January 17, 2012
I’ve seen some interesting, and a lot of not so interesting, art in the past week. Here’s a selection of things I recommend or that I think warrant comment:
- Be sure to make your way to “Heroic Africans” at the Metropolitan, a gorgeous exhibit of the sculptural traditions of African peoples as they have developed throughout the centuries, from the pre-colonial period in which indigenous communities were blissfuly free of European infouence through to the current era. The statues from the Benin and Democratic Republic of Congo areas are especially remarkable. Tremendous stuff.
- The French-born, Spanish photographer Pierre Gonnord is currently enjoying his first exhibit in the United States. Relatos, an extraordinary collection of portraits capturing Europe’s marginalized individuals is showing at Hasted Kraeutler until February 4. Gonnord’s ambitions are hardly modest–his work clearly seeks to match the dramatic portraiture of the Dutch masters, Rembrandt chief among them. A must see.
- At MoMA, a powerful retrospective of the Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic‘s work is on view. Ivekovic multimedia offerings explore the complexities of of gender politics and power in a society transitioning away from a recent tradition of socialism. At the heart of the exhibit stands the dramatic “Lady Rosa of Luxembourg” installation, a gigantic monument mocking the Gelle Fra monument honoring Luxembourgers killed during the first world war. In addition, there are collages, films, and an installation piece scattered throughout the galleries highlighting the United States’ failure to ratify the international Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDaW).
- At Barbara Gladstone, the photographer Shirin Neshat’s marvelous “Book of Kings” series of portraits is not to be missed. As the gallery’s press release explains, the photos are “named after the ancient book Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a long poem of epic tragedies written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c. 977 and 1010 AD. Shahnameh retells the mythical and historical past of Greater Iran from the creation of the world until the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th Century. Divided into three groups—the Masses, the Patriots, and the Villains—Neshat’s portraits of Iranian and Arab youth comprise black and white photographs with meticulously executed calligraphic texts and drawings inscribed over each subject’s face and body. These texts and illustrations—drawn from Shahnameh as well as from contemporary poetry by Iranian writers and prisoners—both obscure and illuminate the subjects’ facial expressions and emotive intensity, intimately linking the current energy of contemporary Iran with its mythical and historical past. In this arresting body of work, Neshat returns to the confrontational nature of her iconic Women of Allah series, while re-focusing on themes of revolution and the bold-faced defiance of youth.” In addition to the portraits, Neshat’s three-panel film, a gorgeous black-and-white rendering of a musical performance of a Rumi poem, is enthralling.
- Seeing one of the installments of Damien Hirst‘s “Complete Spot Paintings” at Gagosian–which has dedicated all its galleries world-wide to a transnational megaexhibit of the colored dots–confirms my view that the artist is brilliant. Not at making art, mind you, but at making people want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on the crap he churns out. Still, there was something lovely about walking into the main gallery and being surrounded on all sides by the colorful spots–much as I imagine it would be like wandering inside a gigantic Wonder Bread bag. And if you really like the stuff, Gagosian will be all too happy to sell you an $500 plastic clock with Hirst’s patented spots in place of the numbers. Like I said: Brilliant.
- Finally, Ai Wei Wei’s magnificent “Sunflower Seeds” installation piece has been recreated, although with many fewer of the original 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds, at Mary Boone. Contrary to its original intention, crowds are warned not to touch the piece in Chelsea, though it still makes a profound impression on the imagination, especially in the confines of the magnificent space Mary Boone currently inhabits. For a glimpse into the process of making the thing, check out this video documenting the years-long journey to realization.