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Bojan Šarčević Modern Art / London

“I have only ever experienced intellectual pleasure on the level of analogy,” declared André Breton in a 1947 essay titled “Ascendant Sign.” Analogy, both direct and indirect, pervades the practice of Serbian artist Bojan Šarčević. “Invagination,” the title of his third solo exhibition at Modern Art, London, is defined by the gallery’s press release as “the idea of something being turned inside-out, turned-in, or folded back on itself.”

First used by the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the term became dear to Jacques Derrida, who employed it to describe a narrative that folds upon itself, perpetually swapping the observer and the observed.

This exhibition stands as a unique cognitive exercise extended over three rooms, each different but echoing the others. The entrance desk has been transformed into a brutalist desk sculpture, exhibition element (MA-SARCB-00075) (all works cited, 2016), made up of gray stones and pink metal, whose raised position confers a sense of displacement on the gallery assistant, typing away. Two wall works, exhibition element (MA-SARCB-00081) and (MA-SARCB-00076), are positioned in the opposite corner, forcing viewers to pass the desk awkwardly as they enter into private, intimate space.

The last room is occupied by just one piece, exhibition element (MA-SARCB-00085), a four-sided monumental construction of lacquered aluminum and cream plasterboard that challenges the viewer’s sense of perception. Hidden at the rear, a blue plastic bag containing dried meat is the source of an acute odor that imbues its ambient surroundings with a macabre tone.

Within this last room, what was previously unsettling at the entrance is all of a sudden pleasantly familiar. To fulfill the “invagination” premise we should start all over again.

by Attilia Fattori Franchini

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Edgar Orlaineta Proyectos Monclova / Mexico City

“History is taking flight and passes forever,” Edgar Orlaineta’s current exhibition at Proyectos Monclova, is a multilayered examination of formalism and history. Specifically, the exhibition is an incisive consideration of the intersections of modernism and design, and how both were influenced by the Japanese internment camps created in the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The gallery is filled with sculptural vignettes carved to detailed perfection. However, upon closer examination, each object begins to reveal a dark history. Formally the works are reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s interlocking sculptures, in which discrete pieces fit together to form a larger piece. Anachronich Library-Historical Sources (after Isamu Noguchi) (2016) is one such interlocking sculpture. The work is also multifunctional; the negative spaces house historical ephemera and antique objects that illustrate anti-Japanese sentiment, such as a Japanese hunting license, two carved Japanese caricatures and anti-Japanese literature.

Moving from piece to piece within the space, the complexities of the stories, the references and the ephemera work together to illustrate a history within modernism that is not often told. The title of the exhibition, for example, is a sentence taken directly from a letter written by Noguchi and addressed to Man Ray while Noguchi was captive in an internment camp in Arizona. Indeed, many of the formal elements that Orlaineta borrows in the exhibition via Noguchi, Satama and even Komai, were created at a time when the artists themselves were held at internment camps. The corresponding ephemera is strategically placed to connect their stories with the formal decisions of the artists. Orlaineta illustrates the irony of modern design being influenced by cultural contributors who continued to produce even in the face of blatant racism.

by Leslie Moody Castro

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Etel Adnan Institut du Monde Arabe / Paris

The first solo exhibition in France of the works of Etel Adnan, organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe, whose home is a Parisian landmark designed by Jean Nouvel, brings together a selection of paintings, drawings, films, poetry, and tapestries by the ninety-one-year-old Paris-based artist.

Born in Beirut in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father, and known primarily for her small, abstract paintings in bold colors, Adnan has also produced textile works inspired by Persian rugs, as well as a series of leporello sketchbooks that combine drawing and watercolor with writing and poetry. One of these, The Lost Mother and Daughter (1970), incorporates the words of Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, whose revolutionary verses calligraphed in black ink contrast with a luminous blue-and-yellow background.

The exhibition is divided according to four themes. The first: “Texts and Poetry,” is based on her infamous 1980 poem “The Arab Apocalypse,” written during the Lebanese Civil War, and emphasizes the importance of writing to her practice; “Mountains” details the recurrent motif of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California, across her oeuvre; while “Colors and Sounds” focuses on her production of tapestries. Her most poignant chapter, titled “Exile,” is organized around her frequent travels between Europe, the US and the Middle East. This section is rich in oil-painted landscapes, pastels and drawings but also films, such as the Super 8 movie Motion (1980–90), which portrays a shadowy, dreamlike New York as seen through the window of a friend’s apartment.

Throughout this intimate retrospective, Adnan’s voice, both feminist and pacifist, reveals itself through her interwoven influences, languages and techniques. She observes her itinerancy, from Smyrna to Beirut, and from Sausalito to Paris, with a generous and engaged eye — an inspiring empathy for our inward-turning age.

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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Urgent Conversations: Athens – Antwerp EMST / Athens

For Athenians it’s been a long time coming. In 2002, a fifty-year lease was signed with the owners of the vast former Fix Brewery with the aim of opening the city’s first museum dedicated to contemporary art by the 2004 Olympics. Now, and with justified fanfare subdued by astonishment that it finally exists, EMST has been properly inaugurated. Sort of.

“Urgent Conversations,” the museum’s first temporary exhibition, invites dialogue between the Greek state collection and that of M HKA in Antwerp. It is structured with reference to twenty-two thematic blocks which arose out of a thought experiment: the curators chose one piece from each collection and balanced these with a third once a word or phrase had been decided upon. Around seventy works from sixty-six artists were selected using this process.

Utilizing interchangeable phrases like “The Unstable Self” and “Secular Devotion,” the curation could be dismissed as a forced gimmick. Notwithstanding this, we are treated to several wonderful works, many of which have been long hidden from public view. A large welcoming canvas by Apostolos Georgiou (Untitled, 2004) depicting two seated gentlemen, one reading a dirty magazine, the other cowering beneath an icon of the Virgin Mary, is paired with Marlene Dumas’s dark and troubling Sacrifice (1993) in which a naked woman sits on the floor facing a row of three identical men, heightening the tension present in both works.

A series of photographs by Rena Papaspyrou (Stilponos 7 – Episodes in Matter, 1979) show the artist peeling away plaster from an historic building, accelerating the urban crumble ever-present in the city, suitably appropriate in the freshly whitewashed gallery space. Further responding to the location, Allan Sekula’s Middle Passage, Chapter 3 from Fish Story (1990–93), a fascinating ethnographic venture into maritime life, resonates purposefully, despite being from the Flemish collection, with Greece’s maritime history.

While the exhibition achieves what it sets out to do, one often feels at a loss as to why it set out to do what it did in the first place. Nevertheless, the range of works on show examine the versatility of the structure, with further charm to be revealed in stunning upper floors which will eventually house the permanent collection, hopefully in time for documenta 14. An air of optimism flows through the spaces, and I left charged with confidence that the museum has a long and exciting future.

by Andrew Spyrou

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Decor Boghossian Foundation / Brussels

The year 2016 should have been the right moment to celebrate Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976) in his native Belgium, but the homage so far has been discrete. A new group show at the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels, takes its title from the last installation conceived by Broodthaers shortly before his death.

With its cannons, machine guns and Edwardian furniture, Decor: A Conquest is a highly political and socially engaged work of art. The artist managed to reduce the whole concept to its essence: a little Napoleonic brass cannon and a small piece of paper with the word “décor” written on it.

As Asad Raza, the artistic director of the Foundation, puts it: “The artists that ‘Decor’ assembles […] embrace the decorative as a fundamental aspect of the plastic arts and see a political potential in operating with it.” Yet, apart from Latifa Echakhch’s For Each Stencil a Revolution (2007), a sentence attributed to Yasser Arafat, for which she covered the small dancing room with ink-dripped sheets of carbon paper, the strength of the individual works is diminished by their overly immaculate relationship to their luxurious surroundings. The tiles of Carl Andre’s 10 x 10 Altstadt Lead Square (1967) match those of the marble floor, the curtains of Felix Gonzalez-Torres divide the space perfectly, Pierre Huyghe’s Cambrian Explosion (2014) serves as a real aquarium, and Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds (1966) fill the entrance hall in orderly fashion.

That said, two site-specific works by Daniel Buren and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster go some way toward engaging in a meaningful dialectic with the Villa. The curators of the show, Tino Sehgal, Dorothea von Hantelmann and Asad Raza, take responsibility for its decorative aspect, as both “an exhibition about the decorative” and “a decoration of the Villa.” Even though the result is appealing, the second proposition perhaps dominates the first.

by Pierre-Yves Desaive

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Mohamed Bourouissa Stedelijk Museum / Amsterdam

An adrenalizing up-tempo sound track makes it hard for visitors to suppress a beatific grin during the climax of Mohamed Bourouissa’s video diptych Horseday (2015). On one screen a rider gallops down a Philadelphia street ahead of a roaring emerald-green Buick, while the second displays a “horse-tuning” event where riders flaunt their lavishly dressed horses and effortless riding abilities.

The first in a series of “Stedelijk Contemporary” exhibitions, Bourouissa’s two-gallery installation introduces a new composition to the “Horseday” project he began in 2013. Bourouissa arrived a decade ago with his series “Périferique” (2005–2009) about the banlieues of Paris, in which he founded a practice dedicated to immersing himself in secluded communities and thereby producing work with rather than about their inhabitants. He is interested in the functioning of social systems — especially subcultures — and inverts perspectives by challenging set perceptions and stereotypes. For “Horseday,” Bourouissa spent several months with the Black community of the Philadelphia-based Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, proceeding to organize a horse-decorating competition between the club and local artists. While the subsequent footage is apparently documentary, it is in fact meticulously staged, framing the imagery within a lineage both photographic and art historical.

Bourouissa has carefully choreographed this installation to harmonize video with photography and sculpture. Positioned within an intimate, almost domestic, setting incorporating a black leather sofa, the horses’ costumes are hung, as if on saddle racks in a tack room, next to sculptures of car body parts photos of the Philadelphia cityscape and a mounted color print of an “urban cowboy” that is visually analogous to Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the St Bernhard Pass. The restaging of video imagery within the real space of the exhibition immerses the viewer in the artist’s perspective — that of an outsider turned insider.

by Suzanne van de Ven

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