Review /

Seven Sisters Kasia Michalski Gallery / Warsaw

The uncanny intimacy and sensuality of the exhibition “Seven Sisters” reflects a narrative rooted in womanhood, the need to construct one’s personal space for creation, and the constant battle for control over one’s own life. The show presents the works of six female artists, most of them born in the 1970s and 1980s.

The inspiration behind the exhibition is the “black protest” — a nationwide strike, led by women, which took place across Poland in October 2016. Tens of thousands of people dressed all in black carried black umbrellas to show their stance against antiabortion legislation. Curator Martha Kirszenbaum makes reference to this position of opposition — defending the basic right to control one’s own body — while focusing on pieces that also reflect on the physicality and beauty of the female body.

The repetition of a single theme — the mouth — makes itself apparent in the erotic alabaster sculpture Queen (2016) by Nevine Mahmoud, alongside Liz Craft’s Ashtray Table (2014), in which the latter plays with aspects of form and function. In Barbara Leoniak’s Metamorphosis (2017), two heads connected by a single swanlike neck suggest a phallus. The most dominant work in the show is Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili’s installation, which comprises a Woolfian “room of one’s own” delineated by semi-sheer cotton curtains imprinted with abstract patterns. In the room stands her analog selfie, titled Monitor 1 (2016) — whose sensuality is heightened by visible fingerprints.

The selection of formal works is consummated by a projected work by French artist Mélanie Matranga. Her video You (2016) refers to the cinematic aesthetics of the New Wave, formulating an account of the emotional perplexities of four young characters involved with one another across a range of sexual configurations. The message regarding the right to decide what one does with one’s body and sexuality is one of the essences of this work, reinforcing the overarching premise of the entire show.

by Agnieszka Sural

(Translated from Polish by Agnes Monod-Gayraud)
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Review /

Tobias Kaspar kim? Contemporary Art Centre / Riga

What is Anna Karenina? A depiction of a Freudian woman? A complex, realist work of fiction that excites the imagination? Tobias Kaspar sculpts a manifold portrait of Anna Karenina in his solo show at the kim? Contemporary Art Centre.

At first, the exhibition seems to be about about everything but her. An old pair of boots suggesting a nineteenth-century worker’s footwear, filled with bronze and cut into two pieces, meets the visitor at the entrance. A pile of clothes hangs over a chair back. Bottles, coffee cups, discarded wrappers and other small, insignificant objects are strewn on a rug on the floor. A refrigerator is partially encased in flowers. These and other objects, amid wall works and signage, create a curious spatial world. The photographs on the walls attract particular attention. Shot in Riga and Rome, they depict empty tennis courts, accompanied by random associative sentences taken up from the novel and written in three languages — Latvian, English and Russian. For example: “We have two women always specially kept for washing small things, and the clothes are all done with a machine” and “All the surplus value is taken away by the capitalists.”

Here Anna Karenina is about our obsession with the organization of commodities — about wearing, being, associating, belonging to a certain symbiosis of goods. And that is exactly what the nineteenth century has in common with the twenty-first century. These are objects that we can carry with us wherever we go; they don’t belong to a particular place, but makes us feel connected to a certain world. The dialogue and subtle resonance presented by Kaspar’s work through the aloofness of objects delivers an almost cinematographic presence, similar to the one that Tolstoy captured as well. Yet it also keeps the viewer wondering whether a hidden critique is embedded within — or is it just a form of affirmation?

by Maija Rudovska

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Review /

Benjamin Weissman The Box / Los Angeles

Benjamin Weissman returns to The Box with a body of work, mostly charcoals and pastels, based “in part” on a “vivid and disturbing sex dream about a gorilla.” The exhibition, titled “We Never Kissed,” in keeping with its intermittent motifs of pornography and psychedelia, engages in a certain deception.

Many will think that the “transgressive” aspect of this series consists in its exploration, even depiction, of bestiality. In fact, on an emotional and affective level, there is very little of genuine zoophilia. Rather, the libidinal investments seem to have more to do with art history, in the first place in the plainspoken familiarity of Weissman’s approach to the nude figure. The show has even been installed to evoke a closely hung, counterintuitively vertical nineteenth-century salon, with an irony that is not free of a certain genuine pleasure.

Thus, the effect is almost immediately Freudian. The gorilla is plainly not just a gorilla. She is rather a symbol of the essential animality of human sexuality. This, in its turn, is repressed by the neurotic male protagonist who, never kissing, remains in the realm of fantasy, at a remove from the true object of desire, which may itself be no more than a phantom. As in Freud’s theory of dreams, images and language become strangely intertwined. The “high” and the “low,” fine art and cartoons, sublimity and prurience, become entangled in a process of multiplicative exchange calling to mind anagrams — in particular, the sense of the form articulated by German Surrealists Unica Zürn and Hans Bellmer.

There, the capacity to form new significations by rearranging the letters of a phrase was perversely applied to the figure. In Zürn’s autobiographical novels, which recount her experiences as a diagnosed schizophrenic, this anagrammatic figure is often her own, a body which has lost its unitary coherence and become radically multiple. Weissman’s fragmentation and rearrangement of Saint Nessa’s body into loose hieroglyphs of legs and asses emerges in a crucial, if esoteric, relationship with the written texts occasionally incorporated in these drawings. It exemplifies a practice that remains resolutely between writing and visual art.

by Jared Baxter

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Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier Fondation Louis Vuitton / Paris

This ambitious project stacks three different exhibitions one on top of the other, with “Being There,” a distillation of three generations of South African artists, wedged between shows of African art collected by Jean Pigozzi and the Fondation Louis Vuitton. This structure poses a synecdochic problem: How far might the specific experience of South African artists be extrapolated to a history of the continent as a whole?

There are inherent risks in the analogy drawn by the Fondation’s artistic director with last year’s show of contemporary Chinese art, of individual artists being subsumed and marketed under a generalized African banner, and of the political problematics joining China to Africa being neutralized.

Yet the work is breathtaking. From top to bottom –– literally, in the case of Romuald Hazoumè, whose glaring, Yoruba-inflected jerry-can masks bookend the exhibition –– there is a nervelessness to the production of new form and in the wielding of old media. The constructions of Bodys Isek Kingelez and Rigobert Nimi, along with the technical drawings of Abu Bakarr Mansaray are uncanny exercises in futurology from found materials and textbooks; while all the painters here, from the watercolours of Barthélémy Toguo to the canvases of Chéri Samba and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, to the “Drag Paintings” (2016) of Moshekwa Langa, are uniquely canonical.

From its palimpsest of staggered personal histories, “Being There” reveals a complex of artists’ responses to a South Africa “caught,” in the words of Achille Mbembe, “between an intractable present and an irrecoverable past”. While a series of photographs by artists of the generation “born free” of apartheid betray ambivalence, towering portraits in different media by Sue Williamson, Zanele Muholi, and Thenjiwe Nkosi cohere new identities.

by Alex Estorick

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Henry Darger Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art / Chicago

What better soul to contemplate strange intersections of sex and gender, Catholic ideology and popular culture than an intensively creative yet orphaned and socially reclusive Believer? That is, someone with the kind of faith and compulsion to focus on strikingly hybrid formations of identity while also possessing an unusually determined bent for iterative bricolage?

Part of a series of exhibitions dedicated to different facets of a single artist’s singular output, “Betwixt and Between: Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls” focuses on the heroines of Darger’s epic image-and-text-based narrative, the result of decades of devotional creative practice undertaken in his Chicago apartment. The show, in tandem with an exhibition dedicated to aspects of Darger’s sources and texts, provides a series of juxtapositions and explanatory analyses of how he gathered and transmuted his imagery in pursuit of his exaltation of a particularly idiosyncratic blend of young femininity and gender ambiguity.

Posthumously celebrated as a quintessential “outsider” artist, Darger toiled in isolation to craft the elaborate and eccentric mythology of the “Vivian Girls.” Those girl-ish protagonists’ androgynous innocence, in Darger’s articulations, was always under threat and only barely maintained with a fierceness of purpose in battles that were often cross-cut with woozily sexualized displays. With their outlines traced on paper and clothing and backgrounds filled out with watercolor, the features of these figures tended toward the generic and/or caricatured facial expressions of the cartoon imagery they were borrowed from. Those expressions and bodily poses were part of the fleeting perceptions retained by Darger from advertisements, coloring books and other mass-market imagery produced for children, all dramatically repurposed for the telling of his ongoing war.

Given the pervasive recurrence of combat in the Vivian Girls’ sprawling story, the question arises: What was Darger himself fighting for? The idea of maintaining innocence is one possibility — especially amid the aggressive welter of popular culture and, more specifically, sexuality and gender roles. The differences Darger defended seem eerily prescient of the current moment’s greater public awareness of pansexual possibilities and efflorescence of transgender reorientations.

by Brian Karl

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Disobedient Bodies The Hepworth Wakefield / Yorkshire

With playful irreverence and a keen eye for formal associations, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson has created a level playing field for seminal works of art, iconic garments, ceramic pieces and design objects.

At the center of the exhibition, Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure (1936), its sinuous curves morphing dynamically into a head, torso and folded limbs, is set against an installation of colorful, oversize jumpers hung floor to ceiling, whose elongated sleeves, knotted or braided together, intersect different patterns. Along the walls, a series of photographs titled “The Thinleys,” made in collaboration with fashion photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, show a male model encased in garments from the JW Anderson archive. A collaborative approach underlies Anderson’s practice, and the exhibition integrates different creative fields. 6a architects transformed the exhibition rooms into a series of interlocking chambers partitioned by screens of draped fabric.

In their challenges to conventional conceptions of beauty, Rei Kawakubo, Helmut Lang and Rick Owens have directly influenced Anderson’s nongendered clothing. Fashion garments take on the structure of sculptures and vessels, transforming the human figure into an abstract silhouette.

Comprising close to one hundred works, the show is rich in visual juxtapositions. Sarah Lucas’s stuffed tights sprawled with abandon over an office chair reverberate with the insidious interlocking of padded wool-knit tubes from Comme des Garçon’s A/W 2014 “Monster” collection. Anthea Hamilton’s Leg Chair (2012) resonates with Elisabeth de Senneville’s S/S 1977 Nomade vest, whose clear plastic top layer is filled with political newspaper cut-outs.

Anderson creates sophisticated groupings of objects that confer renewed vigor on classic and lesser-known works of art and design by revealing their radical nature. Interpretations of the human form move fluidly between gender conventions, showing how the emancipatory value of fashion can parallel the transgressive power of art.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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