View of “East ex East,” 2011.

View of “East ex East,” 2011.

“East ex East”

Brand New Gallery

View of “East ex East,” 2011.

Visitors to “East ex East,” a group show organized by the British critic and curator Jane Neal, could not fail to be drawn in by the kaleidoscope of signs that characterize the artistic expressions of an idea of the East seeking to free itself from cliché. The very concept of “East” was articulated in a surprising way: The exhibition’s first room featured Asian artists living in the West, while the following spaces were dedicated to artists from Eastern Europe, Israel, and Russia.

Near the entrance, a tripod supporting a truncated pyramid, like some sort of telescope or binoculars, aroused the curiosity of the viewer, who of course could not help but approach the slotlike opening in hope of discovering its contents: Music Man, 2009, an animated video by painter Tala Madani. It shows a muscular, bearded man who harasses another, skinny man whose vomit and spit gradually pile up on a musical staff that acts as a backdrop. These grotesque images stridently clashed with the compositional grace displayed in Raqib Shaw’s painting Death, Beauty and Justice, 2007, a chromatic and formal fantasy of crystals, glitter, and industrial paint on thick paper, representing a scene that seems to be taken from a mythological epic. An expressionist approach makes an energetic return in Ali Banisadr’s paintings The Shadow and The Chase (both 2011). The latter in particular was disconcerting, with brushstrokes that might allude to Tintoretto or to Abstract Expressionism but do not unambiguously reference either. At the center of this first room was Do-Ho Suh’s Floor, 1997–2005, made up of innumerable anthropomorphic statuettes supporting a transparent glass surface on which one could walk—affording a novel perspective on the show’s recurrent motif, the human body. Nearby, one encountered a black human head in Terence Koh’s self-portrait Untitled (Blackhead), 2006. The head, made by mixing bodily fluids—spit and sweat—with plaster, is contained inside a black-edged museum display case that rests on a plinth, which is also black. Shahzia Sikander’s ink and gouache Arteries and Artillery, 2009, depicts a face that seems to materialize out of a network of veins and arteries—blue and red, as in traditional anatomical illustrations—that spread over the painting’s background, with a skeleton peeping through.

Blood also made an appearance in the next room, in a Surrealist-inflected portrait by Alexander Tinei, Chicken Hand, 2011, which shows a veined hand holding a white veil. This room was bursting with the dynamism of two paintings by Zsolt Bodoni, Rape and Studying pre-nightmare, both 2011, whose dark tones undergird a highly violent gestural alphabet. Equally vibrant were two works in the fourth room, Untitled, 2010, and Tramp, 2011, both by Tomasz Kowalski, which could leave one breathless with their vertiginous superimposition of planes. Perhaps I felt this particularly sharply because I’d just been put into a hypnotic state by Keren Cytter’s video The Hottest Day of the Year, 2010, thanks in part to Tal Hefter’s sound track. When the projection concluded, I felt as if I had awakened from a dream like one of those immortalized by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, a dream in which it was possible to physically enter a painting.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.