon’s influence wasn’t limited to the photographs he made.

View of “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look,” 2016–17, Bibliothèque National De France, Paris.

Vince Aletti, a regular contributor to the New Yorker, Photograph, and Aperture, is currently writing a book on photography in fashion magazines for Phaidon.