2019 Art Exhibition

Harmolodic Ingenuity: David Hammons Marks an Immersive Return to Los Angeles at Hauser & Wirth

By George Melrod

David Hammons does things on his own terms. Even for an artist, he’s made a trademark of elusiveness. He doesn’t show up at his openings. Not that he has a surfeit of them: by now, any exhibition by Hammons is a significant event. But a show in Los Angeles is a once-in-45-years happening. Hammons, who was born in Springfield, Illinois, and spent much of his career in New York (and who is a longtime friend of this publication), lived in Los Angeles for a crucial decade at the outset of his artistic career, starting in 1963 when he was 20. So you know the place has got to hold a special resonance for him. In his new exhibition in Los Angeles, at Hauser & Wirth Gallery (running May 18 – August 10), Hammons returns triumphantly to his old stomping grounds with a cornucopia of works both recent and historic. As one might guess, he makes his West Coast re-entry with his well-known penchant for subversive conceptualism, racial identity, sociological critique, and material mischief firmly intact.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

For someone who has always had a kind of disdain for the art world – “The art audience is the worst audience in the world,” he once stated, in an interview with Kellie Jones. “It’s overly educated, it’s conservative, it’s put to criticism, not to understand and it never has any fun! Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? That’s like going into a lion’s den…” – and who wields his identity politics like a razor, the fact is, Hammons manages to bring an awful lot of joy to his art-making. Despite his affinity for Duchamp and Arte Povera, his works draw not from the thin recycled ether of art history but, emphatically, from the real world around him, from its textures and materiality, its issues and its emblems. His ready-made materials have famously included the detritus of African-American life, from bottles of Thunderbird to snippets of hair culled from African-American barber shops. He draws meaning from the lone quixotic gesture and loaded allegorical icon. To trot out another telltale Hammons quote, “outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.” Which is to say, although he may act like a cool cat, he’s always been playing with fire. But he’s clearly playing, too.

And despite the numerous ironies, that stance clearly works for him. Remarkably, he’s not attached to any one gallery. In 2016, he had a five-decade retrospective at Mnuchin Gallery, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. During the show’s run, a stone “head” bedecked with neatly cropped black hair was pulled for auction at Christie’s, where it sold for over $1 million. That number still pales next to the record high of his glass crystal basketball hoop adorned with chandeliers, which sold for $8 million in 2013, putting him among the top ten priciest living American artists. That’s quite a journey for a dogged iconoclast who has embraced not just distressed found materials but the iconography of civil rights and Black identity, and earlier in his career sold snowballs and doll’s shoes on the sidewalk to engage with random passers-by.

Despite his claim “I never, ever liked art, ever,” the Los Angeles art scene of the ‘60s must have been invigorating for Hammons. From 1966-68, he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (later to become CalArts), where he first experimented doing body prints, using greased margarine; from 1968-72 he took classes at Otis, and studied with Charles White (whose own knock-out retrospective exhibition is currently on view at LACMA). While in LA, he forged relationships with artists such as sculptors Senga Nengudi and Betye Saar, with whom he shares various totemic and appropriative impulses (who will be subject of her own solo MOMA show this fall), and Noah Purifoy (subject of a wonderful 2015 retrospective at LACMA titled “Junk Dada”), an influential artist and organizer, and co-founder of the Watts Towers Art Center.

In 1971, Hammons showed his body prints at the Brockman Gallery in Leimert Park, and was featured in a three-person show at LACMA organized by the museum’s Black Arts Council, alongside Charles White and Timothy Washington. By then, Hammons was already employing forceful symbolic imagery, in one work showing Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale bound and gagged, and framed by an American flag; in another, titled Spade, creating a visual pun of a racist epithet. Some of these early works can be seen in an exhibition now on view at The Broad Museum, not far from Hauser & Wirth in Downtown Los Angeles, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Yet even after he moved to New York, he continued to visit Los Angeles, staging art events, sharing a studio with Nengudi. His last official show here was in 1974.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Sprawling over several large galleries and the building’s central courtyard, encompassing both new works and a smattering of greatest hits, Hammons’ new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth is considerably more massive than the delicate installation of hair and wire that he set out, like a row of cattails, along the edge of Venice Beach in 1977. The build-up to the show was at once secretive and highly anticipatory. Even the press release is enticingly evasive, just a one-page flow-chart of scribbled lines, like an abstracted musical score, with the text “This exhibition is dedicated to Ornette Coleman, Harmolodic Thinker,” an allusion to Coleman’s innovative philosophy of free jazz. Although Hammons has long admired (and emulated) the detached attitude and experimental rigor of jazz musicians, his dedication to Coleman is notable, as if to explain that it’s not the notes themselves, it’s the idea behind them. As part of the homage, the show features two outfits worn by Coleman, which stand amid the artworks in clear plastic tubes, exuding the lustrous presence of vintage royal robes. One is gold, the other, a lush teal, black and magenta grid, like a shimmering sartorial riff on Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.

At the press opening for the sprawling exhibition, Hauser & Wirth partner and Vice President Marc Payot explained gleefully: “It’s very much his universe. The show is free-floating between recent pieces and historic. David... worked years to put this together,” he added. “It’s all him.” In an email exchange afterward, Payot described the process of working with the artist on the exhibition. “Hammons really is like a master jazz musician,” he observes. “He makes work that is incredibly precise, but also improvisational and always multi-layered. And that approach extends into how he addresses the space where his work appears. So it made total sense that he would be in command of the work on site, and place it as he saw fit, in real time. For us it was natural to have the artist work on site and determine which things would be presented, and how. Like Ornette Coleman, to whom David has dedicated his show, he’s a ‘harmolodic thinker.’”

So what exactly does the show contain? Quite a lot. Among the classic works are one of his signature stone heads, that is an oblong stone affixed with short black hair, along with photos documenting the African American barber giving it a haircut. There are several African masks, one with its protruding sculpted hair sanded down, displayed with the resulting sawdust (and a comb), another splashed with orange paint and titled, in a typical dark pun, Orange is the New Black. On the subject of puns and hair, there is a plush chaise lounge, bedecked with snippets of black hair, titled Hair Relaxer. One room offers a half dozen of Hammons’ repurposed fur coats, assembled as if in conference; the onetime status symbols (and animal pelts) are smeared with crude expressionist splotches of pink, lavender or yellow paint, or visibly charred; transformed from agents of one type of cultural value system to another. A looming, orange-painted mask hovers behind one of them, like a backpack or a pair of wings, or a menacing shadow.

On one wall is a set of photos documenting various historical works, among them a trio of battered fur coats splayed out on tree branches, a group of “toilet trees” in which he affixed Duchampian urinals to tree trunks, and a New York City subway gate that’s been adorned with condoms (titled, musically, Four Beats to the Bar). In one image, a pile of art books is stacked like a jack beneath a vandalized urban car that is missing its wheel. Just how useful is art history, he seems to ask. A similar concept animates one of the largest current installations in the show, a room of vividly arcane scales each set with a stack of art history books, on figures like Goya, Munch and Serra, as if to quantify the aesthetic knowledge and value contained within.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Particularly noteworthy, and amusing, is a shelf holding a bowl of water, ostensibly snowball residue from his famous 1983 action in which he sold snowballs to random pedestrians in New York’s Cooper Square; posted beside it, a letter from a collector to a gallerist politely declining the purchase of one of the snowballs. Nearby is an ice-cream freezer with copies of a book about the work. Set out among his own creations are works gathered by Hammons: paintings by de Kooning, Agnes Martin, Miles Davis (!), Ed Clark and Jack Whitten, the iconoclastic Black artist and painter who died in 2018. Set before the Whitten work is a dresser laid on its back, its mirror gazing skyward. There’s a game of exquisite corpse, with doodles from numerous artists. And don’t forget the giant chicken sculpture by Paa Joe, the celebrated Ghanaian coffin artist, a reliquary for chicken bones, roosting in the gallery’s outdoor garden, among actual chickens.

Filling the gallery’s courtyard is a colorful installation of tents, some of them stamped with the words, “This could be U and U.” Referencing the many homeless encampments which are now ubiquitous all across Los Angeles, it’s a stark reminder of the human misery we strive to ignore: talk about bringing the spirit of the street into the gallery. The tents spill down the gallery’s brick breezeway, past a coat rack of black-tie outfits, beneath a neon work by British artist Martin Creed that blithely proclaims: “Everything is going to be alright.” Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The show is best defined perhaps by his numerous ‘wrapped works’ – canvases which are often effusively colored, which have been obscured or wrapped so that one can only discern glimmers of the visions held within. They’re spread throughout the show in extraordinarily diverse variety. Upon encountering them, a viewer’s initial reaction is often frustration or puzzlement; but as the realization sets in that the ragged, banal or seemingly provisional coverings are in fact part of the work, one can appreciate them for what they are. Instead of frustrating the evocation of beauty, the tattered sheath merges with the hidden work and becomes the beauty. Some of these works are actually quite spectacular: in one a swath of vibrant lavender is revealed by a splintered hole, in another a pocked white tarp reveals glints of exquisite jewel colors. In one large piece, a field of dark Yves Klein blue is interrupted by a scuffed rubber walking mat. Some play a teasing game with silken swathes or diaphanous veils; in others, the tarps themselves conjure the bold graphics of abstracted flags. Devilishly, Hammons set one piece, inside a fractured shipping crate, along a courtyard wall, all but daring viewers to walk past it. More than just a conceptual one-liner, the works remain among the most challenging, and moving, of his oeuvre, in part because of the universality of their allegory, with their obstructed potential for exuberance and joy contained within. More than his other works, they both suggest but also potentially transcend issues of race. But, as usual with Hammons, he makes you work for it.

“My conclusion is that he is a genius, a true master of our time,” states Payot. “He is undeniably part of the trajectory of American art... He is a pivotal figure whose practice spans the 20th and 21st centuries as well as many of art’s movements, ‘isms,’ and cultural imperatives, and many important peers and younger artists cite him as a key influence. The market has come to reflect all of this, and we are glad to see that institutions and leading private collectors are embracing and reinforcing Hammons’ rightful place in the larger story of art.”

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

And what exactly is that place? Setting aside issues of race and materiality, in which he is clearly a trailblazer, one could say he shares the poetic performative impulse of, say, Vito Acconci, the distrust of authority of Hans Haacke, the appropriative passion for real-world artifacts of Haim Steinbach. One can almost view him as a kind of anti-Koons: while Koons employs a shiny veneer to reflect back his own kitschy values at the viewer, Hammons elevates a loaded racial icon, or a withholding dingy surface, then challenges the viewer to appreciate and look past it. Adding to the challenge of defining Hammons is his own reluctance to dance with the prevailing authoritative institutions. His involvement with these mega-galleries has been mainly on his own terms. He hasn’t had a major museum retrospective; indeed, the story goes that he actively derailed a prestigious museum’s intended retrospective of his work.

Discussing Hammons’ elusiveness, Elena Filipovic, in her book “David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale,” writes: “Rather than anecdotes of one artist’s cagey behaviour, all of these accounts describe gestures that occupy the very core of Hammons’ practice. Arguably, these gestures are his practice. That practice is based not on the habitual art-world hope (and hype) for ultimate visibility and omnipresence, but the opposite: willful obfuscation at the risk of obscurity.”

Like Miles Davis, one of his icons, or the famously reclusive Garbo, Hammons’ withdrawal has only burnished his mystique. And yet, I must respectfully disagree with Hammons as to the art world audience. Perhaps it has evolved in the decades since he made his remark, or perhaps it’s because his own work has by now informed it, but I’d say the art world audience has caught up with him. They’re in on the game: his affluent collectors aside, many art-goers are not moneyed members of the 1% but woke cultural consumers eager for a challenge. Even without the aid of wall texts or an artist’s statement, the crowds I saw ambling through his current show seemed highly engaged: open both to the artist’s mischievous spirit and to the solemnity of his themes. You don’t need to have known Ornette Coleman to grasp his creative ambition in “Skies of America.” You don’t need to have met Miles Davis to bliss out on “Kind of Blue.” In sculpting his career, Hammons has been savvy enough, and lucky enough, to stake out his own inspired plane. Good for him. But his music, as pointed, confounding or quixotic as it is, still clearly resonates with his many admirers left behind to complete the tune.

The Art You Should See At The 58th Venice Biennial

May You Live In Interesting Times,’ is the theme and title for the 2019 Art Exhibit of the Venice Biennial. Undoubtably the hot topics of our era are expressed through diversified creative mediums, from sustainability and climate change, to growing disparity of wealth and gender inequality, from virtual reality and social media, to politics and resurgence of nationalist agendas. As the President of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta said, “This title evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity.

The beauty of this 58th edition is that the artwork on display, besides being aesthetically spectacular, challenges viewers to  look beyond conformism and avoid oversimplifying attitudes. In times of great change, where certain political stances threat of bringing back civilization to a less democratic and multicultural world, it is vital to turn our eyes on art, that denounces the failures of humanity and tries to persuade it to embrace a brotherhood of man.

As curator Ralph Rugoff explained: “The proverb ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ was first mentioned in a March 1936 article in The Yorkshire Post, reporting on a speech made to the Birmingham Unionist Association by the British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain, who addressed the serious threat to Europe’s collective security posed by the move earlier that month of German troops into the Rhineland. To underscore the drama of the situation, he invoked an ancient Chinese curse. But it turns out that there never was such a curse in China and was presumably fabricated by a British diplomat. This kind of uncertain artifact suggests potential lines of exploration that seem worth pursuing at present, especially at a moment when the digital dissemination of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ is corroding public discourse and the trust on which it depends. For an exhibition that in part at least, considers how art functions in an era of lies, it struck me as an apt title. At the same time, it is my hope that art can give us tools to reimagine the possibilities of these ‘interesting times’ in which we live today, and so transform this phrase from a curse into a challenge that we an enthusiastically embrace.

The exhibition opened to the public on May 11 and will run until November 24, set in the habitual venues of Arsenale and Giardini. Ralph Rugoff underlined the desire to enhance a split format betwixt these two exhibiting spaces, to epitomize the title of this edition. He said: “‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ is intended to evoke the parallel information landscapes that define our increasingly polarized public discourse. This phenomenon is exemplified by the term ‘alternative facts,’ first used by Counsellor to the US President Kellyanne Conway in defense of the Trump’s administration’s bogus claims about the size of the audience for President Trump’s inauguration. More and more public communication is divided into smaller and smaller bandwidths, with special interest groups largely talking only to themselves and reinforcing heir boxed-in perspectives. In this ‘post-truth’ era does art’s capacity to question established ideas and attitudes appear in a different light?

Ralph Rugoff has termed the Arsenale section of his Venice Biennale exhibition “Proposition A,” while in the Giardini’s Central Pavilion is “Proposition B,” and it includes the same artists, who in most cases are showing different kinds of work. This is the first time the Biennale has an exhibition that allows artists to express themselves at a double level. I personally favored some of Proposition A’s creations, but truly enjoyed finding those same artists expressing themselves in a different manner with Proposition B.

Here is the artwork that fully embraces problematic histories and social situations, that you should not miss.

ARSENALE

Shilpa Gupta from India
Shila Gupta’s sound installation ‘For, in your tongue, I cannot fit,’ addresses the violence of censorship through a symphony of recorded voices which speak or sing the verses of 100 imprisoned for their work or political positions, from the 7th century to the present day. The title is inspired by the work of the 14th century Azerbaijani poet imavddin Nasimi. In the dimly lit room, a grid of 100 microphones suspended from the ceiling are reverse-wired to function as speakers. The recitations in multiple languages (including Arabic, Azeri, English, Hindi and Russian) create a soundscape that might, in turn, include and exclude the listener, depending on which languages they understand. Each microphone has its corresponding verse printed on paper, waiting to be read by one and then echoed by a chorus of disembodied verses.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installations often involve the staging of visceral, intimidating spectacles. ‘Dear,’ presents a white silicon chair behind a Plexiglas barrier, loosely based on the imperial Roman chair featured as a component of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installation, the chair is kept company by a rubber hose that violently whips around the surrounding space in response blast-off highly pressurized air. In between these periodic eruptions of violence, the chair sits inert again, almost invitingly serene, until the assault recommences.

Photo Credit: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China

Photo Credit: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China

Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria
Otobong Nkanga has described landscape as body, which nourishes and provides, but which is plundered, scarred and poisoned. In ‘Veins Aligned,’ the vein in question is almost 26 meters long, formed of fleshy toned glass and marble, that recalls both a long hand-drawn line and a river, with the clouds coursing through the marble suggesting chemical pollution. Beyond the colonial and post-colonial exploitation of natural resources, Nkanga also finds in mining a metaphor for exploration into the great, cyclical sweep of time.

Photo Credit: Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria

Photo Credit: Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria

Cameron Jamie from USA
The folk tradition of the Perchten — an Alpine winter character associated with the Krampus — is the inspiration for the installation ‘Smiling Disease.’ These grotesquely grinning carved wooden masks reference the collections of tribal artifacts that were popular among surrealist artists in the early 20th century, thought to reflect contemporary ideas about the subconscious and the universal significance of dreams. This installation is similarly both frightening, humorous, and macabre.

Michael Armitage from Kenya
Michael Armitage’s series of paintings are the outcome of when he joined a group of photojournalists documenting the political rallies that led up to the Kenya general election. During these events, the artist witnessed staged campaigns of political agitation that incorporated carnivalesque elements and a circus-like atmosphere. In his artwork, he conjures the strange chaos and urgency of these events. Drawing from original footage and documentary images, magnifying issues of inequality and political uncertainty.

Liu Wei from China
Liu Wei’s recent large scale installation ‘Microworld’ evokes the formality and splendor of modernist stage sets, filled with geometric shapes. The artist has fashioned an assortment of outsized curved forms and spheres out of highly-polished aluminum plates — intended to invoke magnified and glossy versions of molecules, elements, protons and other microscopic particles. Liu Wei’s fictionalized portrait of the microscopic sphere, dwarfs the spectator, whose sense of awe-inspired distance is emphasized by the fact that we cannot enter the space, only view it through a giant window, as if looking at an exhibition in an oversized museum vitrine.

Alexandra Bircken from Germany
Alexandra Bircken’s practice is built around the human form. Her installation ‘Eskalation’ presents a dystopian view of what the end of humanity might look like. Forty figures, made from calico dipped in black latex, are suspended from ladders that extend to the ceiling. The work revolves around a sheer verticality, as the figures ascend to the top, arriving at obstacles and falling. This invokes an upward struggle between polarities: heaven and hell, success and failure, hope and despair.

Tarek Atoui from Lebanon
Bridging music and contemporary art, Tarek Atoui’s practice expands notions of listening through participatory and collaborative sound performances. He conceives and coordinates complex environments to cultivate sound, and through installations, performances and collaborations, breaks down expectations both for performer and audience. Combining visual, tactile and aural modes of perceiving sound, ‘The Ground’ is the result of Atoui’s travels in China’s Pearl River Delta, when he recorded his observations of contemporary and traditional agricultural, architectural and musical practices from the region. He later asked craftsmen and instrument-makers to respond to his notes and drawings. The resulting instruments were set up by Atoui to play separately and autonomously at exhibitions, where various artists and musicians are invited to respond to the forms and sounds of the works.

Photo Credit: Tarek Atoui from Lebanon

Photo Credit: Tarek Atoui from Lebanon

Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands
Building Bridges’ is contemporary Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn’s most ambitious project to date. Six pairs of monumental hands bridge the basin of the Arsenale as both symbol of our commonality and an expression of human aspiration. The project depicts six of humanity’s universal values — ‘Friendship,’ ‘Faith,’ ‘Help,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Hope,’ and ‘Wisdom’ — each symbolized by human hands coming together to overcome differences and build a better world. Famous as city of connection through its canals and crossings, as historic base of international trade, and ongoing hub of artistic exchange — Venice, a World Heritage Site with visitors from all over the globe, is an ideal place to spread a message of unity connecting societies, nations, communities and individuals through building bridges, not walls.

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands

Vasily Klyukin from Russia
At Arsenale Nord, you will find ‘In Dante Veritas’ an exhibition by Russian sculptor Vasily Klyukin who makes a parallelism between the Italian poet’s Inferno and the distortions of our time, through diversified mediums that are harrowing and aesthetically beguiling at the same time.

CHILE Pavilion — with a special attention to The Hegemony Museum
The project by Voluspa Jarpa for the Chilean pavilion, is a conservation space that presents different case-studies of Eurocentric and colonial worldview from the 17th to the 20th Century. Her Museum presents this hegemony in six case studies of the European male, white, heterosexual, patriarchal, monarchial, culturally and economically “superior” and present in the very concepts with which the colonies were coined and conceived. European ways of doing, looking and analyzing are submitted to the public for study, in order to understand how the hegemonic psyche developed a whole series of complex mechanisms of oppression that emerged in concepts like race and miscegenation, subaltern male subjects, cannibalism, imperialism, gender conceptions, civilization and barbarism, and the conflictive relations between monarchy and republic.

GHANA Pavilion
The elliptically-shaped interlocking design of the pavilion by Sir David Adjaye, creates trajectories both across time and place, through the mesmerizing exhibit ‘Ghana Freedom’ curated by Accra-based Nana Oforiatta Ayim. The inspiration came from the wordsGhana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, proclaimed in 1957: “At long last, the battle has ended! And thus Ghana, your beloved country if free forever!” Nkrumah described this freedom as a reshaping of the country’s destiny, as an awakening, and as the birth of a ‘new African in the world.’ He linked Ghana’s independence with the rest of Africa’s, stating that is was meaningless without the liberation of the whole continent. As the first sub-saharan country to gain its independence from colonial rule, Ghana became a touchstone for many others from the continent and its diasporas. And yet, the country’s boundaries like so many others had been drawn by colonial hands, and its new freedom was predicated on the denigration of the cultural and spiritual foundations of the groups that now made up Ghana. The ensuing years saw a struggle to reshape, as Nkrumah had foreseen, not just political, but also cultural, social, and economic realities. For the first foray to the Biennale di Venezia, this country brought together artists whose individual works speak to each other in pluralities of medium and narrative and scope, as well as across generations through archives of everyday objects in large-scale installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; through representation and portraiture, both in the studio work of Ghana’s first known female photographer Felicia Abban and imagined by painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; and through the relativities of loss and restitution in a 3-channel film by JohnAkomfrah and in a film sculpture by Seals Awusi Sosu.

Photo Credit: GHANA Pavilion

Photo Credit: GHANA Pavilion

INDIA Pavilion
In the ambient shades of sandstone and brick of building material and of the land, viewers encounter clusters of padukas (wooden slippers), cane armor and headgear, earthen pots and shards, painted posters/frieze, words dematerializing in a curtain of mist and wooden cabinets with objects and photographs, all transacting artistic responses to the exhibition’s theme ‘Our Time for a Future Caring,’ conceptualized under the broader thematic of 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi. Emphasizing the austerity of materials and the diversity of forms envisioned in simplicity and silence, the exhibition takes the viewer through eight artistic projects, conceptually mediating and translating the Pavilion as a sarai, a place of rest, inviting one to pause and ponder with each instance, separate yet linked, intersecting at various levels. The India Pavilion — curated by Roobina Karode — symbolically is a fragment of the pavilion put together at Haripura in Gujarat, envisioned by Gandhi and realized by Nandalal Bose. His Haripura Posters (1937), easily perceived as the first public art project in India aimed at cultural and artistic awareness through a direct engagement. MF Husain’s seminal painting depicting Zamin/Zameen celebrated the village republic, upholding its indigenous crafts. Taking further cue from Atul Dodiya and Ashim Purkayastha, a conceptual artist, the Pavilion creates intimate affinities as well as conflict, between fragment and the whole, individual and the multitude. The works of Shakuntala Kulkarni, Rummana Hussain, GR Iranna and Jitisch Kallat push on to interrogate one’s way of being and capacity to act in the world. The curatorial intention is implicated in the belief that Gandhi’s presence is far from being fixed in time and space and has its relevance in the everyday paradoxical charge of contemporary India. His propositions of passive resistance, peaceful protests, minimal consumption and ecological concerns continue to resonate.

Photo Credit: INDIA Pavilion

Photo Credit: INDIA Pavilion

GIARDINI

VENICE Pavilion
A group of seven international artists with strong creative ties to the Italian art scene were elected to represent the city itself in the Venice Pavilion: Mirko Borsche, Lorenzo Dante Ferro, Sidival Fila, Ferzan Ozpetek, Plastique Fantastique, Fabio Viale, Giorgos Koumentakis. Curated by Giovanna Zabotti in collaboration with directors Alessandro Gallo and Stelios Kois, the Pavillion this year has ever more a choral nature, through works that are fruit of individual experience, that represent a collective vision. The name of the exhibit ‘Corpo Reale’ (Real Body) has the aim to utilize Bodies in Alliance to represent how equality among individuals is not only spoken or written but is performed precisely when bodies appear together in space. The concept of the exhibition is inspired by the urban fabric of the city, exploring its history and mythology, the plethora of narratives that weave into it, they perceive it as a multitude of inter-connected spaces and ecosystems that share a non-linear continuity.

RUSSIA Pavilion
The exhibition’s title ‘Lc. 15: 11-32,’ references both the bible chapters of The Parable of the Prodigal Son within the Gospel of Luke and Rembrandt’s painting of this subject, which has become a central masterpiece at The Hermitage Museum. Since 1848 ten Atlantes have welcomed visitors to the New Hermitage, exact replicas of which can be seen in the first room. The granite figures themselves have over time become a shrine in their own right, with pilgrims from all over the world coming to worshipers at their feet. Rembrandt’’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is the main theme of the installation by the celebrated film director Alexander Sokurov. It simultaneously represents one of the halls of the Hermitage and an artist’s studio with video installations showcasing the turmoil of war that lies beyond its walls. The inner staircase send us down the world of the Flemish School brought to life by artist Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, which is dedicated to the intricate mechanisms in the Winter Palace such as the famous Peacock Clock. His signature plywood sculptures of cut out human figures move on mechanical constructions to create a theatrical mise-en-scène, blurring the boundary between reality and imagination.

AUSTRIA Pavilion
Discordo Ergo Sum’ (I dissent, therefore I am) is the title of Austrian artist Renate Bertlmann’s site specific installation for the Austrian pavilion. In this rephrasing of the philosophical principle Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am), the artist attempts to cancel out the supremacy of reason and to describe herself within her insurgent worldview. With a further modification of this principle, the phrase Amo Ergo Sum (I love, therefore I am), Renate Bertlmann ironically signs the pavilion’s architecture. An installation of knife-roses in the courtyard, allows us to sensuously experience the dichotomy of our existence. Between this foundational movement in the exterior space and the pavilion courtyard, the exhibition space gives way to a cartographic view of Renate Bertlmann’s artistic practice, with a selection of her aesthetic and conceptual aspects exemplifies her multilayered oeuvre since the 1970s. The presentation of wall charts, sketches, photos, filmstrips, and drawing in a box inserted to fit into the pavilion creates contemplative zone where visitors immerse themselves in her artistic self-understanding.

ISRAEL Pavilion
Field Hospital X (FHX) is a new project by artist Aya Ben Ron. It is a mobile, international institution, an organization that is committed to researching that way art can react and act in the face of social ills. Learning from the structure and practice of hospitals, health maintenance organization and healing resorts, FHX provides a space in which silenced voices can be heard and social injustices can be seen. When visitors enter Field Hospital X they take a queue number. While waiting at the Reception Area, they watch the FHX TV Program and read the FHX Booklet to receive information about the hospital’s ideology, its Care-Ares and Care-Kits. Once their number is called, they go to the reception desk, choose a Rick-Wristband and continue to the Care-Areas. Visitors first go to Safe-Units, where they can learn through sound instructions how to produce a Self-Contained Shout. They are then guided to Care-Chairs, that are designated to affect the visitors’ physiological and emotional conditions, to generate attentive listening. Each Care-Chair consists of a personal screen and headphones for personal viewing of FHX Care-Kits. The video is preceded by an introduction and followed by two Second-Opinions by FHX experts. The pavilion tackles Anti-Transgender Violence: one of the main problems experienced by people who are going through gender transition is embedded in the social insistence on the gender binary.