Review /

Reena Spaulings Matthew Marks Gallery / Los Angeles

Seascape (2014) is a Turner riff at Water Lilies scale, painted by a robotic mop. One can mostly appreciate this grand work from close up, where indeed the turbulent hues separate into “mop strokes” of uniform size. Try to see the whole painting straight on, however, at a distance, and the exhibition’s titular “male gates” invade the view: Gate 1 through Gate 5, a series of five paintings on metal detectors. Their treatments range from a beige monochrome to high-energy sprays of high-gloss enamel — all accent colors, without compliments.

Walking through the detectors is an almost harrowing moment of viewership. They’re not on, no officers wave you through, no alarms go off, but the glossy panels press in close; you can see your reflection in their sheen, and you can smell the new paint. From across the room, a series of smaller paintings (Medusas, 2018) seem to nestle inside the metal detectors’ arches: clattering pointillist renderings of clichés like a Mickey Mouse water tower or a leering skull. The points are bold, but the paintings tend toward noise and gruel.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo’s Gates (2005) decked central park months after Reena Spaulings opened their New York gallery. Tourists and locals alike queued slowly, rain or shine, beneath the orange flagged structures, a more optimistic version of the gates through which visitors to JFK, LGA, and the 9/11 museum must pass. In Tai-Chi and other “energy work,” the body’s gates regulate the flow of qi — much like, on another scale, checkpoints regulate the flow of bodies, subtle and otherwise. Looking at these expressive paintings, framed by deadpan gates, the dominant “emotion” is exhaustion. It is the pristine exhaustion of the international artist (Reena or her incorporated parts) who finds herself at a loss, creatively blocked, on line at airport security. These slow gates are the sphincter at the end of the fluorescent, intestinal queue; the longer she fixates on this point, the more that deeper prison starts to seem like a fresh way out.

by Travis Diehl

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Apostolos Georgiou Rodeo / London

Little is known of writer Peter Zabelskis. In 1986, Slate Press published his Loop: 50 Ideas for Pictures. These loops are peephole preliminaries for an absent narrative center: each remains phlegmatic as Zabelskis gestures toward tension, perfunctory absurdity, or cliché tragedy. For instance: “A shabby motel whose owner, whenever a murder or suicide occurs in one of the cabins, cuts a back door into the room as soon as the police investigation is over.” In another, the marbelized cover of a composition book reveals words that swirl into prose but don’t linger “long enough to be read.” The cover is only ever a primer, Zabelskis confirms: “Inside is something completely different. Let’s look…”

Of course, we never see. But Apostolos Georgiou’s paintings suitably deliver on Zabelskis’s cue. They are interiors to the author’s deftly executed keyholes: settings without introduction, living rooms without a welcoming entrance. In his scenes, lachrymose minds stoop as narrative skulks, either bruised by outburst or wallowing in its aftermath like a ripe contusion. Action appears habitual and despairing, at times absurd, radiating coolly from tepid mobilizers: fists, rifles, unoccupied pillows, hunched postures. The powdery palette of plum, taupe, brown, and mint green is uniformly suave, like a funereal fistful of black calla lilies.

I think: you look like you killed a man. In Untitled (2000) he sits, knee to chest, atop a charcoal mattress beside a lamp glowing with emotion. His face: when anxiety and dread reduce to stoicism. The brushwork is graphic and blocky. His shoulder catches a nectarine-hued highlight. Isolated, he looks like a man containing aftershock, swallowing the tectonic consequences, moving on. The patina of the wall is layered with sequences from pale pink and lilac to a spectral buttercup yellow. Embalmed, the colors illuminate the wall — the most lavish feature of the room.

Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2000
Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Rodeo, London. Photography by Plastiques.

Spaces are mostly vacant, lending Georgiou’s figures a theatrical aplomb that seems to relish distraction in moments of rickety slapstick. Two people teeter on Mücke Melder-esque chairs, their ankles shaking. The rhythm feels percussive and brassy, reminiscent of Cathy Berberian’s zany onomatopoeia in Stripsody (1966). These rooms are a woozy mind where behavior is torpid yet barbed by emotional gravitas: a woman spoon-feeds a man on her lap; another soothes a man as he crawls over her like a sartorial schlub. He could be writhing in agony. These are places of proclamation, explosion, and seclusion; places between papers, beds, desks, chairs; between servility, solidarity, and dominion. Domestic or institutional, the environment blends salon, asylum, and sanctuary: where the psyche may obsess or decay. So often it seems these people wrestle their inner saboteur or reckon with past humiliations: a woman stands at a wooden lectern, a leader, whose own corpse lies in front of her.

Stilted by melodrama, Georgiou’s evocation of gallantry soon buckles, with glowering sadism slinking at its edges. Icons become specious lumber, thickset with hoodwinking tricks. Color is a low-pressure headache, its sultry quality numbing and imprisoning as though these actants sit between the emotional impasse of inevitability and the anticipation of looming change, between serenity and melancholy, total defeat and deliverance. The legibility of sincerity or revenge is never realized; rather, for Georgiou, they feel like two masks for one plucky harlequin.

This brings into question the title, “From My Heart. A tired idiom, to mention “my heart” is to sow a challenge in its very words; the loaded symbol petrifies into a heavy-handed burden. One can weaponize my heart, bewitch it as a tool for manipulation. It is hard to accept the heart at face value, and Georgiou gives us an escape clause from this core ambivalence, carving out the back door.

by Alex Bennett

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Friend of a Friend 2018 / Warsaw

Polish art continues to flourish with artists like Katarzyna Kozyra, Paulina Olowska, Wilhelm Sasnal, and Krzysztof Wodiczko entering a number of prestigious collections around the world. However, there seems to be little enthusiasm from Poland’s local collectors, who instead play their luck with young talent at auction. This spring in Warsaw saw the first edition of Friend of a Friend (FOAF), an alternative to traditional art fairs launched by two galleries, Stereo and Wschód, breathe fresh air into this dichotomous state of affairs.

Fifteen galleries from Europe and North America were welcomed into eight venues during FOAF. Two artists, Sean Mullins and David Flaugher, represented by Lomex in New York and hosted by Piktogram, were honored with the FOAF award, resulting in paintings by Mullins and objects by Flaugher making their way into Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art collection. Most participating galleries were turned into showrooms for their guests. It was only Leto Gallery that surrendered its entire space to Dürst Britt & Mayhew of The Hague, who hosted a solo show of Sybren Renema titled “Lift Off, Land Ahoy!” (shown last year at the Venice Biennial’s Antarctic Pavilion). It was a boon to see international artists displaying their work in Poland for the first time, such as Renaud Jerez, whose departure from sculpture to drawing debuted at Galeria Stereo’s hosting of Crèvecoeur, Paris; alongside recent works by Polish artist Olaf Brzeski at Raster Gallery, who exhibited his distinguished sculptures with their first ever integration of wood.

There were various tendencies presented at FOAF that could formulate a generalized understanding of art within this exchange model, similarly executed by Condo. An example of the event’s ease and spontaneity could perhaps be underlined in the humor and absurdity of works by legendary Czech artist Jiří Kovanda, brought to Piktogram by Prague’s SVIT. Untitled (2018), a can of sardines submerged in a pail of water, captured the same festival spirit that could unleash Warsaw’s potential as an international art hub, despite the challenges of a local art market still in its infancy.

by Agnieszka Sural

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Matthew Lutz-Kinoy Le Consortium / Dijon

Matthew Lutz-Kinoy’s solo exhibition at Le Consortium conflates two places far away in time and space: New York’s Frick Collection, opened to the public in 1935, and the Château de Bellevue, erected in 1750 on the outskirts of Paris for Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour and demolished seventy years later. Lutz-Kinoy’s combo, however, is not purely gratuitous; it has been drawn through the figure of François Boucher, the French Rococo painter who was a protégé of Madame de Pompadour (and indeed decorated her private rooms at the château), and whom Henry Frick voraciously collected.

Lutz-Kinoy’s embrace of the dense ornamental language of the Late Baroque develops into a journey — or better, a promenade — through modes of representation. The artist presents thirteen large-scale paintings and a collection of ceramic objects shown on tatami-cum-plinths. The paintings cover almost the entire wall surface of the single room hosting the exhibition, wrapping the space in a continuous decorative shell. Their subjects include: naked male bodies (either entirely drawn or rendered as silhouettes), flower motives, architectural plans of gardens (indeed, of the park surrounding the Château de Bellevue), color fields, pastoral vignettes involving infants (sometimes quoting Boucher’s paintings in the Frick Collection), trinkets in the shape of exotic animals, gestures reminiscent of the most abstract landscapes of the Chinese literati, and so on.

Because of their enormous scale, many of the canvases were partitioned; their fragmentation, however, enhances the viewer’s experience, echoing both the Rococo affinity for asymmetry and the maze-like design of the giardino all’italiana. The painterly surface becomes itself a garden, a place where the artist’s visual memories are triggered by the cyclicity of seasons and grow into inventions; where the figure-ground optics of figurative painting meet the theatricality of nature mastered by man; where harmony is achieved through extravagance. Standing before the many bodies populating these paintings, it is hard not to translate this agenda to gendered identities; and, in fact, as in Boucher’s bucolic scenes in which children are ambiguously depicted carrying out adult tasks, Lutz-Kinoy’s males — often captured in luscious poses — blend with the exquisite queering function of decoration.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Zoe Leonard Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

“Zoe Leonard: Survey” at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the artist’s first retrospective in a major American museum. The first gallery exudes a longing for nostalgia and remote destinations. The walls display black-and-white photographs taken through a plane window. A queue of blue vintage suitcases, to which the artist keeps adding every year, sits on the floor in the middle of the gallery (1961, 2002).

Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all, 2008, (detail)
Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all, 2008, (detail). Installation view, Dia: Beacon, Beacon, New York, 2008. Collection of the artist; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne. Photograph by Bill Jacobson, New York.

The plain, vintage, dated look of the suitcases may be a metaphor for the lack of novelty that sightseeing offers, the ubiquitousness of our global consumer culture, which we never really abandon. Our dreams are mass marketed. The blue, contrasting with the dramatic black-and-white photos, suggests that color resides in the traveler, rather than the landscape: we carry our dreams hoping to see them manifest. Is that the definition of vacation? This installation is tied to the adjacent gallery’s You see I am here after all (2008), an impressive assemblage composed of about four thousand nearly identical vintage postcards of Niagara Falls. If a postcard is as an achievement (“Hello! I’ve been there!”), the overwhelming quantity here annihilates their naïve purpose: a trophy in a room full of trophies is no longer a trophy. But, as a whole, the assemblage is monumental, emulating the scale of the waterfalls. Human dreams pour into the ether like a colossal water chute. The installation Strange Fruit (1992–1997) presents a collection of fruit skins (banana, orange, lemon, and more) sewed together and decaying before our eyes. Unfortunately, the museum has provided little information about the piece. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s description is more detailed: “‘Strange Fruit began as a means of consolation for the artist after the death of a friend [David Wojnarowicz] but now presents a wide range of possible readings, including a meditation on loss and mortality.” Here the longing for departure takes a much more tragic, fatal sense.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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Taryn Simon: An Occupation of Loss Artangel / London

An Occupation of Loss, artist Taryn Simon’s first performance work, was commissioned by Park Avenue Armory New York and Artangel London. The work unfolded in two chapters: the first in New York in September 2016, and the second in an unfinished London theater located beneath a luxurious yet kitsch residential glass/concrete block on the corner of Islington Green, which felt both urban and unfamiliar. Its three-balustrade circular form, excavated underground, created a somewhat sci-fi setting for mourning rituals acted out by professional mourners, or collaborating artists, suggesting an imaginary bridge between past and future amid uncertainties in our age of individualism.

The Park Avenue Armory is itself a historic brick building of monumental proportions on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. There, the choice to work with Shohei Shigematsu and OMA resulted in a very imposing display, with eleven massive forty-eight-foot-tall concrete pipes displayed in a semicircle, each endowed with a boardwalk aimed at a center point and marked by a passage of light defined by two thin neon columns. The live performance, which lasted around forty-five minutes in both cities, connected each pipe to a mourner, staging what felt like a funeral inside a Brutalist chapel. The mourning ground in London was instead nestled within the existing architecture of the theater with two central light passages — a choice that could be seen as a doubling of the original semi-circular space, and also evocative of the light shafts organized as a tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks in New York, the artist’s hometown.

Simon’s work always allows for an open-ended reading, framed by the painstaking methodology of an anthropologist. In fact, her practice — mostly photographic until An Occupation of Loss — requires extensive cognitive work and research embodied in a carefully designed form. She draws upon found images and their inherent stories, which often have profound implications — cultural, political, economic — as is the case of A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII (2008–11) and Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015).

However, Simon’s subjects are openly decontextualized, a feature that in her transition from photography to performance can suggest dehumanization and displacement. This intent seems affirmed by the featured book on display at the show, which is a collection of paperwork and visa requests for the performers to travel. Each book is site-specific to the two venues, implying the governmental authorship of the artwork based on their approval or refusal of the mourner’s visas. The performance felt at once choreographed and cacophonic, an upside down Tower of Babel with a fragmented humanity gathering to express an insatiable need for belonging during the paying of last respects. Singers and musicians from Greece, Azerbaijan, Armenia, China, Cambodia, and other countries expressed a wide range of laments and exhortations; Ghanaians sobbed while a blind Ecuadorian accordionist set the rhythm. Each of them filled the space with a dense sense of what is inevitability shared across borders and civilizations.

The event felt mysterious and solemn, with a silent crowd of spectators moving from one group of performers to another and lingering between the two neon columns. The artist’s appropriation of ancient and mostly non-Western mourning practices — a recurring trope — is thorny. However, Simon disallows speculation by keeping everything under a rigorous discipline fed by scientific collaborators such as linguists, musicologists, anthropologists, and field workers over an eleven-year time span.

There is currently no archive of collective mourning practices worldwide, which made preparation of the performance arduous but also led Simon toward an unprecedented attempt at creating new taxonomies. Beneath this straightforward framework, An Occupation of Loss calls for an examination into the legacy of a seemingly vanished humanism in post-capitalist society — a missing piece that has been addressed by a number of academics, and more specifically referred to as a “community” — in contrast to rising individuality — by Zygmunt Bauman in Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (2001), and as a “center of gravity” by Charles A. Kupchan in No One’s World: The West, The Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012).

by Sara Dolfi Agostini

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