Review /

Mary Ann Aitken What Pipeline / Detroit

Empty lots, busy restaurants, silent houses and crowded garages: each a part of the landscape of southwest Detroit, and each evidence of life that either implies or absents the individual. In what is only Mary Ann Aitken’s second solo show at What Pipeline, a single line of large paintings stake out views from inside the city.

This sharply focused survey follows an introductory exhibition of her work at What Pipeline three years ago, which presented paintings produced on a number of rough materials, all with a heavy palette. That density of paint remains here, but all eleven of the oil-on-masonite works are uniform in material and more standard in size (the seven of them forming the line are 122 x 122 cm and the remaining four presented separately in the gallery office are each 61 x 61 cm), and all date from between 1985 and 1989.

In Why Not Live, a text by Maureen Aitken written to accompany this exhibition, she talks about tending to her sister’s estate just prior to her death in 2012 and entering a home absolutely stuffed with work, both in storage as well as occupying multiple surfaces. This material occupation of the domestic sphere by Aitken is inextricable from her prolific practice of everyday life.

Untitled (night scene) is one of the four large paintings that offers a view from the window of Aitken’s live/work studio in downtown Detroit. Here, green plants in the foreground climb up toward glimpses of a bright orange field in the upper-right corner, which has been effaced by another top layer of black. Segues of color borne out over the course of day linger in a single frame.

The remaining three large works all show the artist turning her eye to a different residential sphere: the home of Aitken’s parents. Here, the grid pattern of the garage door that dominates Untitled (basketball net) appears to carry over to the background of the adjacent Untitled (red car); our body becomes the space between them. This canny curatorial gesture then makes the doors of What Pipeline the next image. The way in is also a way out.

by Jacob Korczynski

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Review /

Renaud Jerez Institute of Contemporary Art / Miami

Renaud Jerez has taken his biomorphic-cyborg-skeletons to their logical conclusion: he has given them a small world of their own.

Jerez’s dimly lit intervention at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, feels strange and timeless. The windows are covered in red, green and blue film, creating a wash of subtle color that penetrates the room’s dark depth. Seemingly slipshod wooden structures, mounted on pedestals, have the look of dark taverns; viewers are invited to step inside these tiny houses, lit with Victorian-era street lanterns and filled to the brim with layers of fabric and the occasional recognizable symbol (a plush, goofy Grover makes an appearance). Humanoid figures made of PVC piping and swaths of textiles are suspended in animation, standing, pointing and sheltering themselves from invisible rain. One dons a glittery Uncle Sam hat atop its wiry head; another is partly a house.

We enter the room not as viewers but as visitors to a staged environment, a city street set in either the past or the future — or arguably both. Influenced heavily by cyberpunk, steampunk and a self-professed love of Japanese animation and manga, Jerez’s forms have always referenced a potential future, a singularity in which bodies have become not only connected to their technological apparatuses but also merged with them.

The breadth of their complexity is extended into an architectural environment, one that mimics the individual structures. The small buildings are stuffed with textural items — pincushions and fibers and more colored film; likewise, the figures’ cable-and-pipe skeletons are made soft and thick with gauze and cloth, with parts that suggest medical supplies, camera apertures and preternatural communicative devices in equal measure. Their elongated bodies and the eerie visual din of their homes suggest haunted, antiquated eras, but they are nothing if not cyber-futurist, too. The past and the future are, in these closed quarters, one and the same. In a world devoid of anachronism, everything requires a closer look.

by Monica Uszerowicz

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News /

Mediations Biennale / Poznań

Every two years the city of Poznań, Poland, opens up as an international forum for contemporary art. This year’s edition of the Mediations Biennale, titled “Fundamental,” invites participants to give expression to such elementary human values as freedom, identity and religion.

Some featured works take a critical approach to contemporaneity, celebrating the dignity of mankind while looking down upon ideology, violence and manipulation, while others seek to discover common values and universal visions of beauty. All are meant to be presented in dialogue with the places they are set within — such as the castle of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler’s cabinet and a Jesuit monastery — and with works of earlier historical periods, from the collections of the National Museum and the Museum of the Archdiocese of Poznań.

The most intriguing highlights of the program include a show by Belgian artist Peter Puype. His work Iconoclasm — composed of a market stall containing plaster figures of the Virgin Mary, along with a pile of stones for viewers to toss at the statues — created quite a stir in Bruges in 2010. In Poznań, Puype has set up his installation in the former Jesuit chapel. Stoning in today’s Poland can be read as a commentary on the status of women living under a government whose latest legislation is aimed at curbing their freedoms.

Ada Karczmarczyk, who has deemed herself a Catholic pop superstar, also walks a line between evangelical fervor and desecration. Her video works, presented in the Kaiser’s castle, feature the young Polish artist exploiting kitsch and the language of pop culture to promote Christian values.

The National Museum in turn hosts works dealing with identity and patriotism. These include a steel burka by French artist Laure Boulay, and Belgian artist Gery De Smet’s vision of an eagle — Poland’s official emblem — sprinkled with confetti and captioned “There’s No Need for Change.”

by Agnieszka Sural

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Review /

Ben Morea White Columns / New York

Ben Morea’s solo exhibition includes the paintings Machine Primitive I–III (1964). Glossy black house paint coats the entirety of the three canvases, and little more than a few judicious white lines give each a runic quality.

The corners have been left blank for number III, and a few intermittently placed lines appear mysteriously incised in the otherwise dark surface. In number II, two thirds of the canvas is entirely black, and the left-hand side looks like the detail of a ratchet tooth and pawl — the gradually curving shape gives the weighted composition an intense visual torque. An inscrutable symbol — a schwa, a mechanical ouroboros — appears on number I. It is the most complex configuration, suggesting a phonetic and mythological value, as well a mathematical relationship between the octagonal shape of the canvas and its internal composition. Uncomfortable with the connotations of “primitive,” the press release explains, Morea attempted to summon “culture before commodification” with his rigorous formalism and shamanistic typology.

Regardless, Morea abandoned painting shortly after these works were made. In 1966, he co-founded the anarchist group Black Mask, which morphed into Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. Providing grassroots neighborhood support and staging spectacular (occasionally crass) protests, they spread equal parts rancor and aid. Against the backdrop of the East Village, their iconoclastic activities were an arty gambit with the city’s cultural and political communities, though by the early ’70s they had disbanded and headed back to the land.

It’s possible to see the exhibition as a foil for authenticity and rebellion, despite knowledge of the group’s eventual pitfalls. But this would ignore White Columns’s matter-of-fact presentation and democratic ethos, which emphasizes the paintings’ visual intensity, and allows us to experience them on their own terms. A red-and-black tondo, Red-Eclipse, and a work on paper, Untitled (both 1965), both depict eclipses. Though the phantasmagoric works are a bit slipshod, they are framed as early experiments with phenomenology, resonating with but somewhat aloof to their author’s later radicalism. In this way, both Machine Primitive I–III and their celestial counterparts act like Walter Benjamin’s theses on history: they take “a tiger’s leap into the past.”

by Sam Korman

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Review /

Lothar Baumgarten Franco Noero / Turin

A spacious 18th century apartment in the heart of Turin’s historic center, overlooking the baroque Piazza Carignano, hosts the newly inaugurated second branch of Galleria Franco Noero, which in this way adds a new location to its industrial headquarters located on the outskirts of the city.

To the stuccos, wood floors, mirrors and frescoes, Lothar Baumgarten brings his discourse about the earth as an environment that is being depleted, as an organism under siege, exploited for centuries.

Baumgarten’s journey began in 1968, and continues with commitment. No didacticism, but works that are signs, conceptual projects that reveal themselves, endowed with an enigmatic and yet sensory beauty that often works on perception, as well as on vision.

From room to room, runs a series of symbolic works, which mixes styles from different artistic idioms. The word and image are first and foremost. Each element lives for itself but also articulates a dialogue with others, in mobile installations, depending on the end from which you look at the perspective of this enfilade of rooms. For the artist, the Amazon, with its environment, its native tribes whose oral languages and cultures are often already lost, is the ideal and metaphorical space of mother nature, the energy reservoir and the primitive force to be preserved. The names of the Amazonian rivers, for example, become wall designs, abstract configurations in River Pieces (1977-85), just as their initials are carved on marble slabs in the work America.

The film Origin of the Night [Amazon Cosmos] (1973-77) and the series of photographs Culture – Nature (1968-72) document installations and interventions carried out by the artist in the suburbs and then abandoned, left to the wear and tear of time, exposed to inevitable disintegration. It is precisely the same transient nature that the resources in the natural environment have, cannibalized by a devastating human culture. Humankind too shares this ephemeral condition, even if it often seems to forget about it.

by Olga Gambari

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Report /

A Season of Girls / Toronto International Film Festival

People in Toronto are looking at girls. The girls are being digitally projected onto giant screens, where they walk around in different outfits and time periods. It’s the Toronto International Film Festival and it’s unseasonably warm.

In the rising heat, the festival looks more like Los Angeles than ever: outside the Princess of Wales Theatre, pedestrians are herded in lanes of traffic, and La La Land, a Los Angeles–set musical nostalgic for old Hollywood, is going to be the People’s Choice Award winner. For the largely male press corps, the festival this year has the suspiciously engineered taste of a finishing school: every press bag comes with a canister of Axe body spray, and the escalators within the festival’s central megaplex are broken, forcing bedheaded, unexercised reporters up six flights of steps before they can reach the majority of press screenings.

Onscreen the women are in crisis. It’s the year of the actress. Rebecca Hall stalks the halls of a 1970s newsroom in Christine while Sonia Braga whips her hair to the drumbeat of Brazilian moral collapse in Aquarius. Sigourney Weaver, playing a genius surgeon gone rogue, gives Michelle Rodriguez a forced sex change operation in (re)ASSIGNMENT, the only time the Avatar franchise has gotten one over on The Fast and the Furious. Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself and Yours confronts a series of forgettable men with a female protagonist — or is it two or three? Either way, a woman whose identity is mobile. We’re meant to lose track. Confusion, too, can be savored.

So many of this year’s festival favorites are tooled toward earnest political ends that one cherishes the playful moments when movies are about, simply, themselves. During one sequence in Things to Come, French film star Isabelle Huppert’s character goes to a cinema to see the 2010 movie Certified Copy, where she stares up from the audience — at Juliette Binoche. The years coalesce. At the press conference for American Pastoral, a reporter looks straight ahead at Jennifer Connelly while lowering a vape from his mouth and exhaling a cloud of wet.

*  *  *

The night before the festival I get my hair cut by a twentysomething at a barbershop named after the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration album. The barber says he’s Filipino, and he asks if there are a lot of movies playing and if any of them are supposed to be good. “I don’t like to watch the ones with subtitles,” he clarifies, “and no horror.”

Mostly he wants to know about the parties. Any given night of the festival there are the parties. They exist to make credible the one essential party where everyone wishes to be, and where a female editor might now be standing with a foreign director many years her senior. The drunken court. The actresses have already left. The director’s broken English is further broken by the dinning crowd, his sentences limping to their finish. He is reassuring her that several of his films have shown here, elsewhere too, does she need another drink? Has she seen anything that struck her?

She is still young, she thinks. There are things about his life that would surprise or even disgust her. Tonight she is the only one watching as, on his way out of the party, he trips over a rumpled mat and through the revolving door.

*  *  *

In Personal Shopper, the celebrity Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, the assistant to a celebrity. Like Bella Swan, Maureen is a mortal girl with immortal desire: in this case, to communicate with her recently deceased twin brother. Stewart’s background in Twilight is enriching; Personal Shopper is an afterimage held up to the familiar one, certain key but subtle elements erased. It’s a magnificent performance. It reminds us that every movie screen is a palimpsest at the center of its own world. Today’s Sully will be tomorrow’s Storks.

Elsewhere, Natalie Portman-as-Jackie Kennedy teeters around the White House in 1963 with gin splashing in a cut-glass tumbler. The theater for Jackie is packed and reverent; days into the festival, word is already circulating that she’ll be nominated for another Oscar. Jackie cannily analogizes our experience of Natalie Portman performing Jackie Onassis to the real Jackie’s performance of First Lady in Mourning. Jackie’s veiled funeral march down Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Natalie’s march to the podium after winning Best Actress for Black Swan, and vice versa. “When men see me now, what do you think they feel?” Natalie-as-Jackie asks, knowing that she’s about to find out.

Arrival doesn’t wonder at all what a man feels: imagine your dad renting Independence Day and discovering that it was made for your mom. Director Denis Villeneuve’s last two, Prisoners and Sicario, also played at Toronto, and together with Arrival form an unofficial moral trilogy: Moral Anger, Moral Confusion, and now, Moral Love. The kind of movie Arrival seems to be is carefully stripped away in the third act, until all we’re left with is Amy Adams herself, suspended in an amniotic voiceover. The subtraction is staggering. We’re surprised to still be in the room with her.

And then we’re not. Arrival ends and the audience spills directly into the street, where anti-pipeline protesters have gathered to picket the world premiere of Deepwater Horizon. The two crowds merge into a gauntlet of limbs, pushing toward an unseen escape route. When I’m released I notice that I still haven’t caught my breath. I’ll need it back, but I’m in no rush.

by Mike Spreter

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