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Wilfredo Prieto kurimanzutto / Mexico City

Wilfredo Prieto’s work is usually read as following in the footsteps of American and European Minimalist art of the 1960s and ’70s. This equation is made on the basis of Prieto’s use, like other artists of his generation, of formal devices that are “subtle,” “anonymous” and “imperceptible” — typically in contrast to the expressive excesses of an art that relies on symbolism and emotional content. However, the association between Minimalism and Prieto’s art doesn’t fully add up.

In his current solo show at kurimanzutto in Mexico City, the contradictions implicit in this way of reading his work are even more evident. The majority of the pieces included in the show are new, context-based and specifically fabricated for this installation. All point to a kind of tension between the desire to distance oneself from daily reality and an attempt to depict that reality in all its ephemeral and imperceptible meanings.

This unresolved dialectic is revealed in Puñado de cobre, níquel y zinc (2016), comprised of powdered metals spread on the street at the entrance of the gallery, or in Bosque con Chanel (2016), in which Chanel perfume has been sprayed on plants in the patio of the gallery. With these gestures the artist tries to modify the way we give meaning to our material reality, simultaneously using its very substance (“banal” materials such as the copper, nickel and zinc from which coins are made; or simply the essence of a perfume). These works mirror the materiality of our world, yet they are also abstract in the sense that is hard to grasp what aspect of reality — what situation or object — they are meant to reference.

Prieto describes himself as an artist interested in deciphering and depicting reality. At the same time, he confesses that abstraction is something that is starting to intrigue him conceptually. Yet all these works are already seemingly invested with a kind of abstraction that is at variance with his “material” depiction of the real.

by Francesco Scasciamacchia

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The Present in Drag / 9th Berlin Biennale

“People are going apeshit over this!” Or so an artist participating in this year’s Berlin Biennale told me, via e-mail. “Is that good or bad?” I thought, not having yet seen the biennial myself at that moment.

My fingers tapped “apeshit” into Google for an exact definition: “to become very angry or excited.” So: both then. That’s exactly how you might characterize the general critical response to the biennial, titled The Present in Drag: some people are angry (very angry), others are excited (well, perhaps quietly interested is a better descriptor in this instance).

Curated by the New York–based collective DIS, the term “post-internet” was plastered all over the biennial — with accompanying tut-tuts and eye-rolls — long before it even opened. DIS are known not as curators, but rather, as cultural producers who founded a digital publication in 2010. Their thesis looks directly to the present for its theme, seeking to materialize our all-pervasive digital condition — warts and all. They describe in the following terms their interest in the paradoxes that increasingly make up the world: “the virtual as the real, nations as brands, people as data, culture as capital, wellness as politics, happiness as GDP.” DIS aims to decipher meaning amid this climate by commissioning a number of artists who use strategies of advertising, branding and marketing in their work, emulating the qualities of corporations in a world intent on commercialism and the AR dematerialization of the human.

Encompassing five venues, art as a category of consumerism and cultural production spread throughout the city. Set within the ADK, a building that feels like a corporate headquarters made of glass and steel, Anna Uddenberg’s Transit Mode – Abenteuer (2014–16) saw wigged figures bent over to selfie-stick their asses; others comprised contorted torsos atop suitcases, a half-woman, half-traveler hybrid. With pert under-boob on display and glittering belly rings, these creatures oozed sex with their subjectivity sitting somewhere between porn star, yoga instructor and luggage store. At a moment in time when domestic travel is cheap and labor is globally circulated, Uddenberg responds with faceless, hyper-sexualized moveable cases — fill us with whatever you want — seemingly highlighting the ironic lack of any real identity or individuation allowed by this system.

Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s New Eelam (2016) asks how citizenship might be approached in an age when we travel incessantly and technology has accelerated our dislocation. Founding a real startup that provides access to apartments globally for a monthly subscription fee, he envisions a new form of boundary-less citizenship and collective homeownership. Presented as a promotional video embedded within a corporate environment curated by Annika Kuhlmann, Kulendran Thomas references the socio-economic systems proposed by, firstly, the defeated neo-Marxist Tamil Sri Lankan struggle, and secondly, Amazon, which has experienced an exponential rise to power and influence. Against this historical backdrop, he describes a global housing subscription that would function through an app, just like Uber or Airbnb — both of which have respectively transformed the taxi and hotel markets. So why not apply this logic to the housing market also, at a moment in time when people are stuck within a binary system of renting or buying (the later available to a privileged few only)?

Leaving Sri Lanka as a child as the result of the civil war, the artist’s practice consistently references his country’s changing socio-economic structures and how this has impacted its people. With New Eelam, he widens the conversation to address a global platform; yet the degree to which his vision provides a useful alternative to the existing system is debatable. In prohibitively expensive cities, the housing market renders renters powerless and at the mercy of sky-high costs; so, yes, we need another option to prevent dynamic cities becoming homogenous spaces for a wealthy elite. Kulendran Thomas’ project could either provide an emancipatory and radical vision for all, or just another option for the wealthy few who already travel regularly.

Deborah Delmar Corp. created a juice bar, selling a green concoction called MINT. Pitting aspirational health food trends against the global fruit trade, her concurrent exhibition at Duve, “Headquarters,” realizes the HQ of the corporation and critiques the conflict of interest between the health of the individual and the planet.

Perhaps the most poignant works at the biennial were presented by Jon Rafman and Cécile B. Evans. Rafman’s View of Pariser Platz (2016) presented an Oculus Rift headset upon the balcony of the ADK. Initially reproducing the exact view from the balcony — including his sculptures such as his L’Avalée des avelés (The Swallower Swallowed) Rhino/Bear (2016), in which a rhino seemingly vomits or ingests a giant bear in an ouroboros cycle — this gives way to a hallucinatory vision of pavement-cracking, fog-swirling, animal-swelling mayhem, within which the viewer is implicated.

Meanwhile, Evans’s immersive video installation What the Heart Wants (2016) considers what constitutes a person in the digital age — machines being the intermediary that shapes us. In a large-scale underground gallery space, disembodied ears float about onscreen, while people remember a world of real bodies disposed of at the expense of our psychological stability.

The 9th Berlin Biennale — bb9 — shares its acronym with the long-running reality television show Big Brother. When this was first screened over fifteen years ago, the ability to observe the lives of others in a seemingly transparent way seemed revolutionary. Today, this reality television space has become hyperactive; we can constantly see into the lives of others through the Internet and social media platforms; everything is geared toward visibility and the selling of oneself. We are brands marketing ourselves to the world.

At a moment when Trump could feasibly be president, Brexit is on the horizon, the war in Syria continues to rage and refugees drown in the Mediterranean, we also navigate a disturbingly contrary space of popular culture: Bieber is king regardless of whether he is sued for plagiarism, and every tourist site is a selfie-stick opportunity. DIS taps into this zeitgeist, where human atrocities are ignored in favor of solipsistic trivialities. Some have seen this as a celebration of this present moment of spectatorship, a reinforcement of this value system. DIS are simply giving a physical body to the problems of the present, materializing these heinous superficialities to highlight the urgency of our current situation. Arguably, this is irresponsible, given the critical overtones that could and should have accompanied this form of content. Overall, the biennial feels shallow during a deeply complex time, imitating rather than holding the system to account.

by Louisa Elderton

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Yngve Holen Kunsthalle Basel

The security lines at American airports this summer are expected to last hours, oil prices are down, ticket prices are up and seats are getting smaller. This is just one industry screwing the economy class of the human race.

For many years Yngve Holen has shown a fascination with how we relate physically to the inner workings of technologies and products in these situations. In his first major institutional exhibition he debuts large new series of works that continue an investigation of corporate and human coldness.

Eight wall-hanging aluminum sculptures line the walls as one enters the show (VERTICALSEAT, 2016), jutting heavily into the space of the narrow room and relating directly to the aesthetics of security fencing. They’re attractive, clean and orderly; perhaps like the concepts of property protection and anti-other they elicit.

Car or scooter headlights connected in pairs (Hater Headlight, 2016) suggest bug-like eyes peering down this hall and elsewhere. One thinks of the antagonists of the Transformers franchise, the Decepticons, with evil alien connotations and technological surveillance implications that Holen presses us to relate to real-world events.

The idea of the evil eye repeats literally with a series of works lining the walls of two rooms (Window Seat A, 2016). Mimicking the large and lauded Boeing Dreamliner window, hand-blown glasses in concentric iMac-colored circles make reference to the nazar amulets used by Eastern cultures. Here, we assume, one needs to ward off the evil eye of those in a middle seat. A Porsche Panamera sits splayed and inverted into four perfect pieces nearby (CAKE, 2016). It’s a strong reminder that for all of us stuck uncomfortably in the back, first class exists in the same enclosed space nearby.

by Mitchell Anderson

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Public Fiction MOCA storefront / Los Angeles

“The Poet and the Critic, and the missing,” curated by Public Fiction, forms a running commentary on MOCA’s permanent collection from the vantage of the museum’s storefront: venue, comprised of two distinct installations of visual and written work, two film screenings and an online publication.

The image of a tangent, featured on the website component of the show, aptly indicates the nature of this dialogue, which often bears an oblique relation to the ostensible source material. One is tempted to step back a bit and suggest a comparison between Public Fiction’s overall curatorial project of exploring the possibilities of the exhibition as a medium and collage.

The latter, after all, has had an indisputable art history since at least the work of Picasso and Braque, precisely because it draws upon materials external to canonically defined art, such as newsprint, found photographs and even furniture. Politically, this relates to the conflict between sameness and diversity that plays out over the history of modernism, as its attempts to attain universal communication or an all-encompassing form derived from a certain privileging of the formal over lived experience that exerts an exclusionary force of which we have become increasingly conscious. Precisely this question of the “other” of art informs the definition of the poet provided in the publication’s first short text, in which Corrine Fitzpatrick casts the poet in the same relation to art as that of sickness to health.

A new work in Nathaniel Mackey’s “Song of the Andoumboulou” series, included in the first half of the visual exhibition, is exemplary here. Enacting what the poet terms a “discrepant engagement” between Dogon mythology and the modern Western tradition of the world-poem, the text is rife with questions of identity and authority, as is Litia Perta’s revision of Zoe Leonard’s classic “I want a president” text. The collage-like flatness imposed by the locked storefront space highlights the challenge of finding expression within and against the weight of historical accumulation, a matter of recontextualization and revitalization at least as much as more traditional values like inspiration.

Finally, the eponymous “missing” could well be provided by Nancy Lupo’s installation, housed in a Dodge Caravan parked in the Hollywood Hills, miles from the museum. Entitled Bench 2016, the piece is more or less that, with a seat woven from dental floss, flanked on either side by hanging spray millet. The scene of spectatorship, contemplation and rest is inverted, made an object of consumption for both viewers and tantalized birds, as well as a site of pilgrimage as mobile as its audience. Dividing an already double show into two locations, the work is part and parcel of a curatorial reflection on the uncanny nature of reflection itself.

by Jared Baxter

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Hometown Hero Parcours / Basel

When last summer Art Basel named Samuel Leuenberger curator of the city-wide sculpture and performance Parcours sector, it was something of a crowning for a hometown hero.

Leuenberger, the founder of the not-for-profit SALTS in Basel, has been an early and ardent champion of local, now international, artists including Raphael Hefti, Tobias Spichtig, Mia Marfurt and Yves Scherer. In advance of his first curated edition, Flash Art caught up with him.

How does your work with SALTS influence or inform you work on Parcours?

SALTS serves as a platform for experiments; the same should be the case for Parcours. Extending the show’s presentation into the heart of Basel, we depend on each artist’s close involvement — site visits and co-choosing the perfect location for their work. There is a very close curatorial involvement, very much like any traditional curated exhibition.

What is the ideal Parcours program?

The ideal is, and should be, that the artwork presented converges with its location. We want to create an experience that feels natural for its visitors, as well as to create a specific environment for the works to inhabit for a week. Hopefully you get to discover new artists or works, get surprised or irritated. Hopefully it touches you and makes you think.

What can we look forward to in Basel this year?

At SALTS we will do three shows, including a two-person with Owen Piper and Lili Reynaud-Dewar, a solo with Lena Henke, guest-curated by Anna Goetz, and a group show entitled “Works Off Paper” by Harry Burke. For Parcours we have nineteen exciting positions indoors and outdoors by emerging artists such as Trisha Baga as well as established positions such as Jim Dine. New this year is Parcours Bar, a location we created where each night of the Art Basel week one off-space is presenting their own program. This was something very important to me, coming from the off-space scene, that the emerging scene is also present in the whole spectacle of the week. Parcours is, after all, a guest in Basel’s old town.

by Mitchell Anderson

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Aram Moshayedi on Made in L.A. 2016

The third iteration of the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition, called “a, the, though, only,” opens June 12. Flash Art Associate Editor Eli Diner talked with co-curator Aram Moshayedi.

There are so many pitfalls with a local biennial, the very premise of which seems to be that there is something distinctive about art here. And that seems like a pretty hard case to make in 2016. Interestingly, Eckhaus Latta, who are in the show, were also included in the most recent Greater New York. Were you looking for artists who engaged with the city somehow? Do you think there is something like LA art, or is it really all just made in LA?

We were trying to avoid any semblance of Los Angeles as a site of inquiry. But naturally the city is going to seep in to the work that’s made here. The clichés of Los Angeles still persist to some degree (even when those clichés are contradicted), so we tried to unlearn what we already knew about the city and avoid any topics that would be seen as exclusively tied to this context.

The perception of a so-called regional biennial like Made in L.A. is that it’s about an inward gaze — that it’s about boosterism. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. The series that the initial Hammer biennial initiated in 2012 was really about creating a platform for the artists who live and work here. Those artists may come and go, they may move on to other contexts and cities, and this is a condition of any place today. The perception of art in Los Angeles has always tended toward a kind of regional identity based on the canonization of a handful of mostly white men and their particular brand of art-making. But that isn’t the reality of the place.

You were interested in including a range of artists at various points in their careers. You have blue-chip types, emerging artists (some more widely recognized than others) as well as some older, overlooked figures. I’m interested in these two “monographic surveys” of the work of Kenzi Shiokava and Huguette Caland. I saw that show of Caland’s early work at Lombard Fried a couple years ago, which really impressed. How did the inclusion of these two artists come about? And what will the surveys entail?

There are a handful of condensed “mini-surveys” that perforate the exhibition. Caland and Shiokava are two such instances where a broad range of work is assembled to reflect the long arc of their respective careers. Rather than represent artists who have been working for decades in relative obscurity by selecting from a particular period or body of work, we chose to really go for it and pursue a retrospective impulse. But still it’s a challenge to condense a life’s work into an exhibition of this scale. It’s an even greater challenge to put figures like Caland and Shiokava in relationship to another artist like Daniel R. Small, who has been working for the past six years on a single project centered around the archaeological excavation of the site where Cecil B. DeMille filmed The Ten Commandments in 1923. While the impetus and approach of someone like Small may differ from the older artists I mentioned, the depth, heaviness and conceptual weight of this gesture is squarely on par with their shared commitment and rigor as artists.

It’s a relatively paired-down list in comparison to some more recent Made in L.A.s, but of course is expansive in other ways, with Todd Gray dressing in Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s clothes and Guthrie Lonergan “inhabiting the museum’s expansive digital spaces.” What can we expect from these projects?

The participation of artists like Todd Gray and Guthrie Lonergan is, in many respects, linked to how we envisioned the inclusion of Eckhaus Latta and writer and artist Aram Saroyan. Saroyan’s minimal poem—“a, the, though, only”—which was commissioned for the context of the exhibition’s subtitle, is encountered wherever Made in L.A. is mentioned, printed or advertised. It’s very much a poem with legs and there is a certain degree of heft to this. Although “work” by Saroyan isn’t physically located within the museum, his poem casts a much wider net than any static object might be able to do on its own. And in so far as language is his medium, it seemed fitting to give this space over to him.

To a similar end, Gray is wearing the clothes of Manzarek throughout the run of the exhibition. This was something that Gray originally felt compelled to do for a year just after the keyboardist — and a good friend of Gray — passed away, but he is restaging it for Made in L.A. As a work, it reflects any commitment as great as the shift of art into life, and therefore any encounter with this gesture is fleeting at best. Gray won’t inhabit the museum and he won’t document the project as such. Instead we were interested in the work’s capacity to overrule the activities of his daily life as an artist. Within the context of the exhibition, this plays with the very ideas of substance, weight and heaviness that one may encounter elsewhere — for example, in the span of time reflected in the history of labor politics covered by Labor Link TV since its founding by artist and labor organizer Fred Lonidier in 1988. The exhibition provides a context for considering the disparity of these two approaches alongside one another, while also maintaining their independence and an engagement with their specific needs on their own terms.

by Eli Diner

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