Will Benedict’s two-dimensional work became known for his use of a picture-in-a-picture ploy, reminiscent of over-the-shoulder digital graphics used in nightly newscasts. The artist mounts his main canvases on foamcore panels, paints their aluminum or glass frames, and incorporates drawings, paintings and life-size studio portraits as insets within his collages. The aim of these hybrid pieces, however, is not fragmentation but rather complex homogeneity. In his first solo show in France, his command of these formal and material manipulations appears more articulate than ever.
Titled “Comparison Leads to Violence,” the show is dense. Benedict often includes works by other artists in his exhibitions. Here, Eric Wesley’s Flat Black Europe, 2011, a monochrome enamel on plastic cast of Europe hangs at the entrance like a dark omen. Next to it, Benedict’s painting Dinosaur Afterlife, 2014, depicts a disheveled man sticking out his tongue towards one of the artist’s trademark inset images on the upper left corner: a drawing of a cartoonish chunk of meat. In Abattoir, 2014, a black rectangle appears offset relative to a painting, the rectangle’s right edge dividing the canvas’s brownish pictorial motif in half.
Benedict sought to create a “corporate abattoir” in the gallery space. In addition to numerous wall works, a new series of furniture-like structures made in collaboration with Sergei Tcherepnin fills the room. Some of the pieces are functional and replace the gallery’s usual office furniture, such as Bound to Sound, 2014, a stainless steel desk that emits sound when sensors in the desk detect nearby motion. The piece comes complete with steel chairs, their frames gripped by disembodied resin hands. Other wooden objects show dents and traces of cutting and hammering, disclosing their provenance as vintage butcher blocks. An American based in Vienna, Benedict could be responding to his adopted city’s own eerie tendency to teeter between stilted beauty and decay.
Boasting one hundred–odd portraits from the past forty-five years, Alex Katz’s first major retrospective in France opens with the atypical series “Women in Jackets,” 1996. Spanning the gallery’s long entry hall, ten oil-on-aluminum cutouts suggest a row of smartly dressed gallerygoers. Freed from the fictive background of the picture plane, these women greet the viewer in “real space.” Confounding the cutouts’ immediacy, however, their flatness is reinforced by uniform cropping at midforehead and midthigh in accordance with an unyielding (if invisible) rectangular frame. Throughout the show, similar tensions—suggesting oppositions such as painting versus sculpture, figuration versus abstraction, original versus reproduction—reveal unexpected diversity within Katz’s career-long exploration of the human figure.
A double-sided oil-on-aluminum cutout sculpture, Coleman Pond, 1975, depicts three canoes supported by a metal stand. Stationary and flat, this work nonetheless conveys a sense of dimensionality, immediacy, and motion not often associated with Katz’s paintings. Depending on the viewer’s vantage, the boaters alternately appear to paddle toward or away, dipping their oars into implied glassy waters flowing through the gallery’s open space. More typically, however, Katz’s subjects are confined to painted backgrounds (pastoral landscapes, artists’ lofts, even monochromes) wherein figuration often mingles with abstraction. In Private Domain, 1969, one of several dancer paintings on view, the gray negative space between overlapping and entwined bodies is an appropriately rhythmic succession of graceful forms.
Double portraits are an important subgenre of Katz’s oeuvre (his first, Ada Ada, 1959, which is not in the show, notably predates Warhol’s Double Elvis, 1963) wherein the artist confronts issues of reproduction and multiple perspectives. In addition to compositions in which the same individuals or couples appear twice, Laure and Alain, 1964, a close-up of a blue-eyed man whose profile overlaps a front-facing red-haired woman, here abuts a piece of the same title and same composition painted almost thirty years later, in 1991which turns out to be a painting of the earlier work. The lack of distinction between the two adds an interesting conceptual twist to Katz’s portraiture overall.
Having exhibited widely in his native Japan since the early 2000s, Izumi Kato makes his Paris debut with a large selection of recent paintings, drawings, and sculptures that describe a parallel universe populated by humanoid figures with masklike faces and flippers as limbs that tend to sprout exotic plants, stylized wings, or additional heads instead of hands and feet.
Influenced by art from ancient Egypt and Japan’s Jōmon period, Kato’s wide-eyed childish figures also relate to Japanese Pop art, appearing like naively drawn manga characters. Kato’s paintings, which he makes using his fingers (wearing vinyl gloves) or a spatula, typically feature full-length nude bodies or close-up faces set against stark backgrounds. When elements of landscape or hints of a mise-en-scène do appear, they are often ominous—seemingly intent on enveloping their inhabitants. In an untitled work from 2012, a green-and-yellow-faced female stands against a brown background, a layer of which she appears to hold up like a heavy curtain despite her impossibly spindly arms, as sharp stalactites descend around her. Other paintings alternately feature mountains with disembodied heads as peaks, or figures immersed in perilously high waters.
A highlight of the show is the inclusion of several sculptures made out of soft vinyl, a material Kato has used only since 2010. Compared with the artist’s work in wood (examples of which are also on view), the pieces in smooth, supple vinyl have a fleshy quality that links these works to both children’s toys and erotic fetish objects. Presented on five separate pedestals, a series of soft vinyl heads (all untitled, 2013) reminiscent of Mexican wrestler masks seem to bid welcome—via their roles as avatars—into Kato’s strange alternate reality.
Nathan Hylden’s latest suite of large-scale painted and silk-screened (though not always in that order) aluminum panels pays homage to the artist’s own Los Angeles workspace. Joining a long line of artists who have treated their studios as subjects—from Vermeer to Matisse to Bruce Nauman, to name just a few—Hylden describes his creative environment in a limited palette of white, black, and blue on silvery light-reflective supports. Juxtaposing images of quotidian elements (wall, camera, chair) with fat, gestural brushstrokes and solid blocks of spray paint, Hylden’s studio-scapes invite literal and metaphorical interpretation.
The nine works on view (all untitled, 2014) are based on photographs of a wall marked with masking tape right angles, suggesting the spot where an artwork once hung or will hang. This frame within a frame device, and the sense of collapsed time that it implies, remains constant as various ghostly objects and painterly flourishes are introduced throughout the series. In the first image the viewer encounters, a shadow of a tripod-mounted camera occupies the center of the masking-tape frame. The wispy three-legged form—a surrogate for the artist—reappears in slightly different locations across several panels before it is replaced by a shadow of a chair, implicitly inviting an outside observer—the viewer—to get comfortable and enter the scene.
Recalling Andy Warhol’s 1978–79 “Shadows” series of handpainted silk screens based on photographs of the Factory, Hylden’s body of work likewise challenges the seriality versus singularity dichotomy. In Hylden’s studio, the practices of painting and silk-screening appear no more mutually exclusive than the presence of representational and abstract imagery.
The curators of “Unedited History: Iran 1960–2014” claim “not to construct a definitive history but to recreate the major social and political ‘sequences’ that shaped the country’s visual culture between the 1960s and the present day.” The exhibition-as-documentary’s discrete, clean, and indeed, highly edited presentations include individuals’ works and collated material (one section traces the history of the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of the Arts). Following the circuit of the museum’s top floor, temporary walls positioned at offset angles demarcate and divide artists’ works into three chapters: before, after, and during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 through 1988. Camera-based mediums dominate, and the selection is tightly orchestrated with the aim of informing viewers about a history of cultural aspirations fueled by an agenda to be modern. Shown interrupted—indeed, placed on hold—by the revolution, the country’s previously pursued and imposed modernist legacy is represented by a quiet, small presentation of graphic posters and vitrined publications. Certain modernist figures’ works are given fresh attention—the collages of Bahman Mohassess and the journalistic photographs of Kaveh Golestan, for example—although a shortage of interaction between the works strips down the vividness of their original context. Similarly, the conditions of the contemporary postrevolution are framed in relation to a modernism in Western terms, and viewers come to question whether this approach is generative or an unsupported framing that leads to misinterpretation.
The exhibition, again according to the curators, puts forth an intriguing sampling of “the basic components of Iranian visual culture” that, in its focus on “the sometimes less obvious continuities between successive periods,” only makes viewers curious for further context. Bahman Kiarostami’s standout video Flowers, 2013, which sampled TV reports from April 1, 1979, the day the revolution was announced, acts as a portal to the feverish on-air, off-the-cuff experience of a particular time and place, and knowingly hints at implications of mediating history through the unavoidable act of editing.
Neither retrospective nor commercial display, “Dries Van Noten – Inspirations” is the rare design exhibition that contextualizes fashion as merely one aspect of visual culture. An interlacing of the Belgian fashion designer’s most recognizable collections with a multitude of his influences fills two levels, from floor to wallpapered ceiling, of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Arranged both chronologically and thematically—and interrupted by a film installation by David Michalek that animates several recent designs—the show highlights the Antwerp Six designer’s collections, from pieces marking his graduation show at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts in 1981 to his spring/summer 2014 collections, inspired by the museum’s wares and the making of this exhibition.
The constellation of visual style pairs a grid of David Bowie and Grace Jones album covers that fills a nearby wall with jackets and blazers featuring the bold shoulders that marked the 1980s, sharply cut in dyed leather. Meanwhile, mannequin clusters positioned against backdrops with faraway imagined landscapes, including Mexico and the “Orient,” accumulate as notes of wanderlust and exoticism in the designer’s archive. Moving along obliquely, conceptual groupings such as “Uniforms” are presented, with military-style suits and their inspirations—film stills from Francis Alÿs’s The Guards, 2005, and Michaël Borremans’s oil portrait of a soldier, Lakei, 2010; “Butterflies” introduces a Damien Hirst canvas to a 1937 Elsa Schiaparelli gown covered in the titular insects, netting to match; the concept of gold is epitomized exultantly—glamorously—by a 1978 Thierry Mugler lamé dress, a 1967 Chanel suit, and an early twentieth-century Balkan costume, all kept safe in glass vitrines.
The friction between moods is a productive one. Complicating the rich anthropological aspects of the show, the ontology of textures, both tactile and visual, tempers “Inspirations” into a complex, entangled arrangement.
The Day-Glo figures gamboling through Aaron Curry’s retrospective “Bad Brain” seem like an answer to Wallace Stevens’s lament for modern imagination, written exactly a century ago. For the poet of “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” all marvelous fancies have abandoned the middle-class mind, haunted henceforth only by the soberest ghosts.
Curry's exhibition is haunted, too, but with the exuberant nightgowns that Stevens was missing: “purple with green rings/ or green with yellow rings/ or yellow with blue rings.../ with socks of lace/ and beaded ceintures” — or, say, Picasso with H.C. Westerman, Calder with Heehaw, with nods to corporate plaza art and underground comics. But this pile-up of citations produces its own kind of disillusionment, its own late-hour malaise. Curry’s sculptures, whose volumes are built out from slats of painted wood and aluminum, approach cultural “flattening” with flat-footed literalness. For this critic, it is almost impossible to say whether they rescue the composite of cultural reference from this flattening through formal panache, or surrender to its senseless accumulation. Curry gamely suspends this ambivalence by presenting an anachronic retrospective, without a speck of narrative resolution in sight. Eighty works produced since 2003 are distributed through the CAPC’s central nave and the corridor encircling it, where Curry’s collages, including an uncanny series of Greco-Roman busts masked and/or/also disfigured by his intervention, footnote his more monumental figures.
The exhibition, along with two smaller but equally impressive shows by Los Angeles–based artists Carter Mull and Dan Finsel, fêtes fifty years of cultural diplomacy between Bordeaux and LA, which became sister-cities in 1964. What emerges, however, is the age difference. If Bordeaux has more years to its name, LA has a worldly sense of a future subjectivity brokered almost entirely to an image-world. A “bad brain,” perhaps, but one inhabited by some fantastic specters.
Since the 1980s, French sculptor Anita Molinero has worked almost exclusively with domestic and often toxic materials, cauterizing, deforming, and smelting chemically fabricated, factory-produced objects. Her current solo exhibition, “Oreo,” appraises the material and conceptual consistency of manufactured products intended to control circulation––traffic signs, road barriers, speed bumps, various packaging materials, etc.––as well as their status as industrially made, environmentally hazardous commodities designed for the public domain.
Take, for example, an untitled series of five large-scale, plastic water tanks that have undergone various degrees of violent compression. Here, flow and circulation congest as these transportable receptacles––meant to contain and regulate the issue of their liquid contents––are left crushed, desiccated, and detached from their intended courses of distribution. More subversive is a new series of modestly sized concrete bricks that the artist took from Paris’s peripheral ring and used here as wall-fixed supports for scraps of litter such as plastic bags or fast-food restaurant containers. Coated in layers of graffiti, these hijacked slabs testify to their former station as demarcations between an insulated cultural capital and the hot, ethnically diverse banlieues, which encircle and chafe the city’s perimeter.
Containment is imported as a power-driven form of regulation in this exhibition, as in Untitled, 2014, an incinerated, monumental block of insulated polystyrene squares suspended from the ceiling. Here, containers become the contained as defective packaging products converted to effective artwork in a rapid recycling of fungible currency. This well-oiled slippage between art and industry, public asset and public onus, is at the crux of Molinero’s sculptural practice.
Dividing its broad conceit across seventeen thematic subsections, “Formes Simples” (Simple Shapes) juxtaposes artworks and artifacts whose provenances span approximately five thousand years and thirty countries based on their formal similarities. The first room of the exhibition, however, showcases works related by their formlessness. Diverse examples of art informel, to use French art critic Michel Tapié’s 1952 coinage, include a gloppy cement sculpture by Anish Kapoor (untitled, 2013), a barely figurative terra-cotta study for Auguste Rodin’s famous portrait-sculpture of Balzac (Balzac, robe de chambre [Balzac, Dressing Gown], 1897), an anonymous sixteenth-century Italian drapery study in oil, and a trio of Hiroshi Sugimoto waterscape photographs from the 1990s. Presented under the heading “Before Shape,” this motley mélange of two- and three-dimensional objects attunes the viewer to how each artwork’s physical presence is defined, to a certain extent, by its medium.
Another section, titled “Who Could Better This Propeller?” (a quote attributed to Marcel Duchamp in a conversation with Fernand Léger in 1912, the year of the fourth International Exposition of Aerial Locomotion in Paris), draws somewhat obvious formal comparisons between modern masterpieces such as Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space, 1936, and elegant feats of twentieth-century engineering. Elsewhere in the exhibition, geometric abstractions by Ellsworth Kelly and Tony Smith are likened to scientific and quotidian implements ranging from an ancient Egyptian eye-shadow palette to an eighteenth-century set of terra-cotta crystallographic models (which, given their context here, could easily be mistaken for part of Allan McCollum’s series of unique silhouette-like forms, “The SHAPES Projects”). The most surprising links are in the “Shapes-Forces” section, which features a curved moldboard designed by Thomas Jefferson to make plows turn over sod more efficiently and a photograph of modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller during a signature spinning performance at the Folies-Bergère.