Review /

Chris Marker Cinémathèque Française / Paris

“Chris Marker. Les 7 vies d’un cinéaste” presented an opportunity to discover or rediscover the French auteur’s multifaceted personality. Adopting a biographical approach, the curators Christine Van Assche, Raymond Bellour, and Jean-Michel Frodon conceived six chronological sections to depict the layered complexity of Marker’s research.

This choice highlighted the influence of World War II on his oeuvre, helping contextualize some lesser-know works and, in light of May 1968, an idea of militant cinema that was and is peerless. However, biographism played no more than an illustrative function when the exhibition itinerary singled out a specific film — La Jetée (1962) for example — or topics based on a constant interplay between “particulars” (publications, artworks, installations, and films) and “universals” (travel, art, war, and memory).

Visitors had the chance to experience the heterogeneity of Markerian production, which encompasses a variety of sources that the creator consistently mastered. In this regard, the central and final sections, “Grande et petites planets” and “Tous les espaces-temps,” likely signaled the climax of the show. The former brought together Marker’s photography, his work as one of the most significant editors at the French publishing house Seuil, and his travel films from that period. In doing so, this section displayed and mapped creative initiatives linked to his initial travels around the world, depicting Marker as a late interpreter of so-called “ethnographic surrealism.” As for the latter section, the intersection was mainly between films and videos — from Sunless (1983) to The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004) — and his media tools and projects, including his cameras, his CD-ROM Immemory (1998), and his software program Dialector 6 (1988).

Alternatively, visitors might identify the core of “Les 7 vies d’un cinéaste” as a portrait of the artist as a modern phoenix, whose life indicates two essential features for those who wish to create contemporary art today: resilience and untimeliness.

by Gianluca Pulsoni

read more
Ways of Eating /

Did I pay my therapy bill the day I went for lunch? Flora Bar / The Met Breuer

I’d never considered the basement lobby of The Met Breuer to be one of Midtown’s great dining rooms before visiting its latest tenant, Flora Bar. But Chef Ignacio Matto and partner Thomas Carter have helped the space reach its potential by, appropriately, leaving Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist building undisturbed.

The room feels spacious and sleek, more like a lounge or terrace, than the elegant concrete dungeon it actually is (notice the entryway resembles a drawbridge and moat). The deceptively approachable menu inspires the same sophisticated nonchalance. Start with an Izu Fizz. This fluorescent cocktail of Ford’s gin, yellow chartreuse, wasabi, egg white, and yuzu tonic, garnished with crushed wasabi peas, helped me, and presumably much of the restaurant’s clientele, forget the office. Except that they quickly left their travails behind them, whereas I was trying to ignore the fact that, in order to even pretend that I could afford this meal, I’d have to tell my accountant it was for work.

Everything on the menu sounds good, which makes it hard to order wrong. So, instead of sampling multiple entrees, I ordered the most expensive appetizer on the menu. (It also happens to cost nearly twice as much as almost everything else, including the wagyu steak). Dainty piles of imperial caviar and crème fraîche are served on a gorgeous scallop shell. All the food is dressed for the occasion, and the well-groomed combination made me think, perhaps for the first time, that I might aspire to call myself a “caviar person.” Thick-cut potato chips accompany the more high-leverage ingredients, and complete the rather illustrious bar snack.

No matter how much I try to silver plate the spoon in my mouth, luxury always feeds me with disappointment. It’s not that my next course of burrata wasn’t good — it was luscious. The bitter crunch of celery brought order to the diaphanous cheese and the plating was simple and unpretentious. And though I wasn’t impressed with the purple endive salad at first, my taste for the yuzu vinaigrette and Bayley Hazen blue cheese quickly grew insatiable — I can still feel the sour pucker of citrus at the back of my throat. God help us, though, if the pyramid of leaves was an homage to the landmark building. I might be a little protective of Breuer’s creation, but the leafy ziggurat came suspiciously close to a tribute.

The reality is, I know what I sacrifice for good food. Did I pay my therapy bill the day I went back for lunch? No. But did I enjoy it? Yes, because sometimes a glass of white wine with a sixty dollar snack is the best — the only — way to take the edge off after fifty minutes of psychoanalysis. The main thing that separates the afternoon from the evening menu is the number of sandwiches. I chose the fried maitake mushroom with spicy mayo. The vegetarian option proved quite lavish. Its delicate ruffles briefly retain their hollow volume — what I imagine eating an entire flower to be like, but in a good way. The bun can barely contain the dynamic textures, though at its core, the maitake has more tooth and, yes, tastes like chicken. The only thing I didn’t like was the chocolate parfait with amarena cherries. I hate to complain, but some kind of savory, crunchy melba chip comes out of nowhere. Next time I’ll just dip a Fudgsicle in a bag of Gardetto’s and save myself the surprise. Whatever, I’ll leave the kvetching to the two old Jewish ladies seated next to me: “L.A.’s no place for treatment. Too hot.” Though dessert would prove to be the prettiest portion of my dinner, you’ll just have to see what I mean when I say that the star of lunch is a rather fetching pickle.

Breuer believed his concrete buildings looked better as they aged, though what makes the old Whitney a masterpiece are the uncanny perspectives it still permits of the neighborhood. I chomped on gristly bits of lamb rib underneath the grandiose windows, and once again appreciated the building’s unique views. Though cut with yogurt and smoky mojo verde, the lamb is quantifiably indulgent. The fat has nearly rendered, and the meat practically falls off the bone. My entrée of lobster and crab dumplings could also be served in a royal court. The seafood was handled delicately, and, served in a clear yuzu broth, the angelic flavors belie hours of sophisticated technique — or contemplation, whichever. I’ll also point out the little mushrooms that float around the broth, but only — and I mean this sincerely — because they’re really cute.

At one time, I’d have craved a cigarette at the end of this meal, but dessert would grant that last flush of intoxication instead. At no more than half an inch tall, the half pink, half cream colored disc comes across more as an object than food. Yet, like a zen koan, the modest combination (and contrast) between rhubarb granita and maple ice cream actually uncovers some libidinal maths. It’s hypnotic, and I’d quickly find myself on Madison Avenue carrying a doggy bag full of gratification.

by Sam Korman

read more
Review /

David Wojnarowicz Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

Death isn’t fair: it reaps randomly but often strikes the most vulnerable — the ostracized, the weak, the defenseless. Those in the mainstream unfortunately often use prejudice to distance themselves from those on the outside, letting them die with a complicit and fearful silence.

In the 1980s under Reagan’s administration, some artists stood up to denounce the injustice caused by AIDS. Why wasn’t it recognized? Why didn’t it engage an immediate response? How was it that it only killed people who “deserved it”? From that anger, a desperate scream for help, compassion, or simple humanity, David Wojnarowicz’s activism attained an incandescent urgency. Using all available techniques — painting, photography, sculpture, film, writing, and performance — he burned to change the conservative status quo of the doxa, although not always with the same message. “History Keeps Me Awake at Night” at the Whitney explores the many facets of a man who dared to put himself at risk on many levels, but also to dream while knowing he was condemned. The lover of photographer Peter Hujar (who encouraged him to embrace his gift for painting) and brother-in-arms to Keith Haring and Allen Ginsberg (see the 1990 documentary Silence = Death by Rosa von Praunheim), Wojnarowicz was at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. He embraced this fatal destiny like a solitary commando, like an uninvited prophet, like a captain on a plane destined to crash. Death was his focus and his material: on the one hand he documented his dying friends (Peter Hujar most notably), and on the other he grasped at life’s lush colors and abundant symbols (see Americans Can’t Deal with Death, 1990, or his “Elements” series from 1987). Visitors to the exhibition will hear his stormy voice throughout, and will be confronted by the hypnotic expressions on his long, emaciated face. His soul and body were the vibrant material of his art, his practice a restless, pounding drum that he would beat more intensely when the mainstream turned away. It was crucial for Wojnarowicz to bring to the public’s attention the reality of illness and suffering, the ease with which culture can be broken, and the high price paid by those shunned by the mainstream. David Wojnarowicz was a Christlike figure who bore in his bones the discriminatory pains of his times, a scapegoat who embodied the deadly consequences of prejudice and intolerance.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

read more
Review /

Lin Tianmiao Rockbund Art Museum / Shanghai

Many of the parts are rudimentary: tools, bones, a garden, a heartbeat. In Lin Tianmiao’s solo show, these constituents of life and of evolution are overwhelmed by ornate technologies.

To monitor one’s pulse in Reaction (2018), visitors follow a strict procedure monitored by gallery staff. The audience must line up, deposit their belongings, and read a sheet of rules before taking their turn inside a white, egg-shaped pod. There, the viewer’s arm is cradled in a device, and the rhythm of their blood becomes synchronized with a sound effect and a throb felt through the floor. Meanwhile blue droplets, formed in a coil of glass, fall into a round pool. The work represents life as an arcane feedback loop.

Day-Dreamer (1999) is similarly baroque in conception. A loom with millions of cotton filaments ties a levitating image of an androgynous figure to a bed. The strands suggest a perversely labor-intensive system for tethering a pure spirit. In High!!! (1999–2018), the artist’s head is projected. Another congregation of fibers stretches from the screen to the back of the gallery. A deep sound, rising in pitch, is so loud it sets the threads twitching and causes a subtle change in the image. The color is drained and, with it, all signs of gender. The residue is more schema than individual.

Lin Tianmiao, My Garden, 2018
Lin Tianmiao, My Garden, 2018. Courtesy of Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.

Occupying an entire floor of the museum, My Garden (2018)  transmogrifies flora and fecundity into a crazy laboratory of monstrous inverted test tubes, up to five meters tall and engraved with Latin botanical names. According to an unknown taxonomy, these are grouped into cylinders covered in pink carpet that continues across the floor. Pumping equipment regularly surges into life, sending green fountains into the tubes.

On a balcony overlooking this scene, a group of one hundred and twenty assemblages make up Loss and Gain (2014). These seem to be the relics of obscure, experimental attempts to hybridize hand tools and biological material. In the narrative of Lin’s exhibition they suggest votive objects in a primordial union with technology, where nature and humanity are merely messy details within inhuman systems.

by Andrew Stooke

read more
Review /

Jean Dubuffet Hauser & Wirth / Zürich

When Hauser & Wirth gave Dr. Sophie Berrebi free reign to curate a monographic Jean Dubuffet exhibition in their Zurich gallery, the urban city became a vehicle: its systems, networks, forms, and inhabitants. Instead of adhering to a chronological organization of the artist’s work, wherein gallery rooms would be sectioned into decades, Berrebi moves with carte blanche. Fifty-five major works on loan from museums, private collections, and the Dubuffet Foundation exemplify the discourse of blurred lines between such institutions, such that the academic achievement of the show often becomes exhaustive, rendering unclear which works are for sale.

Divided into three stages of Paris’s twentieth-century urban development, or Dubuffet’s categorizable interpretations of the city, the works on show in the first room are from the rarely shown, hardly documented Rhéteur au mur period (Orator at the Wall, c. 1945). In Petit Huleur (Little Howler, 1944), the newsboy’s disoriented eyes and downcast blues and yellows are reminiscent of Picasso’s blue period. The first selection of works features individuals distinguished by their blue-collar role within society — drab pedestrians, an orator, and Le Citadin (The City Dweller, 1974), which Berrebi notes appeals to younger palates for its thick lines and street-art squiggles.

Jean Dubuffet, Le citadin (The City Dweller), October 1974
Jean Dubuffet, Le citadin (The City Dweller), October 1974. Collection d’art Renault Photo: Georges Poncet © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

It isn’t until the second section that the urban imagination lets loose. Identity and individuality are lost amid massive Parisian crowds in which faces are unrecognizable, and acrylics take center stage in a nonconformist appeal to the city. “Deskilling” becomes more evident as scribbles spiral across the canvases. In two works both titled Affluence (1961 and 1967), we see distinct faces in a crowd in the first, which in the second iteration become anonymous in the graffiti-like forms of Dubuffet’s “Hourloupe” cycle. The third and final section explores architectural figures — Dubuffet’s desire to advance beyond a salient role in the urban dialogue.

Dubuffet’s Paris is a harsh one. The bourgeois reign seems more postwar than under Haussmann’s renovation of the city in the 1850s, and distinguishes working-class roles into caveman-like figures with blank eyes. Dubuffet is synonymous with Art Brut (or Outsider Art), the term he coined himself in the 1940s to refer to art created without any formal education — welcoming the poor, unwell, and uneducated into the realm of artmaking. While urbanization is very much present, Berrebi emphasizes that the role of the city is not necessarily about figurative representation, or how many rues show up in the titles of works, but rather about using the city as a visual medium for Dubuffet’s thought process and practice. Art Brut is unimaginable without a thriving city, so to exclude Paris in any attempt to understand it and its transgressive energy is futile, and some might say a study on the city’s mid-century pandemonium through the lens of Dubuffet was long overdue. I would be remiss not to mention that it was Switzerland, not France, to whom Dubuffet would voluntarily donate some five thousand of his works, now recognized as the Collection de l’Art Brut.

Berrebi’s interpretation and guided visit is very much sociological, a highly researched tour through postwar Paris that would have urban planning enthusiasts in awe. On occasion of the show, Berrebi published an extensive publication on Dubuffet titled Dubuffet and the City (Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018). It is recommended reading.

by Bana Bissat

read more
In Residence /

Constructive Gal

In the aftermath of organizing an unrealized exhibition at artist-run institution Odium Fati in San Francisco, K.r.m. Mooney offers a set of relations between figures. These six installments, contributed to Flash Art’s “In Residence” column, are a means for the artist to pursue the significance of each context-specific practice and the potential actions, kinships, and alignments between these figures.

The first twenty seconds of Yute Cine’s film consist of varying hues of green, gray, brown, and black. These tonal variants form squares, their skittish movement panning left and right across the frame. A digital camouflage slowly enrolls one’s recognition, initiating the film as a process of distillation observed by the viewer. The title of the video flashes entry while moving into the first frame depicting the sole human figure in the video, the titular Constructive Gal (2017). Although she is alone, various sonic events, including bio-acoustic participants such as birds and insects in vocal performance and the quiet cracking and shifting of twigs and soft earth underneath, are co-present. Constructive Gal takes place in a forest. In time, a quiescent voice initiates a soft and slightly metrical narration: I was never taught that putting things into perspective gives you a better grip on life. I was just always taught to gather irregular patterns and make them match up regardless of how hard it was, because that’s what real warriors were meant to do. Sharpening thoughts and making sense of each one always seemed to be a skill of mine. To be able to cipher the not sited, and constantly be on the edge waiting for it to finally come out of its hiding.

Like the pursuit of camouflage, various participants in Constructive Gal, human and nonhuman, lose their borders. The language and corporeal interfacing in Constructive Gal’s environment continues to oscillate between abstraction and conceptual schema — an intimation toward agency and space through an opening out of forms, and reflecting on the capillary and personal relations between that which is seen and that which is known. Constructive Gal is a modularization of Yute Cine’s larger practice, which sound frequency and vibration in particular illuminates. As Constructive Gal moves forward in its five-minute duration, the cinematic frame typically blurs and fractions off parts of the body. Only until she gathers materials and arranges them into a demarcation do we see her whole. Gently setting down three sections of wood on the forest floor, Constructive Gal gathers a structure just large enough for her body. She crosses her legs and folds them in before she sits. This is not to establish clear reciprocal terms but rather a kind of taking in: a will to blend into one’s surroundings, to be absorbed into space by performing one’s “distinction” from it.

Natural light filters in while various sonorous involvements play out; the score that accompanies Constructive Gal most dominantly includes a concussive idiophone, a hollow steel instrument with a bell-like tone historically fashioned out of the concave end of a propane tank. Adopting a common practice while inhabiting the woods, there are two times when materials are ignited. The viewer witnesses tones plucked on an mbira, which behave like instances of combustion: both illuminate the beauty of the film while hinging on their dissipative status. The environment in which Constructive Gal makes her world requires an attention to various material and acoustic properties both found and produced within a set of given conditions. It is a meditation on relations between the body and the environment, subjectivity, and spatiality.

K.r.m. Mooney is an artist living and working in Oakland, California.

Previous installments:
If It Need Be Termed Surrender
The Spear Verses the Net
An End in Itself
The Bottle, The Net, The Shell, The Clay Pot

read more