On first look, Tove Storch’s three new sculptural works—some standing, others lying directly on the floor—look like pieces of one big, rusty radiator. Upon closer inspection, though, one discovers they’re unexpectedly fragile and made of rusted metal and transparent silk with thin spaces between the layers of fabric. Creating works that look monumental but are actually light and in some ways delicate signifies a dissonance between appearance and the reality essential to her work.
Extending a Minimalist tradition wherein the inherent properties of the materials used decide the aesthetic and limits of a work, as in the output of Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, Storch also addresses the invisible forces that shape our world and adds her own elegant touch. The two mediums utilized here enter into a new and dirty relationship with each other in which the naturally occurring rust discolors the raw silk. Rather than discrete monuments to pure conceptual thought, these works reflect the natural processes of decay and contamination that living things endure. Considering the title of the standing “Pages” (all works 2014) series, every silk layer stretched inside its metal covers becomes like a page in a book. Indeed, paper and artists’ books play a dominant role in Storch’s practice, and here she elegantly transforms these rather immense metal sculptures into a poetic analogy for the art object as a container of ideas.
This show’s title, “Abandon the Parents,” invites us to subvert tradition, reject prescription, and enter a world of life, death, culture, and sex. To this end, artist and curator Henrik Olesen—with help from gallerists Daniel Buchholz and Christopher Müller—has assembled a constellation of self-discovery: 250-plus artifacts in nearly every medium. Paintings are hung three-high above densely curated vitrines of first edition books; an unplayable LP is backed by sound and video art on tiny screens. This exploded world possesses its own density—its own currents, suggestions, persuasions—indeed, its own traditions. Tom of Finland’s iconic bulging bikers make several appearances, for example—in original drawings, but also in Olesen’s collage Abschied von den Eltern (Abandon the Parents), 2003, and on the cover of a 1992 book of short stories by Phil Andros. Other works have simply the tang of liberty—such as the loosely intersecting figures in Anne Imhof’s Was tun Freund?, (What to Do Friend) 2013, or Michael Krebber’s Untitled, 1996. Elsewhere, a figure made of painted lumber by K8 Hardy and a city trash can by Klara Liden reenforce each other’s brutal anthropomorphism—like weary, post-Marxist bodies, slumped together in solidarity.
The exhibition also contains a number of impressive curatorial coups—for instance, a painting by Kristian Zahrtmann, a nineteenth-century Danish history painter and sometimes cross-dresser who rendered ladies of status with an opulence approaching drag. His Death of Queen Sophie Amalie, 1882, usually in a heavy gilt frame as part of the Statens Museum for Kunst’s permanent hang, has here been stripped down—just one of a dozen naked canvases on a particular wall—yet also rendered permeable, reentered into Olesen’s complex thesis. Many of these cross-wirings are culturally specific, and will evade most viewers; I was lucky to have if not a father, at least a Danish friend. In this world without parents, only an overflow of texts and images provides unruly guidance; casework and sculptures create dead ends; works bear the invitations of labels to “touch” or “do not touch.”
For the inaugural presentation of “Positions”—a newly launched exhibition model that continues the museum’s focus on radical, socially engaged art—Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Céline Condorelli, Bouchra Khalili, Koki Tanaka, and Charles van Otterdijk have been invited to display a substantial body of work investigating how we take a stance and position ourselves in the world. In dialogue with one another, these practices address the viability of political agency—that is, the capability of a person to act free of oppression or coercion—in the twenty-first century.
Dutch artist van Otterdijk’s cryptic installation Double Centre, 2009-2014, for instance, consists of a series of stark, fluorescent-lit rooms populated by deceptively familiar, quotidian-looking objects, which at first glance resemble functional desks, chairs, or bookcases, but upon closer inspection are eerily unidentifiable. Based on two enigmatic, undisclosed buildings that the artist discovered on the German-Polish border, the installation is chilling and unsettling; its bunker-like atmosphere recalls covert detention centers, the likes of which proliferated during the War on Terror.
Similarly concerned with how sites and nation-states are surveilled and controlled, Jordanian artist Abu Hamdan’s cacophonous Tape Echo, 2013–14, reflects on the “ethical soundscape” of Cairo (a city notorious for its unnerving din), which has, in the past few years, come under tighter military command. To record and, by extension, intervene in the city’s highly politicized audio space, the artist has recycled the cassette sermon, a media formerly used to broadcast Islamic prayer that has recently been replaced by government-sanctioned, digitally-distributed speeches. Because magnetic tape never deletes its content, only realigns it, Abu Hamdam poignantly ensures that the sermons of a not so distant, more liberated past survive as a foundation of those of a more suppressed present.
Every year, the moon drifts farther away from Earth a distance equivalent to “the length of a worm,” in the lyrical words of astronomer Chris Impey. Consequently, because of a planetary tug-of-war that slows the planet down, today was fifty-four billionths of a second longer than yesterday. Inversely, calculations suggest that, four billion years ago, the moon was ten times closer than it is now. Then, a day passed in six hours.
Gunilla Klingberg’s exhibition ponders these questions, via old and new works that reflect on the universe, its movements and, it seems perforce, on entropy, spanning from the subject of Ley lines—an alleged aligning of humanity’s monoliths—to the moon’s gradations. The predominant artwork is the exhibition’s namesake, A Sign in Space, 2012/14, a title which derives from a chapter in Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. It’s a lengthy stretch of sand intersecting the sizable Konsthall over which a paver (a truck that levels asphalt) has been driven to impress a star-shaped pattern. For another version of the piece, staged in 2012 on Laga Beach, Spain, the truck’s cylinder was rolled to imprint the same pattern on the seashore at low tide. When the tide turned, the pattern was effaced, only to be recreated every following ebb, in an eternal, cyclical return of tide and of sign. As Qfwfq, Calvino’s protagonist—who marked his place with an insignia in the Milky Way—discovered, making any sort of sign is a precarious business, whether because symbols disappear or because they lose their meaning.
The exhibition “post-excavation” takes on the moment following disinterment as its subject. Each of the exhibiting artists’ works concerns an uncovering—though none are quite about discovery, they are rather about display itself. For instance, Emanuele Becheri presents two series of found objects that share the title “32a Penton Place, Southwark, London SE17 3JT, 17 September 2010,” marking where and when the materials were found. One consists of eight old, crumpled issues of Frieze and the other of five worn-out vinyl records including Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits. As artifacts of disintegration, they’re brought back to a place within culture by an attempted resuscitation.
Dick Hedlund’s crude canvases, titled Omni, 2013, Arges 2, and Arges 3, both 2014, are pushed, stretched, and pierced with needles to the point where the fabric creates illusions of structure, reminiscent of terrestrial strata, as if feigning the look of lines in Earth marked by time. Lea Porsager’s installation Celestial Body—Disrupted Nerve Fluid and Crossed Shock Waves, 2011, consists of two metal poles horizontally suspended, crossing at eye level and effectively interrupting the space, along with two framed wall-mounted texts that expound on cosmic phenomena and magnetic fields. The texts manage to be mystifying yet elucidating, mixing symbols like crossed circles with lines such as “There had to be a bigger leap, a greater chasm of estrangement, out of reach and out of bounds for the thinking, explanatory mind. There would be no subject, just object,” which echoes the poles’ imposing, objective presence. As a whole, the works in the exhibition suggest that some things resist vision, like magnetic lines, and what is uncovered must find a new form of display.
Precursor to the riot grrrl provocatrices of the 1990s and Raymond Pettibon, Sweden’s Lena Svedberg created menacing cartoons that documented xenophobia and she displayed them at the height of her generation’s activist fever, in 1969. Her masterwork, Mr Aldman – Superhero of the Universe, 1969, which debuted at the 1969 Paris Youth Biennale, is on view at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The main character, resembling a twisted Hieronymus Bosch figure, gets to Beirut by following an oil pipeline; appearing along the way are Svedberg’s illustrations of heads of state and church leaders (including Pope Paul VI), and the flags of Israel, France, Palestine, and the US, among others. Implicating these figures and hubs of power by including them on his journey, Mr. Aldman witnesses the implosion of the Middle East’s delicate political ecosystem amid the Western pursuit of oil.
There’s no doubt that the subject matter of much of Svedberg’s artwork, especially the acidic Mr Aldman, was influenced by the brief part of her childhood spent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where her father was the ruling party’s economic advisor. Later, when Svedberg attended the Royal Academy in Stockholm, she did not engage much in creating subversive imagery until cofounding the radical satire magazine PUSS in 1968, a short-lived underground endeavor that featured surrealist, assemblaged covers.
Though Moderna Museet has owned Mr Aldman for four decades, the suite was only recently restored after sitting in disrepair. The incendiary work, as relevant as ever, merely suggests what blunt expressions of the next few tumultuous decades Svedberg’s work might have been if she had not committed suicide in 1972, at the age of twenty-six.