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Emma Fernberger on Artist / City

Artist/City is Bortolami’s new program taking place in various locations throughout the United States. Flash Art spoke with the gallery’s associate director, Emma Fernberger, about the pressures and rewards of the new initiative.

What is Artist/City?

Artist/City started in December 2015. We pair an artist with a space in an American city for a year. We’re responding to the speed of the art world. Again and again, you ask an artist to make something for an art fair, it hangs in a booth for a few days, it is purchased by someone and then put in their home, their museum or, worse, storage. Artist/City attempts to slow things down.

In Daniel Buren/Miami and Eric Wesley/St. Louis, what have these places allowed these artists to do?

Buren’s project highlights his career-spanning engagement with the stripe motif. Each iteration of his exhibition focuses on a different mode of artmaking, which would take eight years to present on our normal schedule. Wesley’s project is about accumulation. He transformed a vacant Taco Bell in a St. Louis suburb into “The Bell.” He’ll be adding artworks for a year, as well as presenting happenings and performances. Working outside of New York also means cheaper rent, which is, of course, a concern.

What additional pressures does the yearlong duration generate?

There’s pressure to constantly change things up because of how short everyone’s attention span is. But under what other circumstances would we be able to work in such depth on a single exhibition? They’re intense collaborations; we’re like co-conspirators.

How do you navigate the slippery divisions between cities and provinces?

So many shows primarily live on social media now, so people can see them from anywhere. We have an Instagram and a dedicated website, though I hope it motivates people to visit, say, Cahokia. The cities aren’t chosen arbitrarily. Though temporary, the projects are committed to their host cities. Wesley lives there part-time — so he’s sensitive to surrounding social conditions. Tom Burr is from New Haven, and much of his work hinges on autobiography and identity.

What’s next?

The next projects are Tom Burr/New Haven, Nicolás Guagnini/San Francisco and Barbara Kasten/Chicago. Hopefully we’ll extend it to artists outside our program. Each project has its own concerns and syntax — it’s exciting to figure that out.

by Sam Korman

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Review /

Shimabuku Freedman Fitzpatrick / Los Angeles

Simple pleasures and little marvels have long preoccupied Shimabuku. Favorite subjects include food and animals. While the work often both documents and prompts a roving international itinerary, he brings a quirky poetics—rather than Romantic enthrallment or anthropological scrutiny—to investigations of nature, travel and local customs. A quiet and comic re-enchantment of the world. 

The titular subjects of “The Snow Monkeys of Texas,” the artist’s first solo show in the US, are the descendants of macaques imported from Japan to a Texas ranch, in 1972, as exotic curiosities. His emphasis, however, is not so much on the extrinsic as on adaptation—how subsequent generations, raised far from their natural habitat, have made a home amid the dust. They eat cactus. They’ve Americanized, he says.

In the video Snow Monkey Chow (2016), a still shot frames a pickup truck, its bed filled with boxes of bananas and bags of carrots. Over a couple minutes, monkeys come and go, devouring the produce and jostling with escalating physicality. Amid the ruckus, we catch glimpses through the back window of the truck, where the faces of a couple men can just barely be made out—a partial image that seems to distill Shimabuku’s concern with the mysteries and pleasures of traversal and encounter.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Do snow monkeys remember snow mountains? (2016), a twenty-minute video that, again, consists of an unmoving shot in which monkeys come in and out of frame. Here the action centers on a heap of crushed ice that the artist deposited in a stretch of ashen landscape. The monkeys pace around the pile, picking at it, eating shards. We witness the social—and power—dynamics of this primate community play out around the strange and diminishing mound of ice. It’s mesmerizing at times. Yet the simple video simultaneously encourages and undermines anthropomorphic allegories of atavism and memory, displacement and defamiliarization, For all we know, they’ve seen ice before.           

by Eli Diner

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Uncountable Youth / Moscow International Biennale for Young Art

While state-run art institutions in Russia experience uncertain times due to funding cuts and the dismantling of existing infrastructures, the fifth Moscow International Biennale for Young Art opened in all its glory, reflecting a reshuffling of the ruling elite.

The main show features almost ninety artists from more than thirty countries, but the number of participants in collateral events scattered all around the city is practically uncountable. There is the sense that the whole of Moscow, like the town of Gatlin in Children of the Corn, has been occupied by youth. The “reverse ageism” of this edition has reached a parricidal peak: not only is “young art” exclusively promoted, but curators, commissioners and designers were also hired based on their biological age (they must be under thirty-five). It also differs from previous Biennales in that the two so-called “strategic projects” that accompany the main exhibition are tailored by foreign curators. Although they foster little dialogue with the local art scene, these three components successfully showcase three popular philosophical approaches to art making and curating.

With its manifesto-like tone, curator Joao Laia’s “Hyperconnected” refers both to object-oriented ontology and theories of the Anthropocene as two ways of decentralizing the primacy of human subjectivity. Proposing a conflation of culture with nature, it also privileges relations over entities — something that modern philosophy since Descartes has strongly rejected. Colorful, bright and kitschy, this exhibition stuffs all four floors of MMOMA at Ermolaevsky Lane with different hybrids and assemblages in which the digital becomes coextensive with the natural. Neringa Černiauskaitė (aka Pakui Hardware)’s eccentric structures give these ideas a proper aesthetic expression: she puts anthropomorphic elements onto rolls of real lawn, adding LED lamps, epoxy, food dyes and microcontrollers. In somato-, techno- or biocapitalism the body is no longer integral, but is fragmented and penetrated by new technologies that, in Preciado’s parlance, are “soft, featherweight, viscous, gelatinous.” However, such a flat ontology as proposed by Laia, in which causal relations become wanton and promiscuous, undoes the idiosyncrasy of the arrangement. Proposing attitudes rather than subject matter, and echoing the last Documenta, it does not subsume them under an authorial voice.

By contrast, “Time of Reasonable Doubts” (curated by Silvia Franceschini with Valeria Mancinelli at NCCA) remains within continental tradition — its very title alludes to Cartesian skepticism. One could say the whole show spatializes “the transcendentals,” rendering them palpable and solid. Following in the tradition of Foucault, it imposes the Kantian notion of “conditions of possibility” onto the field of discourse and knowledge, foregrounding the way perception is structured by “the protocols that govern the present moment.” Compared to the more loose and open-ended “Hyperconnected,” this austere and rigorous show prefers traditional mediums, achromatic colors and endless texts. Selected artworks interrogate documents and fictions in all possible ways: juxtaposing original and remake (Urok Shirhan’s Remake of Paul Chan’s “Baghdad in No Particular Order”, 2012); erasing faces and personalities (Basma Alsharif’s The Story of Milk and Honey, 2011); or applying photo-etching techniques onto digital images (Mikhail Tolmachev, Line of Site, 2015). But a generally sterile and highly aestheticized atmosphere negates the political acuteness of the latter piece, which is perhaps the only one in the whole Biennale that tackles issues around hybrid warfare in Ukraine.

The main project, “Deep Inside,” curated by Nadim Samman from an open call for entries, is situated somewhere in between these two antithetical approaches. With all his eloquence, Samman speaks of the same problems that were raised by Laia — namely how today’s discrete entities and fixed borders are being penetrated — but with anthropomorphic lenses discarded. At the same time, he goes back on his words, emphasizing that scientific knowledge allows new forms of “deep” control that may manipulate what until now remained untouchable. Nevertheless, this new political regime, like Franceschini and Mancinelli’s project, contains fractures that artists can occupy and actualize through different modes of resistance. To emphasize his statement, this huge blockbuster exhibition finds spatial analogies within the interiors of Trekhgornaya Manufaktura. For instance, Alvaro Urbano pierces a hole in a wall (Untitled, 2015) that opens onto a fictional landscape, while Rustan Söderling’s film Eternal September (2015), with its quasi-Tarkovskian manner, drowns in the darkness of deindustrialized chambers. Still, despite reflecting new modes of surveillance, synthetic technologies and data trajectories, none of the works take into account the disposition of power that lies right on the surface.

Trekhgornaya Manufaktura, the textile factory that played an important role in the 1905 Revolution, was recently bought by oligarch Oleg Deripaska and then violently purged of its workers and tenants. By hosting an international biennial, it hopes to attract potential developers and renters to make another creative cluster of young cultural prosumers. Of course, this lack of dialogue with the local context is not a drawback of any of the shows in particular, which, one must admit, differ advantageously from previous editions; it is, however, a structural problem with the “Young Biennale” itself, which since its inception has been more about networking, self-presentation and CV development.

by Andrey Shental

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Review /

Kerry James Marshall MCA / Chicago

While Kerry James Marshall’s imitations of Old Master painting techniques to portray idealizations of black people’s lives are occasionally susceptible to the limitations of respectability politics, closer consideration proves these quotations of grandiose history painting and conventional portraiture to be not homage but détournement, subversions of the cultural schema by which excellence is determined and racism is perpetuated through exclusion and hurtful stereotypes.

School of Beauty, School of Culture (2012) is an alternative space to those traditions: an immense, opulent scene populated not with European royalty presiding over their courts, but a rich community of women occupying a hair salon. Many of Marshall’s more recent paintings celebrate self-possessed women of color defining their own sexualities and refuting narrow conceptions of desirability. The boldly black Wonder Woman in Black Star 2 (2012) has most recently starred on Lee Daniels’s hit TV drama Empire, a story full of similarly empowered black women and moguls.

For Marshall, paint is a material with which to contest the ominous and oppressive conditions associated with pervasive darkness even today. Invisible Man (1986) shows a nude black figure, his coloring hardly distinguishable from the ground plane against which he is rendered, and a hovering black censor block that fails to fully cover his low-hanging genitalia. Amid black-on-black geometries, this interloper jabs at the racism attached to early reductive abstractions, such as Alphonse Allais’s 1897 black square painting whose title translates to “Negroes Fighting in a Cellar at Night.” Black Painting (2003–06) is literally at home in total blackness, wherein two figures hold one another in a darkened bedroom, a copy of Angela Davis’s If They Come in the Morning lying nearby. Marshall does not simply reuse moves from painting’s canon, but rather inhabits and elevates precisely what has been historically discounted.

by Matt Morris

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Mai-Thu Perret Nasher Sculpture Center / Dallas

Mai-Thu Perret’s interest in combining utopian and political questions with sculptural and painterly practice remains at the center of her work. Yet, as seen in her most recent solo show at the Nasher Sculpture Center, there is now a slightly more pragmatic twist to her approach.

The installation “Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret” is at first hidden behind a glass wall covered with petroleum jelly, thus creating a blurred image (Untitled, 2016). Inside the gallery, the show reveals a complex composition mostly made of eight life-size mannequins (Les guérrillières, 2016). These sculptures offer insight into the life of a group of female warriors from a real Kurdish community located in the Syrian region, called YPJ or Women’s Protection Unit. The bodies and the garments of the warriors are rendered in a variety of media the artist has used in the past — glazed ceramic, papier-mâché, latex. Some have recognizable faces while others remain anonymous if not abstract. Besides the bodies of the guérrillières there is little else; there is no clear utilitarian objective, yet one has the uncanny sense that these warriors are real. A sculpture of a dog without eyes (Les guérillères VI, 2016) is placed next to a seated figure, suggesting the presence of emotional bonds within the community.

The installation also features a few symbolic sculptures: two gigantic eyes placed on the floor (Orchids grow in the hidden quarters of the palace. Though never displayed, they never cease emitting their fragrance, 2015 and This secret — so rarely met even in ten thousand ages — I will not tell, I will not tell, 2015) and a Rorschach-like painted synthetic carpet hung on the main wall (Agoraphobia I, 2016 — from a series Perret has pursued for many years now). These elements might symbolize a psychoanalytical dimension, a key to understanding the surrounding tableaux vivants, but their function is not fully clear, making their presence less necessary.

Since the beginning of her career, the artist has been guided by a modernist sensibility and a comprehensive knowledge of utopian historical movements — an approach best embodied by the notorious project The Crystal Frontier (1999). The presence and representation of the physical body is consistent in her work, also confirmed by an ongoing parallel practice in performance. At one time perhaps a site of concealed desire, her bodies have now found a new purpose and relevance. Following Pasolini’s admonition to “Throw the body into battle,” Perret’s figures have become fighters whose intentions are clear: mere survival is not enough; active engagement is necessary.

by Patrick Steffen

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Review /

Playgrounds 2016 MASP / São Paulo

Following recent restructuring efforts at the museum, new artistic director Adriano Pedrosa is imprinting his own vision on MASP while reviving its important historical legacies. “Playgrounds 2016,” co-curated with Julieta Gonzales and Luiza Proença, presents works — by Ernesto Neto, Yto Barrada, Céline Condorelli, Rasheed Araeen, Grupo Contrafilé, and O Grupo Inteiro — that address subjects such as public space, leisure, recreation and participation.

The title refers to a homonymous exhibition that Brazilian artist Nelson Leirner mounted during the museum’s opening in 1969. The installation occupied its ground-level plaza with participatory works that connected art, life and the street, following neo avant-garde trends of the time. This new installation does not intend, however, to recreate Leirner’s display.

It aims, rather, to recover the notion of leisure as an emancipatory form for the citizen that occurs within the museum’s context. This aspect is also present in Lina Bo Bardi’s design concept for MASP, conceived as “a museum-forum for the population instead of a museum-temple.” In Belvedere Maneuverable Sculptures, Trianon Museum of Art (1969), the artist sketched a playground for the outdoor area, intended not only to bring a playful dimension to the museum but to act as a decoy.

This new iteration of “Playgrounds” is different in one important way: it does not occupy MASP’s external space, but only its mezzanine and second basement level. Although this space was conceived as a public square, and there is still the aim to establish an environment of interactivity and leisure in the exhibition, it denotes a drastic change in the operations of the city, which reflect a specific entanglement of culture and urbanism. If in the past one could freely experience the city, its spaces have now been transformed to operate under more privatized regimes. It’s a phenomenon not exclusive to São Paulo, but extreme here: not so long ago, MASP’s previous administration intended to fence off the museum’s public spaces. Thus, besides being an important curatorial project, “Playgrounds 2016” represents a point of friction regarding current policies affecting how we experience urban space and culture today.

by Beto Shwafaty

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