The pictorial genre that lends this exhibition its title flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, before photography made it redundant. “Interior portraits” depicted living spaces and their furnishings, devoid of yet suggestive of human presence. Built around historical works and archival materials, the installations on view by five contemporary artists can be seen as three-dimensional portraits of interiors.
Put center-stage, Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s and Nick Mauss’s contributions—Jean Cocteau . . ., 2003–14, and Concern, Crush, Desire, 2011—pay tribute to Cocteau and to his set and costume designer, Christian Bérard, respectively: apt references given their association with the Ballets Russes, based in Monte Carlo in the 1930s. Though parts of these hyper-detailed composite works have been shown elsewhere, they acquire new resonance here, framed by a variety of posters, paintings, and stage set models from the museum’s collection.
A surfeit of objects also characterizes Laure Prouvost’s video and sculptural installation Wantee, 2013, strikingly exhibited in a darkened interior. One of the spotlighted components of the piece portrays a painting of a cluttered interior scene, in part a mise en abyme that echoes one of the show’s dominant modes. Similar doubling effects, recurrent patterns, and destabilizing shifts in media course through the installations of Brice Dellsperger—in which seven Dan Flavin monochromes that appear in one of Dellsperger’s “Double Body” videos are placed beside screens projecting cult films that have been remade by the artist, who interprets each role—and of Danica Dakic, whose Isola Bella, 2007–2008, is named after a period wallpaper, which Dakic reproduced as a film poster and backdrop for a production she filmed in a Bosnian home for the mentally handicapped.
Contradictions abound when street-art interventions turn up in a gallery space. But South African–born, Berlin-based artist Robin Rhode succeeds in this context, bringing genuine impulsiveness to his first Hong Kong show. Mainly focusing on process, the exhibition, which includes video, photography, and animation, found its rationale on opening night, when Rhode galvanized the huddled crowds with a performance titled Car Wash, in which he drew a car on an empty black wall with chalk. Running back and forth, he embraced a gestural approach, evoking an admixture of capoeira and warm-ups for hip-hop combos. Unfazed by the enthralled audience, Rhode at first pushed people aside and treated them as props, later letting them participate by encouraging them to clean the drawing. Left behind will be a video of his improvised choreography, chalk and a shoe-shine box on the floor (which Rhode had used to draw two black circles representing tires), and a bucket.
More traditional testimonies to his performative approach are found in the multiple framed photographic installations on view. For instance, the poetic Fountain, 2014, is made up of fifteen serial photographs capturing the back of a Buster Keaton–like character on a stepladder who is pouring champagne over a white wall illustrated with a sketch of a Champagne tower. In this and other mise-en-scčnes, Rhode creates trompe-l’oeil effects that are charmingly outdated but also fresh and irresistibly enticing.
In a timely exhibition of a new series of works, created from stickers, trinkets, and other ephemera, Tibetan-born artist Gonkar Gyatso explores the impact of global mass-media culture on his homeland’s traditional identity, and offers a comment on both Chinese and American hegemony. The collage Zhong Guo Da Ma (Big Momma China) (all works 2014) feels especially relevant. The collage consists of four stylized Chinese characters that spell out its title. The words, made of aluminum and Plexiglas on Dibond, appear on diamond-shaped paper backgrounds. Each composition is adorned with the kind of gaudy bric-a-brac that might typically feature the sort of “Made in China” stickers bordering the piece.
Certain motifs recur throughout: champagne flutes, rubber ducks, and dice among them—representing, perhaps, the hypocrisy, immaturity, and unpredictability associated with the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership. Similar works spell out other expressions that have been popular in the Chinese mass media, such as Di Gou You (Gutter Oil) and Lao Hu (Tiger)—the latter referring to a member of the nation’s ruling class—and the works’ import derives from Gyatso’s selection and juxtaposition of these phrases.
America doesn’t get off lightly either; the words “Drone,” “FML,” and “Prism” appear side by side, references to the military and to Internet slang that slyly subvert each other, their frames ornamented with a gold-painted bald-eagle crest, Barbie dolls, and red-white-and-blue bunting, respectively. Gyatso’s works, with their color and bling, might seem playful at first glance, but they’re also the result of a serious and long-term meditation on the future of a modern Tibet, which faces repression and conflict on one hand and the shallow misappropriation of its cultural legacy on the other.
“CUT | OFF” is made up of two seemingly divergent series of works. One consists of realistic drawings of diminutive cacti framed by primary geometric shapes on top of a much larger grid of meticulous lines in chromatic gradation. Zhang Ruyi's use of abstract colorism and rational coolness could be seen as part of a broader tendency in painterly practices in China (with variants on the theme being offered by Dong Dawei, Li Shurui, Xie Molin, Chen Jie, among others)—a trend that looks a bit like a domestic Chinese assimilation of and fascination with post-painterly abstraction and Color Field.
The other series is made up of concrete sculptures, buttressed internally by wires and shaped into rectangular forms of various sizes that seal off the windows, doorways, and indeed one whole room. Of course, artists in China are no strangers to such spatial interventions, but this one is as much inspired by its domestic antecedents as by works of the British artist Rachel Whiteread. For Zhang, her materials not only highlight the oft-ignored structural fundaments of buildings but also (as for Whiteread) foreground negative space and absence. By blocking out the lights and sounds of the external world, she shifts focus squarely to the space, grain and texture, and heightened bodily sensation. Concrete serves as a metaphor for a stance of stubborn resistance and slowness—a metaphor that resonates with the durability of the cacti that have so entranced the artist, as well as the sheer expenditure of time and labor required to create her works.
This exhibition presents a series of Cai Guo-Qiang’s unsettling new works that draw attention to the current environmental crisis facing China and the rest of the world. Many of the pieces, which range from large-scale gunpowder drawings to installations incorporating porcelain, pools of ink, and sculptures, were created specifically in response to the museum’s past as a coal-fired electrical plant, a precursor to China’s present industrialization.
Dominating the main hall is The Ninth Wave, 2014, an installation of ninety-nine life-size animals made of Styrofoam and wool keeled around the sides of a fishing boat from Quanzhou as if they were seasick. A Noah’s Ark reimagined for contemporary China—without much sign of the dove. A drawing made with gunpowder and stencils, The Bund Without Us, 2014, renders a dystopian vision of Shanghai’s landmark Bund promenade, with alligators swimming in the Huangpu River while its banks burn. Head On, 2006, originally commissioned by Deutsche Bank, is a frozen tableau of ninety-nine wolves hurling themselves against a glass wall and limping back to the start, as if representing the cyclical mistakes of history.
Air of Heaven, 2014, however, is the most disquieting piece. To see it, visitors must exit the museum, and they aren’t allowed back in. Inside the dark disused chimney of the plant, three baby dolls sit on a mechanized swing. With their features distorted and heads tilted up toward the chimney’s shaft, they are almost stereotypically horrific. Compared to the previous works’ nuanced commentary, this one comes across as a raw cry for reflection and compassion for Earth’s most vulnerable creatures. A fitting closure, then, to an exhibition displaying a bare critique of the ruthless surge of modernization and its costs.
For a year, under the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, William Kentridge mentored artist Mateo López. Now the two exhibit in adjacent galleries (Kentridge in MAMM’s main rooms and López in the project space), and while López’s exhibit, “Constellations,” features two works made in collaboration with Kentridge, it focuses less on how the pair’s time together unfolded than on where López’s practice is and where it’s headed.
One of the two collaborative works is an animation: Titled Dictionary from K to L, 2013, the piece depicts a book whose pages turn to reveal the figures of Kentridge and López, pacing back and forth as if thinking, each always isolated from the other. The other work by both artists is the aptly titled figurative sculpture Brazo de Carbón (Arm of Carbon), 2013. Both signal new directions in the oeuvre of the younger artist, whose drawing practice has expanded, incorporating new techniques such as stop-motion animation as well as new approaches to the very material used in drawing—graphite—presented here sculpturally in its raw, natural state.
The studio continues to be one of López’s central themes, which the exhibition highlights through its inclusion of objects that recall a working area; an exhibited drafting table, writing desk, and stool are all on view, abutting—and merging with—López’s own drawings. The exhibition thus offers up a participatory situation, such that visitors, in a sense, become the artist himself, learning how to engage with and behave around the objects that inhabit his studio-like space.