The legacy of the Anthropocene will be littered with parricide: We’ve killed God, and we’re systematically poisoning Mother Nature. How, then, will we account for the current atrocities on this planet? “The Invisible Hand,” the title of this outdoor exhibition curated by Natalie Kovacs, offers one idea, referring to Adam Smith’s concept of enlightened self-interest––a metaphysical force spurred by humankind’s persistent eye on the main chance and the collective effect of those pursuits on human affairs. The ambivalent universe on view, which takes place in the gardens of the Parc Tournay-Solvay, jostles between the utopian and dystopian, the rational and irrational. At the epicenter is global human crisis: Ein Goldener Berg (A Golden Mountain), 2014, Leonard van Munster’s sculpture in which a mound of gilded survival blankets used to rescue sea-thrown refugees––its apex peering out from the park’s central pond––serves as a towering body count (and perhaps just the tip of the iceberg) emerging from the depth of indifferent waters on which it is borne.
Fourteen profane sculptures by Joep van Lieshout are situated throughout the gardens and confront humanity’s relationship with itself and the planet through displays of questionable ethics that provoke the creation of new value systems. Witness, for example, three public acts of violation in fiberglass: Bad Man Kicking, Bad Man Hitting, and Bad Man Fisting, all 2002, life-size humanoid figures, stage politics of dominance and submission, portraying intimidation tactics through terror that exist on a level of global banality (they offered an uncouth playscape for kids the day I visited). Consoling only a little is van Lieshout’s sculpture Panta Rhei, 2011, a self-sustaining closed circuit of three Rodinesque thinkers communing via a shared cannula of thought and excrement. Here, Heraclitus’s ever-flowing stream of time begins and ends with humankind––a gruesome reminder that the hand that wipes one’s ass doubles as the hand that feeds.
On the campus of this contemporary kunsthalle on a rural Danish island, a late-nineteenth-century forge has been repurposed as a project space. For their installation piece you may cycle the layers without alteration, 2016, artists Amitai Romm and Jean Marc Routhier extend the idioms of site-specificity and artistic consultancy to the logos of neighboring businesses and organizations. They’ve collected around thirty, plus select bits of other found copy: words such as “Belladonna” and “Utopia” that, in the company of smiling water droplets or the emblem of the local TV Møn, ring with overwrought romance. Between two quaint windows the artists have arranged translucent, stringy, 3-D-printed reliefs of the words and trademarks inside two overlapping rings of metal pipe—both copper, one coated with aluminum. The pipes form a Venn diagram, as if to plot these terms, quasiscientifically, between “Truth” and “Belief.” In their slim intersection, labeled “Knowledge,” there are no logos.
This wall piece is a plan for the rest. Two intersecting spheres are projected from two stacked points within the building; where the virtual form meets the physical, the artists mark the boundary with a strip of metallic tape—copper for the lower, aluminum for the upper. The imperfect, peeling, hand-cut curves follow the rough contours of centuries-old crossbeams and pavers, dip into crevasses, and seemingly penetrate the lichened roof. Wrapped under the edges of these circles and arcs, like embossed labels pounded into a vast schema, is a second copy of the logos. Like the installation as a whole, these tabs are the gothic match of premodern metallurgy and the present, gluey state of digital artisanship. And where any expert, artist or not, claims special, systematic knowledge of brands and their magic, they too combine the blacksmith’s crude results with the alchemist’s promises.
Louisiana has been very busy. This thrilling presentation of the museum’s recent contemporary acquisitions reflects an impressive variety of media by male and female artists of divergent nationalities, races, and ages. As dynamic and heterogeneous as the show is, the themes of playfulness and political engagement continuously run through the installations, which unfold throughout the entire museum and spill onto the grounds outside.
Representative of such works is American Alex Da Corte’s Pop-infused multimedia installation Delirium – The Foolish Virgin, Scene I, 2014, which blends bright neon colors with sensuous materials and patterns to create an alternate universe reminiscent of a dreamlike disco hall. On the other end of the spectrum is Vietnamese American artist Tiffany Chung’s Finding One’s Shadow in Ruins and Rubble, 2014, which consists of thirty-one hauntingly beautiful, glowing boxes sitting on the bare gallery floor, which illuminate scenes of destroyed Syrian homes. The exhibition’s selection of works on paper is particularly strong and includes British artist Simon Evans’s detailed drawing collages, such as In the Arena of Vanguard Cities, 2013, which creatively relates the topography of cities to personal thought. Scandinavian artists are also well represented in the show. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s short film Me and My Mother, 2015, combines humor and absurdity to probe one of the most natural familial bonds. The video portrays the artist and his mother as she spits on him over and over in fascinatingly visceral detail.
Showing concurrently with “Illumination” is “Fire Under Snow,” an exciting collection of recent film and video acquisitions, which also includes playful and politically provocative works. Not to be missed is an all-encompassing and masterful installation of William Kentridge’s breathtaking The Refusal of Time, 2012.
This open-air museum, like all others, is an elaborate fiction. Confined to an island and only accessible by a footbridge, the place—with its traditional wooden buildings, original furnishings, and costumed interpreters—appears to be caught in a time warp. Commissioned by the nonprofit Checkpoint Helsinki and curated by Joanna Warsza, “Finnish Landscape” features ten local and international artists subjecting this bucolic yet artificial landscape to critical scrutiny. An outline of Seurasaari looks like an elongated leaf in Erik Bruun’s arresting graphic design created for the poster of the exhibition, which takes its title from a sonnet penned by Bertolt Brecht during his exile in Finland
One of the more playful interventions, Ilya Orlov’s A House with the View, 2016, has a mechanized, naked male mannequin shielding itself with a round, rotating landscape painting—one of the artist’s own—as if it were a fig leaf. The negative space made in freshly dug-up ground for Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Jumana Manna, and Haig Aivazian’s piece Accounts of Things and People That Have Been Moved, 2016, acts as a poignant reminder that the wooden structures housed on this island were wrenched out of their natural environment in order to be preserved here.
Presented in archival boxes throughout six guest rooms of different houses on the island, Liisa Roberts’s series of photographs titled “Remnants,” 2011–16, all taken at the Tapiola housing estate, a utopian garden city built in the 1950s, alludes to the practice of storing objects in the houses at Seurasaari for the winter, only to bring them out again in the summer. Such cycles inform Kader Attia’s video installation Mimesis as Resistance, 2013–16, featuring a lyrebird, which has the ability to imitate all natural and unnatural sounds, including that of its own unmaking.
The annual summer group show here always offers a considered and nonhierarchical interweaving of historical and contemporary art works. This year’s offering, “Bibelot,” meaning a treasured ornament, is no different. An eclectic array of artists and pieces are presented, such as a carved boar’s skull and four shell necklaces created by cannibal tribes in Borneo and Tanzania, respectively. The exhibition opens with Goshka Macuga’s Boy, 2007—a tree hung upside down with shoes attached to the bottom of two branches—paired with two nineteenth-century wooden chairs from Crete. In another room, Daniel Subkoff’s ongoing “Hanging Out” series is represented by works commissioned for this show, including Lunar Harmonics, 2016, consisting of four unprimed canvases with cutouts to hold stones and minerals, some of which were found on Hydra. The piece feels like an homage to Hydra, an island that has influenced many, including Martin Kippenberger, whose work here is an ashtray made from a laminated book cast in resin.
Object, artifact, and decoration become so enmeshed that boundaries begin to melt, such as in one 1974 painting by Vassiliki Pikoula, a naive painter who was hired as a cook in art dealer Darthea Speyer’s Hydra vacation home in the 1960s. It features Darthea Speyer and James Speyer dressed in Parisian style and holding champagne floats but rendered in a quintessentially folk manner. The painting is visible in the mirror of Mattia Bonetti’s desk, Ballerina, 1989–90, that opens up to reveal compartments in which objects by Meret Oppenheim sit with Chloe Wise’s Monogamy, 2015–16, two plastic glasses filled with fake seafood pasta. In this encounter, history’s treasures stand in proximity not only to those of the present but also to objects from the historical—and cultural—margins.
It’s strange to see Conceptualism treated like the Parthenon, but here we find a fragment of that globalizing movement subject to repatriation of a kind: a survey of internationally trained mostly Norwegian artists of the 1970s and ’80s, brought home together by the state under the sign of heritage.
Aggressively curated, wall to wall, the gluttonous and satisfying show is dominated by a twelve-foot sphere of felt (Inghild Karlsen’s Pustende ballong [Breathing Balloon], 1988); the startling abjection of a shin-high case of neatly gridded decomposing loaves of bread (Bård Breivik’s Moldy Bread, 1971/1974); and Oddvar I. N. Daren and Lars Paalgaard’s Humus line, 1984, a mound row made of ash and garbage flanked by speakers and a television naming the materials—recalling, with baroque elaboration, Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965.
Sardonically distorted echoes of such orthodox-Conceptualist icons also ring in the quieter works beyond—among them, Daren’s Measuring the Depth of the Snow, 1981, which documents the artist standing in an incrementally deeper hole beside the corresponding blocks of snow he has extracted—a clear (cold-region) Mono-ha appropriation; and Carl Andre’s bricks imagined as a faulty demonstration of Pythagoras,1978, by Paul Brand, in which a triangle is negatively formed by squares (we get the concept at a glance until we realize bricks are oblong, making their numerical relationships a rabbit hole).
All the ice, wool, and revisionism here inflect the exhibition’s title, “Silent Revolt,” as against not just commoditized aesthetics (as a more familiar narrative would have it), but also perhaps as national particularities against the purportedly universal character of Conceptual art itself, a conflict Zoë Sutherland convincingly chronicles in a recent essay for the New Left Review.
The phrase “Swedish design” usually conjures a range of hugely popular stylistic conventions rather than works by individual designers. Therefore, this show’s effort to locate the emergence of the style in its original context between the 1930s and the 1960s, while highlighting the vital roles played by female designers, is helpful toward gaining deeper insight into one of the most dominant influences in our built environment today.
The exhibition successfully strikes the right balance between being seductive and informative. The irresistibly appealing design objects are expertly displayed, while the informational texts, accompanied by carefully selected archival photographs and publications, anchor these artifacts in the time and circumstances of their production, from the advent of a scientific and egalitarian approach to design and homemaking in the 1930s to the new post–World War II social and economic order. Several examples here, such as Ingeborg Lundin’s glass object Apple, 1955, speak to how changes in industry during this era enabled women to enter previously male-dominated disciplines. The correspondence between artistic forms and society is evoked, for instance, by Finland-born Viola Gråsten, who relocated to Sweden in 1944 due to a shortage of wool—her dazzling Oomph fabric from 1952 gave this show its name.
Because these designers’ primary objective was to integrate modern design into everyday reality as opposed to revolutionary grandstanding—for example, Lena Larsson pioneered flat-pack furniture—it is hard to fully grasp the extent of their influence. For a non-Swedish audience, what is most astonishing is how familiar the visual language of these pieces feels. This testifies to the extent in which these designers continue to define our sense of what constitutes the ideal living environment and, consequently, our notion of well-being.
Differentiating between public and private spheres can be challenging. This group exhibition focuses on how one might successfully share a subjective experience when most individuals are conditioned to distance themselves from others. All four artists in the show experiment with documentary formats, spanning installation, video, painting, and cinematic offshoots. It is easy to oversimplify an observed experience in social media, where an influx of sensationalist explosions and a saturation of stimuli push one to absorb information. This show slows down processing and considers one human factor at a time.
Ylva Ogland’s “Transmutation” series, 2008–2016, consists of four diptychs depicting the artist with her father; these paintings are framed by a visceral red backdrop, which is the artist’s trademark. Johan Thurfjell offers a minicinema resembling an architectural model for his film Dobar Cú, 2014, in which a “dark wet hound,” as described by the artist, guards a secret underworld; Thurfjell also displays a cluster of soft-hued paintings titled Prolog, 2011, perhaps to be interpreted as film stills translated into another form. Most impressive was Magdalena Dziurlikowska’s video Corona Radiata (The Radiating Crown), 2016, which examines her personal struggle with pregnancy and miscarriage as a woman in her late thirties. Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena’s project “Noviembre,” 2014–, includes the delicate book Juan-Pedro and Vania Go to the Zoo, 1974, and a large-scale magazine collage, El Gurrumino, 2014. All works relay the sentiment that each person carries an intimate perspective worth acknowledging—one that often can be seen to parallel those of others, if examined.