PRINT December 2018

Catherine Wood

  Paz Errázuriz, Evelyn, 1982, gelatin silver print, 9 5⁄8 × 14 1⁄8". From “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985.”

1 “RADICAL WOMEN: LATIN AMERICAN ART, 1960–1985” (HAMMER MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY CECILIA FAJARDO-HILL AND ANDREA GIUNTA WITH MARCELA GUERRERO AND CONNIE BUTLER) I was thrilled and humbled to visit this expansive, deeply researched show at the game-changing moment #MeToo was breaking. The exhibition testified to the drive of so many women artists—who were very often working under repressive, authoritarian, and violent regimes—to take control of their own bodies as independent aesthetic, political, and sexual territories. The show brought visibility to marginalized practices through what Fajardo-Hill and Giunta called “situated perspectives”: an effort to avoid essentializing notions of “the feminine” by taking into account culture and context. What emerged was a powerful network—one constituted via bodies, acts, and intimate conversations—that coursed through geography and language.

Ana Mendieta, Creek, 1974, Super 8, color, silent, 3 minutes 11 seconds. 

2 “COVERED IN TIME AND HISTORY: THE FILMS OF ANA MENDIETA” (MARTIN-GROPIUS-BAU, BERLIN; CURATED BY LYNN LUKKAS AND HOWARD ORANSKY) I enjoyed the grand scale of “Radical Women,” but I also welcomed the focus of “Covered in Time and History,” an exquisite presentation of Mendieta’s films. Featuring twenty-three digitally remastered works, the show catalogued the Cuban–born artist’s most potent motifs. In Creek, 1974, Mendieta lies naked in a stream, framed, Ophelia-like, by foliage as water washes over her; the film remains emblematic of her extraordinary ability to convey the material, spiritual, and emotional bonds between body and landscape. For her “Silueta” (Silhouette) series, 1973–80, the artist displays her figure in outlines made variously from rocks, fire, and flowers, all filmed in a way that induces a longing for the live act. Thirty-three years after she died in a fall from Carl Andre’s balcony, Mendieta’s ghostly silhouettes are powerful, painful reminders of her untimely erasure.
Organized by the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota.

Wu Tsang, For how we perceived a life (take 3), 2012, HD video, color, sound, 9 minutes 33 seconds. From “Elements of Vogue.”

3 “ELEMENTS OF VOGUE” (CENTRO DE ARTE DOS DE MAYO, MADRID; CURATED BY SABEL GAVALDÓN AND MANUEL SEGADE) Nothing beats repeat viewings of Paris Is Burning (now blessedly available on Netflix). But the pleasures of Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary also engender pressing questions. What can we learn about history—and in particular, about 1980s modes of resistance to the aids crisis, police brutality, and xenophobia—through the language of gesture? Focusing on queer, African American, and Latinx experience, the curators of this expansive, experimental show took voguing as a charged node in the web of gender, class, sexuality, and race. Presenting the work of nearly fifty artists—including Crystal LaBeija, Lorraine O’Grady, Marsha P. Johnson, and LaToya Ruby Frazier—the exhibition presented fierce, fabulous approaches to performing life on the artists’ own terms.

View of “Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now),” 2018, Met Breuer, New York. Foreground: John De Andrea, Self-Portrait with Sculpture, 1980. Background, from left: Juan Martínez Montañés, Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1620–30; Lucas Cranach the Younger, The Idolatry of Solomon, ca. 1537; Saint Barbara, ca. 1490. Photo: Eileen Travell.

4 “LIKE LIFE: SCULPTURE, COLOR, AND THE BODY (1300–NOW)” (MET BREUER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY LUKE SYSON, SHEENA WAGSTAFF, BRINDA KUMAR, AND EMERSON BOWYER) The eerily animate Boston Dynamics robots on YouTube generate reliable viral thrills, yet the evocation of life via humbler means—sculptural or painterly verisimilitude—continues to fascinate. “Like Life,” at the Met Breuer, took us on an uncanny seven-century survey of the human compulsion to create simulacra, whether these took the form of clockwork dolls, automata, death masks, or effigies. Pretty much the inverse of the “live” turn in museums, this show was heavy on mortality. See, for example, the eighteenth-century “auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham, a life-size mannequin created, in part, from the social reformer’s own skeleton and clad in his own clothes.

Lubaina Himid, A Fashionable Marriage (detail), 1986, mixed media. Installation view, Nottingham Contemporary, UK, 2017. Photo: Andy Keate.

5 LUBAINA HIMID Long associated with the UK Black Arts Movement, and included in 1985’s groundbreaking show “The Thin Black Line,” this artist, curator, and educator creates seductive, theater-set-like installations that carve out space for absent black histories. A Fashionable Marriage, 1986, wittily updates William Hogarth’s 1743–45 series “Marriage à-la-mode” for the politics of the 1980s, featuring an array of freestanding, colored-plywood Pop cutouts of figures such as Thatcher, Reagan, and a black woman artist in a resplendent dress. Yet Himid has never received the recognition she deserves, so it was deeply gratifying to see her win the 2017 Turner Prize—a testament to the perpetual freshness of her political, performative approach to painting.

Nicolás Vizcaíno Sánchez, Fiebre Super Nórdica (Super Nordic Fever), 2016–17, bead curtain. Installation view, EVA International, 2018. Photo: Deirdre Power.

6 38TH EVA INTERNATIONAL (LIMERICK, IRELAND; CURATED BY INTI GUERRERO) Biennials can be exhausting affairs. But this intelligently shaped show was perfectly scaled to the city. Guerrero wove deft connections between the works on view—by an international roster of fifty-six artists—and the industrial and social history of Limerick. A 1927 painting by Seán Keating provided the curatorial jumping-off point: Depicting a massive hydroelectric dam under construction in the city, the socialist-realist canvas offered complex commentary on the intersection of labor, industry, nature, and landscape—and lent insight to the alternate realisms crafted by artists such as Liu Xiaodong, Steven Cohen, and Nicolás Vizcaíno Sánchez.

Mariko Mori, Miko No Inori (Prayer of the Priestess), 1996, video transferred to digital video, color, sound, 4 minutes 20 seconds. From “Japanorama: A New Vision on Art Since 1970.”

7 “JAPANORAMA: A NEW VISION ON ART SINCE 1970” (CENTRE POMPIDOU-METZ, FRANCE; CURATED BY YUKO HASEGAWA) The 1970s began a period of profound social, political, and environmental change in Japan, and “Japanorama,” in its sheer, uncategorizable diversity, demonstrated the thrilling range of artistic responses: from Minimalist form to Superflat, from collaborative social sculpture to visions of posthuman identity. Highlights included Mariko Mori’s timely return; working versions of Atsuko Tanaka’s Denkifuku (Electric Dress), 1956/1999; a multimedia room by Dumb Type; and a gorgeous, site-specific installation by Kishio Suga, the Mono-ha pioneer.

Jamila Johnson-Small/Last Yearz Interesting Negro, FuryZ, 2018. Performance view, Block Universe, London, May 27, 2018. Photo: Manuela Barczewski. 

8 JAMILA JOHNSON-SMALL Johnson-Small, who performs under the moniker Last Yearz Interesting Negro, is one of a generation of younger artists in London willing and able to test the boundaries separating disciplines and identities. Alongside her sometime collaborators Alexandrina Hemsley, Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome, and Paul Maheke, she brings unabashed pleasure to her probing investigations of the power dynamics of appearing and viewing. In works such as i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere, 2016–17, at Fierce Festival, Birmingham, UK; BASICTENSION, 2017–18, at the ICA, London; and FuryZ, 2018, at Block Universe, London, Johnson-Small was seen dancing alongside her video avatar or sharing the stage with peers and the audience, at once inhabiting and unraveling her own centrality to the live situation.

Mike Kelley, Kandors Full Set, 2005–2009, tinted urethane resin, glass, silicone rubber, acrylic, celluloid, polyurethane, medium-density fiberboard, wood veneer, compact fluorescent lights. Installation view, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, 2017. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. 

9 “MIKE KELLEY: KANDORS 1999–2011” (HAUSER & WIRTH, LOS ANGELES) Where is Superman in a postgender, postgenre universe? This show invited us to lose ourselves amid the artist’s sublime, utopian “Kandors.” Nearly all the works from this series were splendidly on view, including drawings, videos, and myriad illuminated glass jars filled with colored gases and gorgeous resins.

Pussy Riot’s Veronika Nikulshina and French soccer player Kylian Mbappé during the World Cup final, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 15, 2018. Photo: Dave Shopland/BPI/Shutterstock.

10 PUSSY RIOT AT THE WORLD CUP During the second half of the World Cup final in Moscow this past July, four Pussy Riot members sprinted across the football pitch; one member, Veronika Nikulshina, managed to high-five star French player Kylian Mbappé. To get past security, the activists dressed as police officers—to genuinely disorienting effect. Viewed by hundreds of millions of people, their intervention, which sought to draw attention to human-rights abuses in Russia, made for a powerful live mass-media hijacking.

Catherine Wood is senior curator, international art (Performance) at Tate Modern, London. The author of the 2018 book Performance in Contemporary Art, she is currently organizing an exhibition of work by Anne Imhof, opening in march 2019.