Boston

View of “Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian,” 2015–16. Photo: Charles Mayer.

View of “Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian,” 2015–16. Photo: Charles Mayer.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

View of “Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian,” 2015–16. Photo: Charles Mayer.

Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian’s project might be described as one of ecstatic accumulation. The Iranian-born, Dubai–based artists (two brothers and their childhood friend) live and work together in a shared home, the trappings of which rival the rococo extremes of Diana Vreeland’s Park Avenue apartment. At the ICA, the artists translated the logic of their living situation—both its aesthetic and its participatory ethos—into an immersive installation. Collages, assemblages, and videos produced collectively (many on-site) and individually evoke, by turns, the abject commodity-detritus of Isa Genzken, the fecund pictorial spaces of Persian miniatures, and the proprietary Conceptualism of Edward Krasiński (whose territorial blue-tape horizons they repurposed for this show). Strewn among the artworks are tchotchke readymades (piggy banks, baby dolls, a toy E.T. finger), and abutting them are works by other artists from the collaborators’ collections and that of the museum. We see the barbed lyricism of Jimmy DeSana (Marker Cones, 1982), the grotesque figuration of Bahman Mohasses (Fifi Howls with Joy, 1964), a seething chromogenic color print by Martha Rosler (Barefoot #1, 1981/1996), and one of the most romantic Allan Kaprow scores I’ve seen (Taking a Shoe for a Walk, 1989). A floor painting undergirds all of this, its arabesques of irregular blue triangles imbricated like fish scales. This undulating pattern creeps up the walls, its undiagrammed messiness emphasizing the artists’ unrestrained improvisation and spontaneity.

What can be made of this baroque hodgepodge, aside from the fact that it is a seductive case of art for art’s sake? The artists deploy clever self-reflexive curatorial strategies: In a Duchampian somersault, they installed Ramin Haerizadeh’s Rrose Sélavy, 2014—a rack festooned with handcrafted postcards he produced, each featuring Duchamp as Sélavy—in front of Susan Hiller’s Addenda V. Section 8: Hastening, 1982, an assisted-readymade postcard work. But ultimately, each appropriated artwork loses some of its conceptual valence in this excess, serving as a footnote to a vaguely framed discussion of, maybe, the body and consumerism?

The only legend for navigating the mise en scène is the exhibition’s title, “The Birthday Party,” taken from Harold Pinter’s eponymous 1958 boarding-house drama. Strangely, the exhibition text describes the play (the show’s jumping off point) as, simply, a “surreal comedy about a party organized as a ploy to get a character to sit down.” While Pinter’s work is famously inscrutable, the artists’ description appears to be an intentionally flippant misrepresentation of it. Much more than a surreal comedy, Pinter’s seminal play is an indictment of subjugation, the curtailment of personal freedoms, and governing by instilling fear. The artists seem to be nodding to Pinter’s politics, his denouncement of repression and censorship, but their almost lighthearted reinterpretation of his work in their didactics—and, moreover, in the exuberance of their exhibition—is curious given the lurking threat so central to Pinter’s work.

Projected on the wall by the gallery exit was Big Rock Candy Mountain, 2015, a four-minute video animation of one thousand stills taken from footage of ISIS militants toppling statues and wrecking artifacts in Syria and Iraq. The stills have been painted, drawn over, or collaged so that the felled works become reanimated: An Assyrian statue housed at Mosul’s central museum morphs into a cross-hatched breaching mermaid; another gains a polka-dot skin; yet another crashes to the ground enveloped in writhing pink roses. These whimsically patterned phoenixes, emerging from the ruins of sacred artifacts, provide a determinedly dreamy rejoinder to unimaginably destructive acts of censorship and constitute a celebration in their own right. Big Rock Candy Mountain brings the more diffuse, scattered work into focus. This crowded fête of an exhibition is the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian’s toast to pluralism and abundance. As Pinter adjured, “Don’t let them tell you what to do.”

Annie Godfrey Larmon