ArtReview April 2023

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Making faces at art since 1949

Demons Decolonisation Dance-off Candice Lin Trajal Harrell Frans Krajcberg

Isabel Nolan

Katharina Grosse Touching How and Why and Where 7/F Pedder Building 12 Pedder Street Central, Hong Kong


ArtReview vol 75 no 3 April 2023

It’s complicated ArtReview is all for being popular. It has the popular touch. It can shake hands and kiss babies. Or kiss hands and shake babies. Whatever. ArtReview’s readers say ‘Jump!’, ArtReview replies enthusiastically ‘How high?’ And it doesn’t even do a risk assessment. Of course, popularity in art is a more complicated thing than showing how high you can jump. Which is why ArtReview’s mission has always been to make the unpopular popular, and at the same time question whether or not whatever art that is popular should be less popular. ArtReview knows that art isn’t always good just because lots of people like it, nor is it bad because only a few do, and it’s ArtReview’s job to show you, its reader, what might be worth paying attention to, even if everyone else in this ‘artworld’ tells you otherwise. As it happens, those different, diverging takes are what bump into each other all through this particular issue of ArtReview. Choreographer Trajal Harrell’s work, profiled by Evan Moffitt, has always been about who dance is for, and who writes its history, particularly when you’re starting out in a city like New York, home to the tradition of experimental dance shaped by the storied Judson Church Dance Theater. Harrell’s criss-crossing of the city’s ballroom vogue culture with the unexpected strictures of experimental dance, and then with other ‘outside’ dance cultures, speaks to how any ‘art scene’, however progressive, can quickly become exclusive and self-repeating, needing ‘outsiders’ to shake it up.

Dance / Off


Sarah Jilani asks who the objects being held in European museums are actually for: Western museums argue that they’re keeping items from other cultures for their own good which, as Jilani suggests, is just another way of saying they still think they’re better than everyone else. But as Oliver Basciano discovers, no artwork is safe when you have a mob running riot, as recently happened in Brazil following the defeat of its right-wing populist president Jair Bolsonaro. As Bolsonaro supporters trashed the Oscar Niemeyer-designed government buildings of Brasília, they damaged a sculpture by Brazilian modernist Frans Krajcberg, an artist whose journey, as Basciano discovers, went from fleeing Nazi Europe to fighting the deforestation of the Amazon jungle. Art museums – when they’re not tearing themselves up over whether to send their collections back to the places those objects came from – are also finding that, when it comes to famous artists, the art often refuses to stay in the museum anyway. In her column, Marv Recinto looks at the explosion in art merchandising, as she traces how Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street art-inspired canvases have made their way from the art gallery back into pop culture, ending up on everything from mobile phone cases to poop-proof rugs. And as Paris’s Musée Picasso relaunches, in a bid to be more appealing to younger audiences, J.J. Charlesworth argues that while museums stress out about making old art accessible, younger audiences are getting their art- and Insta-fixes by flocking to the new wave of ‘immersive’ digital art experiences. Immersed in demonic smells and coated in lard, Rachel M. Tang enters the intoxicated installations of Candice Lin to share some meaningful glances with cats, plague bacteria and sex demons. What she finds is a troubled and surprising web that connects us all, one that suggests that maybe all this isn’t just for our own pleasure, and art isn’t exclusively for humans. If we’re thinking about popularity, why not consider the most populous cohabitants of our planet? Maybe the bacteria have different ideas about who art is for. ArtReview

Man has no understanding





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Tyler Hobbs Hermann Nitsch Kenneth Noland Richard Tuttle Leo Villareal Louise Nevelson Matta Gideon Appah Kylie Manning Liu Jianhua Saul Steinberg

Zhang Xiaogang

Art Observed

The Interview Isabel Nolan by Martin Herbert 22 Delicate Spin by Marv Recinto 31

Public/Private by Deepa Bhasthi 32 Making Art Irrelevant by J.J. Charlesworth 34

page 34 Chéri Samba, Quand il n’y avait plus rien d’autre que... L’Afrique restait une pensée, 1997, acrylic on canvas, 81 × 103 cm. Photo: Florian Kleinefenn. Courtesy Galerie Magnin-A, Paris


Art Featured

Candice Lin by Rachel Tang 38

Maya Lin by Andrew Russeth 60

Trajal Harrell by Evan Moffitt 48

Universal Falsehoods by Sarah Jilani 66

Frans Krajcberg by Oliver Basciano 54

page 38 Candice Lin, Fever Dreams in Quarantine, 2020, underglazed ceramic, 14 × 23 × 19 cm. Photo: Paul Salveson. Courtesy the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles


Megan Rooney, Sunday Laundry (detail), 2023. Acrylic, oil, pastel and oil stick on canvas 199.6 x 152.3 cm. Courtesy © Megan Rooney. Photo: Eva Herzog.

Megan Rooney Flyer and the Seed Paris Marais April 2023

Art Reviewed

exhibitions & books 73 Peter Doig, by Tom Morton Georgia Sagri, by Despina Zefkili Tuâ`n Andrew Nguyê˜n, by Jesper Eklund John Kørner, by Martin Herbert Ian Cheng, by Thomas McMullan Swedish Ecstasy, by Padraic E. Moore Liz Magor, by Mitch Speed Nina Katchadourian, by Jenny Wu Kemang Wa Lehulere, by Matthew Blackman Wu Tsang, by Robert Barry Daniel Arsham, by Claudia Ross Aria Dean, by Alexandra Drexelius Ser Serpas, by Cassie Packard Sue Williamson, by Alexander Leissle Chakaia Booker & Carol Rama, by Rebecca O'Dwyer Braving Time, by Tai Mitsuji Balthus, by J.J. Charlesworth State-less, by Wenny Teo Bollywood Superstars, by Mark Rappolt Romantic Irony, by Andrew Russeth

Affinities, by Brian Dillon, reviewed by J.J. Charlesworth Hit Parade of Tears, by Izumi Suzuki, reviewed by Marv Recinto Your Love is Not Good Enough, by Johanna Hedva, reviewed by Chris Fite-Wassilak ok, by Michelle McSweeney, reviewed by Marv Recinto Owlish, by Dorothy Tse, reviewed by Elaine Chiew Space Crone, by Ursula K. Le Guin, reviewed by Kelsey Chen from the archives 110

page 98 Robert Zhao Renhui, Singapore 1925–2025 series, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Mizuma Gallery, Singapore


Art Observed

I didn’t come from anywhere 21

Isabel Nolan photographed in front of the Richard Rogers Drawing Gallery, Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade



The Interview by Martin Herbert

Isabel Nolan

“One of the things I’m aware of when I’m working is that I’m trying to love the world. That might sound terribly naff, but being alive is strange and hard, and there’s an awful lot of shit going on”

Isabel Nolan’s artistic practice is an expansive one in terms of media, scope of reference and intent. The Dublin-based artist’s formats include painting, drawing, figurative and geometrically patterned rugs, angular metal sculptures, photographs and writing. The cast of characters who populate her work includes metaphysical poets, fictional mobsters,

millennia-old totemic sculptures and our planet’s sun, which Nolan prefers to paint as near the end of its life. That luminary emphasis is appropriate for her constellating model of meaning-making, which combines antiauthoritarianism, a related interest in looking at Western culture in subjective ways to glean new readings from it and a deep ambivalence

April 2023

about humanity, its relationship to the rest of the natural world and our future on the planet, articulated through absurdism and melancholy and compensatory beauty and tenderness. Recently, Nolan took time out from installing her latest show – at Château La Coste, Aix-en-Provence – to discuss how her art’s many moving parts fit together.


Don’t Look Up artreview One thing that characterises your work, across its stylistic diversity, is an interest in what one might call ‘downwardness’ – from floor-based sculptures suggestive of chandeliers to paintings of lowering suns, photographs of feet, use of rugs as a medium and beyond. Can you say something about why? isabel nolan I guess it’s to do with noticing a preoccupation with verticality and the veneration of height and light in Western culture. In the history of art, in politics and in religion, power is represented and articulated through motifs that represent ascension or elevation as the ideal state for humanity. It’s in the story of Plato’s cave, of Hades and Olympus, of Hell and Heaven, the Great Chain of Being, even in scientific writing. I felt like every text I would go to, or everything I was looking at, it’s the same pattern always telling me I ought to be impressed by height. Likewise everything that is ‘good’, be it divinity, power or reason, is generally correlated with light. These binaries of light / height are good, and darkness / lowness are bad, seem pervasive. It’s so familiar, it’s easy to forget how strange it is that these metaphors are powerful. They shape the way we understand reality, so introducing contradictory

or oppositional impulses is a way of unpicking these tropes, visually disrupting something generic and positing the lowly, the imperfect and the indistinct as beautiful. It’s different to valorising abjection but probably shares some of the same desire to disrupt, to make space for other ways in the world. ar You seem to practise looking askew. When you photographed the deathbed statue of John Donne in St Paul’s Cathedral [For ever and ever, and infinite and super infinite for evers, 2015], for example, you zoomed in on his knees, and later wrote about their ‘ordinary fallibility… yielding a little to gravity’s sickly pull’. in In part it’s just a response to what I’m drawn to. That statue in some ways looks unremarkable, holy and reverential, but the knees really attracted my attention. They’re a bit bent, quite knobbly, and I thought about them for years after I first saw them. I love cathedrals, though I find their raison d’être very problematic, so finding something like the statue is perhaps a way of mediating or even mitigating my own interest in this stuff. A way of being interested in St Paul’s that’s more complex than simply saying it’s beautiful. I’m not a historian, not a researcher in any kind of systematic way. It’s much more intuitive

For ever and ever, and infinite and super infinite for evers, 2015, archival pigment print, 85 × 122 × 4 cm (framed). Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin



and irresponsible, and hopefully the work communicates that my attraction to this stuff isn’t necessarily predicated on the story it’s supposedly telling us. That other ways of looking at this material and engaging with the culture are interesting and nuanced and suit my own sense of how confused things are, that beauty is complicated. It’s also to do with putting the body back into these histories – or maybe materiality. That statue is very sensual, his lips are so inviting and the folds of fabric between his knees look labial. There’s also an antipathy to dirt and decrepitude, the fact that bodies age and can let us down. It’s often occluded in so-called high culture and made into something disagreeable and shameful. ar You’ve focused, relatedly, on feet numerous times, as in the various photographs of tomb statues’ feet, animals’ paws, thorn-puller statues and pedestrians’ shoes in Curling Up With Reality [2012–17]. in There seems to be an idea that the foot is a rather unpleasant part of the body. I suspect that prejudice is just to do with it being our point of contact with the surface of the world. Take the tradition of foot-washing in the Christian church – it was practical and welcoming, you’ve been walking for days in sandals or travelling on a donkey and your host offers to wash your feet –

Tony Soprano at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2017, water-based oil paint on canvas, 70 × 50 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

April 2023


Löwenmensch – spanning earth and sky for forty thousand years, 2018, hand-tufted 100 percent New Zealand wool, 15mm pile, 320 × 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin



but it’s also a symbolic gesture, tending their tired, dirty feet is a way of humbling yourself before a guest. Or you know, in ballet, dancing en pointe, it’s escaping gravity – decreasing your contact with the ground is exalted. Metaphorically there’s a powerful connection between the material world, earth, death, horizontality and decay – that’s the realm of feet. In Western painting and statuary I think you don’t see the soles of people’s feet unless someone’s dead. Also architecture rarely invites you to look downward at itself. Surveying from a vantage is different. I thought about it a lot when I spent time in Vienna, it’s such a grand city and people there seem very proud of that, but often the pavements are a mess, which just tickled me. So when I did a show there I made a work that required people to look down. Dogs’ paws I just love. If they’ve been out for a run on grass or sand, their paws smell amazing.

Historical Crushes ar The aforementioned Donne might be considered one of an alternative pantheon, a clutch of figures who’ve shown up in your art, including Paul Thek, Simone Weil, Giordano Bruno and the fictional mobster Tony Soprano, who you painted standing in Vienna’s main art museum, not looking up at its dome. What attracts you to these figures, what connects them? in In some ways they tend to be outsiders, but outsiders shaped by institutions that cannot encompass them or their beliefs, their desire to make a different world. So there is attraction and alienation in the relationship they have to the systems they’re invested in. Their convictions are often strange to me, their commitment is extreme and they went about trying to implement their ideas in very public ways. Mostly they’re driven by a desire to make a better world – but they’re bloody-minded, they annoy people and so often they’re thwarted, yet they live, or lived, with a conviction that’s utterly compelling. Their desire or their beliefs and their world don’t correspond, and that dissonance has a lot of pathos. It’s quite beautiful, the striving in spite of… I think being both recalcitrant and thwarted is important to creativity. Tony Soprano is a bit of an exception. He was the villain in my pantheon, I put him in the Kunsthistorisches museum because he despises art. He’s a psychopath, an arsehole, but incredibly charismatic. From the first episode of the show he’s trying to angrily reorganise the world, his drive and conviction are compelling, but he’s thwarted too, by his anxiety, by his perverse desire for an American dream that’s passed. ar How do you choose, or come to, these people?

in There’s no methodology, I’m drawn to certain subjects and time periods, and to people with belief, scientists too, but it’s largely happenstance. Somebody mentions someone, I read something, and then there’s a lot of invention and projection in the way that I work with the past. Sometimes I read a lot about them or their work but I’m not thorough. It’s often like having a crush, getting excited and preoccupied by a person, imagining all sorts of sympathies with them. They become a way for me to tell a story, or to make something that speaks to the contingency of history. ar The people you focus on tend to be independent thinkers, often falling outside monolithic systems of thought, questioning consensus reality. Looping back to antiauthoritarianism, do you have a sense of where your own comes from? in Hmm. I’ve read a lot since I was very small, and back then I think if you grew up reading, and reading a lot of fiction, you learnt early on that there’s a lot of ways of looking at the world. Growing up in Ireland, the conflict in the north was perpetually in the news. So you learnt about Irish history and colonialism very early on. There was no divorce, no birth control, no abortion, homosexuality was still to be decriminalised. Something like 97 percent of children in the country went to schools run by Catholic religious orders. The church was venerated, though I was fortunate not to have particularly religious parents. Then the cracks appeared, important and devastating stories came out about the church. My mam provided a feminist perspective on things. As a kid she couldn’t get the schooling she wanted, married young, was compelled in so doing to give up her job, had four children and realised that this wasn’t the best deal. She was probably teaching us to read before we could walk. Education was everything at home – she got herself to university in her fifties, eventually getting a PhD. I think it’s that simple. I was implicitly socialised into being sceptical, into knowing that there’s always an agenda with power, another way of seeing.

Remaking the World ar In that respect – looking at historical materials, perhaps rewriting their narratives or bringing out latent aspects – I’m thinking about your recent works involving and invoking an ancient sculpture carved from a mammoth tusk called the Löwenmensch, another example of ‘upwardness’. in It’s a beautiful object, the earliest sculpture that we have from the Paleolithic period, it’s dated to 38000 bce. It’s a hybrid creature, a human torso and legs, and a lion’s forelimbs

April 2023

and head. I’m fascinated by the decision to combine the uprightness of a human and the ferocity, the mentality of a lion. It interests me to think that this is a moment when humans began to remake the world for themselves, and not out of necessity perhaps, but for more abstract or imaginative reasons. A thing that doesn’t exist, someone carves a tusk and now the world is different. That impulse to reformulate the world by physically changing material is fundamental to us as a species. ar You’ve suggested in the past that it relates to mankind separating itself from nature, which could be read as having profound reverberations down to the present. in Looking at it today, it looks like an object that embodies a nature-culture debate, but we have no idea why it was made or what beliefs the maker(s) had. I’ve written about it as possibly predating that Western sense of human exceptionalism, of our special separation from the rest of nature. It seems to join the earth and the sky, the human and the animal. The title of one of my lion-human rugs is Löwenmensch – spanning earth and sky for forty thousand years (2018). But in our preoccupation with mediating the world, many arbitrary distinctions were drawn, and perhaps they were drawn a long time ago. ar You’ve been painting saints recently, and St Jerome and St Paula appear in your current exhibition at Château La Coste. What’s your interest in such figures, beyond their relationship to lions (and lion’s paws)? in My interest in them is more generic than with the aforementioned people. We have the historical evidence and the bonkers elements of their hagiographies, fabulous details like St Columcille prophesising correctly that an inkwell would tip over in the afternoon, or saying that he could see behind himself. Their stories involve making sacrifices, overcoming adversity, successes, falls and ascensions, etc. They follow and feed exactly the same metaphoric veneration of light, height and of course, though I didn’t flag it earlier, masculinity. As figures they also bridge interior and exterior worlds in a way I find fascinating – it’s the thinkers I like. And it may seem archaic but Jerome’s, and the largely forgotten Paula’s, translation of the Bible influenced Western culture profoundly. St Columcille changed the course of British history with the founding of his monastery on Iona. As well as the saints, the show at Château La Coste has a lot of imagery of waves and fish, of microscopic phenomena, passagegrave motifs, figures from Greek myths and dissolving suns, a lot of suns. It relates to something that we haven’t talked about, a preoccupation with the movement not just


Desert Mother (Saint Paula) and Lion, 2022, water-based oil on canvas, 70 × 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin



from high to low, past to future, but also from intimacy to vastness – I need pinpoints that allow me to look at long timespans. The paintings and rug are all to my mind set in different eras, the imagery is disintegrating, a lot of dripping paint. I want them to thrum. Space, sky, sea, sun and earth bleed into each other. Then there’s just one sculpture, it’s trying to take up as little space as possible, but still shape the world around itself.

Catastrophising, Drifting ar A long-term preoccupation for you has been extinction, whether in numerous paintings that seem to depict the collapse of the sun at some future point [eg Some time later the sun died, 2014], or even in that sense of a gravitational pull downward in so much of your work. For someone who’s resistant to didacticism, do you think your art engages with ecological issues? in Like a lot of other people, I find what’s happening quite fucking terrifying, and it’s hard not to think about that. But there’s a fantastic cognitive dissonance where, unless you’re an exceptional person, you don’t really change huge amounts of your behaviour, you

travel less, eat less meat and make shows that allude to rising sea levels, future extinctions and the end of the sun. It’s in the work because it’s in my head. And I’ve always had a catastrophic mind, always thinking that the worst is going to happen at any moment. But the work always escapes my expressed negativity – and I find the scope of the universe, the scale of geological time comforting. It puts everything into perspective. I think that shapes the work, the shows; plus there is a pleasure in making, in resisting that negativity by deciding to keep on keeping on. ar Because your work does have those consoling qualities – thinking also of your warm colour harmonies – or is structured on antinomies, as when you shift mediums regularly within a single show, it seems that whatever is there, its opposite can also be found. This could again be related to a resistance to a single way of thinking, or telling the viewer what to do. It feels like, in an exhibition of yours, there’s an open-ended conundrum presented, in which some sort of relationship is being posited between many disparate things, but it’s yours to drift through. in Yes, there are tensions that animate the exhibitions, contradictions testing those binaries I talked about. Maybe it’s partly an attempt at characterising my own experience, which I could

frame negatively as an inability to believe in metanarratives, to be single-minded. I love the word drift, it mimics my way of researching, with the smallest possible ‘r’ that you can put on that. It’s not systematic, more apophenic or something. This thing reminds me of that, connects back to that, and so on… if there’s a worldview, it’s maybe that things are connected. I was writing something very short about Paul Thek recently, it was about dissolving boundaries. And in a way, for me, that’s the work of love. That’s a word I haven’t used yet, but one of the things I’m aware of when I’m working is that I’m trying to love the world. That might sound terribly naff, but being alive is strange and hard, and there’s an awful lot of shit going on. At certain moments when I feel very connected to the world, looking at one of those rare artworks that stop you in your tracks, reading something utterly compelling or whatever, that feels like love. When disparate things start to join up, to make a new kind of peculiar sense, it feels great. There’s something interesting here and some of it we invented it for ourselves, as a way of making being here better, of marking that – sometimes it works. Isabel Nolan’s exhibition 499 Seconds is on view at Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, through 4 June

Some time later the sun died, 2014, watercolour and waterbased oil on canvas, 50 × 61 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

April 2023


Recently I was perusing the Ruggable website. They sell washable rugs that come in handy when you’ve got a naughty pup. Browsing happily through a series of browns and taupes, a sea of jute, the Persian section, the Scandinavian section, the Disney section and the Delphina Delft Blue rug (which looks like a piece of traditional pottery in carpet form), I suddenly recognised some familiar scrawls. My scrolling froze. ‘Is that…?’ I wondered as my cursor hovered over the company’s newest and most gaudy offering. ‘The colours… are reminiscent of a map’, the Ruggable text explains, ‘with a slate blue ocean framing a colourful landmass. Dynamic characters and birds in darker, grounding colours bring an additional element to this striking design. Made from our water-resistant, stain-resistant, and machine-washable low-pile Classic material.’ It was blue with some patches of white and green, and with stick-figure birds that had the look of having been designed by a prison tattooist in something of a rush to render a patriotic collection of bald eagles. This was not, however, the work of an overworked inmate; rather, it was the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Or more precisely, the late artist’s estate. The abovementioned is Ruggable’s ‘JeanMichel Basquiat City Of Angels Blue Multicolour Rug’, a cropping of Untitled (l.a. Painting)’s upper-right corner (1982) that features some of Basquiat’s hit imagery – angels, arrows and blobs of colour. It’s one of 19 options that are either ‘inspired’ by Basquiat, as the website claims, or are direct rug-editions of Basquiat’s paintings. Works like Untitled (Head) (1982), Pegasus (1987), Palm Springs Jump (1982) and Apologia (1981) are literally printed onto these rugs. But others operate in a manner unlike an artwork. You can select a colour scheme to suit your fancy. (Although perhaps you can do that at an art fair, where it’s called a ‘commission’.) You can also choose Basquiat rugs that have multiplied and arranged a square painting into a chequerboard pattern, or that have been picked apart so that choice emblems are enlarged and made into signature graphics for a washable doormat. This ruggery is among the more recent of the seemingly infinite merchandising collaborations that Basquiat has entered into posthumously. The artist died in 1988 at the age of twentyseven; the estate is currently run by his sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux. They are not the architects of these pervasive commercial campaigns, however. No, they passed along all exclusive licensing responsibilities to the consultancy and licensing agency Artestar. While agencies like Artists Rights Society in the us or dacs in the uk will handle licensing agreements (for print, tv and occasional merchandising),

Delicate Spin

What would Jean-Michel Basquiat have thought of the line of easy-care rugs produced in his name, wonders Marv Recinto

Lifestyle view of Jean-Michel Basquiat City of Angels Blue Multicolour Rug. Courtesy Ruggable

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Artestar seems to have taken this to an entirely new level. Everywhere you look, it’s like Basquiat follows! A Tiffany & Co campaign with Beyoncé and Jay-Z; on the backs of Casetify phone cases people have set on the table while having a pint; maybe someone’s even walking around wearing eyeshadow from the Urban Decay collaboration back in 2017 (hope not, that’s expired by now). In 2021 Artestar founder and president David Stark told Jing Culture & Crypto – a ‘b2b platform covering how Web3 technologies are changing the art and culture landscape’ according to its website – ‘We’re still far from being overexposed like a commercial brand’. While I might disagree – citing the over 25 official collaborations I can count, including Comme des Garçons, Off-White, Funko Pop, nba, Fortnite and Bombay Sapphire Gin – it doesn’t seem like Artestar is stopping anytime soon; in fact, it seems like the company is constantly on the hunt for potential collaborators who, Stark says in the same interview, can tell ‘their story authentically’. The lack of cohesion among existing partnerships tells me, however, that the story is, ‘Let’s make lots of money!’ Which isn’t necessarily a problem. Basquiat embraced celebrity, and the commercial artworld following his inclusion in the 1980 exhibition The Times Square Show, joining first Annina Nosei Gallery then Bruno Bischofberger. Let’s also not forget that his close mentor, collaborator a nd friend was the fame and capitalism-obsessed Andy Warhol. As for licensing today, I look to Keith Haring – Basquiat’s contemporary and fellow Artestar representee – who is perhaps even more ubiquitous than Basquiat in terms of merchandising and was actually Ruggabled before Basquiat. The Keith Haring Foundation deliberately seeks to make as much money as possible to fund its philanthropic efforts, which include supporting underprivileged youth and hiv/aids organisations ‘in accordance with Keith Haring’s wishes’, as is stated on the website. In the case of Basquiat, his intentions for his estate (which notably remains an estate and not a foundation) are not known publicly. Some have wondered whether these commercial campaigns are what he would have wanted: Thom Waite speculated that Basquiat might be disillusioned but also entranced by this omnipresence. He further points out that Olivia Laing wrote, in Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency (2020), ‘You could scorn the commercialisation, but isn’t it what he wanted, to colour every surface with his runes?’ Personally, I can’t pretend to know what Basquiat would have wanted, but I’m certain he never anticipated his works would end up on a washable rug. Had he been around to see the day, however, he might have done what Warhol did to his Jean-Michel Basquiat (1982) oxidation portrait and what my dog will inevitably do whenever my not-Basquiat Ruggable finally arrives: piss on it.


The Museum of Art & Photography (map) opened to the public in Karnataka’s capital, Bengaluru, in February with several exhibitions – a survey of the photographs of the artist Jyoti Bhatt, a fascinating solo show by the contemporary artist L.N. Tallur, an installation by the British sculptor Stephen Cox, several new commissions and Visible/Invisible: Representation of Women in Art through the MAP Collection, curated by Kamini Sawhney, also the director of map. Joining the handful of private museums in India, map is a welcome addition to the city’s cultural landscape, especially given its location, next to Bengaluru’s government museums, parks and other tourist sights. It catalogues a collection of over 60,000 works, ranging from Mughal, Rajput and Pahari paintings, to Chola bronzes and textiles from across India, calendar art, Bollywood memorabilia, as well as works from modern and contemporary artists such as Arpita Singh, Baua Devi, Nalini Malani, Rekha Rodwittiya, M.F. Husain, Bhupen Khakhar, Jivya Soma Mashe and others. Many of these, and a large part of the photography collection – the most extensive of the museum’s holdings – were donated by the Poddar family. Founded by Abhishek Poddar, himself a collector, the museum’s collection includes some of the medium’s best-known names, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raghu Rai, Jyoti Bhatt, Dayanita Singh and Gauri Gill. Visible/Invisible derives from the museum’s permanent collection, seeking to give an overall taste of the kind of works it chooses to hold. The premise to the show is an old, much used trope in India, that of the dichotomy between women’s presence as artists and in art, and their near invisibility in public spaces. The show is divided into four sections: Goddess and Mortal, Sexuality and Desire, Power and Violence, and Struggle and Resistance. With over 130 works, it includes works by K.G. Subramanyan, Chitra Ganesh, Pushpamala N, Somnath Hore, Raja Ravi Varma, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Mrinalini Mukherjee. Alongside are film posters, old advertisements, lithographs, studio portraits, embroidered objects and textiles. The show attempts to give the viewer not only a very wide range of art and artforms to look at, and at times to feel (one of several measures the museum has taken to be inclusive, apart from digital initiatives, is to commission tactile versions of artworks, including those by Gurjeet Singh and Akshata


Female Gaze

What does it mean to be a woman in India? Deepa Bhasthi visits an exhibition at Bengaluru’s new Museum of Art & Photography that posits some answers

Anoli Perera, I Let My Hair Loose: Protest Series i, 2010–11, archival pigment print. Courtesy map Museum of Art and Photography, Bengaluru


Mokashi, for this show), but also tries to peel apart the many layers of women’s existence in India. The catalogue essay by Sawhney focuses on the prevalence of women as subjects or makers in art, especially the many roles imposed on them by men as artists, and as consumers of culture. The female figure is a goddess with extraordinary powers on the one hand, yet in homes ‘women have had to struggle for the right to be mortal, complete with the frailties and temptations that every human must necessarily embody or encounter’. In the case of divinity attached to motherhood, for instance in the Jamini Roy painting portraying Krishna with his mother, Yashoda, one wonders where the girl children are. There is Mother India, seen through the poster advertising the cult film of the same name: the idealised woman made use of by the nationalist movement in the early twentieth century, and in later decades applied to women politicians including Indira Gandhi and J. Jayalalithaa, featured here in photographs by Raghu Rai and Jyoti Bhatt, respectively. Over the course of the exhibition, the role of women shifts, from a measure of a man’s honour, courage and strength, to other expressions, independent in thought, sometimes in action too, shaping a language that reflects a desire to step away from male-appointed ideas. These find place in art as textiles, in contemporary installations, in paintings and as text, and mirror aspects of Indian women’s journeys through the ages. Confronting the male gaze in the film posters, lobby cards and Bollywood memorabilia, while the photoworks of Chitra Ganesh, Anoli Perera, Gauri Gill subvert it by choosing what and how to portray the female self; the agency to be seen as sensual, demure, even invisible, as in Fazal Sheikh’s Moksha series (2005); the right to protest, or just the right to be herself, as depicted in Champa Sharath’s Woman with Blue Pants (2004); the pressures of living alongside the social construct of gender; or the acknowledgement of intense, inescapable violence of Arpita Singh’s Shadow of a Chair (1986): familiar themes of a woman’s life run through the show. It is not comprehensive, but then nothing about women’s lives, so rich in nuance and complexities on any given day, can be. Visible/Invisible goes a good distance, however, in sensitively trying to understand parts of subcontinental women’s experiences.

Do people want to look at old paintings anymore? The Musée National Picasso-Paris announced the rehang of its famous collection this month, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, with a new exhibition design conceived by British fashion designer Paul Smith. Smith has staged Picasso’s paintings (and drawings and ceramics) in rooms redecorated with vivid patterns, dramatic lighting and walls collaged with historical posters for Picasso’s gallery shows and fashion covers from Vogue. ‘Hopefully,’ Smith muses in the accompanying catalogue interview, ‘we’ve managed to put together more of a visual experience, in a way that is interesting for younger audiences… that are not very knowledgeable about the work of this great master.’ You might wonder how looking at paintings by this legendary twentieth-century modernist might not be much of ‘a visual experience’, but then Smith’s point is really about the worry that ‘younger audiences’ aren’t’ very interested in all this old modernist stuff. What, after all, is ‘relevant’ to twenty-first century gallery-goers? But Smith’s intervention is only half the story. Alongside Picasso’s works and Smith’s zingy designs are installed recent works by artists Mickalene Thomas, Chéri Samba, Obi Okigbo and Guillermo Kuitca, works that view Picasso’s works through the lens of cultural debates that, the museum’s curators imagine, are much more relevant to contemporary audiences. Samba’s and Okigbo’s works point to how Western modernist artists (Picasso perhaps most enthusiastically of all) quoted, borrowed and appropriated from African art during the century in which European powers built vast collections of looted and expropriated works. Meanwhile, Thomas’s Resist #8 (Pitcher and Skeleton) (2022), combines images of African-American women from civil-rights era protests, surrounding an ironic cubist-like rendition of a woman taking the pose of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Grande Odalisque (1814), a low-point of Western art’s Orientalist obsession with the exotic non-Western world. Questions of women’s objectification, of the ‘male gaze’ and of black women’s further marginalisation in the history of Western, male, white modern art collide here. ‘We wanted to open up the museum, reach a wider audience and bring in all those debates: on women, post-colonial issues and politics… We wanted to make Picasso relevant,’ the Musée Picasso’s president Cécile Debray explained to The Guardian. These are indeed current debates,


Making Art Irrelevant

As the Musée National Picasso-Paris redesigns its display of Picasso’s work, J.J. Charlesworth asks if the search for relevance obscures the art itself

which indict large swaths of the Western modernist canon, Picasso included. After all, it’s easy to see that Picasso ‘appropriated’ African art, starting with his pivotal canvas Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Nor was Picasso atypical of the sexism that coursed through modernist art: idealising the female body was the flipside of Picasso’s lifelong womanising, philandering and emotional cruelty to his partners, the painter once infamously declaring that ‘for me there are two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats’. In the post-#Metoo, post-Black Lives Matter era, museums of modernist art contend with the hostility or indifference of audiences tuned to feminist and postcolonial critiques of Modernism. These radical revisions of how we look at this art emerged around the same Picasso Celebration (installation detail), Musée Picasso Paris, 2023. Courtesy Musée nationale Picasso-Paris, Voyez-Vous (Vinciane Lebrun) and Sucession Picasso


time Picasso himself finally became history: then, they were critical in dismantling Modernism’s unscrutinised assumptions about (male) genius and creativity, and of Western art’s supremacy over that of other cultures. Now they’ve become standard in academe and in commonplace in wider cultural discussions. But the trouble with ‘relevance’ is that while these critiques are important ways of thinking about how art is made, they can only tell us so much about what artworks do in their own right. Picasso may have been a male-chauvinist shitbag, but his paintings are not the sum of their appropriations, nor the unmediated expression of his vices. Yet such preoccupations now dominate how curators think about how to interpret an increasing swathe of historical art, making art ‘relevant’ to today’s audiences by making simplistic connections with contemporary talking points. It’s perhaps why so much art-historical curating now feels like the wilful overwriting of today’s political preoccupations onto the past. The irony of making past art ‘relevant’ to millennial audiences, assumed to be too distracted or self-obsessed to care, is that it can only guarantee that art’s irrelevance, since it can never live up to the demands made of it in the present. Rather than try to explore what might still be valuable about historical artworks, museums become places to catalogue their inadequacies; at which point one might ask why it wouldn’t be simpler to close museums altogether. But millennial audiences are perhaps not so indifferent to what was valuable about old Modernist painters: while the Musée Picasso frets over whether Picasso can still be seen without being freighted with feminist and postcolonial critique, audiences (some of them young people!) flock to the new generation of ‘immersive’ exhibitions – of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and Frida Kahlo, among others – animated video-projection spectacles that bring the work of those stars of the modernist canon into the age of the selfie. Art critics may sniff at this ‘tawdry genre’ (as one British critic put it), but maybe they reveal a public’s enduring enthusiasm for the visual originality of much of the modernist canon. While Smith designs what amounts to an Immersive’ surrounding to counteract the anxieties of curators who don’t seem to know what there is to like about Picasso anymore, Imagine Picasso – The Immersive Exhibition will open in May in São Paulo.


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(Above) Lai Chiu-han Linda, still from 10957 Moons & 30 Elliptical Years (2022). Video Essay. Courtesy of the artist. Para Site 22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Bldg., 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong 香港鰂魚涌英皇道677 號榮華工業大廈22樓 Facebook/Instagram: WeChat: parasitehongkong

Art Featured

Before you started messing around with your computer 37



Candice Lin’s Infected Mythologies by Rachel M. Tang

April 2023


above Witness (Blue Version) (detail), 2019, ceramic, fabric, metal, papier-mâché synthetic hair, plant material, dimensions variable. Photo: Sam Hartnet preceding pages Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping (installation view, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota), 2021. Photo: Awa Mally



During the Black Plague there were Dutch pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela who were in the habit of wearing pewter badges featuring anthropomorphic vulvas and penises, often depicted riding horses and bearing sceptres. They believed that such charms would ward off disease and disaster. Now, these apotropaic genitals serve as inspiration for American artist Candice Lin’s recent phallic and vulvic installation for the Arnaldo Pomodoro Sculpture Prize at gam – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, in Milan. That work combines painted faux-marble columns, textile chinoiserie, chastity belts and glory holes in an elaborate, ritualistic unveiling of Lin’s own reimagined plague talismans. The exhibition is a consummation of Lin’s approach, a commitment to studying material histories married to her sense of humour, which is essential to her practice. Contrary to the classical ideal of the image liberated by the master sculptor from the marble block, Lin reveals the stories embedded in the material itself. “The work is at its best when I let the materials lead,” she tells me. Here in Lin’s hands, metal, silk and scagliola become more than medium; they become illuminated histories of their use, their origins and their movements across time and cultures. Lin’s future relics – her work consists of sculpture, drawing and video, objects ranging from her own indigo-bound pandemic diary of isolation and observation, to a medieval trebuchet flinging lard laced with bone char, to a screen riddled with pestilent chatbot popup messages – bear temporal signifiers that are scrambled and remixed, suggesting that history and its actors are neither linear nor stable. For example, her near-prophetic 2020 exhibition Pigs and Poison, which toured to venues in New Zealand, China and the uk, was conceived of before the covid-19 pandemic, and her 2021 exhibition Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, was developed during its early peak. Both exhibitions wield hybrid

human/animal images and corporeal sensations to untangle racialised notions of virality and disease. While not a direct response to current events, Lin’s work calls attention to a troubling history of racist conflations of Asian bodies and infection, which seems to continue to draw ever closer. Lin’s work evidences a deep fascination with how the historical can bleed into the contemporary moment, coalescing into a single, cyclical historical timeline in which the events of history recur and fold in on themselves. Lin has since drawn out even more connections through her extensive research practice, mapping an expansive ecology of colonialism, and in doing so also proved her prowess as an alchemist and historian of materials. Like the process of fermentation itself, Lin feeds the seeds of her initial fascinations with raw material until it blooms into a potent visual metaphor for colonialism’s web of commodities and the violence of those productions. The tendrils of this colonial web knot and coil together, for example, in the indigo feline tent in Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping, which began with Lin’s research on indigo as medicine, indigo poisonings on British colonial plantations in India and changes in traditional Nigerian indigo adire eleko cloth during British colonial occupation. These intertwined histories materialised as Lin herself carried out the traditional process of fermenting indigo, pressing, stirring and feeding it, placing her own body within that ecology. Human and vegetal encounters that take place between poison and remedy reemerge in her recent Venice Biennale installation, Xternesta (2022), in which demonic ceramic totems studded with niches interring various potions and serums act as a botanical library and diy medicine cabinet. ‘Tincture drawings’, in which the artist makes drawings under the influence of her own dizzying concoctions of sugarcane, tobacco and indigo, act as companion records to the demonic archive,

Xternesta (detail), 2022. Venice Biennale, Italy. Photo: Dario Lasagni

April 2023


offering a kind of surrealist, automatic document of the porosity of speculations, fantastic characters and plots often teeter at the edge of the mind. However, the vegetal matter in the drawings themselves acts fiction, emphasising moments of history’s absurdity and the instaagainst and resists the memory of the archive, as the ink made by Lin, bility of identity. For example, a figure who appears in her work is the of oak gall and rusty iron-water, burns through the paper and often eighteenth-century European George Psalmanazar, who claimed to leaves ghost images. Lin’s work centres this instability and the haunt- be a native of Formosa (present-day Taiwan) and performed his idea edness of the archive, describing her work, when we talk, as a visioning of ‘Asianness’ by smoking opium and speaking a language of his own of “the cloudy shape of the archive, temporarily felt”. invention. The form of Lin’s demon guardians featured in Xternesta Accompanying the drawings, recipes for alternative medicines – come from sketches of a devil idol made by Psalmanazar in his fabrisuch as abortifacients and ‘clairvoyant testosterone’ – are contained cated ethnographic work; the title of the installation comes from the in a handpainted glass book inscribed with the title ‘minoritarian name he gave to Formosa’s make-believe capital city. medicine’. A reference to the capacity Never utopic, Lin’s speculative Lin feeds the seeds of her initial storytelling is bolstered by her knack of plants to produce both remedies and for worldbuilding through uncanny poisons, Lin draws our attention to how fascinations with raw material such preparations were used by the objects and multisensorial environuntil it blooms into a potent visual resistance in the Haitian Revolution, ments. The sheer number of techniques metaphor for colonialism’s web as well as in uprisings of indentured she uses – weaving, ceramics, dyeing, Chinese labourers in the Caribbean. painting, animation, alongside natural of commodities and the violence Indeed, through these human and processes like fermentation, sporing, of those productions nonhuman material connections as pissing – constructs an immersive sketched by Lin, surface historical solidarities between people too. space. Lin’s previous engagement with Saint Malo’s history, Swamp For example, on the handpainted glass tabletop adjacent to the book, Fat (2021), included in Prospect 5 in New Orleans in 2021–22, uses ceramic amphibians have been forged from clay from the swamps of a process called enfleurage to infuse lard with a blend of ‘demonic’ Saint Malo, Louisiana, a historically multiracial Filipino, Indigenous corporeal smells, like shrimp and decaying flesh. Visitors were invited and Maroon community and the first Asian settlement in the United to take this scent with them by rubbing the lard on their skin, a pseuStates. But as the swamplands of Saint Malo literally recede, the doscientific practice of the Middle Ages meant to ward off disease, and mineral record of this community slips away, a fact that is calcified an implicating, sensual act beyond mere observation. Other bodily within the frog vessels that are pried open for dissection on the glass affective states are productive too, in addition to nausea or grief, as the viewers in Lin’s world are also offered moments of respite and tableau before us. As Lin has further turned to crafting mythologies to expand the intimacy. In Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping, the central indigo shelter worlds of her objects, her bigger story about colonial realities and comprised of delicate wearables, painted rugs and ceramic cat pillows

Xternesta (detail), 2022. Venice Biennale, Italy. Photo: Dario Lasagni



Sorting the Rats, 2020, oil paint and lard on wood panel, 46 x 61 cm. Photo: Sam Hartnet

April 2023


Swamp Fat, 2021, scagliola, ceramic, clay, earth, mortar, and lard infused with custom scent, dimensions variable (installation view of Thick as Mud, 2023, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle). Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit


Swamp Fat (detail), 2021, scagliola, ceramic, clay, earth, mortar, and lard infused with custom scent, dimensions variable. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit


Bedroom Licks, 2020, oil pastel, oil and encaustic on linen, 36 × 46 cm. Photo: Paul Salveson



offer us a space to metabolise the vast geographic matrix of colonial vessels (microporous containers often used for fermentations), a tv screen is inlaid into a glazed ceramic frame: in the video a hybrid catencounters in which we find ourselves imbricated. At a moment where the artworld is hyper-interested in ecological pig-human demon awakes from a slumber with a feverish desire to exhibitions of fungi and bacteria, there is a risk that we might simply, have sex. Though the demon doesn’t understand the nature of this as Lin puts it, “get lost in the visual enjoyment of unstable materials”. yearning, the feeling leads our demon friend on a kind of perverse Lin’s 2020 show of small paintings, Roger and Friends, at Friends Indeed, hero’s journey to find their lover through time, memory, menstrual in San Francisco, evidences that even when the artist steps back, if blood and shit. In the story’s final act, faced with its own oblivion by for a moment, from her role as storyteller to focus and reflect on the exorcism, and while under the influence of lithium, the sex demon conditions of her own inner world, she is still actively theorising an catches a glimpse of his lover, who, finally, recognises him back. ecological encounter with ‘the other’. Cats, which appear often in Lin’s This story of bodily desire in the spiritual world is a culmination of Lin’s earthly research. I learned work, embody a compelling sense of In Lin’s paintings is an awareness from Lin that the lithium-addled whimsy, familiarity and curiosity to sex demon represents a personificawhich we might affix our ideas about that to love the nonhuman other relationships between humans and tion of a phenomenon documented is to revel in our mutual opacities, nonhumans. Lin’s portraits of her cat by anthropologist Aihwa Ong in and to delight in the glimpses Roger suggest that Donna Haraway’s Asian women working with multinanow-almost canonical The Companion tional electronics factories who would we get of one another, no matter how become seized by demonic possession Species Manifesto (2003) might be differbrief, without demanding more on the factory floor. For Lin, who first ently read if it were centred around our interspecies bond with cats rather than dogs. In Bedroom Licks (2020), learned about these histories from the artists Ann Haeyoung and Roger seems to recoil from an overaffectionate human tongue, while Miljohn Ruperto (who have also made work on the subject), these in At the Death Bed (2020), Roger is seen lovingly observing people in a mythological objects, queer epics of desire encased in sensorial envimoment of profound loss. In Lin’s paintings is an awareness that to ronments, were sparked by an initial curiosity in the studio about love the nonhuman other is to revel in our mutual opacities, and to lithium ceramic glazes, leading her on her own fantastical journey. delight in the glimpses we get of one another, no matter how brief, To meander through these worlds with Lin is to leave with a better without demanding more. understanding of the threads connecting us to each other. “I make art In Lin’s most recent work, Lithium Sex Demons in the Factory (2023), to learn,” she tells me. Though she makes a good teacher, too. ar made for the Gwangju Biennale, visual and narrative phantasmagoria emphasises rather than obscures real-life social, material and Candice Lin’s Arnaldo Pomodoro Sculpture Prize exhibition is on view at gam – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan, 14 April – 18 June environmental histories. Flanked by workstations and ceramic onggi

Lithium Sex Demons in the Factory (still), 2023, digital video. all images Courtesy the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles

April 2023


Trajal Harrell Who gets to own the history of dance? In borrowing, mixing and adapting postmodern dance traditions, runway modelling, voguing, butoh and fairground ‘hoochie-coochie’ shows, Harrell, a queer Black man from the American South, reclaims dance as a heritage for all by Evan Moffitt

They came from all over like pilgrims to worship at the altar of postmodern dance. Judson Memorial Church was a Baptist ministry catering to a cross-section of New York’s social classes when it opened in 1891, but by the 1960s it had become the stage for a much more exclusive congregation of avant-garde performance artists, including Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer. At the turn of the millennium, when Trajal Harrell first attended performances there, the legacy of the ‘Judson School’ had attained the orthodox status of a religion. Brown, the only member of the group to establish her own company, trained countless young dancers there in her late style of the 1980s, which emphasised formal and athletic mastery – a far cry from the asceticism of Judson’s experimental 1960s, centred on restrained, pedestrian movements. Harrell was shocked to find the scene so retrograde. The centre for cutting-edge dance in one of the world’s performance capitals seemed nostalgic for its least radical era. A smalltown-Georgia native and recent graduate of performance programmes in Providence, Harrell had an insatiable hunger for dance. When he wasn’t attending performances at Judson, he travelled uptown to the Black and Latinx vogue balls of Harlem. During Fashion Week he marvelled at models on the runway, whose restrained poses had informed the gestures of voguing. “Here it is: this is postmodernism,” he tells me he recalled thinking. And so one night in 1999 he mounted the stage at Judson, set down a cd player and began posing, slowly and methodically, to the 1982 Yazoo track Ode to Boy. It was a repudiation of Judson’s then-popular athletic style. “I thought this was a ‘fuck you’ piece,” Harrell says, but when he finished the performance, the


church erupted in thunderous applause. Stunned, Harrell left without speaking to anyone, but he knew he had done something important. That first work, It is Thus From a Strange New Perspective That We Look Back on the Modernist Origins and Watch it Splintering Into Endless Replication, took its name from the last line of the title essay in Rosalind Krauss’s seminal book, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985). Harrell’s quotation of a key text celebrating the ‘death of the author’ suggested that dance could only avoid becoming derivative by responding critically to its own past. This was an operation he compares to ‘realness’, the plausibility of a pose or a look in the vogue ballrooms. “I felt that realness brought a critical lens on the idea of authenticity in postmodernism, because there was this notion that there could be an authentic body or a neutral body,” Harrell remembers, referring to the mostly white composition of the Judson scene. The avant-garde movement had been historicised as making dance broadly accessible – centred on everyday, pedestrian movements – when its living legacy had excluded those who, like him, came from different racial or professional backgrounds. By deploying realness, a concept originating in queer communities of colour, he sought to remind his fellow dancers that authenticity is only ever a performance, the success of which is contingent on perceptions of race, gender, sexuality and class that too often go unacknowledged. He was asking who gets to own the history of dance. That question percolated in Harrell’s mind as he staged more performances around New York, slowly shoring up an iconoclastic reputation. In 2009 it took centre stage in the first of a cycle of works


Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem / Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (Made-to-Measure), 2012 (performance view, moma ps1, New York, 2013). Photo: Ian Douglas

April 2023


that would occupy him for the next five years. Twenty Looks or Paris social outcasts instead of courtly samurais and princesses. “Hijikata is Burning at The Judson Church (S) imagined what would happen if was interested in weakness and vulnerability, and giving represenvogue ballroom dancers gate-crashed the arch-serious Judson scene, tation to people whom society didn’t want to look at,” Harrell says. demanding their rightful place in the art-historical canon. In a succes- He wondered if, instead of training for decades to become a profession of costume changes to an eclectic pop soundtrack, Harrell pranced sional butoh dancer, he could treat the form almost like a voguing category and see how close his imitation down and around a paper catwalk, his limbs Harrell’s quotation of a key could get to the real thing. For his perfortoo rigidly locked to properly resemble mance The Return of La Argentina (2015) – one Brown’s late work but his movements too text celebrating the ‘death balletic to be considered voguing. In 2012, of several works that have reinterpreted the of the author’ suggested that for Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem / Twenty legacy of butoh – Harrell riffed on an iconic Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church dance could only avoid becoming collaboration between Hijikata and Ohno, Admiring La Argentina (1977; La Argentina (Made-to-Measure), Harrell flipped the script, derivative by responding being a celebrated Spanish dancer who imagining what might have happened critically to its own past. had died in 1936), that involved a lacey if Brown and Rainer had hopped on the This was an operation he ‘tango visite’ dress and a pipe-organ score. A Train uptown to attend a ball, travelling Harrell sashayed into the lobby of Vienna’s from one deconsecrated ‘church’ to another. compares to ‘realness’, Three male performers in loose black robes Leopold Museum tenderly clutching a gown the plausibility of a pose or began tracing sombre, minimal gestures to his chest to the eight-bit sound of an a look in the vogue ballrooms that, by the work’s mid-point, broke out in a Atari game. frenzied freestyle, as they pranced in circles, Such works unlatch questions of cultural swinging their arms wildly, taking turns breakdancing and voguing. appropriation by aiming for something apart from, or beyond, the Harrell had not yet concluded his ‘Judson’ series when, in 2012, impression of authenticity. Swapping contexts and genres throws he first visited Tokyo to study butoh. He had long been fascinated into relief any assumptions about who has the right to engage with the highly stylised dance, which developed in the ruins of post- specific cultural forms. Harrell’s riffs on butoh are specific to his Hiroshima Japan. Its founders, Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, embodied experience as a queer Black man from the American South, stripped the ancient Kabuki theatre back to its basics, portraying opening histories of dance up to new experimentation and play.



above & facing page Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (S), 2009 (performance views, New Museum, New York, 2009). Photos: Miana Jun

April 2023


Antigone Sr. / Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (L), 2012 (performance view). Photo: Whitney Browne



This isn’t a particularly novel approach to contemporary art, but in forms not only for himself, but for everyone who desires to move in the dance world, where performers train to master a specific style, it new or different ways. has a profound implication: Harrell’s work reclaims dance as a shared Harrell has since become a fixture of the international biennial heritage from whose categories anyone, regardless of skill, can freely circuit, owing perhaps to his work’s ability to traverse great temporal borrow. In the words of queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, he is a and geographic distances while requiring little formal training to ‘disidentificatory subject… who tactically and simultaneously works perform. In 2018 the German magazine Tanz awarded Harrell the title ‘Dancer of the Year’. “It was very shocking to me because I always on, with, and against a cultural form’. For the 2016 work Caen Amour, Harrell reversed his eastward considered myself to be a choreographer who was a bad dancer,” he gaze to consider an Orientalist spectacle of late-nineteenth-century recalls. In response, he choreographed Dancer of the Year (2019), a threeAmerica known as the ‘hoochie coochie’ show. Performed by scantily part solo performance that incorporated gestures from butoh, vogue clad women at travelling circuses, most notably the pioneering ballroom and the streets and Baptist churches of Douglas. In one act, American dancer Loie Fuller, it often involved folding fans and Harrell outstretched a single arm as if shooting a basketball layup, and other vaguely Asian signifiers, with angular, stylised movements then two, in a slow yet rapturous hallelujah. These pedestrian movethat recall early modernist dance, albeit decades before the ascend- ments from Harrell’s upbringing are as constitutive of his underance of Martha Graham. “I’m looking at butoh through the theoret- standing of dance as any academic tradition he’s studied. By isolating ical lens of voguing and looking at early modern dance through the and extending them, he makes postmodern dance accessible to those theoretical lens of butoh,” says Harrell. He recalls seeing the hoochie who, like him, have long felt excluded by its institutionalisation. coochie tent at the state fair in his hometown of Douglas, Georgia, “I hoped I could show that anyone could be Dancer of the Year,” he when he was a boy, though his father forbade him to enter. Caen says. The work channelled his belief that dance might live up to its Amour imagines what he could not witness, staging a hoochie coochie democratic promise. Its congregation should be open to all. ar show in the round so that spectators can see dancers – both male and female – change costumes behind a painted screen. This scenographic Trajal Harrell’s 2022 trilogy of works, Porca Miseria, will be presented gesture collapses public and private, backstage and front, in the same at the Barbican, London, on 12–14 May way that Harrell’s work scrambles signifiers of Dancer of the Year, 2019 Evan Moffitt is a writer, editor and critic East and West, high and low culture. Such rever(performance view, Lafayette Anticipations, based in New York sals are essential to the way Harrell unlocks Paris, 2019). Photo: Marc Domage

April 2023


Burnt Man by Oliver Basciano

Frans Krajcberg in his Paris studio, 1966. Courtesy Fonds Harry Shunk and Shunk-Kender, Paris


From Europe’s bloodlands to the rainforests of Brazil, the late artist Frans Krajcberg witnessed destruction on industrial scales and turned it into eloquent sculpture. In January the violence came for his own work

Frans Krajcberg, Red composition, 1965, plants and pigment on wood panel, 115 × 89 × 18 cm. Courtesy private collection, Paris


Frans Krajcberg’s Galhos e Sombras sculpture at Brasília’s Palácio do Planalto, damaged on 8 January 2023 during the attempted coup by Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters. Photo: Mariana Alves. Courtesy iphan


‘Structure broken at four points, one element completely separated Disguising his surname and continuing alone, he joined the Polish from support.’ This is the clinical assessment of a wood sculpture by First Army and was posted to Uzbekistan, eventually participating in Frans Krajcberg by the conservators convened by the new Brazilian the liberation of Warsaw, a position that forced him to bear witness to administration. The work was one of many in the public collection the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities. He would later describe desperdamaged by fanatical supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro ately searching the Polish capital for his family, but finding no trace. as they rampaged through the Planalto, Brazil’s seat of government in Dislocated, with no sense of home, he moved itinerantly across the Brasília, while attempting to force through a coup in January. Galhos e continent, spending months in Stuttgart with members of the former Sombras (Branches and Shadows) is typical of Krajcberg’s use of found Bauhaus school, before landing in Paris, where he met Fernand Léger wood; here the debris from a tree burned by loggers has been painted and Marc Chagall. The horrors of war had left him traumatised, and white and emerges from a similarly hued wall-hung plaque. The a chance to travel to Brazil as a refugee offered a tantalising new start. sculpture, when intact, had a ghostly and melancholic form. Which He landed first in Rio de Janeiro, homeless and sleeping on Botafogo was apt given that the artist spent a lifeBeach, and then went to São Paulo, a city he He worked ‘not only with the hated. Lasar Segall, a fellow East European time using his art in the service of ecology émigré who had arrived in the country and to decry the destruction of the Amazon beauty of nature’s forms, and Atlantic rainforests. That the work was but also with nature that is being decades prior, suggested he take himself to the countryside in the neighbouring state so badly damaged by supporters of the fardestroyed. My sculptures are of Paraná: it was only then Krajcberg found right Bolsonaro – during whose final month as president, December 2022, deforestation like the memorial of the disaster something approaching peace. was 150 percent greater than in the previous The artist’s first nature works were I see, in the middle of which I live’ December – has inspired a new appreciation simple still lifes of Brazilian flora, but by the of the artist’s political impetus. end of the 1950s these had morphed into the darker, more formally Krajcberg, who died in 2017, described himself as an angry man. complex Samambaia (Fern, 1956-58) series, the leaves rendered in dark His art, though beautiful in form and poetic in imagery, was a mani- brooding oil paint on canvas, heavy with shadow and often set against festation of that fury. He was born in Poland in 1921 to a Jewish family, a background of scratchy, messy brushstrokes. These won him plaudits his mother a communist activist, and saw the majority of his rela- and a growing fame, cemented by winning the prize for best Brazilian tives exterminated in Nazi concentration camps. He himself escaped painter at the Bienal de São Paulo in 1951 (Andy Warhol beat him to east, and took a degree at Leningrad State University that combined the grand prize; Krajcberg also won a prize at the Venice Biennale, art and engineering, a pairing that would come in handy when his in 1964), which, in turn, gave him some security. He started to grow later organic sculptures increased in scale and became architectural disenchanted with the idea of representation, however, at which point in ambition. During the 28-month Siege of Leningrad, he managed the seeds of Krajcberg’s almost animist approach to artmaking flourto slip out of the city with his girlfriend, a first love who, as they ished. The idea of painting nature affirms an anthropocentric sepaweaved between enemy lines, was killed in the forests beyond Minsk. ration from it. The artist began to see himself as a cocreator with the

Damage to the Supremo Tribunal Federal building and Praça dos Três Poderes, Brasília, following the attempted coup of 8 January 2023. Photo: Mariana Alves. Courtesy iphan

April 2023


Frans Krajcberg, Queimadas (Fires), c. 1980, photographs taken in Mato Grosso, Brazil, 80 × 120 cm each. Courtesy Collection Association des Amis de Frans Krajcberg, Paris



natural world; during the 1960s he produced his ‘Reliefs’, oil works that trace the surface of a tree trunk, for example, or stony ground. Abandoning paint altogether he began work on a body of assemblages, gathering together dried vines, stones or logs into a frame. Red composition (1965) is made up of preserved plants painted with deathly red natural pigments on a wood pane. Although these assemblages have a certain gothic edge, this work was essentially celebratory. His relationship with nature was to become far more political however with the construction of Brasília, which is ironic given recent events. After the Oscar Niemeyer-designed new capital had been inaugurated, in 1960, the 2,070km Belém–Brasília Highway was constructed, cutting through huge swathes of previously wild or sparsely inhabited terrain. Krajcberg took the destruction personally, the insult reiterated after he moved to the northeastern state of Bahia during the 1970s, building a treehouse ten metres up in the branches near the town of Nova Viçosa. Here he lived, worked and witnessed the slow clearing and burning of the rainforest by loggers, cattle farmers and gold miners, some operating legally, many not. From then on, he said, he worked ‘not only with the beauty of nature’s forms, but also with nature that is being destroyed. My sculptures are like the memorial of the disaster I see, in the middle of which I live.’ He built assemblages from burned timber, which grew in size and ambition as the situation got worse and illegal logging and mining increased. At a posthumous survey of the artist last year at São Paulo’s Museu Brasileiro da Escultura e Ecologia, the main gallery of the institution was filled with a forest of these works: hollowed-out roots that climbed spiderlike across the concrete floor; trunks, some painted with natural pigments, polished or carved, others left natural and either half decomposed or fire charred, that reached totemically to the gallery ceiling. Each had their own personality, like ghosts haunting the space. The ‘Revolts’ – the term he used for the works made of salvaged, burned forest wood – are the most poignant. Their emotional

resonance comes across not just as symbols of environmental destruction (the most common reading of the work), but because they are inextricably linked to the artist’s family history. Claudia Andujar is another Brazilian Jewish artist whose family perished in the Holocaust, and she has spoken that her yearslong fight for the Yanomami indigenous people was driven by that memory. For Krajcberg, too, the Revolts seem a revolt against and a revulsion for the violence of humanity. ‘I show the unnatural violence done to life,’ the artist said. ‘I express the revolted planetary consciousness. Destruction has forms, although it speaks of the non-existent. I’m not trying to sculpt. I am looking for forms for my cry. This burnt bark is me. I feel myself in the woods and the stones.’ Seeing billows of smoke choking the sky over the forest was, for the artist, to witness fascist destruction all over again. For good measure, he described himself as a ‘burnt man’. The vandalisation of Galhos e Sombras in January was not captured on film, but plenty of other cctv and camera-phone footage documents the ripping of paintings, the smashing of antiques and the destruction of furniture as more than a thousand people rampaged through Brazil’s Congress and presidential palace. It would be easy to assume a mob mentality, to dismiss the far-right supporters as high on fake news and endorphins, but that might excuse what seems a calculated and systematic attack. Like a forest being cleared for agriculture or mining, hardly a square metre of the complex was left unscathed. The Bahian government, which handles Krajcberg’s legacy, has said that the artist would not want the work repaired and would have demanded that the sculpture be left broken; like all his work, a testament to the violence of man. ar Frans Krajcberg, Le Militant, a retrospective of the artist’s work between 1960 and 2000, is on view at Espace Krajcberg, Paris, through 15 April

Frans Krajcberg, Totems, c. 1980, deforestation-charred tree trunks and pigments

April 2023


Maya Lin

by Andrew Russeth

The American sees her work as founded on a mix of art, architecture and the creation of memorials, all of which she uses to honour the past and reshape the future



Could it happen today, in the political climate of 2023 America? As discourse in the us has curdled a great deal since then. It is easy to the famous story goes, in 1981, a twenty-one-year-old undergraduate picture Fox News host Tucker Carlson oozing condescension and indigsubmits a highly unconventional proposal for a Vietnam Veterans nation, and Republican officeholders rushing to line up behind him. Memorial in Washington, dc, and in a blind competition against In the intervening 40 years, Lin has of course kept working. Now more than 1,400 other entries, she wins. Maya Lin, the daughter of 63 and based in New York, she has carved out for herself something of Chinese immigrants, faces fervent opposition to her spare design – a sui generis position in the us cultural landscape by moving between two long walls gliding into the land, bearing the names of the different but related roles, uniting different disciplines. She sees her American dead – but in 1982 it is installed on the National Mall, and work “as a tripod”, she said during a talk in February at Hongik it makes her a star. University in Seoul, the three legs being art, architecture and memoThe Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become one of the great rials (or “memory works”, as she has also termed them). sacred spaces in the United States. Walking down its path, people What holds those legs together? Classic Lin pieces evince a quiet grow quiet. They use crayons and pencils to rub names onto paper. reverence for the natural world and an awareness of deep history. They leave flowers and other items. They linger. It is not universally They tend to be restrained – her art often involves only a single mateadored, but it is beloved. When the American Institute of Architects rial – and rooted in a functional logic, while exuding a beauty that published a survey of ‘America’s Favorite Architecture’ in 2007, it is tinged by melancholy. came in at number ten. It was the only entry in the top ten to have been In a solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in the South Korean capital that built in the past half-century, and even more importantly, it was the ran into March, Lin presented a few works that map rivers, a recurring only selection that could be classified as an example of minimalism, practice for her. Thousands of tiny steel pins dotted a roughly 3-by-2m expanse of wall, meticulously charting Korea’s and an unusual strain of minimalism at that. facing page Silver Upper White River (detail), This is an unspectacular monument – beneath Imjin and Han rivers and their many tribu2014, recycled silver, 333 × 610 × 1 cm taries (Pin Gang – Imjin and Han, 2022). It sugthe ground but exposed to light, mournful but (installation view, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, ar). gested a closeup of veins and capillaries, a not sepulchral. It invites collective grieving. Photo: Dero Sanford frozen burst of lightning or even a faraway If the process were to be repeated now, it is above Maya Lin with the final design for the hard to be confident that Lin would be able to galaxy. On another wall, thin branches of recyVietnam Veterans Memorial, presented in see her commission through to construction. cled silver showed the flow of the Tigris and Washington, dc, in May 1981, in the company She faced racist attacks at the time, and had to Euphrates, a similar spread of craggy lines of memorial fund and project directors. defend her plan before Congress, but public (Silver Tigris & Euphrates Watershed, 2022). Photo: Bettmann

April 2023


Ghost Forest, 2021, 49 Atlantic white cedars, dimensions variable (installation view, Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York). Photo: James Ewart


Storm King Wavefield, 2009, earthwork, 125 × 150 × 5 m. Photo: Jerry Thompson. Courtesy Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, ny


Nature Knows No Boundaries, 2023 (installation view, Pace Gallery, Seoul) Courtesy Pace Gallery, Seoul


Those waterways cross fraught political boundaries, which at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with its emphasis are absent in Lin’s works, and they have developed on a timescale on removing elements of previous renovations. Two cumbersome beyond human memory. In her borderless models, Lin nudges wings were replaced with smaller light-filled ones, with the intenviewers to step back and marvel at natural systems that operate across tion of allowing its Frederick Law Olmsted-designed campus to hundreds and hundreds of miles. There is a utopic tone to this exer- breathe once more. Capacious windows were installed to facilitate cise – the all-seeing cartographer’s belief that vast expanses can be birdwatching, and cramped spaces created by those prior construcmapped, and thus grasped in some way – but a certain fragility or tion jobs were opened up. Razor-focused on making an energy-effieven ephemerality defines much of her art. Pull those pins, and the cient design, she picked materials long utilised for Smith buildings, map disappears. like local stone, glass and timber. Death haunted Lin’s Ghost Lin’s very way of working could be seen as embodying a Forest installation in Manhattan’s Classic Lin pieces evince a quiet reverence distant era, before the rise of Madison Square Park in 2021. It for the natural world. They tend to be starchitects and supersized firms involved installing 49 Atlantic restrained and rooted in a functional logic, with offices around the world. white cedar trees that had She takes only one architectural been killed by climate changewhile exuding a beauty tinged by melancholy project at a time, and her entire induced saltwater inundation (in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey) upright in the green space. This studio team never exceeds five people. (Architect William Bialosky ecological cemetery stood for six months, slowly wasting away as collaborates with her on her building projects.) When tapped for a the season changed. It was not exactly a subtle endeavour, but it was job, she will design “everything, including the doorknobs”, Lin said certainly less heavyhanded than Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch (2014) in her lecture. project, which carted massive hunks of glacial ice into public spaces A case against Lin’s approach to art and architecture could be that it is too literal, illustrating important issues or concepts and let them melt. Ghost Forest continues Lin’s enduring interest in making visible rather than responding to them. Her land works have certainly things that are kept out of sight, whether by geological forces or soci- felt one-note to me. Earth sculpted to resemble wave patterns opolitical ones. Her Above and Below (2007), an undulating, skeletal or sinuous lines can seem impressive but a little dull, a technical web of epoxy-coated aluminium, is a three-dimensional map of the designer’s idea of art. But much of her other work exudes an enlivriver system that sprawls beneath Indiana. (It hangs above a covered ening restraint, a rare concision that is born of careful research and terrace at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which makes encounters a desire to make no unnecessary gestures. It is conservative, but only with it all the more unreal: who knew that was buried below?) Her of a very specific sense. Civil Rights Memorial (1989) at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Lin, I think, can be connected to what the American political Montgomery, Alabama, is a stone table that bears water (via a barely scientist Robert J. Lacey has termed ‘pragmatic conservatism’, which perceptible fountain) and text with a compact history of the move- he associates with mainstream liberalism (and the Democratic party) ment. The Women’s Table (1993) at Yale University is another large in the us – a Burkean-derived worldview that finds value in tradition flat stone and fountain, incised with spiralling numbers that count but that embraces incremental reform, led by elites. President Barack the women enrolled at the New Haven, Connecticut, school over its Obama, who awarded Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, history. It begins with a long string of zeroes. could be seen as an exemplar of that position. She wants Olmsted’s In recent years, Lin has been developing what she terms her ‘fifth design to thrive, she wants history to be remembered with dignity and last memorial’, a multifaceted project that addresses the ongoing and she will insert her work into the world only to the degree that rapid loss of biodiversity, titled What Is Missing? (2009–ongoing). At it will have some kind of concrete benefit, whether practical its core is a website that maps the ecological history of the planet or poetic. – discussing the living things and ecosystems that once thrived (cod So much of what gets built in the public sphere in the us now is as big as an adult human, just a awful and overblown: Michael She wants history to be remembered with century ago!) and what has been Arad’s portentous 9/11 Memorial done to restore the environment. at Ground Zero, Friedrich St. dignity and she will insert her work into the It also allows anyone to submit a Florian’s imperialistic World War world only to the degree that it will have some ii Memorial in Washington dc, memory about the environment. One anonymous contributor or Vessel, Thomas Heatherwick’s kind of concrete benefit – practical or poetic fondly recalls childhood visits to baleful hypercapitalist fantasia a Florida beach during the early 2000s, only to return recently and (and, sadly, suicide device) at Hudson Yards in New York. Lin find ‘trash and debris that was littered along the sand, and floating in embodies a very different position. The subtlety that is the hallmark of her projects suggests, to me, a deep trust in an informed public. the water. It really broke my heart.’ As with so much of Lin’s work, her digital platform attempts to Her creations encourage moral and ethical thinking, but they do not record and preserve the past with the ultimate aim of fomenting hector, and they call no one to arms. Here are some rivers, they say, and action, or at least a change in mindset. “How can we protect something here are some names, and here are some things that have taken place. How should we act now? What are we going to do next? ar if we don’t even know it’s missing?” as she put it in her Hongik talk. That sensibility – attuned to the environment, eager to learn from the past – can be seen guiding Lin’s 2021 redesign of the library Andrew Russeth is a writer based in Seoul

April 2023


Universal Falsehoods

by Sarah Jilani

An exploration of persistent colonial myths at the heart of the art-repatriation debate – and ideas about how to change the narrative



In 2002 the directors of 18 ‘major’ museums of art, cultural heritage an attitude that says, ‘we keep human heritage safe, so that you get to and natural history, including the Louvre and the Berlin State enjoy access to it’. Museums, signed a declaration on ‘the importance and value of Underlying this is the notion that the safety net of ‘good universal museums’. In essence it was an argument against the resti- management’ and ‘cultural stewardship’ has a geography that is tution of their collections. ‘The international museum community firmly rooted within institutions in Europe and North America. shares the conviction that illegal traffic in archaeological, artistic, Which is to say, universal-mindedness and objectivity belong to and ethnic objects must be firmly discouraged,’ it begins. ‘We should, a certain place and race. The vast majority of the world, restituhowever, recognize that objects acquired in earlier times must be tion-denouncers will tell us, is floundering in a pit of emotionality, viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values, reflective of that state-sanctioned corruption and ignorance. In other words: those of us not from the ‘universal’ place earlier era. The objects and monuThe myth of universalism is a political and race cannot be trusted to premental works that were installed decades and even centuries ago in narrative (safe West, unsafe rest) presented serve our own heritage, and must museums throughout Europe and instead view it under close surveilas though a fact of nature (that’s ‘just how America were acquired under condilance, in someone else’s house. things are’ in ‘those’ kinds of places) tions that are not comparable with The myth of universalism (à la Fischer’s ‘the museum is a world current ones.’ Despite receiving robust criticism in the two decades since, its core country’) is nothing new. As Shimrit Lee explains in her book concepts – that times of imperial war booty are long past, and museums Decolonize Museums (2022), it is a ‘weapon that has been loaded and are now ‘agents in the development of culture’ – continue to echo reloaded across time’ so as to present as seemingly inevitable that throughout the uk museum sector. A mere year on from this decla- the majority of the world’s people do not have the will, resources, ration, images of the looting of the Iraq National Museum during the intelligence or ability to preserve the things they have created, and us-led (and Britain-backed) invasion were televised. And as for being a small minority of other people in the Global North do. The result an agent of culture, a 2017 Arts Council England report found that 73 is a political narrative (safe West, unsafe rest) presented as though a percent of the sector felt Brexit had negatively impacted their ability to fact of nature (that’s ‘just how things are’ in ‘those’ kinds of places) bring artists and organisations to the uk. ‘There are no foreigners here rather than what it actually is: a historically traceable outcome of the resource theft and inequitable structures left – the museum is a world country,’ declared above Visitors looking at the Parthenon Marbles Hartwig Fischer, the German director of in colonialism’s wake. in the British Museum, 1961. the British Museum (which was not a party Repatriation – bringing someone or somePhoto: Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo to the declaration), in a 2018 interview with thing back to its environment of origin – facing page Archibald Archer, The Temporary Elgin Room, The Guardian. Such statements have often could see an uptick thanks to the uk 2022 1819, oil on canvas, 94 × 134 cm. been used against the restitution of objects; Charities Act. This act allows museums to Creative Commons

April 2023


Benin Plaque, 1500–1600s, brass and iron, 49 × 34 × 6 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London



deaccession objects ‘where there is a compelling moral obligation to the West, and the hot-headed demands of the rest. In other words, do so’, easing some of the roadblocks implemented in the 1963 British when faced with repatriation demands, the heritage sector of Museum Act and the 1983 National Heritage Act. Some, like Glasgow the Global North reverts to its tactical colonialist roots: act as though City Council, have begun the process of returning items to India, the colonised ‘lost’ their objects to people who ‘objectively’ handle Nigeria and the Lakota communities in the us. But in October 2022 them better. the uk government delayed the act. ‘It’s possible they hold it back v&a director Tristram Hunt has argued that ‘once something indefinitely because they don’t like the consequences of the change’, enters the museum, it can’t leave’, as if museum legislation is an act Alexander Herman, director of the uk Institute of Art and Law, of God rather than an inheritance of colonial governance. In a similar was quoted saying in one report at the time. vein, historian Jeff Fynn-Paul wrote a 2020 article for The Spectator that This act could turn a new leaf for those uk arts institutions and city stated the genocide of Native Americans ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’ (56 million were killed over a councils, like Glasgow, that have the century). The article was subtitled, will to pursue repatriation efforts. The heritage sector of the Global However, it will likely not compel North reverts to its tactical colonialist roots: ‘what should the Europeans have done with the New World?’ – as if much action from uk museums act as though the colonised ‘lost’ invasion and loot are an inevitathat hold most of the colonial spoils. bility, and it flies in the face of comThese, like the British Museum and their objects to people who ‘objectively’ mon sense to contemplate otherthe v&a, continue to enjoy exemphandle them better wise. This appeal to (self-desigtions granted by favourable legislation – like the aforementioned 1963 act – once implemented by nated) universality is just the more palatable face of imperialist chestthe British government precisely as a guard against the repatria- thumping. This universalist’s passive voice – objects ‘enter’ museums tion claims they anticipated after the string of independences across of their own accord, the ‘New World’ invites its own looting by being 1960s Africa. The v&a are an ‘exempt charity’ not regulated by the there – propagates the idea that no other morality exists but the kind Charity Commission, and British Museum repatriations remain at Europe and North America used to justify their past exploits. the discretion of trustees, most of whom are appointed by the Prime From the nineteenth until the late twentieth century, the cultural Minister and one by the sovereign. For all their boasts of being ‘world production of colonised peoples were degraded as primitive, while museums’, they sure are well-fortified against having to accommo- being coveted as personal trophies, bloodshed memorabilia, and sold date the wishes of most of the world. as art in London or Paris. Anthropologists and archaeologists This stalemate can continue indefinitely so long as the bigger circled the globe to dig up graves and buy bones from dealers, displaypicture remains unchanged: the taken-for-granted projection that ing these in pseudoscientific exhibitions to ‘educate’ people into repatriation is a clash between the dispassionate, ‘universal’ laws of believing there existed ‘backward races’ from a different species origin.

Ole Worm, Ole Worm’s Cabinet of Wonder: Natural Specimens and Wondrous Monsters, 1655, paper print engraving, 28 × 36 cm. Creative Commons

April 2023


Non-European humans were gawked at in ‘colonial villages’ and at public dissections, helping to shape some of the earliest public exhibition spaces. Their storyline of evolutionary ascent towards the white European man as the logical apex of human history was propagandised for Western imperial domination of the globe. These are the thoroughly flawed ‘universal truths’ at the founding of museums as institutions, and the premises upon which their pedagogical claims rest. Repatriating objects alone does not challenge the foundations of this house. A broader restitution must occur alongside it: that is, confronting and dismantling a narrative that has outlived the official end of colonialism. That narrative says demands for justice must be subordinated to ‘universal-mindedness’, handed down from the above history as a characteristic apparently exclusive to EuroAmerican museums, laws and persons. Mainstream institutions continue to flip-flop on account of being unable to shake this ingrained narrative. The British Museum’s 2019 Inspired by the East show, for example, presented Orientalist art as a mere ‘cultural exchange between East and West’, not only missing the point of Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, but also casting Muslims as ‘side characters to the complex lives of the protagonists, white people’, wrote Sumaya Kassim, a researcher and former cocurator at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in an essay responding to the show. The Museum der Kulturen Basel’s 2012–16 show Expeditions, jovially subtitled ‘The World in a Suitcase’, presented 540 objects originating from Cameroon to Indonesia as innocent memorabilia ‘found’ on nineteenth-century ‘expeditions’. The world is your oyster, European explorer! Left unmentioned is the license to loot, which would have made such long and dangerous trips worthwhile. On the opposite end are encouraging examples from some museums of restitutive practices, such as democratic decision-making,

community-led curating, independent funding and decentring settler/colonial perspectives. Some initiatives of differing scales include Michigan’s Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways, whose work extends to protecting tribal intellectual/spiritual property and ceremonially reburying ancestral remains; the Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, West Bank, which has involved the diaspora in exhibition curating; and the rural Nambya community museum in Zimbabwe, which is collecting and recording the oral traditions of the Nambya language, almost stamped out by colonialism. To emulate such practices in postimperial centres like London and Paris – under the relentless scrutiny of corporate art sponsorships, museum–state relations and board members’ financial interests – seems more difficult to achieve. Museum boards may also expect a curatorial programme that aligns with their worldview (at the time of a 2020 Arts Council England report, only ten percent of chief executives were not white), meaning change-making curators can face institutional resistance. The pushback against such restitutive work will be even stronger than that against repatriation. Decolonisation, by its very definition, does not align with the profit motive that drove colonisation. But that is precisely why thinking in terms of restitution (dismantle and reconstitute) rather than just repatriation (return) will be crucial if museological practice is to amount to something more than repeating colonial discourses in a glossier guise. In the words of archaeologist Dan Hicks, ‘“give it back and it will only be stolen” is the universal motto of the thief’. Let objects keep being returned, by all means, but in the full knowledge that justice must well exceed repatriation. ar Sarah Jilani is a lecturer in postcolonial literatures and world film at City, University of London

Figure of Ancient Egyptian, Nefertiti. Courtesy Wellcome Collection, London



Benin bust, 1502–1602, bronze, 51 × 34 × 34 cm, one of 19 Benin objects held in Glasgow and in the process of being repatriated. Photo: csg cic Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collections. Creative Commons

April 2023


THE ART MARKET 2023 A report by Art Basel & UBS. Launching April 4.

Art Reviewed

I didn’t even exist 73

Peter Doig The Courtauld Gallery, London 10 February – 29 May Peter Doig is the first living artist to be granted a solo exhibition at the Courtauld since its 2021 refurbishment, and the institutional logic of this isn’t hard to grasp. Passing through the gallery’s immaculate permanent collection – with its Manets and Monets, its Gauguins and Cézannes – visitors arrive at two rooms containing 11 canvases by the Scottish painter, accompanied by wall texts emphasising the impact the big guns of Impressionism and Postimpressionism have had on his work. The aim seems to be to charge the Courtauld’s holdings with an aura of contemporary relevance, while simultaneously performing a kind of art-historical hazing ritual. For anybody who feels, like me, that all this is deeply unnecessary (of course the past speaks to the present, of course Doig is already by broad consensus one of the key painters of his time), the best approach is to ignore it, and focus on the beguiling, fugitive, oddly mournful visions the artist summons from his paint. Doig worked on this set of canvases before and after his recent move back to London from Trinidad, where he spent his early childhood and was based for the last two decades. If his show has an overriding theme, then it’s the experience of time and place, and how they’re distorted by the interior stuff of memory and mood. The setting for Night Bathers (2011–19) is Maracas Bay, one of the Caribbean island’s most popular beaches. Spaced far apart on the

lemony sands, a man and a woman stretch out not beneath a blazing sun, but under the cold flattening light of a full moon, while the still, grey-green sea glows with phosphorescent algae. This sense of a world askew persists in Music Shop (2019–23), where a musician in a skeleton costume looms outside a secondhand-instrument store, hefting his guitar like the Grim Reaper’s scythe. This is the late Trinidadian singer Shadow, and looking past him through the barred windows of the shop, we see that its merchandise has been replaced by views of a distant island. Is this an image about music as a gateway to a greater communion with place, or is Shadow a Charon figure, ready to ferry us towards the afterlife? Another nocturne, Painting on an Island (Carrera) (2019), depicts an artist seated by a seawall, dragging a brush across a densely blackened canvas, although whether he’s effacing or further intensifying its darkness remains unclear. His bowed head – a riot of impasto paint, part curls of hair, part brain matter – echoes both the moon dipping below the horizon and a faraway landmass jutting from the sea. The titular island of Carrera, we should note, is a Caribbean penal colony, and the labouring artist is likely an inmate. Freedom, it seems, is where we find – or imagine – it. Modelled with Cézanne-like perpendicular brushstrokes, the pale colossus who poses

Night Bathers, 2011–19, pigment on linen. © the artist. All rights reserved, dacs 2023



awkwardly in Bather (2019–23) is based on a swimsuit shot of the American actor Robert Mitchum, who filmed the movie Fire Down Below (1957) on Trinidad and later released a calypso album. Maybe this uneasy figure is a proxy for the artist, another white man who found himself inspired by this island, a place shaped by the legacies of colonialism and slavery. Canal (2023) sees Doig return to London, although this ghostly image of the artist’s young son eating fried eggs on a towpath beside a fiery red bridge feels temporally unmoored by two framing banks of trees, one dotted with spring blossom, the other heavy with autumn leaves. It’s as if the present were collapsing into a halfremembered past. In the show’s best painting, Alpinist (2019–22), a skier in a Picasso-esque harlequin onesie ascends a lonely mountainside, recalling at once Caspar David Friedrich’s imperious Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) and the trudging peasants in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow (1565). His face sunburned a synthetic soda-pop orange, he bears his skis on his back like a crucifix. The scrawled letters on his helmet might read ‘Vuillard’ (a reference to the Nabi painter, Édouard?), or perhaps ‘Will end’. Beneath his feet, a glacier melts into gorgeous, deadly slush. It’s a work about burdens that feel by turns weightless and nearinsupportable: history and talent, hunger for life and the inescapable fact of death. Tom Morton

Alpinist, 2022, pigment on linen. © the artist. All rights reserved, dacs 2023

April 2023


Georgia Sagri Oikonomia The Breeder, Athens 12 January – 4 February Oikonomia in Greek means economy, and kano oikonomia means trying to save money, something most Greeks have painfully practised since the government-debt crisis that began in 2009. In her show Oikonomia, a revisiting of performances from the late 1990s to 2017 and what’s left of them (from damaged and unsold props to memories), Georgia Sagri intelligently reframes ‘saving’ in relation to artmaking and the labour behind it, which is often invisible and unpaid, especially for performance artists. Here, she retrieves old and damaged props and reconceptualises them as an exhibition of wounded objects (curated by George Bekirakis and Danai Giannoglou). Or better, given her longstanding interest in practices of care (which she terms Iasi, Greek for recovery), symbolically ‘mended’ them. Following a local trend wherein artists reinscribe their work by reworking it, Sagri seemingly comments here on what she calls

the ‘pathologies of performance’ in relation to the generalised push towards productivity. The remnants of performance are laid out on carton boxes (Landscape with Diogenes, 2012 / 2023) or dangle from a wooden hanger instead of on the walls where they were originally presented (Breathing Scores, 2017/2023); alongside these are drawings depicting details of said props, and five new typewritten texts comprising poetic recollections of the actions. Moreover, initially live in the gallery and subsequently in videos presented in the show, she tries to reenact three of these works, formerly undocumented. Watching Sagri naked, ‘painting’ banknote-sized papers with her menstrual blood (Rent, 2009/2023) or focusing on her breath for five hours while lying amid debris and gradually creating a pathway within it (Breathing, 2003/2023), is a weird experience: you have to cope with the feeling of experiencing something somehow dated (and echoing

Rent, 2009/2023, video still of a 60-min performance at The Breeder, Athens. © the artist



first-wave feminist performance art) but also recent. What I find more interesting amid all this is how Sagri, as a performance artist, highlights the political economy of artworking and visualises its contradictions. While the labour of performance artists and practitioners involved in relational-participatory events has been exploited to expand the accumulation of capital within the artworld with minimum cost, Sagri calls for a redefinition of care for oneself and one’s work in an era where ‘care’ has become a trendy catchphrase for institutions without leading to changes in working conditions in the artworld. In this context, Sagri here does something at once pragmatic and creative. While offering works for sale, she simultaneously foregrounds the market for performance-art documentation, messes with its strictures and reflects on how even performers internalise the necessity of creating saleable objects. Despina Zefkili

Tuâ`n Andrew Nguyê˜n It Was What Is Will Be Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbyberg 18 February – 16 April In his most recent film, The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon (2022), Tuâ`n Andrew Nguyê˜n continues his exploration of the emotional ramifications of the Vietnam War through its most appalling protagonist: the bomb. Nguyê̇t, a junkyard co-owner and self-taught sculptor, discovers the therapeutic qualities of a fallen bombshell that has been transformed into a temple bell by monks and is said to produce a sound containing a frequency with the capacity to heal past traumas. After visiting the temple, she decides to construct her own bell, in the hope of freeing her mother from haunting memories of the war, which claimed the lives of her husband and sons. The film is at the centre of the Vietnamese artist’s first solo show in Sweden, which also includes two previous

videos and a selection of Calderesque mobiles constructed from found brass artillery shells. The Boat People (2020), set in a climate-collapse future, follows a group of children who travel to a place ‘formerly’ known as Bataan, where they create wooden replicas of historical objects – a ship, a rifle, a sword – later burning them as part of a sacred ritual. In The Island (2017) Nguyen juxtaposes documentary footage from Pulau Bidong, an island in the South China Sea where the Malaysian government ran an enormous camp for Vietnamese refugees between 1978 and 1991, with a dystopian-future narrative in which a man and a woman explore the now-deserted isle. Despite its onerous subject, The Unburied Sounds… stands out among the inclusions for its

surprising humour. Nguyêt’s grumpy, unbothered mien adds a quirky atmosphere to the film, which allows the historically charged narrative to unfold unhurriedly. Where The Boat People and The Island are more static and grave in their speculations, The Unburied Sounds… also hews closer to the real, which allows for a more direct emotional route to restoration. Nguyê˜n’s answer to the irrevocable principle of intergenerational trauma – repetition – seems to be transformation itself, which, whether through speculative remapping of previous events or via the metamorphosis of lethal objects, cannot take place unless we confront our desire to adhere to the past. Letting go is traumatic, his work emphasises, but reliving history will never free you from it. Jesper Strömbäck Eklund

The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon, 2022 (installation view, Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbyberg, 2023).Photo: Jean Baptiste Béranger. Courtesy the artist and Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbyberg

April 2023


John Kørner Tongue Out Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen 19 January – 11 March One of the first things a viewer sees in John Kørner’s Tongue Out is a greyish quartet of floor-based sculptures depicting boxy buildings, all with the word ‘Problem’ on their frontage and a smokestack chimney above it. The Danish artist then leads us – literally, via a cartoonish, traillike cutout of a pathway on the floor – into a show of paintings primarily depicting melting glaciers, sometimes dotted with human figures and human inventions. Kørner’s pictorial sources apparently included a 2013 book entitled The Greenland Ice Sheet: 80 Years of Climate Change Seen from the Air, and the ‘tongue’ of the exhibition’s title evidently refers, at least in part, to the kind that glaciers have: platforms of ice projecting into the sea, evidence of thaw. The show, in these terms, seems built on unsubtle environmentalist rhetoric. But then you look at the paintings themselves, with their liquescent, colourful acrylic handling on acres of spotless white, and things get complicated.

Kørner’s ‘take’ on this subject matter is, for want of a better word, sunny. In Tongue Hanging Out (all works 2023), a lavalike pink protrusion emerges from a tangerine horizon and dips into a bluey-green ocean wherein bobs a regiment of triangular icefloes; to either side of the tongue are psychedelic swathes of paint, bright shades bleeding into each other. Light Eruption is a widescreen Arctic vista that’s partly frosty, partly already melted and turned to earth-brown, and features a variety of trails, allowing the eye to take a virtual tour of the scenery. Dancing over the landscape, mean-while, is a luscious, Northern Lights-like glow of green, pink and orange, the heavens gracing the dissolving region in sympathy. In Holding Back a Train, a foregrounded figure in winterwear surreally uses one foot – while checking his phone – to keep a shrunken white train from barrelling forward. In the background, the landscape breaks weirdly

Tongue Hanging Out, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 180 × 150 × 3 cm. Courtesy the artist



into a planar collage, the horizon variously rotating through 45 and 90 degrees, woodland erupting from the earth diagonally and, once again, that pinky-orange glow suffusing the icescapes. Amid all this, there’s a frequent sense of unreality – thanks to Kørner’s bright colours and sheeny handling – that suggests an artist knowingly unable to convey the scale of the disaster, perhaps unable to wrap his mind around it. Frequently he defaults to the anecdotal and odd: the single flower seen in closeup against an icescape in Lilium Bulbiferum with Glacier, the nude man tipping a panful of water over himself while standing in a frozen landscape in Office of Antarctic Programme Foundation. If, as a result, the viewer has a strong sense of not seeing an image commensurate with the crisis, maybe that’s Kørner’s way of admitting that painting isn’t up to the task, while nevertheless continuing to paint. Martin Herbert

Ian Cheng Thousand Lives Pilar Corrias, London 2 March – 6 April A cartoonish turtle stands idle in a videogame scene, as if waiting for a player to pick up a controller. Then, of its own accord, it hobbles towards a bottle of wine. Thousand Lives (2023) is a simulation powered by inferential artificial intelligence in which a turtle called Thousand explores the confines of a cluttered virtual apartment. It’s the latest in Ian Cheng’s growing menagerie of ‘bob’ works, which include other generative simulations such as bob (Bag of Beliefs) (2018–19) and an episodic anime miniseries, Life After bob (2021). With the word ‘zubplots’ carved on its back, Thousand is an ai entity tucked into a fictional universe of ai entities. It hobbles around the floor of a virtual room, searching out jars, fruit, spikey urchins; all manner of mess. Its expressive little eyes roll back in ecstasy when it finds something it likes, flash in pain when it pricks its tongue. The camera circles and does its best to keep Thousand in shot, the sun rising and setting to cast rich reds and long shadows on the floor.

Here is an animal among objects, but the distinction is hardly there. In Cheng’s simulation, a monitor displays charts for Thousand’s needs, ranging from food and warmth to ‘certainty’. It is the fulfilment of these needs that moves Thousand, but exposing these processes is a fascinating reminder that it is the ai that animates, that the turtle body is as much a hollow depiction of an object as the wine bottle it nudges against. Body-as-receptacle is an idea Cheng plays with in the first episode of his anime shown here, Life After bob: The Chalice Study (2021). This tells the story of a neural engineer who melds the ‘bob’ ai into the nervous system of his young daughter, Chalice. There are shades of Hideaki Anno’s influential anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–96) in its father-child psychodrama. The script, however, is overstuffed, its dialogue weighed down by incessant musings about bob, missing an opportunity to fully delve into the potent fears of parenting that it contains.

Similarly, Thousand Lives is more compelling in what it provokes about our own bodies and minds than any gestures it makes towards the future of artificial intelligence. I learn that Thousand is designed to lose track of where things are, whether they will bring it sustenance or pain. This is to make the simulation interesting to watch at the 11th hour, but Cheng’s choice to prevent the ai from optimising its existence, from learning, also gives the simulation a tragic, Sisyphean quality. ‘I’m feeling Grief’, the monitor notes, before quickly passing to ‘I’m feeling Bored’, as its need for certainty leads it once more to ‘ExploreByWalking’. It is this poetic resonance of failure, the illusion of agency endlessly gifted to a mind that is unable to fully hold onto its choices, that saves Thousand from being merely an interesting tech demo, unsettling assumptions we may have about our own consciousness. Thomas McMullan

Thousand Lives, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London

April 2023


Swedish Ecstasy Bozar, Brussels 17 February – 21 May Twenty-first-century art has seen a proliferation of tendencies that can be collectively referred to as ‘the esoteric turn’. The manifestations of this proclivity show no signs of waning in the 2020s, discerned in the work of legions of contemporary artists, the recuperation of once-dismissed oeuvres, in academic research projects that reveal how occultism was a catalyst for the avant-garde and innumerable thematic institutional exhibitions. Swedish Ecstasy amalgamates all these symptoms, bringing historical figures together with living artists, all of whom originate from Sweden (or in the case of Carsten Höller, reside there). The exhibition’s opening gallery is devoted to a substantial extract from Hilma af Klint’s

renowned 193-piece opus Paintings for the Temple (1906–15); this is the first time af Klint has been exhibited in Belgium, but it’s just one of several major European institutional exhibits featuring her work this year. The extent to which af Klint’s legacy has (rightfully) been validated and revived over the past two decades is remarkable, and a similar process of restitution is now taking place in response to the work of Anna Cassel, who collaborated with af Klint both in the studio and in séances as part of a small Christian Spiritualist group known as The Five. Here Cassel is represented by a suite of diagrammatic paintings – all produced over consecutive days in April 1913 –

Anna Cassel, No. 8, 1913, oil on canvas. Photo: Anders Fredriksén. Courtesy the Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm



that are built upon Anthroposophical and Rosicrucian symbolism. Laudably, Swedish Ecstasy evinces how it was not unusual for turn-of-the-century artists to be drawn to movements such as Spiritualism and Theosophy, and the paintings of August Strindberg demonstrate that not only nonfigurative art emerged from these convergences. Known outside Sweden as a playwright, Strindberg was a polymath: his impressionistic landscapes here are displayed alongside 12 ‘celestographs’ created during the mid-1890s by exposing photographic plates to the night sky. (What he claimed were negatives of the starry firmament are in fact the catalytic

blossoms of a chemical reaction, though no less beautiful for that.) Strindberg’s idiosyncratic renderings of earth, sea and sky are informed by his devotion to the Swedenborgian doctrine of correspondences, the postulation that everything in the physical universe has a heavenly counterpart. Indeed Emanuel Swedenborg himself, present here via a vitrined selection of early-eighteenth-century manuscripts, is a vital progenitor whose theological postulations lie in the dna of all this later era’s hermeticism. That the contemporary artworks in this show possess none the numinosity of the historical pieces is inevitable, the latter now appearing more akin to religious artefacts, byproducts of zealous fervour. Nevertheless these recent artworks, while disparate, underscore how esoteric traditions – and the twentieth-century artists influenced by them – remain a potent source of creative stimulus. Lars Olof Loeld’s

minimal, geometric Sub Rosa paintings (2007–16) evoke the Neoplasticist tabulations of Piet Mondrian (himself a card-carrying Theosophist); four pieces from Christine Ödlund’s Psychedelic Botanist Series (all 2022) draw liberally from imagery found in Theosophical literature, especially Occult Chemistry, published in 1908. Three canvases from Cecilia Edefalk’s White Within series (1997–2008) possess a visionary quality, each featuring ethereal winged entities that call to mind Swedenborg and his conversations with angels. The curatorial strategy of presenting cabalistic culture from the past alongside contemporary art informed by similar traditions, or at least produced with similar motives, is a generative formula with noteworthy historical precedents – The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986) being one. These forerunners demonstrate

that far from being a superficial trend, the esoteric turn is in fact a cyclical occurrence, albeit one now intensifying. The quickening of this phenomenon has its roots in both material and existential shifts that are specific to the present. The co-opting and elevation of arcane marginalia, and the attendant increase in financial and intellectual value, is a demand of both the market and of cultural industries, which must always find new frontiers. This turn also betrays a ramping-up of latent societal longing for antidotes to anomie, nihilism and spiritual starvation. Amid all this, perhaps, if we keep looking – as a continuum-demonstrating show like Swedish Ecstasy suggests – we might eventually find some solutions as to how to achieve transcendence while also reconciling ourselves to the diktats of so-called reason that govern our technocratic world. Pádraic E. Moore

Cecilia Edefalk, White Whitin (4), 1998–2008, acrylic and oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Carlier/Gebauer, Berlin & Madrid

April 2023


Liz Magor The Rise and The Fall Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea 8 March – 10 June While visiting this tightly selected survey of Liz Magor’s recent work, I gawked like a stoned teenager at a scrap of iridescent foil. It sat inside a box made from wobbly, colourless translucent plastic, one of many that comprise the Canadian artist’s installation Pet Co (2018). Each box contains materials and creature comforts selected to make sense-memories squall: stuffed animals, alternately brown and fluorescent; chocolate wrappers; and things made to protect other things, like pastel-hued packing paper. The plastic cartons might resemble Christmas presents under the tree of a very comfy family, were they

not transparent and filled with more air than gift. Their mood is weirdly unreal familiarity. Since the mid-aughts, Magor – whose art practice dates back to the 1970s – has used sculpture to entertain decadence, while remaining firmly grounded in a more conflicted position. Bottles of booze, chocolates, white dinner rolls and cigarettes have been major motifs. In Leather Palm (2019) – one of ten sculptures in this show, dispersed across two rooms and one large window space – a facsimile glove sits upon a wood-veneer table, a half-smoked cigarette impossibly teetering from its lower

cuff, with ash settling in the sunken palm. Magor’s sculptural technique largely entails setting various shades of realness against one another: while the cigarette is the genuine article, the glove was cast from polymerised gypsum; in mimicking wood, the table is both real and a slightly embarrassing fraud. This scale of various authenticities engages the mind in a stocktaking of reality, which feels good – like how meditation slows the mind while also waking it up. In Delivery (Sienna) (2018), a monkey cast in rubber dangles from masses of tangled string,

Pet Co. (detail), 2018, polyester film, textiles, paper, stuffed toys, rat skins, mixed media, 112 × 518 × 396 cm. Courtesy the artist and jw Anderson Ltd, London



clutching a Harry Rosen suit bag. It’s as if the swanky bag had plummeted from a cliff, the primate sent in to rescue it. That work’s playfulness is counterpointed, nearby, by quietly gutting vignettes: Coiffed (2020) is a low stage tidily laid out with domestic items: handpainted jewellery boxes, folded sheets, a small lion made from dull blue rubber whose dirtiness suggests many years spent in a garage. The lion’s white hair evinces old age, its hollow grey-ringed eye sockets suggest death. Presumably this commodity was once inflated with life by its child companion. Now it shares the grim fate of its human creators. Sadness is not new to Magor’s sculptures. What’s new, as opposed to their earlier downcast earth tones, are their bright and sometimes Day-Glo colours, which curiously sharpen the work’s mortal connotations

– while departing a greyish world might be a relief, the thought of being ripped from dazzling polychrome existence is almost unbearable. To the extent that Magor’s past work has been funny, its humour has tended towards dry absurdity, highlighting the measures we take to enjoy and endure lives bracketed by gaping nothingness. In previous works, cigarettes were hoarded within cast piles of polymerised gypsum clothing, and orange cheesy snacks under piled rocks. During the last decade her humour has become more puckish. Oilmen’s Bonspiel (2017) is a small chimera, its face and giant pouting eyes borrowed from a stuffed animal the colour of strawberry marshmallows, its body pieced together from an old sock puppet and knitted sweater. This is, in the best sense a child’s way of playing god.

In making the emotion-brain complex jump and spark, this creature’s glinting plastic eyes share an effect with cigarettes, and the aforementioned foil. Magor’s work has a way of pushing its viewer to consider that this manipulation of our emotional receptors might count for something important, despite the less-thanideal implications of the commodities in question – cigarettes being harbingers of death, twinkly plastics a toxic symptom of rapacious consumerism. The question of what this important thing might be is rightly left unanswered. This work is accordingly less akin to a guide for healthy living than to a pair of booster cables, energising the unconscious libidinal dilemmas of all industrialised, capitalised, materialised, consumerised, endlessly compromised people. Mitch Speed

Oilmen’s Bonspiel, 2017, textile, wool, polymerised gypsum, 93 × 72 cm. Courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

April 2023


Uncommon Denominator: Nina Katchadourian at the Morgan The Morgan Library & Museum, New York 10 February – 28 May A clockwise turn around the gallery begins with Moss Maps (1993) and ends with Globe 1 (2019), c-prints by Nina Katchadourian that zoom in on scaly masses easily mistaken for landforms photographed from the air. In the former the artist uses press-on letters to spell words like ‘Australia’ and ‘Madagascar’ on patches of moss shaped like the countries. In the latter the frame is filled by the globelike top of a stanchion pole found on a Paris street. On its surface salt-crusted continents – of chipped paint – are eclipsed by the artist’s shadow as she stands over it. Clever and bewildering, Uncommon Denominator, the third in a series of artist-curated exhibits at the Morgan, gives Katchadourian, whose internet-famous aeroplane-lavatory self-portraits (2010–) were widely misconstrued

as pranks, a chance to set the record straight. Selected in collaboration with museum experts, the objects on display attest to the rigorous research and obscure interests that lie beneath her playfulness. Katchadourian mined the museum’s collection and her own archives for objects that tell stories, commandeering small curios to figure large social narratives: a fragment of a champagne bottle, mounted on a wall dedicated to ‘ships’, is one such specimen. The bottle, we learn, had been aboard a yacht that belonged to the museum’s founder, J.P. Morgan. Elsewhere, a flimsy plastic storage-box lid that Katchadourian’s frugal grandfather fortified with wood and brass screws is juxtaposed with Renovated Mushroom (Tip-Top Tire Rubber Patch Kit)

Giant Redwood, 2012, from the project Seat Assignment, 2010–ongoing. © and courtesy the artist



(1998), a Cibachrome print of torn wild mushrooms the artist mended with tyre-repair stickers she’d found in her grandfather’s toolshed after his death. These broken bits, like other artefacts in the show, display visual affinities that point behind their backs to differences in class status and perspective. The accumulation has an animistic bent to it. In an interview the artist recalls visiting a Finnish forest to ‘worship’ an enormous glacial erratic – a rock once carried by a glacier and deposited on foreign soil, whose coordinates can be used to map the path of prehistoric ice. The oddities in her twenty-first-century wunderkammer are likewise evidence of happenings beyond their horizons. The more one learns about their origins, the stranger they seem. Jenny Wu

Kemang Wa Lehulere Bring Back Lost Love Blank Projects, Cape Town 2 February – 6 April Kemang Wa Lehulere’s aesthetic is one born almost entirely out of a South African experience. In many ways Bring Back Lost Love is an attempt to conjure with the past through the everyday artefacts of the Black experience under apartheid, gathered and arranged in installations on walls, floors and tables throughout the gallery. In Reddening of the Greens 2 (ii) (2021), wall-mounted found objects including wooden crutches protruding from old suitcases summon the trials of migrant labourers and miners disabled from work in criminally unsafe conditions. Rural and township schools are suggested in Notes 1–13 (2017–21), a series of chalk and white-paint drawings on uniformly sized black boards lined up along gallery walls. Ceramic black German Shepherds scattered throughout his installations are perhaps the symbol of apartheid police brutality. But Wa Lehulere is not simply working with the signifiers of repression; he also elicits the

creative reaction to that oppression, summoning a Black intellectual tradition that was engendered by the likes of Solomon Plaatje, R.R.R. Dhlomo (both of whom he regularly mentions) and the half-Irish half-Herero Robert Grendon (Wa Lehulere’s father was also Irish). The exhibition is, on certain terms, an evocation of their intellectual struggle against racism, and a tradition that produced translations of Shakespeare, epic poetry, plays, novels and most importantly journalism and letters of passionate protest – most of which are now consigned almost to oblivion in South African archives. Perhaps the most overt allusion to this forgotten tradition is Letter to the Nobel Committee (2016), handwritten on pages torn from a notebook and framed in several panels. The letter advocates for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to writer and politician Plaatje. This is no frivolous artistic posture: even British prime

minister David Lloyd George, who met Plaatje in 1919, noted that he was a hugely impressive leader of the early peace-seeking African National Congress (anc). Wa Lehulere intuitively reworks forgotten intellectual interests and concerns. His ink drawings of plants in erf 1–18 (2019–21) can be seen as a surrogate for Grendon’s book on botany, The Illustrated Genera of South African Flowering Plants, referenced in contemporaneous sources but otherwise entirely lost to history. Grendon, who taught at the school of anc leader Albert Luthuli (who did win the Noble Peace Prize) and was a fundamental figure in this South African Black intellectual tradition, is completely forgotten, without even a surviving photograph to represent him. It is precisely this form of elision and loss that Wa Lehulere, in Bring Back Lost Loves, provokes back into being. Matthew Blackman

Reddening of the Greens 2 (ii), 2021, salvaged school desks, crutches and found suitcases, 200 × 650 × 30 cm. Courtesy the artist

April 2023


Wu Tsang Of Whales Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional, Madrid 21 February – 11 June Moby-Dick is one of those books that many people vaguely know even if they haven’t read it. Herman Melville’s 1851 novel about a whaling ship setting sail from Nantucket in search of a quasi-mythical albino cachalot has gradually secured its stature as one of the classics of American literature, a regular set text in us high schools and the basis for a revered 1956 film by John Huston (among several other less well regarded versions, both before and after). But Wu Tsang is interested in those aspects of the tale that have traditionally been ignored – even when they’re staring you right in the face. For a start, that famous ‘first line’, ‘Call me Ishmael’, does not in fact open the book.

It is preceded by a sort of prologue of cetacean etymologies and literary extracts ‘supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian’. Tsang’s ‘silent’ film, moby dick; or, The Whale (2022), restores this character’s inaugural place in the story, makes him the narrator of the whole film in voiceover (the only voice, in fact, that we hear) and casts American poet and Black studies scholar Fred Moten, decked in sparkling blue eyeshadow and flowing robes, and encircled by teetering piles of old books. The other aspect of the book generally brushed over by prior adaptations (notably Huston’s) is the gay love story at its heart. In the novel the protagonist Ishmael and his Pacific Islander companion Queequeg share a bed,

moby dick; or, The Whale (still), 2022, dir Wu Tsang



wake up wrapped in each other’s limbs and declare themselves ‘married’. This, too, Tsang draws out, shooting Queequeg and Ishmael’s awakening with a frank concupiscence. Later scenes in which the sailors, stripped to their waists, squeeze the oil from cauldrons of viscid whale blubber are rendered steamily homoerotic. The final result is pitched somewhere between the epic silent-era Hollywood cinema of Cecil B. DeMille and the sometimes-surreal gay erotica of Wakefield Poole, a sinuous and often psychedelic picture with one foot in the traditions of Black radical thought, animated by a lithe choreography drawing equally on classical ballet and ballroom vogue.

Tsang has frequently used her work as a platform to elevate others, especially marginalised groups. Her film Wildness (2012) gave voice not only to a predominantly Latinx and immigrant lgbt+ community in Los Angeles, but even to the Silver Platter nightclub that many in the community called home, from the imaginary perspective of which the film’s voiceover is delivered. Tsang’s solo show at Liverpool’s fact in 2017 focused on singer-producer Kelela and her position as a queer woman of colour in a white, male-dominated music industry. In that respect moby dick; or, The Whale is little different, being a collaboration not just with Moten and regular collaborator Tosh Basco, but a whole collective, Moved by the Motion (including music director Asma Maroof, writer Sophia Al Maria and choreographer Josh Johnson), which at the time of production was based at Zürich’s Schauspielhaus theatre.

In his role as narrator, Moten speaks not only Melville’s words but also quotes from the Trinidadian historian C.L.R. James’s analysis of Moby-Dick as a mirror of the class system under industrial capitalism, with the whaling ship as a “floating factory”. With such a panoply of voices, it would seem as though the only thing missing was the perspective of the whale itself. The slowly drifting imagery in Of Whales is generated in real time by a cross-platform gaming engine called Unity (previously used for Pokémon Go and Call of Duty: Mobile), creating a potentially endless moving-image work. It has a set structure, but the details are randomised, the specific trajectories of different sprites changing each time. Over the course of about an hour, we plunge deep into a cgi ocean, passing from recognisable sponges, anemones and jellyfish to evermore abstract and fantastical imagery, before surging back up towards blue skies and lapping

waves. Riffing on the book’s 93rd chapter, in which the cabin boy Pip is cast overboard and sees the depths as a ‘wondrous… firmament’, the picture is at times like an outer-space starscape, against which the whale itself appears only as an indistinct silhouette. Its insight into cetacean psychology is less clear – but then perhaps that’s the point. With its woodwindbased soundtrack and increasingly trippy imagery, the work becomes a woozy meditation on the inaccessibility of nonhuman minds. The elusiveness of the whale, alluded to by Tsang, becomes less a failure of the director’s imagination, more a structural necessity: like the planet’s surface in Stanisław Lem’s novel Solaris (1961), it is a cipher for human desires, a metaphor for metaphoricity itself. Between the two works, the archetypical ‘Great American Novel’ is seen in new light – as political allegory, queer romance and sci-fi fantasia. Robert Barry

moby dick; or, The Whale, 2022 (projection view, Schauspielhaus Zürich, with live soundtrack performed by the Zürich Chamber Orchestra). Photo: Diana Pfammatter. Courtesy the artist

April 2023


Daniel Arsham Wherever You Go, There You Are Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa 14 February – 4 June “What’s going on here?” my boyfriend asked as we pulled into the Orange County Museum of Art’s enormous parking structure, which doubles as valet for the nearby Westin Hotel. “Are people getting married at Comerica Bank?” In fact, they were: the newlyweds kissed in front of the bank’s logo. It was not the last dystopian vision of American consumerism that we would see in Costa Mesa. Daniel Arsham’s first American museum retrospective is a multifloor exhibition that covers three decades of the artist’s controversial practice at the nexus of commodity culture and high art. Undergirding the show is Arsham’s ‘fictional archaeology’, a concept that reimagines recent cultural objects through a postapocalyptic lens. The Gen X artist’s fatalist perspective is a popular one: according to Arsham’s Instagram, more than 10,000 people attended his Valentine’s Day opening at ocma. Arsham morphs contemporary fear of oncoming end times into a gem-encrusted portrait of societal ruin, aestheticising disaster for profit. Arsham focuses especially on objects from the latter third of the twentieth century and artworks from Ancient Greece and Rome. In Steel Eroded Telephone (2013), gold plating fills the geodelike crevices of a blackened landline telephone; large pyrite obelisks emerge from a rusted fullsize replica of the dmc DeLorean from the 1985 film Back to the Future. Pokémon cards, a Polaroid camera, Sony Walkman headphones, payphones, Time magazines and an electronic

keyboard are all subject to Arsham’s handcrafted, jewel-laden wreckage. Arsham situates Gen X nostalgia among Classical history: five fullsize sculptural replicas from Graeco-Roman antiquity fill one room, their white casts deteriorated to reveal cut quartz. Arsham’s artwork implies largescale catastrophe but creates a carefully crafted aftermath, one that preserves the Western canon – and the 1980s – for future viewing. Arsham’s ‘fictional archaeology’ emphasises expensive commodities, centring on a narrative available to wealthy consumers. In Arsham Porsche 911 Turbo (930a) (2020), decals advertising American Express, Hypebeast, Perrotin gallery and Arsham Studio, among others, emblazon an actual 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo, which remains untouched by Arsham’s signature crystalline corrosion. An accompanying poster, Amethyst Eroded Porsche Poster (2021), announces the vehicle’s ability to carry the viewer through time: the half-demolished text of the poster describes the merging of ‘geologic materials and German engineering’ to assist our journey. In Arsham’s work, luxury goods have salvific potential, uniquely able to transport us from the crises of the present into an altered, corroded version of the near past. Arsham’s brand collaborations depart from the 1980s, casting recent products in an apocalyptic light. Printed across one wall upstairs, a large flowchart labelled ‘Daniel Arsham Universe’ details the artist’s work

Blue Moon (Phase 6), 2016, gouache on Mylar, 107 × 107 cm. Courtesy the artist



with companies that range from Leica Camera to Ford. Arsham, joining a lineage of commercialist creators like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons or Haruki Murakami, eagerly highlights the union of art and capital. His collaborations feature the identifying products of each brand, given Arsham’s signature twist: his $59,000 Bronze Eroded Tiffany Blue Box (2022) features an 18k bracelet inside a rusted, padlock-shaped vessel with gold nuggets poking out of it. Adidas sneakers, racing helmets, basketballs and Dior coats are similarly distressed; under Arsham’s hand, contemporary objects become wistfully imagined wreckage. Susan Sontag, writing on the popularity of science-fiction films, remarked that the genre appealed because of its ability to both ‘beautify’ and ‘neutralize… world-wide anxieties’. In his conception of the future, Arsham effectively warps the fear of climate change or world war into a branded luxury experience; he turns products that define Western consumerism into time-honoured symbolic debris, thereby assuring their continued – or heightened – value. Here the worst has occurred, and the best has happened: crystals emerge from wreckage, and purchases take on second lives as museumworthy monuments. Systemic collapse begets further value, even in the absence of the human. By the time we left the exhibition, the wedding party had vanished. Only the bank remained. Claudia Ross

Eroded Delorean, 2018, stainless steel, glass reinforced plastic, quartz crystal, pyrite, paint, 186 × 422 × 114 cm. Courtesy the artist

April 2023


Aria Dean Abattoir, u.s.a.! The Renaissance Society, Chicago 25 February – 16 April Artist and writer Aria Dean’s latest exhibition builds upon her critical exploration of the ontology of Blackness across sculpture, video and installation; the present film, Abattoir, u.s.a.!, works to imagine the constitution of a subject position through a combination of abstract and representational means. The gallery, entered through two flimsy swinging doors equipped with circular windows and impact plates, features a rectangular perimeter of six-foot-high walls enclosing the viewing area for Dean’s film projected on a screen. Button-patterned rubber tiles cover the floor. Their scent is strong. Sound ricochets around the room from the eight-channel audio system.

These minimal interventions enhance the bodily sensation of occupying space. But the video, produced entirely with 3d animation software, blunts this spatial sensitivity. The film travels through a pastiche of industrial architecture with an aseptic and unfeeling gaze, one that distances rather than immerses the viewer. Resembling online videos demonstrating modern-day livestock slaughter methods, the first-person viewpoint progresses through interiors in which bovine subjects might be held, herded, stunned and exsanguinated. There are no butchers or beasts in Dean’s video; instead, there is only an implied subject

position imparted through the pans and shifts in focus of a virtual camera. So what’s going on? It’s tame for a film rehearsing slaughter, but consistent with a contemporary disposition that is coolly acclimated to mass death. There is no onscreen violence, but certain visuals imply that death or dying is happening. In the middle of the film, after the camera enters a metal guillotinelike apparatus in which cattle might be stunned, an abstract sequence suggests a loss of consciousness. Black-and-yellow flickers evoke the undulation of colour visible when one’s eyes are closed. The flashing stops and opens to a canted angle of a bloody floor and

Abattoir, u.s.a.!, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Robert Chase Heishman. Courtesy the Renaissance Society, Chicago



an out-of-focus room – what one might see after falling to the ground. This first-person point of view, oddly, reinforces the absence of a subject, staging a negative ontological condition of not-being and not-becoming. No limbs – animal or human – enter the camera’s view, nor is there any sound to suggest activity beyond the movement of the camera. Only the presence of architecture is registered, whether in shadows captured during shifting lighting conditions or in reflections seen in the glossy, blood-soaked floor. Death is positioned as a nonrepresentational condition, figured by the lack of life. The viewer cannot know what lens they are seeing through and as a result has no framework for empathy. The deep lack of meaning at the heart of Dean’s video contrasts sharply with the discursive scaffold offscreen. Dean’s research

originated from an overlap she identified in the writings of French poststructuralist Georges Bataille and American Afropessimist Frank B. Wilderson, who both briefly explored the topic of slaughterhouse. The exhibition text gestures to Dean’s research on modernism’s inheritance of the slaughterhouse as a generic, self-effacing nontypology that aligned with twentieth-century attitudes towards design – and more baldly, death. Dean presumably views the coalescence of design and death, here both stripped of ornament and ritual, as potent concepts for a philosophical project in which she seeks out objects that dodge or subvert representation to express the continued subjugation of the Black subject position. For Wilderson, this is the status quo – the irreconcilable antagonism between Blackness and everything else is inescapable. It’s not a defeatist

position, but a vehemently defensive one that rejects any dissenting view. Dean’s film concurs with this position, putting forth a nonoppositional gaze, in which presence is constituted through absence, a condition bell hooks identified in earlier modes of cinema that enacts the subordination of Black female spectators. This critical architecture crowds the selfsufficient video installation, which perhaps needs no explanation. If Dean’s ultimate goal is to embody nihilism, then why sanitise the film with discourse? If we look to the other pole of Dean’s intellectual project, Bataille’s abyss is not a place of mere contempt or boredom, but a site where incompleteness and incoherence generate a delirious kind of meaning that works against itself. Dean has dug an exquisite hole, but it could be a tad dirtier. Alexandra Drexelius

Abattoir, u.s.a.!, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Robert Chase Heishman. Courtesy the Renaissance Society, Chicago

April 2023


Ser Serpas Hall Swiss Institute, New York 25 January – 23 April Ser Serpas first garnered attention for her sculptures wrought from urban detritus in 2017, when they featured in her solo show at Miami’s Quinn Harrelson / Current Projects. Operating at the nexus of the dérive and the dumpster dive, the Los Angeles-born artist-poet scours the streets of those metropolises where she has upcoming exhibitions in search of suitable castoffs: mattresses, strollers, bathtubs. She proceeds to transmogrify the junk in performances that no one sees, twisting, stripping and stacking it into sculptures whose pathos and presence draw out the animacy and affect of such objects in our late-capitalist epoch. Serpas’s latest exhibition foils any inclination to pigeonhole the twenty-eight-year-old’s evolving practice: here are dozens of photographs of the choreographies behind her sculptures; seven heroically scaled paintings of bodies; and four vitrines containing old journal entries. Though sculpture is omnipresent through the photos, the lone sculpture onsite is a crimson floor installation, Partition Play (2023), which repurposes the museum’s own architecture. Serpas has sourced a wall from the last exhibition in the space (a survey of

Colombian-American artist Karen Lamassonne), smashed it up and laid it flat. This ersatz red carpet takes up questions that range from philosophical – does architecture remember? – to pragmatic – what happens to temporary gallery infrastructure after a show’s run? Photographs, made by Serpas and artist Rafik Greiss in Paris, open a window onto Serpas’s sculptural process as it unfolds in the street, in the woods and in warehouselike interiors. By the Highway (vhs Stills) (2023), an intermittently glitchy 31-image series, captures the jumpsuit-clad artist wrestling with a detached car door as the heavy steel resists her, or standing on two wooden slats atop a folded mattress, pushing the bulky object to adopt a new posture. While Partition Play riffs on Minimalist floor pieces, Serpas’s dances with everyday objects recall Minimalist choreographies built around banal props like mattresses and ramps – though Serpas’s choice of discarded items suggests interest in the objects’ psychic residues and places in chains of consumption. In oil paintings executed on large uneven cuts of jute, Serpas renders fleshy bodies with thick, vigorous strokes that chime with the

Hall, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy Swiss Institute, New York



physicality of her sculptures. Images lurch towards abstraction as cropped, anonymised body parts overtake the frame: two untitled paintings from 2022 depict a woman’s torso marked by smears of pink, and a soft belly with a drippy black navel, respectively. Serpas bases her paintings on old cell-phone photos – of lovers, friends and herself – as well as pre-op photos sourced online, which sometimes relate to her own experience of transitioning. Treating these images as found objects, she transforms intimate material from her own life into pictures that skew opaque and impassive. Likewise, her dismembered college Moleskine notebooks – full of plans for performances, doodles resembling breasts and eyelashes, song lyrics and confessional texts – use old memories and emotions as the basis for deadpan readymades: a project that is at once profoundly personal and a subversion of the vulnerability and transparency routinely demanded from artists, perhaps particularly those from marginalised groups, whom the artworld often presses to make legible, biographical work. It’s a pressure I hope she keeps applying. Cassie Packard

Sue Williamson Between Memory and Forgetting The Box, Plymouth 4 February – 4 June Sue Williamson was seven when her family moved from the English Midlands to South Africa in 1948. By the 1980s she was making a name for herself in an apartheid state, her work carefully but urgently calling for change and centring the women of colour who were driving it. Four decades later, she returns for her first institutional show in the uk with a repertoire of work ranging from photography to sculpture and video, dedicated to memory and colonial injustice, and their sociopolitical manifestations and misrepresentations. The show opens with her breakthrough work, A Few South Africans (1983–87), a series of portraits of key women in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Like enlarged postage stamps, each sepia photograph is framed with coloured borders that are detailed with small figures or signifiers: shooting stars dot a textured, terrainlike purple border (for singer and civil-rights activist Miriam Makeba); a torn-off newspaper headline (for Caroline

Motsoaledi, married to one of the Rivonia defendants jailed alongside Nelson Mandela; she returns for a moving 2012 colour portrait photograph in the series All Our Mothers, 1981–2022). They feel grand and shirk the retro lure that sepia can produce for a soft vibrancy that longs for their vindication in the triumph they await. In a modest space, the show moves through Williamson’s work expressively rather than by any stricter chronology or theme, contrasting largescale installation with intricate photographic detail, deferring flashy arrangements to a neat and generous presentation. In Colouring In (1992), line drawings from a children’s colouring book overlay photographs of the Boer War (between British colonisers and Afrikaners, 1899–1902), apartheid-era images and Afrikaans text – stand back and the layers blur, depictions of history becoming an array of increasingly abstract outlines.

In Towards Another World (2023), an installation produced for this show, figurative illustrations of the Boer War adorn white sheets pinned to an obelisk framework of steel struts. It is a spare interpretation of the nearby Plymouth Boer War Memorial, suspended, foundationless, a metre above an arrangement of wintry branches and bricks, collapsed from nowhere discernible. The grim ‘scorched earth’ war tactics of the British are recalled: corners of leaves are blackened and violently turned as if by flame; the twigs and brick are charred; leaves, rather than attached to branches, are skewered to the ends of them. Though, viewed front-on here at The Box, the obelisk is backgrounded by this former-church building’s bright stained glass. And so the show’s titular betweenness is felt most keenly across works that sit decades apart. Williamson is almost constantly fluctuating between funereal darkness and an enduring vitality, reaching to the skies from the ashen ground. Alexander Leissle

Towards Another World, 2023, metal frame, embroidered fabric, boards, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and The Box, Plymouth

April 2023


Chakaia Booker & Carol Rama Against the Day Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin 14 February – 25 March Against the Day combines prints and sculptures by Chakaia Booker with three mixed-media works by the late Carol Rama, whose estate the gallery manages. It takes place across three rooms. The first houses Booker’s Founding Warrior Quest (ii 21c) (2010), six photographs tracking the artist – a headscarved African-American woman – as she moves around a scrapyard. Wearing workwear and gloves, she inhabits this role with resolute but undefined purpose; as the sole survivor of a disaster, maybe, or weary hero arrived at a new frontier. Using grainy black-and-white, Booker here creates her own myth, and the scrapyard becomes the surface of the moon. Across the following two rooms, Booker’s works comprise imposing, wall-based sculptures made from scrap automobile tyres. She pushes this loaded medium to its limit, and it yields.

In Random Request (2022), black rubber takes a strange, almost vaginal form, its extremities twisted and pulled into feathery calligraphic shards. Elsewhere, the rubber is cut and pinned back much more precisely, in staccato rhythms echoing the repetition of the assembly line (Superstition, 2010). In Booker’s fierce sculptures, the automobile – that icon of white America’s modernity – meets its own brilliant undoing. After being declared bankrupt, Carol Rama’s father, Amabile, who owned an automobile and bicycle factory, took his own life in 1942. Perhaps inevitably, the dark shadow of this modernity is palpable in the Italian artist’s work. In Bricolage (1966) she affixes the canvas with everyday objects like nails and dolls’ eyes, to uncanny and disquieting effect. In Definizione d’usura (1977), flaccid inner tubes of bicycle tyres are hung from a wire frame atop a black canvas.

Against the Day, 2023 (installation view). Photo: © Graysc / Dotgain. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin



Disembodied eyes, according to Freud, always represent castration anxiety; the meaning of deflated tubing hardly needs spelling out. In these works, Rama takes the myth of male productive genius and reveals the abject but comical horror at its heart. Making a photograph ‘against the day’ means to shoot into the sunlight, forcing the subject into silhouette; counterintuitive, in effect, because you’re working against nature. And both artists share this clarifying but contrary approach. While responding to very different contexts, their work speaks to the violence of modernity and industrial production, and the figure of masculinity within it. With Booker’s works, more specifically, we get a clear and sensuous study of American modernity, with the founding racial violence underpinning it. Rebecca O’Dwyer

Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia National Art School Galleries, Sydney 3 February – 18 March The entrance to the National Art School Galleries is almost unrecognisable. What previously appeared as an empty white threshold – an invisible space of permanent transition that one passes through without pause – now presents itself in a very different guise, as a marble shrine. Thine Shrine, Divine (2023) is an installation by The ArtHitects (Gary Carsley and Renjie Teoh) that seeks to memorialise the ‘ancestors’ and ‘non-biological genealogies’ of the lgbtqia+ community. An animated classical bust on a nearby screen incants a spread of names – “Alan Turing”, “Mrs Dalloway”, “Claude Cahun”, “RuPaul Charles” – building a queer pantheon with each new utterance. Of course, there has been no major architectural remodelling here: the installation is actually constructed out of sheets of paper, which only create a flat shallow illusion of the classical facade. Yet despite its kitsch material skin, the intervention that lies beneath this playful surface is driven by the most serious sense of historical consequence. The choice to begin Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia with this

shrine is progressively justified by the eclectic spread of subsequent artworks. Both the show and the shrine have a catholic, rather than Catholic, doctrine. Tracking the movements of an ever-evolving community, the exhibition is underwritten by a concern with history and the process of history-making. With a breadth that stretches from the present-day back to the 1960s, the exhibition refutes even the slightest murmurs of a singular or essentialised queer experience, through the inherent diversity of artworks that are responding to notably distinct historical circumstances. From Vivienne Binns’s pioneering feminist works, to William Yang’s intimate documentation of his friend and ex-lover Allan’s battle with hiv/aids, to Tony Albert’s confrontation with colonial legacies, through the repurposing of vintage objects that contain stereotypes of First Nations Australians. Yet the most compelling work in the exhibition is Ali Tahayori’s There is no Queer in Iran (2022), which stages the fight for queer identity and recognition. Composed of tiny hand-cut mirrors, which fragment the viewer’s reflection

into a barely legible kaleidoscopic array, the work’s very material form forces one to reckon with the idea of presence. While the mirror is one of the most tired signifiers of identity used in art, Tahayori reworks it into something that hums with complexity and nuance. Mobilising the traditional Iranian craft of Āina-Kāri (mirrorworking), Tahayori’s work produces a mazelike geometry. Its shape is not, however, idle but filled with meaning. It is, in fact, a mixture of Kufic and Farsi calligraphy that reproduces an excerpt from Wikipedia, which explains that some believe that there is no Farsi equivalent for the word ‘queer’. Here, we find echoes of the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s famous 2007 statement: ‘In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country’. Tahayori’s work harbours charged politics within its intentionally illegible form, which does not automatically unfold itself to the viewer. It brilliantly leaves us in a state of both visual and cognitive fragmentation – sensing the presence of meaning and reaching for it, while in the same gesture being denied it. Tai Mitsuji

Ali Tahayori, There is no queer in Iran, 2022, hand-cut mirrors and plaster on timber. Courtesy the artist

April 2023


Balthus Under the Surface Luxembourg & Co, London 3 March – 4 June The eccentric Swiss painter Balthus (1908–2001) has long generated controversy, mostly for his paintings of young girls and women found in disconcerting, dreamlike interiors, awkwardly posed, often reclining, seemingly asleep, bare legs exposed below suggestively short skirts. In recent years, museum exhibitions of his works have occasioned protests and petitions against their charged and vaguely suspect eroticism, embodied by his perhaps best-known canvas Thérèse Dreaming (1938). That contemporary notoriety inevitably sticks to this show of nine paintings and five drawings, all but one of which are of female subjects. Making sense of what produces the disquiet in these paintings isn’t so straightforward. Two pencil-on-paper studies of naked young women (Étude pour ‘Le Lever’, 1974, and Nu debout, 1969–70) are unambiguous in focusing on their subjects’ genitals. They’re mounted – coyly, as if to prevent any possible offense – on the reverse of wall-mounted rotatable pictureframes, the fronts of which present two other innocuous, even tritely sentimental, pencil portraits of young women sleeping (Nu endormi, 1969–70, and Katia Endormie, 1969–70). However, the repeating fixation on dreaming women, partly unclothed but never revealing anything, only properly comes together in Balthus’s paintings, testaments to a kind of

paralysed and frigid voyeurism. The show is dominated by three large canvases, each rehearsing differing compositions of three young women arranged around a central sofa. In each, the central girl has one leg hitched up on the sofa, looking imperiously out of the canvas, while in one (Étude pour ‘Le Salon’, 1941) her companion crawls on the floor, or in another (Les trois soeurs (Sylvia, Marie-Pierre et Beatrice Colle), 1954–55) is hunched on the ground like a monkey, scowling at the viewer while gnawing at an apple, while a third sister, sat bareshouldered in a bandeau dress, quietly ignores the scene as she reads a book in her lap. These toylike figures are echoed by the stickthin woman in tiny pointed shoes who stands like a porcelain doll in Portrait de Madame Pierre Loeb (1934). Passivity and inertia weigh on these paintings, which hints at what organises Balthus’s psychological universe – the turning of everything alive and sensuous into a kind of dead object. Even the neoclassical landscape of Paysage de Champrovent (1941–45), with its lush valley and rolling green mountains, has its own ambiguous voyeur built in – a woman reclines on the grassy foreground, head propped on an elbow, her short dress clinging thinly to her hips. The logic of the image is genuinely perverse: she’s both a displaced repetition of the landscape she admires, and

Étude pour ‘Le Salon’, 1941, oil on canvas, 65 × 81 cm. © adagp, Paris and dacs, London 2023. Courtesy Luxembourg & Co, London



a willing subordinate to it. As viewers we’re then implicated in this bizarre tryst, between a passive ‘feminine’ symbol and her allsurrounding geological suitor, standing in for the artist, hiding in plain sight. Balthus’s depressive, prurient weirdness casts everything as passive and de-energised, even to the point of suggesting the perspective of a viewer in a state of psychological disintegration. The most disturbing image here isn’t of an idealised female, but of a child. Le poisson rouge (1948) has the titular goldfish in a bowl on a draped table, starkly lit against a black background. Above the line of the table is the round head of a child, a hand to one side of him holding a candle. But the drapery is hitched up to reveal that there are no feet or legs to support this boy, so that his head now looks like an effigy, placed on the table. In front of this is a chair from which a devilish catlike animal grins malevolently back at us. Objectification is a state Balthus seems to revel in, and it’s never really clear whether these paintings ever transcend this pathological sense of a narcissistic sensibility willing itself into lifelessness. Nevertheless, that these paintings succeed in letting us in on this lonely, arrested worldview makes them worth seeing, as a reminder of the dubious, sometimes obscene power of images. J.J. Charlesworth

Le poisson rouge, 1948, oil on canvas, 82 × 84 cm. Photo: Damian Griffiths. © adagp, Paris and dacs, London 2023. Courtesy Luxembourg & Co, London

April 2023


State-less Two Temple Place, London 11 March – 9 April The first piece that one encounters in State-less, a cogent exhibition of moving image and photographic works by East and Southeast Asian artists, is a video by the VietnameseAmerican artist Tiffany Chung, best known for her intricate cartographic embroideries and drawings of various geopolitical conflict zones, often reticulated by meandering lines that index the migratory pathways of displaced populations. km 0 – Son’s Story (2017) chronicles the harrowing journey of Son, one of an estimated 45,000 refugees from the SinoVietnamese war of 1979, who was only granted asylum in Hong Kong two decades later. Eschewing the granular abstraction of her signature topographies, Chung instead uses a series of Google Map animations, visually rendering Son’s sobering account of perilous

boat crossings, deportations and detention with a clean utilitarianism and efficacy that starkly contrasts the innumerable obstacles – geographical, bureaucratic, legal and cultural – that Son and so many others have been forced to navigate in order to be granted the right to remain. While Chung’s video offers a topical point of departure for the exhibition (State-less happened to open the week uk Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his government’s plan to discourage illegal Channel crossings), other works speak to different concerns, the 12 artworks demonstrating the myriad ways East and Southeast Asian artists ‘respond, contemplate, observe and react to the environment they are in’. Curator Ling Tan, of the East and Southeast Asian art collective Kakilang

State-less, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Richard Eaton / @WorldCityPhotog



and a trained architect, breaks up the exhibition with a latticework of exposed scaffolding, referencing the ever-changing urban environment of cities in East and Southeast Asia that many of the works address, while also undoing and unsettling the stately grandeur of the site. This is used to most dramatic effect in the building’s central mahogany staircase, occupied by a five-channel videowork by Hong Kong artist Lo Lai Lai Natalie. The Days Before the Silent Spring (2021) is an ode to the decade-long activities of the Hong Kong farming collective Sangwoodgoon, documenting their environmental activism, sense of community and the challenges of cultivating a sustainable future in the fast-paced metropolis. Elsewhere we find works that similarly uncover hidden strata of urban experience across different temporal

and sensory registers: Wu Tsan-Cheng’s Taiwan Sound Map Project (2011) allows the viewer to navigate through a series of maps of different cities in Taiwan, and listen to geolocated fragments of sound captured in each location by the artist over a ten-year period; Robert Zhao Renhui’s series of photographs Singapore 1925–2025 (2015) merges documentary photography with surreal futuristic imaginings to examine the ecological consequences of land reclamation in the city-state. Just as Zhao’s photographs allude to the creeping expansion of Singapore’s national boundaries, another series of images by Mainland Chinese artist Wang Wei, One Belt One Road (2018), explores the impact of the Chinese state’s ambitious global infrastructural development project on her hometown in Guiyang, which has undergone significant redevelopment in recent years in the name of ‘national rejuvenation’. Touching on similar themes is Feast (2021), a beautifully shot video by another Mainland Chinese artist,

Li Yongzheng. Filmed during the covid-19 pandemic, the viewer is led on a voyage across the vast, empty deserts and canyons of Xinjiang province. The artist and his friends are seen arriving at a banquet table incongruously set up in the middle of this barren expanse, where they meet with a group of local Uyghur Muslims, who slaughter a lamb according to their traditions and welcome them to the table. It is not clear what special event has occasioned this illicit gathering. The group are shown toasting, feasting, dancing, singing and setting off fireworks into the darkening night sky, as if blissfully unaware (or in defiance) of the pandemic that sweeps across the world beyond the spectacular mountain ridges that frame this strange encounter, or indeed of the ongoing forced ‘reeducation’ of Uyghur Muslims in other parts of Xinjiang province. At the end of these festivities the banquet table is set ablaze, all traces of their meeting reduced to glowing embers as the participants go their separate ways. It is an enigmatic and evocative piece

that subtly alludes to deeper political disturbances, but like most of the work in the exhibition, much is left to the imagination. State-less is a thought-provoking display that sheds light on the visible and invisible boundaries that continue to shape our experience of the world, while giving voice to the diversity of a region that is too often seen as homogeneous. In contrast to the sort of immersive and immediate encounters that we are now so accustomed to (as for instance in the dazzling exhibitions at 180 Strand just up the road), many of the videos in State-less solicit slow viewing and listening. Lo’s piece is almost an hour long, and Chung’s half that. Still, it is worth taking the time to dwell in the space of the exhibition, for the stories that these works tell not only speak to the fraught histories of colonialism, ecological concerns, urban transformation, displacement and exile across the world, but also of resilience, resistance and our tireless search for a sense of community and the right to remain. Wenny Teo

Li Yongzheng, Feast, 2021, dual-screen video with sound, 13 min. Courtesy the artist

April 2023


Bollywood Superstars: A Short Story of Indian Cinema Louvre Abu Dhabi 25 January – 4 June On the drive to the Louvre Abu Dhabi you pass a giant electronic billboard by the side of the highway. On it, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is advertising a competition at the nearby LuLu Hypermarket, sponsored by Kalyan Jewellers. ‘Win 3 kg Gold – 60 winners.’ He’s grinning, pointing the index finger of his right hand at the gold bar he holds in his left. We don’t need to be told who he is; everyone knows. The octogenarian has acted in more than 200 films (which led the French director François Truffaut to describe him as a ‘oneman film industry’), been the subject of more than seven biographies, won a seat in India’s parliament (during the mid 1980s) with the highest majority ever recorded, while his fellow Indian star Rajinikanth built his career on

reprising Bachchan’s roles in Tamil remakes of the latter’s movies. Bollywood Superstars is a compact show, coorganised with Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, to where it travels this autumn, that aims to tell the story of the origins and advent of Indian cinema (the first movingimage presentation in India took place in 1896, the exhibition’s opening text informs us, barely a year after the first Lumière Brothers screenings in Paris) through to the massive global industry it has become today. As you may have gathered from that, though the exhibition title refers to the most celebrated hub of Indian film production, the show itself incorporates work in India’s many languages and other cinematic hubs. Its beginnings, however, are

occupied by various forms of religious art: from nineteenth-century Hindu temple lamps to twentieth-century painted storytellershrines (the doors fold out to reveal an illustrated narrative) and fabrics depicting scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. There are nineteenth-century paintings of deities such as Krishna and Shiva dancing with cowherders and courtesans, bronze Natarajas (an avatar of Shiva – also the lord of actors – performing the cosmic dance) and twentieth-century photographs of classical Indian dancers and painted shadow puppets. An index, as the wall texts put it, of precinematic methods of storytelling, and the narratives that Indian cinema turned to as protests against British colonial rule gathered pace. But also an account

Ravana, the Demon King of the Ramayana, Chhau dance mask from Purulia, West Bengal, c.1990, painted and varnished papier-mâché (installation view, Bollywood Superstars, Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2023). Collection Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi



of the gestures and poses and storylines that defined early Indian cinema. Although a cynic might say that from a contemporary perspective it’s a story of now-less-popular culture (historical artefacts of the past – some of the less-relevant items from the Louvre Abu Dhabi and other collections include Mughal armour, decorated daggers, vessels, architectural panels and boxes) made popular by an alliance with popular culture (cinema) of today. But for better or worse, it gives the show a vaguely anthropological twist, with sections on Mughal and Rajput culture thrown into the mix. There are also some curiosities (a working, decorated bioscope, a greenscreen movie set that allows you to see yourself in a Bollywood-style production) and anomalies (a woman’s dress from Pakistan – Partition being one the subjects that the show bypasses). It’s at this stage that we begin to dive into Indian cinema proper, with a minidisplay (of photographs and videos) on the work of

India’s best-known auteur, Satyajit Ray, and the ‘Golden Age of Hindi Cinema’, featuring posters of nationalist classics such as Mother India (1957). Before we come full circle and reach the show’s climax – the emergence of the new gods, the Bollywood superstars: Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, etc. Many of them represented by oversize illuminated cutouts and an equally oversize recent-Bollywood-cinema highlight reel. Tucked away, on a smaller-scale screen, is Rinku Kalsy’s For the Love of a Man (2015), a documentary about four of Rajinikanth’s most extreme fans, one of whom (a former gangster) led the destruction of a cinema that refused to replay a song from a Rajinikanth movie, and another who flew from Tamil Nadu to Singapore to be near the object of his devotion during the latter’s hospitalisation. Along the way there’s a 12-day fan-organised birthday celebration and multiple professions from his avid followers that they would do

anything for him (although it generally seems like they already have). And the more sinister fact that Rajinikanth, like other stars, has also leveraged his fanbase in the cause of local politics. Perhaps this, then, is the truest account of what Bollywood stardom really means. The catalogue to Bollywood Superstars (which is in many ways a richer account of Indian movie-history than the show itself) compares Bachchan to a jeune premier and an ‘angry young man’, an act of translation that’s reflected in the fact that the exhibition itself (curated by Quai Branly’s head of Asian Collections, Julien Rousseau, and anthropologist Hélène Kessous) is captioned in English, French and Arabic; and not Hindi or any of the other languages of the films themselves. All of which gives the show a certain distanced, colonial vibe rather than announcing it as something aimed at Bollywood consumers (of which there are many in the Gulf region, as Bachchan’s advert attests) themselves. Mark Rappolt

Bollywood Superstars, 2023 (installation view, Louvre Abu Dhabi). Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi

April 2023


Romantic Irony Arario Gallery, Seoul 1 February – 18 March Given the number of deep-pocketed foreign dealers who have been setting up outposts in Seoul, it’s been a pleasure to see local firms increase their own footprints lately. After being out of action for a year, Arario has unveiled a gallery with – count them! – seven floors, including its basement. Renovated in highindustrial chic by Jo Nagasaka (Schemata Architects, Tokyo), it stands next to the delightfully odd Arario Museum (an idiosyncratic collection of Korean contemporary artists, ybas, Jörg Immendorff, Cindy Sherman and more). First up in the new space is a group show with five Korean artists on the gallery roster – all men, all but one born during the 1970s.

Each gets a floor of his own, so it feels like visiting five separate, modestly sized solo affairs. That said, there’s a single theme and title for the proceedings: Romantic Irony, as conceived by the German philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), a press release informs. An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (1999) advises that the phrase connoted, for him, ‘an attitude of detached scepticism adopted by the highest “modern” or post-classical art toward its own activity and/or material’. This could apply to a sizeable percentage of today’s art, but no matter: it was a useful frame for the proceedings. The chief romantic ironist? That would have to be Gwon Osang, who has layered photos atop

Noh Sangho, The Great Chapbook 4 Holy, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 117 × 91 cm. © the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul



curving, abstracted human forms that recall those of Henry Moore. In his previous ‘photographic sculptures’, Gwon has tended to use correctly proportioned bodies and applied images so as to craft realistic (and uncanny) three-dimensional portraits. These latest examples, however, bear fractured collages across their surfaces; they are garish and even grotesque. The head of one reclining figure has been built from snapshots of two different models, and multiple small legs adorn her amorphous lower half. Imagine a primitive computer trying and failing to stitch together a body with too few images, and you have a sense of the look.

Noh Sangho is also concerned with breakdowns in the legibility and veracity of images. His paintings brew together photos and graphics he generates with ai. Sesame Street’s Elmo holds the form of a crucifix (a meme) before a church window in one airbrushed work; a grinning skeleton sits astride two overlapping horses (an ai glitch) in another. (Both are titled The Great Chapbook 4 – Holy, all works 2023.) As many artists mine disparate sources to make compositions that have an exotic veneer but are ultimately quite tame, Noh deserves credit for making paintings that are genuinely tasteless – as awful as the digital wastelands inspiring them. The excellent Lee Dongwook’s romantic irony takes the form of shocking self-abasement. He goes through hell in his art. Using pink, fleshy Sculpey clay, he fashions himself as a tiny, usually nude figure undergoing abject trials.

In Crane his naked body supports long beams festooned with heads on their ends: a one-man construction site. In Cliff his head rests atop a miniature pagoda. There is an unfinished appearance to many of these sculptures (exposed supports, scrappy bits of clay) that makes their harrowing circumstances all the more darkly comic. A macabre, barely-there humour also lingers in the greyscale paintings of Ahn Jisan, which are rough and patchy, seemingly uncertain whether they want to hold together as discrete artworks or evanesce. (Think Anselm Kiefer lite.) A shadowy figure holds scissors in one hand and a rabbit’s ears in the other in the most memorable piece here. In another, a yellow-haired man grips the back of a water deer (humping it?) as it flies through the snow. These are fine paintings, but it would be nice to see Ahn be even less polite, surfacing the sinister energies that his art seems to harbour.

The best display? That belongs to Kim Inbai, who in an extra-tall space presents four beguiling sculptures. Slices of oddly shaped plywood (a modified outline of the nearby city of Paju) are stacked from floor to the 5.5m ceiling, a map surreally morphed into architecture. Blackboard and Chalk hangs on a wall, its board made of white chalk, its chalk stick painted with blackboard paint. Two large propellers (one smooth, one craggy) were threaded onto a standing pole – spare parts for some unknown machine. In Hangul, one bore the cryptic words of the resurrected Jesus: ‘Don’t touch me’. This art is about looking and living with doubt – a defining experience of our times – as faith and scepticism duel. Nothing that Kim makes is quite what it first purports to be. As his art reveals itself, it seems to be teaching you, playfully, how to see. Andrew Russeth

Kim Inbae, Metamorphosis, 2023, resin, fibreglass, pla filament, aluminium, stainless steel, 148 × 165 × 258 cm. © the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul

April 2023


Books Affinities by Brian Dillon Fitzcarraldo, £13.99 (softcover) ‘I found myself frequently using the word affinity, and wondered what I meant by it,’ art critic and writer Brian Dillon declares in Affinities, a collection of Dillon’s articles and essays, threaded by a ten-part reflection on what draws him to write about artworks – the feeling or approach he tentatively defines as something akin to ‘fascination’, ‘like but unlike critical interest’. But critical interest ‘remains too often at the level of knowledge, analysis, conclusions, at worst the total boredom of having opinions’. It’s this antagonism, towards the demands made of the critic by bigger critical projects, that shadows Dillon’s elegantly fashioned, thoughtful and informed texts. Ordered in the loose chronology of their subjects’ lives, these range across a long century of modernity. Though he doesn’t seem to notice (or see fit to note), Dillon’s affinity is often for the works of women artists, overlooked or who died too soon – from Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, dancer Loie Fuller, architect Eileen Gray, artists Hanna Höch, Claude Cahun, Dora Maar, Diane Arbus and Francesca Woodman – via appreciations of Powell and Pressburger films, Charles and Ray Eames, William Eggleston and Samuel Beckett, among others.

What Dillon does notice about his affinities has to do with ‘a state of bodily between-ness verging on dissolution, aspiring to reconvene otherwise, in alternative forms’. There’s much about androgyny, photographic blur and fragments of bodies (and a superb text on the visual hallucination that presages a migraine). It’s tempting to see in Dillon’s aesthetic indeterminacy an analogue of critical deferral – affinity as ‘a means of escaping the community at hand, positing a community to come.’ Alert to the political vagueness of this, he ventriloquises the ‘voice of the academy’, asking ‘but what are the politics of all this?’, while recoiling from those writers who turn ‘aesthetic or political preferences into a self-conscious programme’. Dillon circles around how ‘ideology is the limit that we do not like to admit we live inside’. But ‘ideology’ is a historically big and politically battered concept; what Affinities does ‘live inside’, though, are the constraints of art criticism in relation to institutions; to the artworld and the academy. Viewing Affinities from outside, as it were, we find theory, the canon and the academy are all still there, just outside the frame, making the preselections that brings these artists to the

critic’s attention in the first place: Dillon’s selections are all variously emblematic of a postmodern narrative of modernism. Still, at a time when much writing about art is too timid to do more than connect artworks to tick-box sociopolitical issues (making art criticism dull to write and even more tedious to read), Dillon’s wilful sticking to what fascinates him reminds us where criticism starts from – some valuing of one’s self and experience, some ‘fascination’ at the object that provokes us, that ‘we’ might share in this, and that to do so is an issue worth deliberating. The limit, though, is precisely how to connect to something bigger than what is nevertheless still one’s taste (a loaded term Dillon dismisses). A few theorists and erudite nonacademic critics float through Affinities (Roland Barthes is a touchstone; Janet Malcolm and Wayne Koestenbaum recur elsewhere) while contemporary theorists are pretty much ignored. But refusing to have bigger theoretical commitments imposed denies the possibility of choosing them for oneself. Affinities ends inconclusively (perhaps necessarily so) with a long list of more images and artworks yet to be written about... J.J. Charlesworth

Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki, translated by Sam Bett, David Boyd, Helen O’Horan and Daniel Joseph Verso, £11.99 (softcover) ‘How about going to Earth?’ Jebba, one of the characters in the short story ‘I’ll Never Forget’ asks his companion Mari. ‘Why would you suggest that?’ she replies. In this newly translated collection of 11 posthumously published tales, Izumi Suzuki, who is now being recognised as a pioneer of both sci-fi and transgressive literature in Japan, seems to constantly challenge received wisdom. Why, indeed, should we submit to reality on Earth when Suzuki’s dissident and anarchist science-fiction proposes alternatives full of rebellion, whether in outer space or through time. Suzuki came of age amid Japan’s counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s. She clarifies her opinions of the era in the titular story, ‘Hit Parade of Tears’, writing that a new independent political state that the story’s male


character is seeking to establish would ‘encapsulate’ the realities of the Japan she was living in: ‘it would be violent and reckless and cruel’. While this is the only story collected here that directly articulates Suzuki’s distrust of the ruling authorities at the time of its writing, it’s telling that her antagonist would perpetuate within his ideal state the very one Suzuki defies. In many of these stories, Suzuki expresses a yearning for something else – whether an alternative self, or world. In ‘Memory of Water’ the nameless narrator goes through life in a dejected daze but one day wakes up as ‘AlterShe’, an alter ego who ‘felt sorry’ for her other self, ‘fucking loved life’ and sometimes piloted their shared existence. However, when the other self regains consciousness and unknowingly


destroys Alter-She’s relationship with a man, Alter-She permanently leaves. Left with this emptiness, the original-she thinks to herself that ‘Such was her punishment for hating the world. The world rejected her and wouldn’t love her and she hated it back.’ Alter-She, however, has fled to a different, endless universe: ‘A pure world with neither sorrow nor sin’, where she has the sense that the man she lost is returning to her. Indeed, the idea of an alternate, yet unobtainable utopia looms over the entire collection. Through stories of murderous aliens, rock-and-roll has-beens and failed witches, Suzuki knows very well that life on Earth sucks, but that doesn’t stop her from constantly imagining and reimagining radical alterities. Marv Recinto

April 2023


Your Love Is Not Good by Johanna Hedva And Other Stories, £16.99 (hardcover) Your Love Is Not Good is three books in one. On the surface it’s an emotional and artistic bildungsroman: a journey of an ambivalently obedient artworld adept who has the mfa, a gallery who supports her, a series of shows in la and Berlin to work towards, and the hand-wringing journey out of that, towards some kind of self-acceptance. But in its intimate mapping of the vicissitudes and dealings of her art-professional arc, it’s also a handy guidebook of sorts, filled with apt perceptions and accurate barbs. Through which it also functions as a pretty accurate artworld satire and morality play, warning those who might wish to walk a similar path. This is fiction, but it hews close to life: the eager gallerists, flippant curators and vapid artists who slip in and out of its pages feel like transcriptions from actual encounters rather than fabrications. The unnamed narrator (we’re told once only that her name sounds ‘almost’ like Hanne) is, like the author, mixed-race Korean-American and identifies as queer. But while Hedva is a writer, musician and artist, our first-person narrator is a selfconscious, self-effacing painter who seems to mostly deal in portraiture. As if immersed in her canvas-soaked mind, the staccato chapters of the book each are titled after various painterly techniques, with an accompanying

short definition: pentimento, trompe l’oeil, impasto, craquelure. We jump from her past (growing up with a mercurial, abusive artist mother) through the arc of her art career. The writing is immersed in small details, skipping and impatient, filled with asides that feel like pointed commentary on artworld hierarchies: the awkward ‘courtship’ of professional relationships, ‘like a painting, is a trick of surfaces’; one character quips, ‘Since gallerists never have a life of their own, some of them actually think their artists are their friends… It’s like a queen who calls her maid her best friend.’ The text is imbued with a sense of psychological slippage and dread, the protagonist constantly finding lookalikes and twins onto whom she might attach a sense of self; while throughout the book, such as in the middle of a passage relating to a gallerist, will be an ominous non sequitur of a factual paragraph on an artist who died by suicide, for example Sonja Sekula, Arshile Gorky and Constance Mayer. We follow as the painter takes on a model for a new body of work: a white trust-fund dilettante who possesses the ‘trust in herself that I’d never had. It was trusting gravity to never fail.’ The resulting paintings are a hit. Aiming to ride the wave to gain the artworld recognition she’s always been taught to want,

she is waylaid by a performance artist who calls for nonwhite artists to boycott commercial galleries, fairs and museums. The painterly chapter-titles start to repeat and their definitions start to get mixed up – signposts for the painter’s spiralling state of mind – as she questions her work and where she stands in relation to the unambiguous ‘we’ that the boycott demands. While at times the book is overindulgent in its trite artworld bitchiness, its movements through the perceptions and impositions of race, from attempts at various forms of strategic withdrawal to the book’s anticlimax of (no spoilers) a ‘white girl being a white girl’, give the book a humming currency. The ‘your’ of the book’s title levels an accusation that keeps us guessing: it might refer to one of the series of artist-dude hookups; or the self-possessed female artists with which the protagonist becomes hopelessly obsessed; or the mother who haunts her memories at every turn; or the diffident, self-destructive protagonist herself. Among its archetypes and excesses, and its portrayal of the artworld’s flimsy niceties and facile attempts to be political, it feels like it’s the artworld (and perhaps the reader, depending on where you sit within that) that might ultimately be the ‘you’. How, Hedva wryly asks, do you set about trying to make it better? Chris Fite-Wassilak

ok by Michelle McSweeney Bloomsbury Academic, £9.99 (softcover) Did you know that ‘ok’ is an acronym for ‘all correct’? In 1839 Charles Gordon Greene, editor of the Boston Morning Post, innocuously wrote ‘o.k.–all correct’ in response to a comment from The Providence Journal. The practice of playful phonetic abbreviation – in this case, ‘oll korrect’ – was popular among American newspapers at the time, but while many faded into obscurity, this one stuck. Unbeknownst to him, Gordon created one of the most recognisable and widely used terms ever. Computational linguist Michelle McSweeney unpacks ok and proves just how little most of us know about ‘the world’s most popular word’. The fun, pocket-friendly publication outlines the history of this relatively young phrase in 11 chapters, tracing its origins and subsequent adaptability through technological


developments. While she credits Gordon and the press with ok’s invention, she also goes through some of the alternative, though unlikely origins (my favourite is that American Civil War soldiers loved Orrin Kendall biscuits so much they began referring to everything good as ‘ok’). It then grew to become an essential word in the modern era for its brevity and efficacy in technological communication – in the telegraph, ok was central to dispatching trains, giving it a ‘prominent role in American infrastructure’; with the invention of the telephone, ok’s sonority (its phonetic pronunciation is ‘as extreme as a word can get’) amplified its usage at a time when technology demanded succinct exchanges. Thereafter, as English became the dominant international language, ok became globally understandable. In the digital age it assumes


different iterations McSweeney believes are telling of their users, like ‘ac (nerds)’ or ‘Okalie dokalie (inefficient!)’. ok is one of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series (now comprising 83 books). Punchy and upbeat, they are a philomath’s delight – consolidating a rich history of quotidian objects or ideas that are rarely given a second thought. McSweeney’s edition is a playful and easy read, though perhaps not as critical as Object Lessons’ other editions, like Carolyn Purnell’s Blue Jeans (2023). McSweeney alludes to America’s cultural and linguistic imperialism, for example, but fails to mention it outright, calling it instead ‘homogenisation’. However assuming a critical tone would have dampened McSweeney’s amiable narrative. Sometimes it’s ok for books to just be fun. Marv Recinto

Owlish by Dorothy Tse, translated by Natascha Bruce Fitzcarraldo Editions, £13.99 (softcover) Dorothy Tse’s Nevers, the setting for Owlish, is a fictional Hong Kong, thinly disguised and thus delightfully familiar in terms of its history and topography. Encroaching surveillance from the neighbouring country of Ksana (a stand-in for China) and brainwashing educational policies are sketched in as backdrop. However, the citizens of Nevers remain oblivious and mute, stultified by ‘arrogance, luxury and indolence’, even as student protest movements are on the rise. Middle-aged Q is a married professor at the university. Originally from Ksana, he has been denied tenure these many years and sees himself as a ‘hack teacher in a debased,

cultureless little city’. Sickened by the brewing political situation, and politically impotent, he embarks on a love affair with a lifesize ballerina doll. Of confusing provenance, this doll, named Aliss, comes alive like Galatea. Q’s forgotten friend Owlish (Q’s alter ego and a marker for liminality) arranges a love nest in an abandoned church for the couple, where they can meet away from prying eyes. Q’s wife, Maria, has a categorical mindset and leads a well-ordered life; when she finds out about his affair, so do the authorities. Ultimately, Tse questions whether the mind’s mechanism, mapping out desire

as a form of escapism, can deliver salvation, or in fact makes one complicit in being surveilled. Tse’s vision of Hong Kong as a place in which fungus grows between the toes, and a love affair between doll and man is enacted on a bed positioned beneath the crucified Jesus, is rendered striking, dreamlike and surreal through Natascha Bruce’s elegant, nuanced translation. The titling of the chapters, from ‘0’ to ‘32’, then ending on ‘-1’, conjures a mental elevator ride (a metaphor for Hong Kong’s vertical cityscape), but this is no fairytale. This is Hong Kong’s psyche, exposed. Elaine Chiew

Space Crone by Ursula K. Le Guin Silver Press, £13.99 (softcover) Known for writing capacious and beauteously strange worlds into being, sciencefiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin wrote with an unclenched hand. For her, stories are objects offered, unyielding in their mood but open to interpretation, both impenetrable and confessional. Her novels offer both defamiliarisation from and clarifying critique of the repressive regimes that enclose our present, as well as visionary depictions of alternative modes of relation and being, such as in the lunar anarchist settlement in The Dispossessed (1974) and the ambisexual Gethenians of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). For the first time, Space Crone brings together Le Guin’s writings in a collection structured around gender. It gathers lectures, talks, essays, stories and ephemera such as marginalia, annotations, forewords and postscripts into a stitched-together redux of Le Guin’s reflections on gender, art, craft, motherhood and ageing. The texts in this collection reveal an insistent attention and reverence for the unruly, the discarded and the marginal. Throughout Le Guin’s body of work, she consistently locates power in modes of being that are routinely disavowed – to notice the necessity of the opaque and recessive, the honour and strength in the soft and nonassertive. This radical move is brought to the fore and articulated explicitly in relation to

feminist political history and Taoist cosmic principles in Silver Press’s posthumous collection. In Le Guin’s essay ‘A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be’ (1982), quoted here in the editor’s introduction, utopia is articulated as a project of going ‘inward, go[ing] yinward… dark, wet, obscure, weak, yielding, passive, participatory, circular, cyclical, peaceful, nurturant, retreating, contracting, and cold’, as opposed to the ‘big yang motorcycle trip’ of masculinist utopias that insist on the future as ‘firm, active, aggressive, lineal, progressive’. As the editors of the collection note, rather than an essentialist argument about natures, affixing the feminine to the yin and the masculine to the yang, the dynamic polarities of yin and yang are taken by Le Guin as a prompt to consider how better futures may be seeded through an undoing of the moralisation of yang as good and yin as bad, seeking instead proper balance, seeing each as already embedded in the other. Expansion through retreat; clarity through opacity; progressing by yielding: the truth of these paradoxes is sung through ‘the woman’s tongue, that earth and savor, that relatedness, which speaks dark… but clear as sunlight’, in Le Guin’s words at a 1986 commencement address at Bryn Mawr College. This moment is one of a political consciousness that increasingly notices gender both as a social performance and

April 2023

as category inscribed onto bodies fundamentally ungovernable or classifiable by such clumsy binary means; Space Crone arrives on time to remind us, in the reconstitution of ourselves outside or against the purview of patriarchal and gender-essentialist power, not to leave behind those movements that have been coded as useless, passive, weak. Perhaps, Le Guin suggests through these collected fragments, it is precisely those qualities that have been moralised as bad or not valuable where the hope lies for new worlds, structured around a kind of relation outside of the masculinist relations of force and control that dominate our contemporary worlds and social lives. While Le Guin’s writing has always been for and about, as she puts it in the 1986 address, ‘the unteachers, the unmasters, the unconquerors, the unwarriors’, Space Crone asks us explicitly to consider the powerfulness of the easily bruised, the strength of the gentle as the seed of a revolutionary political ethic. Space Crone collects Le Guin’s feminist writings with the effect of illustrating how she thinks through and with the feminine as beyond human politics, as a cosmo-political principle: a kind of relation, an ethic, a method of being. In a world increasingly run by an ever-accelerating and expanding rationalist technocracy, an age sick with yang, Space Crone is essential reading, (re)turning us yinward. Kelsey Chen


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(installation detail, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota), 2021. Photo: Awa Mally. Courtesy the artist and François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles

April 2023


from the archives Dennis Duerden on collecting Nigerian art The author of African Art (1968), African Writers Talking (1972) and The Invisible Present (1972), and director of the bbc World Service’s Hausa service, gives some poor collecting advice and some slightly better commentary on the desire for permanence embedded in European approaches to art. Anyone who has looked at the vast collections of African art in the museums of Europe and the United States or even in the museum at Lagos in Nigeria would be greatly surprised travelling round West African villages to discover no apparent signs of a profusion of works of art. He may think to himself that he is in an area where there are few articles or he may conclude that the artistic areas of Africa have been denuded of their art by rapacious explorers and collectors and that now it fills the museums. However, if he stays a little longer he may see signs of an art which is flourishing or once flourished there. Gradually he will discover that there are still large quantities of fine carvings and mud sculpture scattered throughout Africa, but that it

requires considerable tact and patience to be allowed to see them. One other course may be open to him. He can offer sums of money to men who will steal the art and bring it to him; but if he does this on a large scale he will not be able to stay very long in one area and he will encourage the manufacture of poor copies of the originals. Suppose, however, he does go into a village and obtains the goodwill of the people there so that they bring out their carvings from their place of hiding. The most general fact that can be stated about the majority of the best African sculpture is that it is not looked at for very long periods. No one goes and sits in front of it and studies its appearance. It is used for very brief periods and used in ceremonies – and even then the people who take part in the ceremonies do not look at the images during the ceremonies in any spirit of rapt contemplation. They are too busy paying attention to the business of the ceremony. Other figures, such as the Oron ancestor figures, were said to be placed in the bush until they decayed or were eaten. It seems then that all the masks and figures which are looked at for so many hours in European museums nowadays were never contemplated with such rapt attention by the people for whom they were made. There is a great contrast therefore between the attitude to works of art in Africa and the attitude in Europe. This contrast has been brought out in two recent books, one by William Fagg of the British Museum and the other by Ulli Beier who lives in Nigeria. Fagg’s book is mostly concerned with the bronzes of Nigeria, Beier’s with the mud sculpture of Nigeria. One is concerned with the most durable, the other with the most destructible of the materials available to the Nigerian artist. Beier points out that materials in West Africa are very often not used on account of their durability but because of their religious significance, mud for the earth goddess Ala of the Mbari shrines, brass because it possesses qualities sacred to Oshun, etc. Now whereas the bronze has survived with its evidence of Nigerian culture in times past and is therefore beloved of the historian, Beier maintains that it is only in the mud sculpture that the tradition survives nowadays. Bronze-casters and woodsculptors have found a ready market in the tourist trade; but mud cannot be carried away. Fagg on the other hand has always been concerned with the vitality of the old wood carving tradition and the stereotyped plagiarisms of modern tourist art. It is the kind of analysis urgently demanded by historians of modern states; and its motivation is completely different to that of the ‘tribal’ artist. It may be propounded from the museums or by the nationalist historians; whichever approach is made display and durability are the qualities it demands of a work of art. And so the forces of decay in modern West African art lie deeply implanted in the historian himself. Only the mud sculptor according to Ulli Beier is still concerned with the creative and religious art and shows no inclination for permanent display. This text is an edited extract from ‘Low Visibility in Nigerian Art’, originally published 18 May 1964, The Arts Review, Vol xvi No 6


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