Review /

Evelyn Taocheng Wang Château Shatto / Los Angeles

The ubiquity of massage parlors in Western cities has not completely divested the practice of its associations with exoticism. In the 19th century, they suggested hidden thrills for Orientalist painters, like Gerôme, whose imaginary baths teem with scantily clad maidens.

They provided fertile grounds, too, for Leopold Bloom’s masturbatory fantasy in Ulysses: “Time to get a bath round the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage. Dirt gets rolled up in your navel. Nicer if a nice girl did it. Also I think I. Yes I. Do i in the bath. Curious longing I. Water to water. Combine business with pleasure.”

Heatwave Wrinkle”, Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s current exhibition at Château Shatto, promises a different kind of business and pleasure, with an unorthodox trio of elements: painting, drawing and—you guessed it — massage. The exhibition, which takes up a single room, is dominated by five blue-curtained screens that partially obscure the view of a cushioned table. Human touch is its own currency here, with a ten minute massage setting you back $10. If you bring along a photograph of a landscape, you get a discount and a personalized narrative from your masseuse.

The glimpses afforded by this coy arrangement might heighten a sense of erotic tension, if in fact a rubdown were taking place. However, the table was unoccupied on my visit, and the artist, who has herself dispensed the massages in previous exhibitions (as well as professionally, during her studies), was absent. Consequently, the space felt somewhat denuded, which was exacerbated by the sparse hang of three paintings on the surrounding walls. Depicting various kinds of vessels, executed in thick, bold strokes, these large acrylic on canvas works look a little hastily made. While Untitled No. 5 (2016), a faint sketch of a vase with a Greek key pattern on its neck, has a spare elegance, it feels rather surplus to requirements.

Through two simple gestures – using screens to disrupt the gaze and endowing the masseuse with a narrator’s role – Wang transforms the parlor from a site of voyeurism into one actively authored by the participants. This is underscored by two delightful works on paper installed by the entrance, in which long-haired figures relax amidst fine-leafed foliage and the eddying flows of a river. In these delicate rice paper drawings, Wang takes care to represent people taking their own pleasure rather than performing for the pleasure of others.

by Ciara Moloney

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Elevation 1049 – Avalanche LUMA Foundation / Gstaad

Nestled among snowdrifts and Louis Vuitton boutiques, the Swiss resort town of Gstaad gives off an eerie, unnatural vibe — luxury seems to flow down its tiny, sun-drenched streets. Here, Olympia Scarry and Neville Wakefield have curated a selection of site-specific works on the edge of the unreal for the latest installment of Elevation 1049.

Each piece gives off a certain uncanny reality effect, none more so than Nicole Wermers’s The Violet Revs (2017), situated in a deserted pavilion terrace next to an iced-over swimming pool. A collection of cheap plastic chairs are reserved by black leather biker jackets. Silver studs glisten in the afternoon sun, but there is no sign of the rebel owners. Have they been abducted, perhaps? Will they return? Or are they all dead, lying at the bottom of the pool? The silent scene inspires a mixture of fear and glamour, and something else that is on the tip of your tongue.

Yngve Holen’s Leichtmetallräder (2017) also lends a touch of horror to the Swiss architecture. Bespoke alloy hubcaps glisten, their rims having been removed by a five-axis water-jet cutter. The sharpened and reappropriated readymades are mounted on the outside of a Bugatti showroom situated on the main promenade. The works blend into the ornate carved façade, mimicking Switzerland’s national flower, the Edelweiss. Traditionally the flower grows only amid the highest mountain terrain. Its bloom symbolizes a wild and daring temperament, for which the convertible cars below are just a modern-day symbol, their metal bodies drenched with adrenaline and a lust for hairpin turns.

A sense of the immaterial and our own insignificance is reflected in nearly every viewing experience. Douglas Gordon and Morgane Tschiember’s work As close as you can for as long as it lasts (2017) pays homage to the kind of ephemerality often found in early Land Art. A simple fire ring billows smoke into the glass-blue sky, accompanied by a call and response between the two artists — an oblique reference to yodeling. Their interpretation, however, takes on a more bloodthirsty, wolf-like cadence, as if stalking the range in a fit of desire and loneliness.

It is admittedly hard to define the exact narrative links that Elevation 1049 conjures, but this, in a way, is its strength. The exhibition offers moments of reflection as you wander up tiny alleys or hover in cable cars above alabaster peaks. In an art world that is normally dedicated to art-star tourism, the satisfactions of “Avalanche” are refreshingly fleeting. The surreal works sit majestically inside a traditional Swiss landscape, familiar to all. Like a luxury chocolate bar, the festival conveys an evanescent pleasure, sweet and fleeting.

by Penny Rafferty

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Liz Glynn Paula Cooper Gallery / New York

Rodin loved a remix. He often worked with fragments, grafting a bit of one sculpture onto another and leaving proud traces of his collaging on gouged, turbulent surfaces. This profoundly modern practice — of infusing works with not only the process of their making but also the hand of the artist — led Liz Glynn to embark on a Rodin remix of her own.

In 2013, Glynn convinced LACMA leadership to allow her to take partial molds from Rodin sculptures in the museum’s collection (that the works had been cast posthumously, in the 1960s, greatly helped her cause — and added questions of value structure to the project). She then recruited eight younger artists to join her in a temporary recreation of Rodin’s atelier, and they recombined the cast fragments with mounds of plaster and oil-based clay to recreate the Rodins in a two-day performative frenzy.

In the course of returning the bricolaged bodies to bronze, Glynn retained the messy hand scrapes and frayed burlap bits, at once preserving Rodin’s original gestures — walking, pondering, proclaiming — and warping them, embedding elements of chance and speed. The cloaked figure of Balzac (controversial in the original — one critic dismissed the work in 1918 as “a huge comic mask crowning a bathrobe”) is mashed up with that of a beseeching burgher; the famed Thinker has shifted his posture from contemplation to sobbing as he gazes wistfully at his detached foot; a crouching figure grimaces with determination, hatching a plan to unravel its muddled limbs.

Grotesque and melty at first glance, Glynn’s figures soon engage the viewer with their vitality. The makers’ hands come alive in bony torsos, grasping hands and contorted stances that unite the past and the present. The bronzes are joined by a second room of twenty-seven small ceramic works that underline the intimacy of Glynn’s approach to gesture; in unglazed stoneware and terracotta, they are paused in the process of becoming, of being kneaded and pinched into life. Both bodies of work reveal the artist’s interest in disappearance — what exists, what is lost — and the threshold of believability: building, hypothesizing and rebuilding to understand how a fragment surrenders its link to the whole and comes into its own.

by Stephanie Murg

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Wael Shawky Castello di Rivoli and Fondazione Merz / Turin

Wael Shawky forges alliances between antitheses. His practice is an incessant amble between the poles of past and present, mythology and reality, written and oral history, light and dark, and life and death. Castello di Rivoli and Fondazione Merz have dedicated two exhibitions to Shawky.

The former presents Al Araba Al Madfuna (2012–16), a filmic trilogy about a mysterious Egyptian village where alchemy and mystic experience are still embedded in everyday life, while the latter retrospective is dominated by another trilogy of epic films, Cabaret Crusades (2010–15), in which marionettes enact the Crusades from an Arab perspective in a surreal and mythical mise-en-scène. Despite their differences, these exhibitions share certain leitmotifs. While Al Araba Al Madfuna moves back through time in a process of gradual archaeological revelation, the Rivoli exhibition follows the Crusades forward, critiquing our Western illusion of history’s progress. Both works take inspiration from modern writings in Arabic, the first from the text of Dayrut al-Sharif (1983) by the novelist Mohamed Mustagab, the second from The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1984), a book by Amin Maalouf. Shawky animates the two stories through an exquisite anti-naturalism, conveyed at Merz by young actors in fake moustaches reenacting ancient parables and, at Rivoli, by puppets whose heightened yet immobile expressions magnify the remorseless brutality of their actions.

By invoking the childlike realm of puppetry, the artist creates a distance that renders human tragedy tolerable. His poetic formula addresses modern relations between Western and Islamic worlds without the art spilling over into political manifesto.

These two shows reflect Shawky’s attempts at checking historical narratives that seek cultural hegemony through supposed “authenticity.” By illuminating different perspectives and micro-narratives, he exposes our distorted and partial vision of history.

by Giulia Gregnanin

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Beatrice Marchi Hester / New York

On the opening night of “Summer in the North with Loredana,” Beatrice Marchi clumsily donned a series of pink fiberglass forms (Loredana’s Claws, 2016) that covered her arms from the elbow down to form two gigantic chelae. Approaching a microphone, Marchi proceeded to sing a subdued ballad, gesticulating to the crowd and occasionally turning to her reflection in the window to adjust her hair with the oversized shrimp-claw arms.

The awkward performance — billed as a “concert with Loredana” — was a faithful realization of the campy introspection that characterizes this immaculate solo show, the artist’s first in the US.

The exhibition deploys a tactic familiar from Marchi’s previous work: offering the viewer a sparse and fragmentary portrait of a young protagonist, refracted through various works and media. In the video Amiche forever (2017), Loredana speaks with a friend — inexplicably, human buttocks with eyes and a mouth — through a tablet. The conversation is stilted: Loredana speaks Italian; the ass speaks English. (When questioned, it explains, “I want to be free. I want to be international.”) Loredana plays the less certain, less airy foil to the carefree ass, who gives Loredana a lesson in self-imaging, leading a makeup tutorial in which the angles of a face are confidently contoured onto the buttocks.

Elsewhere, in the video Loredana across the seasons (2017), the title character’s back is turned as she is put in the role of spectator to a quartet of landscape paintings that cycle — in order of the seasons — in and out of frame until Loredana appears to enter the image whose hues best match her dress and crustacean arms. On the adjacent wall, the painting F/W 2016 (in black) (2016) captures this transition, collapsing the seasons into a fashion calendar, and featuring Loredana’s silhouette haunting a hillside, as if dissolved into a landscape of her own design. Next to it, leaving both seasonal and fashion calendars unfulfilled, hangs the exhibition’s title work, Summer in the North (2016), a perfectly over-the-top ouroboros of listless but assured self-reflection. In it, Loredana, no longer bearing the restrictive weight of the claws, lies nude on a sunset-lit beach, her teary eyes locked firmly on her ass, whose own eyes — abyss, mirror, soul, whatever else — stare tearfully back at her.

by Jack Gross

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Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster MAAT / Lisbon

“Utopia/Dystopia” is the subject chosen by director Pedro Gadanho for the inaugural program of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), for which Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has conceived Pynchon Park (2016).

This site-specific installation occupies the Oval Gallery of the new building, designed by British architect Amanda Levete, and continues the series of immersive works the artist presented at Tate Modern in London in 2008 and at the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid in 2014.

Pynchon Park is a white arena of nearly a thousand square meters, strewn with balloons and colorful carpets resembling open books, enveloped by turquoise netting and accompanied by the sounds of the sea. Viewed from above, the space reveals its cosmic character: ruled by an overly short cycle of day and night, and crowned by a celestial body perpetually on the horizon, which turns from hot sun to cold moon when the lights switch off. For the artist it is a place where “extraterrestrials had decided to gather humans in order to observe and enjoy their behavior.”

Descending the curved ramp that gives shape to the Oval Gallery, viewers slowly diffuse throughout the atmosphere of the lower world, segregated by the net from that above. Depending on the viewer’s position, the net exists as both protection and trap, with the open weave allowing for the exchange of glances between inhabitants of both realms.

Closed into the arena, the visual and sonic stimuli are transformative, the sounds of ocean waves and seagulls intermingling with the real laughter of children playing. Marooned on one’s carpet/book, one forgets one is caged and under observation, in a space scoured by searchlights. Pynchon Park inscribes a field of existence between utopia and dystopia, of an uncertain future.

by Sara De Chiara

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