Summer is finally here and with it the usual companions of high temperatures: sunburns, long evenings, photos of your nemesis looking great on some exquisite Mediterranean beach and of course, plenty of group shows. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that three of the five exhibitions we’ve selected for you this month fall under that category; many more are on view around the globe, as browsing through our app will prove. As so many of us collectively decide to expose our bodies to scorching heat and UV rays, let’s not forget that cooling it off surrounded by great art can be quite a refreshing change from voluntarily turning into a human bratwurst. Without further ado, here are our picks for the five shows you should still catch in July
1. Made in L.A. at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
“Made in L.A.” is a somewhat tricky biennial, to begin with. Its contextual premise – solely including artists who live and work in Los Angeles – is per sequite debatable, in times of both yuppy-esque nomadism and hysterical tendencies to wall up territories. Curators Anne Ellegood and Erin Christovale are, of course, very conscious of that contradiction, and have been refreshingly subtle and smart in their choice of artists. Most of them are preoccupied with similar dilemmas, and it’s hard to pick standouts, as it appears that the curators also know quite a bit about balance. Whether in Luchita Hurtado’s reflections on womanhood, Gelare Khoshgozaran’s deconstruction of Middle-Eastern fantasies, Diedrick Brackens’ exploration of African-American identity and in the other 29 positions on view, intellectual intuition and thoughtfulness reign. As a result, this year’s edition of “Made in L.A.” manages to reconcile unpretentiousness with ambition: through different tactics, it stays grounded while shedding light on what you might call “the bigger picture.”
Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90024
2. Lin May Saeed at Studio Voltaire, London
In her first-ever institutional exhibition, German artist Lin May Saeed delves on humankind’s manifold relationships to animals. The works in “Biene” (Bee) – as the show is titled – strike as pleasantly unfashionable: Saeed doesn’t use or abuse references, trendy aesthetics or obscure sources. Instead, she relies on the viewer’s intuition, and the subconscious associations they might have. These may stem from one’s personal background: depending on your origin, your beliefs or your politics, you might consider what you’re looking at as a symbol of threat, curiosity or love. Freedom and oppression are also central to Saeed’s practice: the looming danger of confinement and the option to escape it are recurring motifs here. On a wall, a lobster appears entangled in a metal net, parts of which are already severed – perhaps by the animal itself, or some external benefactor? On the floor, four wild animals stand on plinths reminiscent of cages, as if they’d triumphed over the unnatural concept of incarceration. Plus, the materials used by the artist give her works an aura of unfinishedness; consequently, it allows those who look at it to play with the idea of contextual and physical malleability.
Studio Voltaire, 1A Nelson's Row, London SW4 7JR
3. Vile Bodies at Michael Werner, London and New York
The summer group show is an almost necessary exercise for this world’s commercial galleries. Michael Werner decided to present theirs in both spaces, and so you must fly from London to NYC, or vice-versa, to grasp it in its entirety. The title, “Vile Bodies,” is a rather obvious hint at what you can expect. God knows the world has had its share of exhibitions exploring, kneading, deconstructing, redefining or analyzing the (human) body. The gallery manages to keep the topic interesting thanks to surprisingly intimate, and often outstanding works by some of the 20th and 21st century's most prestigious artists: Jean Arp, Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Otto Dix, Peter Doig, Henri Laurens, Jörg Immendorff, and Francis Picabia are only some of the giants included. It appears the show looks at the richness that arises from bodies fighting the canon, or how artists’ hyper-subjective, non-traditional take on art history’s most beloved topic has given their practice a refreshing, if not salutatory kick. We can’t leave our incomprehension to see a show sporting so many nudes devoid of any female position unmentioned, but that shan’t diminish the exceptional quality of the works on view.
4. Make me look beautiful, Madame d’Ora! at Leopold Museum, Vienna
“Beauty has many facets” seems to be the subliminal message of this outstanding exhibition at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. Dora Kallmus, who photographed Vienna’s rich and famous towards the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire, seemed thirsty to explore them all. Starting as a high-society portraitist and fashion photographer and better known under her pseudonym Madame d’Ora, she spent World War II in hiding in Paris. Shaken to her core by the crimes that took place during this barbaric period, she gradually embraced a more naturalistic and documentarian style, shifting her attention to more somber subjects, though without neglecting the glamorous portraits of actresses, ballerinas and aristocrats she’d become famous for. What’s striking in this little-known oeuvre is an almost revolutionary absence of aesthetic hierarchies: Madame d’Ora gave as much attention to the jewels of a Hungarian duchess in 1916 as to the melancholic eyes on a cow’s severed head in 1954. In the end, the viewers will witness a show where Eros and Thanatos don’t conflict but accompany them hand in hand, which actually seems like a quintessentially Viennese attitude towards life and art.
Leopold Museum, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna
5. New North Zurich
Public art can be dull, all too populistic or leave those who perceive it filled with incomprehension. It seems, in fact, more complicated to be successful in a context where one cannot count on the advantages of the white cube or the museum-goer’s clemency. In Zurich, 44 projects by 40 artists currently aim to convince audiences of the opposite: that public art can be challenging, intelligent and provocative without verging on the obvious. This group show of sorts, titled “New North Zurich” (Neuer Norden Zürich), predominantly takes place in the city’s northern neighborhoods and underscores the impact of urban change – whether in terms of population, architecture or wealth – on the lives of those who evolve in these environments. The list of artists is impressive, and perhaps an exciting indication of the importance given by the city to contemporary art. Famed protagonists such as Lawrence Wiener, Fischli/Weiss, Alfredo Jaar and Olivier Mosset are part of it, but so are exciting younger positions like Jean-Marie Appriou, Katinka Bock, Manaf Halbouni, and Peles Empire. The works range from sound installations to wall texts and massive sculptures; seeing them all might prove to be quite a walk, but thankfully Summer in Zurich usually comes with a refreshing dip into the lake or the River Limmat at some point.
Different venues in the public areas of Zurich North
– Karim Crippa