Review /

Li Shurui White Space / Beijing

The painting practice of Li Shurui has long been an investigation into the visual experiences of light and color, and her recent solo show LSR · Deep White embodies a continuation and an expansion of her work over the past decade. With an increasingly spatialized and immersive approach, the artist blends both immense scale and controlled minimalism. 

Beginning in the gallery’s cavernous left hall, three works form a colossal painting installation. Wave No. 6 (2015) echoes her earlier light-based works, though, without the figural elements and shadowy bodies that appeared in earlier paintings inspired by LEDs and Chongqing’s nightlife, it represents a move further into abstraction. In more recent works, her exploration of sound waves provokes a synesthetic experience that fuses the visual and the sonic; the picture plane is released from its two-dimensional limits, summoning both depth and movement from flatness and stasis.

In a subtler vein, Wave No. 10 (2015–16) employs a restrained color palette of subdued dark tones in gridded, plaid patterns. Mindfile Storage Unit No. 201708 (2017), positioned between these two ten-meter-wide canvases from the “Wave” series, is a pearlescent orb informed by Li’s research into natural forms and religious architecture. Combined, the three works form a cosmic flag, an occult tableau that could be mistaken for a set piece in an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. Questioning the boundaries of the frame, Li draws the viewer into an experience that is both intoxicating and sobering; when viewed up close, the canvases create their own bounded worlds of vision as the edges of the frames vanish.

In the adjacent hall, the exhibition’s eponymous work Deep White (2016–17) presents a mesmerizing array of 114 canvases of varying dimensions, installed together in a rectangular configuration. As a totality, the installation resembles a pixelated composite image, one that shares both the aesthetic tropes of Photoshop color gradients as well as the landscape painting idioms of a pastoral cloudscape.

While the works refuse to traffic in any direct, referential meaning, the paintings obliquely evoke the ubiquitous presence of digital screens that dominate our contemporary visual experience. The calculated repetition of airbrushed dots displays a meditative — perhaps obsessive — practice that might strike some viewers as cold and alienating, yet the works might also be read as preliminary experiments that open up new ways of seeing. The exhibition suggests a new relationship to the natural world, one in which the manual practices of painting are channeled through the digital apparatuses that mediate our vision.

by Benny Shaffer

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Review /

The Overworked Body Ludlow 38 and Mathew Gallery / New York

Is it the 2000s or the aughts? Would you say post-9/11, the Bush years, or the war on terror? Housing bubble or housing crisis? Your twenties? MySpace? That time you lived in Williamsburg? Does “last decade” indicate our stern preference to not talk about it?

The same anxiety troubles “The Overworked Body: An Anthology of 2000s Dress,” an honest eulogy to that ten-year span of time. The exhibition collects radical fashion between spring/summer 2000 and fall/winter 2009 into a historical hall of mirrors in which dozens of studiously garmented mannequins recount the era’s feverish obsessions. Put another way, the show’s fitful attachments exhibit a budding angst.

There are many ways through this exhibition, which converts Mathew and Ludlow 38 into overcrowded showrooms. Connections between designers are largely intuited. Some were especially captivated by the apparatus of control. At the former space, Ann-Sofie Back’s cocktail dresses and reworked trench coat expose the shameless will to power behind the austerity of business casual. A Victorian-inspired Jean-Paul Gaultier dress employs new (at the time) photographic fabric printing to simulate patterns and ruffles, complimented by an infamous Stephen Jones shoe-hat flopped on the mannequin’s head. Decadence tends toward irreverence in other designers: Final Home’s mesh coat filled with all sorts of office trash (e.g., a Diet Coke can and FedEx shipping form); Margiela’s military-style vest made out of puffy ski gloves; the torched sequins in a Shelley Fox dress. Behind the naughty pastiche of ’90s styles is boredom in the KEUPR/van BENTM Fall/Winter 2000 show, a video of which is on view. Each time a model takes their turn, a Looney Tunes bonk-on-the-head sound effect is heard.

Neoliberalism spread rapidly during the aughts. Wealth flowed upward. Designers may have sniffed out clues to the nihilism driving our current predicaments, having made light of the ill-begotten popularity facilitated by the internet. It’s tough to name. The flipside involved special credence paid to New Age spiritualism and countercultural chic. Innocence, frivolity and joy describe several looks displayed on a catwalk-cum-skate park packed into Ludlow 38’s entryway — rejoice in fabrics and textures. Hideki Seo’s contributions, two school uniforms that transform the wearer into a scaly mythological chimera, speak to the narrow distance between animism and imagination. Bedazzled outfits by Andrew Groves and a gown by Arkadius balance frump and glamor; A.F. Vandervost’s dress is Weimar club gear; and an abundance of BLESS demonstrates their coy, cult-like sensibility, drawing connections between universal football fandom and featureless, unisex onesies.

The exhibition takes place definitively downtown, in a section of Chinatown and the Lower East Side that many of the designers included here, especially Susan Cianciolo or the late Ben Cho, helped to popularize. The proximity is voyeuristic. During the same era, galleries moved there, too. It’s been almost a decade and we keep coming back to sneak a peek.

by Sam Korman

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Julian Rosefeldt Fundación Proa / Buenos Aires

Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt’s film project that aspires to historical grandeur, landed in Buenos Aires as an overconstructed exhibition at Fundación Proa. Three rooms host twelve films starring Cate Blanchett, who performs a kind of textual survey of the twentieth-century avant-garde.

The actor, playing such diverse characters as a firm’s CEO, a news reporter and a stockbroker, recites the seminal texts of various art movements. The screenplay allows for small affinities in the coupling of character and text: Marinetti’s accelerationist emphasis and a financial employee; the Russian avant-garde and a scientist who finds, in a research complex, a black rectangular object. For the texts of Bruno Taut, Antonio Sant’Elia and Robert Venturi, Blanchett is a worker in a trash-incinerating facility, hinting at relationships between architecture, economic growth and environmental sustainability. With remarkable precision, the actor brings an emotional range to disparate artistic ideas, conveying in turn authority (a fancy choreographer), warmth (a first-grade teacher) and exaltation (a young punk lady in a bar).

Character development, nevertheless, gives way to synchronized lecturing via the primerisimo plano of Blanchett’s face and her simultaneous reciting, on all the screens, of discourses that can have an authoritarian undertone. This climatic synchronization shifts the viewer’s attention from the individual films to what occurs in the entirety of the room.

It’s a bit off-putting that Proa’s show doesn’t end with Rosefeldt’s work. A subtle pedagogical quality is already embedded in the virtues of Manifesto (the viewer, in a specific moment, confronts six of Blanchett’s giant faces reciting texts fundamental to the Western art canon) but, in addition to the films, the institution filled an extra floor with information (photos and texts) further explaining the characters, their manifestos and, more generally, what the avant-gardes of the past century were. It is a gesture more akin to the anti-avant-garde wooden donkey Bertold Brecht kept on his desktop with the famous lemma: “Even I must understand it.” Or at least, be lectured.

by Claudio Iglesias

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Jala Wahid Seventeen Gallery / London

Jala Wahid doesn’t mess around. Entering this basement gallery-cum-meat storage facility one is met by the jagged profile of a polished black spike, emerging from the wall like the fingernail of an irascible giant. Its title, Final Blade (all works 2017), indicates that this is the end of an earlier line of experimentation with jesmonite, a gypsum-based composite whose flexibility as a material has helped to shape the artist’s particular brand of bodily evisceration.

In No Hold Too Strong — a pair of oversized amputated thighs whose raw waist is treated with smears of red animal fat — a mixture of jesmonite and aluminum produces a dull, matte silver that appears numb to the pain. By contrast, Bare and Writhe, in which two rounded hunks hang from the ceiling on chains like the remnants of shorn carcasses, overlays its jesmonite base with a sickly green pigment enveloped in glass wax and honey. With a surface pockmarked by grapefruit peel, this is a vision of putrefaction as fascinating as it is nauseating.

Yet the thrust of the show is the compelling automythology produced by Wahid’s combination of uncanny bodily empathy and linguistic sensibility. This is exemplified in Akh Milk Bile Threat, a graffitied “Akh!” painted onto the wall in a mixture of pigment, breast milk and ox bile. Both form and content here reflect Wahid’s Kurdish heritage — the medium is used for body tattoos while the word itself defies translation, sitting on a spectrum between pain and relief. With meaning malleable and contingent on context, the work encapsulates the artist’s interest in Kurdistan’s undocumented histories and the extent to which they are “archived on a body.” Up close it is less a painting than a peeling, with the material’s curious consistency rendering it simultaneously permanent and fugitive. This vision of the body as text-in-flux is elaborated further next door in Oh Leander!, a video installation in which the “Akh” flickers across mutable stanzas against an oily mass of deep red gelatin. Addressing a world of confined spaces, Jala Wahid is becoming the bard of borderless meanings.

by Alex Estorick

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In Search of Expo 67 Musée d’art contemporain / Montreal

Fifty years after the fact, the utopian theater of Expo 67 — which welcomed an estimated fifty million visitors to the multilingual metropolis of Montreal — betokens a deferred promise of technological prosperity and global unity. Amid Canada’s troubled sesquicentennial celebrations, there is an understandable temptation to look back at the World’s Fair with nostalgia.

Instead, the nineteen works selected by cocurators Lesley Johnstone and Monika Kin Gagnon draw attention to fissures in the fair’s familiar image of geodesic uniformity.

Standout works include Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater’s reimagining of a mural that once graced the Indians of Canada Pavilion. Long attributed to Norval Morrisseau, it was actually executed by an assistant due to government censorship of the indigenous artist’s candid depiction of a breast-feeding mother earth. Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn casts a critical glance at Canada’s vaunted history of multiculturalism, deftly weaving archival footage of an unlikely centennial project in small-town Alberta that greeted “alien” visitors with the world’s first UFO landing pad into an otherworldly allegory of the country’s fraught relationship with terrestrial migrants.

Leisure (Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley) reconstructs an experimental children’s play area designed by Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, whose tiny utopia has been unjustly overshadowed by the fair’s trademark multiscreen environments. Cheryl Sim revisits the futuristic apparel sported by Expo hostesses as a screen for multivalent desires. David K. Ross’s drone-mounted camera in As Sovereign as Love (2017) retraces the one-time trajectory of the fair’s dismantled mini-rail. Present-day barriers in its aerial itinerary poignantly mark points of rupture between the utopian geography conjured by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Terre des hommes, which inspired Expo’s anthropocentric theme, “Man and his World,” and a site irrevocably transformed by time’s passage.

by Adam Lauder

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Harry Gamboa Jr. Marlborough Contemporary / New York

During the Vietnam War, many Chicano youths in California joined the army as a way out of situations rooted in poverty. Instead of finding a brighter future, they often came home in body bags. East Los Angeles mural artist Harry Gamboa Jr., a Chicano himself, was appalled seeing his friends decimated against a backdrop of general indifference.

He took action, using the only medium he felt comfortable with: art. With a few friends, he created ASCO (a Spanish word for disgust), an art collective but also a cultural guerilla group dedicated to political protest. Active between the 1970s and ’80s, the collective’s work remains obscure to this day. Intrigued by the figure of Harry Gamboa Jr. and fascinated by the crossover range and power of the group to manipulate public spaces, Leo Fitzpatrick decided to curate “Harry Gamboa Jr. – The ASCO Years” at Marlborough Contemporary to shed some light on the group’s overlooked attempts to claim a seat for Chicanos at the table of American culture. The show is a selection of photographs taken by Gamboa (and previously included in the retrospective “ASCO: Elite of the Obscure” at LACMA in 2011) that capture some of the collective’s performances. The members of ASCO often portray themselves as metaphorical beings repairing, revisiting and criticizing the failing American dream.

For example, First Supper (After a Major Riot) (1974) was staged and photographed in the exact location where the police brutally attacked peaceful Chicanos mourning the death of Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American journalist to cover the Chicano community. As a symbol, supper carries a sense of comfort and familiarity; it is a routine domestic celebration. When ASCO has supper on Whittier Boulevard, where Salazar was killed, they mean to feel at home there from now on. As an act of guerilla symbolism, they’re taking back their land, giving meaning and resonance to the blood shed by their peers. By giving the streets new functions and meanings, they refuse the whitewashing of their history. The avant-garde group uses many references (punk and glam), but fear might be their strongest ingredient. Since they were scared themselves, they had to be scary to protect themselves.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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