Report /

Native Global Land Fondation Louis Vuitton / Paris

France has always been a country of asylum for Chinese artists. After the First World War, it was where painters such as Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-Chun developed their careers. In the 1990s, Paris became a vanguard destination for contemporary Chinese artists fleeing the Tiananmen revolution, like Yan Pei Ming and Huang Yong Ping. At that time former Minister of Culture Jack Lang welcomed artists and curators, who have since taken up residence in France and participated in many thematic exhibitions about China.

It has nevertheless been ten years since any Parisian institution has focused on this scene, which has continued to evolve at a dizzying speed ever since emerging as one of the most significant markets of the 2000s. What is the situation today? What remains? And how is this art scene, traditionally seen as a rebellious one, developing? Who are the new players? These are questions that the Foundation Louis Vuitton has been keen to answer with the exhibition “Bentu: Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbulence and Transformation.”

The word “Bentu” means native land. In the field of contemporary Chinese art, this term does not refer to any form of nationalism, but encompasses a dialectical concept that reconciles the “local” bentu with the “global” bentu through a process of critical rediscovery.

The show presents a mixture of now-historical artists born in the 1950s, like Ai Weiwei, Huang Yong Ping and Zhang Xiaogang, as well as younger artists born in the 1980s, such as Hu Xiangqian, Liu Shiyuan and Hao Liang.

In an interview with Philip Tinari (director of the Ullens Center and the show’s co-curator, with Laurence Bossé), Xu Zhen, one of the artists in the exhibition, drew attention to the fact that his generation (he was born in 1977), as part of an increasingly global network, no longer claimed a Chinese identity; thus the issues of artists such as Huang Yong Ping seemed quite alien to him. Incidentally, Xu Zhen claims Jeff Koons as the most influential model in China today.

And it is possible that Xu Zhen, all on his own, incarnates this disparity of styles, which is deliberate in his case. His studio in Shanghai contains as many works as it does different forms: videos that look like publicity spots and documentaries; traditional ceramics with mutating shapes; abstract pictures; figurative frescoes; soft sculptures made of fabric; and monumental sculptures made of concrete. One has the impression of visiting an artists’ collective — which is not completely wrong, because his company, MadeIn, produces works both for him and for others.

What is striking in Shanghai, a city in which private museums are opening one after the other, is the pharaonic size of certain studios. In the case of Zhang Huan (originally known for his performances) we find ourselves in gigantic, hangar-like spaces. Some sculptures almost touch the ceiling at a height of eighty feet. He has eighty full-time assistants and as many as three hundred when his projects call for more.

Things are a bit different in Beijing. The largest studio we visited, that of Liu Wei, will soon be destroyed. The surrounding area has been leveled, and a new city comprised of modern, high-rise towers will be built in its place. For video artist Cao Fei, one of the few women artists from China to pursue an international career, things are the same. She occupies an abandoned cinema that she is restoring (apart from the projection room) with vintage fixtures from the 1970s. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to stay there, because the whole zone is going to be destroyed to comply with a gigantic new plan for urban development. This restoration of an emblematic building, a vestige of the past, is as important to her as her films. It is quite interesting to see China begin to embrace the past, now that it will soon be completely nonexistent.

Hao Liang likewise borrows traditional procedures from landscape painting and calligraphy. When, incidentally, one visits the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), China’s most prestigious art school, there are only reproductions of the past. Certain portraits depict teenagers wearing sneakers, but the technique is still ancestral. Perhaps the future may be gauged by visiting the studio of Xu Qu, born in 1978, an ex-student of John Armleder at the Braunschweig University of Art. His studio is situated in “Dark Bridge,” a village where there are only artists and studios. Xu Qu produces abstract paintings inspired by the graphic design of bank notes. His conceit is critical of China’s rapid economic growth — the same economic growth that inflates rental prices such that studio occupancies are tenuous at best. Ultimately, the common denominator of all these artists is probably the same as anywhere else: a sense of precarity caused by neoliberal expansionism and rampant change.

by Nicolas Trembley

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Review /

Ellen Cantor CCA Wattis Institute / San Francisco

In Women in Dark Times, Jacqueline Rose discusses the paintings of Charlotte Salomon, a German-Jewish artist who generated hundreds of autobiographical semi-abstract gouaches during two years in exile from the Nazis, before she was killed at Auschwitz. Rose is interested in Salomon as a figure for a shadowy, ambiguous feminism, one of material, bodily terror and unstable yet entrenched politics. Rose’s Salomon is a useful paradigm for understanding the work of Ellen Cantor.

Cinderella Syndrome,” the title of the exhibition, is also a term for a pop psychological trope of the 1990s. The show proposes Cantor as a thinker of gender crisis, a theorist of Hollywood’s “final girl” without separation from reality. Several series of drawings, with a sense of formal distribution and biographical pacing not unlike Salomon’s, ring the gallery. Roughly finished, many in pencil, they are presented as supporting studies to the videos, whose careful editing betrays a sense of painterly line between images and a sharply intelligent intervention into cinematic time. A large screen at the gallery’s center plays five of Cantor’s videos, the show’s churning center. Evokation of my Demon Sister (2002) flits between the recognizable image of Carrie (1976) covered in blood and abstract clips of flame and smoke, thin layers of celluloid fading into blues and gray-blacks. In Within Heaven and Hell (1996) Cantor narrates a long-distance love affair over spliced scenes from the Sound of Music and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre; both are referenced in the monologue, which seems written prior to the film’s making. While some juxtapositions betray the film’s age (there is an irony specific to 1996), sequences of black out with music, the flashing lights of a search party moving through a disconnected street scene, and isolated forest greenery develop a lush aesthetic alienation. As Rose said of Salomon’s creation of darkness from color in her painting: “The most somber moments are in visual continuum with the rest of her life.”

Cantor’s diaristic drawings and video montages of pop cultural material could be subsumed by easy comparison to the abject sexuality of her generation, the YBAs for example. However, the exhibition gives room to a selection of works that quietly unhinge such certain ground. The abyss Cantor cultivated through her work refuses the unity of any political horizon, instead opening a back door onto a feminist negativity valuable for its rejection of gendered affirmation. As with Salomon, we know less here, not more.

by E. C. Feiss

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News /

:ndex Art Book Fair / Mexico City

Good, well-produced books are hard to come by in Mexico — art books even more so. In the past, artists have been creative about procuring books and have generously pooled these resources among colleagues and friends. Recently, however, Mexico City has seen a cultural expansion that has extended to the book world.

Small and ambitious bookstores have popped up all over the city, and many focus specifically on art books. A more recent addition to this conversation is the :ndex Art Book Fair. Now in its second year, the :ndex Art Book Fair will take place in Museo Jumex from February 4 to 7. The theme of this edition will be independent publishers from Latin America and Europe. Following its inaugural edition in Guadalajara in 2014, :ndex has hosted a series of smaller satellite fairs, including a well-received presence within the 2015 Zona MACO international art fair.

:ndex looks to fill the need for dialogue about and distribution of contemporary art books in Mexico. The fair brings an international roster of editorial projects ranging from small local presses to larger publications with an established global audience. Two of the smaller (albeit ambitious) editorial projects in Mexico City, Gato Negro Ediciones and Buró-Buró, have a history of supporting artists with experimental publications. They will have a presence alongside the likes of Art Paper Editions and the Jumex Foundation. With its emphasis on art books, :ndex hopes to provide artists and editors in Mexico with broader resources and expanded readership.

by Leslie Moody Castro

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Mette Ingvartsen MoMA PS1 / New York

At the beginning of Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 Positions, the audience enters an open, steel-tube cage lined with various performance documentation from the 1960s. Dressed in a long maroon shirt, jeans, and matching Adidas trainers, Ingvartsen gathers us around her.

This will be a journey, she says like an expert docent, from unresolved histories of the body to a future proposition for sexual and participatory politics. The succinct introduction concludes with Carolee Schneemann’s email response to Ingvartsen’s request to recreate Meat Joy (1964), using the original performers. Our ecstasy was a response to the political anguish of Vietnam, Schneemann writes. Don’t limit yourself; find what bodies, old and young, mean today.

Throughout the three-part performance essay, Ingvartsen plays multiple personas simultaneously, creating an intimate sphere between sex, history, and ideology that is activated by bodies, hers and ours. In her deconstruction of The Performance Group’s Dionysus in ’69 (1970), she bounces throughout the space with spontaneous rapture. Her running commentary pokes fun at the anarchic performance, adding candor to her invitation to join. Ingvartsen is disarmingly capable as both playful mischief-maker and pedagogue, and as she strips down to her trainers, a nearby monitor reveals that her re-performance is an expert homage to the orgiastic original.

Except for her sneakers, Ingvartsen remains naked for the remaining two acts. Standing in front of a monitor playing her performance 50/50 (2004), she twerks while lucidly explaining that the goal of go-go dancing is “haptic vision,” which synthesizes touch through sight. Next, she explores erotic socialization, building an “orgy sculpture” around herself. It was not easy to discern what anyone felt while Ingvartsen gently conducted four people through close-range pantomimes of tongue-to-clit, finger-to-butt, mouth-to-ear, and sundry other more and less intense comings-together. In this palpably exciting, open, messy, and hypersensitive moment, Ingvartsen builds trust—rather than merely suspending disbelief—by embodying different power positions. If desire doesn’t belong to the individual, but rather to the social, she says, then it only exists through human relations, and is therefore a political agent.

In 69 Positions’ final act, Ingvartsen tours us through contemporary and historic fetishes. Bondage and mummification, electronic or musical stimulation, the molecular gender-hacking of testosterone gel—Ingvartsen uses these sexual practices—and texts, speech, histories, sneakers, etc.—to sublimate the boundaries between private desires. It is against this exploratory sexual space that we can judge her thesis, that politics is contingent on how we share the public body.

by Sam Korman

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Arena /

Viktor Misiano on “The Human Condition” / Moscow

The four-year research project “The Human Condition” — curated by Viktor Misiano across three art institutions — aspires to raise fundamental ontological questions regarding human nature and being. The first of its planned seven sessions, “Limits of the Human,” has opened with the exhibition “Elective Affinities” at the NCCA.

Taking Goethe’s famous novel as its point of departure, the exhibition looks at artists who address eternal problems and subjects across all categories of knowledge, similar to the ancient Natural philosophers. Here Misiano discusses the premises behind “The Human Condition”.

The title of your overall project refers to the eponymous book by Hannah Arendt. Was it an important allusion?

Hannah Arendt was a very important allusion, because the initiator of this project was the Jewish Museum. We started to discuss the exhibition, and while I was thinking of its subject, I actually seized on the Arendt that I was reading at that moment. It implied the image, metaphorical meaning and a multitude of cultural references. In general, the idea behind this project is to respond to what one may call “the anthropological turn” that superseded scenarios popular in the 2000s. What I see now is the return to metaphysics, “eternal” values and subjects as well as to existential, private and personalist experience.

The Russian artistic context is often reproached for being derivative. Is “The Human Condition” an “original intellectual statement stemming from the Russian context,” as you described it?

Quite often serious and well-articulated curatorial projects that we receive are in fact “exported goods.” Such is the politics of the Garage Museum, where “Grammar of Freedom: Five Lessons” was made by the Museum of Modern Art (Ljubljana), or the Multimedia Art Museum, where Ilya Kabakov’s solo show was organized by Dutch curators from the Van Abbemuseum. As for our exhibition, it is a long-lasting international project that can become a subject for further export to other museums or galleries. “The Human Condition” is made simultaneously by three museums. The reference to the discursive and theoretical context implies that the subject of this project is taken very responsively. Organizers and curators invite specialists, theorists and researchers from different spheres and disciplines, such as postcolonial theorist Madina Tlostanova or sociologist Alexander Bikbov. Each of seven exhibition projects will be accompanied by a research program.

How do post-humanism, the Anthropocene and other trends in philosophy and theory, which try to equate human beings with other species, correspond to “Elective Affinities”?

I did not want to run skippingly among some fashionable subjects, but rather tried to be adequate to my intellectual history and curatorial experience. This exhibition unites specific artists; even though they resonate with these subjects, most of them are representatives of my generation. Their oeuvre reflects the issues around the Anthropocene and the return to the natural, but they came to these topics through their own intellectual history, e.g. relational art, which is also characteristic of my own intellectual biography. Almagul Menlibayeva, Katie Holten, Elizabetta di Maggio, Alexandre Joly, Christiane Löhr and Vadim Fishkin — all of these artists began to work in the ’90s in the context of “relational aesthetics” and “communication aesthetics.” I responded to discussions around the Anthropocene because most of the problems were familiar and clear to me. To a certain extent, it could be read in the context of dialogical aesthetics and ontology, but in this case not social but natural.

Your show reminded me of the “retour à l’ordre” of the ’80s. However, this return to traditional materials was made not to praise art’s subjectivity and expression, but rather to testify to certain “subjectless” natural and geological processes.

I would confess, after my experience of communication aesthetics of the 1990s as well as political activism of the 2000s, I am ready to accept today neo-romanticism and artists’ own mythopoeia in the manner of the 1980s as something refreshing. There are such tendencies, and I assume they will find their own place in the further exhibitions of “The Human Condition.” Nevertheless, “Elective Affinities” is about something different: this exhibition speaks of ontology and gnoseology, rather than of artists’ subjectivity. Thus, you perhaps associate this exhibition with retour or rappel à l’ordre because it is plastic, expressive or, simply, beautiful. This is what distinguishes it from the stylistics of activist exhibitions of the recent past, which tried to be deliberately careless or even trashy. However, recently in the activist milieu there were long-lasting and passionate debates about whether politically engaged art has a right to aesthetics, visual expressiveness and even autonomy. One day before the opening, a cleaner from Central Asia mopped the gallery floor and then came back to shoot the exhibition on her phone. I must confess, it was very touching and pleasant.

The term “human condition” speaks of the human in a generic sense that avoids such specific characteristics as sex, race, class, etc. Is it engaged in the polemics of identitarian politics?

The current situation could be understood as the second stage in overcoming identitarian problems of the ’90s. During the first decade of its existence, globalization was primarily an economic process, therefore social and ethical problems were discussed in the language of marketology. In this regard identity turned out to be a very successful tactic, because it represented a marketological attitude toward anthropological issues. In the 2000s it became subject to “sublation” when globalization became political and when the political became the dominant trope for describing humanity and the world as a certain unity: through common interests, protests, political goals, mobilization slogans. So I think the discussion of humanity in an ontological and metaphysical sense is the third phase in the development of globalization.

by Andrey Shental

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Condo / London

In London, the third weekend of January marked the inaugural edition of Condo — a new collaborative exhibition initiative led by Vanessa Carlos of Carlos/Ishikawa gallery. The project proposes a new way for emerging international galleries to sample foreign markets without the financial burden of overpriced art-fair booths — a problematic system whose lack of sustainability is evident to anyone not part of the current oligopoly of mega-galleries.

Eight of London’s hippest art spaces acted as hosts for sixteen colleagues from around the world, from Shanghai to São Paulo — creating a vibe that felt simultaneously like a group show, a social event and an art fair. With a reasonable exhibition fee of only £600 to cover costs, and one hundred percent of all sales going to the respective galleries, Condo was meant as an actual opportunity to make some money. To that end, collectors were invited to tour the participating various galleries in East, South and West London, a turnout that meshed elegantly with the substantial foot traffic from art-cruising weekenders.

Press releases were still being printed as the clock struck noon in Supplement gallery in East London. It was hard to distinguish gallerists from audience members as everyone bundled up in the small gallery premises to behold Mathis Altmann’s home-crafted concrete appliances equipped with tiny LED screens and motors. An overall air of down-to-earth internationalism flourished among visitors, with people softly networking in English and German over to-go coffees, fully armored in winter coats and gloves so as to counter the frosty sunshine, the first in London this winter.

At Carlos/Ishikawa, Vanessa was busy providing collectors with lists of works from the three galleries showing. Megan Francis Sullivan’s (Freymond-Guth Fine Arts, Zurich) painted Photoshop inversions of art history were captivating, and Than Hussein Clark’s lamps in blown glass radiated beautifully from above. It was curious, though, that the event’s own initiator went with the most art-fair-like separation of each gallery’s presentation, as temporary exhibition walls fully divided their East End warehouse space (which gave the impression that their own show at the front of the gallery was a non-Condo exhibition).

A train ride away was the less frequented but more hyped Peckham: The Sunday Painter was buzzing with visitors who had come to see contributions from galleries Koppe Astner (Glasgow), Galeria Jaqueline Martins (São Paulo) and Seventeen (London). Artist Débora Bolsoni tried to unthaw visitors by passing around a communal beetroot soup in an engraved metal cup — with limited success, as some reluctant visitors pointed out the obvious risk of sharing unheated food at the peak of flu season. Still, the culinary gesture stood well alongside Laura Aldridge’s rice sculptures and the dreamy drawings of Ana Mazzei — each allocated to a corner, there seemed to be some dialogue happening between the works (that wasn’t business oriented). Notably, Seventeen was the only London gallery to be invited to participate in the intercity exchange program, a fact they could be proud of — the gallery decided to keep it local by showcasing the work of South London sculptor and SALT editor Jala Wahid. In a hotchpotch of petroleum jelly, argan oil and rosewater glycerin, Wahid, who has roots in Central Asia, makes sculptures related to Middle-Eastern notions of feminine beauty.

Down the road at Arcadia Missa, the rock music from A.L. Steiner’s installation served as a much-needed tonic against the chilly day. Insisting on hosting just one gallery, Arcadia achieved stellar curatorial consistency in their collaboration with Deborah Schamoni Galerie from Munich, as Phoebe Collings-James’s allegorical drawings of horses completed Steiner’s audio-visual reminiscence of London and New York.

Arriving at Project Native Informant after sunset, coffee was replaced by beer, triggering a festive atmosphere more like a weekend opening. Berlin gallery Société showed Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of constructed femininity in popular culture, while GOD evoked neo-mythological still lifes with their video work Antigone. “I’m couch surfing at my friend’s for the week,” one European was overheard admitting to a friend, to which he replied affirmatively: “It’s OK — you’re young.” The same could be said for the galleries of Condo, who in their youth feel the need for a lighter and more collegiate form of global tenancy.

At Southard Reid in Soho, Bruno Zhu’s (Jeanine Hofland Contemporary Art) printed carpets looked well-trodden as the clock struck six and Lea Cetera’s video performance looped one last time, marking the end of the opening of this art-world exchange program. Condo seems to have been successful: the initiative meant lots of good non-London art to kick off the 2016 art year, which in itself is laudable. There’s certainly an interest in circumventing the current art-fair system without losing its beneficial internationalism, and the format proposed here might be the most viable alternative thus far — a format that could blossom in cities all over the world.

by Jeppe Ugelvig

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