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Juan Muñoz and Marlene Dumas

60 Frith Street
January 16–April 17

View of “Juan Muñoz and Marlene Dumas: Drawings,” 2015.

Juan Muñoz’s oil-stick studies of the human mouth in various stages of enunciation, all Untitled (Mouth Drawing), 1995, are incapable of performing the act they depict. Mouths that cannot speak, they are forms cruelly divorced from function. Although condemned to hover mutely within the void of the page, they are not altogether inarticulate. As the artist once said of his creations, “they tell you that they wish they could do more than they do.” Emphatically, Muñoz’s mouths pronounce their silence.

Several small works on paper by Marlene Dumas are exhibited in dialogue with Muñoz’s drawings. Although these are often derived from photographs, translated through watercolor they take on an independent, fecund vitality. Dumas’s figures possess mouths that demand contact. They salivate, explore, intermingle, and consume. In several works, such as French Kiss, 2014, two faces grapple and merge, navigating the thin line between passion and aggression. In others, lone figures are overcome by longing, exposing their breasts, fantasizing, or desperately kissing their surroundings, as in Kissing the Edge, 2014, where a solitary face presses its soft lips urgently against a hard, black line.

Lucy Kent

“Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society, 1915-2015”

77 - 82 Whitechapel High Street
January 15–April 6

Armando Andrade Tudela, Camion, 2003, sixty 35mm color slides, 5 minutes.

The spectre of Kazimir Malevich haunts this exhibition. Black Quadrilateral, c. 1915—one of his compositions of shapes, including the square, painted against a white background—is the first of a long, dense display that surveys the twentieth-century developments and current trends of geometric abstraction across time and place. Malevich’s way of making art explored spirituality, and various artists followed him in this. Josef Albers, for example, created the series “Homage to the Square,” 1950-75, which emphasized an experience of the transcendental. But Malevich was also a pioneer of a socially-engaged approach to art making, and many of the featured works highlight this aspect. The 1970s and 1980s performances of Collective Actions, for instance, challenged the Russian powers that be—Journeys to the Countryside #11, 1979, documents Andrei Monastyrski and other members of this group wielding squares, while others watched, in the snowy fields of Moscow outskirts.

The curators of the exhibition, Iwona Blazwick and Magnus af Petersens, organized the over one hundred works on view both chronologically and thematically. This method permitted cohesive groupings such as those dedicated to Bauhaus and post-World War II Brazilian photographers, including Thomaz Farkas—his 1940s views of buildings in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are an highlight. While these images suggest that the city has been a key subject matter of geometric abstraction, other works indicate alternative themes. Běla Kolářová’s assemblage Swatch of Snap Fasteners 11, 1964, illustrates the significance of everyday materials such as haberdashery’s items, while Armando Andrade Tudela’s slide projection Camión, 2003, focuses on design by cataloguing the motifs that decorate the trucks traversing Peru’s roads. Geometric abstraction became embedded in visual culture, and today is more an intellectual framework than a style. Liam Gillick’s sculpture Big Conference Platform Platform, 1998, demonstrates it. His take on the tension between corporate architecture and collectivity encapsulates the relationship between form and the political drive of the modernist enterprise that underlies this exhibition’s thesis.

Miguel Amado

Isabelle Cornaro

65 - 67 Peckham Road
January 24–April 5

View of “Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires,” 2014.

Isabelle Cornaro’s “Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires” poses a question: How to translate a seventeenth-century painting into a contemporary sculpture? Cornaro takes Nicolas Poussin’s Paysage avec Hercule et Cacus, c. 1658, as a starting point, fashioning a landscape of kitsch. In Cornaro’s rendition, large monolithic black blocks serve as plinths to assemble a series of objects: jewelry, rustic sculpture, lush fabric, and funerary urns, all arranged under a somber mood. Structurally, Paysage avec poussin, 2015, inspires a roaming encounter. Formally, we should recall earlier precedents: Brancusi’s cluttered studio at the Centre Pompidou or Richard Serra’s immense Ramble, 2014, displayed recently at the Gagosian Gallery in London. Yet unlike Brancusi and Serra, Cornaro organizes her objects to the principle of classical perspective: her plinths marshal the body and the eye.

If Cornaro’s sculpture reads as a landscape, her terrain is organized by the weight of abstraction: Her objects are flattened in their presentation—not one object, scene, or arrangement overruns or suffocates the others. As Cornaro’s title suggests, the viewer is positioned as an eyewitness, or témoins oculaires. We must ask, however, an eyewitness to what? As if her objects are displayed to communicate to the dead, Cornaro’s Paysage avec poussin emits a funerary pathos. We also read this evocation of death in Cornaro’s precedent, where Poussin has positioned the viewer as an omnipotent spectator to the aftermath of Hercules’s triumphant murder of the monster Cacus. But in Cornaro’s translation, death is generalized: It does not to refer to a specific place or person but rather is evoked to refer to a social relation. Cornaro’s landscape is figured as a minor but total necropolis.

Andrew Witt