How can you recognize whether an exhibition is prestige contemporary art or just momentary buzz?
We take the advice of New York Times chief art critic Roberta Smith who champions “looking, looking and more looking” trying to listen to our own reactions and understand them. We often have a first impression that changes over time, things that are stunning at first can lose their luster. The word “taste” is problematic on many levels, as the current edition of Documenta reminds us, we must approach art first in a state of “unlearning,” willing fully to challenge our preconceived notions of “taste.” (It's not “my taste” can too often be an excuse.)
Yet it is simultaneously our responsibility to build our taste and to dig deeper learning first hand about the artwork, artist, movements, ideas and dialectics of what we are experiencing in an exhibition. Perhaps the most important trope is referencing art history, either to add rooms to the mansion of the canon or to break away from it entirely. We cannot depend on master narratives (there are no “masters”) or second-hand information; we must learn to educate ourselves from the primary material.
In the global art world there are some surefire ways an exhibition can signal its importance and among them are sophistication, complexity, and dare we say it, beauty. Here we try to give a mode of entry for first-time collectors but also insight for those seasoned in the art world. This is a roundup of five shows that share a depth of lasting power; they are not simply mass-market appeal even if some are very popular.
Korakrit Arunanondchai at Clearing, New York
Bangkok-raised artist Korakrit Arunanondchai is a rising star, one of the so-called 89plus artists from Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets, bringing his Thai roots along with questions of self-representation in a time of cultural tourism to the global art scene. His current exhibition “with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4” is part of his ongoing series begun in 2013, which draws connections between the history of Western modern art to the shift in global commerce. The first video featured American artists juxtaposed with Thai youth in blue jeans. Denim has become a leitmotif of Arunanondchai ironically referring to himself as the “denim painter.”
This single artwork show is a big mess neatly divided into three parts. First, the 30-minute video tackling the history of post-colonialism, globalization, spirituality, reincarnation, and ancestors is worth every minute. The work explores the cyclical nature of life and memory. In the next room, we are then emerged in a psycho futuristic queer dystopia garden. It strongly contrasts with the last room, reverently displaying of his grandmother's artworks, belongings and including a pile of Thai tabloid magazines linking her forgotten ties to royalty. This huge and maximalist spectacle, in the right spirit, addresses today's most urgent political issues in a fresh way.
CLEARING, 396 Johnson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11206
Yu Honglei at Carl Kostyál, London
Any emerging collector must join the cross-cultural dialog of artists from the same generation. As art movements are not limited by national borders, yet where an artist is from intimately shapes who they are. The best place to start is to visit a globally minded gallery like Carl Kostyal. The current show of Beijing-based Yu Honglei, who is one of the most exciting artists working anywhere today. He is considered a future great from Art Review falling into the hip post-80s category, exploring the internet, new surrealism, science fiction, time and space travel, cyborgs, image databases and rapidly changing Chinese cities.
He reveals the poetry that exists under the surface of everyday objects. Showing large serial relief panels (made from cast neon green and blue poly-putty) featuring life-size (referencing traditional Chinese art) cranes with long gesturing necks. Each panel is coupled with a bath sprinkler covered by beautiful beaded curtains that match the neon color exactly and his so-called “futuristic superstore pallets” with figures. He explores many art historical references (including quoting work of modernist artists) in a semiotics move of matching of the “signifier” (the material form = what is seen) and the “signified” (the mental concept = it’s meaning) – important need to know art terms. Yet his work which is singular and visually imaginative can be appreciated with an empty open mind for its pure beauty.
Carl Kostyál, 12a Savile Row, London, W1S 3PQ
Yuri Pattison at Kevin Space, Vienna
We have featured Yuri Pattison in our Top 10 Shows during his solo at London’s Chisenhale, and now he presents a brand new commission, “Citizens of Nowhere” at one of Vienna’s coolest venues: Kevin Space. His first ever show in Austria continues his deep investigation into the complex construction of national and global identities (Pattison himself is complicatedly born in EU member-state Ireland but lives in post-Brexit London) through the technology that surrounds us.
His video is embedded in an immersive architecture bringing together physical space and screen space. We live so much of our lives on screens that shape who we are. Filming in the Japanese theme park Tobu World in Tinugawa the camera moves through the 1:30 scale modes of famous sites around the world. The video moves through a perspective of a global tourist and the installation itself contains white and chrome designer furniture that aims to create private space within the public realm. However, we experience these boundaries collapse when we realize: it is a work chair (reminding us that we are constantly workers even in our private time).
Kevin Space, Volkertstrasse 17, 1020 Vienna
Susan Hiller at Pérez Art Museum, Miami
Susan Hiller is among the most influential artists in the long history of immersive video art. This new commission, “Lost and Found,” makes its debut in her home city of Miami. A variation of this exact work is prominently featured in Documenta 14 and perfectly embodies a paradigm shift in the art world of valuing sound, performance, written and spoken words as equal to the visual. Across an all black screen cuts a single oscilloscopic green line that vibrates with the sound waves illustrating (and making visual) the sound of the speaking voice.
Weaving together a video from the archive of 23 different languages, many now endangered or extinct including Aramaic, Comanche, Livonian. The language itself is the subject of the work as we hear stories, songs, memories and at times the last recordings of a language that dies when the speaker passes away. Translations appear as subtitles below the never broken green line revealing the most human experiences are shared across time and space in the vibrating voice itself.
Peréz Art Museum, 1103 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132
Donna Huanca at Travesia Cuatro, Madrid
An important language among young artists seems to be the body covered in paint in a very performative chaotic mess. It is a vision that collapses painting and performance into something that is symbiotically more. When it comes to artists working with beautiful models in bodypaint, sex objects, and rituals, Donna Huanca is among the best. Her work incorporates elaborate architectural and design objects, including vibrating pedestals, acrylic structures, and labyrinths (an ancient symbol that has taken on especially important meaning in the contemporary digital moment).
Recalling childhood trips to her parents home of Bolivia for the Urkupiña festival, a fusion of Catholic and Andean rituals that fused music, dance and richly colored costumes, her work is maximalist in all the best ways. The final art objects are more than indexes of the actions the models took – they are not just body prints on canvas or photographic recordings of what happened. Instead of documenting the performances, as was common in early performance art, her work is in dialog with the history of painting (referencing among others the conceptual master Yves Klein). Each final painting contains the materials that covered or clothed the body of the models: paint, leather, latex, or transparent materials of "false protection." Her works go deeper than the surface as she metaphorically imbues materials for internal healing: balms, clay, turmeric, coffee or bondage toys.
Travesia Cuatro, Calle de San Mateo 16, 28004 Madrid
– Justin Polera