Is it live? Most probably, since performance has conquered the artworld in recent years – not least by appealing to broad audiences, as RoseLee Goldberg recently pointed out. Performa, the ephemeral and performative art biennial that the tenacious South African curator/art historian set up in 2004, accordingly grows more pertinent with every edition. Performa 13 rings the changes via a research-driven ‘Pavilion Without Walls’ strand that zooms in on performance strategies in specific countries, part of a ‘full-to-bursting’ schedule masterminded by 30-plus curators worldwide, transpiring in over 40 venues and featuring new commissions from Raqs Media Collective, Alexandre Singh, Marianne Vitale, and Paweł Althamer, among many others. Essentially, for three weeks New Yorkers won’t be able to open their fridge doors after dark without someone leaping into the spotlight.
Is it dead and gone? Again most probably, assuming Adam McEwen’s involvement. The US-based British artist, who famously started out as an obituary writer for the Daily Telegraph, is best known for producing obits of living people (from Jeff Koons to Bill Clinton to Macaulay Culkin) and for abstractions that represent the bombing of German cities via appended wads of chewing gum.
What McEwen calls ‘sinister pop’ is, according to gallerist Rodolphe Janssen, in the service of his view of history as ‘a huge lie’; in deconstructing it, morbid humour is his weapon and his welcome mat. A show at the Modern Institute, Glasgow, earlier this year featured the reconstructed cave of mythical Scottish clan leader and cannibal Sawney Bean (who legendarily killed and ate some 1,000 travellers), a graphite representation of a coffin carrier and a still from the Italian horror movie Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Lovely.
In the nine years since Hal Foster published his influential essay ‘An Archival Impulse’ in October, many other artists have continued to operate as archivists and archaeologists – treating art, as MCA Chicago’s The Way of the Shovel describes it, as ‘an alternative History Channel’. Curated in-house by Dieter Roelstraete (following his 2009 e-flux Journal essay of the same title), the show digs in three locations.
It brings together artists who use and tweak historical research, including Moyra Davey, Tacita Dean and Joachim Koester. It considers the slipperiness of truth within representation, and the ‘politics of archaeology’, through the work of artists such as Cyprien Gaillard, Jean-Luc Moulène and Simon Starling. And it taps the source of all this via two mini-exhibitions revolving around Robert Smithson. And there we were, looking at that title, expecting Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arm. Duh.
Aslı Çavusoğlu also ruminates on how history gets written and who has the right to write it; in the young Istanbul-based artist’s film In Diverse Estimations Little Moscow (2011), this meant going to a Turkish town on the Black Sea to revisit, with the residents, the moment in 1980 when the National Army staged a rehearsal for its national, dictatorship-enabling coup d’état there, and create/record something approximating collective memory.
Visitors to the Frieze Art Fair in 2012, meanwhile, found Çavusoğlu and compatriots exploring evidence in a different, reflexive way, with a TV crew filming rehearsals and discussions of a scene in a crime drama featuring an art exhibition. Her current focus, it appears, is the Turkish modernisation period from the late nineteenth century on, when the country westernised strongly, creating a condition of historical amnesia; as Turkey continues to westernise – in terms of embracing neoliberalism, with the discontents that have followed – Çavusoğlu is surely not living in the past.
Strange that an exhibition like Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789–2013 hasn’t been made before. Except that its subject is such a vast one. Prior to the French Revolution, the show asserts, art was a redoubt of the Establishment. Afterwards – the turning point being Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat (1793), used as a poster for republicans – that changed, and collectivist values and the desire for equality, alternative economic models, etc, have filtered into art ever since.
Resultantly this is a show in which Mass Observation documenters meet the Guerrilla Girls, Alan Kane & Jeremy Deller share space with Tim Rollins. Expect, also, an archive of materials relating to Palle Nielsen’s 1968 conversion of the Moderna Museet (with director Pontus Hultén’s farsighted blessing) into a self-organised society for children in the form of an unsupervised adventure playground tricked out with tools, paints and other creative materials, The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society.
At the Moderna Museet now, meanwhile, is something far less child-friendly: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Horrors, which edits her oeuvre for its most disturbing elements and veers between grotesqueries ranging from her famed faux-cinema stills of menaced females to her darkening of the fashion-photo aesthetic and the socially accepted horror of surgically rebuilt, wealthy, ageing Hollywood wives. Seems we can’t quite step away from the horror this month.
The more you see of Lutz Bacher’s work, the less you might know. Since the 1970s this reportedly pseudonymous, once cultish, now exceedingly hip figure (galleries: Cabinet, Greene Naftali, Daniel Buchholz) has floated out dark, sometimes erotically engaging conundrums hinting at dicey subjects (self- identity and how the media constructs it, historical knowledge, the nature of the universe), in formats ranging from ruined videotapes to distressed and altered celebrity photographs to jeans crammed with foam balls.
Following shows this year at Frankfurt’s Portikus and London’s ICA (the latter until 17 November and pairing a cosmos of coal slag with an audio recording of Puck’s speeches from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), in Zurich there’s a career overview of her work: a chance, insofar as it’s possible, to discern what Bacher is about. In the iconography of art, a musical instrument with a string missing historically symbolises discord.
In her show The Missing String at K21, Susan Philipsz employs a recording of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (1945) performed by two cellos – an alleged lament for Germany’s destruction during the Second World War – here played, necessarily imperfectly, on a cello with a string missing, each of the twenty-four tones relayed on a separate speaker.
Elsewhere are recordings made using instruments damaged by war, now reverberating crudely; expect, then, characteristically spectral – if wounded and hobbled – overlaps of music and memory from the Berlin-based Scottish artist.
Given the superfluity of artists now plying sculptural and colour-driven approaches to photography – images of transient studio constructions, materialist approaches to the printed support – Barbara Kastenought to be feeling pleased with herself. After all, she’s been doing that since the 1970s, hewing to abstraction and herself guided by Minimalism, Light and Space artists, Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray. (Nothing new under the sun.)
Now in her late seventies, her sharp, tranquil work looks totally relevant, as this cache of Kasten’s recent images and covetable 1980s Construct Polaroids will corroborate. Young bucks looking to plunder ideas from Eileen Quinlan et al might as well look here first.
How big a thing (in four short days) is Paris Photo? How many registers can one single-medium art fair touch upon? Aside from featuring 135 galleries and 27photography-book publishers, this year’s event is capacious enough to hold the following: an ‘Open Book’ section from Martin Parr’s collection, featuring photo books dedicated to protest (from the postwar era to the present day); a talks programme organised by Nicolas Bourriaud;
Giorgio Armani selecting photographs of water – which makes sense given that Armani supports drinkable water projects for Ghana and Bolivia, though we naturally thought immediately of Acqua di Gio; a ‘Recent Acquisitions’ strand weighted partly towards photographs of the Egyptian uprising; and a section that hymns the godlike taste of the private collector, in this case Harald Falckenberg. Oh,and book awards, a BMW-organised exhibit and more – but we’re out of space.