View of “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster,” 2022. Photo: Andrea Rossetti.

View of “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster,” 2022. Photo: Andrea Rossetti.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

This unusual exhibition posed an inconvenient challenge to the mounting skepticism toward pictorial representation in contemporary art. How can one narrate in pictures without replicating models of male heroism cultural history that brought such revolutionary changes as the transformation of women’s role in society? French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster grappled with this question, selecting what might seem an obsolete format—the panoramic painting, a legacy of the nineteenth century. Simply by choosing this all-encompassing form that was formerly employed to visualize historic events, the artist makes her work a provocation, and that’s good news.

In the middle of the night, during the pandemic-era isolation, Gonzalez-Foerster says, she suddenly awoke with a vision of being in a volcanic landscape, surrounded by “inspiring friends, nonbinary, trans, queer, fluid, hybrid, lesbian, gay, pan, humans, and non-humans.” It was a radiant fantasy, filled with beauty and joy: an “eruption of life, protest, activism, desire in a period of control, fear, isolation.” The artist imagined the vitality of Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s panorama Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), 1946–47, transplanted into the years 2020 and 2021. She began assembling panoramas by collaging old photographs and reproductions of paintings, and has exhibited three to date: Volcanic Excursion (A Vision)—inspired by Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze, 1902—at the Vienna’s Secession in 2021; Alienarium 5, 2022, at the Serpentine Galleries in London; and Panoramism and the Abstract Sector, 2022, at Esther Schipper.

In this work, the cultural history of the twentieth century unfurls through a post- and transfeminist as well as postcolonial lens on twelve panels with figures set in a monumental half circle before the ruins of the Berlin Wall. Also seen are enlarged (and unrecognizable) details from paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner, both of whom appear repeatedly throughout the installation. Although the cast of characters includes several men, women dominate the action in this panorama: dancer Anita Berber from a painting by Otto Dix, but with Hannah Arendt’s body; Krasner, seated; and the laborer from Working Class and Intelligence, 1970–73, by East German painter Werner Tübke, who is perhaps best known for his Bauernkriegspanorama (Peasants’ War Panorama), 1983–87. The large group portrait at the center, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Nina Leen’s famous The Irascibles, a 1950 group portrait, shot for Life magazine, of the Abstract Expressionists, which effaced the vital role women played in the movement by including only one woman, Hedda Sterne, among the gathered male artists. Berlin-based curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung appears prominently as an exponent of a postcolonial viewpoint. A colorful woven carpet with pillows printed with book covers scattered over it was laid out in front of the panorama; the otherworldly sounds of Exotourisme, Gonzalez-Foerster’s musical collaboration with Julien Perez, wafted through the installation.

The panorama was presented concurrently with “Une Valise Transféministe” (A Transfeminist Suitcase), 2019, a collaboration with Paul B. Preciado, comprising three open suitcases that contained feminist and transgender literature displayed on the floor, while the covers of some of the texts were projected on a wall. In juxtaposing image and word as narrative elements, the collaborative work revisits a question that some have thought passé—that of the representational and narrative qualities of the picture—and raises it afresh for the age of post- and transfeminism and postcolonialism.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.