For two decades, David Hammons’s angle on survey shows could be précised by one of fellow Chouinard Art Institute alumnus Ed Ruscha’s painted axioms: ‘I don’t want no retro spective’ [sic]. Also spurned by the Illinois-born, New York-based artist during much of that time: gallery representation, personality-driven publicity and a showy lifestyle, ie the trappings many artists appear to covet. Hammons, who in recent years has nevertheless landed among the top ten living American artists at auction (and the only one of those to put up the work himself, thus profiting from sales, as most artists do not), long ago realised that, after a certain point, if you don’t chase, you’ll likely be chased. Of course it helps that his art – which, since the late 1960s, has scathingly filtered the readymade and assemblage formats through the quiddities of African-American experience – is stellar, and that his refusals are part of it.
In the past decade, however, perhaps because he’s been self-financing his own gallery in Yonkers, New York, possibly mindful of how history will view him (or not notice him sufficiently), Hammons has switched tack. White Cube apparently represents him, and now Mnuchin – with whom he’s collaborated twice before – is mounting Five Decades, Hammons’s first retrospective since the 1990s. The exhibition will move from early engagements with Arte Povera and Dada (greased body prints, spades, American flags) through endlessly inventive deployments of bottle caps, chicken bones and hair as signifiers of blackness, and on to his recent potent engagements with abstraction, which have ranged from blacking out massive spaces (and giving viewers tiny blue flashlights) to concealing abstract paintings under tarps. Whenever he breaks cover, Hammons rarely misses: if at all possible, don’t miss this.
Unlike Sheila Hicks, Jumana Manna, Ming Wong, Nina Beier, boychild, Dayanita Singh, Heman Chong, Karen Mirza & Brad Butler and scads of others, Hammons is not included in the current Biennale of Sydney, inaugurated in 1973 and now in its 20th edition. But he could be present in spirit, given that artistic director Stephanie Rosenthal’s show is divided into seven ‘embassies of thought’ and one of them is named the Embassy of Non-Participation. If embassies are states within states, these function as subdivisions within a state-of-contemporary-reality address: Rosenthal, chief curator at London’s Hayward Gallery, borrows her title, The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed, from cultural pulse-taker/future-glimpser William Gibson and asks, we’re told, ‘If each era posits its own view of reality, what is ours?’ Expect the various pavilions to suggest a compound answer in which fresh developments meet perpetual loops: the vaunted intermingling of the physical and the virtual, the loss of cultural memory, the primacy of performing, cycles of life and death, rites of passage and more.
Over in Hamburg, it’s been decided that the presiding condition of contemporary reality is… well, deduce away from the title of FLUIDITY. While assessing the moment, the group show’s curators also scan the last half-century: this exhibition, curated by Bettina Steinbrügge, Nina Möntmann and Vanessa Joan Müller (hey, no umlaut, no curatorial presence) notes that it’s now 50 years since the outset of the conceptual art zenith covered by Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (1973), and argues that artists today no longer use dematerialisation strategies as a commerce-frustrating, object-refusing ‘response to political issues’, but that a fluid, shapeshifting, evanescent art is, today, a reflection of the state we’re in. The exhibition list, meanwhile – ranging from Lee Lozano, Eleanor Antin and Mladen Stilinovic to Jason Dodge, Maria Eichhorn, Simon Denny and Melanie Gilligan – bridges the temporal gap between one vanishing point and another.
‘Liam Gillick already noticed that conceptual art basically no longer existed after the 1960s and 1970s’, remarks FLUIDITY’s advance info, noting that afterwards global capitalism simply swallowed art up: it was no more. In lieu of making standalone works of conceptual art, Gillick is currently embarked upon Campaign, a yearlong processual work for the Serralves Museum, Porto, involving fluctuating sculp-tural interventions in the gallery: ‘spatial and performative situations’ tracking back to works that Gillick has made or contemplated making since the 1990s. These will include Factories in the Snow (2007), his work for piano and falling artificial snow; a 1:1 scale model of Gillick’s AC/DC Joy Division House, a social centre for Milanese teenagers proposed during the early 90s; ‘a large-scale sculptural translation of Guy Debord’s A Game of War’ [the Frenchman’s 1987 book with Alice Becker-Ho, later turned into a strategy game]; and the rainbow-hued neomodernism of the artist’s signature ‘discussion platforms’. Talk among yourselves for a moment…
And we’re back. Jesse Wine’s exhibition at Soy Capitán, Wonderful Audience Member, comes prefaced by a quote from Jacques Rancière’s The Emancipated Spectator (2009) that concerns looking as a transformative act, but that’s as top-heavy as the English artist gets. Wine’s glossily glazed ceramic sculptures, which include deadpan plates of food, snakes conversing with snails, tiled wall reliefs and body-part mobiles, and on occasion appear named after manufacturers of lavatories, are pleasurably mismatched amalgams of reference points from the modernist (Calder, Giacometti, De Stijl and St Ives potters such as Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, among others) to the autobiographical (and the jokily referential, eg bottles of wine), tangled together in a way that positively invites, as per Rancière, active parsing. Besides his first showing in Berlin, Wine is also flowing – sorry, but he started it – across Europe, in the touring British Art Show, in a solo presentation at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (to May 16) and, five days after the latter closes, in That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 – Today at Tate St Ives.
Ceramics, while being a continuous thing, is experiencing a notable revival today – see also renewed interest in the work of figures like Ken Price and Ron Nagle – and for this, aside from a current interest in the handmade generally, we might in part credit Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Suddenly This Overview, begun in 1981, the pair’s 200-plus assembly of small unfired clay sculptures – a miniature, ambiguous world of scenarios that tangle together historical figures, myths and speculative scenarios – appears in their comprehensive Guggenheim retrospective, initially planned during the lifetime of Weiss (who died in 2012), alongside films, further sculptures, slideshows and more. If Fischli/Weiss spent three decades walking a knife-edge between the trite and the elevating, exemplary of this might be their self-help list How to Work Better (1991), which this writer has seen pinned to many an artist’s studio wall. (It works!) During the show’s run, the Public Art Fund will present the list – which also serves as the exhibition title – as a mural on the corner of Houston and Mott streets. Expect productivity, and eyebrows, to rise accordingly in Lower Manhattan.
If you know Daido Moriyama’s street photography (and, reader, you should), what you’ll know best are likely the black-and-white images of Tokyo, particularly his home district of Shinjuku, that he has made since the 1960s: pacey communiqués driven by skewed angles and blurs, push-processed into grainy high contrast (under the spell, specifically, of William Klein and Robert Frank) and capturing postwar Japanese society’s tense overlap of tradition and modernity. But Moriyama also shoots in colour – indeed, since his photographs went digital at the start of the millennium, even his black-and-whites have originated as such – and it’s on this that his second Fondation Cartier show, Daido Tokyo, is focused. Characteristically his eye flattens, often with ironic intent, distinctions between real people and the ghost cast of figures that appear in advertising hoardings; here, among other works, is a new commissioned series titled Dog and Mesh Tights (2014–15), shot over nine months in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Arles, Houston and Los Angeles. Nosing around in deserted alleys and urban corners, it showcases a masterful eye for the unheeded, but also an act of self-orientation that conveys what Moriyama calls ‘the confusing interaction of people and things’ in the cityscape.
People and things will meanwhile unquestionably be interacting in Playgrounds, the Museu d’Arte São Paulo’s reboot of one of the inaugural exhibitions for the museum’s Lina Bo Bardi-designed building. It’s the second in a sequence of revivals of shows that followed the building’s opening in 1968, after last year’s presentation of the farsighted Bo Bardi’s concrete-and-glass easels – which gave institutional space a newfound feeling of lightness – and points to the architect’s desire for a different model of viewership: more participatory, democratic and playful, and skewing away from stiff Eurocentric models. Here, as a fresh swathe of artists – six in total, including Yto Barrada, Céline Condorelli and Ernesto Neto – takes up the everybody-join-in approach, Bo Bardi’s rehabilitated reputation ought to ratchet up a few notches more.
As opposed to a group show with a focused agenda, solo shows that resemble group shows are (at least) as old as the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres: still, class-of-2012 Royal College of Art graduate Richard Sides takes the method to a consciously disharmonious extreme. His previous show at Carlos/Ishikawa, in 2013, not only cycled through apparel, video, projection, sound, indecorous sculpture and press clippings on paedophilia, but was also schismatic on a case-by-case basis, for instance soundtracking footage of an anti-child abuse filmmaker with manipulatively emotive music. Sides, it appears, has a strong interest in how narratives are constructed and/or thwarted: alongside numerous partially signifying collage-based works, he’s made work relating to the endingof The Usual Suspects (1995), and his 2014 show at Kunsthalle Winterthur found him presenting don’t blow it in the vector (2014), a documentary about electronic musicians that is unapologetically insular and unaccommodating. Call us masochists, but we take pleasure in this kind of thing, not least because – another internal conflict – usually there’s some nice bright colour to bathe in along the way.
If we move straight from here to the smartly poised yet off-beam paintings of Allison Katz, it might appear that one sensible strategy today is to position oneself at 180 degrees from a prevailing orthodoxy: that documentaries should communicate, that an artist should have a style, or – in the London-based Katz’s case – that paintings should have some kind of gravity and consistency. She often appears to paint whatever strikes her eye – a shower-head and potted plant, a person, fish, snowy balconies, a landscape, an arrangement of strawberries – and to reflect, in her changeable painting style, the varying length of her attention spans and the weight and evanescence of emotional responses to the world. As if that weren’t enough delicate hopscotching, Katz also breaks periodically into other formats: folding screens, ceramic (eg little sculptures that fuse noses and asses), graphic works. In Italy – an apt locale for an artist with a dash of Francesco Clemente in her aesthetic – we’re looking forward to something to do with dogs and eggs; and thus, probably, also many things that aren’t dogs or eggs. Mostly, though, we’re just looking forward.
This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of ArtReview.