Titled “Posthumous Lives,” this is an exhibition of work by two artists who are very much still alive. Mitchell Anderson contributes High Zest, 2015–16, a stack of trading cards from Operation Enduring Freedom—the name of US military operations in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. The packaging reads: “A portion of proceeds from this product will be contributed to charities related to the war against terrorism.” I’m sure glad we won that war and can finally stop enduring all this freedom; the sales from the cards were no doubt a major contributing factor. Elsewhere, Anderson shows a series of titanium-steel wall pieces, “A Symposium on ‘Alien,’” 2014–16, containing charts, etched via laser, deconstructing the 1979 film Alien.
Then there’s Jon Rafman, who has made two marble reliefs featuring two dragons fucking a car. In Dragons Fucking Car I (Relief), 2016, one dragon slides his dong into the exhaust pipe while licking the back windshield. The other dragon has just jizzed, greedily licking his own sauce off the front hood.
This is the language of dreams––which is to say, made of the stuff of real life, since reality is the main ingredient in our dream juice. This seems literalized in Rafman’s video Dream Journal (Wound Man Closet), 2016. You shut yourself up in this claustrophobically contained space––a box, actually––and watch the artist’s dreams animated before your very eyes. All sorts of things appear: Mel Gibson posing against a graffiti backdrop that reads “Legalize murder”; Britney Spears taking a piss. It could all be real––it is––and yet it’s not. It’s confusing, and reassuring because of that. Life is what happens when you’re too busy dying to really notice it. And anyway, the alien’s been inside us all along.
Monuments to white power and dominion have been a focal point of the culture wars gripping South Africa, prompting heated discussions about their survival. Yet Helen Pheby, the senior curator at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, doesn’t directly engage this ongoing volatility in “A Place in Time,” her guest showcase of fifty-two mostly new outdoor works by thirty-seven artists from Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, and the UK at this sculpture park northwest of Johannesburg. Inspired by the area’s fossil-rich landscapes, her survey of contemporary sculpture instead places these works in a continuum of human time by juxtaposing them against a museological display of archaeological fragments in a small gallery.
Richard Long’s Standing Stone Circle, 2011, composed of loose rocks found in the untended parts of the park, is a permanent installation. A literal outlier, it nonetheless animates Pheby’s central theme. Similar to Long’s remote piece, James Webb’s audio work There’s No Place Called Home, 2004–16, which plays foreign birdcalls from a tree in the landscaped garden, is subsumed by its organic context—a minority position, as most of the outdoor works are plainly legible as such.
Mary Sibande explores her long-standing interest in fashion in The Mechanism, 2016, a study of a mechanical sewing needle rendered at the scale of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s public works. Nearby, Nandipha Mntambo synthesizes mythologies in the outsize bronze figure Minotaurus, 2015. There is a corollary between this resolute figure and Thomas J. Price’s Mental Structure #19, 2014–15, a facsimile of a black male figure composed from Perspex and bronze that prefigures an encounter with Johan Thom’s Hanging Garden, 2016: two bronze feet set atop a glass vitrine on a wooden terrace covered in an off-white polyurethane sludge, its drained, white figure speaking to the changeable politics raging outside the park.
In Günther Förg’s lifelong relationship with abstract painting, he embraced colors even if it included limiting his use of them. He played unwaveringly with the sense of proportion on his canvases. The paintings on exhibit here were made after 2007 and after he had established a reputation for lead paintings and monochromes. But unlike his earlier Minimalist works, these varicolored renditions are abundantly expressive. For instance, Untitled, 2008—a large, white-primed canvas on which the artist energetically scribbled blocks of pink and ocher amid occasional incidents of blue, yellow, and green—is redolent with something close to desire. Seemingly hasty in gesture, the blocks consist of vertical lines and look almost like rubbings or smears. They appear disparate at first, but their constancy across the painting’s surface and the repetitious pattern form a definite composition. As a result, this series of paintings, five in total, energizes the atmosphere in the room. In another untitled canvas also from 2008, no particular hue dominates, but rather Förg has prioritized the distribution of sky blue, orange-red, and deep purple as groupings laid atop other color variations. They cohere with rhythm, and the painting seems to move from left to right, guided by the bright scribbles.
Förg’s blocks are prolific and appear to quiver, sometimes breaking away from their flocks. Ultimately, it is the white priming of their background, like the white of an eye, that allows them to react so strongly to one another. As if on the verge of a precipice, the viewer’s gaze is torn from a soft pink to a pine green, back and forth and over again. Each canvas enacts its own pace as Förg exploits the suggestive interrelations between his colored rectangular shapes to create an aesthetic experience that engages all the senses.
Meta Project’s inaugural exhibition, “Wang Wei’s Guest,” exploits its setting within the heart of Shanghai in a timeworn Western-style housing block where the householders are inquisitive and rarely keep secrets. Similar to Arrow Factory—an art space in a residential area of Beijing that the artist cofounded—such surroundings naturally foster a sense of reciprocated observation between artists and locals. This potential for art to interact with its context has always interested Wang, and his work here—Wang Wei’s Guest, 2016, an uninhabited, slightly lopsided but otherwise exact replica of a police security post set in the residential courtyard––superimposes a layer of contradiction and complexity onto the existing “see and be seen” relationship.
The detailed replication of the security post is evidenced by the placement of its air-conditioning unit and bits of packing tape still clinging to the window. We are compelled to peek inside—but, as with attempts to identify authoritarian power, it is impossible to know anything from the outside. By way of remedy, Wang has transferred all of the sentry box’s contents, including a standard-issue chair and a list of “booth personnel management regulations,” into Meta Project’s adjacent exhibition space. Owing to the security post’s erroneous placement, however, many passersby have overlooked this dimension to the artwork. The paradox he creates relies on the dismantling of the ready-made to achieve its apposition: indoor and outdoor realms are, in fact, parallel worlds that keep an eye on and serve to elucidate each other.
Clearly, neither the artist nor the curators at Meta Space are satisfied with the traditional, safe white cube. They instead focus on bringing invisible ideologies and assumptions into the exhibition space. In doing so, Wang has transformed a place of neighborly observation into a subject to be observed.
Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.
Comprising about three hundred works, “Hammer on the Square” is an exhaustive retrospective chronicling the career of Indian artist Himmat Shah. Curated by Roobina Karode, the exhibition charts Shah’s progression from his early work with paper and sculptural silver paintings done in plaster of paris, enamel, and silver foil to the terra-cotta and bronze sculptures that he is best known for.
The bronze sculpture Hammer on the Square, 2007–2008, opens the show in the first gallery, wherein Karode sets clusters of works in different media and from different periods in dialogue, revealing a kinship of form. Especially striking in this grouping are Shah’s burnt paper collages—all untitled and from 1962—arranged in a vitrine and juxtaposed with whimsical pen-and-ink drawings from the 1960s to the 1990s.
A large number of terra-cotta works, made between 1980 and 1999 and all untitled, are also on display. Many of these sensuous sculptures remind one of excavated objects: potshards, pillars, totems. Incidentally, Shah is no stranger to archeological sites, as he grew up in Lothal, an artifact-strewn village in Western India where the remains of an ancient Indus valley city were discovered in the 1950s. Some of his terra-cotta pieces hold small found objects glazed in gold, like seeds about to burst, reminiscent of the cosmic egg in creation myths. Among these are several excerpts from the series “Head,” 1980–99. Made to resemble human skulls and carrying scratches and folds made directly on wet clay, these sculptures stare mute in a pregnant, primordial silence as their gaze puts forth to the viewer an urgent yet unknowable question.
The culmination of Charles Lim’s research since 2005 and the most comprehensive in a series of exhibitions, “SEA STATE” is an exhaustive lens through which a practice that seeks to understand national borders not through land but through the sea is revealed. Presented in a gallery with brilliant white floors and light-box ceilings, the art occupies an extremely white “white cube.” But such an archetypal exhibition space seems almost ironic given the inclusion of objects that in any other context could be material evidence, such as maps, a video interview multiscreen video works, and an appropriated buoy.
Suspended within such an atmosphere, works such as Sea State 7: Sandwich, 2015, featuring vertically oriented footage of harbors, and Sea State 3: Inversion, 2014, a 3-D sand print that details the negative space of the seabed surrounding Singapore, cultivate an aesthetics of information. Based on distilled geological data, the nonspecialist may find such work difficult to read––although everyone can appreciate an art object. Expanded on from its last iteration in the Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, this body of work delves deep into the modern history of the city-state’s land reclamation project. Particularly poignant is Sea State 9: Proclamation, 2015, an adapted map of the city-state’s recovered land that harks back to the Foreshores Act, a law that declares all reclaimed land as belonging to the state and absolved of any public or private rights asserted before it was repossessed.
The artworks presented in “SEA STATE” double as geopolitical residuals from borders that change rapidly and sometimes disappear altogether. Like the elusive delineations that they aim to capture, these objects are tensely poised between art and records of a politically charged and geologically impactful land grab in the region.
“Artspectrum” is Seoul’s answer to the Whitney Biennial. Since 2001, it has supported emerging artists and showcased a broad spectrum of Korean contemporary art. This year, ten artists and artist groups are presented. For their contribution Art Spectral, 2016, the Okin Collective (Joungmin Yi, Hwayong Kim, and Shiu Jin) installed a wide wooden floor within the gallery and outfitted the space as a quasi-living room or lounge. They instruct visitors on how to enjoy it: Heat the pillow in the provided microwave, rest on it, read their publication (copies of which are scattered across the installation), and exercise your eyes by watching the simple movements of balls in a single-channel video. The book is a collection of writings by critics and curators on “vanishing” and “invisibility.” And through the work’s play on the exhibition title, Okin Collective refers to the unstable social status of the emerging artists in Artspectrum exhibitions, most of whom are required to “disappear” outside of the museum in order to pick up odd jobs to support themselves, giving their lives a ghostlike character.
Family Plan, 2016, suggests that this feeling of economic instability is shared by a generation. The artists, graphic designer Hyungjae Kim and information researcher Jaehyun Bahk, working as the duo Optical Race, collected and analyzed fiscal data about income, expenditures, and assets for single men and women in South Korea and set them alongside similar statistics for their parents. By pairing the different cases, they created four hundred virtual families whose combined incomes and assets are represented by color-coded circular mats arranged on the gallery floor. Visitors are inspired to stand on the circle that best reflects their own financial situation. The mats give an approximate location for their position on the social ladder and even project whether it would be possible for them to afford a proper wedding or sustain a family. Visitors to this high-profile exhibition may relax on warm rice pillows or enjoy soft mats on the floor, but these artworks manage to speak to the harsh reality outside the gallery.
Demonstrating his dexterity across various media, Bae Young-Whan presents painting, sculpture, installation, and video in “Pagus Avium,” Platform-L’s inaugural exhibition. The first since his breakthrough solo exhibition at the Samsung Museum of Art in 2012, the show unveils new artworks that both reference and transgress Bae’s conceptual oeuvre.
Before one enters the first hall, the sound of large temple bells can be heard resonating throughout the space. The heavy, meditative repetitions are rousing, but they unexpectedly come from industrial-size speakers, amplifiers, megaphones, and loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling in Babel–1 (all works cited, 2016). Megaphone shaped pieces are also scattered on the floor near Speech, Thought, Meaning, a sculpture of a giant parrot hooded like a hunting falcon and perched atop a measuring stick. The non-standardized gold-color increments painted on the ruler are reminiscent of those that have appeared repeatedly in Bae’s past works. The parrot affirms the artist’s interest in birds as symbols of flight and captivity, a theme echoed upstairs in the four-channel video Abstract Verb—Can You Remember? On each screen a single, anonymous figure wearing a costume of bright orange fabric plumage dances energetically to the beat of drums. The dancer, whose face is obscured, spreads his “wings” in expressive gestures that strive to communicate without words. The viewer, moving slowly between the screens in observation, naturally becomes a predator.
Inspired by John Cage’s performance piece Musicircus, 1967, which invites musicians of different genres to perform together, Yuko Mohri, in her latest exhibition, simulates Cage’s multi-ring conception of the circus. The piece I/O – Circus without Circus (all works cited 2016) spans the gallery space: scrolls of paper draped from rotating and stationary black tubes, suspended from two shelves hung from the ceiling; lightbulbs flickering; cables twitching and tapping at their ends, while connected to everyday objects—a ladle, a plastic bag, a pair of window blinds, a set of spoons, and an accordion sounding off against a wall. As in an orchestra, each element has its own sound and role, occasionally making a noise to catch your attention; and stopping just as you look in its direction. The work operates as an event and performance about light, gravity, and heat, never repeating and always in flux. It is perhaps fittingly stationed next to the single-channel video Everything Flows, with scenes of tree branches swaying in the wind, a pair of rings dangling on a sign, a garbage can turned on its side and blowing around, curtains swaying lightly in a room, and drapes of fabric from a window gently moving in the breeze. As Mohri reminds us, everything is connected, either by wire, circuits, or forces unseen by the human eye, and everything in essence ebbs and flows—has an input and output—conserved in this very symphony.
Founded in 1948, the Ofakim Hadashim, meaning “New Horizons,” group of twenty-some artists hung together for well over a decade, and their embrace of such movements as Cubism, Surrealism, and biomorphism, among others, coincided with the formation of modern Israeli art. From the beginning, there was a dual imperative to acknowledge, even synthesize, the stylistic proclivities of an international art world and to form, through such appropriations, a distinctly national school. “A New Horizon for New Horizons” is the first comprehensive exhibition since 1966 to show the work of this cohort, and it complements the publication of a revised and annotated edition of Gila Balas’s 1980 monograph and exhibition history of the group.
The cracked surfaces of paintings and original frames evidence their hiatus from public view. To be sure, much has changed in the fifty years since, and this current outing makes clear both the historical ambitions of and the later developments in Israeli art inspired by their work. Installed chronologically, the show deftly reveals the move of so many individual practitioners from figuration to some mode of abstraction—as with Robert Baser and Joseph Zaritsky—and from a darker palette to one ever lighter, even sun-bleached, as in Raffi Lavie’s untitled painting from 1962. And yet, such supposed advances coexist with other notions of painting, sculpture, and works on paper, which admits the uneven reception of art from elsewhere—many of these artists, including Zaritsky, spent time in Europe—and the competing priorities within what had become a moribund style.
Still, much of the work feels vital beyond its historical importance. The fact that the last gallery houses works by contemporary artists contributes to this argument of generational passage and homage from within, paradoxically bringing the wider relevance of such forbearers into the present tense.
The work of Willys de Castro is less silent than we assume. Sparsely hung with only two or three artworks in each of the exhibition’s four rooms, the Neo-concrete artist’s latest solo show gives his “Objeto Ativo” (Active Object) series, 1959-1962, enough space to breathe. Some of his most famous and influential pieces are on display, and the slender pieces of wood covered in geometric patterns engage with poems by the artist—many unknown until now—that are shown alongside the works.
“Lado a Lado,” Portuguese for “side by side,” is the title of one such poem and also the name of the exhibition. It couldn’t be more fitting, as each artwork in “Objeto Ativo” is painted with a balanced and dualistic composition of complementary colors. On the typed page, the a in “lado a lado” is slightly below the rest of the words, occupying a place analogous to that of the viewer standing before the art, which hangs at a slightly elevated position on the wall. Somewhere in between, beholders are subject to the faint glow of two distinct chromatic experiences merging.
When he invented the Objeto Ativo in 1959, Castro was thinking about how art can trigger spontaneous choreographies in space. He hoped to manipulate the bodies of his audience in much the same way as Neo-concretists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. But unlike his Carioca colleagues, Castro lived in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, and sustained some of the austerity of the Concrete school that originated there. His oeuvre is thus closer to industrial design and less organic in nature. Here, we see him at his peak, poised between the rigidity of the concrete jungle and the Neo-concretist desire for movement that blossomed in Rio.