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Faux Oedipus Complex / Omer Fast

The only thing in life that one can be certain of is death — or at least that’s the current status of the human life cycle. Omer Fast’s immersive seven-film installation, part of a retrospective organized by the Berliner Festspiele and Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, however, asks us how certain can we really be of authentic life and death.

Tripping through 231 minutes of film imagery in various locations, several of them physically restaged in the museum or on screen, the viewer moves through airport departure lounges; hot, acrid war zones in Afghanistan; family-run funeral parlors; and the unglamorous, stiffly staged Los Angeles porn industry. Fast takes us on a journey that transcends our own narratives on and off camera as we dissect the terrain of his multidimensional screened works.

The artist’s direction is reminiscent of both a LARP (live-action role play) and a glitch in the system — think of David Cronenberg’s cult gaming platform as depicted in the sci-fi film Existenz (1999). Within his immersive viewing spaces, Fast uses replay and reenactment as tools to flood the viewer with familiarity. Looking Pretty for God (After G. W.) (2008) is set in a replica waiting room in the museum, and his companion films Spring (2016) and Continuity (2012) deal with replay through plot devices. In the latter, a desperate couple pays a young boy and then several men to impersonate their deceased or imaginary son. But they have to hire new surrogates as the years go by; there are inconsistences in the men, passionate moments of tenderness, confusion and painful needs. This spews over into sexual proclivities of failure and discomfort resulting in an unsettling faux Oedipus complex.

Most of Fast’s works delve into the psychology of contemporary trauma, often relying on the blurring of memory and the re-telling of actual events via moving image. His work renders the formalities of the cinematic genre at once useless to the audience. Playing with absurd, looped plots and surreal contexts, he pushing us into a space where we must confront our most erratic phobias and values — including incest, homophobia and the fear of death or loneliness. He is a modern-day Georges Bataille, relentless in trawling through our waking lives, uprooting the unthinkable and leaving us stranded in our own minds.

by Penny Rafferty

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Against Mediocrity / Donald Judd Writings

Donald Judd engaged a lifelong struggle against mediocrity and its hazards. “Mediocrity is lazy thinking,” the artist’s son and Judd Foundation co-president Flavin Judd told Flash Art. “Don was very curious, and this innocent idea — that you can’t know enough, that you have to dig deeper and look wider — is what he thought everybody should do.”

A new book of Judd’s essays, published this fall by the Foundation with David Zwirner Books, expounds on this notion. Its modest orange, cloth-laminated cover and minimalist typeface, reading simply Donald Judd Writings, belies its weighty contents: one-thousand-or-so pages worth of the late Judd’s musings on his vast body of interests, written between 1958 and 1993. Many of his essays, both the well-known and the previously unpublished, with some of the later hailing from his college days, are pedantic, incisively critical evaluations of the art world. Topics include the virtues of Lee Bontecou’s reliefs (“primitive, oppressive, and unmitigated individuality”); the decline of new art over the fifteen years leading up to 1983; navigating New York, the “world’s leading art center”; and why a young Yayoi Kusama should receive a US visa. Other essays, alongside scattered notes — wry one-off epiphanies that the Foundation has painstakingly deciphered and organized — explore other topics: architecture, design, politics, consumerism. “Some TV sets are not so bad,” he wrote in 1982, “and some are awful, like Zenith and Johnson and Burgee.”

“Just as the language cannot have the physical, visceral effect of the art, the art cannot tell you where it came from and why it matters,” writes Flavin Judd in the book’s foreword. The artist’s writings give a deeper context to his artwork by constructing a portrait of his understanding of the world, his curiosity and his piercing wit. But the foreword ends in disclaimer: “It would be a mistake to think that after reading nearly nine hundred pages of Don’s writings you will know him, but that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be to find something within the writings that is useful, something that can be a tool for future use… Ideas are tools and this is a toolbox.”

by Janelle Zara

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Ten Years on the Waterfront ICA / Boston

Throughout the first ten days of December, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston will be celebrating a decade of activity in its current location on Boston Harbor. Filling a sleek water-facing building designed by the architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the relatively new museum space has become integral to the landscape of the city’s bustling Seaport District.

Over its eighty-year existence, what is now the ICA has undergone numerous changes in both name and location. Since its inception as the Boston Museum of Modern Art in 1936, when it was intended to be a sister institution to MoMA in New York, the collection and programming have moved to different buildings around the city thirteen times. The emphasis has been consistent despite these various transitions: to present challenging contemporary art across media and introduce the concepts of current art practice to the greater Boston area through a range of education programs.

The current facility on the waterfront has allowed the ICA to increase the scale of both its gallery exhibitions and general programming. (The museum also claims that audience attendance has risen tenfold since the move.) Recent exhibitions have included surveys of work from Nalini Malani, Geoffrey Farmer and Walid Raad, as well as the first comprehensive museum overview on the legendary cross-disciplinary activities at Black Mountain College during the first half of the twentieth century.

To celebrate ten full years on the Harbor, the ICA is hosting ten days of performances, artmaking and educational programming, all with a reduced admission cost. There will be chefs cooking new takes on traditional New England cuisine, innovative choreography, “movement installations,” creative workshops and dialogues for area teenagers, multiple tours of the collection with curators and a wide array of concerts from across the musical spectrum.

A highlight in the galleries is the show “First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA,” which “brings together new acquisitions and permanent-collection favorites in a series of interrelated and stand-alone exhibitions.” Works by Kara Walker, Paul Chan, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Andy Warhol, among others, are included in this diverse overview of the museum’s aesthetic. The overall emphasis of the ten-day program will echo the museum’s mission since its early origins — of bringing together the local Boston community and demonstrating the broad possibilities of contemporary art.

by Matthew Erickson

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Cardi Gallery’s expansion / London

London’s prosperous Mayfair neighborhood — known as a center of art and wealth since the seventeenth century — has been enriched at 22 Grafton Street by the new headquarters of the historic Cardi Gallery, founded in Milan in 1972.

Housed in a proportionally elegant late-eighteenth-century brick townhouse building, in a style conventionally recognized as Georgian, the gallery’s entrance, as well as the two large white windows that face the street, suggest a fusion of English and Palladian architecture.

Extensively renovated, the atmosphere inside is warm and welcoming. There are one thousand square meters across six floors, each of which is divided into two rooms with fireplaces that retain (at least on the ground floor and the first floor) the preciousness of the original marble. The meticulousness and care used in restoring this traditionally British environment is perceptible in the preservation of the original plasterwork, where possible; in the highly polished railing that surrounds the dense internal staircase; and in the highly characteristic upholstery patterned with gray and mustard tones that is matched to the light-gray carpet that lines the stairs.

After nearly fifty years of activities, here Cardi presents a selection of works from Arte Povera, American Minimalism and the Zero group. The Arte Povera works in particular take on a newly minted aura in this setting. For example, Maria a colori (1962–1993) and Tre Uomini (2007) by Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Rete Ghiacciante (1990) by Pier Paolo Calzolari, so perfectly inhabit this environment that they nearly eclipse works by Kounellis, Zorio and Penone.

In the basement, the essential humanity of Mario Merz is celebrated through a selection of works from the 1980s, among them Igloo (1983). Establishing it’s own spatial confines and while being enhanced by penetrating natural light, the work confirms the connection with nature and the open-mindedness that the artist’s job demands.

by Eleonora Milani

(Translated from Italian by Vashti Ali)
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Franco Bernabè on the 16th Quadriennale d’Arte / Rome

From October 13 until January 8, the 16th Quadriennale d’Arte, held at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, will present a survey of 99 artists and 150 works of Italian art under the title “Altri tempi, altri miti” (Other Times, Other Myths). Flash Art spoke with Franco Bernabè, president of the Fondazione La Quadriennale di Roma.

There are ninety-nine artists in the exhibition and ten curators who, through many projects, recount aspects of Italian art of our time. How was the structure of this Quadriennale defined?

This edition arises from Minister Franceschini’s endeavor to strengthen the initiative of large public exhibitions in support of the Italian art system. Of course, with its rather afflicted recent history, among these was the Quadriennale. Many will remember that the last edition was skipped due to a lack of funding. So once we found the resources (of which half are private), we set ourselves the goal of reviving the Quadriennale both in terms of approach and content, with the aim of outlining the broadest vision of Italy possible. It was vital that this vision take the art system and especially its components into account: not only artists, but also curators and publishers.

The first step was a call for a project from about seventy Italian curators active in Italy and, in many cases, also abroad. Out of the projects that we received — about thirty-five — an interdisciplinary commission selected ten, and these will shape the next Quadriennale.

One of the main problems of the initial call for a project was the heterogeneity of the candidates (which included some museum directors). Yet the final selection — with some exceptions — seems very consistent in terms of age and professional background.

The curators included in the initial list were quite diverse. Understandably, at the beginning there was some hesitation, then a choice based upon cohesiveness prevailed: that is, to focus on a generation of curators in their thirties and forties, with strong international exposure.

Why ten curators for the final show? Is this not too many? Will this choice not be at the expense of a more concise and thus more readable vision?

No, this is precisely the point. We did not want to provide a single vision. We wanted to narrate complexity and allow space for the liveliness and variety of the Italian landscape, for a plurality of voices. The choice of an edition that is carefully structured is risky, but the alternative, in my point of view, was never simply to select one or two. If anything it was to choose the artists directly through a commission, but we wanted to recognize the crucial role of the curator today.

Does it not then risk becoming the Quadriennale of curators rather than artists?

A similar and certainly legitimate critique was made by Giuseppe Penone, who was on the selection committee. Yet there are nearly one hundred artists in the exhibition, and choosing to involve ten curators weakens any absolutism or the dictatorship of a single curator. It gives space to the artists and to a debate that thrives upon their engagement with the curators.

The province, the portrait, Pasolini, Bartleby the Scrivener and his refusal, de Tocqueville: these are some of the ideas that will be developed by the projects of the selected curators. In what way will you try to construct a narrative that ties together the ten exhibitions?

The possibility of an organic narrative — if indeed one exists — is the basis of the selection. We looked for ten projects among those that we received which, even if not complementary, nevertheless explored a piece of Italian reality and could thus be placed in dialogue with each other. But you cannot provide a unified vision of our country because this unified vision simply does not exist.

What problems does Italian art have, and what are the causes of its weakness? And how does the Quadriennale try to respond to some of these difficulties?

I think the main problem is the fact that in Italy there has not been a stimulating creative environment in the last twenty-five years. Unlike in the past or in the 1950s and 1960s, it is as if the stimulus required to trigger a mechanism that can nourish a creative process has been insufficient. Such stimulus comes from aggregation, from a plurality of situations and people moving. For this reason, this Quadriennale was conceived with the idea of creating of a network between public and private spaces in the city and the main exhibition.

“Other Times, Other Myths.” The title, taken from A Postmodern Weekend by Pier Vittorio Tondelli, is also interesting because in some respects it is contradictory. It comes from a book that describes a bygone decade — the 1980s — and a form of postmodernism that we should leave behind.

The choice of the title — decided upon following a joint reflection — amazed me. Given the age of the curators, I imagined that that they would have chosen a title that expressed a much more radical antagonism. Instead, Tondelli is a very Italian choice, and the book deals with a gentle yet psychologically painful protest, where the provinces are in the foreground. It perfectly represents the kind of experience we are having, telling the story through fragments of Italian life — protesting gently rather than aggressively.

by Davide Ferri

(Translated from Italian by Vashti Ali)
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Mediations Biennale / Poznań

Every two years the city of Poznań, Poland, opens up as an international forum for contemporary art. This year’s edition of the Mediations Biennale, titled “Fundamental,” invites participants to give expression to such elementary human values as freedom, identity and religion.

Some featured works take a critical approach to contemporaneity, celebrating the dignity of mankind while looking down upon ideology, violence and manipulation, while others seek to discover common values and universal visions of beauty. All are meant to be presented in dialogue with the places they are set within — such as the castle of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler’s cabinet and a Jesuit monastery — and with works of earlier historical periods, from the collections of the National Museum and the Museum of the Archdiocese of Poznań.

The most intriguing highlights of the program include a show by Belgian artist Peter Puype. His work Iconoclasm — composed of a market stall containing plaster figures of the Virgin Mary, along with a pile of stones for viewers to toss at the statues — created quite a stir in Bruges in 2010. In Poznań, Puype has set up his installation in the former Jesuit chapel. Stoning in today’s Poland can be read as a commentary on the status of women living under a government whose latest legislation is aimed at curbing their freedoms.

Ada Karczmarczyk, who has deemed herself a Catholic pop superstar, also walks a line between evangelical fervor and desecration. Her video works, presented in the Kaiser’s castle, feature the young Polish artist exploiting kitsch and the language of pop culture to promote Christian values.

The National Museum in turn hosts works dealing with identity and patriotism. These include a steel burka by French artist Laure Boulay, and Belgian artist Gery De Smet’s vision of an eagle — Poland’s official emblem — sprinkled with confetti and captioned “There’s No Need for Change.”

by Agnieszka Sural

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