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.
In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles invented the phrase maintenance art to articulate the undeniable fact that the wealth of nations, the workings of capital, and the privileges of the patriarchy are all predicated on the unpaid and/or undervalued labor of maintenance: the daily acts of cleaning, cooking, and other sundry tasks meant to prepare individuals and institutions for their so-called real work. This means that the efforts of janitors and housewives, conservators and sanitation workers, have served as source material for the artist’s most important interventions and performances. Ukeles, the consummate feminist, insists that art is not a utopian realm in which we can forget the adage that a woman’s work is never done; quite the contrary. Her work elucidates that our attempts to preserve artto preserve anything, in factfor a future humanity reside firmly in the sphere of maintenance rather than the realm of master narratives.
“The house and its yard and the road behind and across”the poetry of Beverly Buchanan’s description of the inspiration for her best-known sculpture was beautifully borne out in the works themselves, small architectures evoking, rooted in, but sometimes wildly departing from the shacks of her native South. For much of the art audience, Buchanan, who died in 2015, is a discovery of recent years, but her career dates back to the 1970s and includes site-specific earthworks, painting, photography, drawing, and concrete-block post- Minimalist sculpture, a range that this exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to see. The shacksboth intricate and raw, both informed and vernacularwill surely pull you in, but this show of approximately two hundred works promises a broader insight into Buchanan’s thought.
Writing in 1896 about the relationship between photography and perception, Henri Bergson urged, “Call up the Leibnizian monads: Each is the mirror of the universe.” No artist has taken up this directive like Liz Deschenes. Rejecting the camera as a technology for imagemaking, the artist refuses photography’s traditional vocation as a machine of the visible. And yet the loss of optical reference in her abstract works means anything but a loss of connection to the world. Deschenes’s installations sensitize the spectator to the complex and often elliptical vectors of mediation that exceed the axis of mere representation, establishing monadic resonances between inside and outside that are by turns phenomenological, architectural, sociohistorical, and institutional. In this case, the institution will be the ICA Boston, whose midcareer retrospective for Deschenes includes more than twenty works and covers two decades of her remarkable production.
It’s hardly surprising that the art museum, with its deeply ingrained protocols of accumulation and display, has frequently been the subject of artistic (and curatorial) interrogation. Such institutional ambitions would seem to lie on the side of practices Walter Benjamin famously aligned with the impulses of “the collector”one who “brings together what belongs together” and who “by keeping in mind their affinities and their succession in time . . . can eventually furnish information” about those things. But artists whose programs are based on strategic accretions of objects of art, science, or natural history more often than not fall under Benjamin’s rubric of “allegorists,” gatherers who dislodge “things from their context” and rely on their own insights to “illuminate their meaning.” “The Artist’s Museum” explores such procedures of artistic illumination via thirty-odd works by figures such as Carol Bove, Rachel Harrison, Goshka Macuga, Christian Marclay, Xaviera Simmons, and Sara VanDerBeek; a substantial catalogue with essays by the curator, Claire Bishop, Lynne Cooke, and Ingrid Schaffner accompanies the exhibition.
Utopia: It is no place. The word evokes unrealized visions and failed attempts, and yet the idea persists. Featuring recent work, including four films and a selection of drawings and photographs within a site-specific installation, “Urth,” Ben Rivers’s first museum exhibition in the US, will explore the artist-filmmaker’s long-standing interest in imagining other worlds within and beyond our own. Whether presenting a science-fictional portrait of four island societies on a drowned planet (Slow Action, 2010) or an intimate, seasonal diary shot in his own home (Things, 2014), Rivers uses the moving image to create alternate, distinct territories. “Urth” will debut a commission shot at the Biosphere 2 ecological research center in Arizona and will include screenings of two of the artist’s feature films. A monograph coproduced with Kunstverein in Hamburg, the Camden Arts Centre in London, and the Triennale di Milano will include essays by Melissa Gronlund, Ed Halter, and Andrea Picard and a comprehensive annotated filmography.
The time-traveling sleuths behind the artist collective the Propeller Group will stage an exhibition whose inspiration, as chronicled in the accompanying catalogue, is a ceremony for reincarnation. The show will incorporate seven of the Ho Chi Minh City–based collective’s most critical forays into the ritualistic realm of death and birthembracing film, installation, and sculptureshowcasing how these social-media-harnessing artists, obsessed with ersatz historic narratives and political spin, respond to the complex historic and current sociopolitical landscape of Vietnam. The group is fascinated with the contemporary maladies of a nation caught in the prism between communist ideology and neoliberal desire. Following their showcase at the Venice Biennale and solo presentation of The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music, 2014, at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, both in 2015, this first museum show is a must-see. Travels to the Phoenix Art Museum, Feb. 15–May 14, 2017; Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, June 3–Oct. 7, 2017.