Sometimes it is hard to see the crisis that you are in. Everybody in Berlin seems to be worrying about how many of the city’s 450 galleries will be closing and which big players will go. Meanwhile, at one of the smaller and fairly new spaces, the Berlin outpost of Rotterdam-based MKgalerie, one could see dispatches from the environmental and social crises around the globe. Transformations” did what commercial group shows seldom do: It carried a genuine curatorial message. Pim Palsgraaf’s three installations were made of taxidermied animals and found materials, resulting in works like Multiscape 10, 2009, where a building resembling an oil platform towers over an elephant’s foot—technology dominating nature. The photographer Xing Danwen showed the series “Urban Fiction,” 2004–, pictures of Chinese real estate models into which she had Photoshopped herself as a tennis player or as a victim of domestic violence. Xing has created powerful images of a lifestyle, where one has difficulty discerning which is more fantastic: the artist’s creative self-portraits or the dream of exporting an unsustainable, even potentially brutal lifestyle to everyone on the globe.

Of all the works on view in “Transformations,” however, “Interiors,” 2007–, a series of images by Dutch photographer Marleen Sleeuwits, delves most deeply into the question of what is wrong with the contemporary economy. There is not much to see in Sleeuwits’s photographs. People are absent, and the scope of the images leaves room for only a few details: a folded curtain, the railing of a staircase, the corner of a hallway. What lures the viewer into these architectural interiors is their luminous glow. A linoleum floor colored like blue marble shimmers like a pool; a collection area for cafeteria trays lets a ray of neon brightness escape into a dark hall; the lighting of a hallway turns its walls into a pastel yellow.

Sleeuwits is a chronicler of non-places, those spaces created by functionalist architecture that we use daily but seldom notice: hallways in office buildings, government agencies, or metro stations; storage rooms; cafeterias. The French anthropologist Marc Augé coined the term to refer to spaces without any relation to human history. Working with available light only—contrary to expectation, this does not create harsh shadows and cold colors but glossy colors and surfaces—Sleeuwits focuses on the details of these non-places, on the textures of ceiling tiles, carpets, and curtains, and most prominently on their light.

It is in this gloss that the ambivalent core of her work lies. No glasses, books, or bags are left lying around. Not even the anonymous traces of wear and tear can be seen: no scratch marks on the corners, no spots on the floor, no cracked tiles or crooked doors. The results are images of alienation. Rather than the empty museums and libraries in Candida Höfer’s photographs, which despite their desolation echo the accumulation of cultural knowledge and capital, Sleeuwits’s images find only the rationalized vision of human work and life as seen by corporate architecture firms. The uncanny anonymity of these places may echo that of the photographic crime scenes of Thomas Demand, but these are not settings of spectacular atrocities or great political intrigues. Instead, Sleeuwits’s buildings are those intended to be cheerful and inviting; they become eerie, anonymous, and depressing because of the way they disconnect their inhabitants from the natural world. No natural light, no relation to place, humans reduced to happy drones: a pretty disaster.

Daniel Boese