This show’s title, “Märzôschnee űnd Wiebôrweh sand am Môargô niana më” (Snow in March and Women’s Pain Disappears the Day After), while cryptic, is much like the other citations present in much of Rosemarie Trockel’s work. If this artist has underlined, for over three decades, the fact that people are not defined by biology so much as by personal perspectives, her point is driven home here with a panoply of allusions and projections.
On the first floor, neatly hung Photoshop collages are superimposed in two registers, (re)framing bodily forms and blending characters from Trockel’s entourage with patterns and aspects of materiality. Their concrete frames simultaneously merge with and stand out against the gallery’s grčge walls. One floor above, Trockel criticizes Minimalism via striped knitting pieces displayed, as if for an absent audience, on knee-high sofa-like sculptures resting upon rugs. The carpets’ layout forms an angle that is accentuated by another work: a low table-like sculpture supporting rectangular ceramic pieces, partly covered by a black rag.
In the top-floor gallery, earlier ceramic works cut striking figures within a series of white moldings underpinned by a thin metal stand; the work’s title, Avalanche, 2008, seems to evoke snowy Austrian landscapes. Meanwhile, in The Critic, 2015, the wax figure of a young girl wearing huntsman garb, placed beside a dusty easel, remodels specific traditional clothing. Viewers are left to decide whether to see her as Trockel’s alter ego or to take her as their own role model.
Andrea Fraser’s current survey demonstrates just how light-footed and witty institutional critique can be, without forfeiting its edge. Fraser’s multifaceted works from the past thirty years are presented in a richly varied installation. In her videos, one sees the artist as a gifted actress in the most diverse roles—all of which cut to her proverbial body. In Little Frank and His Carp, 2001, for instance, we see her rub up against the architecture of the Guggenheim Bilbao, as directed by the bizarre text of an audio guide, astonishing the other visitors. In May I Help You?, 1991, she takes the rhetoric of contemporary art as her theme. We see performers acting as the staff of American Fine Arts, Co., in New York, overseeing an exhibition of Allan McCollum’s “Plaster Surrogates.” They begin to speak as soon as visitors enter the space—sometimes from the standpoint of an insider art connoisseur, other times from the perspective of a person who feels excluded from the goings-on of the art world.
The high point of the show is the rarely exhibited work Collected: The Lady Wallace’s Inventory, 1997, which gathers twenty-five text works on paper wherein the artist takes up the inclusionary and exclusionary mechanisms of a private London art collection by listing all the objects that are not on display, remaining unnoticed in the archive. With this work Fraser pays tribute to previous Conceptualists on the level of content and form alike.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Among Austrian artists, Hans Schabus is the master builder of the guild. Now, in his current exhibition, “Autopsy with Forklift,” he has placed a large object in the gallery that, from the outside, evokes a DIY aesthetic—one similar to his earlier space-within-a-space works, leaving the modular wood components and functional construction exposed. The representative character of the exterior view shifts, however, in the silver-toned inner space. Every Wednesday at 7:00 PM, the artist opens the doors of Café Hansi, positions himself behind the bar, and serves his guests. He offers Hansa beer, wine, water, and schnapps from drinking vessels he has made. The charm of this temporary bar does not consist only in that a gallery and an artwork are transformed into a hotspot. Rather, it shows that art and bar hangouts both derive from the genius of the place to the same degree. The president of the Vienna Secession, Herwig Kempinger, has already attested to this bar’s cult status and compared it to Adolf Loos’s famous American Bar in the heart of the city. (The reflective walls here nod to that venue.) In addition, Café Hansi is equipped with a small kitchen as well as a functioning bathroom. The drainpipe, which snakes through the gallery and the walls, is connected to the sewage system.
On the exterior walls of this social sculpture, Schabus has applied select pieces from his personal collection—assembled over many years—of placards, posters, and other gadgets containing his first name. One might smile when one reads the permutations of the word Hans, such as in the fairy tales Hansel and Gretel and Hans in Luck, or in the names of companies such as Junghans and Hansaplast, or in the star of Austrian pop Hansi Hinterseer.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Elusive and opaque, Josef Strau’s art is guided by an internal logic felt throughout his exhibitions. In his first institutional solo show in his native Austria, Strau presents an expansive and intricately layered installation collectively titled “A Turtle Dreaming (. . . Echoes from an Encapsulated Space Exiled Sounds of Letters Requiring Symphonic Treatment),” and framed by a series of eighty posters featuring the artist’s signature arrangements of text—often interrupted by photographs of a snowy New York. Four pavilions are positioned throughout the space, made of modest materials such as plywood and populated by sculptures of turtles, symbolizing the romantic ideal of an artist as a dreamer, together with flat-screen monitors each showing a fragment of a video depicting the same urban subject matter as the photographs. Each pavilion is named after an American composer or a piece of music that pays homage to American landscapes, such as The Hudson River and the Echo of the Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin, 2015. The emotional register of the music to which Strau alludes echoes the romantic image of a cityscape in winter.
What is on display here is not primarily the individual objects but the methodology that brought them together. What Strau presents is a way of working and of being as an artist. In this exhibition in particular, his methodology is akin to that of music, with the installation unfolding like a composition containing many elements and cryptic progressions. The four pavilions function like movements of a symphony, and the posters resemble graphic scores. Just as with scores, their meaning depends on the interpretation of the performers, which in this case is the audience.
On a communicative collision course, the duo of Krüger&Pardeller—artists Doris Krüger and Walter Pardeller—allow not only different artistic fields of action but also different times and biographies as well as formal and material languages to crash into one another in their solo exhibition. In their installation titled Homo Faber, 2014, they juxtapose their own practice with the work of one of the most important Austrian sculptors of the twentieth century, Fritz Wotruba. The concept of “homo faber,” articulated by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition as a question of that being who actively participates in his environment, thereby changing and shaping it, serves as a connecting thread between these two bodies of work. Central not only to Arendt’s theory but also to Krüger&Pardeller’s is the time and labor of artistic production.
In this extensive installation a stage set displays their works, including a photographic wallpaper piece, within a system of partition walls, pedestals, platforms, and varied sightlines. Added to that are the sculptures of Wotruba, such as the bronze-cast Kleine stehende Figur (Small Standing Figure), 1961, in the interior space of the installation, or the bronze Sitzender (Seated Subject), 1946–47, in the exterior space. The individual elements of Homo Faber are connected on a conceptual level via Arendt and through an ephemeral soundscape that fills and permeates the space, amplifying the voice of Wotruba himself, who speaks about the idea of artistic production as a “moral principle” and as “resistance.” Wotruba’s archives happen to be housed in this venue, and Krüger&Pardeller discovered this sound document in the archive, had it digitized, and have embedded it as a point of departure for their own self-reflexive and critical sculptural praxis.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
For “The Gallery Show,” Jun Yang presents works from the past fourteen years. Born in China, raised in Austria, and currently residing in Vienna, Taipei, and Yokohama, Yang spent more than a decade between cultures—metaphorically and literally between schnitzel and chop suey. One might describe this condition as being lost in translation, if Yang did not so fruitfully mine the in-between and make it a central theme of his practice.
Exemplary in this regard here are framed posters (Eat Drink Art Business) and a wallpaper piece (Goldenes Zimmer [Golden Room], both 2015). In combination, the two works visualize the moment that defines the artist’s everyday life. Eat Drink Art Business reflects on projects in gastronomy such as the well-loved Viennese restaurant ra’mien, which Yang established with his brother. The red of the two-color print is ultimately counteracted by the yellow of Goldenes Zimmer, a wallpaper with repeating Wiener schnitzel motifs, on which the posters have been hung.
The backstory for Goldenes Zimmer is a myth according to which schnitzel’s breadcrumb coating originally served as a replacement for the expensive gold leaf that was once used to decorate food. The golden-baked dish thus here becomes pattern and ornament—much as the economically quite successful restaurant projects of Yang on the framed posters become decoration and pure surface. The question in this context is not so much what gets lost from and between cultures in translation, but rather, what can one gain through such interpretive achievement?
Translated from German from Diana Reese.
Charred circuit boards crossed with fractured cosmologies or perhaps cybernetic mandalas—that’s initially what one thinks of staring down many of Jack Whitten’s recent paintings. Others evoke aerial views of scarred landscapes or glittering, master-planned metropoles. Yet their tactile surfaces leaven their severity. Individual works name check Alexis Tsipras, among others, but this exhibition’s title, “Escalation,” announces a sort of arms race for abstract painting’s engagement with the world by an artist who has long emphasized painting as a technology. Here, acrylic tesserae from a process in which paint is layered, molded, dried, and chopped are arranged across the surfaces of these paintings. The results are discontinuous mosaics, fractured into discrete bits of data suggesting a digital logic. But this method never becomes programmatic; in Escalation II (x2 + y2 = 1) For Alexander Grothendieck, 2014, an opalescent film shimmers over the hard-edged tesserae it veils while tangled bands of paint coil atop other panels.
The culmination of this show is the tripartite The Birth of Jazz (Point/Wave/Point), 2015, which revives the artist’s technique of dragging still-wet acrylic across his surfaces. The squeegee-swiped grisaille of its central section introduces a televisual space into Whitten’s dense constellations of material, process, and information. All of the compressed matter in the mosaic panels bounding either side of this work seems to accelerate, beamed back and forth across the painting in correlations both haptic and optic. These are works that feel deeply encoded—secular storage devices that index objects of devotion and persons of interest, truly invested in both the anchors of the lived present and the history of their medium.
Imagine “Peace.” No John and Yoko here—it’s Zak Kitnick’s exhibition title, and he’s cooking up something more fungible. Visitors are greeted by a poster reproduction presenting a buffet of olive-related products under the heading “L’OLIVE / THE OLIVE.” Titled Lifetime Archievement (all works 2015), it suggests the double-sided character of linguistic translations in Kitnick’s enterprise. Proceeding upstairs, steel panels with printed stock photos of olive branches literalize the symbol of peace. How to best distribute this concept in reified form? Press the pictured cash crop into liquid asset: Back downstairs, ceiling-mounted fixtures are ready to dispense olive oil from bottles onto the heads of gallery attendees. Apparently anticipating this eventuality, the other works on the floor incorporate umbrellas. Consider the installation vertically integrated.
Kitnick’s exhibition is a droll burlesque of entrepreneurial mantras in which economic and alimentary figures of consumption collude. In Water for Chocolat, folding tables exhibit a grid of cheap umbrellas printed with the printed logo of “Conch U.S.A. Inc.”—in other words, a shell umbrella corporation here diagramming modernist abstraction. You can practically smell Broodthaers’s moules.
That initial olive poster is likely sourced from Nouvelles Images, a French publisher of “image products.” On their website, the company’s sixty-year history is recounted through a series of “disruptive” epiphanies, such as “1970: Intuition #2: And what if images, in all their forms, became a market?” Kitnick gives such statements their due in kitsch souvenirs for art tourists. As signaled by the picture Stressed Desserts, he adopts the palindrome as a heuristic device for mirroring the logic of reification. The linguistic engine driving the work is hilariously dumb, as if metaphors were being interpreted by algorithmic shoppers. Eventually the laughter dies out, the image market grinds on.
More than one thread links the works in this sophisticated group show, which considers revisitation as a form of creation and reflection on art as an art form. Seven sheets of paper from Ian Wilson attest to six discussions he had with Daniel Buren in Paris between 1970 and 1980, and include a title page signed by both artists. Joachim Koester revisits Hans Haacke’s most famous (and controversial) work thirty-five years later for Histories. Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. 312 East 3rd Street, Manhattan, New York, 1971, 2005. In Passaic Seems Full of Holes, 2012, Koester concentrates, almost like a detective, on a New Jersey newspaper that came out the same day that Robert Smithson made his celebrated tour of “The Monuments of Passaic.” The subject of Maud Capturing the Light ‘On a Clear Day,’ 2015, Manon de Boer’s short, exquisite 16-mm film, is a print by Agnes Martin—de Boer asked the collector who owns the work to film it.
Besides a set of conceptual preoccupations, what these works share is an intense sense of time: time that has passed or that is passing. This is the stated or implicit subject of the works of the two younger artists, in their thoughtful contemplation of the decades that separate old and new Conceptual photography (Koester) or of a present that dissipates like sunlight on the glass that covers a print (de Boer). Given the context, even Wilson’s laconic documents seem like permanently sealed time capsules, the content of which (attested to in the conversations) cannot be known by anyone.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
When Jean Dubuffet coined the term art brut, he did so out of reverence for those outsiders of the art world whose authenticity drew as much from their asocial behavior or mental illness as from their resolve to put all they had into their artwork. This gathering of work from the abcd collection—presented with Mario Del Curto’s photo portraits of the artists—would almost be too didactic, but with fervor comes momentum, and across many mediums, from the tribulations of Henry Darger’s watercolors of little girls, to Judith Scott’s lumpy fiber compositions hanging low above the floor, to Koji Nishioka’s ink drawings of musical scores morphing into swirling vortexes on paper, a common troubled intensity emerges. Bordering on obsession, these hybrid works by more than sixty artists spread through space, physically and mentally via the recycling of discarded material or by relentless markings—as in Zdeněk Košek’s Untitled, c. 1990, febrile graffiti on newspapers and magazines, or Guyodo’s untitled incarnations of humanoid forms, done in ballpoint on cereal boxes.
A rummaging documentation of time, however undated and untitled, runs wildly through this so-called raw art. And at times brilliantly so, as in Lubos Plny’s mixed-media drawings. An artist who often blends phantasmagoric representations and medical sketches, and incorporates blood and hair, Plny here used his parents’ ashes in Mother and Father, both 2009. Each drawing contains the ashes in a round capsule at the center, and spiraling around them are the dates of every single day they were alive, making it a diptych homage.
This expansive multimedia exhibition makes clear the extensive purview and inventiveness of Danish artists’ responses to the social, sexual, and political upheavals of 1965 to 1975. The show emphasizes the different ways in which artists sourced popular culture, explored the body and performance as media, adopted collective authorship, and participated in events—all as means for creating socially conscious work. Of the several experimental films that form the core of the exhibition, The Female Christ II: The Expulsion from the Temple, 1969, best integrates these concerns. It presents Bjřrn Nřrgaard’s iconic recording of a naked Lene Adler Petersen nonchalantly carrying a cross through the Copenhagen Stock Exchange, to the utter bewilderment of suited white brokers, in a pointed feminist infiltration of Danish commerce.
Five smaller rooms to the side of one of the galleries especially accentuate the provisional and polemical aspects of collective events. One room re-creates “The Camp,” a 1970 installation in which artists lived and worked with their children as part of “Damebilleder” (Images of Women), one of the first feminist exhibitions in the world. (It occurred in Rĺdskćlderen, a small space at Charlottenborg by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and at Trefoldigheden, a building near Den Frie Udstillingsbygning.) In another room, Nřrgaard’s 1969 film Slump depicts an experimental settlement that undertook random creative acts. A third room presents the interdisciplinary trials of Eks-skolen, an alternative art school co-founded by Per Kirkeby and art historian Troels Andersen in 1961. The fourth room offers documentation from “Women’s Exhibition XX,” a 1975 show that included readings, discussions, and works by international artists as well as nonartists. The final room offers the sensory spaces of architect Carsten Hoff and artist Susanne Ussing. As with the exhibition as a whole, these galleries encourage visitors to contemplate the innovative nature of the original events and address afresh the questions those moments posed.
Deceptively immaterial yet richly layered, thirty of Peter Doig’s wall-size paintings, along with dozens of prints and studies, open like portals into other dimensions—temporal, physical, metaphysical. Arranged neither thematically nor chronologically, the paintings often appear to shimmer in and out of focus, like panes of stained glass stacked atop varying light sources. In Milky Way, 1989–90, a black panel of pointillist stars is reflected in water, bordered by moonlit lime-green foliage. Cinematic yet still, the painting shows Doig’s early interest in capturing darkness and light, shadows and organic mirrors in nature—as well as the boundaries of horizons.
Doig’s tangible evocations of pathos and place thread together early and more recent works: Some are quite narrative, such as House of Pictures, 2000–2002, in which a cloaked, russet-haired man peers into dark pictures (or are they windows reflecting the twilit city behind him?); others, such as the spooky silhouetted Man Dressed as a Bat, 2007, seem like surreal embodiments of the subconscious.
With the celestial concerns and apparitional quality of fellow Trinidad resident Chris Ofili’s paintings, and the kaleidoscopic airiness of Pierre Bonnard, Doig’s depictions of nature nod to Impressionism and, in the high-concept art atmosphere of 2015, a refreshing subscription to the singular power of pictures. By using photographic (and occasional cinematic) references as well as his own memories, Doig constructs images that register in phases; looking at his work is not unlike recalling a dream. Yet by leading one’s perception through various channels and layers of recognition, Doig generates a heightened reality that tests the truth of our senses.
The painter and sculptor Lars-Gunnar Nordström was a self-taught artist who began his career as a kind of cubist primitivist but soon moved on to a severe form of Concrete art. In 1949, he was the first artist in Finland to show abstract artworks. Today he is considered a Nordic classic.
During his formative years in the late 1940s and ’50s, Nordström divided his time between Finland and Sweden, often also spending time in Paris, where he met American artists including Ellsworth Kelly. Visits to New York in the ’60s brought him in contact with Stuart Davis, Josef Albers, and others. As this excellent retrospective shows, his subsequent works reflect American influences in their increased size and scale, both with multiple panels and shaped surfaces.
A typical Nordström painting is nevertheless a single panel composed of tightly interlocking forms with razor-sharp edges, painted with industrial enamels without visible brushstrokes—a bold, challenging work allowing the viewer to see its rhythmic and spatial dynamics, its swing. The result feels much like traditional jazz with its syncopated horns. Thus it is no surprise to learn that the artist had a collection of 11,000 jazz records and that he enjoyed playing (and teaching himself) the trumpet.
This is the first time the French School at Athens has opened its garden to the public—a result of the second collaboration between the Athens-based nonprofit NEON and the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The setting makes this exhibition, intended for a general audience, a success due to the garden’s kinship with many of the works on view. Never has Yayoi Kusama made so much sense, thanks to the placement of a bronze pumpkin sculpture with a black pattern—Pumpkin (M), 2014—on a patch of verdant grass. Likewise, Angus Fairhurst’s The Birth of Consistency, 2004, a bronze gorilla staring into a mirror pool in homage to Narcissus, seems to have found its rightful place in the world in a nearby clearing. Then there is Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne’s large-scale inflatable sculpture of ’90s pop icon Betty Boo, 2012, coyly positioned amid a group of slender trees.
There is a whimsical sense of discovery created by the garden site. Works by Dionisis Kavallieratos, Athanasios Argianas, and Markus Karstieß are not at first readily visible, for instance, and there is a playful sincerity to the hunt to find them. Allora & Calzadilla’s Hope Hippo, 2015, makes a particular impact: The work consists of a rotation of attendants who each sit atop a giant hippo sculpted from earth, reading daily newspapers and blowing a whistle every time an injustice is perceived. This whistleblowing punctuates the idyll of the garden space with good intentions, just as the works in this exhibition have been inserted into a grounded, contemplative space so as to illuminate meaning without the noise of the marketplace.
While the full title of Kim Gordon’s current solo exhibition—“Design Office: Noise Name Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands that are Broken Up”—makes direct allusion to the concept of noise, the show itself might just as easily be characterized by the dramatic effect of silence that it invokes on both visual and thematic levels. The main walls of the long gallery space are lined with black-and-white paintings that memorialize and canonize current noise bands as well as groups that are now defunct. Distinctly nonfigurative, the paintings still bear some affinity to icons; they contain only the written names of bands—such as the Stooges, Noise Nomads, or Secret Abuse—some of which are known for interspersing textured and often dissonant sounds with long stretches of silence.
Five of Gordon’s paintings are muted by their illegibility; these unstretched canvases have been scrunched into sculptural mounds and placed directly onto the gallery floor as if discarded. The graffiti-like drips of black paint that slide down from cursorily rendered letters in each piece are still visible, yet the full names are buried within the folds and swells of canvas.
Despite the generous amount of breathing room given to the works, the exhibition space is not actually silent; an opening-night performance by Gordon’s current musical duo, “Body/Head,” is projected from speakers at the gallery entrance. Yet this ambient sound track complements the reflective atmosphere created by the sparse arrangement of works, which lead towards a large concave mirror positioned like an altar at the back.
This exhibition is a strangely sympathetic dialogue between a pair of perennial rebels whose work transgresses and lampoons popular norms through approaches that surf seamlessly between mediums to critique and contaminate artistic conventions. Paul McCarthy and Georg Baselitz have both long been occupied with exorcising their devils in various stylistic expressions—the American a hysterical clown acting out the hypocrisy of a capitalist society, the German an angry antihero expressing the guilt of history.
The Sturm und Drang is introduced immediately by two monumental sculptures: McCarthy’s White Snow, Flower Girl, 2012–13, a voluptuous walnut sculpture of Snow White as mirror-image Siamese twins holding floral bouquets; and Baselitz’s BDM Group, 2012, three monolithic bronze figures portraying girls from a Nazi youth group rendered in featureless black surfaces that give the appearance of burnt, rough-hewn wood. On another floor, the artists debunk the myth of the romantic hero. Baselitz’s paintings Economy, 1965, and M. M. M. in G and A, 1961–66, are satirical caricatures of big mountain men with small heads, the former’s robust but useless manhood bursting from his lederhosen. Meanwhile McCarthy’s Alpine Man, 1992, mechanically humps a beer barrel. Elsewhere, an unsettlingly realistic dummy of McCarthy, Horizontal, 2012, lies on a table—in the tradition of a dead Christ painting—in front of Baselitz’s Eagle in Bed, 1982, a self-portrait mostly devoid of color. Here we understand how McCarthy, who likens performance to painting and sculpture to frozen performance, has made himself a character to act out rituals in search of catharsis—from facing the fear to being the beast. In that light, Baselitz’s works become disingenuous, even maudlin. The comparison is profound and comic, portraying the two artists as existential jokers wallowing in the abject so we don’t have to. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The exhibition “Dio Horia in Mykonos” marks the launch of a platform for reviving the Greek island of Mykonos—famed for its Kardashian-grade holiday scene—as a summer salon. Curated by Dio Horia founder Marina Vranopoulou, this inaugural exhibition brings together a vast number of works by international and Greek artists, across two floors. These include Honza Zamojski’s Father God, 2014, a large spectacle-wearing stone placed atop an elegant blue column; Aleksandar Todorovic’s Iconostasis of Communism, 2008, in which the history of Marxism is told in the language of Eastern Orthodox iconography with watercolor, ink, and acrylic on paper; and a duo of ceramic figures by Dionisis Kavallieratos that includes a coy Death holding down his robe like it’s Marilyn’s skirt and Margaret Thatcher holding a scythe, standing beside Death like Sancho Panza. Many works were commissioned for the site: Atelier Arizona’s elegant brass appendage attached to the outside wall of the building, Untitled (“Stairway to Heaven”): An Architectural Landmark, 2015, takes its design from the windmills of Mykonos, while Selma Parlour’s blue color study Dio, 2015, was inspired by the particular light of the Aegean that Henry Miller once described as pure illumination.
There is indeed an unexpected weightlessness to the show that does not detract from the context at hand: the Greek crisis. But rather than cast shadows, the exhibition sheds light on an alternative view. Take Elias Kafouros’s hyperrealistic acrylic-on-wood compositions, in which aspects of contemporary life—such as a man with binoculars, a street stall with newspapers, statues of the Olympian gods, and wire fences—are used to compose mandalas. Form follows chaos.
If this group exhibition feels breezier than most, it’s not just the five electric fans in László László Révész’s drawing Verti, 2008. This breath of fresh air comes courtesy of curator Zita Sárvári, whose “On Paper II” takes the popular conceit of the summer works-on-paper show and infuses it with a vibrancy and spontaneity rarely associated with the genre. Some of this dynamism stems from Sárvári’s rejection of the unspoken mandate that works on paper must be limited to two dimensions: Ádám Ulbert’s watercolors are slathered in polyurethane then dangled from laths using pins; Csaba Szentesi stacks intricately contoured cut-outs into collages set out from the wall; Enikő Márton shapes chipboard into freestanding hexagons coated in undiluted acrylic hues; and Zsófia Keresztes fashions her object-assemblages from scraps of Plasticine or discarded iPhone instructions. Keresztes’s untitled floor sculpture from 2015 is anchored by the box for an Apple iMac, which features a full-screen shot of Yosemite’s Half Dome set against a silky, cantaloupe-colored sky. The artist builds this image out to create a miniature mountain range around the box, transplanting the desktop image into its “natural” landscape.
But works need not be sculptural to steal the show. Amid the strong gestural swoops and electric color palettes of emerging talents such as Ulbert, Szentesi, and István Halmi-Horváth, two 2003 tempera abstractions by István Nádler—who at seventy-seven is one of Hungary’s most celebrated artists—crackle with an intensity that feels truly just out of the box.
Spread over four oddly shaped rooms, this tight-knit exhibition begins with a portrait gallery of cardboard cutouts mounted on the walls. Roughly sketched out, effigies of Cicero and Giordano Bruno rub shoulders with those of Chinese revolutionary heroes as well as some token household items (a bathtub, a typewriter) tucked away at one end. Affixed to wooden poles or borne on shoulders, these effigies are among the trophies carried by members of the shadow procession unfolding across eight screens in William Kentridge’s new video installation, More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2015, around which the show is built.
Filmed walking on a raised platform in a studio, the performers—some of whom are sheathed in plastic, which partly obscures their colorful clothing and forms a luminous halo around each figure—are perfectly framed by a glowering sky and some straggly vegetation in Kentridge’s animated charcoal drawings. In this layered work, color and monochrome, movement and stasis, reality and fantasy, combine into one fluid whole to beguiling effect.
An even wider range of animation techniques is deployed in Other Faces, 2011, the latest in Kentridge’s “Drawings for Projection” series, 1989–, and in the eight-screen video installation I Am Not Me, the Horse Is Not Mine, 2008, which presents thematic and formal overlaps with the new work. I Am Not Me grew out of the artist’s work on Dmitri Shostakovich’s satirical opera The Nose (1928) for the Metropolitan Opera in 2010, just as More Sweetly was developed alongside a new production of Alban Berg’s Lulu (1935) that Kentridge directed in 2015 at the Dutch National Opera.
Not long ago, I earned a well-deserved three Euros for sharing my thoughts on capitalism with what seemed to be a Stedelijk Museum employee facilitating Tino Sehgal’s “situation” This is Exchange, 2002. It was the fifth of the twenty or so situations that the Stedelijk is presenting throughout 2015, in the largest exhibition of his work to date. A week later, when I returned with a friend, the compensation had gone down to two Euros, as the budget didn’t reflect the overwhelming public attention the situation received—a convincing illustration of capitalist supply and demand.
Generally Sehgal’s situations come in two types: those in which the audience is spoken or sung to, raising awareness of socioeconomic and cultural issues (see This is propaganda, 2002, This is new, 2003, and This is so contemporary, 2004); and those that are self contained and create a barrier that only allows the audience to observe. These choreographed situations, which reveal Sehgal’s background as a dancer, are much more convincing than his Brechtian Lehrstücke (learning-plays) where, supposedly, the screen between performer and audience is lifted. In This is Exchange suspension of disbelief stops abruptly as you notice the museum employee is in fact an actor, and in This is propaganda, the tune just feels awkward.
The domain in which the artist most excels is the creation of highly intimate dances, as in: Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, 2000; Kiss, 2002; and Yet Untitled, 2013. In these, Sehgal shuts the viewer out, and the dancer’s concentrated movements and interactions sublimate reality.
Imagine sending someone a breakup text and signing off with a sad-face emoji. A nineteenth-century equivalent to this modern-day perversity can be found in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, (1857) when the womanizing Rodolphe writes his farewell letter to Emma and leaves the ink blotted with ready-made “tears” sourced from a nearby glass of water. Cally Spooner’s exhibition “On False Tears and Outsourcing” takes Rodolphe’s letter as one starting point to investigate instances when emotional excess is employed as a managerial strategy for maximum efficiency and gain.
The first phase of this live exhibition saw Spooner choreograph a sequence for six dancers in which gestures are appropriated from corporate team-building exercises well as rugby scrums—where bodies are interlocked in a collective effort to activate competitive aggression. For the show’s second phase, Spooner hosted a course in method acting for financiers focusing on techniques for producing tears on command, and throughout August she’ll be working with a group of singers on a vocal piece dealing with time-sensitive instructions. If the ideas still feel somewhat sprawling and raw, that’s part of the appeal of seeing new work in developmental stages.
Running parallel to the exhibition is a group show curated by Spooner and Vleeshal’s new director Roos Gortzak. Works by artists including Rosa Aiello, Bernadette Corporation, Andrea Fraser, and Jef Geys further draw out ideas around labor, outsourcing, and the lucrative extraction of affect. The exhibition title comes from Bruce Nauman’s 1986 video Violent Incident, a twenty-eight-second loop installed at the entrance to the show, which brilliantly encapsulates Spooner’s running concern with passionate outbursts becoming purely technical processes.
The title of Norwegian artist Ane Hjort Guttu’s exhibition of five film and installation works, “Eating or Opening a Window or Just Walking Dully Along,” refers to a line in W. H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” describing artists’ portrayals of people’s busy indifference to those who suffer. Like Auden does in his poem, the characters in Guttu’s ambitious film Time Passes, 2015, reflect on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ca. 1558, and its depiction of farmers and seamen oblivious to Icarus, just fallen from the sun, splashing in the sea beside them. The film’s protagonist, Damla, eventually experiences an existential crisis brought on by her performance piece of sitting with Bianca, a Roma woman, on Bergen streets. By the end of the film, Damla deeply identifies with Bianca and refuses to document her work, insisting that doing so would compromise the integrity of her acts.
In other works, the artist continues to explore individuals’ passive participation in and pathological acceptance of societal power dynamics. For example, her light-box kiosk, Jason, 2015, arrestingly contrasts splashy advertising with an e-mail correspondence between Guttu and a digital ad editor who secretly inserts subliminal imagery that works against his ads’ intended message.
This exhibition is a timely confrontation with Bergen’s current political landscape: the city has recently awarded its first contract with a major advertising agency as it weighs legislation that would outlaw street begging. By commenting directly on sanctioned infiltration of public and intellectual space, the artist speaks equally to global matters of net neutrality and the co-opting of personal data for commercial gain. Like Bruegel’s farmers, we casually ignore greater forces in our surroundings.
A group exhibition curated by Elisabeth Byre, “Young Pioneers” exhibits a diverse array of new art from Oslo-based artists who reinforce the notion that the progressive city demands more attention in the face of being usurped in international standing by others cities that are equally forward-thinking and conscientious. In conjunction with Oslo’s multiple current initiatives revolving around brand-management strategies, the Kunsthall and other organizations have been invited to collectively respond by showcasing the city’s emerging and fresh talent of tomorrow.
The works presented in the exhibition examine this theme utilizing a range of mediums including architecture, sculpture, video, archival photographs, and even documentation of the Norwegian Communist Youth, locally known as the Unge Pionerer. Many works harbor a raw energy and edgy determination to dominate or push themselves into one’s view, such as in Kjell Varvin's royal-blue sculpture Unstable Variable 29th April 2015, 2015, which consists of an angular standing design enforcing its own logic. The structure is seemingly imbalanced yet manages to gracefully hold attention with its domineering stance. Another enticing work on display is Benjamin Alexander Huseby’s black-and-white C-print diptych The Stuntwoman I & II, 2014, which depicts the Dutch stuntwoman Vanessa Wieduwilt in the midst of either jumping from a high-rise or dangerously hanging from one. This visual dichotomy draws attention to an existing tension present in Oslo’s youth, a reminder that one can either choose to move forward into the future or sheepishly resign oneself to a well-trodden path.
Heavy with materiality, ornamentation, and pattern, the forty intricately woven wool tapestries by Hannah Ryggen in this exhibition have an odd, cartoonish aesthetic apt to send a snicker to the lips—all too often only to be choked back by the weight of her content. A left-wing pacifist, Ryggen spent most of her life working in the remote region of Řrlandet, Norway. Newspapers informed her of world events, which stirred her firm political beliefs into ambitious and powerful statements capturing key developments of her time. From her earliest major works, Ryggen addressed moral themes, and as the world tilted into political unrest in the 1930s her objections grew. It is in works such as The Death of Dreams, 1936—which depicts the Nazi imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Carl von Ossietzky—that Ryggen’s jarring combination of nonfiction and visual humor brings home her message.
By the end of World War II, her somber subjects became interwoven with uplifting, playful themes such as love, nature, utopia, and portraiture. In these, the smiles piqued by Ryggen’s aesthetic compound the pleasant optimism and cheeky sense of humor radiating from the works. However, Ryggen’s political critique never subsided; American involvement in Vietnam motivated her final protest work, Blood in the Grass, 1966, which caricatures President Lyndon B. Johnson flanked by a tufted green lawn cut by lines of red.
Ryggen’s strongest pieces here pivot on their tensions—awkward and shocking, serious and amusing, at times optimistic, at others despairing, but always sincere and forthright.
Janek Simon’s current solo exhibition, “People with the heads of dogs,” is as much a reflection on the phenomenon of travellers’ confabulations about their journeys as it is a study of the self. The title refers to a passage from Marco Polo’s Description of the World (ca. 1300), one of the travel accounts most notorious for blurring lines between fiction and reality. In the show, the story is recalled via a work sharing the exhibition’s title that features a series of colorful figurines straight from a 3-D printer. The artist is a traveller himself, as evidenced by his trip to Antananarivo to create Polish Year on Madagascar, 2006. Now, he further explores the poetics of travel in a video and installation titled Mr. Seven, 2013. It depicts a man he encountered in the city of Auroville in India, who recounts to the camera an imaginary life story that involves celebrities and superheroes. Simon, who perceives Mr. Seven as his alter ego, in turn plays with his own life narrative via several other strategies, for instance by displaying objects he encountered while travelling—such as a dried exotic lizard and a Polaroid found in a shipwreck—on shelves he made with metal and MDF. He also presents an untitled series from 2015 where he tells the story of multiple heartbreaks in a visual code—gracefully merged features of advanced electrical circuits diagrams and neoplastic compositions—whose meaning is known only to himself.
In his solo show “Wszystko łączy się ze wszystkim” (Everything liaise with everything), Dawid Misiorny uses four wooden, square, custom-made display cases to present his photographs in this modest yet dynamic gallery space located in the popular area of Wrocław Nadodrze. Every case contains a set of thirty-six images printed on a single sheet of photographic paper. The artist composed the displays’ contents from seventy-two shots, some of which he deliberately repeated in several cases, as if to test our ability to grasp and memorize what we are looking at. Despite the rather analog feeling of this show due to the use of wood and traditional photographic paper, Misiorny is embarking on a project that contributes to the present, ongoing debate about photography in the post-Internet age.
His work comprises black-and-white as well as color compositions. The latter have the image quality and spontaneous characteristics of smartphone snaps. They depict friendly-looking people and close-ups of various surfaces and objects, with some of them out of focus, as in Winona Ryder, 2014. With a seemingly nonchalant manner of taking pictures, Misiorny examines such essentials of the medium as its ability to depict color, light, contrast, and texture. The juxtaposition of these images reminds one of the gallery of photos on our phones’ camera rolls, which the artist attempts to elevate into art using tricks of scale, tactile materials, and the respectful distance of an exhibition space, challenging our fondness for rules of display.
In “Sampling Strata,” Lisbon-based artist Sérgio Costa presents a geological and naturally inspired series of works that could in fact be categorized as a reflection of extreme perceptions. On the lower floor of the gallery are his clouds paintings, a series of five similar oil and enamel canvases of vapor-like gray masses on dark backgrounds, all possessing rather emotional titles such as Fucking Haziness!, Eventually, and Mindless into the Cloudburst Overhead, all 2015. These words express a dynamic, violent desperation that is not entirely represented, in spite of the works’ gloomy palette, in the numbness of the rather quiet specters.
While those dark thought clouds gather underneath, opportunities for grounding are offered upstairs with smaller paintings that display renderings of rock surfaces. “Gullies,” 2015, an ensemble of small oil paintings mimicking snapshots of a spectrum of eroded earth surfaces, lets the viewer guess which landforms they represent in order to perhaps mentally retrace the path that led to the specimens. Nearby, two oil paintings, each titled Crack Sampler, both 2014, which actually incorporate clay, reference the layers of some arid land and bring a tense mood of desolation to the show. Composed of six ovoid molds made from a modeling compound, Strata, 2015, resembles a cracked moonlike clay surface that just offers more fissures and breaks. Partly archival, partly associative, the presentation here navigates between the transitory and the unchangeable, set in stone records of downpours.
This generous exhibition, which features works of thirty-six artists using sound, paper, video, photography, installation, and painting, ponders whether a museum can be a garden, by taking elements commonly found outdoors and inviting them inside. Covering two floors joined by a nearly hidden narrow stairway hosting the disturbing yet fascinating feminist sound piece Birdcalls, 1972–81, by Louise Lawler, where she mocks art-market gender inequity by twisting the enunciation of famous male artists’ names into birds whistles, the works filter the natural world by following their own art-historical questioning. Thus in both Mario García Torres’s A Brief History of Jimmie Johnson’s Legacy, 2006, a video narration documenting short museum trips taken by various visitors since the protagonist of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Bande ŕ Part (Band of Outsiders, 1964) ran through the Louvre in nine minutes and forty-five seconds, and Simone Forti’s Solo No. 1, 1974, a video showing her animal-inspired performance engaging her body from and with the floor,viewers are encouraged to reevaluate their own positioning within the museum walls—if not to run and crawl.
Paintings and works on paper tame any excess of spontaneity,as in Anselm Kiefer’s oil-on-canvas Landscape with arrows, 1974, depicting a sunny lake with mountains drawn over with graphic arrow lines, and in the series of minimal ink-and-pencil flower sketches surround a circle by Lourdes Castro, Sombras ŕ volta de um centro (Shadows Around a Center), 1980–84. Ultimately, by echoing the large-scale works from the permanent collection in the museum’s gardens, by artists such as Dan Graham and Richard Serra, this show reinforces a feeling of continuity between Conceptual art, architecture, and grass.
“Once upon a time, there was a kitten. She was very dutiful.” So begins one of the tales tucked into Ciprian Mureșan’s latest film, an untitled collection of vignettes based on transcripts from puppeteering workshops that the artist conducted with children. Mureșan then hired adult puppet masters to reenact the children’s compositions, using marionettes made to look like little kids. The puppeteers appear in dark gray costumes, reading alternately as cartoon sharks, chess pawns, or big pewter penises. In a similar mix of comedy and menace, the stories they tell follow the inimitable logic of the underage playwrights. (When one character declares herself to be “a diamond princess,” her companion yelps in reply: “I am your diamond!”) This film—the puppet show itself will be performed live during the exhibition’s run—is set in contrast to Mureșan’s earlier work, The Rhinoceros, 2006. The latter video focuses on a handful of schoolchildren stage reading Eugčne Ionesco’s 1959 play of the same title, which cloaks a very grown-up political satire in a parable about that most unlikely of invasive species.
Mureșan’s films are rounded out by a selection of works from Enric Fort Ballester, including a series of nearly microscopic drawings from 2013–15 that indulge the same gentle absurdity as the plots of Mureșan’s child playwrights. One image cuddles a cow into a bird’s nest, while another arms a CCTV security camera with two hands clasped around a pistol. Like the dutiful kitten who ends up defeating a dragon because “he was not a dragon, he was a griffin,” Ballester’s works do not so much defy logic as forge their own.
In this group exhibition of contemporary textile arts by five women hailing from different generations, one realizes that the various installations have a power to break up space. Corners and ceiling are metaphorically interrogated, while innovative fabrics are integrated throughout. This is a vivid place for experiments.
Installed on a rough wooden pillar, Dorina Horătău’s Miniatures, 2013, offers tiny, soft mosaics made of textile shreds. In a corner, Debris, 2015, by Otilia Boeru—a black assemblage made of synthetic organza, insulating foil, cotton, and polyester—seems to grow from the walls like a spiderweb. Meanwhile, Iulia Toma’s Tear with Tear, 2015, an installation made of white handkerchiefs, appears as a stalactite from the roof, a monument to tears and suffering.
The standout work of the show is KKK, 2015. Here, Toma presents a Ku Klux Klan hood under glass. One notices the message delicately sewed in black on the fabric: “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (Children, Kitchen, Church). On a nearby wall, a photograph of the artist wearing the hood—is displayed. Borrowing a nineteenth-century German slogan that was successfully instrumentalized by the Nazis, Toma confronts the terrifying mask with three indices—of the perfect woman—that come from another frightening world. All of the Ks belong to authoritarian masculine perspectives on the world.
There is a strong sense of disconcertment in this show: Where one expects harmony, one finds potential destabilization; where one expects fragility, one finds a protean space ready to defend itself.
The most dramatic, and popular, exhibition in the museum’s recent history borrows its title from Jacques Derrida’s late lecture on the beast and the sovereign—the two entities he identified as being beyond the law’s reach due to ignorance and supremacy, respectively. For Derrida, the two subjects are not only a binary opposition; they are also engaged in an act of co-becoming. This idea infuses the most intriguing works in a thirty-artist exhibition exploring dominance in surprisingly intricate ways. Artists address surgical pandrogeny and fictional identity, provide a narrative analysis of suicide terrorism, and display rare archival photographs of SS officers cross-dressing and heatedly embracing. In the animal realm, Jan Peter Hammer’s documentary film Tilikum, 2013–15, on SeaWorld’s and humankind’s cruel attempts to control nature, made me ashamed of all of us.
The seat of controversy here, however, is a sculpture by Austrian artist Ines Doujak, Not Dressed for Conquering, 2010, which depicts the former Spanish king Juan Carlos engaged in a backward-facing sexual act with Bolivian labor leader and activist Domitila Chúngara and a joyful dog. The day before the exhibition was to open, MACBA’s director cancelled it. After protests, the show finally opened, but days later the director resigned and rumors are still circulating. The supreme irony is that the director’s final act was to fire the two talented curators of “The Beast and the Sovereign,” Valentín Roma and Paul B. Preciado. The institution’s power struggles are a timely reminder that a commitment to creative sovereignty isn’t merely theoretical: Artists and curators fight to make such exhibitions possible.
The nearly two hundred works in this exhibition pay homage to one of Catalonia’s major abstract painters, Alfons Borrell. The curator of the exhibition, artist Oriol Vilapuig, created seven sections to highlight different aspects of Borrell’s work, such as “Color as Subject” and “Experiencing the Boundaries.” For Borrell, the way the sun colors the world orange at dawn, or green while one is walking in a forest, is not so different from how a painter applies hues to a canvas—both are about immersion.
The artist’s work is informed by close observation of nature, which becomes explicit in nine untitled drawings from 1980 shown in the “Repetition and Variation” area as well as in his only film, Aigua fosca (Dark Water), 1964, which follows the movement of water. In most of the paintings, though, recognizable motifs seem hardly relevant, as the quality of these pieces resides in the concentration of gesture and emanation of color.
In 1960, Borrell took part in an action staged by the group Gallot at the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, where several artists joined forces in painting expressive marks on a seventy-five-meter roll of paper. It was a radical statement of rebellion during the years of Franco’s reign. Most of Borrell’s works, however, if we look at them now, look rather reflective and contained as opposed to expressionist. His paintings show gradual changes in color, with thoughts or emotional content seemingly inscribed by marks or lines, as in 23.4.85, 1985, featuring green and black planes with some rougher brushstrokes providing the drama.
The real subject of Michael Snow’s retrospective—encompassing fifty years of the Canadian artist’s forays into film, sound installation, video, painting, and sculpture—is the viewer. Snow’s work reveals a genuine, open-ended interest in visual perception, especially as it relates to the two-dimensional plane. There’s a lot of play—with windows, projections of windows, reflection, opacity, and transparency. Powers of Two, 2003, features four enormous freestanding transparent photographs of a couple having sex, with the man turned away while the woman is staring, in frank absorption, at us. Circle around to the other side of the image, which everyone seems to do, and you will not be rewarded by the man’s expression.
Snow makes a clear distinction between video installations that are meant to be viewed in a gallery, like paintings, and those that require a seated commitment. Wavelength, 1967—a groundbreaking avant-garde film upon its debut—is an example of the latter and is screened only twice a day. The film is composed of a continuous forty-five-minute zoom shot that moves us from one end of a loft to a point on the opposing wall; people come in and out, day becomes night, there are sudden flashes of color, a death. But mostly it is a film of an empty room, or, more accurately, of how we perceive it. Through the slow, relentless tightening of the visual field, the work shows us how vision is impressionistic and multilayered, affected by emotional states, memories, and split-second sensory reactions.
An archival show presented as fragmented, polyvocal narrative, “Unfolding” is the history of the contemporary Middle East spun out in multiple directions at once, threading war mythology with pendulant social progress, inevitably and helplessly politicized.
Zaatari, who came of age during the nation’s civil war, maintains some criticality toward interpretive documentation. Considering the witness account as both journalism and diary, he cocreated the Arab Image Foundation in 1997, which has so far collected 600,000 photographs from the past 150 years in the region. The archive is a resource whose wealth lies not only in the sheer volume of such precarious and delicate ephemera but also in its diversity—capturing not only the news but the history of the photographic medium in this cultural context.
Heavily convoluted backstories are illustrated by overlapping, simultaneous still and moving images. In the town of Saida in the ’50s, a Mr. Baqari is an ominous neighbor to the photographer Hashem el Madani, and their shadowy exchanges are captured in Zaatari’s multimedia project Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem, 2010–15, a main thread in this exhibition. Baqari’s wife, her sister, and their friends would visit the artist’s studio to have their portraits taken; after learning about this, Mr. Baquari demanded that the negatives be destroyed because his wife participated without his permission. They compromised by scratching the photographs with a pin. The resulting lacerated images by el Madani are interspersed among various excavated films emanating from a constellation of projectors, with seating for an audience of one. Lone women, each identified only as “Mrs. Baqari’s friend,” look out between the rough etches as though from behind bars. Recirculating these images puts a match to them, finally igniting what’s long been kept covered over low heat.
They is a violent word. Perhaps more innocuous sounding in other nations, it carries within itself a separation, a detachment particularly dangerous in the context of Turkey—a country whose national identity is rapidly deteriorating. Some citizens would even argue that individuals calling themselves Turkish rather than merely “from Turkey” are telegraphing specific encoded information not just about their nationalities but also their religions and sects. İpek Duben’s video interviews, majestically installed, form a chorus of voices often missing from public discourse, less mainstream and only heard when sought out—those of minorities, women, victims of domestic abuse, queer individuals. They’re all interviewed in the same style: against a black background, either seated or standing, and talking to an offscreen interlocutor.
While the narrative content—the anecdotes, the timelines, the interactions—is politically and socially (not to mention emotionally) charged, the evocative yet matter-of-fact manner in which it's conveyed is itself powerful, an acutely political artistic gesture. After all, Duben’s sustained dialogues with the interviewees become a form of keeping track, of writing, that is poignant in its simplicity yet confrontational in its timeliness and subject matter.
The dark gallery space in which the exhibition is ensconced is part of SALT Galata, a new extension of the former Ottoman Bank that now also hosts the archives of this imperial institution; the dialogues here tread on the history that once was, in order to construct the history that should be.