Diana McClure 2017-11-29 12:07:43
Despite the retrograde politics of this past year, artists, culture workers and collectors around the globe have continued to push back against the ease of falling into a dystopic worldview. In a year that included DOCUMENTA, the VENICE BIENNALE, and SKULPTUR PROJEKTE MÜNSTER, less visible highlights, including interventions across both geographic and philosophical borders, stood out and are featured here. HUMANITY’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE EFFECTS OF LAND DEVELOPMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS “Desert X,” a site-specific exhibition in California’s Coachella Valley, produced by the nonprofit Desert Biennial, debuted last February. Sixteen artists were asked to respond to the region’s desert landscape and to social conditions, with an eye on humanity’s relationship to the environment. Spanning almost 50 miles along Interstate 10, one of Southern California’s major highways, “Desert X,” which closed in April, included works by Rob Pruitt, Richard Prince and Jeffrey Gibson, to name a few. Doug Aitken’s installation, MIRAGE, an architectural intervention, implicated the coveted American dream of homeownership in Western expansion and conquest in the context of the Western United States. Aitken’s construction of a windowless, doorless California ranch-style home, its interior and exterior consisting of mirrored surfaces, offered an awe-inspiring reflective experience of both a vast landscape and modern development. Conceptually, the work echoed Frank Lloyd Wright’s assertion that architecture should be integrated harmoniously into the landscape, while simultaneously commenting on the interrelationship of human development and climate change. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, TECHNOLOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC INNOVATION AND THE ETHICS OF GLOBAL SURVEILLANCE Conceptual artist and geographer Trevor Paglen, known for painstaking interdisciplinary art that makes the secret workings of corporate and military power public knowledge, was honored in 2017 as a MacArthur Fellow. Recognized as a pioneer in the demystification of surveillance culture and many of its covert exploits, Paglen has also recently shed light on the dangers of an unnuanced approach to developing artificial intelligence. Through artful documentation of classified satellites orbiting above the earth, underwater fiber-optic systems circling the globe, and computer vision, Paglen courageously holds space for an exploration of and reckoning with the dubious nature of data collection in the 21st century. While his images at times venture into abstraction or ethereal documentation, his book-length writings and lectures offer alternate entry points into his activism. In 2017, Paglen was the first artist-in-residence at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University and had solo exhibitions in New York, Prague and Winterthur, Switzerland. THE COMPLEXITY OF IDENTITY, INCLUSIVITY AND THE POLITICS OF GENDER Gender proved to be a hot topic in mainstream discourse in 2017, and the New Museum’s bold exhibition “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” mirrors both the complexity of the conversation and a cultural knowledge gap. The nuances of experiencing gender beyond the binary of “male” and “female” are central to the curatorial mission of the exhibition. Over 40 artists working in a variety of mediums, along with collateral talks, lectures and performances, mine the depths and edges of ideas ranging from pleasure, ambiguity and intersectionality to beauty, world-building and a reexamination of the archive. A central dialectic is the engagement of identity as fluid versus static. In a nod toward inclusivity politics, the show is intergenerational and features a significant number of artists who do not identify as white. Featuring work by the iconic Vaginal Davis, emerging artist Diamond Stingily and art-world stalwart Mickalene Thomas, among others, “Trigger” is deeply indebted to its New York City location. In contrast, an exhibition at Banco Santander’s cultural center in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that dealt with similar themes, “Queermuseum,” closed early in the fall of 2017 after being criticized for aspects of its content. Similar to “Trigger,” a critique of the role of mainstream cultural institutions in silencing honest conversations on gender is evident in the translation of the exhibition’s full title: “Queermuseum: Queer Tactics Toward Non-Heteronormative Curating.” “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” is on view at the New Museum through January 21, 2018. WEALTH, CLASS AND CONTENTMENT IN THE 21ST CENTURY “Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield,” a retrospective of Greenfield’s work, is a sharp critique of the vacuous pursuit of wealth and its tangential tragedies seeping out of American consciousness at alarming rates. Greenfield captures a spectrum of sociological viewpoints, documenting those who have wealth, those who are in the midst of acquiring wealth, and those who have lost wealth. Questions regarding what can and cannot be bought arise from the body of work as a whole: Can class be bought? Can beauty be bought? Can friends be bought? Can happiness be bought? More often than not, the images and accompanying wall text, from Los Angeles, Moscow, Dubai, China and elsewhere, reveal that there is no corollary between class, beauty, friends, happiness and money. Bruised bodies in midconstruction at the mercy of plastic surgeons, teen angst around appearance, and golf and the equestrian life as class signifiers are all on view in a viscerally disturbing examination of what appears to be a stunning loss of both purpose and contentment in 21st-century life. After originating earlier this year at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, the show traveled to the International Center of Photography in New York and goes on to the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo next year. “Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield” is on view at the International Center of Photography through January 7, 2018. MARGINALIZED PEOPLES, IMMIGRATION AND THE INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE CRISIS In the second incarnation of Kara Walker’s epic work A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, the left hand of the monumental figure, titled Figa, was transported to the DESTE Foundation Project Space on the Greek island of Hydra for a summer exhibition. The work’s second life is symbolic of the shared experiences of the forced migration of Africans in the transatlantic slave trade, the lifeand- death urgency of migrants in recent years, the ongoing heroism of refugees worldwide and, metaphorically, the daily reality of underrepresented individuals and populations. The work, recast as a powerful physical presence in Greek territory, called into question both the trajectory of Western civilization and its current discontents. The exhibition of Figa—the “fig sign,” a fist with the thumb placed between the index and middle fingers in a gesture both obscene and mystical—coincided with Greek Cypriot collector Dakis Joannou’s annual post-art-fair-circuit party. The event also featured a collaborative video work by Walker and the Ath Kids that included recent footage from the region’s refugee crisis.
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