PRINT December 2017

Zoe Whitley

1 OKWUI OKPOKWASILI AND PETER BORN, POOR PEOPLE’S TV ROOM (NEW YORK LIVE ARTS, APRIL 16–22, 26–29) This astounding ninety-minute performance, with riveting choreography by Okpokwasili and a live-feed set designed by Born, traverses women’s embodiment of memory and resistance, with references to the 1929 Women’s War in Nigeria, in which Igbo women asserted their rights against colonial rule; the 2014 Chibok schoolgirls’ kidnappings; and Oprah (here an acerbic metonym for aspiration). Undoubtedly the most affecting work I saw in the past year.

Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born, Poor People’s TV Room, 2017. Performance view, New York Live Arts, April 18, 2017. Okwui Okpokwasili and Katrina Reid. Photo: Ian Douglas.

2 “THE INFINITE MIX” (THE STORE, 180 THE STRAND, LONDON; CURATED BY RALPH RUGOFF) This is how time-based media should be exhibited: sonically, visually, and experientially. Truthfully, I lost myself (and an entire day!) in this Hayward Gallery pop-up, between Jeremy Deller’s hypnagogic collaboration with Cecilia Bengolea and works by Stan Douglas, Kahlil Joseph, and Ugo Rondinone. Without pretense, but with wit, verve, and originality, “The Infinite Mix” was an important reminder for all of us engaged in the work of cultural production that enjoyment is a lofty curatorial aim.

Kahlil Joseph, m.A.A.d., 2014, 35 mm transferred to two-channel digital video, color, sound, 15 minutes 26 seconds. From “The Inifinite Mix.”

3 LUBAINA HIMID (MODERN ART OXFORD, UK; CURATED BY CIARA MOLONEY, EMMA RIDGWAY, AND STEPHANIE STRAINE) This long-overdue first major survey of a brilliant and sensitive oeuvre spans institutional critique, Himid’s tireless championing of her artistic peers, and the artist’s profound engagement with Western art history and material culture, from William Hogarth and James Gillray to Bridget Riley and Marks & Spencer.

Lubaina Himid, Metal / Paper, Beach House, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 83 7/8 × 60 1/4".

4 FRANK WALTER (ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA PAVILION, 57TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY BARBARA PACA) For me the unexpected highlight of Venice was this rigorously researched exhibition encompassing the prolific artist’s paintings, sculptures, writings, and audio recordings. Alternating between a clear-eyed vision and an undeniable impulse for mythmaking, Walter embodies the lived postcolonial experience through remarkable abstract compositions, autobiographical constructions, and sublime landscapes.

Frank Walter, Moon Voyage Toy, 1994, wood, mixed media. Installation view, Antigua and Barbuda pavilion, Venice, 2017. From the 57th Venice Biennale. Photo: Andrea Avezzù.

5 WILLIAM KENTRIDGE (WHITECHAPEL GALLERY, LONDON: CURATED BY IWONA BLAZWICK AND SABINE BREITWIESER) The pacing of this exhibition was Kentridge at his best: genuine, generous, impressively methodical, and punctuated with pathos and humor. I made multiple visits and was never less than enthralled by the shadow play, the range, and the rhythm of the projected processionals.

Co-organized by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria; and the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK, where it will be on view in 2018.

William Kentridge, O Sentimental Machine, 2015, five-channel HD video (black-and-white, sound, 9 minutes 55 seconds), four megaphones.

6 LARA FAVARETTO, MOMENTARY MONUMENT—THE STONE (9TH LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL) Asserting itself in the midst of Rhiwlas Street’s vacant homes in Toxteth, an inner-city section of Liverpool still perhaps best known as the site of a public outcry against unemployment and police brutality in 1981, Favaretto’s piece extended her strong conceptual body of work with an emphatic statement about the ultimate impotence of memorialization.

Lara Favaretto, Momentary Monument—The Stone, 2016, hollowed granite. Installation view, Rhiwlas Street, Liverpool. From the 2016 Liverpool Biennial Photo: Mark McNulty.

7 “ALICE NEEL, UPTOWN” (DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK, AND VICTORIA MIRO, LONDON; CURATED BY HILTON ALS) “I hear you paint Spanish kids?” one of Neel’s young would-be sitters is said to have asked the artist. Such anecdotes breathe from the walls in this genuinely affecting selection of portraits. Als and Neel—both inquisitive, lyrical provocateurs—are collectors of souls. The New York and London versions of this exhibition affirmed Neel’s distinct vision of portraiture in ways we also discern in the oeuvre of esteemed photographers such as Nan Goldin and Dawoud Bey. Now there’s a show I’d like to see next . . .

Alice Neel, Alice Childress, 1950, oil on canvas, 30 1/8 × 20 1/8".

8 “A LABOUR OF LOVE” (JOHANNESBURG ART GALLERY, SOUTH AFRICA; CURATED BY GABI NGCOBO AND YVETTE MUTUMBA) Hans Blum’s 1986 purchase of South African art for Frankfurt’s Weltkulturen Museum furnished the source material for an exhibition that fused scholarship with personal investment (hence the title) to urgently and insistently question artists’ agency, then and now. A joy to behold, the show transcended the all-too-often hermetic confines of curating the archive.

View of “A Labour of Love,” Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa. From Left: John Muafangejo, They are meeting again at home, 1982; Gabi Ngcobo, Untitled, 2015. Photo: C&.

9 THEO ESHETU (TIWANI CONTEMPORARY, LONDON; CURATED BY EVA LANGRET) Video pioneer Eshetu took us on an engrossing, mythic journey elaborating the fraught histories of landscape and seascape in this kaleidoscopic jewel of an exhibition.

Theo Eshetu, The Slave Ship, 2015, video, color, sound, 14 minutes 28 seconds.

10 JOHN AKOMFRAH (THE CURVE, BARBICAN ART GALLERY, LONDON) Is there a more overused word in contemporary curating than immersive? Still, it’s my go-to descriptor for Akomfrah’s latest, Purple, 2017, an ambitious six-channel work that baptizes the audience in sights and sounds that encompass melting ice caps, rising sea levels in the tropics, endangered folk songs, and biotechnology. David Lawson and Lina Gopaul’s production is flawless, as is Trevor Mathison’s score.

John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017, six-channel HD video, color, sound, 60 minutes.

On view through January 7, 2018. Co-organized by Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden; TBA21–Academy, Vienna; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon.

Zoe Whitley is curator of international art at Tate Modern in London, where she cocurated “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which travels to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 2018–19. She was special projects curator for the 10th Johannesburg Art Fair (2017) and serves on the Artistic Director’s Council for Prospect.4 in New Orleans.