Review /

Nathalie du Pasquier Kunsthalle Wien

Integrating thirty-five years of production in painting, sculpture, drawing and pattern design, Nathalie du Pasquier’s survey charts an exercise in object permanence. Compositions of simple household items like cups, plates, bottles, tools and motors are assembled with abstract geometric forms in repeated permutation, neutralizing their hierarchy.

Left in their raw state or painted with solid colors and graphic patterns, the objects are turned into sculptures or models for paintings, and at times the process is even disassembled and reversed.

Pasquier, a founding member of the Milan-based Memphis group, is best known for her bright pattern designs, but had early ambitions as an architect. Both in dimension and form, her sculptures and still-life paintings resemble models for buildings. Rectilinear shapes, triangles, cones and circles are deftly stacked and balanced with respect to their gravitational pull — their final structures symphonic and stable. Simulating a city environment, four rooms display various aspects of her oeuvre. However, with the prevalence of decorative domestic objects like couches, tables, carpets and wallpapers, this city feels more like a sprawling network of interiors — perhaps a version of one of the artist’s drawings of unrealized homes, which are also on view.

While the majority of works go unnamed and undated, clear distinctions can be seen in Pasquier’s characteristic treatment of dreamscapes, painterly realism, geometric perspective, and shadow over time, alternating between the beauty of ghosts and reality. Her fascination with the transformative potential of objects is also present in the still-life paintings that include glass objects, which cause forms seen in their path to morph, accenting the shape-shifting and fracturing of vision via mediated materials.

Pasquier’s singular focus and the breadth of visual complexity she achieves through variation are invigorating. At what point did “decorative” become a dirty word in perpetuity, one wonders? Reclaiming the term within this exhibition, the artist proves that in fine art, the “decorative” can offer so much more.

by Arielle Bier

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Sophia Al-Maria Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

The shopping mall remains a favorite symbol for the forces of cultural homogenization known somewhat euphemistically as “Americanization.” (Fredric Jameson, in 2003, suggested that plotting the spread of malls around the world would produce an “epidemiological map” of this particular unifying effect of capitalism.)

In the Gulf, where American-Qatari artist Sophia Al-Maria is from, the shopping mall, famously, has reached something of a zenith. The architectural protagonists of her new video Black Friday (2016), for example, the Alhazm and the Villaggio, are two mammoth Doha shopping centers modeled, respectively, after the gallerias of Milan and the canals of Venice (by way of the Venetian in Las Vegas).

Rising out of a mass of sand, broken glass, and flickering cell phone screens (The Litany, 2016), and accompanied by a deafening and ominous sound track, Black Friday tours the Villaggio, following a father-son pair dressed in white thobes as they stroll past Gucci and Marks & Spencer. A voice-over text contributes to the arch tone, delivering a Hollywood-doomsday critique of consumer longing: “Your desire is a hydra … encased in the frameless frame of forever.” And, riffing on Marx, “With every spree, you witness in a precise way that all that is solid melts into air.” (In a separate scene, a digitalized female voice edits for context: “All that glitters melts into air.”)

The video reaches peak terror-pathos as the marble mall space is suspended in the sky, with the acrobatic camerawork accentuating the building’s soaring ceilings, calling up the trope of mall as capitalist cathedral. Dislocated from geographical specificity, the airborne shopping center reads as the fulfillment of Al-Maria’s characterization of malls in a recent interview: “a global inter-zone… [a] same-yet-other place.”

It’s the film’s decrescendo that provides the truest — and most sinister — moment: a narration in which Al-Maria relates the memory of being in a Doha mall and seeing, among a group of American soldiers, a former algebra classmate from Washington named Dusty. “I’m standing behind them,” Al-Maria says, “probably looking like a picture from their target practice. He doesn’t recognize me of course. There’s this insurmountable distance.”

This anecdote brings the “yet-other”  to bear on a video that might otherwise read as over-invested in the outsize and corny visual codes of consumption, reasserting the essential point that power differentials of a most concrete kind — military ones — not only cut through but also provide the conditions for a seeming sameness.

by Jack Gross

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Paloma Bosquê Mendes Wood DM / São Paulo

In her second solo show at Mendes Wood DM, Paloma Bosquê presents a new set of three-dimensional works that suggests an interesting transition in her practice.

Decisively more sculptural than previous pieces (which mainly connected to walls or hung from the ceiling), this new body of work further articulates her preoccupations with matter, scale, abstraction and the body. Organic elements relate to more geometric forms, suggesting a practice that explores features of the Brazilian Neo-concrete movement as well as post-minimalist strategies.

In every piece there is a strong connection to the idea of craft, handwork and the vernacular, be it in terms of the material or organizational structure employed. In this sense, the viewer experiences these abstract works as indexes of what one might handle with his or her own hands. Their material vocabulary articulates a rich confrontation between organic and inorganic through substances such as brass, bronze, lead, natural fabrics, beeswax, vegetables and carbon. Some pieces manifest subtle echoes of everyday reality; Jirau (2016) refers to the homonymous hanging structure used in northern areas of Brazil.

The artist used the Japanese word Ma as a concept to spatially organize the show. Although it has different meanings depending on context, Ma can mean the experience of space through temporal and subjective elements. In this sense, the apparent show’s density is balanced by a sensitive articulation of intervals and rhythms; which may lead the viewer not to consider each piece in isolation, but rather to attend to the subjective space of spectators and to the experience what is in between these sensible sculptural arrangements and the evocations they embody.

by Beto Shwafaty

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Energy Flash M HKA / Antwerp

Energy Flash,” the first museum show dedicated to rave culture, has an ambitious scope. It intends to consider the “social, political, economic and technological conditions that led to the advent of rave as an alternative movement across Europe.” If the desire to embrace such a complex and massive phenomenon seems understandable, the task is anything but easy.

Unlike punk, rave had no Malcolm McLaren or Vivienne Westwood to help define its aesthetic or chronological framework. The choice to include in the show clothes designed by Antwerp-based Walter Van Beirendonck, in consideration of their resonance with Dutch hardstyle, seems a step in this direction. However, it is unlikely that ravers, like those portrayed by Matt Stokes in his installation Real Arcadia, thought of their parties as fashion statements. Gathering audio tapes, pictures, news reports and written interviews, the latter work is one of the best pieces in the show, as it demonstrates the very essence of rave culture: its inability to be reduced to a cultural archetype.

The same goes for Andreas Gursky’s Union Rave (1995), the first in a series that the photographer dedicated to rave parties. Gursky suggests that the rave movement is not based on individuality (the desire to be singled out): what matters is being part of a crowd. Rineke Dijkstra, on the other hand, seeks the personal codes hidden in the way we dance: The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK-Mystery World, Zaandam, NL 1996–1997 portrays young ravers doing their thing against a white background while the music plays loud. Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass (1997) project — brass bands playing dance music standards — has been re-performed in the streets of Antwerp as part of the show.

Additional testimonies from the mid-1990s are provided by Jef Cornelis, Daniel Pflumm, George Barber and Martin Kersels; more recent works by Cory Arcangel and Ann Veronica Janssens are mostly allusive to the rave movement. The show might be a bit too clean and organized compared to the essence of its topic, but this also shows that some subcultures are more reluctant than others to enter a museum.

by Pierre-Yves Desaive

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Noé Martínez Parque Galería / Mexico City

In the words of Noé Martínez, the exhibition “Un acto antes de un concepto” (An Act Before a Concept) is “a personal provocation to my artistic and politic landmarks, as well to my ideas about participative art. A provocation that led me to think about the difference between art as ontology of experience, and art as cultural good.”

The show, a sort of initiation story of a young, twenty-first-century Mexican artist, relates a quite literal endeavor to travel across Michoacán (the artist’s place of origin, where the predominantly indigenous population has suffered from the ravages of narco-trafficking for more than a decade) using as a guide a manuscript about the area, La Relación de Michoacán, written by Spaniards in 1545. The story evolves into a moving encounter with a community of villagers, and recounts their own attempts to use art as a tool for political emancipation.

Martínez’s quest materializes into a body of work in which the irreconcilable differences between Western and indigenous viewpoints become allegories of the practice of art itself in contemporary Mexico. Martínez is representative of a new generation of middle-class Latin American artists to whom the development of local art institutions and internal markets opens up new career prospects — and this without undertaking costly studies abroad. The refusal of the artist to “exoticize” original documents collected about a mural realized in Santa Fe de la Laguna by the Taller de Investigación Plastica in the 1970s can be understood as a political position as much as an aesthetic one.

Showing paintings of photographs instead of the originals; reproducing sixteenth-century illustrations to understand them through their graphics; inviting young dancers, visual artists and journalists of his generation to interpret a situation in their own way; filming villagers respectfully from afar: Noé Martínez uses the means of contemporary art to get closer to a mestizo perception of the world, taking into account indigenous cosmologies in the representation of our reality.

by Dorothée Dupuis

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Mario García Torres TBA21 / Augarten, Vienna

Mario García Torres usually pillages the repertoire of 1960s Conceptual art with an array of reenactments, covers and appropriations, but his latest show, “An Arrival Tale,” endorses a different narrative.

Shar-e Naw Wanderings (A Film Treatment) (2006) offers a first glimpse of García Torres’s engagement with Italian artist Alighiero Boetti’s time in Afghanistan. As usual, his exhibition becomes an intimate confluence of general interests, inquiries and situations. The work, which consists of a series of fictional faxes addressed to the deceased artist, avoids the presentation of hard fact, focusing instead on potential realities. Nonetheless, tracking the existence of One Hotel (which Boetti ran from 1971 to 1977) via nineteen thermal paper prints — a medium known to be unstable over time — gives the story a certain authentic feel.

Among well-known works such as Tea (2012), Carta Abierta a Dr. Atl (2005) and Sounds Like Isolation to Me (2014), the most impressive work is The Way They Looked at Each Other (2016). This thirty-eight-minute video with Arabic subtitles, directly commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna, chases the impossibility of clarifying an event that occurred in 2011 — the year in which a Spanish team made up of a judge, court technicians and a few witnesses arrived in Baghdad with the intention of proving US military personnel guilty of assault, on August 8, 2003, claiming that they shot to death two journalists at the Palestine Hotel.

The guiding force of narrative pattern and template — both found and generated, along with the emphasis on a specific speculative palette — emerge as clear connectors in the show. García Torres handles, repurposes and tailors visual documents, thus presenting the viewer with open-ended systems stuck in the moment of their inner transliteration.

by Ginevra Bria

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