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Tatiana Trouvé Petach Tikva Museum of Art / Tel Aviv

The most striking element in Tatiana Trouvé’s current exhibition “The Great Atlas of Disorientation” is the sharp contrast between its two main environments. Each creates a distinctive mode of disorientation through an entirely different aesthetic, while also being inconsistent in their artistic quality.

In the first space, the concrete floor has been shattered as if by an earthquake. Amid the cracks and ruins are scattered various structures, cast in bronze, aluminum, and copper, that mimic makeshift shelters made of used cardboards. These vagabond lodgings are embedded with various objects: books and diaries, as well as maps of ancient and current migration routes, celestial navigation diagrams, geological timelines, sketches of solar systems, and phylogenetic evolution charts. It is a culturally and historically-varied display of attempts at cartographically representing our worldly time and space, as well as its geopolitics. Other cast objects such as blankets and cardboard sheets peep out of the ruined ground, as if swallowed by the chaos. The scenic handling of the floor grants the space a catastrophic, postapocalyptic air, as well as a heightened sense of theatricality. Here, Trouvé’s crafted structures, some exhibited previously at the 15th Istanbul Biennial, lose their intensity and become mere props in a set, referring a bit too literally to the contemporary refugee crises.

Tatiana Trouvé, The Great Atlas of Disorientation, June 7 – September 29 2018
Tatiana Trouvé, The Great Atlas of Disorientation, June 7 – September 29 2018, installation view at the Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Tel Aviv.

The second installation, called “Prepared Space,” is a white, luminous room dissected by long slits running throughout its floor and walls and confusedly converging into multiple vanishing points. The arrangement is based on one of the ancient space navigation maps inscribed on the structures in the previous room; the image has been translated into a mathematical, almost abstract 3-D environment, turning the room into a kind of digital “non-place” inhabiting a sense of “non-being.” The only disruption to this sterile plateau are triangle-shaped spacers (the kind usually used in construction), which are cast in bronze and inserted into the slits as if supporting the unfinished structure.

Trouvé’s work is usually discussed in relation to its uncanny manipulation of space and time, while her use of casting, in which everyday objects are turned into illusionary, hyperrealist sculptures, is often understated. These reverse ready-mades function more effectively in the second room than in the first, as they create a disturbance in the coherence of the mise-en-scène, baffling the viewer’s sense of matter and space. Trouvé’s transformation of mundane artifacts into shiny metal affords them durability but deprives them of their functionality, exposing a root of immigration and displacement not only in the dispossession of land but also resources.

by Keren Goldberg

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Miles Huston Reyes Projects / Detroit

For his recent solo exhibition at Reyes Projects in Detroit, New York–based artist Miles Huston has created seven virtuosic drawings that seem to atomize their subjects, encoding color and proportion into visual algorithms, ecstatic open compositions of planar and axonometric polychromy. In front of each drawing sits the generic object that inspired it — all common products that according to the artist represent the irreducible building blocks of contemporary civilization.

Irrigation, supply chain distribution, food preparation, waste management, air conditioning, refrigeration, and construction are represented by ubiquitous items easily purchased on the internet, such as a green garden hose, a black rubber tire, a red charcoal grill, a yellow rubbish bin, a white box fan, a blue workman’s cooler, and gray rolls of duct tape. Each item imparts a color hierarchy to its respective wall work that would be otherwise imperceptible without the sculptural subject’s presence. Contributing to the multiple layers of signification embedded in “The Style: Dweller on the Threshold” is the artist’s intentional deployment of the primary-color palette popularized by Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, and Gerrit Rietveld. Huston seemingly recontextualizes the De Stijl school as a lens through which to understand not only the surface of the city, but the increasingly automated and artificial infrastructures that bring global machinations to bear on daily life. 

Miles Huston, The Style: Dweller On the Threshold, installation view, 2018
Miles Huston, The Style: Dweller On the Threshold, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of Reyes Projects, Detroit. Photography by Clare Gatto.

As one of the co-founders of the Brooklyn-based artist-run exhibition space Know More Games (2011–15), Huston has been an important presence in New York’s emerging art scene. Through his involvement with the project space and as an independent curator, Huston has supported an increasingly visible community of emerging artists, helping to give early exposure to ascendant peers such as Jamian Juliano-Villani, Win McCarthy, Michael E. Smith, Avery Singer, and others. Not unlike organizing artwork in a gallery, Huston uses a refined curatorial sensibility to transpose the subjects of his current exhibition onto the picture planes of his “Verse” drawings.  

Looking at Huston’s work can be a meditational experience during which one becomes aware of a profound pictorial and spatial intelligence in the adjacencies of color and form, as well as the use of positive and negative space. Executed with exceptional dexterity, for example, is Huston’s Verse, Red Grill (2018), an architectural composition whose structure seems to stutter, causing what at first appears to be discrete elements of solid, void, figure, and ground to become unexpectedly interrelated. Huston’s visual poetry reflects an increasingly contemporary condition of inextricable urbanistic and digital interconnectivity. Looking at the disassembled red grill on the floor in front of the drawing is like looking upon a crumpled outfit, the occupant of which has been dissolved into its quantum constituents that now hover before you on the wall, unrecognizable yet somehow familiar.

by David Andrew Tasman

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Margiela / Galliera, 1989 – 2009 Palais Galliera / Paris

Maison Margiela’s much-needed retrospective provided a rare opportunity for the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris to engage contemporary issues. The legacy of the designer reached the peak of its anabasis in 2018 by conquering the Mount Olympus of fashion conglomerates via its two most-discussed progenitures: Demna Gvasalia and Virgil Abloh. If almost any contemporary designer would claim a filiation with the Antwerpian seventh prodigy, both of them have manifested a remarkable deference toward the latter by bringing its deconstructivist endeavor to the pinnacle of corporate culture. Gvasalia’s capitalist realism, which found its most brutal expression in the Kering sweatshirt, and Abloh’s quotation system, each in its own way compliments Margiela’s discursive virtuosity — a virtuosity that coagulated into a strategic irony, both aesthetic and economic, in the context of the current identity crisis of luxury industries.

Artistically supervised by Martin Margiela, the exhibition’s historic component was well conceived, though a rather platonic exercise intellectually. Unfortunately, the scenography did not help. Mimicking the atmosphere of a construction site in homage to the designer’s methodology — and in acknowledgment of the ongoing renovation of the museum itself — the setting over-fetishized his formal palette. Could this deception be grounded in the incommunicability of the hic et nunc of a Maison Martin Margiela presentation? Partly yes. Obvious at every stage of the exhibition was the carefully designed oeuvre that constituted each of his fashion shows. In the context of an industry paralyzed between the fear of falling into the ennui of seasonal routine and an allergy to risk, Margiela’s happenings were vital injections into an exhausted system. From his invitations that hijacked the communicational ecosystem of the 1990s to the localization of shows that explored the Parisian suburban typologies of parking, metro stations, and Père Lachaise cemetery, he used fashion week in order to pastiche the social mirage produced by the industry: a mise-en-scène that did not seek to alter the core logic of fashion but instead wished to refine its foundational dogmas, which were still articulated around the concepts of style, uniqueness, and authenticity.

Taken as a comprehensive liturgy of the designer’s major achievements, “MARGIELA / GALLIERA, 1989–2009” succeeded in recapitulating the main chapters of the Parisian house that he co-founded with Jenny Meirens. Nevertheless, whether on a curatorial or academic level, this retrospective appears to take blame regarding its position within contemporary fashion discourses. This is even more surprising considering that only a handful of designers have mastered exhibition making as he has. His mid-career survey titled “9/4/1615” at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 1997 is a telling example. Seventeen looks extracted from his seventeen collections were replicated and left rotting outside the glass bay facing the garden of the museum. Prior to their exposure, a biologist injected different types of bacteria into the garments. Commenting on the revulsion of an industry toward the idea of putrefaction and abjection through a totemic metastatic production seemed indeed more radical.

by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou

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Plato in L.A.: Contemporary Artists’ Visions Getty Villa / Los Angeles

The introduction to “Plato in L.A.: Contemporary Artists’ Visions” takes the form of a pun: Jeff Koons’s Play-Doh (1994–2014). This monstrous piling up of cast aluminum, painted into vibrant, hand-torn clumps of clay in shades such as Party Hat Purple, Garden Green, and Blue Lagoon, fills one of the Getty Villa’s classically appointed exhibition halls. The amusing homonymic punch line alludes to the ubiquitous rainbow putty (trademarked in 1955) as much as it does to the architect of Western thought in philosophy, religion, and geometry.

Student to Socrates, teacher to Aristotle, saboteur of poetry and music, he may not have anticipated this overlay of the layers of his world in his lifetime (c. 428–347 BC): the physical realm with the one of forms, embodied in material artworks, armored with conceptual underpinnings that are visible — that only exist — in his divine universe. The presence of any one of them, as he predicted, fails in an absolute representation; the same as any other artwork ever made. The metaphysical aspects of these contemporary artists’ work, however, escaped his judgment.

This uncanny site for antiquities, in its first presentation of contemporary art, gives a nonlinear pretext and alternate point of entry to a reading of the seminal philosopher’s dismissive ideologies on visual art and culture; if his interpretations can be broken down into slippery blocks of humor (Koons, Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelley), riddle or misrepresentation (Joseph Kosuth), calculating scrutiny (Huang Yong Ping, Adrian Piper), fantastical inhabitation (Paul McCarthy’s hybrid character of himself and the subject, named Plato/Paul), or literal reflection (Michelangelo Pistoletto), they become accessible on new aesthetic and visual levels, in a site as foreign to ancient Greece as one can get — the American West. The Getty Villa, open since 1974 though recently reopened after the institution’s, in patois, facelift, is something of a stylistic and anachronistic pastiche, borrowing from the Villa dei Papiri, one of the most luxurious houses in the Roman Empire, located in Herculaneum, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted and buried the home in 79 AD; the Outer Peristyle garden nurtures roses and English ivy; this still being Los Angeles, the structure just below the garden is the Central Parking Garage.

by Jennifer Pjeko

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Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943 Fondazione Prada / Milan

Last October, the New Yorker published an article by historian and New York University faculty member Ruth Ben-Ghiat, which asked why Italy has allowed its Fascist monuments to survive unquestioned. Ben-Ghiat uses the example of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, erected in Rome in 1942 as part of Benito Mussolini’s master plan for a new neighborhood — the so-called EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma), the intended location of a world’s fair that never happened because of the war.

In 2004 the Palazzo was recognized by the state as a site of “cultural interest,” and today it hosts the headquarters of Fendi, one of the most characteristic “Made in Italy” fashion companies. While Ben-Ghiat legitimately notes the lack of a full-fledged Italian law against Fascist apologism (the 1952 Scelba Law prosecutes organizations and groups aiming to reconstitute the dissolved Fascist party, but it never prompted the removal of the most unambiguous aesthetic remnants of Fascism), her framing of the problem in terms of “Italians’ comfort with living amid Fascist symbols” feels relatively perfunctory, and doesn’t account for the subtle but certainly permeating feeling of discomfort that many Italians still share when confronted with the exquisite but equivocal creative achievements of the regime.

Never has this feeling been so acute for me than during my visit to Fondazione Prada’s largest endeavor to date: the exhibition “Post Zang Tumb Tuuum,” a chronological account of artistic production in Italy between Mussolini’s rise to power in the aftermath of World War I and his removal from office following Italy’s defeat in World War II. “PZTT” develops across twenty-four partial reconstructions of both public and private displays of works of art and decorative objects, alongside vitrines containing contextual historical documents. By reenacting the material and physical conditions of the art’s original presentations, curator Germano Celant and his team aim to revive the complex commingling of politics, ideology, and aesthetics that subtended the creation, exhibition, and reception of many universally recognized masterpieces of the Italian artistic avant-garde — the inextricable link between the artist’s ethos and the state’s agenda being precisely the source of the “discomfort” mentioned above.

“PZTT,” however, renders the artifacts’ historical backdrops ghostly. Its peculiar exhibition design sources installation views from the time; the images are enlarged to the original scale of the spaces, but treated so they appear more like distant visual memories than the actual overwhelming environments they document (conceived by Michael Rock’s 2 × 4 design studio, it is the acme of the language of semi-virtuality that qualifies Celant’s unmistakable approach to reenactment). Contextualized but freed from their alleged rhetorical function, the artifacts re-installed on the views are presented concretely. And what they spell out is precisely the Italian artistic avant-garde’s aesthetic grammar, of which the regime would recognize a linguistic potential, but whose subjugation to the narratives of state power would ultimately be short-circuited by the artist’s autonomy from Fascist ideology. “Their concept of art was too lofty for them to accept debasing it as a mere instrumentum regni,” writes art historian Elena Pontiggia in the exhibition catalogue.

Hence murals, for example — together with state exhibitions, a favorite platform of Fascism’s love affair with the arts — convey here the dynamics of the (Fascist) state appropriating the (avant-garde) artist’s invention. “PZTT” reconstructs Mario Sironi’s “wall” at the 18th Biennale di Venezia, on which the artist arranged in rigorous symmetry seven paintings of pastoral scenes. This would be Sironi’s last participation in a Biennale: he would desert temporary art exhibitions in order to fully dedicate himself to exploring the monumentality and unmediated readability of pictures, specifically, of mural painting. Yet this “wall” is already a mural; its classical composition and allegorical rendition of the life of Italians forestalls the language of the “Fascist” mural. Further in the exhibition, preparatory drawings and fragments of various artist commissions for public buildings (on view are Sironi’s multiple sketches for the frescoes of the Lecture Hall in the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and those for the mosaic La Giustizia [Justice] for the Courthouse in Milan, among many others) aim to deconstruct the rhetorical functioning of “state art” by negating first of all its grandness — an approach that I would find more empowering for the (Italian) viewer than the “iconoclastic” covering of Fascist symbols, as suggested by Ben-Ghiat, for example.

If “PZTT” highlights and apostatizes the language of “state art,” it makes too little an effort to highlight its counter-language, or the art of creatives and intellectuals who were silenced, persecuted, and exiled by the regime. The exhibition does include the “feminine” flower bouquets and the demolitions of Rome’s historical center by Mario Mafai, the Apocalypse-inspired visions of Scipione (Gino Bonichi), and the portraits and landscapes painted by Carlo Levi during his confinement in Southern Italy. But these experiences remain at the periphery of the reconstructions and enrich their “context” without reconfiguring the “design” of the exhibition. To not fully spell out the anti-rhetorical grammar of these artists is a missed opportunity, especially for a research institution with a progressive agenda like that of Fondazione Prada.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Lucie Stahl Galerie Meyer Kainer / Vienna

A hovering oil barrel rotates in the center of a rectangular steel frame. Prayer Wheel (Total) (2018), a sculptural contraption standing in the entry room of Galerie Meyer Kainer, performs the deifying function of its title, baptizing viewers upon entry as if petroleum were its holy water. As the first work in Lucie Stahl’s exhibition “The Simple Life,” its initial encounter stages the theological power of the commodity’s mastery over nature — a nature branded, packaged, and sold back to its unwitting disciples.

In the photographs that follow, Stahl visualizes cultural myths of aspiration by deploying nostalgic Americana clichés. To produce these works, she placed objects on a flatbed scanner, blew up the unedited scans, and glazed their inkjet-print surface with epoxy resin. This digital photogram-like process highlights both the photographs’ constructedness and the artificial fantasies they each evoke, disorienting relations of depth and scale. A cactus in The Simple Life (2018) towers over the sunrise-pink horizon, while sacks of “100% natural” flour and sugar press up against the frame, nearly spilling into the space of the viewer. In The Longest Ride (2018), the backside of a wagon plunges into a dark abyss. Stahl’s photographs continue the playful critique of Prayer Wheel by conjuring the notion of “manifest destiny,” the nineteenth-century exceptionalist agenda that justified the spatial and economic expansion of America westward as a divine mission. The photographs’ lustrous sheen reflects the viewer, capturing our complicit belief in fictions of freedom that surreptitiously operate on the basis of territory control and commodification.

Amarillo Quality Beef 2015 (2018), a series of documentary photographs on the mezzanine level, shows images of fenced-in cows on the titular Texan cattle farm, and the hazy blur of farm lights in the dark night. The shift of genre, from the constructed scans to documentary photographs, compounds the affective force of the American dream’s dystopian underside: the effacement of life under the marketable slogan of “quality.” Stahl’s exhibition does not propose an alternative to the cultural narrative that it critiques. But it nonetheless maintains that the fantasy of the good life is, like the oil it runs on and worships—crude.

by Carlos D. Kong

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