Report /

Fuori Biennale / 57th Venice Biennale

Hanging from the vestibule of the Central Pavilion, and disrupting the white rationality of the entry colonnade, is Sam Gilliam’s Yves Klein Blue (2015). Its soft and colorful draping adorns a cheerfully carefree biennial, devoted to a Eurocentric joie de vivre.

Indeed, according to Christine Macel, art is a space that allows an escape from the present political turmoil, to reflect on the self and restart from the subject (a notion the curator defines as “neo-humanism”). “Viva Arte Viva” declares the defeat of art as an engine of transformation, offering instead a retreat into an autopoietic imaginative universe. To mark the border between interior and exterior and to underline the division between political and artistic realms are Gilliam’s polychrome banners. The flag represents a rejection of the present and a reaction to the past — more precisely, to Okwui Enwezor’s biennale and to Oscar Murillo’s black flags, which in 2015 were located in the same position as Gilliam’s work. But can a signal flag completely exclude today’s injuries, tragedies and emergencies? Is it enough to furl the previous standard and put an end to a discourse regarding, in this case, art as a tool for an ideal, for tangible regeneration?

In Laguna there are several examples of exhibitions able to capture the uninterrupted process of contestation and renegotiation. “Space Force Construction” is presented by V-A-C Foundation — a Moscow-based foundation opened in 2009 by Leonid Mikhelson, dedicated to the promotion and study of Russian art — in their new Venetian space at Palazzo delle Zattere. The exhibition deals elegantly with the relationship between political ideals and artistic utopias, proposing a dialogue between a hundred works of the Bolshevik period and others by contemporary artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Tania Bruguera, Barbara Kruger, Cao Fei, Christian Nyampeta, and Irina Korina. The setup plays with scenography, reenacting historical installations (El Lissitzky’s Room for Constructive Art, 1926) or works never realized (Gustav Klutsis’s Design for Loudspeaker from 1922, preserved in a series of drawings by the artist) in a masterful balance between reality and fiction.

Another show that exploits the theatrical apparatus is Fondazione Prada’s “The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied” at Ca’ Corner della Regina. The exhibition questions the very condition of the image, taken to its limit, to a place where reality and deception blur. Artist Thomas Demand, director Alexander Kluge and set designer Anna Viebrock pool their expertise, crafts and visions into a total work of art: an expanded carillon that drives the viewer into a labyrinthine reflection on our era of post-truth media.

Macel has repeatedly described “Viva Arte Viva” as a hymn to creation. The curator’s balanced, harmonious tune and clean musicality tend not to correspond with today’s distortion and asynchrony — as the collateral events by Samson Young for Hong Kong and James Richards for Wales demonstrate. In his site-specific “Songs for a Disaster Relief” project, Young appropriates a number of hit singles created for charity, redeploying and distorting them to describe the absurdity of a pop culture unable to get to the root of the issues it purports to address. Richards offers an immersive experience: a reflection on an inner landscape accessed by rites of initiation, here via a sampling of sounds for the spaces of the church of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice.

Shirin Neshat’s film Roja (2016) uses an alter ego to conjure surrealistic visions of the fear of the other and the desire to reattach to one’s homeland. This may be the most powerful work in her exhibition at Museo Correr, one of a larger constellation of monographic shows in Venice that includes the Italians Alighiero Boetti, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Ettore Sottsass, Marzia Migliora and Yuri Ancarani, as well as Marina Abramović, Pierre Huyghe and Philip Guston.

The exhibitions of Boetti and Sottsass are distinguished by the elegance of their settings (reflecting the collaboration with Fondazione Cini), while the shows by Migliora and Ancarani at Palazzo Ca’ Rezzonico and Café Florian respectively testify to the vitality of a mid-career Italian generation whose practices and areas of research are being constantly redefined.

The Philip Guston retrospective at Gallerie dell’Accademia frames the artist’s production within the literary and poetic milieu that surrounded him: from Lawrence, Yeats and Eliot to Stevens and Montale.

Palazzo Fortuny’s exhibition “Intuition” shares the Macellian discourse of the artist-shaman for whom creation is an uncontrollable act. The show is ambitious for the sheer number of artists included and the complexity of the installation; it presents works with a primigenial strength, such as Gilles Delmas and Damien Jalet’s video The Ferryman (Le passeur des lieux) (2016). Unfortunately the pieces are not always integrated within the whole, partly due to the building’s storied stratification.

Returning to Gilliam’s banners, their presence had the effect of highlighting the distance between the anesthetizing veneer of the biennale and the genuinely reformational spirit of the external exhibitions. This latter tendency is especially marked in the interventions proposed by countries whose freedoms are restricted, and by communities seeking independence or international recognition. A case in point is Taiwan, whose exhibition “Doing Time” at Palazzo delle Prigioni presents a small sampling of work by Tehching Hsieh, an artist whose envelope-pushing One Year Performances are always framed by a set of strictly self-imposed rules. Likewise, the project for the Native American pavilion, titled “Indian Water,” is conceived by artists Nicholas Galanin and Oscar Tuazon as a platform for cooperation and dialogue. Over the summer, the pavilion is due to host debates on the subjects of environmental catastrophe, seawater decontamination and global pollution — issues whose gravity has been magnified by Trump’s anti-environmental policies.

Taking a final step inside the Iraqi pavilion at Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, part of the official circuit of national pavilions, one feels ambivalence regarding history –– reunion and rupture, reverence and iconoclasm. Ancient artifacts, saved from looting at the Iraqi National Museum, and recent works, are displayed in showcases, reiterating both a distance between the work of art and the flow of life and the requirement for protection of the artistic object. At the end of the hall one encounters Untitled, Mosul, Iraq, 31 Oct 2016 (2017) by Francis Alÿs. This video, shot in the city of Mosul, films a hand that soaks a brush in a palette of ocher, earth and beige colors. With quick and determined gestures the artist tries to portray the Kurdish Peshmerga and the tanks that appear in the background. At a certain point the hand grabs a rag, scrapes off the painting and the action starts from the beginning.

It seems that the faceless author attempts to render an image both attuned to the situation and infinitely failing. This is because the world cannot be fixed in one form; but that does not mean, as Alÿs asserts, the artist can stop bearing witness.

by Giulia Gregnanin

(Translated from Italian by Alex Estorick)
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Review /

Disobedient Bodies The Hepworth Wakefield / Yorkshire

With playful irreverence and a keen eye for formal associations, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson has created a level playing field for seminal works of art, iconic garments, ceramic pieces and design objects.

At the center of the exhibition, Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure (1936), its sinuous curves morphing dynamically into a head, torso and folded limbs, is set against an installation of colorful, oversize jumpers hung floor to ceiling, whose elongated sleeves, knotted or braided together, intersect different patterns. Along the walls, a series of photographs titled “The Thinleys,” made in collaboration with fashion photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, show a male model encased in garments from the JW Anderson archive. A collaborative approach underlies Anderson’s practice, and the exhibition integrates different creative fields. 6a architects transformed the exhibition rooms into a series of interlocking chambers partitioned by screens of draped fabric.

In their challenges to conventional conceptions of beauty, Rei Kawakubo, Helmut Lang and Rick Owens have directly influenced Anderson’s nongendered clothing. Fashion garments take on the structure of sculptures and vessels, transforming the human figure into an abstract silhouette.

Comprising close to one hundred works, the show is rich in visual juxtapositions. Sarah Lucas’s stuffed tights sprawled with abandon over an office chair reverberate with the insidious interlocking of padded wool-knit tubes from Comme des Garçon’s A/W 2014 “Monster” collection. Anthea Hamilton’s Leg Chair (2012) resonates with Elisabeth de Senneville’s S/S 1977 Nomade vest, whose clear plastic top layer is filled with political newspaper cut-outs.

Anderson creates sophisticated groupings of objects that confer renewed vigor on classic and lesser-known works of art and design by revealing their radical nature. Interpretations of the human form move fluidly between gender conventions, showing how the emancipatory value of fashion can parallel the transgressive power of art.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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Review /

Alexandre da Cunha PIVÔ / São Paulo

BOOM” brings together several elegant sculptures alongside Contratempo (2013), a video composed of stills of exploding bombs. The sculptures refashion the everyday objects of real estate booms: construction and maintenance (mops, a squeegee, marble countertops); fragmented artifacts of luxury buildings (towels, carpets, robes); and, as the exhibit’s centerpiece, deconstructed heavy machinery (a concrete mixer).

Straight-jacket (2003), the only colorful work here, hangs alone in the lobby, a pastiche of windsurf sail, tape and thread fashioned into an eponymous garment. To bring together these diverse elements flirts with a cliché of contemporary art: the desire to defamiliarize the everyday. Indeed, the show is in part a reflection on the difficulty of producing original viewing experiences. PIVÔ, after all, occupies a ground-floor space in the Copan Building, Oscar Niemeyer’s concrete icon of Brazilian modernism, and the attempt to move art objects past the readymade was already the focus of Brazil’s canonical 1960s Neo-concrete movement.

If da Cunha seems about to be buried under the weight of this history (or encased in its concrete or wrapped in its straitjacket), then “BOOM” is also the activity of breaking from these constraints, albeit methodically. The straitjacket is left to hang lazily, while the concrete mixer (BOOM, 2017) is cut into four pieces and rendered a mild-mannered sculpture.

This largely successful attempt nearly runs aground in Contratempo, as da Cunha tries to “still” the bombs of war. But rather than remark on the futility of doing so, we might see here the inversion of defamiliarization practice: instead of showing the lost beauty of the neglected ordinary, we are asked to come to terms with the horrific beauty of permanent war. The booms of conflict, real estate and of cultural movements are all related. Our ordinary is a breathtaking view onto the plains of destruction.

by Avi Alpert

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A Vogue Idea /

Fashion is Not a Revelation: An Appeal for Critical Curation

The current exhibition at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), titled “fashion after Fashion,” promises a bold new definition of critical fashion. As curators Hazel Clark and Ilari Laamanen explain, “Fashion” with a capital F is “an inherent system of short-lived trends, idealized body types, and the presentation of gendered stereotypes, all conveyed with authority through the names of brands…”

The exhibition intends to show that fashion practice can possess intellectual value outside market forces. This hypothesis, which posits fashion criticality as a nascent reality, curiously neglects decades of scholarly and curatorial work dedicated to fashion’s various experiential, social and multidisciplinary relations. Sidestepping this vast history of critical fashion practice and theory, “fashion after Fashion” purports to show “some of the most innovative work being produced” as alternatives to an otherwise oppressive system.

The exhibition brings together six practitioners who deal with the lowercase phenomenon known as “fashion.” SSAW magazine presents a teen bedroom interior completely covered in spreads and campaigns from their past issues. Designer Ryohei Kawanishi creates a faux wholesale showroom with bought garments redolent of Zara pieces; hoping to jam the value-relationship of garment and branding, he has supplanted existing logos and labels with his own. Henrik Vibskov has constructed transparent fabric cubicles with gelatinous Ernesto Neto–style blobs suspended in them. This, we are told, points to “how bodies are enlivened by their garments” and how fashion “references the passage of time.” Lucy Jones crafts ergonomic cross sections of garments that enhance body joint movability for wheelchair users. This suggests fashion’s potential for inclusivity. Sculptural works by the collaborative duo ensæmble expose the innards of garments, highlighting their construction to illuminate our everyday interfaces with clothing. Eckhaus Latta and Alexa Karolinski’s video features downtown New York art characters responding to questions of love and identity while wearing the brand’s clothing. The exhibition claims this demonstrates how fashion can facilitate community.

Unlike the more traditional fashion exhibition approach of isolating a specific time, place, author, style or medium to position a thesis, “fashion After Fashion” denies this curatorial threshold as proof that this new “fashion” practice transcends mere collections and catwalks. While the exhibition format need not remain didactic, the act of selection is also an act of restriction, an indictment made all the more critical for a museum. The question that becomes immediately apparent is: What makes these six key practitioners so illustrative of this new “fashion” frontier? Are the above tactics of imagery, brand jamming, immersive environments, disability design, deconstruction and community truly novel to fashion? Or, have these practitioners canonized once-niche concerns into systemic industry changes?

Within the curators’ vague paradigm shift of “Fashion” vs. “fashion,” profound contradictions are evident. Take for instance the work by SSAW Magazine. The exhibition argues that SSAW is a repudiation of fashion magazines and their proclivity to “present stereotypes of beauty, gender, and age, which they [SSAW] found restrictive and unrepresentative of their interests.” Expecting an insightful shift, I instead discover the magazine almost exclusively depicts tall, youthful, waif-like models, many of them represented by major agencies, wearing the latest in luxury designer fashion. The professionally crafted visuals are virtually indistinguishable from those of mainstream fashion magazines. Fashionably alternative models may appear, but recent campaigns by corporations such as H&M, which present body diversity under the banner of brand identity, question the collusion between representation in the fashion industry and Foucault’s concept of biopolitics. Is this a highly attuned form of institutional critique? Could this be an update of Stéphane Mallarmé’s1874 La Dernière mode, an interventionist project in which the poet, acting as a ficto-critic, published a fashion magazine using a host of pseudonyms to construct a simulation of the discourse? All research points to no. Fashion remains Fashion.

Ultimately functioning as a frivolous curatorial exercise, there is a dearth of any intelligible attempt to expound a theoretical connection between these six practitioners. Yes, they all somehow challenge cultural norms or luxury economies, but this could be described as fashion tout-court. Even high-end “Fashion” designers have been historically known to subvert corporeal and corporate expectations, creating platforms for new gender roles, championing minorities, obfuscating their financial imperative though philanthropy, collaborating with artists and advocating for the individual. Why aren’t they included in the show? This lack of discernment is worrying for a museum exhibition that declaims a manifesto of the “new”; clearly the exhibition does not interrogate the complex marriage of the culture industry and the corporate world. Instead, “fashion after Fashion” offers the nebulous assurance that “fashion” is “more complex, critically informed and socially relevant.”

The fact is that this type of revelatory exhibition of fashion’s expanded field has been mounted countless times: “Biennale di Firenze” (1996), curated by Germano Celant; “Fast Forward: Mode in den Medien” (1999), curated by Ulrike Tschabitzer and Christian Muhr at Künstlerhaus Wien; “Dysfashional” (2007), curated by Luca Marchetti and Emanuele Quinz at the Luxembourg Rotonde; and “The Future of Fashion is Now” (2014), curated by José Teunissen at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, to name a few.

It has become remarkably evident at this point that fashion’s sensorium is involved in creative processes that transcend market forces (although I would argue that all fashion practice, luxury to niche, remains intrinsically entangled with the market). An exhibition declaring a new fashion must do more than explicate this fact. This is not to say all fashion exhibitions need to adhere to specific themes and cannot tackle fashion as a methodological conundrum. In 1944 Bernard Rudofsky curated “Are Clothes Modern?” at MoMA, a show that infiltrated the broad annals of fashion, challenging its genetic makeup, through Veblen and other anthropologists, as a grotesque semiology of class politics. In 2005, “Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back,” curated by Judith Clark at the V&A Museum, addressed fashion as analogous to Benjamin’s concept of the tiger’s leap, as the discursive image where past and present cyclically meet. Unlike “fashion after Fashion,” these exhibitions used pointed propositions to curatorially challenge our understanding of the fashion system.

by Matthew Linde

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Review /

Lucy Dodd Sprüth Magers / Berlin

One is never quite sure what to expect from a Lucy Dodd exhibition. She’s cooked catfish and served cocktails in carved-out cucumbers; she’s had musicians perform unidentifiable chants while handing out a milky drink to those willing to take it. But whatever happens, one is guaranteed a sensorial journey through painterly abstraction.

Her first solo show in Germany is no different; one’s senses are immediately struck at the entrance by an imposing floor-to-ceiling painting. Butterfly (2017) looks like a giant Rorschach blot, whose reddish center symmetrically splits two white circles above large brown members. The pink and beige “wings” extending outward from these visually dominant elements comprise organic materials –– squid ink and yerba mate –– used frequently by the artist. The painting is an architectural intervention in its size and placement, and like a monumental square screen it needs to be navigated in order to reach a second work of the same scale behind it. This kind of anticipation and unknowability is typical of Dodd’s shows. The second work, Egg (2017), shares the same symmetrical composition, albeit with the addition of more obviously figurative elements. Two angelic bodies poised wistfully on either side of an empty white mandorla recall the “birth of elements” motif from the murals of Lukhang, used to illustrate the origin of the universe. Dodd’s paintings lend themselves to such mystical connotations; strengthened by incense and strange brews, the spiritual is hard to miss in this work.

The paintings-cum-dividers manifest a third room containing two smaller paintings, three works on paper, a mirror and some furniture. Dodd held a performance here on the night of the opening, in a space in which the smaller scale of the paintings reinforces the fascinatingly strange, frenetic quality of her work. Yet the inclusion of religious symbology in this show seems heavy-handed, taking the mystery out of Dodd’s fluid and elemental approach to abstraction — but then again, I wonder what she’ll do next.

by Aaron Bogart

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Review /

Susan Cianciolo & Kiva Motnyk The Community / Paris

Exhibition space and artwork merge in the presentation of the new RUN Home collection at The Community in Paris. Gathering a series of recent and past works by Susan Cianciolo, Kiva Motnyk and their collective of multiple collaborators, the show presents clothing, textiles, works on paper and ceramics in the raw interior of The Community gallery where, in the former barbershop, RUN’s objects and textile works seem at home.

Spread across the ground level of the gallery space, the show has cute moments — like a small children’s playroom off the main space — that invite visitors to socialize with the works. The collection is the latest iteration of Cianciolo and Motnyk’s collaboration, one that regularly explores making, wearing and exhibiting clothes as an interrelated and holistic practice in which boundaries between disciplines become intimate and blurred.

Often described as a visual artist, designer and even restaurateur, New York–based Cianciolo emerged from a 1990s art/fashion generation in New York, managing to survive the status of independent designer through her diverse output of collaborations, exhibitions and immersive events. Motnyk, a textile designer and the founder of Thompson Street Studio, has created work that similarly explores experimental practice in the fiber arts. For their RUN collections, the artists work with a crew of collaborators, each involved to some extent on pieces in the collection. Designers Jessica Ogden and Zoe Latta, as well as Mississippi-based quilter Coulter Fussell, are just a few of the contributors to RUN’s ongoing methodology of sharing and repurposing. The handmade quilts, repurposed textiles, illustrations and garments displayed invite the status of incomplete.

Tuukka Laurila, cofounder and director of The Community, explains: “What is interesting to us is how Susan and Kiva combine their backgrounds in fashion with their art practice. As curators, we really connect with this aspect of their work: you can’t categorize it, and it makes people confused.” This indefinability adds to the charm of Susan and Kiva’s work, which avoids the political to find smaller reflective experiences keyed to the history of textile art and crafts.

by Laura Gardner

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