Review /

Simon Denny Fine Arts, Sydney

To most, the term “Silicon Valley” invokes the idea of American tech-billionaires based in San Francisco. It is the foundation of a modern technological force that now underscores everyday existence; smartphones, search engines and social networking sites all have their origin and spiritual home within its vicinity. What is perhaps lesser known within the popular (or rather Western) imagination is the city of Shenzhen, sometimes described as the Silicon Valley of China and renowned for its technological industry and enterprises. This is the city that conceptually foregrounds Simon Denny’s latest solo exhibition, titled “Shenzhen Entrepreneurial Form.”

Shenzhen is a fitting location for the New Zealand-born, Berlin-based Denny to base his latest work upon. The artist has become renown in recent years for his large-scale installations that interrogate the complex intersection of technology, corporate culture, labor and society within the twenty-first century. A 2015 installation titled A Secret Power for the Venice Biennale, for instance, was a critical examination of the contemporary world as reflected by NSA PowerPoint slides leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

“Shenzhen Entrepreneurial Form” is technically precise and clinically executed. Contained within a single room, the work consists of three large synthetic plinths, perched atop light box platforms and imprinted with colorful airbrushed images of electronic innards and Chinese text characters. A documentary video of factory workers in Shenzhen projects onto one wall, while a deconstructed karaoke microphone sits encased within a glass cabinet on the opposite. The effect is almost church-like, akin to a kind of technological altarpiece, and it feels both complex and calming: a shrine to the achievements of late capitalism, to the bizarre ingenuity of wireless karaoke microphones and the artificial glow of LED lights.

This is not without critical intent, however. In an accompanying essay, Denny extrapolates that “China aims to encourage self-sufficiency via a program of mass entrepreneurship; a meritocratic system wherein everyone has access to the tools for creating their own business, and thus a means of supporting themselves. In short, this could feel like Thatcherism on steroids.”

The show is distinctly complimented by the newness of the gallery space itself. Its director, Ryan Moore, previously of Modern Art London, has recently relocated to Sydney, with Denny’s show only the second to be held in the new space. An upcoming show of work by another Berlin-based artist, Juliette Blightman, has solidified the gallery as a showcase for international contemporary art — much needed within the current Sydney art landscape.

It is an extremely promising start for the young gallery. Denny’s installation forges a sense of critical engagement with the far-reaching impact of technology under late capitalism. As the century progresses and global markets continue to expand, the effects on society are yet to be fully realized. Denny’s contemplative body of work essentially begs the question: What now does the future hold?

by Emily Grant

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Outside ART021 and West Bund / Shanghai Art Week

Throughout the week of Art021 and West Bund (the two fairs trumpeting Shanghai’s unofficial art week), I found myself guiding people while remarking on gallery relocations, the rise and fall of different art districts and the spooky past of West Bund as the largest execution ground during the Cultural Revolution. And then there were moments when I was surprised to find a brand new institution about which I had no clue, leaving me embarrassed and seeking help from the internet. Wandering the streets of Shanghai during art week feels like navigating a sprawling infrastructure of imploding newness. Almost every space smells newly renovated, and every exhibition is an artist’s first solo on the mainland.

Most young institutions along the Bund safely exhibit solo shows of well-established, non-Chinese artists. While one might view this trend as the new normcore in Shanghai’s art scene, it enables the third Hugo Boss Asia Art exhibition at Rockbund Art Museum to stand out as an absolute highlight of the season. For the first time, Rockbund has addressed its spatial constraints and reduced the number of exhibition finalists from six to four — Li Ming, Tao Hui, Yu Ji and Robert Zhao — giving each a separate floor to present new and old works. The result is an exceptional presentation. Here, each participating artist is a master of their practice: Yu Ji’s psycho-geographical study of the urban environment, which subtly bleeds into her adept play with rich sculptural materials; Tao Hui’s longstanding investigation into melodramatic form and the possibilities for universalized experience via networked visual culture; Zhao Renhui’s artistic appropriation of the language and conventions of science in order to investigate how history — both natural and social — can be constructed by existing systems; and Li Ming’s daring multidisciplinary restructuring of how the exhibition space affects the spectator’s perception of place and time. The latter was named winner of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award by a jury panel of six artists and curators.

After a considerable number of galleries moved to West Bund, Antenna Space, which advocates a strong selection of local and international artists, including Guan Xiao and Nancy Lupo, is now generally regarded as the placeholder of the M50 creative district. Its fall exhibition, “Wu Tsang: Sustained Glass,” upholds that reputation. (At first, I felt a bit ethically uneasy including it in this report due to my involvement in producing the exhibition as Tsang’s research assistant, but it really stood out to me and most people I’ve talked to, so here’s a note to clarify.) The exhibition consists of a new two-channel video work titled We hold where study (2017), which Tsang developed in collaboration with poet and longstanding collaborator Fred Moten, along with a series of stained-glass and lightbox works. The exhibition’s critical intent is fuelled by references to the precarious condition of marginalized cultures in today’s sociopolitical crisis — particularly that of African American culture, as addressed in a video piece that clearly references the recent shooting death of Michael Brown. The exhibition marks China’s increasing interest in black cultural appropriation; the ongoing discrimination among Han-dominated peoples against black immigrants and religious minorities (such as the Muslim Hui) in cities like Shanghai make the discussion all the more urgent. Yet, instead of falling into didacticism, Tsang uses glass — a metaphorically rich material that connotes queer trauma in the Chinese language as well as imagination and communion in Western literature — to convey these concerns in an open and evocative spatial installation. The pain, rage and hope that’s left unspoken is palpable.

Over the past year, a mini art hub has been growing in the center of Shanghai’s former French Concession, with the inauguration of Capsule Gallery, the relocation of BANK Gallery and, now, the new gallery VACANCY located a one-minute walk away from Closing Ceremony, a unique photography bookstore open only on weekends and run by Shanghai-based self-publishing studio Same Paper.

Sociality as a central concern extends beyond Tsang’s exhibition at Antenna Space. Wang Xu and Cici Wu, founders of the New York gallery PRACTICE, make their curatorial debut at Capsule Gallery with “Scraggly Beard Grandpa,” which was being hyped by my close friends even before its opening, most of whom either knew the curators from their time in New York or who have spent time studying and living abroad and thus can relate to the always-ambivalent feeling of communion and displacement. Xu and Wu, who are also artists themselves, invited twelve artists (and alumni of their residency program in New York) to present new works, asking audiences to trace the marks that a memory of a bygone space has left on each artist’s practice. In certain instances, like the sculptural dialogue between Irini Miga’s fragile, hole-in-the-wall installation Landscape for a Thought (2017) and João Vasco Paiva’s The Last Kauai Oo Bird I and II (2017), a sense of communicability is particularly strong. Whereas other works, like Zheng Yuan’s exhaustive video essay, Game (2017), on evolving perspectives in video games, and Xinyi Cheng’s quiet paintings, feel somewhat unaffected by the curatorial premise. An unspoken naiveté may underlie PRACTICE’s celebration of friendship, but in our greatly accelerated, teleological time, there is perhaps much to gain from this sense of purposelessness.

Over at West Bund, in the six-month-old space of Edward Malingue’s Shanghai branch, sandwiched between MadeIn Gallery and Don Gallery, Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-Cheng has sworn to fill the gallery with the purest air in town. With a title that plays with today’s hashtag keyword economy while referencing The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard, “Refresh, Sacrifice, New Hygiene, Infection, Clean, Robot, Air, Housekeeping, www.ayibang.com, Cigarette, Dyson, Modern People” brings together paintings, sculptures, performances, brand sponsorship, robots and an app operating system to probe the aesthetics of “hygiene” — a set of practices that has grown in tandem with the diseases of modernity. The gallery space is divided into three sections by a sky-blue platform in the middle, on top of which rests a pile of oversized dining utensils and a cleaning bucket. The left side of the platform recalls a typical gallery setting, with a series of sculpted objects reminiscent of home-furnishing accessories mounted onto the wall; to the right side of the platform, a dozen Dyson Pure purifying fans, capable of capturing 99.95% of particles as small as .3 microns, and a team of robot vacuum cleaners tirelessly guard the space. The exhibition is further accompanied by a weekly performance at an undisclosed hour, when a cleaning lady, hired through the popular mobile app “ayibang,” cleans the art objects on view. Over the last two weeks of the exhibition, the artist will remove all the sculptures, leaving behind an empty gallery space with only the cleaning equipment and the display for the cleaning service app. By highlighting typically unseen processes related to the display of artworks in a contemporary gallery — the conditioning of air and other measurable aspects of its pedicured environment — Chou’s exhibition is a performative deconstruction of the gallery space that furthers his longstanding engagement with the social dimension of aesthetics.

Upstairs from Edward Malingue, Don Gallery’s tenth anniversary exhibition, “Shanghai Dandy,” proposes dandyism as the creative spark driving a thriving generation of Shanghai-based artists. While the link to the urban flaneur is more obscure in some works than others, here we finally have an exhibition, from one of the oldest contemporary art galleries in the city, that takes a stab at a homegrown aesthetic. One block away at Yuz Museum is “Shanghai Galaxy II,” another exhibition that takes Shanghai as its muse. The exhibition is certainly cosmological in its scope, gathering an extended list of artists whose connection to Shanghai ranges from the unequivocal to the nearly nonexistent. But Ming Wong’s spectacular Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 (2016) is enough to provoke a poetic reflection on Shanghai’s past and present. Loosely based on Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Renais’s avant-garde classic in which notions of place and time remain obscure throughout, Wong’s work restages several excerpts from the film in a Shanghai café named Marienbad and several other locations in the city bearing Western architectural influences. Wong performs both female and male protagonists and employs meticulous editing to continuously juxtapose his/her face and the surrounding mise-en-scène with those in the original film. In Shanghai, a hybrid metropolis where colonial architecture shoulders postmodern skyscrapers and youths with techno fever can leave a club to grab a local breakfast at sunrise, the destabilized perceptions of space and time Wong so evocatively captures are all too familiar.

Sergei and Stefan Tcherepnin’s sound performance at Ming Contemporary Art Museum delivered a spooky yet serendipitous end to an overloaded week. Titled “Ten Tones: Inside and Outside the Major-Minor,” the project was developed over the span of a year and marked the last act of “Proposals to Surrender,” an exhibition curated by Biljana Ciric that reflected on the place of performativity in an institutional context. Having set out to research the history of their grandmother Lee Hsien Ming, who was the first woman pianist to graduate from the Shanghai Music Conservatory in the 1930s, the Tcherepnin brothers were disappointed with the materials they found, which all spoke of her in relation to their grandfather, the famous composer Alexander Tcherepnin. In response, they developed a project that conjured the spirit of Ming, both as a central figure in their own family history and as someone who historically provided a musical bridge between China and the West. The story unfolded over two nights in an empty villa, where audiences were invited to piece together their own impressions of Ming through photos and sonic fragments that the Tcherepnin brothers arranged in makeshift installations throughout the building. Amid wayward, crisscrossing sound cues that irregularly played, lingered and abruptly vanished, multiple worlds seemed to converge, taking participants out of the vacant villa — a generic instantiation of vampiric real estate development — and into Shanghai’s modernist past. By playing a personal note in a minor key, the Tcherepnin brothers managed to conjure a community of ghosts, distilling romance from hauntology.

Perhaps it was the ghostly aura inside the empty house, or the fact that the Tcherepnin brothers’ grandmother and Ming Wong share the same first name, or perhaps a bit of both; but on my way home from Ming Contemporary Art Museum I was haunted by the yellowed photo of Lee Hsien Ming, and the face of Wong dissolving into that of Delphine Seyrig, the female protagonist of Last Year at Marienbad. Living through this city’s increasing acceleration, where multiple worlds densely converge, time feels truly out of joint. In her column for Kaleidoscope on the evolution of visual culture in Asia, Venus Lau, who also currently resides in Shanghai, speculates on a (re)turn to the underworld in our dystopian imaginations. At this moment, her chilling thought experiment feels particularly apt.

Alvin Jiahuan Li is a writer based in Shanghai, China, and a contributing editor for frieze and Ran Dian. From 2016 to 2017, Li worked as English editor for the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, where he co-curated the exhibition “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017.”

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Seth Price ICA / London

“New strategies are needed to keep up with commercial distribution, decentralization and dispersion. You must fight something in order to understand it,” wrote Seth Price in 2002, in his pivotal essay “Dispersion.” Ahead of his time, working fluidly with video, sculpture, sound, fashion, web design and written texts, Price engages with issues of production, post-production and contamination, investigating how culture is generated and distributed in a highly mediated present.

The survey “Seth Price Circa 1981” the first show at ICA London under Stefan Kalmár’s directorship — focuses exclusively on the artist’s film and video output, and is installed across the entirety of the Institute of Contemporary Arts building. Upon entering, viewers are introduced to Price’s practice by the longest iteration yet of Redistribution, (2007–ongoing), which documents a lecture-performance delivered by Price at the Guggenheim Museum in 2007. The work is always rendered anew, adapted and updated each time it is exhibited.

The ground floor has been transformed in a long, multi-screen cinema: six projections play loops of films produced between 2000 and 2003. Made during the time Price worked as technical director at Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York, these works stand as an exercises in visual culture, explorations of the infinite potential for image research, appropriation and fragmentation. As this admixture of found and shot footage, images, texts, computer graphics and web design rhythmically mesh and transition, the viewer’s gaze zooms from one screen to the next, indulging in the density of information.

The architectural setting lends itself to the theatrical; distorted images from key global events bounce across the building, creating unexpected links and a kaleidoscopic view of recent times. In the film Rejected or unused clips arranged in order of importance (2003), the phrase “a tremendous sadness that life is the way it is, and not the other way” introduces an aerial view of the Twin Towers shot by the artist before 9/11; while on the opposite side, laying on the floor, a curved monitor displays COPYRIGHT 2006 SETH PRICE (2006), adding a sculptural layer to altered news images of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 — history liquidly deformed.

The show, comprising more than thirty works and almost impossible to see in its entirety, intentionally embodies characteristics of the work presented. It is rigorous in its selection but promiscuous, affected and mediated in its presentation, dancing between context, content and display. The result is a focused perspective on Price’s pioneering work.

by Attilia Fattori Franchini

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Jiwa / Jakarta Bienniale 2017

Jiwa (soul) is the conceptual framework behind the latest Jakarta Biennale, which proposes to place performance at center stage. Led by artistic director and performer Melati Suryodarmo, this edition is joined by curators Hendro Wiyanto, Annissa Gultom, Philippe Pirotte, and Vít Havránek, and much of the exhibition is comprised of new commissions. The team has established a clear curatorial premise, highlighting their interest in durational art and a wish to survey works from the archipelago that look beyond Javacentrism while pointing at regime-defying practices that deserve deepened art-historical research.

These concerns were carefully researched, leading to a renewed consideration of activist positions against the totalizing regime of Suharto, and the representation of syncretic forms of religion that were previously erased by the time of the Pancasila. Such is the case of the Bissu community, made up of the Buginese people of South Sulawesi, who have unique spiritual and societal beliefs with complex gender systems. Bissu members performed on the opening night, which included a screening of The Last Puang Matoa (2017), a film that addresses the murder of their last leader and looks at ongoing struggles of indigenous communities in the archipelago.

The diversity of the performance program was particularly notable, including various traditions and conceptual registers that informed the installations on display. Marintan Sirait restaged Butoh-inspired pieces from the 1990s, in which clay-covered bodies interacted with an installation of soil pyramids topped with yellow pigment. In the room next door, Ewa Kot’áková’s sculpture of a tree was activated by two performers who interpreted memories of becoming birds, expanding our understanding of Jiwa to that of pathological phenomenology and the social construct of illnesses.

On the previous evening, Darlane Litaay reinterpreted Papuan rites of fecundity by shivering to the sound of hypnotic synth drones. Before that, David Gheron Tretiakoff’s feedback trance ritual was performed over looped excerpts of Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous (1995), nearby the ghostly shadow of Luc Tuyman’s painting of a televised hologram, Twenty Seventeen (2017). As well as gestural narratives, storytelling was presented as a main form of local cultural expression. Audience favorite “Jiwa Laut” was interpreted and performed by Sumatran artist PM Toh, who improvised a sung narrative about a fisherman in a DIY cardboard scenario made with domestic utensils and stop-motion video projections.

The ceremonial quality of the works extended way beyond the mediumistic constraints of the performative realm. For example, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s fired clay and shell altar echoed voodoo trappings, and I Made Djirna’s labyrinthine installation of faces carved into lava rock, a brut gesture by this Balinese artist, was mirrored by the mesmerizing puppet silhouettes of Ni Tanjung, which resemble naive shadow theater figures.

Central to the Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem venue was a section dedicated to five artists focusing on installations and publications dedicated to activist Semsar Siahaan. This included paintings and excerpts from his latest graphic diaries; audio installations by experimental musician I Wayan Sadra, who challenged the melodic use of gamelan; Hendrawan Riyanto’s ritualized ceramics; and installations by Dolorosa Sinaga and Siti Adiyati. While highlighting radical figures in the country’s art scene, this section also acknowledged the need for further in-depth research on contemporary art history and the urgency of institutional action in a context of precarious museology.

At the Jakarta History Museum, a haunting critique of museology comes through in the film Sector IX B, Sleeping Sickness Prophylaxis (2015) by Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, in which an anthropologist’s observations on archival objects are compromised by hallucinations due to the effects of a tropical sleep disease. In this venue, located in the main square of Jakarta, the echo of colonialism resonated through several installations, as seventeenth-century garbed Nikhil Chopra developed an enthralling clay and rice mural painting of an ocean horizon, and Em’kal Eyongakpa presented a site-specific sound installation of the overlapping heartbeats of independence leaders in the prison space of the building. Next door, at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, Darwin-based aboriginal film collective Karabing captivated with the decolonizing power of their film WUTHARR: Saltwater Dreams (2016), which addresses land expropriation and resource sharing. Their work was also a focus of discussion throughout the Jiwa symposium on indigenous beliefs, spiritual life and the role of bodies as a part of change.

And despite the improvisational quality of some installations, which are slightly undermined by their materiality, the impact of this year’s edition of the Biennale is more challenging than ever, placing the visitor amid durational experiences while restoring the urge for spirited gestures. Here, the formless contour of the political body — or Jiwa — is in pure potency, coming to life through the shared medium of storytelling and the common passage of time. 

Margarida Mendes is a curator and activist based in Lisbon.

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The Opening of Louvre / Abu Dhabi

Long heralded, regularly maligned and largely misunderstood, the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors to the public on November 11, 2017. Nestled on the shores of Saadiyat (Happiness) Island in the United Arab Emirates’ capital city, the fledgling institution is the first of a bevy of starchitect-built museums that will, one day, dot this luxury tourism/cultural island destination.

For the moment, though, Jean Nouvel’s “city within the city” stands supreme, its latticed mashrabiya-like dome crouched practically to the level of the Gulf waters, which lap away at the blazing white buildings splayed below the vaulted 180-meter-diameter disc. As the broiling sun sifts through the emblematic dome (the museum’s logo is in fact abstracted in the canopy’s porous intricacies), the open-air passages and mini-agoras are dappled with what the Pritzker Prize-winning architect calls, rather prosaically, a “rain of light.” The building deftly sidesteps the predictable pastiches of arabesque motifs, the tiresome tropes of medina-as-warren. It seems of here, yet not from here: it is a re-creation of a local visual patrimony, rather than a reproduction of one. Everyone agrees: it is a wonder.

Step inside, however, and opinions start to divide. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is touted as the first “universalist” museum of the twenty-first century, and certainly the only one of its ilk in the Arab world. Universalism, in the minds of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s reigning regents, stands in contrast to the encyclopedic ethos that has driven the monstres sacrés of the West, the Musée du Louvre on the banks of the Seine and London’s British Museum being the standard bearers of the genre. Where encyclopedism is in-depth, exhaustive, specialized and, ultimately, compartmentalized (think of the Paris Louvre’s physical split into departments), universalism is a cultural mix. Its vocation is to connect diverse works (archaeological, decorative, “fine art”) to an extremely long timespan across world cultures. A walk through its galleries is an encounter with a sort of manifold universal memory. A twelfth-century lion sculpture from Muslim-ruled Spain “dialogues” with a Chinese dragon sculpture of the same era that had meandered into the collection of the Stoclet Palace in Brussels (provenance is critical for the Louvre Abu Dhabi); a red sandstone Buddha head from Northern India in the fifth century is paired with a white marble Qi dynasty Buddha bust from nearly the same time; Marcel Duchamp’s Porte-bouteilles (1913) rubs shoulders with a wood and metal “magic statue” from the Batsangui culture in Gabon (1900–30), the readymade-meets-totem ricochet conjuring all manner of questions.

Simply put, this is the story of mankind — from the first settlements through the rise of world religions and trade routes, to the princely court, modernism and our contemporary moment. The vicissitudes of this saga are told through the museum’s own burgeoning collection, the fruit of an acquisition spree that began in 2009 with the purchase of Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black (1922) from the Yves Saint-Laurent/Pierre Bergé estate (provenance, again). The works now total around 650. Complementing this bedrock are some three hundred pieces on loan from the consortium of French lending institutions known as Agence France-Muséums, created at the time of the intergovernmental accord between France and the UAE that sealed the deal in 2007, granting the Emiratis use of the Louvre name for thirty years (only twenty remain).

Local intelligentsia, while smitten by the sudden array of treasures permanently displayed at arm’s reach, remain skeptical: has the Louvre Abu Dhabi decentralized the implicit Western-centric cultural viewpoint as successfully as it has dismantled the rigid encyclopedic methodology, itself the fruit of Enlightenment idealism and imperial opportunism? While some works on loan from the Musée Guimet and the Musée de la Quai Branly (providing Oriental and Asian, African and Oceanic artworks, respectively) amplify the Global South feel, critics bemoan an underrepresentation of Arab modernists, manifested by a token Saloua Raouda Choucair sculpture.

Alongside this threadbare modernism is a willful nationalist narrative. As expected, we find the soft power innuendo that frames the country as a tolerant, enlightened, cultural bridge-builder: the side-by-side Quran-Bible-Torah display; instances of nudity (Bellini’s 1480–85 Madonna and Child, bronze dancers by Degas) nimbly foiling foreign journalists’ finger-pointing to puritanism and censorship.

The UAE seems to have taken the opportunity of the universalist vitrine to write itself, meaningfully, into global history. Neolithic pottery hailing from Mesopotamia yet unearthed on nearby Marawah Island, for example, lends credence both to the land’s ancientness and its role as a fulcrum of early maritime trade. Emirati artist Abdullah al-Saadi gets pride of place, as his Naked Sweet Potato (2000–10) sculpture and single-channel video are the final pieces in the contemporary gallery. Even Giuseppe Penone’s commissioned work, Germination (2016), a single line spiraling across Sèvres-manufactured porcelain tiles, holds at its center the thumbprint of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, founding father of the nation.

Jenny Holzer’s monumental texts, another commission with a mission, seem carved into the very flesh of the building, as if they had somehow always been there. They include a creation myth written in Acadian and Sumerian, an excerpt on self-determination from sixteenth-century philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s Essais, and a passage from thirteenth-century Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, which neatly casts the universalist conceit as homegrown.

For such a young museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi already has a rocky history: accusations of laborer exploitation, a succession of false-alarm opening dates, and persistently fuzzy local understanding of its affiliation to the Louvre mère. To be clear: this is an autonomous Emirati institution. It is not an off-the-shelf franchise deal, nor is it the by-product of the Paris Louvre sniffing out juicy emerging markets. Agence France-Muséums will not only spearhead temporary exhibitions, it is contractually bound to lend an average of three hundred works per year until 2026, regularly rotated. The Louvre Abu Dhabi relies on the technical, curatorial and educative guidance of its French partners but, at one point, it should attain self-sufficiency. After all, in only twenty years, the right to the Louvre name will vanish.

What that self-sufficiency might look like is hard to imagine today. The stakeholders believe hard and fast in education. So much so, they have even concocted a “Children’s Museum” — a museum-in-the-museum with actual artworks displayed at kid’s-eye level and mediators galore. But after the euphoria of opening week settles, the hard work of promotion begins, with one burning question: How do we keep people coming back?

by Kevin Jones

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Jessi Reaves and Bradley Kronz Dorich House Museum / London

For “31 Candles,” American artists Jessi Reaves and Bradley Kronz have created sculptural compositions that introduce an informal and vibrant presence to the elegantly austere rooms of former studio and home of Russian sculptor and designer Dora Gordine.

In the bright north-facing modeling studio, a large three-part seating arrangement takes center stage, inviting one to sprawl on its painted leather and fabric upholstery. To the side, on the original modeling platform, a line of bronze heads by Gordine is placed right against the edge looking onto the room. Padded Cabinet (2017) confronts a bespoke twentieth-century modular shelving unit, whose shape it echoes. Proportions and details have been noticeably altered, layering the classic form with assonant yet disquieting elements. The surface is painted an unrealistic felt-tip shade of brown, and bulging padded areas covered in fabric challenge its functional purpose. The first-floor gallery houses collaborative sculptures by Reaves and Kronz. “Boots,” configured from pairs of vintage fur boots held in corsets, eerily resemble female torsos. Placed on stacked flight cases, these softly slumped anthropomorphic configurations mingle tongue in cheek amid elegant trapezoid plinths holding figurative bronzes by Gordine.

The unsettling cry of a baby draws viewers to the private spaces of the top-floor apartment shared by Gordine and her husband. The looped-sound piece gives voice to Gordine’s Seated Baby (1937–38), an early public commission. The sculpture, dissonant in scale and posture, sits upright directly facing Mother Figure (2017), which is placed on a luggage stand atop a long table in the dining room opposite. The curtained round windows and low lighting create an intimate and withdrawn atmosphere, strengthening the visual connection between the two works. Through the interplay in scale and the playful involvement of items from the museum collection as active elements in their displays, Reaves and Kronz invite a subtle subversion in the dynamic between the house as exhibition space and its domestic dimension, opening moments of spontaneous dialogue between its present and its past.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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