'A Picture of War is Not War', we read in Hito Steyerl's iconic film November (2004), an essayistic Super 8 film tackling the definition of terrorism constructed around the figure of the artist's best friend Andrea Wolf, who was killed as a terrorist in 1998 in Eastern Anatolia after she joined the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Mixing documentary...
There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...
Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...
Victoria Miro stages a group exhibition by artists concerned with socio-political issues of their day, who question the status quo and the power structures found within societies, and who take the language of protest as a means to explore its potency. Inspired by Alice Neel’s 1936 painting Nazis Murder Jews, the exhibition draws together new and recent works by artists including Doug Aitken, Elmgreen & Dragset, Isaac Julien, Wangechi Mutu, Richard Prince and Sarah Sze amongst others.
The practice of Doug Aitken is most widely recognised as immersive, collaborative and engaged with both the art world and the wider world. This approach results in works in a variety of media such as video, sculpture and photography.
Aitken is perhaps best known for his 'nomadic happening', Station to Station (2013) in which he invited artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Patti Smith and Urs Fischer, amongst others, to participate in a cross-country nine-carriage train ride from New York to California, spontaneously collaborating to create art, food and music along the way. There were nine stops, and a 'happening' (an art-related performance event) occurred at each stop. The train was covered in LED screens; along the way a visual light installation continuously played. The project was intended as an alternative art experience. Instead of being held in a gallery or institution, the art travelled, grew and became a presence in every moment of the artist's life. In 2015, this event recreated itself at the Barbican Centre in the form of Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening. Described as a 'living exhibition', over its month-long existence it played host to more than 100 contemporary artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers and designers.
In late 2016, during his solo exhibition Doug Aitken: Electric Earth (10 September 2016–15 January 2017) at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Aitken installed Underwater Pavilions off the coast of Catalina Island, California. Underwater Pavilions consisted of three hexagon-shaped spheres submerged between five and 50 feet underwater. Viewers had to dive to view the work and could swim both in and around the spheres. The spheres contained panels sculpted from artificial rock and mirror. The mirrored surfaces induced a kaleidoscopic effect; in an interview with The New York Times Aitken remarked on the experience of this effect, 'I could see the ocean floor above me and the sun below me'. The objects' shiny and multifarious surfaces cause them to seem continuously in flux—affected by tides, sunlight, sun, fish and divers. Rather than sculptures or monuments, they are living things. The work is based on Aitken's philosophy that to make art living, one should immerse it in the real world and allow it to experience the flux of nature.
In 2017, Aitken participated in Desert X—the art biennial of Palm Springs, California, featuring 16 artists including Gabriel Kuri, Claudia Comte and Armando Lerma. For the event, Aitken created Mirage—a ranch-style home in Coachella Valley covered on every surface by mirrors. The ranch style of architecture was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by combining Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist architecture and traditional western ranches. After World War II, the style boomed and became a fixture of the Californian landscape. By turning the quintessential Californian architecture into a house of mirrors, Mirage may change with its surrounding nature—blending in but perhaps standing out even more so in the process. In the struggle between the natural and the artificial, the house plays on both sides. Aitken works with the materiality of the suburban west, illustrating the vast power of the landscape and the history of architecture's attempted encroachment upon it.
Jules de Balincourt has lived in the United States since childhood, where his consumption of all-American television seems to have infiltrated his way of thinking. This powerful, hyper-real exposure appears to have made its way into his dynamic and compelling paintings, resulting in heady, high-temperatured works, luscious in oil and saturated colour and often jarring to the viewer.
Amalgamating movements such as Pop art, folk art, figuration and abstraction, de Balincourt brings an array of formal properties into one dreamlike space. Painting on board, the artist rarely works from photographs or images. Instead he uses tools such as stencils, tapes and knives to improvise so that each work turns out unique. In varying sizes, de Balincourt’s formally diverse works are linked through motifs and subject matter that include cityscapes, mise en scènes and formally arranged figures.
Some of de Balincourt’s paintings are abstracted and stylised so that the viewer’s own intuition is brought into play, as with Illuminated (2012). Others such as City Dwellers and Star Seekers (2010) and High and Low (2013) are more figurative but still wholly imaginative, with soft and hazy colours and a slightly warped perspective. De Balincourt’s paintings offer escapism; not only does one lose themselves in the faux-naif brushstrokes and lines, but the scenes invite one to think about the individual figures depicted and their lives, as well as perhaps their relationship to the voyeurism of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
De Balincourt’s paintings often feel incomplete, as if an idea has been presented but its closing argument is yet to be heard. There is a suggestion that something more might be brewing below the surface. Because of this, the viewer’s own response becomes pertinent to finishing the work’s logic.
In 2005, de Balincourt completed his Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College, New York. It was also in New York in 2006 that he founded the alternative art space Starr Space (formerly Starr Street Projects). He ran this space for three years, hosting projects by artists and performers alongside other art events and community programming. Today de Balincourt uses this space as his studio.
Isaac Julien is a multi-award winning British artist and filmmaker based in London. Julien graduated with First Class Honours, Bachelor of Fine Arts in film from Saint Martin’s School of Art, London in 1984. He shot to prominence with his 1989 drama-documentary Looking for Langston. In 1991 his film Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize for best film at the Cannes Film Festival, and he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his films The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999) and Vagabondia (2000). In 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunst Film Biennale in Cologne for his single screen version of Baltimore, and in 2008, he received a special Teddy for a film on Derek Jarman that he collaborated on with Tilda Swinton, called Derek, at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Julien has had multiple solo and group exhibitions around Europe, the United States and Asia. Solo shows at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (2005), MOCA Miami (2005), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2006), the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea – Museu do Chiado, Lisbon, Portugal (2009), Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2011), SESC Pompeia in Brazil (2012).
His film Ten Thousand Waves (2010) went on world tour, and has been on display in over 15 countries, concluding at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2013/14. Informed by his film background, Julien’s gallery and exhibition installations incorporate film, dance, photography, music, theatre, painting and sculpture to break down barriers between different artistic disciplines and form fractured narratives about race, globalization, and representation.
Julien is represented in both public and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern; Centre Pompidou; Guggenheim Collection; Hirshhorn Collection, Albright-Knox; the Irish Museum of Modern Art; the National Museum of Norway; Brandhorst Collection; Fundación Helga de Alvear, Madrid; Goetz Collection; the Louis Vuitton Art Foundation; LUMA Foundation; and the Zeitz Foundation.
Sometimes referred to as the 'princess of polka dots', Yayoi Kusama is widely recognised as one of the best-selling female artists of the 21st century. Her hypnotic, dotty dreamworlds have led to a worldwide museum craze—between 2014 and 2019, more than five million people queued for the artist's exhibitions around the world.
Born into a wealthy but allegedly unhappy family in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, Kusama felt discouraged from creating art by her mother and father. As a child, art-making became an act of rebellion for her. Her training as an artist began at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied nihonga—a form of traditional Japanese painting. However, the artist disagreed with the rigid hierarchy of the genre. In hopes of finding success in the United States, she wrote to painter Georgia O'Keeffe (whose address she had found at the American Embassy in Tokyo) for advice on entering the New York art world. To her surprise, O'Keeffe replied, warning her of the difficulties of working in the city.
In 1958, Yayoi Kusama found the courage to relocate to New York, where she found herself in the thick of the avant-garde movements of the time. Surrounded by Minimalism and Pop art and incorporating elements of both into her work, the artist's critical acclaim is pinned to the 'Infinity Net' series (1958–ongoing) that she began at this time: canvases engulfed by hundreds or thousands of small, colourful loops of paint. In 2014, White No. 28, which belongs to the series, reached USD7.1 million at Christie's.
Yayoi Kusama's artwork has often referred to repetition of form as offering her solace from the traumas she has battled with since her youth. As a young girl, the artist recalls that her mother would ask her to spy on her father and she has referred to the frequently incorporated phallic forms in her work, as seen in her 'Accumulation' series, begun in 1962, as an act of reconciliation with her childhood fears regarding what she might see. 'Accumulation' comprises soft sculptures made of found furniture covered in sewn, white penis forms. Later, the artist would fill entire rooms with these soft forms—such as Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation) (c 1964): a room filled with phallus-covered furniture. The installations that she created in the 1960s were precursors to her best-known infinity rooms of today.
In 1965, mirrors first appeared in Yayoi Kusama's work Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field (1965), in which the floor of a square, mirrored room was covered in a layer of white, stuffed phalluses dotted in red. In recent years, the artist's repetitive dot motifs have spawned a set of infinity mirror-room exhibitions internationally, including Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession, whose worldwide tour reached the biggest global audience for an art exhibition in 2015. In 2017, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC debuted another touring exhibition titled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror. Two-hour queueing times did not dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of visitors, who were granted a brief half-minute slot of solitude within the infinity mirror rooms.
A decline in the artist's mental health in the early 1970s saw her return to Japan. In 1977, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo where she has lived ever since—her studio is located across the road. In 2017, the Yayoi Kusama Museum was founded in Shinjuku Ward and dedicated to her life-long practice, while 2018 marked the release of a Yayoi Kusama documentary, entitled Yayoi Kusama: Infinity. Directed by Heather Lenz, the Yayoi Kusama documentary traces the artist's career, showing her not solely as a product of social media and market success, but an example of perseverance against the odds.
Chris Ofili is best known for his mix of religious and secular elements in work that complicates distinctions between the sacred and the profane. While his paintings and works on paper often comprise an assortment of materials—from paint, gold leaf, resin, glitter and map pins to elements of collage—it is the artist's use of elephant dung that has been the cause of much debate. Ofili's use of the material in The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), along with his depiction of a Black Madonna surrounded by pictures of female genitalia sourced from adult magazines, became the subject of a large controversy. Following its inclusion in the Brooklyn Museum leg of the Sensation exhibition (1999), the work incited condemnation from New York City's then-mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as a series of protests in the United States.
Back home across the Atlantic, Ofili—a member of the Young British Artists (YBAs) alongside figures such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas—was no stranger to controversy, having established himself amidst a milieu of Britain's most contentious art-world agitators. And yet in spite of the controversies Ofili was awarded the Turner Prize in 1998 as a mark of his contribution to contemporary art. He was the first Black artist to win the prestigious award. In 2003 Ofili was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in Italy, where he mounted 'Within Reach'—a suite of paintings set in an immersive kaleidoscopic space designed by the Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
The artist's earlier works—produced during and soon after his student years at Chelsea College of Arts and the Royal College of Art in London—were intricately patterned, vibrantly multi-coloured and textured abstract compositions. His later work, produced from the mid-1990s onwards, marked the creation of his now-signature style of figurative painting, fusing influences from a variety of sources including religious iconography, 'Blaxploitation' cinema, jazz, hip hop, comics, African cave painting (inspired by a trip to Zimbabwe in 1992) and the work of Romantic poet William Blake. Ofili deployed this diverse array of source material alongside his heady mix of media to create complex and challenging images of Blackness in both its contemporary and historical manifestations. As an artist of Nigerian ancestry and a member of the African diaspora, his forays into the intricacies of identity can be read as both a personal meditation and a political commentary.
Following his move to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili created the 'Blue Rider' series, named after the short-lived 20th-century German Expressionist group. Much like its namesake, the series is a synthesis of visual, musical and folk art influences. Ofili's large blue and silver paintings of this period marked a significant change in his practice, seeing him adopt a darker, more pared-back palette, evoking dreamlike scenes set in the moonlit landscapes of his new Caribbean environment.
Chris Ofili's works are represented in prominent collections internationally, including the British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working between Port of Spain, Trinidad; London; and Brooklyn.
Sarah Sze is an American artist known for her intricate installations and taxonomic arrangements, both consisting of everyday objects. A fluid amalgamation of two-dimensional image, sculpture, video, installation and science, Sze's work not only challenges the convention of sculpture as a static object, but also offers a fantastical investigation into the measurement of time and space.
Sze refers to her artworks as experiments, at the centre of which exist investigations into a certain material's context or qualities. In the case of Cotissi—an installation created for Glasstress in 2017 (an official collateral event of that year's Venice Biennale)—the inquiry is into the properties of broken glass. Set in concrete, the glass shards originally set aside for recycling are both scintillating to look at and dangerous, given their jagged edges. In an earlier installation titled Stone Series (2013–5) (part of Sze's solo exhibition organised by Victoria Miro in 2015), the artist arranged a group of rocks on the floor. At first glance, the rocks appear massive and immovable; however, closer inspection reveals them to be lightweight imitations created by covering wire armature with printed boulder-pattern. On the wall, a row of canvases contains the printed textures of the rocks on display, flattening the weight and volume associated with a rock into two dimensions.
Another concern that Sze repeatedly returns to is time, as explored in Still Life with Desk and Calendar Series (both 2013–5). Still Life with Desk is a mixed-media sculpture that seems to have been frozen in a moment of disintegration; an intricate wire structure acts as a desk over which the artist has placed office-related objects including photographs, stationery, takeaway coffee cups, bottled water and potted plants. Some objects have spilled onto the floor, while more appear ready to follow. The spillage on the ground also includes silkscreen prints of newspaper front pages that, while all dated January 1, 2014, were each issued in a different location in a different time zone. In a further attempt to mark various moments in time, Sze replaces the photographs in the prints with pictures of the night sky.
Similarly centred on the passage of time, Calendar Series saw Sze collect 90 front pages of The New York Times. The artists again swapped out the newspaper's photographs, this time for images of nature such as the ocean or a snowscape. Discussing the work in an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Sze recalled the questions that arose while working with time: 'How do you measure either space or time through materials or objects? What is our behaviour in doing that? ... How do we mark time not only physically, but emotionally or psychologically?'
Calendar Series—originally conceived for an exhibition at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2014—later developed an unexpected political dimension, beginning with its acceptance for the 1st Asian Biennial and the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (both 2015) in China. When Chinese authorities requested Sze remove parts of the newspaper that referenced China, the artist responded by painting over them with black acrylic. In 2016, Sze presented another revision of Calendar Series for Protest—a group exhibition at Victoria Miro in London that showcased artists whose works challenge the status quo—in which she obliterated all written content, save for references to China.
In 2016, Sze expanded her interest in ways of measuring time and space with Timekeeper, a tabletop installation that resembles a scientist's den or a writer's desk with its assemblage of objects including mirrors, lamps, stools, stones, alarm clocks with neon numerals and a metronome, among others. For this installation, the artist projected a diverse range of videos onto a myriad of surfaces, illustrating the many forms of time; the footage includes cheetahs running in slow motion, birds in flight and at rest, and water flowing. Displayed inside a darkened room, the installation was a rich landscape of fragmented and kaleidoscopic imagery.
Reminiscent of Timekeeper is Measuring Stick (2015), another tabletop installation that measures time and space through the moving image. Inspired by the film Powers of Ten (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames and its use of the factor of ten to quantify the universe, Measuring Stick combines mathematics and science with art; one of the installation's projections is a live-feed of data from NASA that charts the distance between Voyager 1 and Earth.
Although she is widely recognised for her sculptures, Sze also considers drawing a significant part of her practice for its sense of immediacy and potential to develop into other mediums. Her familiarity with the two-dimensional form stems from her background in painting, graduating with a BA from Yale University in 1991 and an MFA from New York's School of Visual Arts in 1997.
Exhibiting internationally since the late 1990s, Sze has held solo and group exhibitions at Victoria Miro, London (2018, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2009, 2007); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2017); Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2015, 2014, 2010); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2003); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2002); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2002); and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1999) among others. She has participated in the Venice Biennale and its collateral events four times, and in 2013 she represented the United States with Triple Point—an exhibition of interrelated and immersive installations that examined the notion of the compass and our desire to find equilibrium. Her participation in other international group exhibitions includes La Biennale de Lyon (2009), Liverpool Biennial (2008), Whitney Biennial (2000) and Carnegie International (1999). Sze lives and works in New York.
Protest is an exhibition of historical and contemporary works by sixteen artists concerned with the socio-political issues of their day, who question the status quo and the power structures found within societies, and who take the language of protest as a means to explore its potency.
Taking as a starting point Alice Neel’s 1936 painting, Nazis Murder Jews, which depicts a Communist party torchlight parade through the streets of New York City, the exhibition presents historical works in addition to new and recent works by artists who address issues including migration, censorship, struggles for equality and democracy. These do not document protests per se. Rather, through image, composition, gesture, material, form or concept they serve as meditations on contemporary issues or as calls to action – inspiring consideration of possibilities for a life of freedom and unity, an insistence on human rights, and continued dialogue around the immediate social and political issues which confront our global community.
The power of words – slogans, graffiti, signs, newspaper stories – and the interpretive space opened up between their transmission and reception are explored in works such as Homage to the Walls of Athens 1941-19…, 1958, by Vlassis Caniaris (1928 - 2011), a palimpsest of sacking, wax and cloth saturated with whitewash plaster in which we see fragmentary hand-painted letters – including the letter E, for Eleftheria (freedom), for Ellás (Greece), for EAM, the National Liberation Front, the main movement of the Greek Resistance during the Axis occupation during World War II. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s La Rèvolution est un Bloc, 1992 – a wooden block carved with the words of the title and a central aperture reminiscent of a guillotine’s lunette – refers in content and form both to advances in secular democracy and social progress, and the bloodshed and unrest brought about by the French Revolution. Doug Aitken’s Free, 2016– a sculptural text work lined with shattered mirror – takes a single word and, through the actions of light and reflectivity, turns a ‘quick read’ into an endlessly shifting experience. Rirkrit Tiravanija's sculpture untitled 2013 (no no america), features a slogan used in chants and on banners by groups of Shia and Sunni military and civilians in Iraq over the past two decades.
How words are altered by context is a theme shared by Sarah Sze’s Calendar Series, 2013. When elements of the work were rejected by censors ahead of its inclusion in a biennial in China, rather than withdraw Sze created Calendar Series China Revision, 2015, applying strips of black acrylic paint to cover the content proscribed by the censors – all news references to China. For Protest, Sze represents the same New York Times covers, redacting all the written content except for references to China.
An example of his 'eraserhead' works, Christian Holstad’s She Was Fired for Questioning, 2011, introduces 24-carat gold leaf to the newspaper page, embellishing already jarring encounters between hard hitting news stories and advertisements for luxury goods while offering a commentary on ideas of class and status, politics and power that tends towards the surreal. Juxtaposing images of heated demonstrations with erotic or pornographic images, in the series Untitled (protest), 2012 – 2014, Richard Prince finds meaning itself is something to be stymied and subverted as a Dada-esque act of protest.
Borders, boundaries and thresholds are also a focus. Yayoi Kusama’s enveloping sculpture Prisoner’s Door, 1994, places the viewer in a space defined equally by forces of containment and release. The broken structure of Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation Prison Breaking / Powerless Structures, Fig. 333, 2002, imagines a moment of natural or manmade disaster, when the cell becomes physically powerless and the concept of captivity becomes meaningless. Flying above the gallery entrance, Chris Ofili’s Union Black, 2003, is inspired by David Hammons’ African-American Flag, 1990, based on the colours for the pan-African flag suggested by Marcus Garvey: red, black and green for African blood, skin and natural resources.
In Throw, 2016, by Wangechi Mutu, the eruptive gesture of demonstration merges with the (violent) placement of paint on a wall, referring to the languages of action painting and performance as well as to the act of throwing used in defiant protest.
Questions about what art that deals with newsworthy issues, or protests against the suffering of others should look like are asked by Isaac Julien who, in WESTERN UNION: Small Boats (The Leopard), 2007, brings together baroque pageantry and metaphor in a work that, referring to journeys made across the Mediterranean by Asians and Africans trying to enter Europe by sea, experiments with notions of cultural entanglement and the dissent between aesthetics and politics. In the series of works on paper Tell Me Your Thoughts on Police Brutality Miss ‘Spank Me Harder’, 2015, Kara Walker conflates different eras, idioms and attitudes to explore racism, its symbols and legacy from the American Civil War to very recent killings and assaults that have fuelled the Black Lives Matter campaign.
If how we make visible the plight of others and keep their stories debated and alive is one strand of the exhibition, tied up with this are ideas about how we defend and celebrate the freedoms we possess. Wolfgang Tillmans’ photograph NICE HERE: but ever been to KYRGYZSTAN? Free Gender-Expression WORLDWIDE, 2006, highlights the disparity between the growing freedoms enjoyed in progressive countries and worsening or non-existent rights in others. Jules de Balincourt’s painting Study for Idol Hands, 2015, depicts a throng holding aloft banners, each bearing a portrait of a different person – perhaps an “idol” as indicated by the title, though equally one thinks of the banners held aloft by relatives of the missing and disappeared in places such as Chile and Mexico.
For this exhibition, the gallery is proud to be working with a charitable partner, Reprieve, committed human rights defenders who provide free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Subversive humor is at the heart of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s widely divergent contemporary works that often include the transformation of architectural spaces and sculpture. The Scandinavian duo met in the mid-nineties at a nightclub in Copenhagen, lived together for a decade, and still collaborate today from their respective...
Sarah Sze, who represented the United States at the last Venice Biennale, uses a myriad of everyday objects to create site-specific sculptures that are often monumental in size, and always of astonishing intricacy. Daughter of an architect and graduate of painting from Yale, her practice draws on the formal considerations of both architecture...
The students of the School of the Arts in Singapore (SOTA) recently watched in reverent silence as British artist and filmmaker, Isaac Julien played clips from his fifty-minute film, Ten Thousand Waves (2010). The work is representative of the artist’s ability to seamlessly blend fractured narratives into poetic...
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