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              Ričardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker
              Daniel Muzyczuk
              Begun in the late 1970s and only published in 1989, Ričardas Gavelis’s novel Vilnius Poker presents a nightmarish vision of Lithuania under Soviet rule as a rotting corpse, riddled with resentment and shot through with conspiratorial thinking. If the book feels newly relevant today, it is because it grounds a study of the political efficacy of conspiracy theories in close observation of the humiliating effects of colonial violence upon a populace. Gavelis’s novel examines connections between this phenomenon—in which paranoid conspiracies focused on abstract enemies, such as western liberalism, are marshalled in support of authoritarian regimes—and the decline of socialism in Eastern Europe. Vilnius Poker is divided into four sections, each narrated by a different character. The eponymous city is at the epicenter of a plot orchestrated by a network of forces which, in keeping with their shadowy nature, are referred to as THEM. THEY have agents everywhere. THEY are strong in the Soviet government, but THEY are also working on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, THEY have infiltrated every global power. In Vilnius, THEY seek to turn all inhabitants into mindless followers. Vytautas Vargalys, who works at a library, believes that the final battle between the ...
              An Expanded Cinephilia
              Lukas Brasiskis
              The Cinema Batalha in Porto was a landmark in the city’s film culture and played an influential role in shaping the cinephilia of generations of residents from its opening in 1947 through to its closure in 2003. The Batalha Film Center, which opened in December, occupies the same modernist building designed by Artur Andrade and responds to the rise of new, expanded approaches to cinema. Its inaugural program consisted of a complete retrospective of films by Claire Denis; “Politics of Sci-Fi,” a screening program curated by artistic director Guilherme Blanc and chief programmer Ana David; Premium Connect (2017), a video installation by French-Guyanese artist Tabita Rezaire that draws on a scene from The Matrix (1999); and a number of special events and discussions. “Politics of Sci-Fi” explored the interrelation between the genre and politics, presenting a diverse range of international films across seven conceptual chapters. Sci-fi films, as this program makes clear, do not only predict but also shape political futures; in turn, the political contexts in which such films are made can influence their production. Among the works shown was The War Game (1966), Peter Watkins’s anti-war mockumentary originally made for the BBC and suppressed in the UK for ...
              Grids and Clouds
              Caterina Riva
              Meta is a collaboration with TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Following on from her essay on the work of Benoît Maire for Textwork, the curator Caterina Riva considers how the artist’s attitude towards waste and recycling resonates with her own writing process. Finding the right tone and structure to tackle Benoît Maire’s oeuvre was tough. My hunch was to adopt a journalistic approach—more New Yorker culture desk than contemporary art analysis—something that could bypass art criticism’s claims to objectivity, but also avoid a personal subjectivity that might risk alienating the reader. After having assembled information from and around the artist, i.e. the evidence, I had to establish my vantage point and the voice in which to make intelligible the cloud of philosophical, digital, and painterly information that surrounds and feeds Maire’s artmaking. When I studied Curating, one professor would insist on the foreground, background and middle ground as strategies to imagine the layout of an exhibition; it struck me that these three concepts could lend themselves to writing, and to this author, writing in her second language, trying to negotiate her materials and ideas within an ongoing ...
              The Cartoon Body of Boris Johnson
              Julian Stallabrass
              Boris Johnson, with his shambolic, lumbering presence, toddler’s hair, and talent for PR stunts and gaffes, was a lavish gift to cartoonists. So it made sense that, to mark his ousting as Britain’s Prime Minister in summer 2022, the Cartoon Museum in London should stage an exhibition laying out his extraordinary trajectory from the city’s mayor to champion of Brexit and divisive national leader. Johnson is a symptomatic as well as an eccentric figure, and this record of his presence in cartoons sheds light on wider issues with ramifications beyond the United Kingdom: the symbiosis between branded politicians and cartoonists, the bodies of populist leaders, and the role of revulsion in contemporary politics. Cartoonists tend to fix upon those parts of Johnson’s body that generally go unmentioned in technocratic political discourse—particularly his arse. The first images the viewer encounters are fairground figures by Zoom Rockman of the kind you put your head through to be photographed (a reminder of the medieval stocks). In one of these, the user’s head appears through the arse of a flag-waving PM. And ever since his time as the Mayor of London, veteran political cartoonist Steve Bell has replaced Johnson’s face with an arse (a matter ...
              Persistence or Renewal? On Gregory Halpern’s “19 Winters / 7 Springs”
              Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa
              Over the past decade, Gregory Halpern has become an influential figure in American art photography, principally through the release of several wildly successful photobooks. Virtually all that work has centered on the postindustrial Midwest, so that it seems especially apt that the Transformer Station, in Ohio City, Cleveland should host his first major US solo exhibition. “19 Winters / 7 Springs” comprises forty-one photographs and three floor-standing sculptures, all made in or depicting Halpern’s hometown of Buffalo, NY. In a faint echo of the geography of the region, in which Buffalo and Cleveland share a shoreline with the vast Lake Erie, this former substation has been refashioned into two reading rooms and twin gallery spaces linked by a single corridor. Upon entry, one finds at right a gallery framed by a large, Edenic portrait of a young white man perched on crutches beneath an immense tree, the bushes behind him a buoyancy of yellow flame (Untitled, 2004–2022). At left, in the Crane Gallery, Halpern shows a diminutive portrait of a muddy young African American student listing faintly after football practice, the looming gray trashcan beside him seemingly ready to swallow his weary frame whole (Untitled, 2004–2022). The two portraits map ...
              What’s next?
              The Editors
              The past year has been marked by the restoration of normality to some parts of life and the transformation of others. So it was no surprise that, when we asked contributors to pick their highlights from 2022, so many nominated shows engaged with the question of what should be restored and what abandoned, what preserved and what confined to history. These creative responses to the moment took forms as varied as archival approaches to activist art, interventionist challenges to censorship, the rewriting of history, dispersed curatorial practices, and collective exhibition-making. With the new year we too will be changing, expanding our coverage to reflect the dissolution of old forms and the emergence of new ones. Look out for forthcoming announcements, and we’ll be back on January 6. In the meantime, happy holidays. The Editors Hallie Ayres I’ll take any opportunity to see work by the architecture collective Ant Farm. Most recently, their Dolphin Embassy project appeared in “Who Speaks for the Oceans?” at Baruch College’s Mishkin Gallery. Compiling work that ranged from whimsical to urgent, the quietly transcendent show offered a necessarily polyvocal approach to decentering the Anthropocene. Other stand-outs within the show included Myrlande Constant, Will E. Jackson, and Pia ...
              This Machine is Broken: the Making of Populist Contemporary Art in Warsaw
              Jakub Gawkowski
              What if a contemporary art center, a space usually conceived as a laboratory for progressive ideas, became the opposite: a tool for promoting xenophobia, exclusion, and far-right propaganda? Under director Piotr Bernatowicz, the once-renowned Ujazdowski Castle CCA in Warsaw has pivoted to align with the values of the governing, populist Law and Justice Party that appointed him. Its latest show, “The Influencing Machine,” curated by Aaron Moulton and featuring regional and international artists from Chris Burden to Constant Dullaart, claims to tell the story of how the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA) that sprang up across Eastern Europe in the 1990s were instruments of propaganda. More than anything, however, it shines a light on Polish nationalist populism and its conflicted, contradictory cultural-political mindset. Since becoming director of Ujazdowski in 2020, Bernatowicz’s controversial program has sought to prove that contemporary art can be a place for conservative and nationalist values, and that an avant-garde might look back to the past, instead of forward to the future. The role of an experienced curatorial team in developing the program has been taken by loyal collaborators who not only lacked their expertise but even took to warning the public of the deleterious ...
              Mame-Diarra Niang’s The Citadel: a trilogy
              Sean O’Toole
              Paris-based artist Mame-Diarra Niang’s debut book, The Citadel: a trilogy, is a plush and enigmatic showcase of her interest in “the plasticity of territory”; more pointedly, of her use of the landscape genre as self-reflexive tool of knowing, basically as mirror. The multi-part book compiles discrete photo essays produced—and previously exhibited—in two African cities, Dakar and Johannesburg, between 2013 and 2016. The publication makes concrete the formal arrangement of each essay, as well as unifying them under a common rubric. The Citadel follows a number of ambitious books describing Africa’s complex urbanism, among them Guy Tillim’s Jo’burg (2005) and Joburg: Points of View (2014) and Filip De Boeck and Sammy Baloji’s hardcover tome Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds (2016). Its distinction emerges out of Niang’s willingness to subordinate documentary exegesis to mythic questing. The tension between self and place is central to the slow crescendo proposed by the three individually titled and numbered books—Sahel Gris, At the Wall, and Metropolis—that constitute The Citadel. “It is important to me to address the representation of the self as a body that does not reduce itself to flesh, but possesses many places ‘without place’,” Niang stated in a 2015 ...
              Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s Beautiful, Gruesome, and True
              Orit Gat
              “What can you say about violence except that it should not happen?” asks Amar Kanwar. Writing from a conviction that art matters in the face of the “forever wars of our time,” art critic and journalist Kaelen Wilson-Goldie explores the works of three artists: New Delhi–based Kanwar, Mexican artist and activist Teresa Margolles, and Abounaddara, a collective of filmmakers who released weekly videos online from the beginning of the Syrian Civil War showing the realities of life under the regime. In making art, Wilson-Goldie argues, each found a space in which to reflect on the politics of the places they are from in ways that go beyond the documentation of violence, to transformative effect. In her chapter on Abounaddara, Wilson-Goldie follows the collective in showing how life in wartime is shaped by conflict but, crucially, not wholly defined by it. The work of Kanwar, meanwhile, offers an example of how art can engage with popular struggles over labor rights, land, and resources. He’s been returning to the Indian state of Chhattisgarh ever since labor activist Shankar Guha Niyogi was murdered in 1991, on the day before Kanwar had arranged to film him. Writing about Margolles, Wilson-Goldie starts with her work ...
              “Ultra-clearness”
              Andrés Jaque / The Editors
              Andrés Jaque is an architect, writer, and curator whose work considers how architecture shapes our societies. In 2003 he founded the Office for Political Innovation, an architectural firm operating at the crossroads of research, design, and ecological studies to foster debate around the wider ramifications of human intervention into the landscape. These projects frequently address the literal and figurative “transparency” of buildings. When commissioned in 2002 to design a hoarding that would hide the construction of the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia from view, for instance, Jaque proposed “twelve actions to make Peter Eisenman transparent.” Arguing that the site was “already concealed because it could hardly be understood by anyone not directly involved in its management,” he instead invited the public in to discuss its economic, environmental, and political impacts. Jaque's 2012 intervention into Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s Barcelona Pavilion foregrounded the contributions of water lilies and cats to a modernist masterpiece; commissioned by the 2021 Performa Biennale, Being Silica reproduced a fracking site in a Manhattan skyscraper. Now director of the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University, Jaque was co-curator of Manifesta 12 and chief curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennale. This interview is part of the ...
              Mexico City Roundup
              Gaby Cepeda
              Mexico City’s fall openings are marked by a theatrical turn. The most overt expression is “Destino” [Destiny], organized by Mario García Torres at Museo Experimental El Eco. Displayed on a screen in the museum’s narrow entranceway is Disculpa [Apology] (2022), a video by García Torres and Eduardo Donjuan that sets the scene. The buffoonish face of Alejandro Suárez—a comedian well-known to Mexicans born before the turn of the millennium—performs a monologue in a painstaking, over-acted way. He goes on about his agent bringing him the offer to participate in this show, talks of “an air of the avant-garde” as a reason for accepting the invitation, and digresses on the similarities between art and spectacle. There are passing references to the Museo Experimental El Eco’s history: first established as an art institution in the 1950s, it later became a gay bar, a punk bar, a restaurant, a boxing gym, and a small theater, before reverting to its original function. At one point, Suárez recites a poem and then dances enthusiastically—it’s equal parts kitsch and unsettling to watch. He touches on some of Mario García Torres’s enduring fixations, evident in his earlier monologues and performances including I Am Not a Flopper (2007) ...
              London Roundup
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              There’s a moment towards the end of Jumana Manna’s film Foragers (2022), in her show of the same name at Hollybush Gardens, that stuck with me through Frieze week. After an hour spent following Palestinian foragers searching for a plant the Israeli authorities have deemed illegal to pick, the viewer is plunged into darkness shot through with brief glimpses of rusted orange-red semicircles. Slowly, the image resolves into low foliage illuminated fleetingly by a patrol car’s rotating beacon lights. This momentary break from reality—from documentary-style footage towards something resembling abstract animation—resonated with a wider disorientation I felt across some three-dozen exhibitions and an art fair. I don’t know if you can call it a theme, a trend, or a vibe, but it is perhaps best described as a sense of unease. Such unease seems to prompt the creation of shelters or safe-spaces in works as disparate as the dark cork-lined walls of William Kentridge’s retrospective at the Royal Academy and Olukemi Lijadu’s cloth-lined viewing room for her film Guardian Angel (2022) at V.O Curations. When time is jumbled or out of joint, art can be a means to step ever so slightly back, to gain perspective, and to reimagine a ...
              “The little bird must be caught”
              iLiana Fokianaki
              In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art elected to establish an annual festival addressed to a changing world and proposing “survival strategies.” Now in its thirteenth year, Survival Kit takes place under the shadow of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its implications for a country in which around one quarter of the population are Russian speakers. An exhibition curated by iLiana Fokianaki and taking inspiration from the “Singing Revolution” that preceded the Baltic States’ independence from the USSR has clear resonances with the present situation in Eastern Europe, but also reverberates more widely. Poetry, music, and song are figured by artists from Andrius Arutiunian to Wu Tsang as powerful expressions of resistance to imperialism, not only as the vehicles by which marginalized traditions are transported into the future but also as defiant expressions of feelings that cannot be suppressed. After seeing the exhibition in Riga last month, we talked to Fokianaki about a world in flux and the role of art within it. art-agenda: A year ago you proposed a show which would consider the impact of rising authoritarianism on issues of national identity and free speech through the lens of Latvia’s ...
              M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s Everything For Everyone
              Andreas Petrossiants
              In her Manifesto for Maintenance art, 1969!, Mierle Laderman Ukeles asked: “after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” If sectarian communism and reformist socialism do not challenge the classical Marxist separation between productive and reproductive labor, then what else could revolution lead to but a perpetuation of the same hierarchies by different names? Lizzie Borden’s documentary-styled film Born in Flames (1983) provided one answer to Ukeles’s question: after the United States’ transition to state socialism, violence against women, unremunerated labor, and homophobia remain rife, even amongst “comrades.” M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s speculative fiction offers another. It imagines a future in which rebellions have brought about post-capitalist worlds: commodities and the state have not only been abolished, but forgotten. The authors—performing versions of themselves five decades from now, and two decades after the insurrection reached New York—interview twelve different characters for the “New York Commune Oral History Project.” Beginning with an introduction from the future that doubles as a primer on communization theory, it’s an impeccable act of world-building. Intimate, at times confrontational, dialogues address the localized but globally oriented insurrections that brought down capitalist, white supremacist states throughout the world. The interviewees ...
              “Life after ruins”
              Kateryna Iakovlenko
              On March 18, a few days after the writer and curator Kateryna Iakovlenko left her hometown of Irpin in Kyiv Oblast, she learned that her apartment had been hit by a rocket. In August, having returned to the city, she organized an exhibition in what remained of her home. Titled “Everyone is afraid of the baker, but I am grateful,” the show featured work by Katya Buchatska, Mark Chegodaiev, Sasha Kurmaz, Roman Mykhailov, Anatol Stepanenko, Stas Turina, Tamara Turliun, and Anna Zvyagintseva. In this conversation over email, she tells us how the project explored the possibility of articulating trauma, the role of archives, and what it means to live after ruins. Not least, she draws attention to the many artists in Ukraine who have continued to work through the invasion of their country, and in resistance to it. art-agenda: How did you learn that your apartment had been ruined, and why choose to make an exhibition in the space when you returned to Ukraine? Kateryna Iakovlenko: Six days after I arrived in Vienna, I saw a report that the remnants of a rocket had hit our building. I learned from my neighbors’ posts on social media that it had ...
              A short and incomplete history of “bad” curating as collective resistance
              Gregory Sholette
              In the last of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Gregory Sholette defends the exhibitions daring, decentralized curation, placing it in the context of artistic and activist movements from the nineties to the present, and contrasting it to the presentation of the Berlin Biennale. Between the start of this year and the end of September, the artistic universe has delivered up an increasingly ominous sequence of events that, for me at least, resembles the tangled history of decentralized curating, the recrudesce of which feels downright spooky. Der Spiegel’s recent exhortation regarding Documenta 15 that “the German cultural sector has a big problem,” for instance, made me think of a threat made by Walter White in Breaking Bad: “There will be consequences.” Given that much of the criticism of Documenta 15 has focused on alleged curatorial inadequacies—and has included not only menacing editorials recalling sensational crime drama, but direct threats of violence against curatorial staff and artists—it feels pertinent to ask: a big problem for whom? And if the show’s decentralized curating has been attacked as “bad,” then according to what reputed standards? In 1998, as the recently hired Curator of Education at New York’s ...
              “Fire Complex”
              Uta Kögelsberger / Julian Stallabrass
              In 2020, the Castle Fire wildfire swept through 174,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest, destroying an estimated 14 percent of the world’s giant sequoia population. Uta Kögelsberger embarked on a series of works and actions to render the destruction and its wider implications palpable, and to start to restore the land. In her multi-screen video work Cull (2022)—which has been shown in different iterations in Los Angeles, London, and online—a dire spectacle unfolds before the viewer: a burnt forest with tall but stripped trees standing amid ash and snow. Giant sequoias, the largest and among the longest-living of trees, have historically survived these fires. Large firs, cedars, and other trees are being felled. The looping, 15-minute video is largely silent until the trees crash to the ground, shattering branches and throwing up huge clouds of ash. Some fall heavily, as we might expect, but others lightly, gently, as if with a sigh. To any lover of trees and forests, the work is deeply affecting. Once, darkly beautiful scenes such as these—some of the static shots look like an apocalyptic variant of Ansel Adams—would have been experienced as sublime. In the current climate emergency, they are more immediately threatening: a vision of the ...
              Warsaw Roundup
              Ewa Borysiewicz
              Poland, as the theorist Maria Janion has noted, lies East of the West and West of the East. The cognitive dissonance can sometimes manifest in a complex blend of inferiority complex and messianic pride, often expressed via tales of the nation’s suffering and past glory. The majority of post-1989 efforts to tell the nation’s history have focused on repressing “Eastern” attributes in favor of “Western,” but Russia’s war on Ukraine has seen the nation assert its solidarity with its beleaguered eastern neighbor. Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art is trapped between the Stalinist Palace of Culture and Science and proliferating skyscrapers, and the institution’s programming reflects the difficulty of reconciling these two influences. Its temporary home, close to the Vistula River, currently hosts “The Dark Arts: Aleksandra Waliszewska and Symbolism from the East and North,” curated by Alison M. Gingeras and Natalia Sielewicz. The reclusive painter has gained an enormous online following for her somber, cryptic gouaches depicting a cast of mysterious figures including woman-spider hybrids, sinister Slavic wraths, lonely hangmen, flayed youngsters, and bleeding mystics. The curators have applied a decorum-defying social media logic to the show’s methodology, juxtaposing works of varying provenances and gravities. Yet the physical center of ...
              Rachel Cusk & Chris Kontos’s Marble in Metamorphosis
              Aliki Panagiotopoulou
              In 1894, just a year after Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis had declared Greece bankrupt, Athens was chosen to host the first modern Olympics. The occasion demanded the total refurbishment of the Panathenaic Stadium, a venue used for athletic competitions since ancient times. As the city embarked on this expensive endeavor, someone (the Olympic committee, mayor, or king, according to different versions of the story) posed the question “Ποιος θα πληρώσει το μάρμαρο;” [Who is going to pay for the marble?] In the decades since, the ancient Greek word has come to acquire a new significance in the modern vernacular: that of damage. Marble in Metamorphosis, a book which “contemplates the physical and cultural life of marble,” is published by an Australian property development company active in Athens. Much like a mockup apartment, everything about this object is designed to showcase the company’s taste: an essay by Rachel Cusk, Chris Kontos’s sleek photographs of Athens and the island of Tinos, excerpts from poems by major Greek poets Giorgos Seferis and Yannis Ritsos, and a poetic afterword by Nadine Monem, all make for a chokehold of beauty. Yet, in recent years, public policies that prioritise property over home, investment over sanctuary, and ...
              “That's not it”
              Daisy Hildyard
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Following on from her essay on Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster for Textwork, the novelist Daisy Hildyard considers the importance of unknowing and vulnerability in any critical response to a work of art. There is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop about a sandpiper, a small seabird who is seen running along the shoreline, stabbing his head in the sand for grubs. On a frantic mission for food, “His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,/ looking for something, something, something. Poor bird, he is obsessed!” This attention is sadly misplaced: Bishop’s sandpiper, in his “state of controlled panic,” is oblivious to the ocean that roars right next to him. The sandpiper is overlaid in my mind with a passage from Virginia Woolf’s diaries in which she describes her experience as an obsessive search for something—but she doesn’t know what. “I have some restless searcher in me. Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say ‘This is it’? [...] I’m looking: but that’s not it—that’s not it. What is it?” I see ...
              “The double bind”: on Documenta 15
              Skye Arundhati Thomas
              In the third of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Skye Arundhati Thomas reflects on the exhibition’s foregrounding of collectives from the Global South, how this has been received, and what it might mean for the future of exhibition-making. Collectives are often born out of necessity. In India, where I live, I see how essential communal endeavors can become: raising money for bail bonds, distributing funds for the living costs of members, building infrastructure. Collectives of this kind—often occupying a blurred borderland between activism, art, and social work—respond to a political and social alienation bred from the breakup of communities under the mechanisms of authoritarianism. In situations of near continuous emergency, and in the absence of welfare states, public funding, and institutions, the task of providing support and crisis work often falls onto individuals and their capacity to build community. “Lumbung,” the Indonesian rice barn which serves as the curatorial proposition of ruangrupa’s Documenta 15, is a means by which to collect, store, and share resources. In keeping with that principle, theirs is a show engineered towards a relational rather than an aesthetic experience. Fourteen primary participating collectives were given €25,000 as “seed money,” ...
              Reclamation in Whose Name?
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              “Ecological turns” is a series in which writers consider how the ecological discourse is shaping the production, exhibition, and reception of contemporary art. In this instalment, Natasha Marie Llorens reflects on a group exhibition at Palais de Tokyo which takes a “rallying cry” for a title: “Reclaim the Earth.” Solange Pessoa’s long swaths of felted horsehair, culled and woven together over many years, are suspended from the Palais de Tokyo’s high ceilings, their rough surfaces and variegated brown tones visible from a distance as I enter the gallery. Cathedral (1990–2003) is part of a group show entitled “Reclaim the Earth,” encompassing the work of fourteen artists, conceived as a multi-generational and multi-cultural “rallying cry” in response to climate collapse. Pessoa’s references to horses imported to Brazil by the Spanish are described by the wall label as evocative of “distant memories of Brazil’s colonization by the Europeans,” and the artist’s contribution to the exhibition is summarized as animating “both living and non-living elements, mixing present time with the ancestral past.” I am attracted to the abject quality of Pessoa’s lines traced over the ghost image of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia Cathedral, but I balk at the softness of the generalization “European colonization,” ...
              “Shared memories”
              Akin Oladimeji / Jelili Atiku
              Last month the Lagos-based artist Jelili Atiku trod tenderly through a public square in London, weighed down by maquettes strapped to his feet. Small sculptures, mounted on a large cardboard box daubed with “Pfizer,” “Kano,” and “1996,” obscured his vision. The performance—titled Wórowòro, Kóbokòbo and shown as part the group exhibition “In a Pot of Hot Soup: Art and the Articulation of Politics in Nigeria” at the Brunei Gallery in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London—was Atiku’s response to the Pfizer drug trial scandal of 1996 and its impact on our pandemic-scarred present. During that controversy, the pharmaceutical giant pledged to combat a meningitis epidemic in Kano, northern Nigeria, by trialling a new drug on 200 infected children, leaving eleven dead and dozens more injured. Atiku’s work across drawing, multimedia installation, and performance combines Yoruba performance traditions with political activism to address subjects including human rights abuses and postcolonial trauma, at times with the intention of directly provoking political change. In 2016, he was arrested in Ejigbo, Lagos, on charges of “public disturbance and inciting the public” over his performance work Aragamago Will Rid this Land of Terrorism. The piece, which invoked Yoruba ...
              “Towards Life”
              Chus Martínez
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. In her essay on the work of Martine Aballéa for Textwork, Chus Martínez considered how its new “ways of sensing” the world might suggest new ways of acting within it. This curiosity about how other consciousnesses—human and nonhuman—construct their surroundings also characterizes Martínez’s work as artistic director of TBA21–Academy’s Ocean Space in Venice, which is dedicated to improving our understanding of the oceans through art, and as director of the Art Institute at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel. This conversation picks up threads from that text, ranging from what it means to think of art as a living being to why she retains “the highest respect for joy.” art-agenda: You write beautifully of how reality is constructed by our sensory faculties: so the world as inhabited by a human does not only look different but is different to the world inhabited by, to take your example, a turtle. How can art help us to reconstruct the world? Chus Martínez: I am always fascinated by how we fantasize: how fantasy allows the human ...
              Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams’s Diego Garcia
              Orit Gat
              The narrator of Diego Garcia, a novel written collaboratively by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams, is sometimes a he, sometimes a she, always a we. When its two speakers, Oliver and Damaris, are not together, the narrative can fracture into separate columns. They live in Edinburgh. It’s 2014. “We” walk to the library; “he” makes coffee in the morning; “she” loves the cardamom buns at the Swedish café. The city is a backdrop to their conversations about Theodor Adorno and James Baldwin, the Velvet Underground, writing, and money; they discuss their debts in numbers, their credit scores in terms of unavailable futures. On the streets are posters for the Scottish Independence referendum. Their life feels detached until one day they meet Diego. Diego is Chagossian, from the community exiled to Mauritius and the Seychelles by the British government between 1967 and 1973 so that the island of Diego Garcia could be turned into a US military base. Diego—the name he adopted in acknowledgement of his lost homeland—meets them one night for a drink. They never see Diego again, but before he leaves he tells Damaris his life story: how he grew up in Mauritius and ended up undocumented in the ...
              “Contested Histories”: on Documenta 15
              Jörg Heiser
              In the second of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Jörg Heiser considers the row over anti-Semitic content that erupted shortly after the exhibition’s opening. This January, a Kassel-based group called Bündnis gegen Antisemitismus [Alliance Against Anti-Semitism], which prides itself on anti-Muslim racism (“we make no secret of the fact that we take a critical view of Islam”), published a post on its blog. The post denounced members of ruangrupa, the Indonesian collective curating this year’s Documenta, as well as members of the exhibition’s Finding Committee and Artistic Team, as anti-Semites, pointing to their support—amongst 16,000 other co-signers—for the May 2021 “Letter against Apartheid.” (I haven’t signed the letter because I disagree with its terminology and some of its demands, but the assumption that everyone who did is automatically an anti-Semite is absurd.) In a newspaper interview in January, German Historian Ulrich Schneider—federal spokesman of the anti-fascist Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes [Association of the Persecuted of the Nazi Regime]—described the “alliance” as “concerned with denouncing people who are critical of Israel’s occupation policy. They deliberately use the blanket accusation of anti-Semitism as a killer argument.” Nevertheless, a string of newspaper articles across ...
              “A new kind of archive”
              Dina Ramadan / Mahmoud Khaled
              Mahmoud Khaled has in recent years taken the house museum—a space dedicated to the legacy of the person (real or invented) who lived there—as his medium. Beginning with “Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man” at the 15th Istanbul Biennial in 2017, Khaled has used these imagined sets to explore the violence and power of memorialization. In his first UK solo exhibition at The Mosaic Rooms, “Fantasies on a Found Phone, Dedicated to the Man Who Lost it,” the Berlin-based, Egyptian artist transforms the gallery space into a domestic setting. This immersive environment—featuring murals, sculpture, photography, a sound piece, and an artist’s book—imagines the life of the anonymous owner of a misplaced phone in order to commemorate it. This project builds on Khaled’s continued interest in museums and archives as apparatuses of history-telling that can be reappropriated to document and celebrate marginalized queer lives. His work examines the tension between the public and the private, as well as the relationships between identity, anonymity, and intimacy. Dina Ramadan: Your first use of the form of the house museum memorialized a character you call the “unknown crying man.” Who was this figure? Mahmoud Khaled: The image that started ...
              Diamela Eltit’s “Custody of the Eyes”
              Olivia Casa
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in recent art history by returning to an influential exhibition, artwork, or text from the past and reflecting on its relevance to the present. In this edition, Olivia Casa takes a new translation of Diamela Eltit’s Los vigilantes (1994) as an opportunity to highlight her pioneering artistic activism. Diamela Eltit was a key member of the Escena de Avanzada, a group of Chilean artists and writers who denounced Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in the aftermath of the 1973 US-backed coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. Varying in their approaches, they were united in their search for experimental strategies that would confront the regime’s policies and discourse—an aim epitomized by Colectivo Acciones de Arte (CADA), of which Eltit was a founding member. The reissue of Eltit’s 1994 novel Los vigilantes, published in English as Custody of the Eyes, offers an opportunity to consider the relevance of the Escena de Avanzada to contemporary debates about art’s discursive strategies under repression. An epistolary novel narrated through a series of desperate letters dispatched by “Mama,” or Margarita, from a dystopian, authoritarian city, it leads us through a series of increasingly sinister events in which citizens are turned against one ...
              Karen Archey’s After Institutions
              Ben Eastham
              The question of whether and how contemporary art can contribute to the reform of society is, let’s say, increasingly pressing. Emerging from a cancelled exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, where Karen Archey is curator of contemporary art, this book-length essay posits a “reinvigorated” Institutional Critique as the best available means to this end. Featuring artists from Hans Haacke to A.K. Burns, the show aimed to reflect the influence on cultural production of the post-2008 economic recession and social movements including Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. In articulating the ideas behind it, After Institutions makes the case for works of art that, by situating their critique in institutions ranging from healthcare to education, might meaningfully change them. To demonstrate that this is the natural next step in the evolution of what Archey, following Andrea Fraser, calls a “methodology” rather than a movement, she divides a potted history of Institutional Critique into three “waves.” Emerging out of the overwhelmingly white and Eurocentric context of western Conceptual Art in the late 1960s, the first focused its critique on the social and economic structures supporting the art institution. In order to resist its recuperation by the market and foreground idea over ...
              London Roundup
              Orit Gat
              In the local elections held the week before London Gallery Weekend, the residents of Westminster City Council, which covers much of central London, voted Labour into a majority for the first time since the council’s creation in 1964. The vote was partly informed by the Conservative council’s misguided decision, widely publicized in 2021, to spend six million pounds on the “Marble Arch Mound,” a twenty-five-meter-tall astroturf hill and viewing point designed to lure viewers back to the city’s busiest shopping district. It failed: many stores are still covered with for-rent signs, one of which peddled a “blank canvas for new ideas.” These are the visual and linguistic relics of the before-time: they represent old ideas of urban environments and their inhabitants’ habits, and beg the question, “What if we don’t want to return to how things were?” At Emalin, Augustas Serapinas is displaying eight large black reliefs made of roof shingles taken from a wooden house from his home country, Lithuania. Many of these traditional architectures are now abandoned or destroyed and used for firewood. Serapinas bought one, broke it apart, charred its roof shingles, and repurposed them into monochromes that are part-painting, part-sculpture. They are heavy, loaded with their ...
              “Dance Reflections”
              Isobel Harbison
              “WORKING WITH BOTH TRISHA BROWN AND LAURIE ANDERSON WILL BE ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE THEATRICAL CHALLENGE [sic] IN MY CARREER [sic],” wrote Robert Rauschenberg prior to the production of Set and Reset (1983), in his signature uppercase. “THE EXPERTISE RELIES ON WHAT KIND OF ROOM WE MAKE FOR EACH OTHER. NO ONE COULD BE MORE CURIOUS ABOUT THIS THAN I AM.” Set and Reset premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in the institution’s inaugural “Next Wave” festival. The collaboration between Anderson, Brown, and Rauschenberg was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts—part of a new grants program supporting the interdisciplinary artistic collaboration increasingly evident in the city—and it became a commercial and critical success. Forty years on, the work headlines “Dance Reflections,” a new international festival of contemporary dance set across London’s Tate Modern, Sadler’s Wells, and the Royal Opera House. While the first festival iteration of Set and Reset elevated avant-garde performance from the ad hoc spaces used by Brown during the 1960s and ’70s onto the grand theatrical stage, this recent one re-grounded it onto a different space altogether: the museum floor. This marks another phase in the life cycle of avant-garde dance: ...
              “One long crime”
              Lawrence Abu Hamdan / Skye Arundhati Thomas
              On August 4, 2020, a 2,750-ton cache of ammonium nitrate exploded at a warehouse of the main port in Beirut, Lebanon, in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. An enormous toxic red cloud hung for days over the city; according to Human Rights Watch, 300,000 people were displaced by the damage, 7,000 injured, 218 killed. An official investigation is ongoing, and no clear resolutions have yet been found. The city—and country—has since been subject to long power blackouts, a collapse of healthcare infrastructure, and skyrocketed inflation. “My government did this,” reads a graffiti scrawled in black ink by the side of the port. The artist and self-styled “private ear” Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who has previously conducted sonic investigations into asylum tribunals in the UK and ballistic reports of instances of military brutality in Palestine, turned his attention to these events; judging the explosion the result of state negligence, he began to map out a longer history of governmental corruption and military occupation in the region. On 8 March, 2022, a crowd gathered in Sharjah’s “Flying Saucer,” a Brutalist theatre shaped like a star, where Abu Hamdan presented an audiovisual essay. He circled the perimeter slowly as we ...
              Erin L. Thompson’s Smashing Statues
              R. H. Lossin
              Amid the waves of protests against the murder of unarmed black people by the police, many more US citizens began to question the validity of statues honoring men who massacred the continent’s indigenous inhabitants, owned slaves, and otherwise profited from the suffering, exploitation, and death of mostly non-European people. Some statues were successfully pulled down by crowds, others damaged, removed under the cover of night, and placed in storage. But most of these sculptures, as Erin L. Thompson documents in her much-needed history of public monuments and social change, have been legally protected in perpetuity by state legislatures. Take for example the Confederate Memorial Carving on Stone Mountain, which is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world and depicts the heroes of the slave South Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert E. Lee as they ride toward something—possibly a future in which they exercise an inordinate influence. Thompson, a specialist in art crime, has written a thoroughly researched, convincing, and readable argument for the removal of the United States’ monuments to its colonial and slave history: in doing so, her book eradicates any lingering doubts as to the wisdom of suppressing these symbolic markers of the past. Advocates of ...
              “The world is the flask”
              Cosmo Sheldrake / Merlin Sheldrake
              In this instalment of the “Ecological turns” series, which considers how the production and reception of new art is being informed by developments in the ecological discourse, we talk to two brothers working across these fields: the composer Cosmo Sheldrake and the biologist Merlin Sheldrake. In his best-selling book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, Merlin presents the world from the point of view of those fungal networks that stitch it together. In doing so, he contributes to a Copernican shift in our understanding of the relationship between human “culture” and nonhuman “nature” that has consequences for how we think and make art in the age of climate crisis. Cosmo’s music explores similarly radical shifts in perspective, producing an album composed of recordings from endangered British birds and collaborating with the American sound ecologist Bernie Krause as part of “The Great Animal Orchestra” at the Fondation Cartier in 2016. Taking for a starting point the ideas of “listening” and “decomposition” as artistic strategies, the interview was moderated by art-agenda’s editor-in-chief, Ben Eastham, and the series’ co-commissioner, Filipa Ramos. Editors: Writing about how fungi make life on earth possible, in Entangled Life Merlin ...
              Kuba Szreder’s The ABC of the projectariat
              iLiana Fokianaki
              The ABC of the projectariat seems, at first glance, to be a humorous glossary of phenomena familiar to members of what Kuba Szreder names the “projectariat”: “a person who does projects in order to make a living.” Once you’ve read it, Szreder’s book—an acute account of the grim reality of working conditions within the contemporary art field—remains fun, but is no longer funny. Through sixty-six alphabetically ordered entries, the academic and independent curator offers an introduction to the work ecologies of the less glamorous subsection of the industry: a stressful life of pitching projects, managing painstakingly attained cultural capital, and the stress of making ends meet, given the fluctation in one’s monthly earnings, while traveling constantly via early-morning flights on budget airlines. The book contains all the classic terms of the labor movement: C, for example, is for “Capital,” “Circulation,” “Curatorial Mode of Production,” and “Control.” More surprising entries like “Cynicism and Cliques,” “Time Machines,” and “Trawling” offer a fresh perspective on the bleaker aspects of our professional realm. D is for the dark side, or “Dark Matter,” referencing Gregory Sholette’s 2010 book which draws parallels between the invisible physical phenomenon that connects the universe and the unseen exploitation of ...
              Zach Blas’s “Unknown Ideals”
              Kevin Brazil
              Unknown Ideals collects a range of texts written by the artist and educator Zach Blas since 2008: essays, a screenplay, poems, and the hallucinatory monologue of a mannequin getting fucked by a suction gun. These writings, and a selection of installation shots and stills from the exhibited works which prompted them, are interspersed with critical responses by theorists and art historians such as Alexander R. Galloway and Pamela M. Lee, as well as an interview conducted with curator Övül Ö. Durmuşoğlu. The book is far from a collected works: writing is central to Blas’s practice, and he has published a long bibliography of academic writings on film, queer theory, and digital media. Yet beyond being a simple miscellany, it serves as an introduction to the distinctive imaginary world which has animated the artist’s work in film, digital media, installation, and sculpture. The opening text, “Unknown Ideals,” offers a panorama of that world: California, the site of the contemporary “informatic means of production.” Blas’s California—perhaps like every California—is fantasy. A landscape, retro and futuristic at the same time, of Disneyland, meditation retreats, and Silicon Valley; inhabited by The Doors and Jack Dorsey, but dominated by Ayn Rand, whose 1943 novel The Fountainhead ...
              On Hybridity
              Daisy Hildyard
              “Ecological turns” is a series in which writers from different fields of the ecological discourse consider new ways of making and responding to art. In this instalment of the program, which is co-commissioned with Filipa Ramos, the novelist and historian of science Daisy Hildyard reflects on the work of Anicka Yi. I recently came across a poem that I found unsettling. I was reading Oli Hazzard’s Blotter and the voice appealed to me: it spoke in a direct way but the course of speech kept changing. There were images of sprouting seeds, cherry brandy, people kissing and whispering, Ukrainian coal imports, wandering deer. There was something that felt right about this jumbled reality, and something vulnerably human in the intimate experiences it alluded to: lips burned on hot tea, the fear of the dark wood, drowsiness, the pleasure of reading aloud. This is how the world feels, I thought. And then I read the book’s blurb, which explained that the lines I had found so characterful were generated by a Russian spambot. This was a speaker who could not grow drowsy, or burn its lips on tea. My response to the poem, no doubt, says something about my own emotional intelligence—but more ...
              Entering the Labyrinth: on Walid Raad’s “Two Drops per Heartbeat”
              Julieta Aranda / Regine Basha
              It was in 2007, in the setting of e-flux’s “United Nations Plaza” in Berlin, that we first met Walid Raad and Jalal Toufic, who were working as mentors at the alternative school. We learned then how they conspired (or co-inspired) together, with Toufic’s texts such as “Vampires” (2003) and “The Withdrawal of Tradition against a Surpassing Disaster” (1996) complementing Raad’s construction of cultural histories under the guise of the fictional preservation foundation The Atlas Group. So when we learned that TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary had commissioned Raad to create a new project around the history of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, we were naturally eager to see it. Having sharpened the methods and approaches pioneered with Toufic, Raad has produced a highly elaborate narrative intervention into the museum’s past. Titled “Cotton Under My Feet,” this investigation was paired with a 92-minute performative tour of the museum in the company of the artist called “Two Drops Per Heartbeat,” which took place a total of 67 times in the course of the show’s run. The intervention focused, according to the show's curator Daniela Zyman, on the events and documents around the sale, transfer, display, storage, and conditions of a collection that became one of ...
              Jordan Stein’s Rip Tales: Jay DeFeo’s Estocada & Other Pieces
              Chris Murtha
              In November 1965 Jay DeFeo was evicted from her home and studio at 2322 Fillmore Street in San Francisco, the epicenter of a vibrant community of Beat-adjacent artists, writers, and musicians. In a now-famous story, the artist hired a moving company to box up and haul off her massive painting, The Rose, which she had labored over since 1958. Eleven feet tall, nearly a foot thick with sculpted oil paint, wooden armatures, and earlier drafts, and weighing 1,800 pounds, The Rose had to be hoisted out of her second-floor window. When DeFeo vacated the apartment the following day, she left behind another work in progress—a comparatively slight painting, in oil on paper, stapled directly to the wall. The artist was only able to salvage a few roughly torn fragments from the scarred and stuccoed surface of Estocada, as the piece was titled (after a matador’s final murderous blow). Though The Rose spent decades languishing in storage and was only exhibited twice during the artist’s lifetime, the painting and its legend have come to define DeFeo’s career. Estocada’s story, on the other hand, has remained untold. But how does one write the story of an artwork that never really existed, unfinished ...
              Web 3.0
              Ma'an Abu Taleb
              This is Clearly Money Laundering is a work of art by XCOPY which last sold on April 17, 2021 for 180 Eth, or $436,419.69 at time of purchase. Other works by the artist have sold for millions. NFTs, the tokens that situate these artworks on the blockchain where they are stored, were once referred to as deeds. They could one day be used for passports. The exorbitant prices these NFTs command, and their entanglement in controversy regarding the environmental impact of blockchains, mean that the actual images are often overlooked. Let’s assume that crypto is indeed a scam, and that it is bad for the environment. This, in itself, doesn’t invalidate the art. When I first came across XCOPY’s work, my opinion wasn’t prejudiced by the above concerns. Still, I hated the art. I found it jarring and obnoxious, obscene even. It felt like it was made to annoy me. My dislike intensified the more it kept showing up as I tried to discover this new digital world. To be fair, much of what was happening at the time was unsettling to me. I had been a smug luddite until 2019, when I finally gave up my Nokia and got a ...
              “Ecological turns”
              Filipa Ramos / The Editors
              Among the functions of a critical publication is constantly to refresh the language that supports contemporary art. Not to reduce art and its transformations to words, but to make it possible for diverse audiences to conceptualize, experience, and discuss it; not to tie work to terminologies, but to liberate it from obsolete categories. In conversations at the turn of the year Julieta Aranda suggested a series revolving around the various “ecological turns” in contemporary art of recent years. So, with the above in mind, we approached Filipa Ramos, a previous editor-in-chief and a passionate investigator of what “nature” means, to help us convene a thread of texts by authors working in different fields of the ecological discourse. In each case they will be invited to consider their knowledge in relation to the work being made and displayed today. This relationship is not new, of course. Artists have always looked for new ways to experience, represent, and engage with “nature.” Yet even the scare quotes we feel obliged to add to the previous sentence speak to how dramatically perspectives have changed in recent decades, and how much this has transformed the way we speak about, more scare quotes, “culture.” As the ...
              “Stories create more stories”
              Marta Dziewańska
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. In the latest addition to the series, Marta Dziewańska considers her work with Jagna Ciuchta in the context of storytelling and exchange. “Storytelling,” wrote Hannah Arendt, “reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” In her essay on the writer Isak Dinesen, she opposes storytelling to conceptual thought. Storytelling, she argues, “recollects and ponders” rather than putting forth a notion of truth as revelation. In my writing and curating, I try to do the same. I’m not interested in describing, defining, or explaining; in hiding behind the artist, or disguising myself as some omniscient sage. On the contrary, I see my work as storytelling. First, I need to understand the artist’s language, and then think of my reaction to it: propose my own story. This was the case in my text devoted to the work of Jagna Ciuchta. I was not familiar with her work, knew little about her artistic language, and the pandemic prevented me from meeting her in person. We saw each other a couple of times online and I was sent catalogues, ...
              Looking back and leaping forth
              The Editors
              This time last year, we asked our contributors for a few festive sentences not on the shows they’d most enjoyed over the past twelve months, but the ones they would most have liked to have seen but couldn’t, for reasons ranging from gallery closures to travel bans to citywide lockdowns to periods of self-isolation. To reflect on 2021, we’ve returned—with tentative optimism—to the more conventional format. Our writers from around the world pick the best shows they did manage to see over the past year, whether these were retrospectives in established institutions or group shows in nimble pop-up venues, immersive installations in back gardens or video works shown on LED screens in the middle of fields, curated in well-ventilated gallery spaces or broadcast via Zoom. The best exhibitions, Jonathan Griffin suggests, are “the ones that surprise you, change your mind.” We hope this can also describe our program of criticism, which will recommence on January 3. The Editors Julieta Aranda The pressures of motherhood during a pandemic meant that I was unable to take up the invitation to participate in “Maternar.” But I have been thinking ever since about the necessity of exhibitions that present and represent the complexity and autonomy ...
              Vienna Art Week, “Losing Control”
              Novuyo Moyo
              The group exhibition “House of Losing Control” gave this year’s Vienna Art Week a theme that proved fateful: just ten days after its conclusion, the Austrian capital went into lockdown after having failed to control the latest wave of Covid-19 cases. The opening night of the show featured installations, performances, and artworks dotted throughout a sprawling building complex in the north of the city that once housed an auto workshop, a club and, we were told, a brothel. All these institutions were functional until very recently; their abandonment is emblematic of the precarity that the latest lockdown (made necessary by the low vaccination uptake in the country) will amplify. That context of economic decline and ecological disaster made the former auto shop a fitting location for Ernst Logar’s intensely researched works on the damaging effects of the petrochemicals industry. ÖLPEST (2021) unfolded in two parts: a large banner mounted onto the wall on which different translations for “oil spill” were written in crude oil, then on the floor a transparent hose contorted into various formations by the oil being pumped through it. The multilingual work—designed for an international audience—invites us to understand our collective responsibility for this type of disaster ...
              Glomming, Cottoning
              Nick Currie
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Here, Nick Currie discusses annotation, marginality, and piles of unread books in relation to his essay on Anne Bourse. 1. “I like to annotate,” Isaac Asimov told David Letterman in 1980. “The Bible, Shakespeare, various things. You simply copy down all the verses in The Bible and you make little footnotes and say whatever you please about each one. If you do it right the annotations are longer than the thing you’re annotating.” Nine years later Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, and soon annotation became something we all do pretty much all the time. 2. The annotation Asimov described resembles what generations of rabbis did with the Torah, calling the result the Talmud. Whereas the Torah is a fixed document of around 80,000 words, the Talmud is a massive accretion of debates, decisions, and commentaries—a huge nacreous encrustation built up around the original text over the course of many centuries. In his book Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (2003), Douglas Rushkoff suggests that early Judaism was comparable to open source software, but that the ...
              Lost futures: on the work of Nam June Paik
              Anna Mirzayan
              Earlier this year, I returned to my home state for the first time since the pandemic began. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) was hosting Nam June Paik’s first retrospective on the West Coast and, under the California sun, the Korean-American artist’s works seemed to couple the beauty of modern technology with just enough irony to stave off techno-determinism. It also prompted me to reflect on Paik’s status as a prophet of the idealism I had grown up with, and to consider how his work reads today, now that the hegemony of Silicon Valley’s IT corporations has come to pass. In Paik’s TV Buddha (1974), which opens the show, a black Buddha statue sits across from a white television set, behind which looms a video camera. The closed-circuit camera, of the kind that Paik often used in his work, captures both statue and passing viewers and projects them onto the TV screen. Iconic and serene, the statue’s pose is reflected in a two-dimensional circuitous feed that seems to mimic Silicon Valley’s romanticized Zen Buddhism-lite. This “Buddhism” has replaced Protestantism as a catch-all for many Bay Area-dwellers looking for a spiritual supplement to the region’s hyper-corporate culture, as ...
              Brad Haylock and Megan Patty (Eds.), Art Writing in Crisis
              Orit Gat
              It is easier to discount the importance of things than it is to advocate for them. One would expect a book titled Art Writing in Crisis to make an argument for criticism in “times like these”—an exhausting task in which writers are cornered into justifying their practice, which may end up equating art, culture, and discourse with what is now termed “essential work.” The crisis in the title isn’t the one I initially thought it was: it’s not art criticism that is in crisis, but the world. Instead of proposing criticism as a solution to upheaval, the writers in this book are reflecting on how we work in the midst of global chaos. The theme of their essays is not the place of art criticism now; there are no solutionist ideals about the role of art in society, or claims of how crucial art and criticism are, “now more than ever.” Instead, the 22 texts are largely personal in approach but community-oriented in scope, and appended by historical surveys on art publishing and writing, making a true argument for the value of art and criticism—not to save a society in crisis, but to grow the sense of collectivity that builds ...
              “Spacemaking and Soul Delay”
              Sophia Al-Maria / Lydia Ourahmane
              It’s been over a month since I went to Amsterdam to see Lydia Ourahmane’s “Survival in the afterlife” at de Appel, and I am still feeling the effects. On arrival, I felt a sense of having come to a place of safety after having been far from home for a long time. It was very, well, healing. The show’s starting point is the spiritual commune Ourahmane’s parents founded during the civil war in Algeria (1991–2002), so perhaps the feeling of peace that washed over me is no coincidence. Ourahmane’s research-driven practice, which often involves sound and installation, explores questions of borders, migration, colonialism, and spirituality. The curved Aula at de Appel felt full-sail with the breath of more people than I’d been around in over a year. Shadows shifted over a vast raft of pattern-clashing mattresses that sprawled across the floor. The ambient incantation Notice the direction of fires (2021), composed by Ourahmane and collaborators Yawning Portal, was calming. Hie Tee, Lydia’s mother, sang soothingly over the speakers: “my peace, my peace, I give unto you.” I went to smoke, where Hie Tee talked to me about the importance of never turning away anyone who is in need and ...
              Sophie Calle’s “The Hotel”
              Cal Revely-Calder
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in recent art history by returning to an influential exhibition, artwork, or text from the past and reflecting on its relevance to the present. In this edition, Cal Revely-Calder considers a newly published edition of Sophie Calle’s The Hotel (1981) in the context of contemporary attitudes to privacy and surveillance. How do you defend someone like this? She circulates people’s secrets, complete with photographs and notes. One time, she found an address book in the street: she rang up the names inside, asked them questions about its owner, and printed what they told her in a newspaper column, every day for a month. Another time, she got a job as a hotel maid: she removed objects from people’s luggage—underwear, medication, diaries—took pictures and wrote long captions, and published them in a book. She would follow people around without their knowledge, never mind their consent; she shadowed one couple from Paris to Venice, where she snapped them all day as they wandered around believing they were alone. The Address Book (serialized in Libération in August 1983) was the project that got Sophie Calle denounced. The book’s owner, “Pierre D” (Pierre Baudry), returned to France that autumn; ...
              “Fellow Travelers”: Nazi Art and Historical Amnesia
              Jörg Heiser
              On the August day in 1944 that Charles de Gaulle headed a liberation parade through Paris, Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary: “We are drawing up a so-called ‘list of the Divinely Gifted,’ of about 300 to 400 truly outstanding artists, who will have an impact beyond their time, and who are to be exempted from frontline and labor service. These artists will be recruited from all branches of our cultural life.” The list was put together the following month, and included 114 (exclusively male) sculptors and painters. Typewritten on standard paper, the list is held in the Federal Archive of Germany in Berlin. Yet no-one had made a concerted effort to look up these names and see who among them made a career in postwar Germany, let alone make an exhibition of it, until now. The fruit of that research is “‘Divinely Gifted’: National Socialism’s Favored Artists in the Federal Republic” at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) in Berlin. It is widely known that some Nazi artists continued their careers after the war, most famously Hitler’s favorite sculptor, Arno Breker. Declared a “fellow traveler” of the National Socialists in 1948 by an Allied de-Nazification tribunal, he continued to receive significant ...
              Simone Forti’s News Animations
              Ben Eastham
              Simone Forti has been dancing the news for four decades. Prior to the death of her father in the early 1980s, the Fluxus artist was more likely to be found reinventing the possibilities of dance in New York or exploring the limits of consciousness in Woodstock than engaging in the quintessentially bourgeois leisure activity of reading the newspaper. Yet Forti took up the practice in homage to her father, whose careful attention to the newspapers prompted him to flee Mussolini’s Italy in 1938 with his wife and the three-year-old Simone (her uncle, a partisan, later died on the way to Auschwitz). From her reading Forti developed a series of improvisational performances that she calls “News Animations,” in which she brings a pile of newspapers onstage and, having arranged their pages into “maps” on the floor, responds with spoken word and bodily movement to what she can see. A headline might, for example, compel the artist to strike a pose which embodies contradiction or despair; she might see two unrelated stories and riff on what connects them. This book, published to accompany an exhibition at the Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Tuscany, gathers together preparatory drawings, transcripts, and photographs ...
              The dance: exhibition architecture in contemporary Russia
              Alex Thyr
              No other context I know places as much importance on exhibition architecture as today’s Russia. The level of ambition is very high: walls and other complex structures are built and painted, carpets are laid, walkways are constructed, and the rooms are illuminated as in a theater performance. As a visitor, or (better) experiencer, you are enveloped. It reminds me of the nineteenth-century Gesamtkunstwerk, and of Boris Groys’s famous description of Ilya Kabakov’s characteristically dense and atmospheric environments as “total installations.” But with a major difference: while the Gesamtkunstwerk and the total installation rely on affinities and correspondences between the display structure and the displayed, creating synergistic effects, the style that predominates in Russia tends to run its own race. Exhibition architecture can certainly highlight art on its own terms and give energy to what is exhibited, but it can also make it difficult to reach art. One example of elaborate and costly design that made that connection strenuous was the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Assuming Distance: Speculations, Fakes, and Predictions in the Age of Coronacene” (March 26 – August 1) where visitors were led around an illuminated “catwalk.” This created an unfortunate contradiction between a laudable initiative—to support artists in ...
              Toronto Roundup
              Tess Edmonson
              My tour of Toronto’s first Gallery Weekend started on a Saturday morning at Paul Petro Contemporary Art, where artist Andy Patton joined Petro in discussing a suite of new Carol Wainio paintings. In view of Wainio’s fluffy, Rococo landscapes, Patton reminded a small audience that paint is essentially “just colored glue.” A few days later, during the opening days of Greater Toronto Art 2021 (GTA), the inaugural edition of a triennial survey of Toronto artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I stopped in front of a Tony Romano sculpture (one element of a larger installation titled Between the Lilies and the Birds, 2021): a small, rough face rendered in ceramic. Big blue tears ornamented its right cheek, and the word “SAD” was carved into its chin. I left the museum listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Banisters” (Republican music, sorry) and walked home through the very strong smell of chocolate (the museum is next to a chocolate factory). Something humbling was happening. The city was coming out of what’s been, by some measures, the longest consecutive lockdown of any major international metropolis. The exhausted, perennial questions that attend art’s relationship to event—why do this, who is it for, do ...
              Cady Noland’s THE CLIP-ON METHOD
              Alan Gilbert
              In the late 1980s, when borders were collapsing and capital was carving new channels in which to flow, Cady Noland was producing an art of blockages and impediments. She famously made walls of Budweiser beer cans and created barriers with bars, metal pipes, and sculptures resembling stockades. Where movement was signified, it took the form of heavy, clumsy metal walkers and shopping carts that vaguely resembled torture devices. A number of these pieces ominously featured the American flag during a period of US triumphalism and leaching neoliberalism following the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the same time, US prison populations, primarily nonwhite, were skyrocketing—part of what Saidiya Hartman has called the ongoing “afterlife of slavery.” Noland’s decision to stop making art circa 2000—and her subsequent legal battles over the selling and display of her work when it has been altered or improperly conserved—might be seen as extending her engagement with obstruction and nullification. When there are more things in the world to say no to than yes, it is a sign that the reactionaries are winning. In this sense, Noland’s politics of refusal, in both art and life, feel prescient and valuable. Similarly, while there’s no doubt ...
              “Writing on foot”
              Fernanda Brenner
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Here, Fernanda Brenner considers how questions of intimacy, digital mediation, and “unlearning habits” influenced her response to the work of Sarah Tritz. My old drama teacher used to tell a story about Antonin Artaud. Trapped in a taxi in a massive Paris bouchon and unable to hold himself together, Artaud stepped out of the car, jumped on top of it, and started walking over the sea of immobile vehicles shouting: “You are all mad!” The anecdote came to mind when I was asked to write about Sarah Tritz’s work. The artist and I had planned a studio visit right after I saw her outstanding exhibition at Centre D’Art Contemporain D’Ivry – Le Crédac, in Ivry Sur Seine. Cut to lockdown. Whoever didn’t reappraise the pillars of their life during that time—love, work, whereabouts, and so on—must be truly mad. Since I was unable to meet Sarah in person, writing about her work became an exercise in pairing information gathered piecemeal over Zoom calls to the artist with my still-fresh impressions of the works I’d seen ...
              Berlin Roundup
              Emily McDermott
              Since the beginning of last year many artists have turned inward—or at least towards their immediate surroundings. Last week, during Berlin Art Week and Gallery Weekend Berlin’s Discoveries edition, over 70 exhibitions (some long-delayed) opened in the city’s galleries, institutions, project spaces, and private collections, featuring both established and emerging artists. The themes addressed are wide-ranging, but one recurring motif is an introspection expressed in portraiture: not necessarily in the figurative sense, but in using the framework of an exhibition to present a close study of one’s own identity, of a place, of an environment. Reflecting this idea most overtly is Alicja Kwade’s exhibition “In Abwesenheit (In Absence)” at Berlinische Galerie. Here, the artist moves away from her usual cosmic explorations of time in favor of a show that is most clearly read as a self-portrait. 314,000 sheets of pale purple paper are printed with her fully sequenced DNA, with the 0.1% of letters that differentiate her from others bolded. Many sheets line the room’s towering walls, while thousands more are encased in bronze archival boxes. Twenty-four speakers are arranged on a giant black steel ring suspended from the ceiling, projecting Kwade’s heartbeat as it rises and falls. Bronze molds ...
              “The Skeptic’s Allegory”
              Jacolby Satterwhite / Travis Diehl
              The first thing Jacolby Satterwhite showed me when I visited his apartment in Brooklyn was his painting studio. Leaning on walls and furniture and easels were a dozen canvases in various states, some based on family snapshots, others scenes from the mind-bent digital worlds for which he’s known. On the surface, it’s a wild departure from the works that made his reputation as a multidisciplinary artist: video installations, virtual environments, performances, and digital-media works, informed by queer theory, video games, and much else besides. “Spirits Roaming on the Earth,” a decade-deep survey of Satterwhite’s work now on view at Pittsburgh’s Miller ICA, showcases videos, sculptures, and c-prints drawn from these idiosyncratic, alternative realities. They are populated by dancing sprites—many of them avatars embodied by the artist, others figures cast from clubs or pop culture—adorned with 3D tracings of his mother Patricia’s many schematics for fantastic household objects. Satterwhite’s Reifying Desire 1–6 (2014), his earliest series of video installations, weaves together light S&M, Patricia’s inventions (including a remote-controlled penis), and five gyrating figures modelled on Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Ropes of light flow from the characters’ hands. Spend a moment with these videos with painting in mind, however, and ...
              “When is a Painting?”
              Kevin Brazil
              In June 2021 Urs Fischer exhibited “The Intelligence of Nature,” a group of paintings made during a year when Fischer, like many, was forced to spend more time at home than normal. After artists’ and curators’ immediate—and sometimes kneejerk—responses to the Covid-19 outbreak have passed, and as we discover the pandemic will be a permanent reality of global life for years to come, as well as a symptom of deepening ecological and economic crises, more considered art can offer us a guide to this new situation. And one thing recent painting might be able to do, as a practice for reflecting on the pressures of our new present, is give us a sense of how these interlocking crises—as Fischer’s series suggests—are shaping our experience of time. A “crisis,” after all, is a temporal phenomenon: a decisive turning point that changes our understanding of what went before, and our experience of what will come next. In Fischer’s paintings, the background images are primarily photorealistic depictions of scenes from his house in Los Angeles, which appear to be covered in smears of paint, at times so dense they cover the whole canvas. On close inspection, however, the relationship between these ...
              What we're doing this summer
              We take a short break over August. A time to catch our breath and, praise be, to see some shows. To help us and you to make the most of the summer we asked a few of our recent contributors to nominate the exhibitions that they are looking forward to seeing. Our writers are creative individuals, liable to respond creatively to any brief, and so their responses encompass shows they have recently seen and will be thinking about for weeks to come, the books they are excited to read, and everything else under the summer sun. We'll spend the next month plotting the year ahead and publishing archive material on social media: be sure to follow us there. Hallie Ayres Having been away from New York for a little while, I’m excited to see “Beyond Metaphor: Women and War.” Curated by Katarzyna Falęcka, the show aims to expand the reductionist trope of women’s lives under colonialism—heroic freedom fighter or defenseless victim—by highlighting five artists who trouble the facts and fictions of the Algerian War of Independence. I’m intrigued by this understanding of the struggle, which acknowledges that a slippage between categories is critical to the messy negotiation of liberation. ...
              Teju Cole’s Golden Apple of the Sun
              Megan N. Liberty
              During the lockdowns, Teju Cole turned to cooking. From September 28 to November 3, 2020 (the date of the US presidential election), Cole’s kitchen became his photographic subject. But instead of documenting elaborate freshly plated meals, Cole’s images show the juxtaposing edges of pots and pans, cutting boards, and dirty spoons resting on the stove. The sequence of oddly cropped images illustrates the social and global politics held in our food, cooking habits, and household items. Best known as a novelist and essayist, Cole is also the author of photobooks including Blind Spot (2017), which drew on his Instagram practice of pairing photographs from his travels with long prose captions. But Golden Apple of the Sun departs from this format, instead presenting photographs of his countertop without adjacent texts (save the date and time stamp on the top margin of each page), sequenced with brown pages showing faded handwritten recipes reproduced from an eighteenth-century cookbook. The images and recipe pages are followed by a lengthy text without paragraph breaks, a meandering musing on Cole’s thinking behind this project, which encompasses the history and politics of the still-life genre—particularly the Dutch vanitas—and his own relationship to food and hunger. While the essay is ...
              Space Caviar (Eds.), Non-Extractive Architecture, Volume 1
              George Kafka
              Greenwashing, as defined by architect and writer Luke Jones in his contribution to Non-Extractive Architecture, Volume 1, is the “shallow or cynical deployment of faux-ecological imagery” considered in contrast to “green authenticity.” Edited by Italian architecture and research studio Space Caviar, this sleek collection of astute texts accompanies an exhibition, residency, and conference series organized by the Venetian arm of V–A–C Foundation, an organization co-founded in 2009 by Leonid Mikhelson and Teresa Iarocci Mavica to promote Russian contemporary art. Mikhelson is also the founder and chairman of Novatek, Russia’s largest independent producer of natural gas. In late 2018, Novatek finished building a $27-billion plant in the Arctic Circle that, combined with two more planned facilities, is expected to produce 60 million tons of liquid natural gas per year by 2030. These facts are not mentioned in Non-Extractive Architecture, Volume 1. The book brings together 18 eloquent contributions, largely essays, from important voices in architectural academia to advocate for new forms of ecologically sound architecture practice. Its opening sections explain how extraction might be a useful lens through which to read architectural history and to reformulate its future. Intentionally or otherwise, they also provide the reader with an intellectual framework for ...
              London Roundup
              Orit Gat
              It would be impossible to think about London’s first Gallery Weekend in early June outside the context of the slow re-emergence from lockdowns. I know this strange sensation is not unique, but the experience of a public disaster dealt with largely by isolating from society has also marked the way I look at art. Taking stock of my tour of the city, it strikes me that the artworks which affected me most were ones that displayed intimacy, proximity, and all those daily exchanges from which I have felt distant these past sixteen months. That is not to say that the daily and intimate are not political. At Lisson, “An Infinity of Traces,” a group show curated by Ekow Eshun, focused on the work of UK-based Black artists. It included Alberta Whittle’s video Between a Whisper and a Cry (2019), which explores Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite’s idea of an oceanic worldview in the aftermath of the Middle Passage, and a series of watercolor text drawings by Jade Montserrat (who also has a solo show at Bosse & Baum in South London) that bear heavy, physical messages, like The smell of her still burning hair (2017). When I was trying to ...
              Surrogacy, Money Shots, and Bit Rot
              Sylvie Fortin
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between writers and artists. Here, Sylvie Fortin explores ideas of hospitality, surrogacy, and profit, and considers how the pandemic has shaped her response to the work of Jean-Charles de Quillacq. It took me a long time to write “Visqueen Lumisol Clear.” Looking back, I can understand why. It was the first project I managed to complete under Covid-19; in New York, where I had landed in confinement, confusion held the city in a chokehold, exacerbated by the profound inequalities laid bare by the virus’s spread of death and hardship. To get a hold of things—anything—I cast a wide web. My text, with its online-real-life shuffle, its windows and screens, its memory jumps and mind wanderings, and its leaps across scales, reflected a specific moment in the “life cycle” of our ongoing relationship with the virus. So did the human body’s insistent irruptions into the text. In 2019, when I first encountered the work of Jean-Charles de Quillacq in Paris, I was beginning research for an exhibition that would explore the storied intersections of the body and hospitality in contemporary art. Jean-Charles’s ...
              Camp, drag, and activism in South African art
              Sean O’Toole
              During a recent project researching the history of nightclubs in Johannesburg, frustrated by the limitations of orthodox archives—newspapers, magazines, music books, biographies, Facebook groups—and the mythologizing of DJs and musicians, I turned to artists for additional insight. Where did they dance, I asked, and how, if at all, did these ephemeral spaces influence their practice? The two-part question reflected my focus: I was interested in mapping the safe spaces and contact zones where Johannesburg residents—Black and white, straight and queer, normative and other—retreated at night, sometimes in flagrant costumes, to socialize, dance, and possibly enact dissident desires against the backdrop of apartheid and its messy aftermath. The direct line artists drew from their club experiences to their professional practice was surprising. Zanele Muholi, the binary-refusing artist whose photographs register the complications and assertions of South Africa’s Black LGBTQ+ communities, recalled partying at Club Chameleon in Johannesburg in the late 1990s. The club night was organized by Sistahs Kopanang, a short-lived Black lesbian group active between 1997 and ’99, and occupied a venue close to the home of Muholi’s future mentor, the photographer David Goldblatt. The club’s anthem was Michael Bolton’s schmaltzy 1995 paean “Can I Touch You… There?” Muholi was ...
              Laura Raicovich’s Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest
              Travis Diehl
              Who really thinks museums are politically neutral? Find these people, and you will have found the audience for Laura Raicovich’s new book on the tensions between social movements and museum politics. In 2018, Raicovich resigned as director of the Queens Museum over pushback against her expressions of solidarity with immigrant communities and striking workers, and the board’s decision to rent out the museum for an Israeli government event keynoted by Vice President Mike Pence. In the former case, she writes, the board argued that “a public institution […] should not, and indeed could not, ‘take sides’” in political debates; in the latter, however, it was Raicovich who argued for maintaining the practice of “not renting space for such political events.” Neutrality is rhetorical; the public understands this as well as art world insiders. So it’s odd how often Raicovich returns to “the myth of neutrality” in Culture Strike. The first three chapters survey the legacy of colonialism, the “universal museum,” and arguments for returning looted objects; the problems of philanthropy in a world of unethical riches; and well-meaning blunders into cultural appropriation. The fourth and sixth ponder ways to move forward by revising the narratives museums tell and committing to an ...
              Frieze New York
              Osman Can Yerebakan
              Nostalgia was the prevailing feeling as I approached Frieze New York’s new home at The Shed in Hudson Yards. I wasn’t around when the piers were a queer hub of sex and solidarity, but I remember the East River breeze on the ferry to Randall’s Island on previous visits to the fair, and a time before Thomas Heatherwick’s (indefinitely closed) eyesore The Vessel. Frieze’s pandemic-enforced change in venue brings into sharp relief the disparity between the neighborhood’s new occupiers—business-casual millennials; more recently those getting their vaccines at the nearby Javits Center; and, now, fair-goers—and the legendary stories that haunt the crumbling docks. It was nonetheless hard not to miss the old spectacle of the fair, which has been replaced by a new and more muted tone. In place of the gigantic sculptures that guarded the vast fair tent in its previous location, visitors to The Shed find a series of more modest flower boxes. The Acute Art “augmented reality” app transforms them, via your phone screen, into Cao Fei’s RMB City AR (2020), a virtual rendering of an exploding, dystopian city. Stationed outside the entrance, the phone-activated work starts the chain of “camera moments” that stretches into the booths ...
              Contemporary Art Writing Daily’s Anti-Ligature Rooms
              Kevin Brazil
              An anti-ligature room is a room that contains nothing around which a rope or cord can be tied. Designed to house people considered at risk from suicide, it provides the title, and a guiding metaphor for the state of contemporary culture, for a collection of texts by “Contemporary Art Writing Daily.” CAWD, as it styles itself, is an author project and website which, since 2014, has published short anonymous reviews of, mostly, the kind of contemporary art displayed in élite galleries in the Global North. Scrolling through the reviews, like reading this book, is like tuning into the interior monologues of a crowd of MFA graduates as they mill awkwardly in a private viewing. They offer repressed and volatile compounds of high theory and raw emotion—“the cast-off internalizes its social panopticon as an ever-carried guilt”—that suggest something is unstable and off-kilter, at least among the insiders of this particular sphere of the art world. The book consists of seven sections, six of which are numbered rooms, riffing on the title, focusing on themes like “cold” or “content.” As art criticism, the texts work indirectly, circling around common preoccupations of the past decade’s art: animation, CGI, object-oriented-ontology, the digitization of everyday life. ...
              “Back and Forth, Maybe With Some Chatting”
              Sophia Al-Maria / Tosh Basco
              Like a lot of Tosh Basco’s work, the images I’m looking at on my phone seem to evade capture and demand physical presence. The other day Tosh sent me this fleet of photos documenting the series of new drawings that make up the current exhibition “Angels, Hand Dances and Prayers” at Company Gallery in New York. The exhibition gives a glimpse into a body of work that accompanies Tosh’s remarkable output of performance over the past decade but which has been less commonly seen. And the question of the seen and the unseen is a preoccupation here. It is particularly poignant given the notoriety Tosh gathered over the past decade under the former moniker boychild, a magnetic persona widely referenced in pop culture and scholarly articles. Her movement-based performance practice is slippery, moving, and alive. Although it begins with a body, the work does not end there. Sometimes it may point to Tosh’s origin story as a kid in San Francisco who accessed performance via drag, but more often it is reaching outward towards the future—questioning the possibilities of communication and expanding space for those who engage with the work to do the same. Tosh tells me the haunting ...
              London Roundup
              Patrick Langley
              London’s galleries are open again. Exhibitions that were paused or postponed last fall have emerged from enforced hibernation into a cultural environment altered by six months of—well, not very much. To a quarantine-addled critic, this presents a quandary. One of the pleasures—and pitfalls—of writing about art is using it as a measure of lived experience: of holding work up to the light and saying, ah yes, this reminds me of something. The problem is, I haven’t much new experience against which to gauge the work. But maybe I’m not alone. In the capital’s galleries I kept noticing pieces, many made over this past year, that described a version of the same space—an unstable interior, variously possessed and infiltrated by outside forces. Which is to say, a state of mind. Or was I just projecting? Leidy Churchman’s “The Between is Ringing,” at Rodeo’s Bourdon Street space, is a small, rewarding show of a dozen new paintings that range from smudgy abstraction to cartoonish exuberance. The work subtitled Diptych (all works share a main title with the exhibition and are dated 2020) comprises two oil-on-linen paintings, stacked one atop the other, depicting an abstracted living room that is also an existential void. The ...
              The Furthest Edge
              Jesi Khadivi
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between writers and artists. Here, Jesi Khadivi considers how external circumstances—from our ongoing "state of exception" to the unpredictable sleeping patterns of infant children—changed the way she related to, and wrote about, the work of Tatiana Trouvé. Hermetic, inwardly focused, private. These are all terms that have been used to describe Tatiana Trouvé’s practice. I’ve used them myself. In fact, I picked them out of a quick skim that I just did of the essay about her work I was commissioned to write for TextWork in the Spring of 2020. Looking back, I realize that they are also words that I would have used to describe my writing practice until the Covid-19 pandemic. For me, writing has always been about claiming space. Or perhaps more accurately, opening a space: finding a point zero where there is nothing but myself and my subject. This isn’t easy, even in the best conditions. There are fluctuations. The space expands and contracts, other things seep in: external stimuli, a phone call, unrelated thoughts, hunger, boredom, fatigue. I saw this mingling with the ...
              “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America”
              Ladi’Sasha Jones
              Ella Sheppard Moore’s father bought her freedom from enslavement as a child; as the lead arranger and composer of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, she grew up to establish Negro spirituals (or plantation songs) in the landscape of American popular culture. Listening to a 1909 recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which happens to be my favorite spiritual, I hear a haunting ringing out as the four members sing the phrase “coming for to carry me home”—taking a hold of the word “home,” stretching it, and drawing it out over a run of four notes wherein the register lowers twice as the chorus loops back around. What is utterly magnificent about this rendition of the song, which differs greatly from the version I grew up listening to and singing, is that it conveys a deeper, reifying story of radical refusal, stirring the condition that emerges from living in pursuit of freedom from the imagination of white terror. This kind of living is marked in the formations of early Black American music, wherein songs are in part prayers and prophetic visioning. They are spiritual speech acts that map pathways for new possibilities, self-possessed futurities. Okwui Enwezor wrote that the social space ...
              Jennifer Higgie’s The Mirror and the Palette
              Francesca Wade
              “A self-portrait,” writes Jennifer Higgie in her delightful history of women artists’ work within the genre, “isn’t simply a rendering of an artist’s external appearance: it’s also an evocation of who she is and the times she lives in, how she sees herself and what she understands about the world.” Yet throughout history, as Higgie details with palpable outrage, women have been summarily deprived of the education and opportunity necessary to make careers as artists: even when they have succeeded in their lifetimes, their work has subsequently been lost, reattributed to male artists, undervalued, excluded from museum collections and gallery rosters, and omitted from the history books. Art historians, from Giorgio Vasari to E. H. Gombrich, have found pitifully little space for women in their canons. By knitting together short biographies of individual artists along loose themes—use of allegory, the nude, solitude, cross-cultural movement—Higgie tells an alternative history of art that is really a story about seeing: about the ways in which women artists have seen themselves, and the ways their lives and work have been seen, or unseen, by others. In building a picture of women’s structural exclusion from the art world, from the sixteenth century to ...
              Practical Magic: on art, money, and metaphor
              Travis Diehl
              I’m not advocating tax fraud, and I’m not a lawyer. I’m just saying—whether you’ve put your stimmy checks in Bitcoin and become a millionaire, or are simply feeling the gravity of 1099 forms at tax time, or find NFTs baffling or exhausting—plain old-fashioned money-laundering is still a thing. That artworks have long been vehicles for hiding wealth is one reason that so many artists, in turn, have taken an interest in the high-stakes schemes attached to art. But there are metaphysical appeals, too. Arcane financial maneuvers, only nominally attached to physical objects, regularly achieve a level of dematerialized abstraction to which most conceptual art only aspires: the transubstantiation of nothing into something. There are countless variations on the theme, but rinsing dirty funds always requires cycling gains back to their owner through an untraceable chain of transactions. This is the premise of Maura Brewer’s recent show “Integration” at Canary, a project space in LA’s fashion district (an area of cash-heavy and wholesale businesses, more than a few of which have been accused of laundering dollars for drug cartels). From late January to early March, Brewer methodically covered her financial tracks—setting up a dummy Limited Liability Company or LLC, routing money ...
              The Botanic Garden
              Tom Jeffreys
              From the colonial origins of modern science up to today’s decolonial reckoning, art’s relationship with botany has been complex and contested. Since the seventeenth century, botany has played a vital role in how we understand, attend to, and live within the world of plants. But as an instrumental science it is obsessed with order, naming, and hierarchy on the basis of contested criteria. In the colonial era, botanists undertook military missions, served on slave ships, and displaced indigenous practices for monocrop agriculture worked by generations of enslaved people transplanted from one violently colonized land to another. London’s Kew Gardens oversaw networks of extraction (quinine, rubber, breadfruit) and supported experimental gardens across the colonies to keep the plantations profitable. However, as Jamaica Kincaid has noted, a botanic garden can be a tool and symbol of colonial oppression and, at the same time, “Edenic.” The botanic garden has recently been the site and subject of contemporary art exhibitions from Palermo to Berlin, addressing the entanglement of science with colonialism. So how can the practice of contemporary art assist in the process of decolonizing these “treasure houses”? With its origins in an era that saw violent enclosure of common land, witch trials, ...
              LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Last Cruze
              R. H. Lossin
              General Motors opened its Lordstown plant in 1966. Built on Ohio farmland purchased a decade earlier, the facility assembled Chevy’s full-sized vehicles, democratized luxury items with names to match: Impala, Bel Air, Caprice. In 1971 production at Lordstown—one of GM’s most technically advanced facilities—was shifted to the compact Chevy Vega. Redundancies, layoffs, and technologically enabled speed-ups followed: when employees were requested to turn out 100 vehicles per shift rather than the average of 55, workers sabotaged cars coming off the line and went on strike. In 2019 the last Chevy Cruze rolled off the line and the plant was permanently closed. Or, more precisely, it was “unallocated.” “People keep saying, ‘I feel sorry for you. Your plant closed,’” recounted David Green, president of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1112. “It ain’t closed, it’s ‘unallocated.’ What the hell does that even mean?” Green, of course, was speaking for effect. He knew what “allocated” meant in substance: any language in the national agreement protecting GM employees in the case of “closed” or “idled” plants doesn’t apply to a plant that is “unallocated.” Photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier documented the last nine months of Lordstown’s operations. An exhibition of her works, “The Last Cruze,” ...
              São Paulo Roundup
              Oliver Basciano
              By rights I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be on the streets of São Paulo, beer in hand, as carnival rages around me. The bloco—street party—that passes under my window is a queer one. There would be a lot of kissing and not a lot of clothes. Instead, the Lenten celebration cancelled, my neighborhood is as quiet as the downtown of Brazil’s largest city can be. There is no samba band playing in the square, there are no sound systems blasting favela funk morning to night, no messages from friends recommending parties in other neighborhoods, no chance to go to the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Anhembi Sambadrome just north of here. I could be watching the carnival schools—there are over a dozen based in the city—parade through that 103,200-capacity stadium, the storyline and costumes of each a year in the making. There’s a popular meme here that describes images and situations as “Sad and Brazilian.” For all the contemporariness of its dissemination—it’s shared on social media and in sprawling WhatsApp groups—the phrase taps into the deeper cultural concept of saudade, which describes a longing for something lost, perhaps never to return again, apt for a country founded by slaves, colonialists, and immigrants. ...
              Tacita Dean’s Fernsehturm
              Erik Morse
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in contemporary art history by returning to an influential exhibition, artwork, or text from the recent past and reflecting on its relevance to the present. To coincide with Erik Morse's essay on Tacita Dean’s Fernsehturm, Marian Goodman Gallery is hosting a special online screening of the 2001 film. Click here to watch (the screening ends on February 25). One benefit of a yearlong quarantine has been the rediscovery of interiors as a source of creative reverie. Restrictions to air travel and public spaces have upended an artistic truism—popular among the globetrotting avant-garde of the last century—that, as Christopher Reed wrote, “being undomestic came to serve as a guarantee of being art.” Instead, like the eccentric, household narrators of Xavier’s de Maistre’s Voyage autour de ma chambre (1794), J.-K. Huysmans’s À rebours (1884), and Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus (1914), visual artists have been forced to dwell in interior space, with its glacial boredom, everyday rituals, and isolation. In this protracted period of sequestration, a film made by Tacita Dean at the turn of the millennium offers one guide for artistic travels through the interior. Fernsehturm (2001) is the first of several projects in which ...
              “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution”
              Wendy Vogel
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in contemporary art history by returning to an influential exhibition, work, or text from the past and reflecting on its relevance to the present. In this edition, Wendy Vogel considers how the 2007 touring exhibition “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” marked a generational shift in art criticism. Feminist art history may come to be defined as the era before and after WACK!. The onomatopoeic word—more a metaphorical whip-crack than a line in the sand—is shorthand for “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an exhibition curated by Cornelia Butler that opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) in March 2007. This pioneering institutional survey of feminist art brought together work made by more than 120 female artists and collectives between 1965 and 1980. In the introduction to the 500-plus-page exhibition catalogue, Butler stated her curatorial goals: “My ambition for ‘WACK!’ is to make the case that feminism’s impact on art of the 1970s constitutes the most influential international ‘movement’ of any during the postwar period—in spite or perhaps because of the fact that it never cohered, formally or critically, into a movement.” It remains a bold statement today; it was ...
              Johanna Drucker’s Iliazd
              Ryan Ruby
              In 1985, the book artist and future scholar of print and digital aesthetics Johanna Drucker was working on a chapter of her dissertation on Futurist and Dadaist typography in the Bibilothèque Jacques Doucet in Paris. Sitting across from her was a fellow American researcher, flipping through a “marvelous” deluxe edition of a livre d’artiste by someone who clearly belonged to one of these movements, but whose work Drucker did not recognize. The researcher explained that the work was by Ilia Zdanevich, better known by his alias Iliazd: a book artist, poet, playwright, novelist, and publisher who had left his native Georgia for Paris in the 1920s. If she was interested, Zdanevich’s widow Hélène lived nearby, and was always glad to speak to scholars about his work. Drucker was intrigued enough to pay a call on “Madame,” but could not have known that soon she would find herself visiting her daily, working with her on Iliazd’s biography, and becoming her confidante. Nor could Drucker have known that the project would only come to fruition thirty-five years later, with the publication of Iliazd: A Meta-Biography of a Modernist, or that it would look so different from what Hélène had in mind when ...
              Social work: the art world online
              Novuyo Moyo
              The art world has been grappling with social media ever since its potential beyond the purposes of keeping in touch with loved ones first became apparent. Its platforms allow individuals to communicate with audiences without the mediating power of institutions, or to mobilize groups behind a cause with the aim of bringing about change in those institutions. The possibilities and pitfalls for cultural gatekeepers have been pronounced over the course of a year in which they have been forced to relocate online and engage with the audiences they find there. But has their new engagement with social media really widened the scope of who gets to speak about art and what is discussed, or done little more than reproduce the structures that limit offline access? And as discussions around access and diversity in the art world continue, how can social media activism be more than a retweet, a like, a share; how can it effect and sustain change in the long term? In the summer of 2020, many institutions faltered as they attempted to respond to demands from online audiences to address the lack of diversity in their collections and appointments: a coordinated set of actions arising from the Black Lives ...
              “Zones of discomfort”
              Julie Béna
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between writers and artists. In this edition, art-agenda's editor-in-chief talks to Julie Béna, whose work in installation, film, and performance makes use of such literary devices as absurdist humor, destablizing allusions to high and low culture, and metafictional characters plucked from sources ranging from William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959) to the brand mascot Mr. Peanut. art-agenda: In your new film, Letters from Prague, you play the role of an art critic. How did that feel? Julie Béna: The Jindřich Chalupecký Society commissioned me to conceive a new performance about the Czech essayist, philosopher, and critic after whom the society is named. Because of the current situation and my doubt about an online performance, I decided to do a movie instead. In any case, it was difficult to embody a man, an art critic, and an historical figure. In the first part, I embody Chalupecký himself, based on a critical text I wrote, oscillating between fury, hysteria, and seriousness. The second part is an animated tale called “DICKS WINGS AND GRILL.” In the final ...
              On Space Art
              Xin Liu / Xin Wang
              During the prolonged lockdown that defined much of 2020, the Xinjiang-born, New York-based artist and engineer Xin Liu juggled multiple roles. These included participating in a volunteering network that supplied PPE to medical workers in dire need of protection against Covid-19; designing an indie game, Sleepwalk (2020), which reflected on the conditions of confinement and hyper-connectivity; engineering a series of hypnotic sound experiences with her partner Gershon Dublon titled The Wandering Mind (2020), which guides the dreams of a sleeping audience with source materials organized by an AI system; and live-streaming an ambient soundscape recorded on Whitehead Island, off the coast of Maine, for the Camden International Film Festival. As the Arts Curator at MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative and an artist who makes work for exhibition spaces, film festivals, and astronautical conferences, Liu’s ongoing fascination with space as a medium and destination for new art has seen her send a wisdom tooth into outer space, cultivate potato seeds that had travelled to the International Space Station, and imagine weightlessness as an intimate, “body-opening” condition. In this interview, we spoke about the past lives and expansive futures of Space Art, her unique mixture of academic and identitarian backgrounds, and ...
              Digital Art and Trans Archiving
              Frances Whorrall-Campbell
              Achille Mbembe describes the archive as a “cemetery”: a burial ground in which “fragments of lives and pieces of time are interred.” Opening up Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s Resurrection Lands (2020)—an online game and speculative digital archive of Black trans experience—I am reminded of this description. Aside from the obvious conceptual resonance between the paper graveyard and the digital afterlife conjured on screen, in telling the game’s fabulated backstory my disembodied guide seems to echo the central paradox Mbembe identifies. That is: we need the archive to remember, but it is also a tool for forgetting. Or, as Brathwaite-Shirley’s introductory voiceover asks me: “how [is] it possible to store [someone] in a world that had once erased [them]?” A tentative answer to the difficulty of archiving trans lives might lie in the digital realm. The internet’s potential as a place for self-narration was recognized early by trans creators. In the 1990s the nascent World Wide Web was a playground, a site of both creation and distribution that encouraged new modes of participation and facilitated formal experiment. It was not just that this “newness” opened up space to document trans experiences—apparently (although not actually) in a world as yet untainted by the social ...
              The year that wasn’t
              The Editors
              It’s tempting, when signing off on the past year, simply to bid good riddance to bad rubbish. But we wanted first to acknowledge those who have been cheated by 2020. To that end, we’ve asked some contributors whose work with us was disrupted—because the show they were commissioned to write up was shuttered, or thanks to one of the many incidental consequences of the pandemic, from new childcare demands to the need to assist vulnerable friends and relatives—to nominate a show they weren't able to experience in person. The idea is to shed a little light on the work that got left behind and offer some small compensation to all the artists, curators, and gallerists whose shows were never seen, or seen only by a fraction of the audience they might reasonably have expected, or were denied the coverage that publications such as this exist to provide. As such, this very partial roundup also hopes to stand in for a larger expression of solidarity with all those in our field whose work was interrupted by the chaos of the past twelve months. Don’t dismay, keep going, and we’ll see you next year. The Editors Rahel Aima I ...
              Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Eds.), Critical Zones
              Sam Solnick
              One of the many ways that I ameliorated my lockdown boredom was to watch David Attenborough’s new Netflix show Our Planet. Each episode begins with a shot of an “Earthrise”—our planet emerging into view as if we were standing on the moon—while the nation’s favorite grandfather intones a warning about the declining “wonders” of the natural world, and insists that we must act so that “people and nature thrive.” These are laudable sentiments but, as suggested by Critical Zones, a gargantuan new collection of multi-disciplinary writings edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel and published alongside the eponymous exhibition at Karlsruhe’s ZKM Center for Art and Media, such planetary long-views from space can be part of the problem. Attenborough’s narrative of biodiversity loss focuses on one species’ (humans’) capacity to wreak massive environmental change in the fifty-odd years since Earth was first photographed from the moon. However, as Timothy M. Lenton and Sébastien Dutreuil’s entries in Critical Zones explain, life (as in the totality of everything that lives) has always adapted the planet, albeit on a different time scale. Life is not a passive actor adapting to an inert environment; it transforms that environment, making it habitable. Earth is, ...
              “Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America
              Anna Mirzayan
              Earlier this month, the touring exhibition “Dawoud Bey: An American Project” arrived at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. This retrospective of the photographer’s 45-year career—which opened in February at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will move next spring to New York’s Whitney—features portraits and photographs from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. These black-and-white images are often shot outdoors and depict majority Black communities in the US—such as those in Brooklyn, Harlem, Orlando, and Birmingham—engaging in everyday activities and moments of communal joy. “An American Project” also features works from Bey’s 2017 series “Night Coming Tenderly, Black,” which comprises large, dark rural landscape photographs taken at sites rumored to have been stops on the Underground Railroad, along which Black people travelled in secret to escape slavery. By presenting these two seemingly disparate projects simultaneously, this retrospective insists that viewers attend to both types of works together; in doing so, the exhibition aims to overcome a common thematic split between images that depict people and those, like landscapes, that do not. Considering these works as continuous, however, reveals fruitful new ways of thinking. The gelatin silver prints in “Night Coming Tenderly, Black” are moody and dim, overlaid ...
              “Tremors”
              Brook Andrew / Pablo José Ramírez 
              Across his practice as an artist and a curator, Brook Andrew develops kinship with non-western cultures rooted in an intersectional understanding of indigeneity. Andrew is of Wiradjuri and Celtic ancestry and was, this year, the first Indigenous artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney since the exhibition’s inception in 1973. In that role, he dealt with a wide range of artistic, community, and activist practices from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds. Featuring 98 artists and collectives, the exhibition—titled “NIRIN,” meaning “edge” in Wiradjuri—was rooted in a fierce critique of coloniality. The following conversation explores the possibility of indigenous art as a non-colonial force, one that fractures the idea of history as progress and questions the art-historical canon and the institutions that enshrine it. These themes are evident across Andrew’s research-based artistic practice, in which he engages with themes of colonialism, indigeneity, and historical amnesia in collage, painting, and installation. Something that has always impressed me about his practice is the joy with which he approaches such issues—with care and rigor, and with the soul of someone waiting to be amazed. Pablo José Ramírez: I’d like to think with and beyond the global crisis by looking back to our past. As you ...
              Nida Ghouse with Jenifer Evans (Eds.), An Archaeology of Listening: A Slightly Curving Place
              Jens Maier-Rothe
              Earlier this summer Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt launched a multi-part tribute to Umashankar Manthravadi, a Madras-born journalist, poet, and pioneer of acoustic archaeology. “A Slightly Curving Place,” an exhibition curated by Nida Ghouse, ran from July to September and featured audio and video installations inspired by Manthravadi’s work; it was complemented by “Coming To Know,” a discursive program co-curated by Ghouse and Brooke Holmes that unfolded over the course of the exhibition. These two projects are joined this fall by the publication A Slightly Curving Place. Edited by Ghouse in association with Jenifer Evans, and the first in a planned series titled “An Archaeology of Listening,” the book features scripts, scores, sketches, and essays that elaborate on questions posed by the exhibition. (The second volume, co-edited with Holmes, will follow in spring 2021.) What does it mean to listen to the past? Why does a Maya pyramid or an Udayagiri cave sound the way it does? And how can listening to historical sites help us unlearn archaeology as a discipline that colonizes the past by collecting it for display? Manthravadi began working in archaeoacoustics—in which archaeological sites are mapped and measured according to their acoustic properties—in the ...
              Art in the Aerocene
              Tomás Saraceno / Erik Morse
              The Argentine artist-theoretician Tomás Saraceno works at the nexus of nineteenth-century aeronautics, utopian urbanism, and synergetic cosmography. Although inspired in part by writers like Jules Verne, Paul Scheerbart, and Jorge Luis Borges, Saraceno’s hybrid oeuvre is perhaps most indebted to Archigram co-founder and “blobitect” Peter Cook, under whom he studied, and architectural polymath Buckminster Fuller. Beginning with installations Cloud Cities (2010–ongoing) and community projects like Museo Aero Solar (2007–ongoing), Saraceno has pursued a reconceptualization of posthumanism through aeromantic fantasies of foam habitats, floating cities, and flying sculptures. Because of his work between the traditional sciences—including collaborations with researchers at MIT, NASA, CNES and the Max Planck Institute—and speculative futurism, Saraceno has cultivated a uniquely transdisciplinary audience of art critics, diplomats, environmental activists, and philosophers, including Peter Sloterdijk and Bruno Latour, who wrote in a 2011 essay that “Saraceno performed precisely the task of philosophy […] namely of explicating the material and artificial conditions for existence.” Saraceno’s most ambitious endeavor, the ongoing “Aerocene” project, is a two-decade-long study into the possibilities of “aerosolar” travel, a “practice of developing flying sculptures as a model for a new form of sustainable, carbon-free movement attuned to the rhythms of the planet.” In January 2020 these ...
              Lagos Roundup
              Jareh Das
              In more ordinary times, the high season for Lagos’s art scene runs through October and November. This year, as in other cities across the world, major events have been scaled back and directed towards a local audience, with an emphasis on smaller physical events and online presentations. But disruption in Lagos has not been solely due to the pandemic. In the first weeks of October, the city was brought to a standstill by the decentralized social movement #EndSARS, which saw Nigerian youths take to the streets across the country to demand an end to police brutality and bad governance. Members of the art community mobilized, joining protests on the ground and drawing outside attention through their social media channels. Following the fatal shooting of at least twelve protesters on October 20 by the Nigerian military, the art community has shown solidarity: postponements and program modifications as direct response. The major events in the city’s calendar include the LagosPhoto Festival, ART X Lagos art fair, and (every odd year) the Lagos Biennial, all spearheaded by artists, cultural producers, and entrepreneurs who have, over the past decade, developed innovative, context-responsive platforms for the city’s contemporary art scene. The first week of November traditionally ...
              Seeing is Remembering: the Expanded Field of Art Writing
              Saul Anton
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Saul Anton draws on Charles Baudelaire and Rosalind E. Krauss in reconsidering Giving Space, Sculpting Time, his essay on the work of Guillaume Leblon. I’d like to begin with a confession. My essay on the work of French artist Guillaume Leblon turns on his 2019 exhibition at LABOR, a gallery in Mexico City. But I never saw the show—not in person. Nor did I see any of the other exhibitions the artist has held over the past two decades. I wrote my essay on the basis of dozens and dozens of images of his works and of these exhibitions, which I reviewed in detail over several lunches in New York with Guillaume, and on my own. Once I’d drafted my essay, I fact-checked it with him work by work. Perhaps that’s a scandal to some. I don’t really know. All I can say is that I’ve never felt that way. But I know that a lot of people—artists, critics, and curators—feel very strongly that you must see the work in person. Embodied ...
              State of Relax
              Eileen Myles
              I’m wondering what it would be like if the United States just let go. Like stopped uniting. Like stop opposing part to part, and a foot say Florida just relaxed shaking all those old bodies free and extended itself deeper into the water maybe nudging Cuba, not even entirely doing that but making wavy gestures in its direction. Texas could just fall back on itself and sprawl into Mexico not being different being the same and really vanishing into Mexico and sliding sliding sliding into Guatemala and El Salvador thinking I’m you some parts skidding into south America. Way up north south dakota and north Dakota go I’m you too. And together both of them forget who they am. Cape Cod goes to Europe. On a tiny boat with Bas Jan Ader his toes leaning over the edges of Provincetown. What’ll Alaska do. Become Canada and Canada says I’m Russia and Russia roars and goes to sleep. California becomes one giant bed. It lies its head on Mexico hello and scratches its toes against Oregon who’s asleep in the arms of Washington who wants to change their name right away. Montana has an excess of sperm which it buries in ...
              Amy Sillman’s Faux Pas
              Rosanna Mclaughlin
              Abstract painting has spent much of the past decade in the doghouse. Not only has it been usurped by figurative painting, the genre du jour of a time defined by identity politics and visual representation, it has also been tarnished by its association with Zombie Formalism, gaining a reputation (often deservedly) for apathy and commercial cynicism. Amy Sillman’s selected writings are a welcome reminder that how you paint, as well as what you paint, is intimately associated with the experiences of the body, and that the affective and intellectual significance of process should not be underestimated. An influential American painter working in what might be called the afterlife of Abstract Expressionism, Sillman is also an inventive and charismatic writer. Published by After 8 Books, with an introduction by Lynne Tillman, Faux Pas comprises seventeen texts written for journals, zines, and lectures between 2009 and 2020. Included are a letter in which Sillman explains that she has broken up with abstraction, which she characterizes as an uptight ex; catalogue essays on peers and influences, Laura Owens, Eugene Delacroix, and Philip Guston among them; and idiosyncratic theories of shape, color, and the diagram, in the form of essays and cartoons. The book ...
              Paris Roundup
              Rachel Valinsky
              Working in near-isolation in her Parisian bedroom-studio from the early 1970s until her death in 1981, the Alsatian artist Marcelle Cahn took an archive of old tourist postcards—the Eiffel Tower, a train station, a cathedral, a sleek white marble polar bear—and dappled them with shapes of varying sizes and colors. Displayed in the two-part group exhibition “Le plan libre – 1st chapter” at Jocelyn Wolff (the second part opens in early November), this modest intervention by an artist better known for her abstract paintings and collages feels anything but nostalgic: in isolation, one makes do with what one has. In contrast to those galleries presenting artworks that either respond to the pandemic directly or were made during lockdown, oblique but timely approaches such as this stand out. Seeking to invert the limitations of confinement, this exhibition takes as its premise the titular architectural concept of doing away with interior walls to create one large open space—a conceit which plays out in the show’s uncluttered layout. Like Cahn’s delicate compositions, Georges Koskas’s dotted and lined geometric abstractions from the 1950s evoke the utopian, modernist aspiration to devise a universal pictorial language. Guy Mees’s sly, colored, cutout paper scraps from his ...
              “Digital Reincarnations”
              Xin Wang / Lu Yang
              The practice of Shanghai-based artist Lu Yang is best characterized as a continuous project of world-building. His videos, computer games, and digital avatars combine a distinctive repertoire of intellectual traditions and cultural references: Buddhist and Hindu cosmology (as touched on in the 2015 video Moving Gods, exhibited in the China Pavilion at that year’s Venice Biennale), anime and gaming subcultures, neuroscience, and bio-technology. The artist combined these subjects into a delirious multi-chapter video game The Great Adventure of Material World, which featured in the 2018 Shanghai Biennial as part of a massive installation resembling an arcade hall. In the game, players control the Material World Knight through realms such as Hell, Paradise, Space Journey, and Fight with the Self. Among the characters from the artist’s earlier works to make a cameo was Uterus Man—an androgynous character with superpowers tied to the female reproductive system, who first appeared in a 2013 video—and the eponymous protagonist of Wrathful King Kong Core (2011), a Tibetan Buddhist deity whose fearful expressions draw on religion and neurology. Lu’s work is at its most radical when it addresses fundamental issues: life, death, and the (un)knowability of the self. In Lu’s new project DOKU (2020–ongoing), the ...
              London Roundup
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              It’s an unlikely benediction: two identical photos frame Dozie Kanu’s exhibition “Owe Deed, One Deep” at Project Native Informant: a small, slightly blurred image of a tower with a hand at the top, reaching awkwardly towards the sky. Emo State (2020) seems to have been taken from a moving car, the landscape around it giving some sense of the sheer scale of the tower, a religious monument modelled on the tower of Babel in southern Nigeria, constructed only a few years ago and torn down in 2019. The ghost of this demolished structure, the two hands waving over the five sculptural assemblages gathered below them, casts the works as their own temporary monuments, momentary markers to whatever spirit or feeling has possessed us, before disappearing. In a corner, St. Jaded Extinguish (2020) is a gray fire extinguisher stand placed forlornly on a flimsy, short set of black stairs, a bottle opener attached to its base that spells out a nihilistic mantra: “SELF SERVE.” Making my way around exhibitions for the first time since February, it was such slight, haunted gestures that stuck with me. It feels disconcertingly normal to traipse around the city at this time of year, albeit with pre-booking ...
              Maria Hlavajova and Sven Lütticken (Eds.), Deserting from the Culture Wars
              R. H. Lossin
              Desertion is a compelling and complex political strategy. It is the opposite of joining—which is a precondition for political action almost by definition—and it signals more than simply dropping out or quietly withdrawing. Desertion implies active enlistment—voluntary or involuntary—and thus describes either a process of disillusionment or a breaking point. Such militaristic language also raises the stakes of departure: while civilians might make a decision to quit a job, leave a city, or cancel membership of an organization, “desertion” has serious consequences. It is an act that risks real civil and social exile. The notion of cultural desertion is also, for better or worse, inherently utopian: it requires an elsewhere to escape to. To suggest that we might be able to make a genuine exit from a cultural condition marked by polarized, irrational, and uncritical discourse is to invoke a revolutionary horizon. Deserting from the Culture Wars, a collection of essays by writers, artists, and curators, edited by Maria Hlavajova and Sven Lütticken, promises to explore the possibilities that might arise if the “volunteer army” of cultural producers refused to “play these war games.” The term “culture wars” was popularized by sociologist James Davison Hunter in his 1991 book ...
              Piles of expressivity
              Elizabeth A. Povinelli
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Elizabeth A. Povinelli writes of her relationship to language and considers how her essay on the work of Julien Creuzet, "In the Middle of it," was shaped by the artist's own approach to composition. Language and I are not easy friends. We get along, sometimes very well, but often in a mutually irritated, strained relation. I am sure language would have her own story, but mine is this—she tends to express herself in a straight line, one element unfurling after the other, when what I sometimes want to express is the everything of something altogether in its messy material intersections. I could remind myself that in fact language operates with a spiraling multidirectional dynamic. Each word forces those already written to hold or to lose their meanings; and every word creates a virtual world of other words potentially available. Moreover, these unruly semantic dynamics are shaped by equally energetic metapragmatic dimensions. Every utterance attempts to conjure and hold a type of reality, its material contours, its legitimate actors, its values and wastelands, ...
              Glitch Throws Shade
              Legacy Russell
              Legacy Russell's Glitch Feminism explores the relationship between technology and identity. In this extract from her forthcoming book, she considers the work of Juliana Huxtable and Victoria Sin in the context of her proposal that the "glitch" is a means of renegotiating and subverting normative categories of sexuality, race, and gender. Raised in College Station, Texas, Huxtable was born intersex and assigned to the male gender. During the 1990s, in a moment where the internet and the mythology of its utopia was on the rise, Huxtable male-identified, going by the name Julian Letton. In a conservative Texan, Christian milieu, claiming a trans identity seemed unimaginable. Yet when she left home to attend Bard College in upstate New York, she entered a period that marked a blooming in her sense of self, one she speaks about openly: “I was fully brainwashed by the Bible Belt shit [...] but the internet became a form of solitude. It gave me a sense of control and freedom that I didn’t have in my everyday life, because I walked through life feeling hated, embarrassed, trapped, and powerless. I felt very suicidal.” As her art practice expanded, Huxtable’s engagement with various digital platforms—chatrooms, blogs, social media, and beyond—increased ...
              “absences and nothingness”
              Johanna Hedva / Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz 
              Johanna Hedva is a Korean-American writer and artist based in Los Angeles and Berlin whose practice traverses mysticism, music, and astrology, and the politics of illness, disability, and gender. They have relocated Ancient Greek dramas to feminized and queered contexts, and staged doom metal concerts informed by Korean shamanism; their essay “Sick Woman Theory” connects sickness and impairment with gender, class, and coloniality. Their practice encompasses performances, films, novels, music, readings, and installations: all these forms, in Hedva’s own words, “transforming into each other, trespassing.” In the summer of 2020, Hedva presented their first solo exhibition amidst the rubble of the Klosterruine Berlin. “God Is an Asphyxiating Black Sauce” showcased a decade of texts, songs, and performances, and audio versions of sections from their 2020 book, Minerva the Miscarriage of the Brain. The installation was designed to be accessible to all bodies: the Klosterruine was empty aside from red ramps, two speakers, and a series of benches, while the exhibition also took place on the website godsauce.black (with the sound pieces captioned and described) and across the city of Berlin. I first met Hedva last year at the exhibition I co-curated with George Vasey at Wellcome Collection, Jo Spence ...
              Moyra Davey’s Index Cards
              Filipa Ramos
              During the lockdown, I found solace in books that took me to places beyond my reach. I visited the atemporal lands of the Kesh civilization, brought to life by Ursula K. Le Guin in Always Coming Home (1985); I discovered the outlandish urban bestiary of Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City (2018); I fled to that ancient epoch when animals were gods and humans were animals which Roberto Calasso describes in The Celestial Hunter (2016). In between, I compulsively watched the animal videos posted by the Canadian-born, New York-based artist Moyra Davey on her Instagram feed. Between March and May, Davey filmed a photogenic bird feeder, an aquamarine box that looked like a vintage television monitor attached to a tree branch, through the lens of a telescope. First came the birds: blackcaps, blue jays, coal tits, goldfinches, and other, less familiar North American passerines. Next came the wild turkeys, then a family of black bears, a mother and two cubs playing in Davey’s porch and on the screen right before my eyes. These snippets made my silent spring. So when Davey’s Index Cards—a compilation of essays written between 2003 and 2019, collected by Nicolas Linnert and published by Fitzcarraldo ...
              Remembering Rebeccah Blum
              Jillian McManemin / Matthew Post
              STATEMENT A – SAY HER NAME Rebeccah Blum was murdered last week. Her body was discovered in the apartment of a male artist. In the days after her death, tabloids and, later, some sections of the art press casually reported variations on the formula: “Brad Pitt’s friend, male artist X, was found dead at a location two hours outside Berlin. His gallerists are sad.” Only further down the report does the reader find out that he had confessed to killing “a woman” before fleeing the city. In some reports, her name was mentioned only in passing, in among a laundry list of Artist X’s career accomplishments. In others, all we get is the make and model of his getaway car. But she had a name. Rebeccah Blum was a woman, she was a valued member of Berlin’s art community, she was a mother, she had a profession and a rich life, and deserves to be remembered as such. Say her name. At the same time, a campaign has been running on social media. The Women Supporting Women “challenge” sees women ask other women to post black-and-white pictures of themselves as a gesture of gender solidarity. Social media feeds are full ...
              The Exhibition Catalog
              Kimberly Bradley
              In his 1931 essay “Unpacking my Library,” Walter Benjamin describes unboxing his collection of books in a single day, working without stop from noon until past midnight. Months after moving house on the first day of Berlin’s lockdown, I’m still working on mine; my books are, as Benjamin would say, “not yet touched by the mild boredom of order.” I’ve been slowed by a desire to read these exhibition catalogs, artist books, and hybrids of the two. With no opportunity to visit IRL art spaces, and overwhelmed by digital “viewing rooms,” my catalogs became my galleries and institutions. The process reminded me of my earliest brushes with fine art, the pictures in my mother’s Art History textbooks (including a vintage mid-1960s edition of H. W. Janson’s History of Art) when I was a kid in rural America with no access to the real thing. The books in my own collection are artifacts of events I attended, and others I wish I had. They are historical documents, discursive platforms, snapshots of zeitgeists. They are windows or deep dives into artists’ practices, the infrastructures of exhibitions, and the thoughts supporting, diverging from, and swirling around art and all its mechanisms. And ...
              New York City Roundup
              Terence Trouillot
              I didn’t think I’d be this excited to go back to a gallery. In some ways, I’ve enjoyed experiencing art within the confines of my Brooklyn apartment over the past months, and I’m still excited by the possibilities arising from the advent of novel digital platforms. But this time away from real-life art viewing has made the experience a novelty, and as galleries started to reopen it felt like a much-needed indulgence—after months of social distancing, and then weeks of defying said social distancing to protest in the streets against the most recent examples of state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies—simply to be back. At “Jack Whitten. Transitional Space. A Drawing Survey.” at Hauser & Wirth on the Upper East Side—an exhibition which outlines Whitten’s exceptional works on paper chronologically, from the 1960s to the 2010s—I was surprised by the boyish glee I felt just at noticing the pronounced physicality of paper: the deckled edges, the wrinkle in the page, the raised contours of paper cut-outs collaged onto another flat surface. The show demonstrates the careful evolution in Whitten’s work from figuration to abstraction, but also focuses on the artist’s attention to material, and the various techniques that make his later ...
              “Art’s critical force”
              Vivian Sky Rehberg / Maria Lind
              I first met the curator, critic, and educator Maria Lind in the early 2000s, while I was working as a curator at the Musée d’Art moderne de Paris and she was the director of the Kunstverein München. We have kept in touch since that time, and my annual visits to Sweden always include trips to Stockholm’s Tensta konsthall, which Lind directed from 2011 to 2018, as she always stops by when visiting the Netherlands, where I have been based for the past eight years. Due to a variety of circumstances, however, it seemed unlikely our paths would cross again anytime soon. While working from home in Rotterdam, two of Lind’s books—Selected Maria Lind Writing (2010) and Seven Years: The Rematerialisation of Art from 2011 to 2017 (2019)have been within reach on my desk. As arts institutions face a time of unprecedented change, it felt like a good moment to return to Lind’s 2002 essay “RSVP, or: What Rhythm, Scale, and Format Can Do With Art.” In it, Lind writes: “I know of no better way to approach and get a grip on the world—to address and question life—than through art [...] Contemporary art, in its greatest moments, can figure ...
              Earth, Works, and Workers in Laura Wilson’s Deepening
              R. H. Lossin
              At first glance, the brick is a very simple thing. Perhaps the oldest building material still in use, bricks were made and sun-dried in hot climates as early as 7000 BCE; the fired brick with which we are familiar has been around since c. 3500 BCE. The brick’s making is relatively easy to imagine, as is its use. Its lack of technical complication evokes a utopian past unburdened by the impenetrable nature of contemporary technological life, constructed simply from earth and fire. Deepening (2020), a short video by the Belfast-born and London-based artist Laura Wilson, is set in a 150-year-old brick quarry outside of Peterborough. The video was produced as part of an exhibition commissioned by New Geographies, a project funded through Arts Council England that looks to reimagine the cartography of the East of England through the creative documentation of neglected or overlooked places. Wilson’s project, an installation that included artifacts, original works, a performance and the video discussed here, was organized around a Bronze Age settlement dating to c. 850 BCE that was discovered at the edge of the quarry in 1999. Through the geographical and temporal conjunction of a modern site of industry and an ancient settlement, ...
              Attending to our Houses
              Tarini Malik
              The world is angry, the world is fearful. I am mobilized and (in part) optimistic. At times, I feel resentful. This is not new. I am not shocked. Over the course of a few days in early June, I scrolled through hundreds of quotes by Angela Davis, reading lists including books by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Audre Lorde, and images of artworks by David Hammons and Glenn Ligon, posted and shared on social media by museums and galleries, by white and non-black friends and colleagues. I am not saying that these voices should not be heard and shared. We must recognize, and continue to recognize, their urgency. Instead, I ask if this is enough. It is not. The immeasurable grief and anger that black people the world over continue to demonstrate on the streets was catalyzed by police violence in the US, but it has shed light on the rampant institutional and societal racism that reaches nearly every corner of this earth. Outrage should not solely be directed towards America; outrage should be directed everywhere that upkeeps the same brutalities, and where Western colonialism has enforced its systems of control and bias. In London, where I am based, the art ...
              Bernadette Mayer’s Memory
              Wendy Vogel
              Though she is best known today for her poetry, Bernadette Mayer’s 1972 exhibition of her durational writing-and-photography project Memory at 98 Greene Street in New York was highly influential: the young Kathy Acker, for one, began a feverish correspondence with her after her immersion in its images and voice. In a journal entry around the same time, Acker wrote that she admired “B. Mayer’s work list of daily events facts,” commenting that “I feel her work touches reality I distrust my own.” Acker, a post-punk appropriationist who devoured classical literature for the creation of her own twisted myths, may have longed for reality, but never for realism. Similarly, Mayer’s genre-busting work was a diary that never settled for the purely diaristic. For the month of July 1971, the 26-year-old poet kept a stream-of-consciousness journal and shot a roll of 35mm Kodachrome slide film every day. When the month was up, she projected the slides and supplemented her original observations with new details taken from the images—casual scenes of everyday life, from her lover in the driver’s seat of a car to nature walks and late-night chats with fellow artists. Memory, the completed work, comprised a grid of 1,116 photographs ...
              London Roundup
              Ben Eastham
              Every time I approach White Cube’s gleaming south London base, I am reminded of a trope in science-fiction films: a professor of linguistics is whisked to a top-secret government facility, decontaminated, and introduced to an alien intelligence whose ominous burps she is tasked with translating. These daydreams are no doubt prompted in part by mental association with Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube (1976), which drily observes that the “ideal” contemporary art space “must be sealed off from the outside world” in order to preserve the closed system of values that operates within it. But pulling on a mask, sterilizing one’s hands, and confirming one’s identity with a security guard lends these visions a new lucidity. Beyond the hermetic seal, Cerith Wyn Evans’s experiments in sculpture and installation are right at home within the self-contained network of relations that O’Doherty describes, with a roomful of smashed glass screens referencing the high-modernist touchstones of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23) and its documentation by Man Ray. Two potted trees rotating slowly on turntables, their branches splayed over a cruciform bamboo trellis and illuminated by a spotlight that casts their silhouettes over the far wall, suggest an ...
              A question of degree
              Chris Sharp
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Chris Sharp considers the difficulties he encountered in responding to Jean-Charles Hue’s films for his essay “Witness on the Threshold.” It took me a year to write my essay on the work of Jean-Charles Hue. It was probably the hardest essay I’ve ever had to write. Almost a year after publishing it, I finally have some sense of why. It was due to a combination of factors, the first being that, at the time of the invitation, I was not familiar with the artist’s work. However, a cursory perusal of Hue’s films, which blend documentary and fictional styles and exist in the contexts of both contemporary art and cinema, informed me that it was interesting, strange, and challenging. Little did I know. As a writer and curator, some of my best and most formative “discoveries” have been made through commissions. So I was happy to accept this one. That said—and this, I believe, more or less accounts for the rest of the difficulties I had with writing about Hue’s films—it was politically ambiguous ...
              The Times of Art
              Kevin Brazil
              When it comes to a work of art, what is the measure of time that matters? It’s easy to point to where a work of art takes place: to the gallery in which it is installed, the place on a map where an earthwork is sited; even the extent of air in which a voiceover sounds possesses a clear spatial dimension. But to ascribe a time to a work of art is a far more difficult process. Is its time that which has elapsed since its creation, or the time when it is viewed? Does a work last as long as its material, be that marble or data, or only as long as it is remembered? Perhaps all these times matter, and more—but if the times of art are multiple, then which do we privilege, and why? For the past few years, the only time that has seemed to matter to many museums and galleries has been that of an artist’s rediscovery. A living artist is summoned up from unjust obscurity, their forgotten work presented with fanfare: now, at last, its time has come. And if the surest sign that something is happening is a shift in the market, then a ...
              “A boundary to throw one’s body against”
              Ella Kruglyanskaya / Rachael Allen
              Ella Kruglyanskaya’s “This is a Robbery” reopened at Thomas Dane this week, having migrated to the gallery’s website when Covid-19 hit London in March. The transition from a physical to an online exhibition space heightened the intimacy of works—paintings in egg tempera or oil on canvas alongside smaller compositions on paper—in which female characters relate with a closeness that has come, in a time of social distancing, to seem unfathomable. Women lounge around on top of each other, strut side-by-side, or stand in gossipy cohesion. These pictures celebrate women’s bodies while sternly resisting objectification: their forms are hard-curved and muscular, with gazes that are both vulnerable and tough. In the paintings’ complex compositions—in which the artist engages with the traditions of still life, trompe l’oeil, and memento mori—these bodies exist for themselves. In one painting, framed by blue, yellow, and red, women’s limbs merge to create a commingled female form—a multiple-legged structure that resembles an optical illusion. In other paintings, shapes morph into more abstract structures or blend with their surroundings. These manipulations of form dislocate our expectations of what we might expect of gendered bodies in painting. During her lockdown, Kruglyanskaya also made work for “On The Verge” at ...
              Artists’ film and video online
              Erika Balsom
              In these days of confinement, I’ve turned to classical Hollywood for comfort. Revisiting Ernst Lubitsch’s sublime Design for Living (1933), I came across a line worth noting down: “Delicacy, as the philosophers point out, is the banana peel under the feet of truth.” If that is so, eager to avoid slipping, I’ll come out and say it from the start: the huge number of moving image artworks that have been made available to stream online in the past few months stresses me out. With cinemas and art spaces around the world suddenly subject to indefinite closure, film festivals have rushed to organize virtual editions, while institutions and commercial galleries have anxiously maintained their visibility by initiating online programs, often presenting changing selections on a time-limited basis. Just as the news appeared that Julia Stoschek, one of the premier private collectors of the moving image, will likely shutter her Berlin space in 2022, she made more than 68 works—some 15 hours of material—available on her website. The online display of moving image artworks is nothing new. The curated platform Vdrome.org, which shows a single work for a two-week duration, began in 2013; unauthorized forms of dissemination have an even ...
              Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures
              Alan Gilbert
              What would a photographed utopia look like? While the origins of photography coincided with the birth of various nineteenth-century utopian schemes, human society has never seemed further from realizing them, in part due to developments in technology—including the production and distribution of images—that seek to solidify social surveillance and control. Recent glimpses of utopia in still and moving images range from Joel Sternfeld’s collection of photographs Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America (2006) to Wu Tsang’s 75-minute film Wildness (2012) documenting an LGBTQ+ bar in Los Angeles. Yet in these examples, and so many more, the viewer feels that a repressive society hovers outside the frame and that these idealized situations are ephemeral. Many of the planned communities in Sweet Earth struggle to survive or have been abandoned; Wildness features a weekly party that Tsang co-hosted for two years before various challenges addressed in the film forced its closing. Similarly, the world captured by Justine Kurland’s “Girl Pictures” series (1997–2002), gathered together in a new publication from Aperture Books, feels transitory in the freedoms that its usually small groups of young women experience across the United States. Although a few of the earliest images were taken in New York ...
              “Artists in Quarantine,” public intellectuals, and the trouble with empty heroics
              Jörg Heiser
              What does it mean to be critical, subversive, nonconformist, and free during a global pandemic? Subversion and resistance are so entwined in the history of art and critical theory—partly justifiably, partly as empty heroics—that even calls for communal solidarity in a public health emergency risk seeming, from that perspective, conformist and submissive. Against the background of that dilemma, influential artists and public intellectuals have struggled to take a coherent position on the crisis. Among them are an internationally famous Italian philosopher, a German theatre director, and a German novelist. But we’ll come to them. The difficulties experienced by artists were demonstrated by the pan-European museum confederation L’Internationale’s “Artists in Quarantine” project. A shared Instagram account was the stage for 16 artists commissioned to channel, as a press release stated, “perspectives on public/private space, solidarity and critique that are intrinsically connected with the present time.” Running from April 21 to May 7, the project took for a springboard the historic example of Sanja Iveković’s performance work Trokut [Triangle]: when President Tito’s motorcade passed her apartment on a visit to Zagreb on 10 May 1979, the artist sat on her balcony, sipped whiskey, read a book, and gestured as if she were ...
              Virtually Ever After: art in the post-digital era
              Xin Wang / Jakob Kudsk Steensen
              I spoke with the artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen from our respective quarantines—me in New York City and Steensen in the south of France, where he was working on a virtual landscape during a residency with the Luma Foundation in Arles. This new project—based on the artist’s detailed studies of the salt marshlands of the Camargue region, using digital technology to create virtual 3D scans of its minerals and simulate their biological properties—builds upon his abiding interest in creating ecologically oriented Virtual Reality (VR) artworks that are tactile, emotive, and fantastical. We spoke at a moment when the virtual—the artist’s primary medium for the last few years—suffused our daily existence in striking ways, from art fairs’ digital viewing rooms to Zoom classes, meetings, and webinars. The importance of computer games—a source of constant pleasure and intellectual stimulation for both Steensen and myself—was underscored, in March, by the arrival of two new titles: Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” the latest iteration in a massively popular and customizable social simulation game set in a village populated by anthropomorphic animals, and “Half Life: Alyx,” a first-person VR shooter that navigates mesmerizing post-apocalyptic terrains, including a quarantined city. Each offers a different mode of ...
              Boris Groys, “Comrades of Time” (2009)
              Kevin Brazil
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in contemporary art criticism by drawing readers’ attention to an influential text from the past and reflecting on its implications in the present. In this edition, Kevin Brazil introduces an essay by Boris Groys first published in e-flux journal. I was no comrade in time of Boris Groys’s “Comrades of Time.” I read it in 2014, five years after it was published. And I came to it, as I came to the art world from which it speaks, indirectly. I had just finished a PhD, which became a book, on the ways some twentieth-century novelists thought about art. Art was always something I approached at one remove, or at least that was how I justified never being up to date with the latest theory. One of the many tools Groys’s essay gave to me was a way out of that very feeling: that “art” is something which develops or progresses towards a future, and that if I miss a show, fail to read a catalogue, or don’t know an artist, I’ve fallen behind. Here is one gift this essay offers: you can never be late for art. Groys argues that when we see art as ...
              Skins Within: On contamination and digital corporeality
              Travis Diehl
              Anxiety over contamination, contagion, and infiltration manifests in contemporary art as a genre of digital animations depicting uncannily corporeal human figures. A trio of videos by Kate Cooper—recently displayed in the New Museum, New York, as part of its “Screens Series” program—subjects a female-presenting character to a series of skin-deep threats. In We Need Sanctuary (2016), the character’s creamy hand meets the flayed fingers of a burn victim between manic shots of kitchen brooms and blue sponges. (These hands reappear in Symptom Machine, made a year later.) The video loops, but nothing gets cleaner; no one is healed. Blood pours from the avatar’s eyes, then disappears. Her endless antiseptic regime is as empty as her digital body. Another piece by Cooper, Infection Drivers (2019), elegantly illustrates a skin overcome by skin. Here, the female nude is trapped in a latex shell that inflates to the muscular forms of bodybuilders. It’s a technical tour de force to render such subtle, rubbery translucency, this wobbling double envelope: a queasy but seductive image of struggle. The characters carry on, resilient in a way human bodies cannot be, sustained by the electricity plugged into the mainframes and monitors that animate them. And yet—like ...
              Public Art
              Tom Morton
              In June 2016, a few days after Britain’s EU referendum, I met up with a group of old school friends in Grantchester Meadows, a beauty spot outside Cambridge, England, the city where I lived from my early childhood until I left for university in 1996. Picnicking in this shimmering green dreamland where, “flower-lulled in sleepy grass,” Rupert Brooke experienced “the centuries blend and blur”, we watched our kids laugh and tumble near the riverbank, while we grouched about Brexit, reminisced over the long, mildly riotous nights we’d spent drinking here as teenagers, and stole glances at the grey flecks in each other’s hair, the lines that spoked from each other’s eyes. What we didn’t know then, and still can’t truly comprehend now, was that in three summers’ time one of us—my closest boyhood friend A_, who I’d known since I was six years old—would take his own life. How do we bring back a lost loved one, our own lost past? The short answer is that we cannot. At A_’s funeral service at a woodland burial site a few miles outside Cambridge, our mutual friend David—one corner of a fraternal triangle forged in adolescence, now forever reduced to a single ...
              How Does Your Garden Grow? On feral signs and displaced landscapes
              Natasha Marie Llorens / Antonio Bermúdez Obregón
              Antonio Bermúdez Obregón is an artist and architect whose work is about the ways in which representations of nature are shaped by a desire to manage it and contain its threat. We met over the course of our respective residencies at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, and I invited him to contribute to the exhibition I curated for the Jan van Eyck’s Open Studios, entitled “The Wall at the End of the Rainbow.” It opened on March 5, just as the borders started closing. His contribution, Obedience, was a to-scale reproduction of Hans and Paul Vredeman de Vries’s sixteenth-century painting Orpheus Playing for the Animals, which went missing in 1944. In English, the painting is known by an alternate title: Orpheus playing the lyre: trees and rocks move, beasts and birds are enchanted, which also accurately describes what is taking place in the image. This enchantment is framed by an architectural folly, under an ornate domed roof upheld by marble pillars that visually overwhelms the birds and the trees of the garden. Bermúdez Obregón’s Obedience reproduces the painting in red monochrome on 25 blocks of riso-printed paper. Visitors were invited to tear sheets of paper off the wall ...
              Hal Foster’s What Comes After Farce?
              Kevin Brazil
              For the title of this collection of criticism spanning the past fifteen years, Hal Foster evokes Marx’s famous evocation of Hegel: the observation that “all great world-historic facts and personages” appear first as tragedy, then as farce. For Foster the revelation, after 9/11, that many Americans will accept the “trashing of constitutional laws, the scapegoating of immigrants, and the mobilizing of white supremacists as a small price to pay for even more capital concentration” was a tragedy which recurred as farce with the election of Trump. (Here, as in his other work, Foster never strays from a view centered on the United States.) His question is: “If farce comes after tragedy, what comes after farce, and how do we respond to whatever that is?” Yet something else was happening amid these repetitions: warnings of a pandemic that few heeded and which is now unleashing a crisis whose consequence will define the future to which we must respond. This is not to say this book is already outdated, but it does make it reveal, perhaps against its wishes, the potentials and pitfalls of an approach to criticism that uses art to find “what will happen” next, or to limn the movements ...
              Raqs Media Collective, “Is the World Sleeping, Sleepless, or Awake or Dreaming?” (2014)
              Ania Szremski
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in contemporary art criticism by drawing readers’ attention to an influential text from the past and reflecting on its implications in the present. In this edition, Ania Szremski introduces an essay by Raqs Media Collective first published in e-flux journal. In their 2014 essay “Is the World Sleeping, Sleepless, or Awake or Dreaming?,” Raqs Media Collective warn against a “debilitating activist insomnia” depriving artists and intellectuals of the ability to dream. These exhausted figures voluntarily give themselves over (via social media, the news cycle, and the busywork of organizing) to sleep deprivation—“the worst, most damaging technique used by torturers.” I read Raqs’ overture to slumber shortly after it was published, while working at an art space in downtown Cairo. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had just been elected president and was consolidating his oppressive regime; in an adrenalized, dreamless frenzy, I was trying to conduct what I thought of as a dissentious “business as usual,” keeping the gallery open and running a sedulous program in spite of the atmosphere of impossibility. So how seductive it was to read of Raqs’ proposing sleep, not action, as the “gentlest possible refusal of capital’s rapacious claim on time and ...
              Where does it end?
              Martin Herbert
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Martin Herbert considers the processes that shaped his monographic essay on Hubert Duprat’s work, “Bothness.” My trip to the South of France, in April last year, to meet Hubert Duprat at his home (which contains his studio) called for a layover in Paris, not least to see the artist’s show at Galerie Art Concept. That evening, wandering around at a loose end after ducking out of a panel discussion at Kader Attia’s multifunction venue La Colonie, I started seeing social media posts to the effect that Notre Dame was on fire. I’ll spare you another first-hand reminiscence of that grim event, which, as I’m writing from quarantine, seems a long time ago. The next day, over lunch and a wide-ranging conversation chez Duprat as the afternoon unwound, we didn’t discuss the fire; it seemed unmentionable. The cathedral was an extraordinary human achievement undone by—seemingly—faulty wiring. Talking with Duprat about his work, with its vast timescales and reflection of creative ingenuity, I guess we might have made something of that. Instead, as we ...
              Lockdown: on carpets, cats, and cages, and three films by Gernot Wieland
              Barbara Casavecchia
              I am not working, so I’m working out. Crunch and plank, back and forth. I do it next to my desk, on the ragged carpet brought back from Morocco decades ago, immersed in the most familiar of interior landscapes. When I was in elementary school, an unspeakable fear of going blind (ommetaphobia; suggested treatment: hypnotherapy) made me secretly walk around my room at night, eyes wide shut, just to rote-learn every inch of its perimeter. Now, there’s an irony in using this domiciliary setting for exercise. On the wall above my desk there are black cats stretching, bending, and arching their backs, stencil-sprayed there by an artist friend, Riccardo Previdi, and inspired by Gatto Meo Romeo, a foam rubber toy designed by Bruno Munari in 1949 as a playful contortionist for young hands. They are a daily remainder of my sentimental education, based among other things on graffiti, punk comics, squatting, absurdist jokes, yoga, and modernist Milanese design. In Berlin, I think it was the mid-2000s, Riccardo introduced me to his friend and fellow artist Gernot Wieland. We’ve been in touch ever since and I intended to visit his exhibition at Salzburger Kunstverein, which opened in February. But now ...
              “Dwell with Things as Equals”
              Irena Haiduk / Hendrik Folkerts
              At the heart of Irena Haiduk’s recent exhibition “REMASTER” was a question: How can we remake the world using its existing infrastructures? Across the two floors of Swiss Institute in New York, the writer and artist staged scenes taken from Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. As in her previous exhibitions, these installations formed a set for Haiduk’s ongoing cinematic adaptation of the book, which satirised the Soviet regime by introducing the devil to 1930s Moscow. Apartment 50 was installed on the second floor and recreated Professor Woland's living quarters, while The Variety Theater on the institution’s ground floor doubled as the setting for a program of performances and events. The infrastructure underpinning Haiduk’s world is Yugoexport, her art company—or, more precisely, a “non-aligned oral-corporation”—modelled on a disincorporated Yugoslav clothes manufacturer and weapons exporter called Jugoeksport. Haiduk’s Yugoexport produces objects in the spirit of Yugoslavian material culture—rubbings, books, bags, shoes, dresses—in order to draw attention to current issues of labor, production, and exchange. To mark the exhibition, Haiduk worked with Johanna Rietveld to create a display at Printed Matter / St. Marks bookshop (on the first floor of the Swiss Institute) featuring publications including Bon Ton Mais ...
              Queer: Some notes on art and identity
              Rosanna Mclaughlin
              “The photo booth provided a safe-space for queer culture,” reads a text on the wall in the first room of Tate Modern’s 2020 Andy Warhol retrospective. How times have changed. Ten years ago, the museum’s exhibition “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” cast Warhol as business-bro godfather to Damian Hirst and Jeff Koons. That narrative has, thankfully, since gone out of fashion, and in its place a new Warhol has emerged: a shy, sensitive outsider fighting the good fight of representational politics on behalf of queer and minority communities in New York City. Whether or not we prefer the idea of a woke Warhol, it’s almost impossible to square the language of the safe space with his back catalogue. “Warhol often used difficult imagery as source material, exposing the voyeurism inherent in media coverage of traumatic events,” Tate explains, attempting to exculpate their hero. Warhol may have been many things: talent scout, postmodern painter, an artist with a profound understanding of the currency of food, sex, and death. But what security did he extend to Olga Cassanova, the fourteen-year-old photographed falling to her death from an apartment block, whose final moments he reproduced in the screen print A Woman’s ...
              The Online Exhibition
              Orit Gat
              With every email I receive about new digital programs from museums, galleries, and other art institutions around the world, I feel more conflicted. My sympathy for these institutions, which had little warning before they had to shutter their doors and are now trying to recreate their program online, often for the first time, is coupled with frustration that giving a title to a group of JPEGs does not an exhibition make. Yet this is a moment to explore what exhibitions are, how they serve a general public, and whether there are models for their translation from physical to digital spaces. The Biennale of Sydney, which opened on March 14, closed ten days later. Its organizers are currently working with Google to create a digital version of the exhibition that will include live content, virtual walkthroughs, podcasts, interactive Q&As, curated tours, and artist takeovers. Google Arts & Culture already offers virtual tours of museums and exhibitions around the world using Street View’s tools. On the company’s website is a list highlighting “6 Now-Closed Exhibitions That You Can Still Explore In Street View.” These include the 2015 Venice Biennale, Kara Walker’s massive sugar sculpture A Subtlety, presented by Creative Time at the ...
              “Before and After Tiananmen”
              Xin Wang
              Imagine a curated overview of contemporary art from the United States titled “Before and After the Vietnam War.” Imagine the case not as a new direction for explorative scholarship but as the perpetuating, defining framework, over and over again. “Before and After Tiananmen,” Gallery 207 in the 2019 rehang of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, presents established Chinese artists such as Xu Bing, Zhang Peili, Huang Yong Ping, and Song Dong in a sparse installation. Yet it registers not as a progressive move towards more inclusive and nuanced narratives of modern and postmodern art worldwide, but rather as a form of institutional gaslighting that raises deeper and stickier issues than the more manifest ills of exclusion or erasure. Reflecting a growing institutional recognition of heterogeneous global modernisms, it illustrates where that promise of progressive inclusivity falls short—and flat—if the historical framing remains uncontested, and situated knowledges are routinely overlooked. Presenting these alternative trajectories using the criteria and assumptions of the old canon—essentially treating them as outposts of western art history—will always miss the mark, limiting the discourse while purporting to expand it. It is telling that in most reviews of the new MoMA, ...
              Metadata
              Christina Li
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Christina Li considers the processes that shaped her monographic essay on Neïl Beloufa’s work, “Universes Undone.” During a visit to Neïl Beloufa’s solo exhibition “L’Ennemi de mon ennemi” [The Enemy of My Enemy] at Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2018, I was reminded of Philip K. Dick. In his 1978 essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” the science-fiction author develops a metaphor of writing as a form of universe building—and undoing. Walking through Beloufa’s expansive agglomeration of artworks and information, it became evident that a similar process was at play in the gallery. On a series of scenographic display units, each of which had moving parts, a selection of Beloufa’s film installations were displayed alongside artworks by other artists, such as Vann Nath, Pope. L, Gustave Courbet, and Hito Steyerl. Herculean in scale, yet meticulously constructed, the installation examined art as a form of autonomous critique in the contexts of politics, war, and capital. Its shifting clusters of objects and ideas were propped on ...
              Mexico City Roundup
              Terence Trouillot
              The title of Jim Ricks’s painting, I’m So Bored with the U.S.A. (2019)—borrowed from the Clash song—might be taken as a comment on how pervasively Mexico City’s Art Week has, in recent years, been dominated by the country’s relationship with its northern neighbor. This teal-colored canvas, the text of its title painted neatly against the surface in a sans-serif font, hangs at Daniela Elbahara gallery among a collection of the artist’s playful and witty works interrogating the structures of democracy and resistance. “This is What Democracy Looks Like” is the first painting show for the US-born Irish artist, whose conceptual work often incorporates sculpture and performance. The exhibition uses humor to lay bare the absurdity and hypocrisy of US politics, and to question the amount of attention paid to the country by the rest of the world. Perhaps partly in anticipation of the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong, a surplus of American and European dealers and collectors were present during this major week of art fairs, gallery openings, and museum exhibitions. Pia Camil’s exhibition “Ríe ahora, llora después” [Laugh Now, Cry Later] was particularly popular with both visitors and locals. For her second solo show at Galería OMR, the ...
              Los Angeles Roundup
              Sabrina Tarasoff
              “The Magic and Flair of Mary Blair,” an exhibition of the Disney artist’s dreamy, acid-laced concept pieces at the Hilbert Museum of California Art, burned to mind what freakish and caustic things fairytales can be. Best known for her work on Alice in Wonderland (1951), Blair’s mutant gouaches drag you with Alice into the fantastical inversions of Wonderland, a place “more like a corkscrew than a path,” where lawless helixes swallow rooms and minacious figures are found lurking in the Day-Glo darkness. Through the looking glass, everything from the houses to paths act on their own volition; even the flowers have a will (if you’re worth talking to): “You can’t possibly do that,” advises a Rose in Carroll’s sequel, “I should advise you to walk the other way.” Alice considers this bad advice, and so heads in the “wrong” direction, straight back to where she started. Which is to say, she’s quick to realise that in the context of the fantastic, if it appears you’re getting lost then you are probably going the right way. Though this city is filled with the iconoclastic fantastic, its galleries during Frieze week seem more determined to exploit a bygone image of subversion than ...
              Museum Installations of Film Art
              Robert Bird
              The demise of film in its previous modes of production and projection has led to the selective canonization of major filmmakers as artists meriting solo exhibitions in museum spaces. In response, curators have resorted to increasingly ingenious strategies to adapt the medium to the contemporary museum’s infrastructural and institutional conditions. Early exhibitions of film as art frequently focused on its static material apparatus and paraphernalia: cameras and other optical devices, sets and props, screenplays and storyboards, posters and press. Director Stanley Kubrick’s material archive, for example, formed the basis of a massive exhibition organized by the Deutsches Filminstitut Filmmuseum, which has traveled internationally for over a decade. When I saw it in Rome in 2007, its sole dynamic feature was a green-screen device allowing visitors to view themselves within the prehistoric landscape of the prologue to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This interactive apparatus set the scene for my very first digital selfie. The more ambitious and sophisticated exhibitions of the intervening decade have begun to create a distinct place for film in the museum environment, in part by continuing to blur the boundaries between film, digital media, and installation. A decisive role in the museification of the cinema has ...
              Hong Kong Roundup
              Travis Diehl
              A citywide rally on December 8, 2019, marked six months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. 800,000 people attended—a tenth of the total population. When I arrived the following weekend, the streets were quiet. I wasn’t there for the protests—I was there to see art. Yet I couldn’t escape the feeling that we were, as Allan Sekula wrote of the 1999 Seattle protests, “waiting for teargas”—in the lull, anticipating the moment when revolution and counter-revolution show their true selves. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong police were thinking about art, too. On December 12, they posted a parody of Maurizo Cattelan’s Comedian sculpture (2019) to social media; in their version, instead of a banana, a teargas canister is duct-taped to the wall. This is possibly the most pitch-perfect, frank response from the government so far: lobbing riot grenades is a day job for some, but only an artwork can express the underlying depths of official apathy. The Hong Kong “banana” joined the graffiti along the roadways in Central, slogans like “thx president trump / make hk great again” and “je me révolte, donc je suis”: messages meant, on some level, for outsiders like me. The art scene, too, seemed to be steeling ...
              Miami Roundup
              Ricardo Mor
              In Camille Henrot’s video Saturday (2017), presented at the Faena Festival as part of Miami Art Week, the artist zeroes in on the Seventh-day Adventist Church in cryptic yet hypnotic fashion. Images of church services, baptism ceremonies, and a backstage look at a TV prayer telethon service titled "Let’s Pray!" are paired with images of surfers, medical procedures, and commercial-like footage of whole foods that are part of the church’s recommended diet regimen. Against all of this, chyrons send up a constant stream of bad news and cryptic messages such as “Justice: the door remained shut,” “Education: they’re just parroting what they hear back,” and “Crime: there are bruises where he still grabbed me.” It is an opaque but astonishingly beautiful meditation on keeping one’s faith in a hopeless world. Not that far away, outside the convention center where Art Basel Miami Beach takes place, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses would stand outside each day trying to engage passersby on their faith, peddling their beliefs as diligently as the gallerists selling art in their booths. Miami Art Week, which includes the main fair, two dozen satellite fairs, and a seemingly endless cavalcade of events is art at its most ...
              A Report on Perfect Fit
              Sarah Rifky
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Sarah Rifky looks back on her monographic essay on Kapwani Kiwanga’s work “Perfect Fit.” Saint Louis I started writing “Perfect Fit” in a classroom at the Institut Français in Saint Louis, Senegal. It was June 2018. The text was untitled. I was with colleagues (read: friends) from the continent (read: Africa), and we were formulating an instruction for France: to establish an Institute of Black Studies in France. France resisted the intellectual imperative. To them, the continent was a country. The instruction outlined departments for the filing of imaginary history, for authorizing fiction and unauthorized movements, as well as other methods of disruption. The confabulations of this meeting were the scaffolding for what later became “Perfect Fit.” Paris I had seen Kapwani Kiwanga perform once in Paris, years before. One of my first attempts at writing was to remember the exact quality of the feeling of being in her audience. Her performance two-toned the space in orange brown and cooler, shaped shadows. On a Saturday in late November 2018, we met ...
              Mary Josephson, “Ray Johnson at Betty Parsons” (1973)
              Astrid Mania
              In the wing mirror on the passenger side of a vehicle, objects are closer than they appear. The texts republished in the Rearview series are those that we wish to draw attention to because they reveal certain "blind spots" in contemporary art criticism. These "found" documents (indeed, quasi-artifacts) are prefaced by one of our writers. Mary Josephson is, to my knowledge, the first fictitious female art critic conceived of by a man. She is one of Brian O’Doherty’s four, otherwise male, alter egos, among them the (by now late) artist Patrick Ireland. Josephson was born out of lack. Becoming the editor of Art in America in 1971, O’Doherty needed authors to write for the publication he was going to reinvent. Apparently, he made some of them up. That he decided on one female moniker is due to his lifelong fascination with fluid gender roles: “There is a deep curiosity, and certainly I have it as to the nature of the other, the ultimate, that other, the other sex.”(1) The name itself, Mary Josephson, is a twist on O’Doherty’s upbringing in a stoutly Catholic environment. Writing under a pseudonym comes with a great deal of freedom. Josephson surely thought outside ...
              Montréal Roundup
              Stefanie Hessler
              A camera pans over a beach littered with driftwood. As the lens approaches a stack of branches arranged as if for a bonfire, a rocket-like screeching sound pierces the scene. An instant later, the wood goes up in flames. The image fades to a view of the artist Rebecca Belmore submerged in the nearby water. Fully dressed, she flails in the shallows with a metal bucket in her hand, gasping for air. Her body is thrown around by something other than the forces of the waves—an interior torment. Belmore exits onto the beach, carries the bucket toward the camera, and with an arduous groan throws its liquid contents against the lens. What we, the viewers, may expect to be clear water is blood-red, dripping down the lens as the artist stands and looks directly at us until the video ends. In Belmore’s installation Fountain (2005), the sequence was projected onto a wall of falling water inside the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM). In its ambiguity between birth or death, creation or apocalypse, Belmore’s Fountain—her contribution to the Canadian Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005—is as potent a metaphor today as it was almost 15 years ago. The ...
              The Purple Thistle
              Andrew Berardini
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, in which writers reflect on the experience of writing about art. Here, Andrew Berardini expands on his monographic essay on Mélanie Matranga’s work “A Worn T-Shirt and Expressions of the Inexpressible.” Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colors with a durability not found in cellular life. What moves lives. What is said endures. —Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (1982) I don’t know why anyone makes art or writes about it really, the depthless mystery of this is probably why I do it. I do know that I can only survive because I can tell you about the purple thistle nestled in the vase of flowers on my table. I’ve touched it many times today, enshrouded in gray-green eucalyptus leaves and daisies bursting with yellow and small white flowers with silky petals. Stiff but still almost insistently soft, the purple thistle looks almost dangerous, with rows upon rows of menacing spikes, its color a shimmer of electricity like the dance of snapped power lines in a cool mist. Once touched, these multiple points (called bracts by ...
              Paris Roundup
              Sofia Gotti
              The most useful warning ever given to me while studying the Parisian avant-garde was “don’t forget they were all sleeping with each other!” A vital reminder that modern art was not the product of a pure and original creative act, but rather the consequence of cross-pollination that occurred thanks to friendships, sexual relations, and confrontations. That idea of purity and originality, still often fed to modern art scholars like mother’s milk, is a construction deeply compromised by power, politics, and, yes, sexuality. This context is inescapable, especially when wandering through FIAC at the Grand Palais. A leftover of the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the Grand Palais is a paradigmatic example of how France displayed its hegemonic power over culture and technology. As a scholar of feminism and decolonialism, I am determined to deconstruct the canon I was handed. I resolved during my visit to focus on practices that signal a transformation in mainstream narrative and to ignore outdated (albeit seductive) presentations dedicated to contemporary mainstays, or booths like Gagosian’s all-male display dedicated to artists who spent time on the French Riviera. My main inquiry is, how are artists articulating the notions of impurity, disjunction, difference, and desire this week in ...
              London Roundup
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              The world is burning. This is not a metaphor. The sky is bleached a searing lime green, tinged with burned orange that reflects off relentless choppy waves. Suddenly, the sky goes blood red and the horizon blackens, the sun a dull hole punched in the sky. Our view shifts, panning quickly to the left, then back again, as if searching for something, anything. The sky then changes again to a blinding sherbet yellow. The screen depicting this scene, mounted on a metal rack above a whirring circuit board, gives us a certain vision of our current reality. The shifting colors are a translation of information from a small atmospheric monitor mounted on the back of the rack. It’s not clear what directly causes the hues to brighten or waves to get that bit higher or more intense in Yuri Pattison’s sun[set] provisioning (2019) at mother’s tankstation—whether the car exhaust from the street outside, or the hungover breath from bodies in the room might make the scene that bit more trippy. The contraption offers a heavily mediated fiction, but it also makes an actuality visible and present: a drowned world, made hallucinatory and beautiful by toxins that saturate the air and ...
              Writing with Art
              Nora Sternfeld / Emmanuelle Lainé
              Once a month, art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Ricard Foundation, jointly publish a Meta text. Here, Nora Sternfeld and Emmanuelle Lainé reflect together on Sternfeld’s essay on Lainé, “Working Conditions.” Art-agenda: Let’s start from the beginning. By pairing a writer and an artist who were not previously connected, TextWork invites them to embark on a sort of blind date. What were your expectations for your meeting? Nora Sternfeld: One summer day, out of the blue, I received a phone call. It was Emmanuelle Lainé. She presented herself as an artist from Marseille, with a growing interest in political questions and she invited me to contribute a text to a new project called TextWork, where an artist and a theorist meet. She asked me because, reading my situated writings, my positions seemed relevant to her, maybe even more to where she wanted to go than where she stood at that point. The outcome, she said, could be open and experimental, but should be a text that takes her work as a starting point. I did not know her work then, but her interests and ways of thinking, as well as the open and precise way she approached me, immediately ...
              Mother Tongue, Unholy Father
              Ana Teixeira Pinto
              Once a month, art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Ricard Foundation, jointly publish a Meta text. Here, Ana Teixeira Pinto reflects on her monographic essay on Pauline Curnier Jardin’s work “The World Inside Out.” It is a strange thing to be a writer who writes in a language that is not her mother tongue. Whenever I write in English—which is almost every time I write, and I write every day—I feel as if I am wearing heavy gear that weighs me down, slowing my pace. Constrained by my lack of vocabulary and grammatical shortcomings, I feel the text never soars, bogged down by doubt, dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreements, and too many commas. The discomfort is heightened when speaking in public. The experience always feels like wearing a miniskirt that is too tight and too short: somehow your underwear always shows, no matter how composed you try to appear, you always feel exposed and ashamed (yes, I struggle with body image issues, in case you are wondering about my choice of examples). Writing at least has the advantage of allowing me to hide behind a thesaurus and Grammarly. Over the years, I have developed coping mechanisms. I became a syntax ...
              “Misbehaving Bodies: Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery”
              Philomena Epps
              “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick,” wrote Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor (1978), “although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” This quote opens “Misbehaving Bodies” at the Wellcome Collection, which places Jo Spence’s healthcare work from the 1980s in conversation with Oreet Ashery’s 12-part web series “Revisiting Genesis” (2016). Through references to chronic and fatal illness, identity formation, medical discourse, and the politics of healthcare, the exhibition pays particular attention to how citizenship to the “kingdom of the sick” might productively disrupt and diversify common understandings of life and death, the body, and community. Spence’s autobiographical artwork Beyond the Family Album (1979) takes the conventional form of the family photo album—photographs and press clippings are affixed to large sheets of paper, accompanied by captions and extended passages of text—but subverts the form by manifesting as a counter-archive of the self. By charting her divorce, her parents’ ill health, and her own struggles with chronic asthma, in addition to interrogating the invisibility ...
              The opposite of experience
              Mike Sperlinger
              Once a month, art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Ricard Foundation, jointly publish a Meta text. Here, Mike Sperlinger reflects on his monographic essay on Laurent Montaron’s work, “Machine Learning.” The exhibition I most regret not seeing is “Voids: A Retrospective,” which took place at the Pompidou Center in Paris ten years ago. The show was a restaging of nine works involving empty gallery spaces (Art & Language, Michael Asher, Maria Eichhorn, Laurie Parsons, and others). I bought a compensatory catalogue online: an almost parodically superdeluxe, 500-plus page production. But I regularly wish I had gotten on a Eurostar to walk through those (as I imagine them) repletely empty rooms. What is the relation between experiencing something (or nothing) and writing about it? It seems, at first glance, incredibly obvious: that whereof we have not experience, thereof we must remain silent. How can you write about artworks you have never seen, for example? And yet we do, all the time, and I find myself asking, less and less rhetorically, what relationship artworks actually have to the meanings and experiences we ascribe to them. Just over a year ago, I sat with Laurent Montaron in his farmhouse studio outside of Paris, ...
              Basel Roundup
              Ingo Niermann
              Next year, Art Basel turns 50, and animals are still not allowed. There’s not even a “Pets Lounge,” as there is for kids, even though the fair’s premises are big enough to host a whole circus. Art Basel was founded in 1970, a year before Swiss women gained suffrage. Women were allowed in the fair from the very beginning, but animals will probably have to achieve parliamentary representation before the fair will welcome them. While male collectors of visual art have long been fine with consulting their wives and mistresses, they tend to ignore the taste of their pets. Probably not because they give women’s taste on visual art more importance but because it allows them to bond in placid, post-sexual ways. Sounds boring? That’s what non-humans must think about visual art. Entertainment needs surprise and trust needs solidity. Visual art tries to combine both: to make a joke that works forever. All arts are polluted by this uncanny ambition, but only visual art confronts us as a permanent physical manifestation. In that sense, it shares similar traits with nationalism. Both intend to eternally occupy Earth’s limited space. Nationalism has caused far more casualties and suffering, because artworks can’t fight ...
              In conversation with Stockholm’s Mint
              Frida Sandström
              In 1939, the German artist Hans Tombrock (1895–1966) inscribed the words of his contemporary Bertolt Brecht’s 1935 poem “Questions From a Worker Who Reads” onto a wooden board. Both in exile from the Nazis, Brecht and Tombrock met in Stockholm earlier in 1939. They collaborated on several works and developed a longstanding dialogue on art in the workers’ movement, a set of riots and strikes at the turn of the twentieth century, and the institutionalization of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), and social security. This spring, Tombrock’s piece, which borrows its title from Brecht’s poem, was exhibited in the group show “Den folkliga självstyrelsens livsluft” [The air which the autonomy of the people breathe] in Stockholm, alongside contemporary artworks that explore labor, exhaustion, and leisure. It was the first exhibition at Mint, a new non-profit art space in Stockholm founded and run by curators Emily Fahlén and Asrin Haidari. Last year, together with artist Thomas Hämén, Fahlén and Haidari curated the 2018 edition of the Luleå Biennial in northern Sweden. Titled “Tidal Ground,” the biennial critically investigated the local and global extraction of natural resources and workforces, alongside the role of art in antifascist ...
              August to May, The Years and a Day’s Work, Writing is a Way of Reading
              Orit Gat
              Once a month, art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Ricard Foundation, jointly publish a Meta text. Here, Orit Gat reflects on her monographic essay on Alain Séchas’s work, Vacances.” Essays have invisible bibliographies. The books that are on your desk when writing. The books you reach to because something you looked at or thought about reminds you of something you once read. Books in which you find something new through writing. I remember what I was reading when I was in France last July. I took the train from London to meet Alain Séchas in Paris. We then took a train together to see his exhibition, “Passe-temps,” at the Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix in Sables d’Olonnes. On both train rides, I read the same book, Annie Ernaux’s The Years (2008). It was just published in English. Somehow, I had never heard of Ernaux until that summer. (This is not true: in December, I found a copy of La Place, for which she won the Prix Renaudot, at my parents’ house. The price is in francs. I must have bought it as a teenager and forgotten it on a visit more than a decade ago.) But it seemed fitting ...
              Plants
              Patrick J. Reed
              Severed ears make for convenient plot points—they signal instant mystery. An example: To whom did the pair of ears in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (1490–1500) once belong, and what in the actual hell are they now? Yoked by an arrow and sandwiching a blade, this pictorial element of the Medieval altarpiece is the act of ear amputation compressed into a single, mythological being. The Christian context makes for an easy segue to another moment of religious conjuring: Christ’s last miracle before crucifixion; the replacement of Malchus’s ear (lopped off by Simon Peter) in the Garden of Gethsemane. Recounted in the Gospels but considered apocryphal by some, the story is doubtless a parable about the consequences of blasphemy. It provides a clue as to the meaning of Bosch’s monster. Hear no evil. Ear amputation is the most agreeable, maybe the most forgivable, type of mutilation to the human face. Unlike eye gouging or nose cutting, ear amputation creates a surface wound; the orifice is neither widened nor deepened, and the inner organ retains its basic function. Ear amputation is also the furthest logical extent to ear yanking, that schoolyard punishment exerted by bullies and authorities alike. Perhaps ...
              Brussels Roundup
              Chloe Stead
              Often referred to as the chocolate capital of the world, it’s said that no visit to Brussels is complete without a trip to one of the city’s famous chocolate shops. In Hank Willis Thomas’s exhibition “Donnez votre main” at Maruani Mercier, the American artist shows a new body of work which posits an uncomfortable truth: Belgium’s predilection for chocolate is explicitly linked to its colonization of Congo under King Leopold II. The grizzly practice of cutting off the hands of the wives and children of workers who didn’t meet the king’s strict quotas for natural resources like cocoa, ivory, and rubber is represented throughout the exhibition, most notably in a collection of framed Antwerpse handjes—traditional Belgian chocolates shaped like hands—which Willis Thomas has arranged into patterns traditionally associated with Congolese textiles. The rest of the exhibition is dedicated to a number of screenprints mostly based on archival photographs of Belgium and Congo during colonization—made on retroreflective material that is only fully revealed when photographed. It can sometimes feel tedious, if not downright gimmicky, to view an exhibition through a cellphone screen, but this is an admittedly clever way of linking historic examples of exploitation and human rights abuses in Congo ...
              58th Venice Biennale, “May You Live in Interesting Times”
              Adam Kleinman
              Gemini came a little too early to Venice. While the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale was clearly born under the sign of Taurus, the exhibition’s mood is that of the mercurial twins who oscillate between opposing states of mind. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the exhibition’s title, mired in borrowed orientalist apocrypha, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” ambiguous mirroring is the true structuring principle of the show. To this end, the curator of the international exhibition, Ralph Rugoff, played his two houses—the Arsenale and the International Pavilion in the Giardini—against each other by having each of the participating artists present work in both venues. The effect of this maneuver creates an odd form of creative bookkeeping wherein 79 artists are stretched to perform the work of 158. Rugoff’s display is likewise dotted by recombinant forms as salient features of works are meant to act as anchors, but end up flattening the art into objects grouped rather glibly by kind or theme as opposed to intention, code, or context. For example, repetitions of sculptures based on the same source material such as Arthur Jafa’s series of chained monster truck tires, “Big Wheel” (2018), that I read as ...
              What to fall back on
              Rachel Valinsky
              Once a month, art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Ricard Foundation, jointly publish a Meta text. Here, Rachel Valinsky reflects on her monographic essay on Eva Barto's work, Eva Barto's Gamble.” There’s trouble in achieving writing’s focus when its objects are most evasive. A year ago, I was writing about an artist, Eva Barto, whose work is willfully fugitive: few photographs of it exist or are available, while its operations and internal mechanisms are complex, inscribed within set logics and systems though often upturning or diverting them from within. I went to visit her in Paris and we spent hours talking about her work in a café near Canal Saint-Martin and continued to send her questions to which she graciously responded over Skype and email after I returned to New York. Finally, I had filled myself to the brim with details of process, form, and reference. I paid intense attention to relations between things brought into focus by someone other than myself, but offered to me so that they might take on, through the text I was writing, some complementary expression and precision. I looked for what poet Lyn Hejinian once described as the writer’s paradise when I finally ...
              Hong Kong Roundup
              Marcus Yee
              Hong Kong floats, at least according to Xi Xi’s short story, “The Floating City.” In this sensitive portrait of Hong Kong, the city has stabilized into myth, while its inhabitants have turned into a group of happily amnesiac petits bourgeois, desiring only for peaceful homes. After a few years of toil, the city became prosperous and cosmopolitan, boasting art festivals and books from all over the world. The floating city was a miracle. This sensation of floating is best captured by Art Basel Hong Kong’s public art section, “Encounters.” In Elmgreen & Dragset’s City in the Sky (2019), the global financial metropolis is literally turned upside-down; whereas Lee Bul’s Willing To Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon (2019), a shiny emblem of high modernity’s aspirations and failures, hangs languorously from the convention center’s ceiling. By virtue of their scale, these spectacles were well received by a public hungry to update their WeChat or Instagram feeds. At same time, looking at these monuments aloft in the air, the question remains: What keeps everything afloat? This was also the source of trepidation by inhabitants of Xi’s floating city. Unnerved by the possibility of an Icarian fall, they wished to pack up and leave the city ...
              New York City Roundup
              Amy Zion
              Twenty-five years ago, a group of young dealers, including Pat Hearn, Colin de Land, and Matthew, Marks started the first contemporary art fair in New York at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Titled the Gramercy International Art Fair, it spanned floors 12, 14, and 15 (there is no 13, of course) of the hotel, with each gallery taking over a room or suite. In the first iteration in 1994, Tracey Emin slept in the bed in the room where her work was displayed (by Jay Jopling/White Cube). In 1997, Holly Solomon installed two TV screens as part of a work by Nam June Paik in her room’s bathtub. After outgrowing the hotel, in 1999, the fair moved to the original site of the infamous 1913 Armory Show and changed its name. Now it fills two West Side piers and includes a modern/twentieth-century art portion alongside the contemporary. There are more fairs that share the week with the Armory—the Independent, which celebrated its 10th anniversary, Volta (more on that later), and Spring Break, among others. Amid talks and other initiatives marking the quarter-century celebrations, at the fair there was a room several booths wide that included documentation and restaging of works from the ...
              Mexico City Roundup
              Kim Córdova
              A man wearing pajamas and a bathrobe clutches a branded coffee mug and ponders the distance through the drawn curtains of the Museo Jumex terrace gallery window, his graying eyebrows knitted in maudlin unease. This is Mike, artist Michael Smith’s alter-ego who in the exhibition at Jumex, “Imagine the view from here!,” considers buying a “curated timeshare living experience” at the museum, marketed by the fictional International Trade and Enrichment Association. In promotional videos and trade fair–like booths, his bone-dry humor critiques the private interests that have a stake in the promotion of Mexico’s contemporary art scene to foreign and local markets as well as the clichéd banality of its consumption. The show is particularly resonant in the context of Art Week CDMX, the annual week of cultural offerings organized to coincide with Mexico City’s art fairs. Playfully seeding his fictional timeshare with coopted real elements such as photos from past museum events, the omnipresent juice at the museum’s openings, and cameos by the museum’s curator, Smith constructs a conceptual art version of an investable real estate lifestyle package. The show’s trade-fair aesthetic is a reminder of how easy it is to harrumph fairs as too mercantile, too convention center ticky-tacky, ...
              Los Angeles Roundup
              Christina Catherine Martinez
              “This is a stupid town. It’s lazy, it’s polite, it’s so sissy in its mentality, so go along with everything that goes along. It’s corporate-owned, it’s a town owned by Hollywood, and it’s about time it grew up. It’s about time that it took art and said come on baby, show me something!” Thus spoke John Cassavetes in a behind-the-scenes documentary for his 1977 film Opening Night. The clip played as part of an intro bumper at Now Instant Image Hall, a microcinema in Highland Park with a bookshop selling various zines and small press titles related to its eclectic programing, from Susan Cianciolo’s films to historical gems like Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles (1972). The latter screened just a few days before the cultural Leviathan known as Frieze Week descended upon the city, bringing with it a deluge of rain and the attendant disenchantment. Cassavetes’s diatribe drew laughs and cheers from the 60 or so rain-soaked people nestled into the space (I love the way he hisses out the word sissy—his hatred for Los Angeles is unimpeachably authentic) and it does presciently, if cynically, encapsulate this moment of arrival. The LA art scene grew up. Or at least, the kids ...
              Tensta konsthall
              James Voorhies
              On a late November Saturday morning in Tensta, a suburb 10 miles northwest of downtown Stockholm, a double-decker bus idled in the plaza of a shopping mall. People stood around drinking coffee and chatting. A woman wearing glasses and a hijab informed them in Arabic to board because the bus would soon depart. Her name is Fahyma Alnablsi. Originally from Damascus, she is 68 years old and has lived in Tensta for 25 years. While her official duties at Tensta konsthall include administration and education, Alnablsi is by all accounts a social conduit between the arts institution and community of Tensta. Built between 1967 and 1972 to provide homes to young families, today people from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan, Somalia, Syria, and Turkey live in the suburb. Alnablsi, trained as an educator, previously worked with some of these communities by volunteering at women’s organizations, teaching Swedish language classes, and advising on maneuvering government bureaucracy. In 2012, she was hired by the curator Maria Lind, who in December 2018 finished an eight-year tenure leading the institution. I visited Stockholm to conduct research for a new book that will study in part how modest-scaled institutions in Western cities connect to ...
              Gary Indiana, “Janet Malcolm Gets It Wrong—Part II” (1986)
              Kim Levin
              This is the second part of Gary Indiana’s “Janet Malcolm Gets It Wrong—Part II” (1986). See the first part here. Between 1985 and 1988, early in his career as transgressive downtown playwright, director, and actor, and before he became known for his true-crime novels, Gary Indiana wrote art criticism for the Village Voice. For those three years his weekly columns caustically deconstructed exhibitions, critiqued the art world, and questioned the limits of art itself. Individually his highly personal and insidiously political columns always provided a terrific read. As a whole, the newly republished essays in Vile Days: The Village Voice Art Columns 1985–1988, edited by Bruce Hainley and published by Semiotext(e), add up to something much more. They are an essential account of the East Village art scene and its context. They are also institutional critique with an early focus on women artists. Their appearance in print is especially timely at this semi-nostalgic moment after the demise of what remained of the Village Voice, which in its heyday was an alternative paper known round the world. This is the second half of Gary Indiana’s two-part article from 1986, in which he slyly deconstructed Janet Malcolm’s pair of 1986 New Yorker profiles ...
              Detroit Roundup
              Rob Goyanes
              In early October, I went to Detroit for the first time. I was invited on a press trip by Culture Lab Detroit. Positioning itself as a socially conscious arts organization, its annual conference hosts discussions at different sites throughout the city. This year’s summit was dubbed “The Crisis of Beauty,” which to me sounded like a hollow if catchy turn of phrase. While waiting for my Lyft at the airport, a huge Ford truck approached with a bright blue LED Uber sign in the windshield. The driver was a large white man wearing a camo Trump hat. It portended a weekend of strange, overlapping contradictions regarding the future of Detroit, the political fungibility of what is deemed beautiful, and who finds beauty where—especially within the industrial ruins of Midwestern American cities. Much contemporary art operates on an axis of crisis capitalism, with the promise of revitalizing downtrodden places. The name Culture Lab is a bit sus, considering that Detroit has been revolutionizing culture for a long time. The first panel, “The Aesthetics of Tomorrow,” was held at the Senate Theater, in Southwest Detroit. With a burning-red marquis and rectangular art deco flourishes, the building is an old silent film theater from ...
              57th Carnegie International, “International”
              Orit Gat
              I first came to the United States as an “international student.” At the risk of bothering the current administration, I stayed here. I remember every moment that I’ve learned something new about the culture and place I live in: class, labor, and racial relations, geography, history, the political system. I picked it up as I went along in an attempt to seem less foreign, never feeling the positive spin of the description “international” except on my university paperwork. At the Carnegie International, I learned about an American cultural phenomenon I haven’t been privy to: the children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a staple of American childhoods which aired from 1968 to 2001. There’s a local connection—Mister Rogers was from Pittsburgh—but I learned about it from Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil (2018), a house made of neon lights and populated with a three-hour loop of 57 videos in which Da Corte and friends play Rogers as well as other characters, from Bugs Bunny to Big Bird. It’s a colorful, light-hearted installation that encapsulates the exhibition’s attitude, what its curator Ingrid Schaffner calls “museum joy”—the satisfaction of seeing art, in public, and the contemporary work of interpretation, of creating connections and making ...
              Gary Indiana, “Janet Malcolm Gets It Wrong—Part I” (1986)
              Kim Levin
              For three years early in his career, Gary Indiana—“toxic downtown savant” and novelist—was an art critic for The Village Voice. Born in New Hampshire and schooled at UC Berkeley, Indiana has written, directed, and acted in off-off-Broadway plays produced in such places as the Mudd Club and in experimental films. The year after he left The Voice, he published the first of his novels, Horse Crazy (1989), based on those three critical years. William Borroughs compared him to Jean Genet and Tobi Haslett, who introduced the novel in its reissuing this year, called him “among the best living prose stylists in English.” Indiana’s weekly columns for The Village Voice have now been gathered by Bruce Hainley and will be published by Semiotext(e) this month. Vile Days: The Village Voice Art Columns 1985–1988 is a terrific read, especially if you happened to be there during that “stunningly deranged decade” (to quote Indiana quoting Carol Squiers) that saw the thrilling rise and tragic fall of the East Village art scene. During those years, I was also writing on art for The Village Voice but, intimidated by Gary’s unapproachable aura, I barely knew him. In those days, most of us wrote at home and ...
              Paris Roundup
              Lauren Mackler
              Stamina This is by no means comprehensive, so I’ll get my highlights out of the way. Rounding down, and starting with the experiential: I found the hunt for the various venues of Avant-Première compelling. This casually organized event was comprised of small Parisian galleries and emerging ventures opening their shows a few days before the fairs and driving traffic from post-Frieze London. Out-of-towners (this year, Los Angeles galleries) were embedded in unconventional spaces: up spiraling staircases and behind doorbell-laden portals. At the Beaux Arts, Nairy Baghramian’s exhibition of self-reflexive, materially seductive sculptures—in which shims and buffers, made of aluminum and cork, held up large unwieldy shapes—defied definitions of form; at Balice Hertling’s Marais space, Isabelle Cornaro’s detail-oriented objects and careful placement evoked stilled narratives; small captivating pictures by Lisetta Carmi hung quietly in Galerie Antoine Levi, capturing tender backstage scenes between sex-workers, trans lovers, and friends. A night, at the legendary club Les Bains Douches, where the smell of chlorine and the reflection of the indoor pool added to the intemperance of its crowd; a day prior, at a small hotel lounge, when our bartender told us that Oscar Wilde died just over there, a few feet away from our ...
              London Roundup
              Mariana Cánepa Luna
              Just as Frieze Art Fair opened last Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May gave her keynote speech—and dared to dance again—at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. She announced that freedom of movement would be terminated “once and for all” by limiting access to “highly skilled workers” (in short, migrants earning over 30,000 British pounds per year). Countless art professionals earn much less (including entry-level curatorial staff at Tate, and yours truly), as well as doubtless many of the myriad gallery and museum folks involved in the city-wide jamboree of Frieze week. How do we imagine London’s contemporary art ecology post-Brexit, a scene that has grown exponentially since Tate Modern’s opening in 2000 and the first Frieze Art Fair in 2003? The question of how the 2019 edition of the fair is going to be affected was the elephant in the tent. Most people I asked shrugged: negotiations are still ongoing, consequences are yet to be seen. “It’ll be fiiiiine,” a London museum director told me. “Maybe we’ll visit a smaller fair, like the first editions—remember those days?” opined a British gallerist friend working in New York. Although one could put this upbeat denial down to the cliché of dark British ...
              Chicago Roundup
              Orit Gat