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.
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.
Kerry James Marshall’s art has long been read against the backdrop of the civil rights struggles of African Americans. Working within a self-imposed program of never painting a white figure, the sixty-year-old artist has spent decades offering a much-needed corrective to blind spots in Western pictorial traditions, while simultaneously representing histories too often left untold. The current climate of Black Lives Matter activism provides a devastating new lens through which to survey the Chicago-based artist’s work. Encompassing thirty-five years of Marshall’s oeuvre, and accompanied by a catalogue featuring essays by the exhibition’s curators, LA MoCA curator Lanka Tattersall, and poet and literary historian Elizabeth Alexander, “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” could hardly be more urgent. It is one of few upcoming exhibitions that promise to make waves beyond the art world. Travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Oct. 25, 2016–Jan. 30, 2017; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Feb. 26–June 17, 2017.
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.
Rainbows, prisms, and a bouquet of tulips with playful faces drawn on their petals. Industrial wastelands and barren cityscapes. Soldiers, superheroes, skeletons, and a giant squid paired with a rocket. Basim Magdy’s first-ever US museum survey offers an introduction to the Egyptian artist’s sprawling, cheerfully sinister visual vocabulary via thirty-six works from the past decade, including drawings, paintings, films, photographs, and installations that reveal a perpetual remixing of tragicomic iconography. Magdy’s materials (gouache, spray paint, pen, Super 8 film dyed with household chemicals) are seductive and nostalgic. But his use of textaxioms, aphorisms, and witticisms that are superimposed on photos and filmsis by turns bracingly critical and wry. In the accompanying catalogue, Kholeif and four other curators parse the various tensions (“word/picture,” “past/future,” “digital/analog,” “hope/disaster”) at play in Magdy’s oeuvre.