Compelled by an ingenuous sense of wonder, artist Hicham Berrada is a programmer of chemical and organic processes, which is an approach that aligns him with thinkers such as Gaston Bachelard and Roger Caillois who sought to unite scientific and aesthetic modes of inquiry. A painterly use of color is evident throughout this exhibition, which is dominated by an indigo palette. In Azur, 2014–15, timed heating elements catalyze a color change in the cobalt chloride that the artist used to paint six rectangular supports, transforming them from monochromes into imperceptibly moving pictures of crepuscular skies.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Mesk-ellil, 2015, a pavilion composed of seven tinted-glass terrariums. A colony of potted Cestrum nocturnum, a species of night-blooming jasmine, occupies the climate-controlled environment. During the day, lunar-light fixtures cast the shrouded subterranean gallery in azure hews. At nighttime, horticultural lights on timers bathe the plants in their life-sustaining radiance. Berrada has reprogrammed the plants’ circadian rhythms so that they blossom during gallery hours, releasing their strong, sweet scent. Their bouquet envelops the visitor, simultaneously acting as an invitation and a lure that nearly arrests all other forms of cognition in the obscure space. Once one’s eyes adjust, the strangeness of the architecturally scaled construction becomes apparent: The server farm, as much as the cloistered garden, might be a reference point.
Berrada is interested in harnessing and redistributing energy within controlled systems. “Paysages à circadiens” (Circadian Landscapes) is most successful when the technical means of achieving these effects are fully integrated into the structure of work. The result is a productive tension between lyrical amazement before the poetic potential of natural codes and the stark indifference of the framing devices that bracket them.
Circulating between Munich, Vienna, Rome, and Berlin at the turn of the twentieth century, Florence Henri studied music and painting while mingling with art-world luminaries. She shifted her focus to photography upon settling in Paris in 1924, and by 1929 she had opened her own studio, attracting such notable pupils as Lisette Model and Gisèle Freund. With 130 vintage prints, made between 1927 and 1940, this exhibition examines Henri’s diverse photographic output of abstract compositions, portraits, nudes, and photomontages. Influenced by Constructivism and Surrealism, her work delves into the experimental possibilities of the photographic medium both inside and outside the camera. In addition to layering negatives and shooting multiple exposures, Henri enhanced her compositions with optical tricks using mirrors or collage. She created surprising spatial layouts that fragmented or multiplied planes, and her still life images, featuring silver orbs or simple spools of thread, as in Composition, 1928, highlight skillful staging. Her commercial photography also retains her stamp. In a 1929 Lanvin fragrance ad, for instance, a clever play with mirrors makes a perfume bottle proliferate like a string of oversize beads.
Human presence changes the tone in the artist’s otherwise playful work. Her nudes feel dreamy, with bodies present but thoughts elsewhere. A tightly framed portrait series features doleful faces. Of these, a pensive shot, Tulia Kaiser, 1930, closes in on Kaiser as she ponderously rests her head on her forearm, while Lore, 1935, captures a fraught internal moment on the subject’s face. Even in Henri’s solemn self-portraits, she bears the quiet expression of an imaginative mind at work.
Profoundly influenced by Surrealism’s investment in the unconscious and the artist’s own experience undergoing psychoanalysis, Hervé Télémaque’s particular inflection of Pop art renders the body as always somehow lacking and at risk of being revealed as such. These concerns are manifest in a wide range of mediums in this Haitian-born artist’s retrospective of over five decades of work, much of it produced in France. Throughout the exhibition, Télémaque dispenses irony and humor to serve his needle-sharp implication of political discourses around race and power. In an upper corner of My Darling Clementine, 1963, a hair-straightening-formula ad targeting black consumers transforms a painted monstrous visage into a smiling beauty via a demonstration that nods to Warhol’s Before and After canvases. A disembodied, gaping mouth appears in this and a number of early works. It’s there as well in Vénus hottentote no. 2, 1962–63, an arresting canvas decorated by free-floating agglomerations resembling intestines.
Moving through this chronologically organized exhibition, one notes a growing list of material and painted motifs—grommets, hinges, clasps, pins, knots, and castors—simple tools that are used to reinforce structures but also to facilitate their flexibility. These are connected to the artist’s many evocations of the need for the body to be conditioned and supported; together they evince an investment in finding solutions to the question of how to hold together a body—or a work of art. One senses that for Télémaque, the proverbial glue of his early collage aesthetic became too fixed as a technique and metaphor for articulating the relationship between images and subjectivity. Identity appears imposed but also malleable, as a zone of transit between histories—political, social, and artistic—which cannot be cast off but might yet be reconfigured.
For his first exhibition in Paris, Sebastian Black produced a small group of works that at first seem randomly connected. In opposing corners stand two of the artist’s embankment sculptures, which pay homage to bureaucratic design, and between them is a so-called period piece, featuring printed punctuation and letters. Considered together, however, the group conveys Black’s ability to transform, as he describes it, “meaningless stuff and stuffless meaning” into something jarring and impossible to ignore.
The exhibition’s title references Black’s view of these works as “shapes,” suggesting an exclusively formal interest. In fact, the presentation of these ubiquitous symbols in a new context—such as a desk based on the design of a bank’s check deposit kiosk set on a hillside as if it were a modernist building—reveals that their shapes cannot be divorced entirely from their associated meaning. His sculptures depend on the moment at which the viewer becomes aware of their source materials.
This emphasis on transitive meaning is especially clear in Period Piece Simple Sequence Sculpture (2 parts), 2015, made up of two printed, accordion-style paper screens. Black periods and white letters are printed in intaglio and each viewable from opposite sides on the folded sheet. The work is fully comprehensible only from multiple perspectives. Its spare aesthetic—part sculpture and part printmaking—belies a technical complexity; the piece was produced in collaboration with a master printer using a combination of techniques. Displayed on a pedestal at eye level, the piece physically invites consideration of the pause suggested by its punctuation and ascribes meaning to the otherwise banal.
This exhibition positions Belgian-born photographer Harry Gruyaert as a European equivalent to Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore, or William Eggleston—iconic photographers who made vivid color one of their signatures. This precept, rather than any thematic threads, guides the selection of the photographs. Gruyaert used Cibachrome, a dye process known for its color purity, to deepen a saturated palette, until he replaced it with digital processes in the twenty-first century. His color spectrum seems to widen the farther he travels, although the moments he captures do not feel specific to geographical context. Images of cloudy, pallid shores in France and Belgium near the exhibition’s beginning give way to vibrant scenes abroad, in which he creates a kind of chromatic hysteria. A blue-tiled bathroom in Moscow has an almost hallucinatory effect, swallowing up a man as he gazes into a horizontal mirror. Elsewhere, riotous floral wallpaper and jars of preserved lemons are illuminated by the sun in Meknes in northern Morocco, while human figures remain in shadow.
The wall text cites the artist: “Color is more physical than black and white . . . You have to be instantly affected by the different tones.” This immediacy is captured by his visceral snapshots of live TV—freeze-framed before the advent of VCR. “A good image is a controlled chance, a kind of small miracle that arises when you’re receptive and concentrated,” Gruyaert furthermore noted. Several such “small miracles” are featured in the last room, notably among them a tightly framed image of a woman’s hair from behind, her stunning red tresses evoking a pyre.
This group exhibition featuring thirty Japanese artists showcases textiles and fiber art as a phenomenon transcending categorization. With visual splendor, the medium is here interpreted to great and varied effect, whether draped, sculpted, woven, or turned into large-scale installations. Wielding everything from silks to synthetics, linens to metallics, as well as pliable Washi paper, the diversity of fibers used by the artists represents a remarkable spectrum of color, texture, and volume. The recent revival of textile art is framed in relation to Switzerland’s International Biennial of Tapestry Lausanne, which showcased the Nouvelle Tapisserie movement in 1960. The exhibition presents that history in relation to Japan’s own annals of artisanal, traditional methods, notably its dyeing and weaving practices, which are both honored and wholly reinterpreted here.
Displayed in the luminous T-shaped gallery, there are plays on the natural—such as Machiko Agano’s Forest, 2011, a ceiling-suspended composition of photographed plants printed on polyester and paired with mirrored paper that distorts any reflected image. The unnatural is interpreted by Fuminori Ono’s Feel the Wind, 2010, composed of clusters articulated in chemical pulp and dyes with a polyurethane finish, evoking nothing so much as large-scale Cheetos, thanks to the work’s orange fluorescence and oblong shapes. Other pieces play with volume, such as Hitomi Nagai’s white cotton wall hanging, Birth, 2011, whose wriggling rows of pointy fabric are oddly reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan hoods. The volumetric approach also appears in Akio Hamatani’s W-Orbit, 2010, a sweeping indigo-tinged drapery of filaments spanning thirteen feet, which sways faintly with any proximal movement.
For those who would produce art irreducible to simple categorization and the constraints of genre and gender, this exhibition offers an intrepid model. An ambitious retrospective, it argues that Carol Rama’s seven decades of work challenges normative modes of art historiography. While largely unfolding chronologically, additional thematic overlays chart the recursive nature of Rama’s interests in particular motifs and strategies.
Often Rama uses contamination to question rational knowledge, placing contrasting systems of representation in a single pictorial field, such as pulsating mythic figures suspended over architectural plans or glass eyeballs affixed to inky matrices of mathematical and linguistic code. Curiosity is here associated with erotics as a means of discovery, with the earliest works on display depicting figures shitting, masturbating, engaging in ménage à trois, penetrating animals, or having serpents emerge from their orifices. The artist is posited as embodying a “Queer Povera,” especially in works that incorporate rubber bicycle inner tubes and tires that hang detumescent or that are sliced and arranged in welted bands across her canvases, such as in Movement and Immobility of Birnam, 1977. Rama valorizes the visceral, at times to the point of delirium. In the mixed-media panels of The Mad Cow, 1997, she identifies herself with the figure of the diseased creature—undoing the opposition of human and animal.
Rama risks being an insider’s outsider, concurrent with the lately renewed interest in creators operating apart from the so-called art world. Likewise, there’s a tendency to pathologize this work when her predilection for the irrational or transgressive is a deliberate strategy with important precedents. It’s necessary to remember that Rama’s previous invisibility was the result of exclusion and occlusion—not withdrawal or ignorance.
Rice, sun, parking spots, teeth, 7-Eleven—these are the elements that form the matrix of Pratchaya Phinthong’s current exhibition carved from the unstable contours of contemporary Thailand. For instance, Internal rhyme, 2015, is a set of nine drawings of the artist’s teeth, based on the sensory observations of his fingers guided by his tongue. These were made near Paris, outside the final home of political exile Pridi Banomyong, who attempted to overthrow his native country’s monarchy in 1949.
Phinthong knows well how to entangle political exigencies with conceptual precision. In the larger room of the gallery hangs a single photograph of an eerily ambivalent scene—an illuminated, empty 7-Eleven storefront during the curfew of the May 2014 military coup. Titled Who will guard the guards themselves, 2015, and printed on Duratrans in a steel-frame light box, it speaks to a siege on the daily lives of Thai people as well as on a bellwether of globalization. Mounted on the gallery’s office wall is also a live surveillance feed—considered part of Who will guard the guards themselves—of an installation reconstructed in a public square outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at eight tenths the scale of the large room here that contains the photograph. Inaccessible to the public during the run of this show, with only a few cutouts in its walls for people to peer through, the structure will afterward become a mobile exhibition space for Thai university students. With this nearly empty gallery installation, like much of his work in which the mechanisms of power, perception, and time are rerouted and derailed, Phinthong restages the dead space of curfew time in order to liberate it from power’s intractability.
Not all survivals are happy, and not all citations are affirmations: Yves Saint Laurent’s spring–summer 1971 collection retrieved the austere women’s dress of the Vichy era that Dior’s New Look hoped to annihilate some twenty years earlier. Inspired by the styles of the wartime years, the presentation provoked a rancorous response among the press, which deemed the collection “bitchy,” “hideous,” “deplorable,” and “insulting” to fashion. Drawing from and designing for the street, Saint Laurent brought couture and prêt-à-porter uncomfortably close, while evoking a period many would have preferred to consign to oblivion.
He reportedly could not forget the trauma of seeing the garishly attired prostitutes of Rue Saint-Denis in Paris as a child immediately after the war. The collection’s eveningwear appears as the deferred action of this primal scene. Fox fur boleros are layered over crepe dresses with plunging necklines, worn by models whose rouged lips matched their scarlet nails. Designs for daytime recall the deprivation of the German occupation but eroticize the pantsuits and uniforms they cite. The final looks offer a series of pleated dresses featuring prints inspired by Etruscan vases, including a bridal gown emblazoned with explicit scenes; one commentator associated the motifs with Nazi virility.
The chasm between the critics’ censure and the works’ widespread influence announced the crossing of a historical threshold. Explaining his collection’s significance to Vogue, Saint Laurent said, “Young people, they don’t have any memories.” His clothes were made for contemporary women propelling social transformations and who held very different attitudes toward work and sex than previous generations. These pieces came to be known as the Liberation collection, invoking feminism and the end of another era of oppression. This exhibition’s wall text argues that the bridal gown was apotropaic and that the brash designs made a battlefield of the runway. It’s a bracing reminder that fashion’s working over of history might register already simmering discontent.
For over fifteen years now, Bethan Huws has been carrying out in-depth research on Marcel Duchamp that finds its way into her artworks and exhibitions. Her latest show, “Zone,” explores the influence of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire on Duchamp’s art. Huws’s L.H.O.O.Q.,1919, 2011, for instance, is a wall text that attributes the inspiration for Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., 1919—a reproduction of the Mona Lisa to which he added a mustache and a beard—to the fact that in 1911 Apollinaire spent a week in prison after having been accused of stealing that very painting. Also displayed are the dense Research Notes, 2007–14, intimating further close-knit connections between Duchamp and Apollinaire and questioning the distinction between artistic and scholarly art-historical research.
More than just a compelling investigation into Duchamp’s thought processes, this exhibition also testifies to the influence of both men on Huws’s own practice. Embodying this triangular relationship is the video Zone, 2013, featuring ready-made footage taken from wildlife documentaries set to a spoken performance of Apollinaire’s poem of the same title. Other works are inspired by Duchamp’s fondness for puns and homonyms, such as Perroquets (Parrots), 2008, consisting of three bronze coat stands installed among the trees in the garden of this venue, referencing both the name given to that type of stand in the early 1900s and the species known as the parrot tree. Meanwhile, just as Duchamp elevated ordinary objects to the status of art, Huws’s Boats, 1983–2015—a collection of tiny handmade rush boats on view here—was a response, started when she was an art student, to the question “What is art?”.
Photography seems increasingly difficult to delimit as it dissolves into an undifferentiated mass of imagery. By contrast, Phil Chang’s work in and around photography is insistently precise and deceptively simple. For the present exhibition, two bodies of work face off across the gallery, crossing digital and analog modes of photographic production and reproduction. One of these, a group of five untitled purple monochromes from 2015, is the result of a printing process that enables digital image files to be produced as traditional chromogenic photographs. The monochromes progressively increase in chromatic intensity along one side of the gallery, with the modulation of color values resembling exposure bracketing, a photographer’s convention that highlights the image as a function of light. Opposite, four works on paper titled “Replacement Ink for Epson Printers on Epson Premium Glossy Paper,” 2014, each feature a single sweeping streak resulting from black ink applied with a sponge. The artist’s manual gesture is made mechanical through repetitions that mimic the markings of a printer stuttering as it runs out of ink. There’s an intriguing parallel with Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s motion-study photographs for the scientific management of labor, but here action is subsumed into a trace that is its own final product.
Chang’s work is divorced from the camera but explicitly linked to the supporting services and technologies that produce photographic objects for the art world. His materialist investigations occupy equivocal sites from twentieth-century painting—the monochrome and gestural abstraction—in order to test some of the ways photography is made to function and what it is made of. By limiting each group of works to a single gesture, a pictorial space is opened for the technological substructures and protocols by which photographs circulate.
Presenting Minimalist and Conceptual works, this exhibition creates a visual discourse between four American contemporaries seldom shown together in France: Lynda Benglis, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, and Bruce Nauman. The exhibition title is adapted from a 1985 work of Nauman’s—a neon piece christened Double Poke in the Eye II, in which two people belligerently prod each other, forefingers flicking in agitation.
“Double Eye Poke” translates thematically into works engaging with a forceful “confrontation of the gaze,” per curator Béatrice Gross. Throughout the gallery’s two spaces, the concept of provocation is broadly interpreted. For Benglis, her amorphous sculptures are somewhat more ambiguous than her pointed video Female Sensibility, 1973, in which she explores lesbian pleasure as a thinly veiled critique of the male gaze. Nauman’s video Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance), 1967–68, depicting a repetitive choreography, and a set of ink-jet prints based upon his own decades-older sketches engage with absurdity and corporeality. LeWitt’s instructions for large-scale wall drawings are included in the works themselves, with orders transcribed above obediently executed stripes (“A yellow broken line, drawn from a point . . .”), thus toying with agency by having his vision perpetuated by another’s hand. Flavin’s luminous structures—including a rainbow of fluorescent Ts,Untitled (to Don Judd, Colorist), 1–5, 1987, and colorful crosshatched tubes Untitled (in Honor of Harold Joachim) 2, 1977—tacitly underscore the social-collective aspect of this show, as LeWitt was inspired by Flavin’s pieces shown at the Green Gallery in New York in 1964. Ultimately, the mélange of visions feels less like an aggressive challenge than an attentive prompting of the senses with sundry colors and modalities.
Born in Benin and based in the Netherlands, Meschac Gaba made his first wigs following a residency in New York City. Stimulated by Manhattan’s skyline and hair-braiding salons, Gaba’s series of “Architecture Tresses,” 2005–2006, interpreted landmarks like the Chrysler Building as vertiginous synthetic hairpieces. The fourteen wigs currently on view here represent European monuments and various historical figures.
Paris is well represented in wig form by five re-creations of iconic buildings, such as Notre-Dame de Paris, 2006, whose bell towers of woven brown braids evoke a woolly horned beast. Even more fanciful, celebrity-inspired wigs from the series “Tresses (The Art Museum of Active Life),” 2010–11, range from Fela Kuti, an orange braided saxophone signifying the Nigerian musician and political activist, to The Wright Brothers, a blue-and-pink striped (h)airplane. Recalling ancient Egyptian headdresses and wig-loving pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, Gaba’s symbolic crowns transcend time and culture. Confirming the wigs’ ceremonial status are two archival videos showing processions of men and women wearing them in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, and along Paris’s Left Bank quays.
The exhibition’s location—a museum inaugurated in 1931 to showcase colonial conquests, since reinvented as an institution devoted to the history of immigration in France—fits with Gaba’s ongoing examination of the sociopolitical role of museums, particularly in the presentation of African art in Western collections. Displaying his wigs in front of an original 1930s fresco promoting colonization through allegorical imagery of benevolent missionaries, doctors, and engineers, Gaba—born the year after Benin gained full independence from France—raises questions about the postcolonial identity of artists and institutions alike.
The exhibition’s curator, Catalina Lozano, addresses the changing status of objects from a social perspective, considering how items encapsulate subaltern narratives, particularly from colonialism. Take, for instance, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc’s contribution: five rods made from ten melted copper Katanga crosses. In the past, populations of central Africa utilized these articles as currency, and the metal’s abundance in the Katanga region attracted Belgian colonizers. Today, the pieces resemble Minimalist sculpture. In both cases, value is of significance.
Elsewhere, Jorge Satorre’s Matar vasijas (Killing Pots), 2014, consists of replicas of pre-Columbian pieces from the Community Museum of the Xico Valley placed on a platform, evoking a Mexican folkloric motif, as well as of two reproductions of contradictory registry forms, one issued locally, the other by a state agency. The Community Museum preserves local artifacts and classifies them using empirical methods, rather than official systems. These relics, once employed in rituals, are now often used in quotidian contexts, and the installation highlights how their function and symbolic quality have altered across time.
Other featured works mine the connection between Eurocentrism, the gaze, and the politics of display. Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s resonant video La Javanaise, 2012, for instance, records a conversation between a top model, an artist, and an academic that occurred in Amsterdam’s former Colonial Institute, currently an ethnographic museum. Their discussion touches on the topic of a Dutch company that takes advantage of traditional Southeastern technique to produce textiles for a contemporary African clientele. Here, themes of fashion and identity articulate the tension between museology and power that transverses the exhibition.
This exhibition brings together works by two artists who each developed their own radical way of painting: Günter Umberg and Bernard Frize. What’s interesting about this pairing is that their works initially do not look very similar. For decades Umberg has made dark paintings wherein color appears through and within layers of black, while Frize uses as many colors as possible to avoid choosing between them. Umberg’s paintings are usually monochrome fields, and some of them are grouped into so-called “territories.” In Frize’s serial works, the brushstroke, and its dynamic gestures, is a principal actor. Common ground between these artists can be found in the 1970s, when both became stuck in their respective practices before finding new attitudes. Umberg started to work with dry pigment mixed with Dammar binding material, applying it in many thin layers. Meanwhile, Frize sought to withdraw into an abstract vocabulary where the content and the technique of painting coincided.
The show opens with a display of several series by Frize, such as “Solitaire,” 1999, which are occasionally interrupted by one of Umberg’s monochromes, while in the second half of the exhibition, the main focus is on Umberg’s work. In the center of the gallery is a room with two early works by Frize, both Untitled, 1977, facing Umberg’s six and a half-feet high Untitled, 1976. Here, the dialogue between these two artists is most sharp with defining works from each other’s output looking at each other. For the viewer, it becomes clear that both artists turned to the essentials of the medium to redefine their practices.