Critical writing from the expanded field of contemporary art.

Ben Eastham

Patrick Langley
Francesca Wade

Assistant Editor
Novuyo Moyo

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              60th Venice Biennale, Central Asian Pavilions
              Nikolay Smirnov
              Between 2005 and 2013, the Central Asian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale presented work from the region. For the past two editions, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have exhibited independently, which raises the question of what they hope to achieve. The Uzbekistan Pavilion is run by the state-funded Art and Culture Development Foundation, which is closely connected to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev through his daughter and official advisor Saida, who is known as the country’s image-maker. It has significant resources to “integrate the art of Uzbekistan into the global art and cultural space,” including by staging spectacular installations in a spacious pavilion at the heart of the Arsenale. Compared to these soft power aspirations, the Kazakhstan Pavilion is a private initiative, if also closely linked to family networks, in this case between curator and artist. For the 2024 edition of the Biennale, Astana gallerist Danagul Tolepbay wanted to exhibit the works of her father, Yerbolat Tolepbay, one of the most famous “official” artists of his generation, in a parallel program. Being receptive to the idea, representatives of the Biennale communicated to her that no official submission for the national pavilion had yet been made. So she sought and received approval and some support …
              Nina Sanadze
              Lauren O’Neill-Butler
              How should a monument be? Who deserves one? And who decides? One response pertinent to Nina Sanadze’s engrossing survey exhibition in her homebase of Melbourne occurred in January 2024, on the eve of Australia Day. Activists there removed a sculpture of Captain Cook and left behind the spray-painted words “The colony will fall” on the plinth. When authorities announced that the statue would be reinstated, the sense was of history reasserting itself. Sanadze’s show, which features installations and sculptures that repurpose fragments of historic statues, explores the way monuments—from sculptures to photographs—shore up particular versions of history, apparently doomed to reoccur. Sanadze was born in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, in 1976, surrounded by large-scale public sculptures of Lenin. As a child she lived next door to the prominent Soviet sculptor Valentin Topuridze (1907–80) and remembers the enormous hands and head of Lenin scattered around his garden. “We kids would climb them,” she has said, adding, “all these figures would be overgrown with grapes, and it was really beautiful, that ruined aesthetic that’s sort of classical art, but not in its perfect museum form.” Many of Topuridze’s public monuments were destroyed after Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in April …
              Chantal Akerman’s “Travelling”
              Max Levin
              Chantal Akerman once told an interviewer that each of her films needs hallways, doors, and rooms. “Those doors and hallways help me frame things, and they also help me work with time.” Akerman’s first major retrospective in her native Brussels showcases the breadth of her time-based achievements across an art-deco labyrinth one could spend days within. The exhibition opens with digital restorations of four 8mm films submitted with Akerman’s 1967 application to art school. Projected alongside each other asynchronously, the silent snapshots drift between frenetic observation and acted scenes with Akerman’s mother and friends. These are the earliest examples of Akerman’s radical filmmaking that she would go on to call “documentary bordering on fiction.” A cinema of ethically crossing thresholds. “Travelling” puns with the French travelling, or tracking shot. Akerman’s camera often moved right-to-left, working against the Hollywood standard of narrative progression and challenging preconceptions of what constitutes an advance. People are in transit in Akerman’s films, and the camera moves with them. Subjects exit train stations, check into hotels, ride the subway, and queue for buses. Les Rendez-vous D’Anna (1978), Akerman’s first film with major distribution, is almost entirely composed from travel passages. Not screened in …
              Wu Tsang and Moved by the Motion’s Carmen
              John Douglas Millar
              Discussing her mode of collaboration, Wu Tsang has remarked that “I always feel the collaboration mandate is: if you’re going to do this, you have to fuck it up. You can’t do it respectfully, you have to almost disrespect it. You have to take it, change it, transform it, make it yours. Do to it what it does to you.” Strange then that Tsang and her collaborative band Moved by the Motion’s version of—intervention into, exploration through—Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen at the Royal Theatre Carré is so respectful at every level; benign, in fact, to the point of offensive. There are two narrative lines: Bizet’s operatic rendering of the tragic story of the passionate Roma cigarette factory worker Carmen murdered by a former lover, the soldier Don José, after leaving him for a toreador is the first. The second follows a single-minded forensic archaeologist, played by Perle Palombe, in her attempt to have a Spanish Civil War grave opened. In this grave is said to be the body of the Red Paloma, a flamenco singer forced to perform in front of Franco before being executed. The archaeologist’s attempts are thwarted by a senior figure in the institution where she …
              Gabriel Chaile’s “Los jóvenes olvidaron sus canciones o Tierra de Fuego”
              Filipa Ramos
              Humans became human by representing themselves and others. By painting images on cave walls of animals that mimicked those they chased, early humans produced the imaginaries and traditions that define us as a species. With their drawings, they invented past and future and connected memory to desire, remembrance to anticipation, trauma to anxiety. The images on those walls might be still, but the stories they told were in motion, animated by the light cast by flickering fires. As such, it could be said that the history of cinema predates written history. Cinema emerged from the animals whose images, engraved in their own blood and hair, expressed motion through time and space, and moved their audiences. This awareness of the archaic nature of cinema, and its relationship to nature, is at the base of Gabriel Chaile’s memorable installation Selva Tucumana [Tucumán Jungle] (2024), which signals an important change in his artistic vocabulary away from the large-scale adobe figures for which he is best known. Born in San Miguel de Tucumán in 1985, the Lisbon-based artist has often sought inspiration in land and kin. His characteristic anthropomorphic sculptures—whose aesthetics echo the precolonial creations of his birthplace—are both private and public. Connected to …
              Rossella Biscotti’s “Title One, I dreamt, Clara and other stories”
              Sean O’Toole
              The earliest work in Rossella Biscotti’s first institutional survey predates her training at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts by a decade. In 1991, when she was 12, the Vlora, a hijacked cargo ship carrying some twenty thousand Albanian refugees, unexpectedly docked in the Italian port city of Bari, near where Biscotti grew up. Many of the economic refugees were housed in a disused stadium. Skirmishes with Italian authorities ensued, resulting both in the refugees being repatriated and stricter border policies being implemented. A year later, Biscotti took a black-and-white photograph of the Adriatic Sea from Bari; using pen, she later superimposed onto this photo the outline of a hill, which she labeled “Albania,” also adding a fence, its central feature identified in Italian with the word cancello, or gate. Displayed in the first of six rooms devoted to Biscotti’s thematically fluid and research-intensive work, this untitled photo highlights the importance of the sea in the artist’s work. Far from being a hackneyed subject, the sea emerges—episodically rather than serially—as a space that has enabled Biscotti to develop and refine her central artistic gesture: the recovery and visualization of “untold stories and unrepresented people”. Take Clara (2016), a sculptural installation …
              Biennale Gherdëina 9, “The Parliament of Marmots”
              Novuyo Moyo
              The ninth Biennale Gherdëina takes its title from a Ladin myth that is, in part, a cautionary tale. It narrates the series of tragedies that follows when the Fanes—the indigenous people of the Dolomites—betray a pact with their animal allies, the marmots. The Kingdom of Fanes—a national epic that roams across Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East—informs an exhibition that dwells on themes of interspecies relations, communal identity, and collaboration. As a place where people, cultures, and languages meet (German, Italian, and to a lesser extent, Ladin—the language of the Fanes—are used interchangeably), the Dolomite mountains on the border of Italy and Austria provide the ideal backdrop for these reflections. In the darkened theater of Cësa di Ladins Museum, a bird’s song plays over speakers. Starting off with sweet melodious notes, Ruth Beraha’s Il cielo è deI violenti (The sky belongs to the violent, 2024) soon multiplies and swells, converging in discordant screeches that remind us that nature can be comforting and accommodating but also menacing and overwhelming—like the marmot, a cute-looking ground squirrel which has, reasonably, been described as “vicious.” The song loops back to the beginning, maintaining the tension between calm and panic. Beraha picks up the …
              The Editors
              Once a week I stand in front of a work of art in order to write about it. This exercise, designed to keep my eye in, has certain constraints. The text must be written in the presence of the work, in a single sitting, and without recourse to external resources. Not the least consequence of this workout has been the revelation of my own ignorance when denied access to online dictionaries (what is it called again when you scratch marks into oil paint?). But the most relevant here is how difficult it is for any visitor to spend a long time looking at things in exhibition spaces: I am endlessly being told by invigilators to keep moving, to get up from the floor, to stop obstructing the flow. Last week, for instance, I visited another of those group shows dedicated to queering an abstract noun. The final room contained a standing speaker playing spoken word and music, an incense burner, and a dozen books of theory arranged as if to be read. The intention, it seemed, was to create an environment for self-education and reflection, and so I took a seat on the ledge running around the room’s perimeter. …
              Rahima Gambo’s “Alternative Central Area Locations”
              Michael Kurtz
              When the Nigerian government confirmed its plan to construct a new capital in the seventies, it was intended to be a glorious symbol of a prosperous independent nation. Situated in the middle of the country, Abuja would unify the federation’s distinct ethnic groups, redistribute its growing population, and give concrete form to its booming oil revenue. But, mired by decades of political maneuvering and mismanagement, the city instead became a notorious example of the government’s neglect of its people in favor of ruling elites and foreign partners. The contract for the masterplan was won by a consortium of American firms and Japanese architect Kenzō Tange was hired to design the Central Business District. Over 800 villages were dispossessed of their ancestral lands to make way for the city, where insufficient housing stock later forced many into slums on the outskirts. The new capital had been dreamed up in corporate boardrooms around the world. In Rahima Gambo’s exhibition at Gasworks, a site-specific installation informed by archival research on Abuja’s development, it is as if things in one such boardroom have gone awry. Two projectors play helicopter footage of Abuja, after its inauguration in 1991 but seemingly still under construction, on opposite …
              Glasgow International
              Daisy Hildyard
              At the end of the first day of Glasgow International I sat on a straw bale at Tramway to watch Delaine Le Bas dancing on a white boxing ring that had been surfaced with eggshells. The performance, and the maximal neon and sequin installation of inked and embroidered sheets and bottled urine that environed it, made an emphatic point about life as a traveller now: “WE’RE NOT WALKING ON EGGSHELLS ANY MORE,” Le Bas shouted. I was thinking about the hens. I wondered how long it had taken them to lay so many, many eggs, and whether each shell was from a different chicken, or some of them contributed multiple eggs as a durational project. Were the eggs free-range, or repurposed byproducts of the omelette industry? Around me the performers stamped and shouted; the audience watched, whispered, and sipped white wine. Meanwhile, elsewhere, the hens were roosting, having contributed time and body so that we could do… this. I’m not taking any moral high ground here (I eat eggs for breakfast) but the warm, feathery, apparently collateral bodies intruded on my experience of the performance and I was unable to watch it on its own terms. I suspect this is …
              Miranda July’s “New Society”
              Wendy Vogel
              “Do you love me, even though I’m sometimes irritating and a little bit selfish?” Miranda July asks in the brief audio recording The Crowd (2004). I wasn’t sure. I had spent nearly three hours in July’s solo exhibition at Fondazione Prada’s Osservatorio—the first major retrospective of her performance and visual art—and I was getting tired. Her voice echoed off the walls of the bathroom where the piece had been installed. “That’s a good thing, because I love you too. I’m just not very good at it! But I’m trying to change,” she responds. A recorded audience cheers. “This song is for you and it’s a love song,” July concludes, her voice fading to the sounds of a band tuning up. As I washed and dried my hands, I warmed back up at the cheerful resolution. As though anticipating my grumpiness, the artist had assured me of her affection. The Crowd is a succinct example of July’s signature performance move: vulnerability, bordering on neurosis, giving way to sentimental declarations that secure her power. She has a gift for connecting with an audience, cutting through the noise of a large group to create intimacy with individuals. Organized by Mia Locks, “New Society” …
              Jordan Strafer’s “DECADENCE”
              Stephanie Bailey
              “The Kennedys. Palm Beach. A charge of rape. It all made for a real-life soap opera in May 1991 that resulted in an arrest, a trial, and non-stop cable TV coverage.” So reads a recent Miami Herald summary of William Kennedy Smith’s trial, when John F. Kennedy’s nephew was acquitted of raping a twenty-nine-year-old woman. New York-based artist Jordan Strafer fictionalizes that case in “DECADENCE,” an exhibition at the Renaissance Society showing two films back-to-back on a large standing screen, starting with LOOPHOLE (2023). Clocking in at twenty-four minutes (the standard runtime of a TV episode), and filmed in the style of a 1980s soap crossed with a true crime reconstruction, LOOPHOLE draws on sociolinguist Gregory Matoesian’s observations on the “matrix of language, law, and society” that he saw mobilized in Smith’s court proceedings “to create and recreate cultural hegemony”—which Matoesian found to be inextricable with patriarchy. Echoing Matoesian’s findings, Strafer zooms in on what Matoesian described as the poetic, aesthetic, and “persuasive rhythms of trial talk” designed to “organize and intensify the inconsistencies in the victim’s account and shape them into a cumulative web of reasonable doubt.” LOOPHOLE plays with that doubt by embellishing proceedings with a Lynchian surreality …
              Zürich Art Weekend
              Orit Gat
              Heidi Bucher’s Skin Room (Rick’s Nursery, Lindgut Winterthur) (1987) is a mold made from latex and fish glue of a friend of the artist’s childhood room. On view at the Migros Museum as part of a collection show titled “Material Manipulations,” this “skin” hangs by clear strings from the ceiling: yellowish, haunting, still recognizably domestic. Next to Bucher’s sculpture, in Martín Soto Climént’s The Swan Swoons in the Still of the Swirl (Stills 1,2,3,4,5,6) (2010), metal Venetian blinds hang, spread like handheld fans, from ceiling to floor. These elegant sculptures, like Bucher’s work, figure the home as physical artifice, bricks and mortar, more material construction than abstract idea. The effect is alienating and evocative at once, and the fragility of these homes suggests the impossibility of conceiving of the home as simple refuge. A second show at the Migros, Dineo Seshee Raisibe Bopape’s “(ka) pheko ye – the dream to come,” subverts this construction of home by bringing to the museum the very real conditions of Bopape’s native South Africa through clay display structures that echo the front yards in which people congregate, work, and socialize. Bopape makes a place for dreaming and “collective healing” through both objects—like the projector …
              Tolia Astakhishvili’s “between father and mother”
              Chris Murtha
              Built from conventional architectural materials including drywall and cement, and later stained with coffee, dirt, and pigment to mimic the wear and tear of time, Tolia Astakhishvili’s installations hover between construction and destruction. SculptureCenter’s brick and cast-iron building, initially designed for repairing trolleys and later used to manufacture derricks, hoists, and cranes, proves a fitting host for the Georgian artist’s first exhibition in the United States. Having previously explored the mutability of domestic spaces, and how they accumulate the marks and alterations of their inhabitants, Astakhishvili here contends with a formerly industrial site, while still remaining focused on what spaces tell us about humans come and gone. As she did with two recent exhibitions in Germany, Astakhishvili incorporates collaborative projects and works by peers into her installation—an extension of, rather than challenge to, authorship. A microcosm of the exhibiting institution, her fabricated environments become fleeting hosts for her own and others’ artworks. The first sculpture visitors encounter is Astakhishvili’s The endless House (all works 2024 unless otherwise stated), a freestanding cement and particleboard wall modeled on those found in the building’s basement. The structure’s narrow cavities harbor a sculpture and photograph by Katinka Bock and reverberate with the sound of …
              “Patterns of (In)Security II”
              Nina Chkareuli-Mdivani
              Taking its name from Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel The Possibility of an Island, this artist-run space in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood hosts the second iteration of a dual exhibition that hints at the possibility of establishing a space of refuge between divergent positions. Extending a collaboration that began in Tbilisi last year, Sabine Hornig and Tamuna Chabashvili seek to establish some common ground between idealism and pragmatism, collective and individual, order and freedom. Hornig presents a sculpture and photograph engaging with the sustainability of democracy as it is accosted on all sides by populism, chauvinism, and realpolitik. Wahlkabine (2024) is a freestanding metal structure, the grids of which are patterned like bricks, inspired by Tbilisi balconies. In Georgia, these private-turned-public structures are markers of the turbulent 1990s, when citizens of a fledgling democracy were trying to carve out spaces for themselves in the new post-socialist reality. The architectural structure creates two small rooms that can only be entered from different sides. Translating as “voting booth,” the sculpture observes you as you observe it. There are small mirrored tables in each of the divided sections, reminding the visitor of their personal responsibilities. In its evocation of the wall that once stood …
              Lala Rukh’s “In the Round”
              Murtaza Vali
              Widely recognized as a committed activist and an influential educator and mentor, Lala Rukh, who passed away at the age of 69 in 2017, was notoriously reticent about sharing her own art practice, its rigorous conceptualism, minimalist precision, and commitment to drawing placing her firmly at odds with prevailing trends in Pakistan. As the first major retrospective of her work, “In the Round” attempts to reconcile the fiercely embodied immanence of her politics and pedagogy and the transcendence of her art, which approaches the mystical through breathtaking formal economy. Lala co-founded the Women’s Action Forum in 1981, a grassroots feminist organization established to challenge misogynist laws and policies introduced by the military dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. This, and Lala’s other political activism, is presented at Sharjah Art Foundation through extensive archival displays that include photographs and videos from protests and conferences, testimonies from comrades, students, and friends, posters Lala designed and produced herself, and a screen-printing manual for activists (titled In our own Backyard) that she published in 1987 to counter the regime’s ban on independent printing presses. As the leader of a novel Master’s program at Lahore’s National College of Arts, Lala also introduced a curriculum that encouraged experimentation …
              “Expeditionary Botanics”
              Hindley Wang
              Drawing connections between botany and colonial conquest through the model of the botanical garden, this exhibition reflects on the migration of materials, ideas, and cultures through case studies of eight plant species found in Southern Yunnan: cinchona, horsfieldia, konjac, nutmeg, rhododendron, rubber, tobacco, and turmeric. Artworks are positioned like roadblocks in this large, ex-industrial white cube, so that the visitor must meander around them and, like these migratory species, chart unpredictable courses. At the entrance, a TV screen supported by two metal poles shows mosquitos drawing blood from human skin, then copulating. Isadora Neves Marques’s hyper-realistic digital animation Aedes aegypti (2017) depicts, as the exhibition text explains, a particular type of mosquito subject to genetic modification by biotechnology company Oxitec. To combat the diffusion of malaria (traditionally treated by quinine derived from cinchona), a “self-limiting” gene is injected into male mosquitos, meaning that their offspring don’t survive into adulthood. An alternative antidote is disclosed on the wall behind the viewer: a botanical illustration of quinine from the Illustrated Manual of Chinese Trees and Shrubs (1937), printed in blue. A trail of black particles leads across the floor to a metal trolley marked with letters in Mandarin “勘界” (Boundary Survey), repeated …
              Fernando Palma Rodríguez’s “Āmantēcayōtl”
              Xenia Benivolski
              When I first visited the wall between Mexico and the US in Patagonia, Arizona, in 2017, the town was celebrating: the redevelopment of a large patch of agricultural land had been halted due to the discovery of traces left by a jaguar. In one dramatic appearance, the endangered animal had accomplished what land activists had been trying to do for years. In this same spirit, Fernando Palma Rodríguez’s work plays on the symbiotic relationship between nature and technology, hinting at the possibility of alliance between animals, machines, and humans in the interest of anti-capitalist resistance. Rodríguez is an artist trained as a mechanical engineer whose 1994 robotic installation, Greetings, Zapata Moles—sewing machines adorned with traditional Mexican wrestling masks—responded to the industrialization of his hometown. Rodríguez’s latest robotic work likewise anthropomorphizes technological objects while extending the definition of technology to include unspoken, embodied forms of knowledge that sustain the living practices of Mesoamerican cultures, with particular reference to the Nahua cosmology. At Canal Projects, Rodríguez draws parallels between the energetic currents that power physical, electronic, and metaphysical grids, and the cosmogenic principles that tie humans to the earth. “Āmantēcayōtl: And When it Disappears, it is Said, the Moon has Died” tells …
              Sukaina Kubba’s “Turn Me Into A Flower”
              Crystal Bennes
              Textiles are at once commodities, expressers of identity, carriers of stories and of memories. Like photographs, they are images inseparable from their materiality. Sukaina Kubba’s first major UK show centers the artist’s obsessive questioning of how far the recognizable elements of Persian rugs—traditionally based on floral or geometric motifs and textured wool—can reasonably be stretched while maintaining their identity. Crafted from a host of industrially derived materials, using an equally wide range of tools, these works trace paths many degrees removed from their design inspirations. A chance encounter with an Iranian Senneh carpet while on residency in the Atacama Desert in Chile provides one point of departure, prompting Kubba to connect the carpet’s floral pattern to its function in nomadic cultures. “Rugs are gardens in the desert,” Kubba says in the exhibition’s accompanying short film, referencing the way carpets are often the first objects to be set up in a new camp. Kubba spent the entirety of her Atacama residency carefully copying the carpet’s design with pen on tracing paper. The resulting work, Corners of Your Sky, Alula (2022), is as delicate as tissue but speaks of Kubba’s determined persistence to complete the tracing. Hyper-detailed in the lower left corner, …
              8th Yokohama Triennale, “Wild Grass: Our Lives”
              Jörg Heiser
              Crossing the street on my way to the Yokohama Museum of Art, the phrase “Wild Grass” flashed through my mind. Suddenly, I stumbled and fell. I was back on my feet quite quickly, but not before a passerby had asked in English whether I needed help. I had tripped over a ground reflector, as if being penalized for straying too far off course, and the warning—catastrophe can strike at any time—set the tone for the exhibition ahead. With a sting in my right hand and left knee, I entered the central venue of the Yokohama Triennale. It’s fortunate that this year’s Triennale has coincided with the reopening of Kenzō Tange’s refurbished Museum of Art, its postmodernist spirit measured by his trademark modularity. The grand entrance gallery is an architectural gem: as you enter at its transverse middle, a series of tiered platforms rises gently to the left and right, spanned by a gabled glass roof with adjustable light slats. The curators of this edition, Carol Yinghua Lu and Liu Ding, have turned this theatrical space into the multi-sensory set of a dystopian scenario. Hovering overhead are three skeletal metal frameworks covered in crisscross vermilion textile strips, like the shed shells …
              New Directions May Emerge
              The Editors
              In a review published last month, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie considered whether the impulse to play is a distraction from what she calls the “serious stuff.” Given that the exhibition by Marwan Rechmaoui prompting these thoughts is staged in downtown Beirut, in a country blighted by corruption and braced for war, what constitutes the “serious stuff” is left implicit. But the same anxiety must nag at anyone making or writing about art today, wherever they are based. How to reconcile awareness of the immediate and unfolding disasters through which we are living—the Israeli assault on Rafah, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the apparently inexorable erosion of democracy—with lives spent making and reflecting upon what might seem to be distractions or diversions from these world-historical issues? It might be worth remembering, here, that the dismissal of creative speculation as socially irresponsible is an authoritarian impulse, and that it often functions as a form of censorship. Moreover, that the characterization of imaginative “distraction” as sinful is convenient to a certain strain of capitalist imperialism. By connecting the capacity for play to the possibility of freedom—imaginative and political—Wilson-Goldie instead suggests that the activity might be valuable precisely because it is a “diversion” from the paths …
              Shadows of Reality: A Catalogue of W.G. Sebald’s Photographic Materials
              Brian Dillon
              “The photograph is meant to get lost somewhere in a box in an attic. It is a nomadic thing that has only a small chance to survive.” W. G. Sebald was not the first writer of fiction to punctuate his prose with darkling snapshots and other photographic fragments. In 1892 the Belgian Symbolist Georges Rodenbach reproduced vacant canal scenes and brooding convents in his novel of obsession and uncanny doubling, Bruges-la-Morte. More renowned: André Breton’s inclusion of Parisian fragments and photographic montage in Nadja (1928). Sebald was well informed about such precursors, as also the Benjamin-Sontag-Barthes axis that sees photographs as phantasmic remnants and memento mori. But images in (and by) Sebald have a more vivid and varied life than this spectral-surreal lineage allows. Until recently, the German author’s photographic habits and motivations have mostly been gleaned from interviews—he died in 2001—and from the books themselves, in which images of characters, landscapes, architecture, and historical disaster may or may not match the “real” thing. So many ways of saying: They are not illustrations, you know. What, then? There is no simple answer in Shadows of Reality, a lavish volume that collects as far as possible (with restrictions from his estate) …
              “Foreigners Everywhere”
              Jace Clayton
              There are differences that make a difference and differences that don’t. The 60th Venice Biennale, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, announces its commitment to the ones that don’t with the title: “Foreigners Everywhere.” The phrase comes from a 2004 artwork by Claire Fontaine reprised for the exhibition but, when blown up to biennial scale, the one-liner turns didactic and presumptuous. Any number of approaches could have mitigated against a title that unites the work of 331 artists under a false equivalency (see also: “We Are the World,” “All Lives Matter”). Pedrosa organizes the show around two broad identity rubrics: “Queer”—a metacategory that includes anyone “who has moved within different sexualities and genders,” along with outsider, folk, and Indigenous artists—and “Foreigner.” In a departure from the Biennale’s usual emphasis on contemporary makers, more than half of the featured artists are deceased. Folkloric, salt-of-the-earth vibes dominate: the mood is wholly at odds with the bland cosmopolitanism at play in terms of who shows up and how the work gets presented. By the time one encounters the colorful burlap-backed tapestries credited to “Arpilleristas (unidentified Chilean artists)” in the Arsenale group exhibition, you’ll have already come across several superficially similar textiles from around the world. …
              Marwan Rechmaoui’s “Chasing the Sun”
              Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
              Marwan Rechmaoui’s latest body of work includes paintings of popsicles and bags of pink cotton candy. There are poppies, fluffy clouds, a pretty sun, and a full moon. The perfectly green crowns of seven parasol pine trees fill one robust frame while the bushy derrieres of three sheep fill another. Among the objects scattered throughout “Chasing the Sun,” on view in the Sfeir-Semler Gallery’s newish project space located in Downtown Beirut near the mouth of the port, are streamers, a kite, marbles, the outlines of a hopscotch game, and boards for checkers and tic-tac-toe. Knowing the artist’s previous work, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d lost the plot here, or at least wandered off toward divertissement. And yet the toys and games of the current show clarify the importance of play and playfulness in Rechmaoui’s larger project. Taken in their imaginative spirit, they question whether the very concept of play—as expressed in art or set against ideas about work, leisure, care for others, and the waging of war—should ever be considered a distraction, a digression, or a detour from the serious stuff. Born in Beirut in 1964, Rechmaoui lived in Abu Dhabi before moving to Boston, where he became …
              Po Po’s “Ascending Primeval Codes”
              Adeline Chia
              Po Po is fascinated by how alphabets, when stripped back to their most abstract forms, can still convey meaning. In an exhibition inspired by sources including Burmese scripts, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Futhark runes, viewers encounter the artist’s own eclectic symbology. These combinations of shaped canvases stretched on round, triangular, rectangular, or square frames exist at the edge of legibility. The color palette is exclusively black and red, painted in solid blocks or subtle gradations of tone. At first glance, due to the stark shapes and austere colors, the twelve works on show could be read as a part of a conversation about geometric abstraction in 1970s Minimalism. But the curatorial essay tells us that Po Po, whose output includes paintings, performances, and installations, conceived of these works in the 1980s when Myanmar was under military rule and isolated from the wider world. He didn’t execute them then for reasons including disillusion after the bloody student protests of 1988, which resulted in his hiatus from artmaking in the 1990s. So despite the works’ outward resemblance to “contentless” abstraction in the Western tradition, they are better understood as part of the artist’s longstanding investigation into signs, symbols, and codes, with meanings that …
              Arthur Jafa’s “BLACK POWER TOOL AND DIE TRYNIG”
              Travis Diehl
              With the subtlety of a revolver, Arthur Jafa’s merciless ***** distilled the racial psychopathy of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) by replacing the white characters in its climactic bloodbath with Black ones. Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster still play Vietnam vet Travis Bickle and the pubescent sex worker he thinks he’s saving but—by recording new performances and stitching them into the original footage—Jafa transformed the white pimp Sport into the Black Scar, the bouncer and the john were made Black, and so too the horrified cops who edge in after Bickle has emptied his guns. This wasn’t so much a subversion as a restoration: the script had called for a Black body count, but was recast to avoid inflaming audiences. Critics of Jafa’s redux—recently screened at Gladstone Gallery—have complained that Taxi Driver was already about race. But Jafa’s grim snuff film takes that fact to be obvious, then warps it, repeating his revised climax with small differences and new surprises, for seventy-three minutes. Jafa’s show of sculptures at 52 Walker carries the same themes of Blackness, erasure, violence, and moving images, but in a more damning, paranoid register. A walkthrough structure, studded with extruded aluminum sculptures like bisected window …
              “Fugas de lo nuestro. Visualidades indígenas de sur a norte”
              Juan José Santos
              A detail in a painting by Venuca Evanán says it all. Tabla Apaykuy y las delicias de Villa (2019/24) depicts a scene typical of the artist’s Peruvian Sarhua community—several members in traditional clothing stand beneath an anthropomorphic sun and against sinuous hills—but, among the mountains, there are pylons. This exhibition—curated by Cristian Vargas Paillahueque and featuring Marilyn Boror Bor, Evanán, and Pablo Lincura—foregrounds aesthetic and thematic deviations from traditional depictions of Indigenous life. Its title, which translates as “Leaks of our own. Indigenous visualities from south to north,” promises escape from the obligation to explore ancestral themes or work within the supposed conventions of an Indigenous tradition, as if it had remained unchanged since pre-Hispanic times. Marilyn Boror Bor is from San Juan Sacatepéquez, a municipality that has suffered water shortages since the completion in 2018, against the wishes of the local Indigenous community, of Cementos Progreso’s San Gabriel cement plant. In Monumento vivo [Living monument] (2021–ongoing), a documented performance, the Mayan Kaqchikel artist stands on a plinth and covers her ankles with cement, merging with it in an action that seeks to commemorate the struggles of Indigenous peoples and defenders of the land, as well as referring to the …
              Moyra Davey’s “Forks & Spoons”
              Maddie Hampton
              Moyra Davey’s latest film, Forks & Spoons (2024), studies the work of five photographers: Francesca Woodman, Carla Williams, Alix Cléo Roubaud, Justine Kurland, and Shala Miller. In her characteristic, essayistic style, Davey weaves together footage of herself pacing between moss-covered tree trunks to a voiceover narration that contextualizes the work of each artist within their respective biographies. Reprising a handful of motifs—close-ups of dog-eared book pages, sunlit corners, long shots of her hands methodically turning through photobooks, and other symbols of the daily and domestic—the film is screened alongside a curated selection of prints and photo books by each artist, so that it functions as a kind of coda for the wider exhibition. Though Davey maintains a porous boundary between cinematic and physical space, she accentuates the varying capacities of moving, still, and published images throughout the show, highlighting how each of these forms carries and conveys distinct meanings. Davey’s subject never shifts, but by translating it across forms, she successfully presents something closer to its totality. Davey’s primary interest here is in many ways a style. Each of her chosen image-makers was or remains attuned to a particular pitch of self-capture: a feminized portraiture of long exposures, blurred movement, …
              1st Klima Biennale Wien
              Aoife Rosenmeyer
              When the factory at Untere Weißgerberstraße 13 in Vienna was converted into a museum, in keeping with artist and designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s colorful and sustainable aesthetic and design principles, straight lines were bent, more light was allowed in, and the façade was adorned with mosaics and pierced with plants. What opened as Museum Hundertwasser in 1991, now KunstHausWien, positions itself as an ecological museum and is the center of an exhibition styling itself as the first “climate biennial.” There “Into the Woods,” curated by Sophie Haslinger—one of many programmed or affiliated exhibitions and projects—arranges works by nineteen artists into thematic areas that cover, amongst others, the effects of monoculture, felling and deforestation, and how climate change is impacting forests in a survey of an environment we depend upon yet routinely destroy. Richard Mosse’s multispectral drone-camera shots illustrate deforestation in pointed pinks; Susanne Kriemann’s screenprints reflect on the poetry and exploitation of woods in ink generated from discarded cheap timber furniture; Eline Benjaminsen and Elias Kimaiyo follow the trail of carbon offsetting to land evictions in Kenya in order that trees can be planted for consumers elsewhere (and intrinsic knowledge of the place and its native fauna lost). Information on all …
              24th Biennale of Sydney, “Ten Thousand Suns”
              Harry Burke
              If “Ten Thousand Suns” has a patron saint, it’s Malcolm Cole, an Aboriginal and South Sea Islander dancer who died from HIV/AIDS in 1995. On view at Chau Chak Wing Museum—one of six venues across the city—Sydney-based photographer William Yang’s documentary portraits of Cole and the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre in the 1970s gleam with the young man’s grace. Next to them, paintings by Martin Wong, who died from the same illness in San Francisco in 1999, venerate working and incarcerated peoples in the artist’s trademark gravelly facture. The biennial probes the interconnectedness of different liberation movements—as spotlighted in the affinities shared by two Chinese diasporic portraitists, for instance, or personified within lives such as Cole’s. In 1988, during the nationwide bicentennial of the First Fleet’s landing on the Eora land that they named Sydney, Cole helped to design the first Aboriginal float at the city’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, in which he paraded in drag as British naval officer Captain Cook. Yuwi, Torres Strait, and South Sea Islander artist Dylan Mooney’s mural Malcolm Cole – larger than life (2024) at White Bay Power Station memorializes the jubilant dancer, his face painted with ochre, in a sassy, wide-brimmed Royal …
              Vija Celmins’s “Winter”
              ​R.H. Lossin
              Vija Celmins’s latest show is at once an invitation to marvel at the perfect copy and to contemplate copying itself. The heavy rope that seems to hang down from the gallery ceiling is, in reality, a stainless-steel sculpture extending up from the ground (Ladder, 2021–22). Its adjunct, another piece of painted steel, Rope #2 (2022—24) sits coiled on the floor, playing its role as a fiber weave with equal conviction. The ropes, along with two other sculptures of exquisite verisimilitude, are enthralling in their own right. They also remind visitors that the surrounding paintings, which can easily register as minimal abstractions, are exercises in illusion and replication as well. Umberto Eco once declared the United States to be a country “obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be […] a perfect likeness, a ‘real’ copy of the reality being represented.” This cultural propensity for real fakes, Eco suggests, is at odds with the “cultured” America that produced Abstract Expressionism and modernist architecture. Celmins seems to think otherwise. “Winter” is full of Eco’s real copies, and Ladder may even be a reference to the “Indian Rope Trick” popular in magic shows. On the other hand, …
              60th Venice Biennale, National Pavilions
              Jörg Heiser
              The transformation of the Polish Pavilion from a horror show into something closer to a miracle is one of the most remarkable stories of the 60th Venice Biennale. Last year, a jury predominantly aligned with the country’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party selected painter Ignacy Czwartos, whose nationalist-realist paintings support the right-wing narrative of Poland as a martyr of German and Soviet occupation absolved of complicity in Nazi-era crimes, to represent the country. After the Polish public voted out PiS last October, the decision was reversed. Curated by Marta Czyż, the pavilion now centers instead on an absorbing and poignant video installation by Open Group, an artistic collective from Ukraine. The group (consisting of Yuriy Biley, Pavlo Kovach, and Anton Varga) has installed a double video projection onto opposing walls. One video, shot in 2022, features eastern Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Lviv. Each briefly tells their story before imitating a war sound with their voice: the rattling of a machine gun (ratatatatatatatat), or the sound of artillery shelling (rrrhzzzzzzzzzzz-boom). A short text panel explains the military use of the respective weapon in the current war. Then they say the titular phrase “repeat after me” in Ukrainian while …
              60th Venice Biennale, National Pavilions
              Kim Córdova
              In contrast to ruangrupa’s challenge to basic capitalist imperatives at Documenta 15—notably time as a measure of productive activity, individual authorship, and curatorial labor—the international exhibition of the 60th Venice Biennale, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, failed to match an inclusive selection of artists with a comparable reimagination of the structural framing, critique, or tools of the format in which they are exhibited. By importing the Global South to Venice on terms set by the Global North, it leaves the task of a radical intellectual response to the overarching theme of “Foreigners Everywhere” to the pavilions, collateral shows, and pro-Palestine protests that surround it. One throughline among the national pavilions was an emphasis on how the past is asserting itself on the present, a resonant theme as conflicts in Palestine and Ukraine, and tensions between the west and China, reinscribe power dynamics rooted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the Egyptian Pavilion, Wael Shawky presents a forty-nine-minute musical theater film Drama 1882 (2024) about the Urabi Revolution. Divided into eight acts, the film installation focuses on pivotal moments in the “scramble for Africa” that, by the end of World War I, had redrawn the map of Africa and the Middle …
              18th Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, “Inner Sanctum”
              Vivian Ziherl
              In his writings on late modernity, Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm skewers art as the complicit refuge of the soul under capitalism, arguing that it’s impossible to understand nineteenth-century Western arts “without a sense of this social demand that they should act as all-purpose suppliers of spiritual contents to the most materialist of civilizations.” More recently, a claim to the spiritual and the numinous in art has also been levied by radical and anti-colonial agendas. As the European bias of art institutions has been challenged, so too has its relation to a secular and materialist world. Opening on March 1 and on Kaurna Yerta, the 2024 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art patiently and deftly explores this paradox. The exhibition is far from polemical: its emphasis lies squarely on artistic practice and the interior lives of artists. Through unexpected choices and combinations, in a presentation that spans two levels of the gallery and incorporates a number of collection interventions and public space projects, curator José Da Silva brings together works from vastly disparate traditions under the unifying thematic “Inner Sanctum.” The biennial’s far-reaching ambitions were marked from the start. At the show’s opening, viewers crowded into the Art Gallery of South Australia’s …
              While we still can
              The Editors
              First of all, power to the students. Images of armed police storming campuses in order to evict peaceful demonstrators on the invitation of administrators whose primary responsibility is the protection of academic freedoms hardly need parsing for meaning here, except to point out that these are merely the most visible expressions of a wider crackdown. But a couple of details might warrant the closer kind of attention that publications devoted to art criticism might usefully provide. The first was a statement from Columbia University President Minouche Shafik that, among a skewed list of priorities, cited the need to “prevent loud protests at night when other students are trying to sleep or prepare for exams.” Put aside how disingenuous this is—Shafik later co-opts to her cause those students who are the “first in their families to earn a university degree,” and are thus presumed (because they are less wealthy than their peers?) to value a picturesque graduation ceremony over their intellectual liberties—and ask: what of kind of education is this, to be predicated on the total exclusion of the world’s horrors? One answer was provided by John McWhorter, an associate professor at Columbia, to whose recent article Aruna D’Souza drew attention. …
              Ben Rivers’s Collected Stories
              Maria Dimitrova
              This volume announces itself simply enough. “I am here to talk to you today about the work of Ben Rivers,” begins its opening chapter, which is by Daisy Hildyard. Hildyard’s piece offers a kind of inventory of the component parts of the celebrated British filmmaker: his name “comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘son of’ and the geographical term, as in Ben Nevis, comes from a Gaelic word for mountain peak, or cone, which derives in turn from a word meaning ‘projection’.” His last name, as Hildyard points out, requires no explanation. Hildyard’s essay is titled “The figure on the wall,” after Henry James’s short story “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896), about a journalist becoming obsessed with the hidden meaning embedded in the work of a novelist, the way a Persian rug features a repeated pattern. It’s a subtle introduction to the inherent premise of this volume, featuring fourteen writers responding to a different film by Ben Rivers, with no obligation to describe, discuss, or even mention the work in question. Far from being exercises in ekphrasis, many of these stories depict self-contained worlds—from a fairy tale queen giving birth to a beastlike son in Marina Warner’s “Blindsight” to …
              Xiyadie’s “Butterfly Dream”
              Stephanie Bailey
              There’s a mythological aura to Xiyadie, who learned the ancient matrilineal folk art of paper-cutting from his mother while growing up in China’s Shaanxi province. The artist’s name means “Siberian Butterfly,” an insect known for its beauty and resilience. He gave it to himself in 2010, when the Beijing LGBT Center invited him to show his work to the public for the first time, five years after he moved to the Chinese capital as a migrant worker to support his family. Before that 2010 show, the artist’s paper-cuts, created using Xuan paper and luminously pigmented with natural dyes, were private portals into a closeted world: an entanglement of diaristic records of clandestine gay affairs and fantasies of living a freely queer life. Since then, he has exhibited internationally (notably in the curated exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale) but less so domestically, making this exhibition in Hong Kong—the artist’s largest to date—an important milestone. Among the earliest papercuts in “Butterfly Dream” is Train (1985–86), which recounts one of Xiyadie’s first sexual encounters with a train attendant while en route to Xi’an. Mounted on black velvet, a large, square image plane is defined by a central train carriage in which an …
              Grace Wales Bonner’s “Artist’s Choice: Spirit Movers”
              Osman Can Yerebakan
              Rhythm gives form to Grace Wales Bonner’s contribution to the Artist’s Choice series of exhibitions showcasing the “creative response of artists to the works of their peers and predecessors.” Not in the sense of a soundtrack or score, but rather in the British fashion designer’s focus on the different ways in which “sound, movement, performance, and style in the African diaspora” is translated into the works in MoMA’s collection. Tucked away in the more intimate first floor gallery, Wales Bonner’s exhibition offers a space of tranquility. Terry Adkins’s Synapse (1992) hovers close to the ceiling, a yellow enamel-painted drum skin as perfectly rounded as the July sun. Beneath it is Adkins’s Last Trumpet (1995), a quartet of eighteen-foot-long horns crafted by attaching used trombone or sousaphone bells to brass cones. Standing like the enduring towers of an ancient civilization, the musical instrument-cum-sculpture resonates with the potential of its own activation (Adkins would play the instrument from its first presentation in 1996 through to his passing in 2014). Earthy tones, dense textures, and subtle connections are the main ingredients in Wales Bonner’s alchemy. She has painted the gallery in tones of rusting metal, crystalizing sugar, and sanguine resin, lending the gallery …
              Raven Chacon’s “A Worm’s Eye View from a Bird’s Beak”
              Rômulo Moraes
              The flag-score that opens composer and sound-artist Raven Chacon’s exhibition at Swiss Institute—featuring work made over the past twenty-five years alongside a new sound and video installation—is a miniature portrait of his career. American Ledger No. 1 (Army Blanket) (2020), a graphic history of the United States in the form of an army blanket, is embossed with icons of waves, flames, police whistles, wood-chopping axes, and a fractured city skyline. Chacon’s main interests are all there: notation in the expanded field, the interplay of various mediums, the embeddedness of sound and landscape, and the malleability of map and territory. Working with post-Cagean aesthetics yet advancing them within a Diné/Navajo context, Chacon’s work suggests that notation is an imposition onto sound comparable to colonialism’s imposition onto the land. The opening room contains the installation Still Life No. 3 (2015), in which a series of glass panels mounted onto the walls and engraved with white fonts tell the Diné Bahane’ creation myth, which describes the birth of light and color in worlds below ours, the raising of the waters, and the formation of mountains and celestial bodies. The transparent and reflective surface makes the glossy text intentionally difficult to read, as though …
              Gervane de Paula’s “como é bom viver em Mato Grosso”
              Oliver Basciano
              I entered Gervane de Paula’s three-room retrospective by the wrong door, meaning that I saw this chronological survey in reverse order. By the time I came to view the works with which the exhibition is supposed to open—the artist’s earliest paintings, from the 1970s, show sunny scenes of life in his home state of Mato Grosso, in the Central-West Region of Brazil—I was aware of the dark clouds that would gather over his vivid later canvases and Arte Popular-inspired sculptures. This knowledge of the artist’s development heightened my sensitivity to the uneasy details that creep into even the most bucolic of de Paula’s first works and foreshadow his later career. Barro Araés (1977), for example, makes plain the artist’s deep affection for his local neighborhood in Cuiabá, the capital city of Mato Grosso: in the foreground, children play with kites in front of their single-story homes while, further back, their mothers hang washing on lines strung across the communal grassy ground, the brightly colored clothes matched by the palette of the airborne stick and paper toys. You can almost smell the Sunday pamonha boiling in the food cart a man pushes past the houses. Yet my eyes were drawn to …
              60th Venice Biennale, “Foreigners Everywhere”
              Ben Eastham
              The title “Foreigners Everywhere,” derived from the neon text works by Claire Fontaine that hang over the entrances to both sites of the international exhibition at the Venice Biennale, holds out the promise of a productive confusion. In the Italian expression visible on the reverse of the English, stranieri ovunque, the phrase carries a more overt implication of strangeness with the same edge of hostility, so that the visitor might brace themselves for a series of encounters that are—like the experience of foreignness itself—bewildering, unsettling, and fundamentally unsafe. But there is no need to do so. Because while the adoption of a bilingual sign as motto for the Biennale’s centerpiece exhibition suggests that its curator, Adriano Pedrosa, will embrace the miscomprehensions that are commensurate with translation, the reality is that everything will be explained to you. No space will be left for misunderstanding or its correlate, interpretation. The frustration of this exhibition is not that of the exile who, in a strange land, is unable to make sense of their surroundings but rather that of the tourist who is prevented from straying beyond the Potemkin village in which everything has been arranged to illustrate a point. This is not to …
              “Tongues of Fire”
              Daisy Hildyard
              From Grenfell Tower to the clothing factory fires of Gujarat, the wildfires of Sicily to those in California or New South Wales, the great fires of the past decade have all seemed to reveal something about the place that they destroyed. Caused by different circumstances, and burning on distant parts of the planet, what the fires share is this quality of revelation: each one shed light on the slower but relentless systems that made its devastation possible. You don’t need to contemplate the geopolitical causes of disaster, though, to know that fire compels attention. Its mesmerizing quality is everywhere in this group exhibition, shown over two floors in a former fire station, that places nineteen local civic relics and documents beside twenty-six international contemporary and modern works. Lungiswa Gqunta’s Feet Under Fire (2017) plays hypnotically slow video footage of bare feet, with scrubbing brushes strapped onto them, swinging over a rubble of charcoal and matches. Noémie Goudal’s film Below the Deep South (2021) sees flames licking and consuming a tropical forest, set to a soundtrack of distant bird calls. In John Gerrard’s CGI Flare (Oceania) (2022) a flag of pure flame waves over an unending stretch of water. In Tell
              “Day Jobs”
              Tausif Noor
              On the Reddit page for Contemporary Art last year, an anonymous 24-year-old, freshly armed with a BFA, poignantly asked for guidance on their career. Bemoaning their decision to take on a role producing marketing content—a shift in direction from days typically spent “reading art theory, reading different art journals online, making drawings and applying to open calls”—the ingenue expressed guilt for shirking their career while trying to save money for graduate education as an international student. The replies are overwhelmingly supportive, with most respondents reassuring the anonymous poster that they were far from alone, that they could find something relevant to their creative practice and still feel fulfilled, that there are tricks to live cheaply and work efficiently. One especially astute reply linked to a review of an exhibition that spoke to OP’s very question. Aptly titled “Day Jobs” and debuting at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, the exhibition, organized by Veronica Roberts, gathers some thirty-nine artists working in the United States between World War II and the present day, including some blockbuster stars whose career trajectories were part of their mythologies, like Andy Warhol (commercial illustrator and window display designer for Bonwit …
              Joan Jonas’s “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral”
              Filipa Ramos
              Arranged into families following a meticulous taxonomic logic, the almost 300 drawings presented at Drawing Center reveal the extraordinary bestiary that Joan Jonas has been compiling over five decades. Jonas has a unique capacity to traverse and merge artistic fields as varied as performance, sculpture, environment, and video installation, but what is illuminated by this exhibition, carefully curated by Laura Hoptman with Rebecca DiGiovanna, is how drawing runs through, across, and within every means of her expression, accompanying the development of her career from the 1960s to the present. The show also demonstrates how the artist has been bringing these disciplines together through drawing, as it becomes a practice akin to performing and editing, in a do-repeat-redo-repeat-erase-do-repeat method that connects the mind, body, and hand until the form emerges. Two drawings flank the entrance to the show (all works are untitled but classified by a reference number, in this case JJ084, circa late 1990s, and JJ085, from 2012), which also becomes its exit. These are two naked female torsos, as imposing and as head-, arm- and feet-less as the Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BCE), made in the context of two live performances. In parallel to this, Jonas has blurred …
              Emanuel Proweller’s “Un souvenir de soleil”
              Ren Ebel
              Having survived first the Holocaust and then three years’ conscription in the Red Army, the Jewish-Polish painter Emanuel Proweller later said of his identity that it felt like “a jacket with a reversible lining.” The same analogy might be applied to Proweller’s paintings which, though unmistakably his own, routinely dress up in the various styles the artist encountered after moving to Paris at the end of the 1940s. Pilfering and distilling motifs of Fauvist landscape, Cubism, Hard-edge abstraction and proto-Pop appropriations of commercial graphic design, Proweller pursued striking, radioactive syncopations of color. Taken together, the paintings in this survey map a progression from strict geometrical abstraction to a more confident and eclectic mode in which Proweller’s dynamic planes of color begin to serve as set pieces for more recognizable forms. Often, these are laconic bodies or quotidian objects, sights from Proweller’s home in Créteil, on the outskirts of Paris, or his countryside studio in Ardèche. But the artist’s move toward figuration was less a means of representing his world than an opportunity for his colors to encounter one another at increasingly complex and unexpected boundaries. In Au bois de Chaville [In the woods of Chaville] (1974), sky blue and viridian …
              Tina Girouard’s “SIGN-IN”
              Cat Kron
              Performance art offers its viewer what other visual forms can’t: a direct address in real time. Yet in the years that follow its realization, the medium is susceptible to misremembering, or worse, indifference; its curators frequently resort to displaying a work’s discards in an effort to recreate the experience of its unfolding after the original audience has, quite literally, moved on. When it comes to Louisianian artist Tina Girouard, much of the imagined audience was never there in the first place. Girouard’s difficult-to-classify performance work—she remains best known within the art world for her collaboration with Carol Goodden and Gordon Matta-Clark on the restaurant-cum-happening FOOD—transpired primarily in downtown New York in the 1970s, and until recently almost none of it trickled down to the Bayou, an unfortunate fact given how prominently the region figured in her own artistic mythology. The artist’s method of repurposing the same materials in performance after performance inadvertently complicated the task of future curators and archivists who might hope to recreate specific iterations. Foremost among her props were eight twelve-foot lengths of floral-printed silk, on which she bestowed the typically mythical-sounding name “Solomon’s Lot,” and which she used in many of her performances throughout the 1970s. …
              Eva Gold’s “Shadow Lands”
              Jenny Wu
              The critique in London-based artist Eva Gold’s first US solo exhibition is spare and subtle. Consisting of six works on paper and two sculptural installations, the show conveys, in meticulous details and material choices, a message about the coercive economic power embedded in everyday cultural transactions. At the heart of the exhibition is “Pilot and Passengers” (all works 2024), a series of colored-pencil drawings of stills from Benny’s Video, Michael Haneke’s 1992 film about a violence-obsessed teenager disenchanted by his affluent upbringing, who murders a stranger in his parents’ home. Gold’s understated drawings, hung in identical, nineteen-by-twenty-six-inch frames, line three of the gallery’s walls. In Haneke’s film, a low tracking shot follows several pairs of hands as Benny, the teenager, covertly collects money for a pyramid scheme called Pilot and Passengers that he introduced to his friends during school choir practice. Gold’s lighter, less saturated images emphasize general forms over details. From afar, viewers might mistakenly believe that they are spying on people holding hands. Up close, one still feels like a voyeur, since Gold’s static renderings allow the eye to linger on the creases in the fabric of the boys’ jeans, the threaded borders of their back pockets, the …
              Cynthia Carr’s Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar
              McKenzie Wark
              I probably speak for many trans readers of Cynthia Carr’s biography of Candy Darling when I say that I have very mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, I’m grateful for Carr’s tireless work in documenting the life of Andy Warhol’s most luminous trans superstar. On the other hand, it’s painful to read page after page of people who hated Candy, abused her, insulted her, exploited her, or, on a good day, merely disrespected her. Born in 1944, Candy grew up on Long Island. Her father was an asshole. Her mother, at best, put up with her. She was one of those whom straight people, cis people, perceives as other from the start. High school was a torment. As a young Candy confided to her diary: “Nobody loves or understands me. This is a wicked world, I think.” She was right. The wicked world was out to crush her long before she could fashion herself as “Candy Darling.” Around 1962 she started taking the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan to escape, mostly to hang out around Washington Square. She started constructing a persona through which to survive: “I must learn to charm people in a quiet way.” Carr does …
              Biting the hand
              The Editors
              The most surprising thing about the raft of recent petitions against the infrastructural biases underpinning the commercial and institutional art worlds might be that anyone can claim to have been surprised. If responses to wider domestic and international crises—ranging from the rise of the far right to the decimation of Gaza—have shone fresh light on the misalignment of the rhetoric in what is called “contemporary art” from the social and economic systems that maintain it, then that disjunction is hardly new. The more pressing question is how artists (and writers) might usefully respond to it. It might first be worth noting that the map of contemporary art is not perfectly representative of its territory. It is hard to find many shows in New York speaking on behalf of that large part of the American population that will shortly vote for an aspiring dictator, yet it is to their credit that the curators of the current Whitney Biennial have elected to foreground artists representing causes vulnerable to the dismal eventuality of his election. Whether you think this circling of the wagons is an unqualified good might once have depended on whether you prefer the arena of culture to be agonistic—in which …
              81st Whitney Biennial, “Even Better Than the Real Thing”
              Ben Eastham
              Walking through this survey of American art in the age of anger and anxiety, I kept returning to the curatorial statement’s seemingly innocuous proposal that new technologies are “complicating our understanding of what is real.” Are our horizons now so narrow, it occurred to me, that an algorithm’s ability to generate a derivative image is really more consciousness-expanding than such longstanding preoccupations of art as spiritual experience or the natural world? Or might the title’s appeal to something “better” serve to distract us from the already complicated and unarguably real events playing out beyond the walls of the museum, with which this biennial can seem reluctant to engage? A generation of artists are, on the show’s evidence, retreating from a hostile public sphere into their own carefully cultivated worlds. This tendency manifests both in the valorization of marginalized identities through the adaptation of folk traditions to the present—notably ektor garcia’s use of crochet to articulate a nomadic cross-border experience—and in the tendency towards opacity, most explicitly in the panels of smoked black glass suspended precariously over the audience’s heads by Charisse Pearlina Weston (of [a] tomorrow: lighter than air, stronger than whiskey, cheaper than dust, 2022). Many of the realities …
              Issam Kourbaj
              Tom Denman
              These twinned exhibitions span Issam Kourbaj’s responses to the civil war that has carried on in his home country since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, expanding to consider related conflicts in the Middle East and the broader plight of refugees. Trained in Damascus, Leningrad, and London, Kourbaj moved to Cambridge in 1990 and has over the past thirteen years harnessed metaphor’s literal Greek meaning—“to carry across”—to the archival impulse to catalogue and connect. Inspired by prisoners who smuggled their names out of a Syrian jail to let their families know they were alive, Urgent Archives, written in blood (2019) consists of disbound books and papers—perhaps the dead stock of an antiquarian bookshop or college library—loosely gridded on the floor, some “hovering” on blocks. In black, blue, and blood-red ink, Kourbaj has marked them with erratic lines and handwritten Arabic script. One book is stamped with the (English) words LEAVE TO REMAIN, signifying a refugee’s permission to stay in the UK—the granting of which is unguaranteed, racially biased, and often long-awaited in one of the country’s prisonlike detention centers. Every day since the uprising, Kourbaj has sewn a date stone into a tent fabric to create Our exile
              Angela Tiatia’s “The Dark Current”
              Stephanie Bailey
              Angela Tiatia’s single-channel moving image work The Dark Current (2023), projected onto one wall in a darkened room, opens with a body-as-landscape. A cropped, lateral view of a floral appliqued fuchsia dress follows the concave slope from breast to waist as dark waters lap in the background, like an island. The camera slowly pans to the side, following the cleavage’s arc until it reaches the face of a woman with a pearl perched delicately at one tear duct. The lens then rises over her to gaze down at her from above. Lying in black water atop a magenta panel, her arms move slowly to create a frame of rippling waves around her. The pearl is a portal to The Pearl (2022), an earlier immersive video installation not shown here, which was commissioned for “Matisse Alive” at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (2021–22), reflecting on Henri Matisse’s travels to the Pacific Islands through juxtapositions of his works with tivaevae quilts and commissions by artists Nina Chanel Abney, Sally Smart, Robin White, and Tiatia. Departing from Venus in a Shell (1930), a bronze sculpture that Matisse made the year he visited Tahiti, Tiatia composed The Pearl as a digital tapa, …
              Multi-Sensory Languages: On Colomboscope 2024
              Elena Sorokina
              “The endless symbolism of forests lies in their low visibility,” writes Anna Arabindan-Kesson, “to move through the dense entanglements of these spaces we need all our senses.” The same might be said of Colomboscope, Sri Lanka’s interdisciplinary arts festival now in its eighth edition. Dense, multi-sensory, and rhizomatic, it speaks through entanglements and intersections, and flows beyond exhibition spaces to wetland walks, conversations with forest gods, and other “mushroomings.” At JDA Perera Gallery, the main exhibition space, the architecture of meaning can be perceived like a forest stratification, combining a layered verticality with dense horizontal interconnections. Suspended between the gallery’s floors, Ecophora (2023), a light installation conceived by Pankaja Withanachchi and Roshan de Selfa, connects the layers, and calls attention to our precarious relationship with visibility. Deep in the forest, only a flickering vision is possible for the human eye, which occurs when sunlight shines through trees. This phenomenon—called Komorebi in Japanese—is recalled in the artwork’s evocation of the moving luminosity of the forest, inviting the viewers to activate all their sensors. Ecophora’s shadows almost reach the Ceylon currency made by Laki Senanayake (1937-2021). One of a wave of post-independence artists in Sri Lanka whose work crossed disciplinary boundaries, Laki’s …
              noé olivas’s “Gilded Dreams”
              Suzanne Hudson
              With Patrisse Cullors and alexandre ali reza dorriz, noé olivas is a co-founder of the Crenshaw Dairy Mart, a collective and gallery with adjacent studio space dedicated, in their words, “to shifting the trauma-induced conditions of poverty and economic injustice, bridging cultural work and advocacy, and investigating ancestries through the lens of Inglewood and its community.” For a not-inconsequential time after its March 2020 opening and near-simultaneous pandemic-shuttering, it also served as the locus of art supply and food distribution—the latter in collaboration with Lauren Halsey’s Summaeverythang—extending the site’s history as a functioning convenience store. That it sits right under the flight path for Los Angeles International Airport provoked reckoning, from the first, with its imagined audiences alongside those more proximate. The group’s exhibition made in response to the virus, “CARE NOT CAGES: Processing a Pandemic,” lived online; olivas’s mural spelling out the same sentiment blanketed the parking lot as a horizontal billboard visible from above, coming into focus on a jet’s descent. The words function as an incantation but also an indictment, denouncing racial capitalism and the twinning of epidemiological and carceral disaster that the disease exacerbated but did not need to produce. “Gilded Dreams” follows this initial mandate, …
              Saskia Noor van Imhoff’s “Mineral Lick”
              Tom Jeffreys
              In 2021, Saskia Noor van Imhoff purchased a dairy farm amid the polder landscapes of Friesland in the Netherlands. The farm had been active for some four hundred years, but derelict for the past fifteen. van Imhoff approaches the site as a research project, entitled Rest, with the implication that the land, exhausted after centuries of extractive management, now finally has the chance to recover. With the land recuperating, the artist set to work: reactivating the farm not only as a site of agricultural production (prioritizing a certain conception of environmental responsibility over a profit motive) but also as a place for workshops, symposia, and other interdisciplinary activity. Meanwhile, van Imhoff has also reoriented her practice in response to the land, its historic uses and possible futures. “Mineral Lick” is the first UK solo show for van Imhoff, whose previous work has focused on hierarchies of value within collecting institutions such as museums and archives. Here, she foregrounds unexpected material combinations underpinned by a fascination with grafting, hybridity, and the recontextualizing of materials. GRIMM’s street-level windows have been washed with white shading paint and the interior glows with pink-red light—both echoes of the forced growing conditions of commercial greenhouse production. …
              “El fin de lo maravilloso. Cyberpop en México”
              Gaby Cepeda
              In her curatorial text for this group exhibition of Mexican artists mostly born in the nineties, Karol Woller Reyes defines a “generational imagination.” It belongs to artists who have “naturally incorporated some creative strategies” such as digital montage and circuit bending into the production of paintings and sculptures that also abound with references to pop-cultural figures from Pokémon to Pepe the Frog. The implication is that the art of today is shaped by the technologies and media environment of its makers’ adolescence. Shared access to cable TV and computers during childhood does not, however, a generation make. One of the narrow aisles that encircles the warehouse-like main gallery at Museo El Chopo housed the first, smaller part of “El Fin de lo Maravilloso.” Tucked to the side of the glass-walled gift shop were pieces by YOPE Projects collective crowded into a scaffold structure resembling an open-air market; a very early José Eduardo Barajas painting of cloudy emoji-like figures (Cirrus, Socrates, particle, decimal, hurricane, dolphin, tulip, Monica, 2018) in a freestanding wooden frame; and ¿Estamos, Kimosabe? (2020) a much-exhibited soft sculpture of a Mexican Bugs Bunny by Paloma Contreras Lomas—which judging by the dirt on its paws, has seen better days. …
              Mary Helena Clark’s “Conveyor”
              Chris Murtha
              There’s a card trick midway through Mary Helena Clark’s Neighboring Animals (all works 2024 unless otherwise stated), a two-channel video projected into a darkened corner. While an elderly orangutan watches from the other side of his enclosure’s window, two human hands press a single playing card against the thick safety glass. Holding a stick in one hand, the ape nimbly picks up the card, now (miraculously!) on his side of the barrier. After giving it a sniff and twirling it around in his hands, he places it back on the glass, tapping it a few times with his makeshift wand—perhaps his attempt to send it back through the seemingly porous window. Clark edited this video—a zoo’s promotional clip gone viral—to preserve some mystery on behalf of the orangutan, cutting the ending so that the card, instead of falling to the ground, remains affixed to the glass. A collage of sampled footage, still pictures, medical scans, and her own camerawork, Neighboring Animals scrutinizes the thresholds between inside and outside, human and beast. The left channel consists solely of yellow subtitles with no corresponding voice, a pastiche of quotations on the topic of disgust. Alongside illustrations of chained and leashed animals from …
              Esther Mahlangu’s “Then I Knew I Was Good at Painting”
              Ben Eastham
              This retrospective of the Ndebele painter and unofficial artist laureate of post-Apartheid South Africa presents two origin stories. The first, from which its title derives, tells of how Esther Mahlangu first identified as an artist when, having been reprimanded for daubing the walls of her family home as a child, she persevered until she was good enough to be permitted by her mother to paint its façade. The second, taking place several decades later, arrived when a group of European researchers came to her village to seek out the woman responsible for decorating the house in their photograph. “We want you,” they said, “to come to Paris.” The invitation was to participate in the 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” at the Centre Pompidou, a show that continues to cast a long shadow over attempts to decenter or decolonize the representation in western institutions of global visual culture. Mahlangu contributed a reproduction of her own painted Ndebele house (reproduced in miniature in this exhibition), setting in train a career so prolific that her vivid polychromatic designs now serve as visual shorthand for Nelson Mandela’s vision of South Africa as a comparably vibrant and harmonious “rainbow nation.” These instantly recognizable patterns—since …
              Catherine Opie’s “Walls, Windows, and Blood”
              Sylvie Fortin
              They say ghosts, vampires, and the soulless cast no shadows. Shot in a Vatican City emptied of visitors during the pandemic summer of 2021, Catherine Opie’s new photographs provocatively reshuffle different threads of her longstanding inquiries—the spectrum from transparency to opacity; communal spaces; the body as/and architecture; queerness and institutions. With its succinct, descriptive enumeration, the exhibition’s trinitarian title “Walls, Windows, and Blood” implies unsettling visual conversations to which she gives form with a selection of images from three new series (all works 2023), clustered in grids, lined up along walls, and proceeding in colonnades. No Apology (June 5, 2021), a large photograph of Pope Francis delivering a speech from a top-floor window of his residence overlooking St. Peter’s Square, greets visitors. A lone white man dwarfed by statuary and muffled by the resounding whiteness of the colonnaded plaza, he floats above a blood-red banner bearing his coat of arms. In his short allocution, uttered in the wake of the traumatic discovery of unmarked graves at the former Church-run Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, the pontiff acknowledged (apologies would have to wait) the Catholic Church’s complicity in both the colonial dispossession of Canada’s Aboriginal communities and the accompanying systematic …
              Amalia Pica’s “Aula Expandida”
              Noah Simblist
              How might our understanding of education better incorporate communication, participation, and play? And what would be the consequences of that expanded approach? Such questions have been at the center of Amalia Pica’s work for many years, drawing partially on her early experience as a primary school teacher. Her first solo exhibition in New York attends to the manifold aspects of learning across a group of collages, sculptures, and video works organized around a new interactive installation. Two understated large-scale graphite and watercolor drawings, School sheets in adjusted scale (or an exercise in how to go back to all the things I hadn’t thought of yet) #1 and #2 (both 2011), are based on notebook paper with “Rivadavia” printed in an elegant cursive in the margin. This references Bernardino Rivadavia, the first president of the London-based artist’s birth country of Argentina, using a font based on his signature. The stamping of state power into the very books in which young people learn how to write signals the reproduction of the ideological subject through a form of repeated inscription. This has chilling implications in the context of the military dictatorship (1976–83) into which Pica was born. Her 2008 video On Education depicts …
              “Fokus: Hamed Abdalla”
              Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
              The Egyptian artist Hamed Abdalla painted mothers and farmers and letters and landscapes but the subjects he returned to most often, in each of the many disparate phases of his career, were lovers. This jewel box-sized exhibition devoted to Abdalla’s work, organized by Morad Montazami and Madeleine de Colnet of the Paris-based publishing and curatorial project Zamân, features six of his amorous pairings. The earliest lovers in the show are Les Amants de Shemm Ennessim [The Lovers of Shemm Ennessim], from 1953, a sweet gouache on silk paper showing a couple in traditional dress, facing each other demurely in profile but slyly extending their arms to embrace. The figures appear stylized and flattened, and clearly, Abdalla was inspired by a celebrated genre of hand-painting on glass depicting Antar and Abla. Those two are the hero and heroine of pre-Islamic poetry (composed by Antar himself, full name Antarah Ibn Shaddad) relating the episodic adventures of a black warrior poet who was born a slave but became a knight and the smart, beautiful woman who defied her family to be with him. The last of Abdalla’s lovers, in a show conceived as part of a series and wedged into the museum’s permanent …
              The usual suspects
              The Editors
              At the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, an elegant hang of the collection privileges unexpected harmonies and formal affinities over conventional art histories. The walls of the opening room are gridded with landscapes, portraits, and looping film clips soundtracked by a waltz; a clever sightline pairs El Anatsui’s glitter with Gustav Klimt; an azure monochrome by Ettore Spalletti brings out the sky in Gustave Courbet’s facing Poachers in the Snow (1867); stills from Ana Mendieta’s 1974 film Burial Pyramid are presented so that the artist seems to disappear into the landscape. So it came as a surprise, given the sensitivity and scholarship with which the permanent collection is handled, to discover that the museum’s temporary exhibition space was devoted to British fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien. Why, I asked myself among the maps of Middle Earth, costumes from the film adaptations, and Lord of the Rings-themed pinball machines, is Italy’s museum of modern and contemporary art showcasing the writing of an Oxford philologist obsessed with proto-European mythologies under the title “Man, Professor, Author”? The answer was not, it seems, because its curatorial staff have suddenly discovered the charms of medievalist genre fiction (Italy, after all, has Umberto Eco) but because Prime Minister …
              “Another Beautiful Country: Moving Images by Chinese American Artists”
              Vanessa Holyoak
              The Chinese term gūanxi describes a web of relations between friends, family, lovers, co-workers, even corrupt politicians. It evokes a sense of community and belonging that can prove elusive for the diverse group of people commonly referred to as “Chinese American.” A moniker that points to allegiances, however fraught, to the two countries it references, “Chinese American” is a one-size-fits-all label that attempts to forge a singular identity out of a heterogeneous array of diasporic experiences shaped by displacement, immigration, and cross-cultural translation. Curated by Dr. Jenny Lin, “Another Beautiful Country: Moving Images by Chinese American Artists” hinges on another transcultural exchange. Drawing connections between gūanxi and French-Martinican philosopher of opacity Édouard Glissant’s notion of a “poetics of relation,” the exhibition posits relationality over identity as an alternate cornerstone of contemporary Chinese Americanness. Referenced in an introductory essay in the exhibition catalogue written by Dr. Lin, Glissant’s emphasis on diasporic relation is espoused throughout the show—which includes areas for repose and relation amongst exhibition-goers—and enacted through real and speculative social encounters between family, friends, and strangers staged within the works themselves. Drawing its title from the Chinese word for America, 美國/měiguó, which translates literally to “beautiful country,” along with the …
              Tania Bruguera’s “Where Your Ideas Become Civic Actions (100 Hours Reading The Origins of Totalitarianism)”
              Eugene Yiu Nam Cheung
              In Germany’s increasingly censorious intellectual climate, Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof staged the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s “Where Your Ideas Become Civic Actions (100 Hours Reading The Origins of Totalitarianism)” inside its main hall. This participatory public reading of—and discussion around—Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) was spread across four days, featuring the artist alongside writers such as Masha Gessen and Deborah Feldman, prominent artists in Berlin including Candice Breitz, and people from “the museum’s neighborhood.” Speakers—mostly solo, sometimes in a trio, and even as a chorus—addressed the audience amid a spare scenography: a single rattan-upholstered rocking chair, illuminated from above by a beam of golden light. Hospital-gray bean bags and cardboard stools were strewn before it, stretching out towards the entrance of the museum and luring visitors into a collectivized consideration of “power and violence, plurality and morality, politics and truth.” Microphones were connected to a sound system scattered haphazardly around the space, and synchronized with speakers outside the institution facing Invalidenstraße, a thoroughfare leading to Berlin’s central station, a few hundred meters away. Like the work’s title, Bruguera’s sonic gesture felt prescriptive—as if it were the artist’s duty to break Arendt out of the institution and onto the …
              Madeline Hollander’s “Entanglement”
              Maddie Hampton
              In profile, the six rounded disks at the center of Madeline Hollander’s latest exhibition appear glamorously extraterrestrial, the bright bulbs of the track lighting glinting in their polished chrome surfaces. Arranged in a grid on curved, white pedestals, the satellite-shaped objects are constructed from parabolic mirrors, a hole cut at the top of each to reveal a sinewy figure cast in aluminum, revolving atop a bifurcated circle of colored glass. Based on Hollander’s personalized notation system, specific silhouettes and colors correspond to a precise movement so that, taken in concert, the six figures play out an entire choreography, spinning perpetually in place. Viewed at the right angle, the maquette doubles, ascending out of the mirror like a ballerina from a jewelry box to create the illusion of a perfect pas de deux—not a limb out of place, nor a posture skipped, as both “dancers” rotate in flawless synchronicity. Titled Entanglement Choreography I-VI (all works 2023), the objects are designed as miniaturized visualizations of quantum entanglement, the theory that two particles can be interdependent, mimicking one another across both space and time, the action of one entirely conditional on that of its partner. Quick and loose with her interpretations of the …
              Suneil Sanzgiri’s “Here the Earth Grows Gold”
              Phil Coldiron
              Go past the Tiffany glass, the inventory of deco design and the wing of feminist art that still bears the name Sackler, and finally, tucked away, you’ll find a small enclave of two rooms comprising Suneil Sanzgiri’s solo institutional debut, “Here the Earth Grows Gold.” The smaller of these galleries contains: a sculpture, Red Clay, Stretched Water (Return to the Source) (all works 2023), a kind of provisional hut built of black bamboo and printed images; a minute-long loop of 16mm film, My Memory Is Again in the Way of Your History (After Agha Shahid Ali), in which a digitally-animated banner reading “Your History Gets In The Way Of My Memory” flutters atop waves; and quite a lot of wall text (the one written by the artist himself, demanding that the Brooklyn Museum divest itself of various ill-gotten items in its collection, might reasonably be taken as the show’s fourth work). Moving through a curtain to the centerpiece, the digital double-projection Two Refusals (Would We Recognize Ourselves Unbroken?), maybe the first thing you notice is the gap between its screens: each canted slightly off an unseen wall, they funnel vision to the six inches or so of space between them. …
              Jane Jin Kaisen’s “Halmang”
              Dylan Huw
              A group of elderly women labor silently, weaving and draping long sheets of white cotton around an islet of black volcanic rock. The twelve-minute film installation’s supplementary materials explain that these women have spent much of their lives working together as haenyeo—an occupation dating back centuries, in which women freedive to harvest seafood for their families on Jeju Island, south of the Korean Peninsula—and that this precise setting is one of shamanic significance, associated with the goddess of wind who gives the film its title, Halmang (2023). The Jeju-born, Denmark-based artist’s patiently observational study of these “women of the sea” emphasizes their status as workers by foregrounding, in lingering close-ups, their aged, scarred faces and hands as continuous with the aged, scarred rock. A soundtrack of crushing waves lulls the viewer, until the film’s confronting climactic image: the islet depeopled and draped in the white cotton. This land, born from geological shock and host to centuries of politically contested narrative, will outlive us all. Halmang gives this tightly focused exhibition at Manchester’s esea contemporary its title and centerpiece. With a refreshing formal lucidity, it literalizes themes of familial and geopolitical ties that have been central to Kaisen’s work in film …
              Ho Tzu Nyen’s “Time & the Tiger”
              Adeline Chia
              Meditations on the nature of temporality abound in Ho Tzu Nyen’s latest video work, T for Time (2023–). We have explainers on timekeeping traditions in the East and West; a vignette about a man who maintains Singapore’s oldest public clock; the origins of Greenwich Mean Time; metaphysical musings on non-linear time (“time conceived as a viscous fluid… it does not pass and has no rim… it pools”). Accompanying most of these are digital animations that sometimes illustrate the concepts—like imagery of a molting ouroboros—and visuals with less obvious connections to the theme, such as recurring scenes of political protest and incarceration. Most of the text is sung by a male narrator in seemingly improvised melodies. Content, which is shuffled by an algorithm, starts to repeat only about seventy-five edifying minutes in. I was intrigued, stimulated and entertained, but couldn’t escape the feeling of being lectured to. This has something to do with the video’s heavy reliance on text: this work narrates itself. Ho’s self-narrating, self-theorizing, and sometimes even self-interpreting practice involves a thorough immersion in a range of research topics, resulting in a cathartic showing and telling that has become his signature style. “Time & the Tiger”, a mid-career survey …
              Pedro Lasch’s “Entre líneas / Between the Lines”
              Mariana Fernández
              Pedro Lasch’s mid-career survey at Laboratorio Arte Alameda begins with a painting—the ultra-deadpan McSickle, grande no. 1 (2003)—depicting a yellow hammer and sickle fusing with the “M” of McDonald’s on a red background. These two colors also happen to make up the Chinese flag. The painting exemplifies the multiple layers of Lasch’s practice: the artist is best known not so much for making things as for creating opportunities for social encounter and collaboration through his roles as an activist, educator (he teaches at Duke and is the director of its FHI Social Practice Lab), and cultural organizer (with the collective 16 Beaver). Yet the thematic survey “Pedro Lasch: Entre líneas / Between the Lines” manages to avoid the document-heavy trappings into which displays of socially engaged art sometimes fall because of how well Lasch’s social practice translates into objecthood. The survey shows that whether in the form of painting, installation, props, performance scores, or game instructions, Lasch has long been thinking about the tensions between colonialism and cultural exchange, and using art as an entry point into public engagement with a decolonial agenda. These themes are on full display in the mural painted on the back wall of the main …
              Hanan Benammar’s “The Soil Is Fertile But For A Distant Seed”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              Here lies idealism. This my first impression of a marble tombstone that marks the entrance to the second floor of Bomuldsfabriken Kunsthall. Instead of a name or a set of dates, it bears the words awareness, insight, and knowledge in Norwegian. Hanan Benammar’s sculpture ERKJENNELSE, INNSIKT, KUNNSKAP (2020), re-stages a comment by an established historian on NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) regarding a previous work by the artist, Antiphony (2019), in which Benammar set up a calling service that put visitors in touch with strangers to discuss a range of concepts, such as emptiness, chaos, silence, violence, boundaries, and doubt, staging exploratory and open-ended one-on-one discussions. The art historian cited in the more recent sculpture dismissed Antiphony as lacking any significant “awareness, insight, or knowledge.” Those qualities were properly represented by figurative marble sculpture, in this historian’s view, because “marble is art with a capital A.” It is tempting to dismiss the notion that art must be made in marble to represent insight as reactionary provincialism, an inconsequential view in the broader context of geo-political crisis. Yet such dismissals echo the ways in which the conspiratorial claims emanating from what Naomi Klein, in her 2023 book Doppelganger, dubbed the “Mirror World” …
              Kwan Sheung Chi’s “Not retrospective”
              Stephanie Bailey
              Everything about Kwan Sheung Chi feels elusive, even when he’s telling you about himself. Take the artist’s press release for “Not retrospective,” which includes “less [sic] than 40 recent and previous sculptures, photographs and videos.” A biography cites two solo shows Kwan staged in 2002, one year before he graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and one year after his joint funeral-as-exhibition with artist Chow Chun Fai, when they burned their art. The first is “A Retrospective of Kwan Sheung Chi” at Hong Kong’s 1a space, for which there is scant online record. The second is “Kwan Sheung Chi Touring Series Exhibitions,” described as ten “major” exhibitions at different Hong Kong venues that apparently involved Kwan photographing himself in each site. Kwan has long resisted the market’s tendency to commodify artists by leaning into commodification as a systematic process that resonates with the conceptual grid—an approach that couches critical gestures within layers of satire. Divided into three sections, “Not retrospective” stages this sleight of hand. It begins with a small white cube crudely built from wooden boards like a stage set, where a trio of pennant banners strung up at the entrance made from dust jackets for Marx’s …
              Astrid Klein
              Xenia Benivolski
              Astrid Klein’s photowork Untitled (Je ne parle pas,…) (1979) presents two cut-out images of Brigitte Bardot—posing in a baby doll dress and, again, coquettishly looking back over her shoulder. In broken, typewritten French and English are the words “je ne parle pas, je ne pense rien” (“I don’t speak, I don’t think”) and “to paint my life, to paint my life, so many ways.” It’s a fitting prelude to this exhibition, which is something of a house of mirrors. Trapped behind the museum glass, like sexy cats in apartment windows, large photographic works fill the walls, each featuring a beautiful woman while slyly reflecting the viewer. In Untitled (la sans couleur…) (1979), a reclining woman awkwardly turns her head to look at me with an enigmatic smile. Loosely draped in a sheet on an unmade bed in the dark, she is a body in waiting. These gazes are not exactly inviting; if anything, they somehow lack emotion, as the title reflects: “masks without color.” But there is something cool, even powerful, about their magnetic resignation. Like several in the show, the image is arranged with visible marker framing and taped sections, giving the impression that this composition sets the stage …
              Alfredo Jaar’s “El Lado Oscuro de la Luna”
              Juan José Santos
              Is that hysterical laughter? And are those accelerated heartbeats the phantasmagoric echoes of Chile, circa 1973? These sounds are not leaking into the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes but are rather the reverberations of an album released that same year: Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which plays on a loop in this exhibition of works made by Alfredo Jaar between 1974 and ’81. Jaar was seventeen when General Pinochet’s coup d’état tore his country apart, and the young artist sought refuge in this soundtrack of madness and despair. Pink Floyd’s front-man and lyricist Roger Waters last year released The Dark Side of the Moon Redux, a “reimagining” of the album from which this retrospective takes its title. Where he chose to replace David Gilmour’s guitar solos with homiletic spoken word, curator Pablo Chiuminatto has gone the other way. Rather than over-explain, Chiuminatto’s approach offers little contextualization or research for Jaar’s early works, which mark a turning point in the career of one of Latin America’s most significant artists. The restrained curation lends the show a provisional feel, an analysis of sketches by an obsessive apprentice. These range from Jaar’s initial experiments with dry-transfer lettering methods, such …
              Ways of Seeing
              The Editors
              In 2018 a play entitled Ways of Seeing was staged at Black Box Teater in Oslo, setting in train a series of events that seems to “foreshadow so many of the conflicts” that have taken cultural observers elsewhere “off guard.” The work by Pia Maria Roll, Hanan Benammar, Sara Baban, and Marius von der Fehr highlights links between the country’s right-wing politicians and the billionaire patrons of its most influential (formal and informal) media networks—systems of power familiar to readers around the world—to reflect on who profits from the stoking of racist, ethno-nationalist, and anti-immigration sentiment. Without wanting to go into the details here, the production sparked a backlash orchestrated by the same networks, the accusations of which were picked up and repeated in supposedly responsible newspapers and at the highest levels of government. The affair climaxed in 2020, after the Minister of Justice resigned and his partner, Laila Bertheussen, was convicted of having set alight her own car, graffitied the facade of their house with a swastika and the word rasisit [sic], and made anonymous threats to family members as part of a smear campaign against the artists responsible. Even leaving aside the black comedy—on completing her prison …
              Deimantas Narkevičius’s “The Fifer”
              Michael Kurtz
              The centerpiece of Deimantas Narkevičius’s current exhibition at Maureen Paley is a holographic screen—a small block of glass on a sleek metal shelf. A nightingale appears in the glass and lands on a branch that hangs there, while audio plays of a flute mimicking birdsong in sync with the movements of its beak. It flies out of view again and then returns, left and right, left and right. On an adjacent wall is another branch of sorts—a bark-like bronze cast of the cavities inside a flute—and nearby hang two small black-and-white images: a 1920s photograph from the Lithuanian State Archive of a soldier playing the flute by a window and a digital recreation of the same scene from directly outside the building. This perplexing constellation of objects is named after the shadowy figure in the photograph, The Fifer (2019). Holography represents the height of illusionism, elaborately conjuring animated three-dimensional images. But the nightingale’s restless movement in and out of frame continually calls attention to the screen’s edges, where the projection falters and the empty glass block becomes visible. The illusion is further ruptured by the flutist’s birdsong which, isolated from any ambient sound, is unconvincing. Each item here performs a …
              “Condo London”
              Orit Gat
              “I’ll be honest, I was a little shocked to recall the plate of bratwurst and mash that I tucked into three days after my husband died,” writes Kat Lister in The Elements. She goes on to describe Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut’s “Dual Process Model” of bereavement—the way mourners shift between loss and reparation, a fluctuation of feelings in the face of tragedy. As Lister writes, things happen at the same time—grief, pain, bratwurst, mash. The audaciousness of living on. How to hold all these things at once: to be in London looking at a collaborative project where twenty-three galleries allocate their spaces to their international counterparts or stage shared exhibitions that bring together works of wildly disparate forms. To talk about hosting when homes are being ruined. This uneasy simultaneity is visible throughout Condo. At Warsaw gallery Import Export, hosted by Rodeo, the artworks on view discuss war, heartbreak, and climate catastrophe all at once. Just to the left of the entrance is horses [konie] (2023), a large acrylic and ink on canvas by Ukrainian artist Veronika Hapchenko. Based on mosaics from Pripyat, a town that serviced and housed workers at the Chernobyl Power Plant, it’s a grayscale work …
              Naoki Sutter-Shudo’s “End of Thinking Capacity”
              Gracie Hadland
              Naoki Sutter-Shudo addresses the current critical landscape with a series of seven “Critical Figures” and twelve paintings. Installed in only one half of the gallery, the audience of figurative sculptures faces a wall on which is hung a row of large graphic canvasses. Each is adorned with a formal accessory made of flimsy material: a wire twist-tie shaped into a tie, a fake lettuce hat, a shirt made of bubble wrap or a plastic bag. The figures’ apparent attempts to present as professional are rendered ridiculous by the nature of their clothing. They look as though they’re dressed for a nineteenth-century salon—complete with bonnets, big collars, and ties—rather than a contemporary art gallery. Each figure’s body has an intricately constructed apparatus holding a wind-up metronome with a bell (some in 3/4 time, others in 1/4 time) and has a unique look, height, and facial expression tending towards the bizarre—one has three heads, for example. The viewer is able to wind up the “critics,” letting them spin their wheels while looking around the show. The result is a rhythmic kind of chatter punctuated with the ding of a bell, as if to signal a lightbulb moment. Sitting atop stacks of white …
              Jan Van Imschoot’s “The End Is Never Near”
              Jörg Heiser
              Belgian painter Jan Van Imschoot’s first major retrospective—the show that should gain him the belated international recognition his work deserves—spans four decades, seven rooms, more than eighty paintings, a bar, and a small cinema. And it starts with a landscape-format painting sitting smack across the entrance. A cherub or cupid, though with no wings, painted much larger than life, reclines against an indistinct, darkly looming background. The little big fellow has apparently nodded off, his nipples, shiny belly bottom, and tiny weenie standing out like bumps and craters on the surface of a full moon. The motif and the title Amore Dormiente (2018) pay direct homage to Caravaggio’s Sleeping Cupid (1608), a small painting at home in the Uffizi. But homage immediately turns into, well, what? Parody? Grotesque exaggeration? In this adaptation, cupid’s face is wreathed by a shock of auburn hair, a rather adult skyward nose, sagging cheeks, and eyes swollen half-shut, like an old drunk’s. Instead of a bow and arrow in his left hand, in his right he holds a handwritten letter in French, signed by van Imschoot, which translates as: “Aposematism in painting: on linguistic confusions and the mimesis of lies, or the challenge of the …
              “As Though We Hid the Sun in a Sea of Stories”
              Olexii Kuchanskyi
              Against a backdrop of constant territorial changes in the former Soviet countries and the ongoing war in Ukraine, “As Though We Hid the Sun in a Sea of Stories” explores the “geopoetics of North Eurasia.” The term denotes heterogeneous, yet tightly interconnected, political and cultural contexts under oppressive regimes, ranging from the Russian Empire to contemporary Russian imperialism via Soviet colonialism. Framed in the handout by HKW’s director, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, as a way of “being and seeing the world through the prism of the Global East,” the show tries to avoid any “totalizing vision” in favor of multiple subjectivities and geographies. To achieve this, the show’s curators—Cosmin Costinaș, Iaroslav Volovod, Nikolay Karabinovych, Saodat Ismailova, and Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon—have scattered the artworks across the museum in a way that foregrounds their discreteness, each piece separately lit and surrounded by empty space. Stories of colonialism, resistance, and artistic experimentation are encapsulated in these “monads,” yet the aversion to a “totalizing vision” extends to the bewildering absence of wall texts from the galleries (viewers hoping for context must flip through the handbook, which lacks a general plan of the show, to find a work description). The exhibition’s main space is filled …
              “Self-Determination: A Global Perspective”
              Judith Wilkinson
              “Everyone has the right to a nationality,” states article 15 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (1948) and “no one shall be deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” As part of “Self-Determination: A Global Perspective,” Banu Çennetoğlu has filled the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s East Wing Gallery with three gigantic bouquets of gold helium letter balloons. Each bouquet, a mass of oversized jumbled letters, spells out a different article from the declaration. Throughout the course of the exhibition the balloons that make up right? (2022–ongoing) will deflate, lowering to the ground, until nothing remains but their empty carcasses. An initiative of Annie Fletcher, IMMA’s director since 2019, “Self-Determination” explores the establishment of new post-World War I nation-states—including Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, and Ireland itself—focusing on the role that art and artists played in statecraft and the formation of the national imagination. The site of the exhibition, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham (built in 1684 as a home for retired British soldiers), holds significance in the construction of the Irish nation. It was considered as a potential headquarters for Oíreachtas Shaorstát Éireann, the newly established government of the Irish Free State …
              Shubigi Rao’s “These Petrified Paths”
              Katherine C. M. Adams
              In Shubigi Rao’s new film These Petrified Paths (2023), censorship is always tied to the threat of repressive territorialization. Early on, we are introduced to a “former professor of Russian literature, now beekeeper on the side of the road to Daliyan” in Turkey, who embodies a theme of the exhibition at large: how a struggle over literature and written culture has led to a fight over ecology, terrain, and the right to live freely on one’s Indigenous land. In the film, this process is inflected by the historical function of Armenian literature as a tool of nation-building, forging claims to place for a people often on the verge of statelessness. As one featured subject remarks of the region’s history, the Armenian genocide is also “cultural genocide.” These Petrified Paths details (among other threads) the lengths to which Armenian intellectuals have gone to preserve their heritage: one participant describes how an elder member of the community buried his books in the ground, with the intent that they be dug up only upon the retreat of repressive state forces. Toward the end of the film, an interlocutor alludes pessimistically to the contemporary Armenian government’s attempts to “sell off” part of the country …
              “Intimate confession is a project”
              Valentin Diaconov
              Curated by Houston-born curator Jennifer Teets, “Intimate confession is a project” looks at what her academic inspirations—Lauren Berlant, Ara Wilson, Kai Bosworth—have called “affective infrastructures.” Here, the phrase denotes a way of thinking through how infrastructures, designed to facilitate the movement of goods and people with maximum efficiency, can produce varied emotional affects. In a catalogue essay, Teets writes that this group exhibition is “informed” by Houston. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in America, infrastructure is the city: the crumbling roads, the non-existent sidewalks, and the looming if stealthy presence of oil refinement and finance. The show opens with model houses made from old Bible covers by Chiffon Thomas. Attached to the ceiling over the staircase to the exhibition floor, they hover like ghosts. Thomas was inspired by the neighborhoods of his Chicago childhood, but the shaky silhouettes of these model houses could be Houston’s Third Ward, or any poor community where a church promises a better life perspective than the current economy and policy. In a transgenerational dialogue the curator’s great-grandmother, Josie Ann Teets, an amateur songwriter, meets a young French artist. Josie Ann wrote and published The Oil King Buggie in 1975. The show contains a notation …
              An-My Lê’s “Between Two Rivers/Giữa hai giòng sông/Entre deux rivières”
              Jacinda S. Tran
              In 1968, army photographer Ron Haeberle shot Vietnamese civilians indiscriminately massacred by US ground forces in the hamlet of Mỹ Lai. His photographs circulated widely—including a color photo of corpses strewn across a road featured in LIFE magazine that, in 1970, with support from the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Workers Coalition incorporated into an antiwar poster overlaid, in blood red, with the text “Q. And babies? A. And babies.” When MoMA withdrew its support for the poster, AWC staged a protest to illuminate board members’ tacit support of the war in Vietnam. The museum promptly assimilated AWC’s poster into their own collections, institutionalizing institutional critique. Half a century later, MoMA exhibits “Between Two Rivers/Giữa hai giòng sông/Entre deux rivières,” a survey of multimedia works by Vietnam-born An-My Lê, whose large-format photographs are known for their staging and depictions of militarized landscapes. Lê focuses on what the visual reveals and obscures; how a range of quotidian landscapes may be conceived as “always already military.” Though Lê left Vietnam as a teenager after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the specter of war and its spectacularization informs her approaches to representation. In “Viêt Nam (1994–98), Lê returns to her birth …
              “Green Snake: women-centred ecologies”
              Stephanie Bailey
              Of all the works in this gathering of cosmological and ecological perspectives, one is anchored directly to the exhibition title. Two moon gates open up the wooden frame enclosing Candice Lin’s Kiss under the tail (all works 2023 unless otherwise stated), where floorspace padded with tatami mats hosts ceramic cats, one with a house for a head, and an indigo-dyed carpet whose patterning replicates a nineteenth-century diagram of a castration by a western missionary who studied eunuchs in China. These gates, and the transformational space they envelope, reference a central location in Tsui Hark’s 1993 movie, Green Snake, a retelling of an ancient Chinese folktale about two female snake demons who endeavored to become human. In the film, the single-minded White Snake pursues the love of a studious male, while the free-wheeling, shapeshifting Green Snake tries to understand the desire that drives her centuries-long companion to her doom. In the end, Green Snake rejects the human world with its apocalyptically heteronormative devotions and questionably immutable morals, realizing she had known love as an affirmation of life all along. So she returns to the water, or rather to nature; an idea that runs through this show. Projected onto a massive wall …
              What is Wrong with Us?
              ​R.H. Lossin
              Even during the best of times—a category for which the present certainly does not qualify—writing about art requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Simply engaging in criticism implies a vague normative claim about the social or political importance of elaborate and often expensive objects. It is a role that can be hard to defend even, or perhaps especially, when the objects claim a political position. But since looking cannot be separated from thinking, Josh Kline’s recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (and its exuberant critical reception) merits some extra attention. Not because of the show’s “inscrutable lucidity,” or because the work’s position “between irony and sincerity” offers meaningful insight into the “propaganda it evokes.” The reason is far too simple to require such attempts to extract complexity from proximal antonyms. Americans spend enormous amounts of time consuming mediated violence, so when images of cut-up human bodies show up in a major art museum, we should pause and consider what exactly we are thinking as we look at the severed head of a waitress on a tray. Kline’s show was widely reviewed (the New York Times published two pieces about it, Artforum gave it the cover), and yet …
              35th Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Arts, “from the void came gifts of the cosmos”
              Kate Sutton
              When Ibrahim Mahama agreed to serve as artistic director of the 35th Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Arts, he sought inspiration on a domestic scale. The simple conceptual sketch he prepared for this edition—titled “from the void came gifts of the cosmos”—shows a rudimentary bedframe, with a few unidentified objects stashed underneath. This curatorial approach attempts to reclaim an everyday architectural recess from the realm of monsters and recognize it instead as a space of potential. But dark things come from under the bed, the darkest of which may be nothing at all. Mahama applies the metaphor of the void not only to architectural and ideological infrastructures, but also to emancipatory movements that operate within structures of colonial domination. Chief among these is the Non-Aligned Movement: a political experiment that rejected the either/or imperialism of the Cold War era in favor of a multilateral understanding of the world. Its foundations were laid at the Bandung Conference in 1955, the same year that the Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Arts launched. Fresh from its split and subsequent rapprochement with the USSR, Yugoslavia offered a meeting ground for representatives from both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the biennial was expressly crafted to strengthen …
              The God of New Beginnings
              The Editors
              The double-headed Roman god Janus, who lends his name to the first month of each year, is privileged to see both the future and the past. In his 1939 introduction to The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin quotes Maxime du Camp as writing that “history is like Janus; it has two faces.” The implication is that history should not be understood as the steady accumulation of facts along a receding timeline—“an inventory, point by point, of humanity’s life forms and creations”—but as the body through which past and future are joined. We do not study the past to escape the present but to see where we are going. Looking at art is equally bound to the contemplation of artifacts from the past. An exhibition of even the newest work must—as recent months have again made clear—inevitably lag behind the news cycle (“to seize the essence of history,” writes Benjamin, “it suffices to compare Herodotus and the morning newspaper”). The upshot is that critics often feel as helpless as Benjamin’s angel of history, blown backwards into the future by the storm of progress, condemned to observe and comment upon the ruins of history as they pile up behind him while he …
              Pacita Abad
              Tausif Noor
              To discuss the life of Pacita Abad is to enumerate the diverse places to which she traveled (some sixty countries across six continents), her expansive artistic output (nearly 5000 large-scale works), and the litany of materials and techniques she applied to the surfaces of her signature stuffed-and-quilted canvases, or trapuntos (sequins, beads, batik prints, and phulkari embroidery, to name just a few). Over a thirty-two-year career—she died of cancer in Singapore in 2004—Abad sidestepped hierarchies between craft and high art and unraveled received notions of the local, national, and global, pursuing instead a vibrant eclecticism that was often at odds with the dominant artistic movements of her time. The retrospective at SFMOMA—arriving from the Walker Art Center before stops at New York’s MoMA PS1 and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto—follows Abad’s artistic career as it was shaped by global postwar politics from the aftermath of national decolonization movements in Asia and Africa in the 1960s, through the humanitarianism of the 1970s and ’80s, and the heyday of multiculturalism in the US in the 1990s and early 2000s. In this, Abad’s trapuntos in particular function as what the curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa has aptly termed an “archive of the …
              Andrea Bowers’s “Joy is an Act of Resistance”
              ​R.H. Lossin
              The first work that one encounters on entering Andrew Kreps’s gallery might be mistaken for an extension of the gallery’s commercial operations. Trans Bills (2023) consists of fifty-four black ring binders, arrayed on a shelf to the left of the front desk, labeled with the names of states that have passed legislation restricting the rights of trans citizens. The work’s blandness is perhaps the point. Quietly running in the background of clownish Republican performances of parental rights and viral videos of religious zealots is a legislative machine producing the reams of paper progressively restricting the rights of trans people to work, receive medical care, and live basic social lives. In a mere two years, 1,006 anti-trans bills have been introduced by state legislatures. An additional sixty-three have been introduced at the federal level. At the back of the first-floor gallery is a 47-minute single-channel video of a trans prom organized by four teenagers as both an adolescent rite of passage and a protest—two things that are, for many trans youth, inseparable. The footage is visible from the gallery’s entrance, and the contrast between the young faces and the scale of adult animosity ranged against them is the show’s most valuable …
              Mit Jai Inn
              Jenny Wu
              In Shirley Jackson’s allegorical short story “The Lottery” (1948), villagers gather for a game of chance in which they draw slips of paper, all blank but one, from an old black box. Children, adults, and elders alike, accustomed to the tradition, participate with a mixture of anticipation and boredom. The ending reveals that the prize, known to them all along, is the stoning of an unlucky villager. Mit Jai Inn’s first US solo exhibition also features a large quantity of “stones” and a lottery that, in subtler ways, uncovers a set of human behaviors integral to the functioning of society and politics. Here, the Chiang Mai-based artist, whose work is often framed as a form of social practice infused with Buddhist teachings, sets up a participatory piece titled after a recent sculpture series, Marking Stones (2022). Visitors are invited to submit pledges for “positive action” for a chance to win one of these sculptures. The title of the series is a tenuous reference to the bai sema stones used by Buddhist communities in Southeast Asia to mark their territory: the sculptures are, in fact, fully functional baskets, lamps, and stools. Around two dozen of these candy-colored wares occupy a room …
              Paul Pfeiffer’s “Prologue to the Story of the Birth of Freedom”
              Juliana Halpert
              Trying to find a critical entry point into—or exit from—Paul Pfeiffer’s retrospective is not unlike the challenge of navigating its labyrinthine layout of walls, ramps, and rooms within rooms. An architecture designed by the artist with Hollywood sound stages in mind slowly unveils a spectacle of spectacles, showcasing over thirty works spanning the past twenty-five years and dizzying ranges of scale, duration, material, and method. Pfeiffer is best known for his bite-sized video works, which sit here alongside extra-large installations, miniature dioramas, full-scale sculptures, room-wide projections, and expansive photo series. Video durations range from four seconds to ninety days. Most of his moving-image works have no sound, but the space hums with the distant, ambient clamor of a crowd. Michael Jackson’s voice has been replaced by that of a Filipino choir. The Stanley Cup levitates in mid-air. Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali have been scrubbed out of their respective beaches and boxing ring. Raucous activity and haunting absence somehow go hand-in-hand. If there’s a true North to Pfeiffer’s practice, it might be mass media’s protean relationship to consumer technology, how the latter shapes the former and vice versa. It’s a marvel to witness the artist’s use and abuse of both, …
              Delcy Morelos’s “El abrazo”
              Michael Kurtz
              Here lie the ruins of the American avant-garde. Wood salvaged from an installation by Dan Graham, offcuts from a felt piece by Robert Morris, and scraps of flooring from a Dorothea Rockburne display. Mounds of soil recall Robert Smithson’s geological samples and rows of pipe echo Walter de Maria’s Broken Kilometer (1979) of brass rods lined up on the floor. These fragments now sit in darkness, illuminated only by four shaded skylights. They are arranged across the space along with sheets of corrugated metal, parallel stacks of wooden planks, and hundreds of small pieces of Colombian pottery. Everything is dark brown and sitting on a crust of mud which rises up the walls to a high-water mark, I later read, left after the gallery flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Despite their simple forms and materials, the objects become mirage-like in this dimly lit monochrome expanse. Walking down the pier of clean floor that stretches into the room, I try to perceive the scale and texture of the things around me, but they evade my grasp. The light fades and they retreat further. Cielo terrenal [Earthly heaven] (2023), the first of two installations by Colombian artist Delcy Morelos at Dia Chelsea, is …
              Henry Taylor’s “From Sugar to Shit”
              Novuyo Moyo
              The people in Henry Taylor’s paintings are usually surrounded by slabs of color, a graphic sensibility he shares with his high school peers and alternative comic book artists Los Bros Hernandez, whom he credits with setting the bar for his work. “I always thought, ‘Damn, they draw so much better than I.’ So I started just practicing my draftsmanship because of them. They intimidated me.” Taylor worked for ten years as a technician at Camarillo State Mental Hospital while studying at CalArts, providing assistance to some of the area’s most vulnerable people and at times featuring them in his drawings and paintings, developing the empathetic lens through which he would continue to frame his subjects. Set in Hauser and Wirth’s Parisian multi-story outpost, and consisting of works made between 2015 and 2023 (the most recent made during a stay in Paris over the summer), “From Sugar to Shit” connects past and present, interior and exterior, public and private. Taylor’s subjects range from famous faces to personal acquaintances, but his frank, inquisitive approach sees both groups as equally worthy of commemoration. It’s not always clear whether he works from memory, archival materials, a live sitting, or a combination of these, but …
              Sanya Kantarovsky’s “The Prison” with Yasuo Kuroda’s “The Last Butoh”
              Jennifer Piejko
              Tatsumi Hijikata spoke with his entire body. At Nonaka-Hill, Yasuo Kuroda’s photographs of his performances of Butoh—the form of dance theatre he founded in postwar Tokyo—are displayed alongside new paintings by Sanya Kantarovsky, advancing the latter’s interest in Japanese folklore and traditions. The subjects on the canvases resemble the dancers in the photographs, as if painted from hazy memories or fever dreams. Though not directly depicting the same figures or moments, the two approaches to image-making are complementary: both capture the depths of estrangement, enveloped dislocations, and solitary sorcery of performance. Each lone figure in Kantarovsky’s paintings expresses a different facet of pain. No Longer a Dog and I am a Body Shop (all Kantarovsky’s works are dated 2023) show figures who mirror traditional Butoh performers, turned away and covered in the Japanese white paint of mourning over their faces and limbs, ribs visible through their nearly translucent skin. In Bleeding Nature, the dancer suffers from the kind of wound that a Butoh dancer might feel in phantom form: an open gash over a bloody heart. Their bottom half disintegrates into ribbons, dangling from their fingertips and torso into a swirl of entrails that fertilizes a surrounding field of flowers …
              2nd Sharjah Architecture Triennial, “The Beauty of Impermanence: An Architecture of Adaptability”
              Nick Axel
              The second Sharjah Architecture Triennial—featuring twenty-nine architects, artists, and designers across two main venues (the Al Qasimiyah School and Old Al Jubail Vegetable Market) and a handful of off-site locations—reckons with the cultural and ecological legacies of colonialism and modernity. The work shown does not, in the words of its curator, the Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo, simply acknowledge a wrong or apologize for the past. Instead, the contributions demonstrate modes of practice that build new worlds from the ruins of the present. Ideas of “impermanence” and “adaptability” here describe creative responses to conditions of scarcity that draw on ancestral ways of knowing and resourceful forms of making, and “beauty” as a celebration of survivance. This triennial is in many ways a spiritual successor to Lesley Lokko’s international exhibition at the most recent Venice Architecture Biennale, “The Laboratory of the Future.” Beyond the handful of contributors to appear in both, in these exhibitions architecture is often a starting point, theme, and subject more than an end with pre-defined means. This approach liberates the exhibition from the representational conventions of architectural media (drawings, diagrams, models, maps, and photographs) in favor of immersive installations, sculptural works, films, and more that overcome the alienating …
              Shilpa Gupta
              Paul Stephens
              Recent New York Times headlines point to American perceptions of India’s increasingly prominent role in global affairs. “Can India Challenge China for Leadership of the ‘Global South’?” “Will This Be the ‘Indian Century’?” “The Illusion of a US-India Partnership.” “US Seeks Closer Ties With India as Tension With China and Russia Builds.” “US Says Indian Official Directed Assassination Plot in New York.” “An Indian Artist Questions Borders and the Limits on Free Speech.” The last headline refers to Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta, whose work obliquely explores the emergent global polycrisis (a term popularized by Adam Tooze) in which India plays a central part. Although Gupta’s art is deeply engaged with contemporary political events, it is not headline-driven. It resists didacticism, in part, through being polyvocal, as exemplified in her standout installation Listening Air (2019–23). Defying simple description and rewarding patient immersion, Listening Air consists of multiple microphones-turned-speakers that play songs of labor and resistance from around the world. As the songs fade in and out, listener-viewers in the dimly lit room slowly begin to perceive themselves as members of a temporary community. The effect is ethereal and meditative. Gupta’s two concurrent New York exhibitions, at Amant and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, accord …
              Degrees of separation
              The Editors
              In their recent open letter, curators Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Vasıf Kortun protested that “culture and cultural institutions have become a battleground, which the illiberal forces are ready to conquer.” The removal of the bulwarks protecting culture from political interference means, they continued, that “what was once a site for experimentation and autonomy is becoming a site of control.” Recent weeks have provided ample evidence that the erasure of those lines separating a society’s culture from its economic and political systems leaves it vulnerable to them. Art’s function as a “liminal space,” in Victor Turner’s formulation, depends on it being partly if never wholly insulated from those expressions of power. It is instead an arena in which conventions are temporarily suspended so that citizens are free to dispute the terms of the social contract without fear of reprisal. New ideas are tested and marginal or suppressed subject positions given a platform. If culture is to change a society’s hierarchies rather than merely reproduce them, then it must act from a position external to them. It follows that collapsing that separation can serve the status quo, whether or not that was the intention. We are faced today with the spectacle of …
              Robert Glück’s About Ed
              John Douglas Millar
              How to convey the power of this book? The achievement of its language is such that it resists easy translation into criticism as practiced in any conventional mode. Narratively it recounts Glück’s life with the artist Ed Aulerich-Sugai in the 1970s, and the time he has lived since Ed’s death from AIDS in 1994. It is organized concentrically so that the death takes place at the precise center of the book, where there is an extraordinary description of the performing of a last rite, the washing of Ed’s corpse by Glück and Daniel, Ed’s final lover: “We hurry as though Ed might be impatient. Here is the dusky skin, here the straight back, the slightly bowed legs, the narrow waist, the flat ass. AIDS has restored the body I lived with long ago, so thin that I watched his heart beating against his chest till my senses bled in marvelling tenderness.” And right at the center of this description there is a single drop of blood: “Daniel pulls down Ed’s underwear and milks one bright red drop from Ed’s cock. The drop of blood is the only indication of the pandemonium that occurred within this body … Ed’s murderous blood.” …
              Lisa Brice’s “LIVES and WORKS”
              Louise Darblay
              “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” goes John Berger in his classic BBC show Ways of Seeing (1972), his big blue eyes staring intently at the viewer while he demonstrates the impact of centuries of male gaze—from canonical paintings to contemporary advertising—on the way women perceive themselves. “The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed is female. Thus she turns herself into an object of vision: a sight.” In Lisa Brice’s paintings, which wander the corridors of western art history, women look at themselves, but no longer through this mediated perspective: the muses, models, and mistresses come to life, turning from passive objects into active subjects, becoming the authors and surveyors of their own image. This new series by the South African artist, presented on the ground floor of Ropac’s Marais space, bristles with punkish energy. Two large, cinematic canvases mirror each other on opposite walls, their horizontal compositions drawn from Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882). In the most obvious riff on his work, Untitled (after Manet & Degas) (all works mentioned 2023), the Folies-Bergère has turned into a women-only cabaret, populated by sexy and brazen dancers (including Manet’s sad-looking barmaid, …
              12th Seoul Mediacity Biennale, “THIS TOO, IS A MAP”
              Jason Waite
              “THIS TOO, IS A MAP” questions the conventional relationship of map to territory, looking “to model multi-spatial and multi-subjective histories and knowledge.” Directed by Rachael Rakes with associate curator Sofia Dourron, the show features works by sixty-five artists chosen not as representatives of particular nations but for their embrace of transnational approaches. The diasporic bent of this list reflects an expansion of (and alternative approach to) cartography to articulate myriad overlapping personal roots and routes. One example is Tibetan-American artist Tenzin Phuntsog, whose video Pure Land (2022) attempts to trace landscapes across the American West that look similar to images of a homeland he’s never visited. In the film, he messages these images to his mother to comment on or verify their similitude. In the construction of these unknown nostalgic landscapes, the images Phuntsog takes are uncannily similar to their Tibetan counterparts. The comparison highlights the possibility that any space can be made into a home. At the same time, it floats subtle questions of what defines any given place. What lies underneath a landscape was the focus of one of the more unique venues of the biennale: an emergency bunker built for the former military dictator Park Chung …
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