TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2019

Sohrab Mohebbi

Sohrab Mohebbi is a writer and curator at SculptureCenter, New York. He has recently organized, in no particular order, solo exhibitions by Fiona Connor and Banu Cennetoğlu and the group show “Searching the Sky for Rain.”

Klara Lidén, Grounding, 2018, HD video, color, sound, 5 minutes 53 seconds. Installation view, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York. Photo: Joerg Lohse.

1
KLARA LIDÉN (REENA SPAULINGS FINE ART, NEW YORK)

I saw this show on its last day. Lidén’s Grounding, 2018, captures the mood of New York in Trump’s America: that sinking feeling of radical inadequacy and collapse that follows from an awareness of one’s total contingency, vulnerability, incapacity, and complicity. Lidén circuits around Manhattan’s Financial District, falling intermittently only to drag herself up again, fall again—and it loops.

Nil Yalter, Turkish Immigrants (detail), 1977, twelve gelatin silver prints, twelve pencil-on-paper drawings, dimensions variable.

2
RINDON JOHNSON (JULIA STOSCHEK COLLECTION, DÜSSELDORF; CURATED BY LISA LONG)

What should we call this form of existence: a constant vista where from one view one can see the cage of one binding state and from another view, another binding state? asks part of the lengthy title to a 2019 video by Johnson. The artist-writer uses these poem-titles, triangulated with images and objects, in works that haunt the material of their making. Neither nor, what then? What happens when my feast is dependent on another?

View of “Rindon Johnson: Circumscribe,” 2019, Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf. Photo: Alwin Lay.

3
NIL YALTER (HESSEL MUSEUM OF ART, ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY; CURATED BY LAUREN CORNELL)

Exile is a hard job, indeed. What Yalter has been doing in parallel to, let’s say, people like Allan Sekula or Martha Rosler is so profound, so rigorous it requires we revise our understanding of contemporary art’s historical entwinement of labor, image, evidence, and the deconstruction of the documentary form. Her photographs, drawings, videos, texts, and installations made over the past half century are, to invoke Sekula, “anti-photojournalism”: They depict migrant labor, guest work, and dislocation, while also illuminating the ways in which each component (alone and in combination with others) makes truth claims, and whether (and how) the structures of representation substantiate them.

Co-organized with the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, where it was curated by Rita Kersting.

Siah Armajani, Moon Landing, 1969, stenciled paint on television, lock, ink on five sheets of newspaper, 13 1⁄2 × 12 1⁄2 × 9".

4
SIAH ARMAJANI (WALKER ART CENTER, MINNEAPOLIS; CURATED BY CLARE DAVIES WITH VICTORIA SUNG AND JADINE COLLINGWOOD) 

A long-overdue hometown survey, “Follow This Line” brought together sixty years of work in a range of media—including language and poetry, architecture, public art, and video—made in Tehran (which Armajani departed after the Shah’s crackdown on the Left) and Minneapolis. The importance of the artist’s legacy and the depth of his curiosity cannot be overstated. Moon Landing, 1969, Armajani’s contribution to the legendary 1970 show “Information” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is a television screen stenciled with text announcing this t.v. set has witnessed the apollo 11 mission. For Lissitzky’s Neighborhood, 1977–78, he installed a workers’ parlor in the rotunda of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—“relational aesthetics” avant la lettre.

Mike Nelson, The Asset Strippers (detail), 2019, mixed media. Installation view, Tate Britain, London. Photo: Matt Greenwood.

5
MIKE NELSON (TATE BRITAIN, LONDON; CURATED BY CLARRIE WALLIS AND ELSA COUSTOU)

Mike Nelson brought the dismissed and discarded material residue of “dematerialization” into the Tate Britain’s airy, Beaux Arts–style Duveen Galleries. Sundry industrial artifacts, including heavy knitting machinery, factory equipment, steel awnings, and woodwork from army barracks, were here stacked, rearranged, and reassembled in a meticulous museal installation evoking a cross between the Brancusi studio and a junkyard.

Olga Balema, 8, 2019, elastic band, paint, glue, nails, staples. Installation view, Bridget Donahue, New York.

6
OLGA BALEMA (BRIDGET DONAHUE, NEW YORK)

What is the least amount of art that can constitute a work? Balema’s exquisite and scanty show “brain damage” proposed an answer. Composed from elastic bands, staples, and nails, the spread of thirteen pieces resembled a deteriorating set of intersecting grids. Reducing art to the bare minimum, the exhibition tiptoed the line between artwork and its absence.

Eric Wesley, Untitled (light rocks), 2019, mixed media, 75 × 16 × 16".

7
ERIC WESLEY (PIO PICO, LOS ANGELES)

According to some dictionaries, Timbuktu is a nonplace, a cipher for a distant location. Wesley’s exhibition “Timbuctoo” spoke to this fugitivity, comprising a body of work that was as unlocatable as the title of the show. Folded deck chairs hung on the wall like paintings; a plinth supported a totem of fake rocks; the body of a V-shaped guitar also hung on a wall; a pile of lumber sat beside a portable sawmill. In the gallery’s back room, a pedestal supported a miniature model of a woodland campsite. Nearby, another deck chair sat in the mezzanine, lounging alongside the debris of culture misassembled.

Shahryar Nashat, Keep Begging, 2019, HD video on LED wall, color, sound, 11 minutes 10 seconds. Installation view, Swiss Institute, New York.

8
SHAHRYAR NASHAT (SWISS INSTITUTE, NEW YORK)

On the topic of fugitivity—or what I call strategic indeterminacy—there was also Nashat slamming a hairy HD armpit into the viewer’s face: Do you want identity? Do you want sex? Do you want meaning? Do you want violence? Do you want the othered body? Do you want exile? Do you want the exoticized? Do you want Islam? Do you want my discourse? Keep Begging.

Horse figure, ca. 13,000 BP, limestone, 11 × 9 1⁄4 × 2 1⁄8". From “Préhistoire: une énigme moderne.” (Prehistory: A Modern Enigma).

9
“PREHISTORY: A MODERN ENIGMA” (CENTRE POMPIDOU, PARIS; CURATED BY CÉCILE DEBRAY, RÉMI LABRUSSE, AND MARIA STAVRINAKI)

In our time of museological upheaval, institutions are experimenting with a number of approaches to exhibiting the global canon. There are corrective measures, there are formal measures, there are decolonial measures, and there are cross-cultural narratives. The brilliantly complex “Préhistoire, une énigme moderne” had some elements of each, albeit with a more or less Euro-American focus. A cousin of last year’s groundbreaking “Neolithic Childhood: Art in a False Present, c. 1930” at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the exhibition surveyed modernism’s fascination with, and continual revision of, the origin story. In the nearly pitch-black first gallery, a spotlit skull hung near a Paul Klee—a ferocious start to a curatorial tour de force.

Tony Cokes, 3#, 2001, video, color, sound, 3 minutes 50 seconds. Installation view, Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London. Photo: Andy Stagg.

10
TONY COKES (Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, LONDON; CURATED BY Sarah McCrory and Natasha Hoare)

How can we sustain the work of interpretive communities? Tony Cokes’s brilliant, discursive dispersion is finally getting its due. His exhibition at Goldsmiths CCA, one of the artist’s most comprehensive institutional shows to date, includes Testament A: mf fka k-p x ke rip, 2019, a remarkable new commission based on Kodwo Eshun’s memorial lecture for Mark Fisher. Against a background of music by Burial, Shackleton, and others, we encounter a cavalcade of text: “The practice of joy is at the same time the mobilization of joy, in the interest of its own self-protection. The only way to protect joy, is by practicing it . . . a joy that is practiced by the differentiated positions, and the antagonistic alliances, and the factional forces.” 

On view through January 19, 2020. Co-organized by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA, and <em>ARGOS Centre for Audiovisual Arts, Brussels.</em>