The following guide to museum shows currently on view is compiled from Artforum’s three-times-yearly exhibition preview. Subscribe now to begin a year of Artforum—the world’s leading magazine of contemporary art. You’ll get all three big preview issues, featuring Artforum’s comprehensive advance roundups of the shows to see each season around the globe.
As South Africans commemorated twenty years of postapartheid democracy last year, Johannesburg-based photographer Zanele Muholi was documenting the violence that persists against the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities. The series “Faces and Phases,” 2006–14, for example, like much of the work of this self-described “visual activist,” measures the distance between the liberties enshrined in South Africa’s lauded constitution and the sexual violence and hate crimes that continue to be committed against local women, especially black lesbians. Following on the heels of Muholi’s recent showings at the 2013 Venice Biennale and Documenta 13 in 2012, this exhibition draws together nearly ninety of her photographs, videos, and installations since 2007 under the theme of isibinelo, a Zulu word suggesting evidence to behold or an example to witness.
For more than twenty years, Arlene Shechet has rigorously worked at the material limits of plaster, paper pulp, and glass. In the past ten, she has alsoand with increasing concentrationexplored the possibilities of clay. Her experimental work in ceramics demonstrates a fierce aptitude for uninhibited, even overelaborate, sculptural form. Artists such as Jessica Jackson Hutchins and William O’Brien are indebted to Shechet’s ongoing interrogations of brash color, texture, and mischievous display tactics, including mash-ups of functional objects with idiosyncratic figurines. “All at Once,” the sculptor’s first survey exhibition, will showcase some 150 objects created over two decades, including Was Still, 2011, a wonky bronze- and blue-glazed globe that sits slouched on a tower of stacked white bricks, and Can Can, 2012, a delicately cast white Meissen porcelain sculpture reminiscent of a dense clump of confectionery papers.
Even before photojournalist, director, and author Gordon Parks was “Gordon Parks,” his biographical arcyouthful escape from the black quotidian followed by loving, professional returnseemed as much his subject as whatever might be before his lens. Parks was born in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912; in 1950, he went home as Life magazine’s first black photographer to capture the adult circumstances of his elementary school classmates. His document of the pre–Brown v. Board moment wasn’t published (Life covered General MacArthur’s 1951 canning by Truman instead), but curator Karen Haas has recovered it in the form of forty-one select prints and a more expansive book introduced by renowned author Isabel Wilkerson. Most striking may be the reminder of how painfully unsettled Parks’s physical and psychic geographies remain for us. Fort Scott sits just southeast of Topeka, site of the “board” in Brown v. and only “4 h 40 minutes without traffic,” Google Maps assures us, from Ferguson, Missouri.
Taking its title from Rem Koolhaas’s 1995 manifesto, “S, M, L, XL” is an examination of sculpture and scale. Scale, the relative size of one thing to another, became a preoccupation of aesthetic theory with the publication, in these pages, of Robert Morris’s “Notes on Sculpture” in 1966. Fittingly, two of the four works in the show are by Morris: Portal, 1964, a post-and-lintel structure so narrow we can barely squeeze through it, and Passageway, 1961, an increasingly constricting curved corridor that funnels us to a dead end. And while Franz West’s Blue, 2006, adds a welcoming “relational” element (a seat) to Morris’s spiral, Kris Martin’s installation T.Y.F.F.S.H., 2011, an open balloon animated by fans, allows viewers to experience the immersive scale so emblematic of today’s “site-specific” sculpture.
Black modernity, in its many splendors, is the focus of “The Freedom Principle.” The fifty-years-young Chicago music collective AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) grounds the exhibition in the rowdy and riotous 1960s jazz insurgency sparked by Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, and the AACM’s own world-renowned modernists: Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, and flagship group the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The AACM’s ethos of independence and intrepid exploration has infused the work of two subsequent generations of Afrocentric modernists and futurists. Sharing space with a plethora of artifacts, including original printed materials and photographs from the AACM archive, are works by renowned fellow travelers AfriCOBRA, as well as by more contemporary conceptualist-Maroon operatives such as Terry Adkins, Cauleen Smith, Renée Green, and Nick Cave.
Exactly what photography is at this point is an open question. Proliferating digital technologies and omnipresent smartphone cameras have made photographic imaging ridiculously easy, costless, and ubiquitousa flow of experiences rather than staccato decisive moments. Reflecting on the fundamental nature of the medium, a host of contemporary artist-photographers have been experimenting with the medium’s obsolescing materials and practices. Some expose outdated papers, some scratch or waterlog their prints, and some reject the photographic apparatus wholesalegenerating controversy while challenging notions of what defines a photograph. This timely exhibition and catalogue showcase seven key artists in this surging debate: Matthew Brandt, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Chris McCaw, Lisa Oppenheim, Alison Rossiter, and James Welling, alongside process-focused predecessors including Man Ray, and Henry Holmes Smith. Whether the present generation is reinventing photography or merely picking over its still-warm corpse remains to be seen.