No longer accessible
The hazards and disasters of the coronavirus crisis mean many countries and artists that once seemed to be within reach are no longer accessible, and will apparently remain that way for some time.
This is why we should celebrate the excellent exhibition called “Untitled”, now on view in Venice until 13 December at Punta della Dogana which belongs to the Pinault Foundation (See here and here some reports about the Pinault collection).
While the skilful operation practically consists of an eclectic journey (132 artworks, 67 artists) through the Pinault collection, plus a few major loans, it is also an immersion in the worlds of three curators, starting with Los Angeles sculptor Thomas Houseago (born in 1972) (see the reports about him here and here), in addition to French curator Caroline Bourgeois and the art historian who also happens to be Houseago’s wife, Muna El Fituri.
The formula of the artist sifting through a sprawling collection to orchestrate an exhibition has already been tested on the same premises in 2015, when Danh Vo staged his great show “Slip Of the Tongue” (see the report on the subject).
But this time we’re not talking about a Danish-Vietnamese artist who lives in Berlin but rather an English sculptor, born in Leeds but based in Los Angeles. He clearly retains certain fascinations from his British roots. In 1940 the sculptor Henry Moore, who suffered the German bombing along with all Londoners during the Blitz, would take cover in the air raid shelters. There he immortalized forms tormented by human fear in the overcrowded surroundings. We find his testimonies to this experience in two remarkable watercolours from 1940, which would prove to be the catalyst for Moore’s creative repertoire.
One of the exhibition’s big surprises is a series of pencil drawings of an intimate and lively nature by the art star from across the Channel, David Hockney, displayed here alongside his companion. The six large sheets can be found in the section dedicated to sex, which places wooden staffs from the Marquesas Islands carved in phallic forms alongside strange post-apocalyptic pornographic cages by Tetsumi Kudo (1935-1990), the Japanese artist who lived in France and gave expression to his trauma in the aftermath of the nuclear explosion. They’ve been situated opposite the poster of pioneering Austrian feminist activist Valie Export (born in 1940), where she presents herself holding a machine gun and wearing crotchless trousers revealing her genitals.
Thomas Houseago has a strong obsession with death, as shown in his sculptures and paintings of skeletons using reworked forms. Following this theme, in Venice we find one of the masterpieces of contemporary painting, a diptych by the South African artist based in Amsterdam, Marlene Dumas (born in 1953). It is made up of two horizontal canvases inspired by the famous “Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” by 16th-century painter Hans Holbein, with the holy man shown laid out in profile, life size and violet tinged in his coffin.
Houseago and LA
But these days Houseago is first and foremost one of the emblematic figures of the Los Angeles art scene. He has assembled a creative circle around him made up of people from film – his best friend is Brad Pitt – music and art. If we’re talking about Los Angeles we must mention – along with Paul McCarthy (see a report featuring an interview with the artist about the Californian scene) who fittingly revisited one of Moore’s sculptures by filling it with holes like a piece of gruyère – Mike Kelley, whose poetic installation is on display composed of a red curtain in constant motion in which we see a projection of the silhouettes of dancing women; a ghostly glimmer of male desires.
Another LA star, Charles Ray (born in 1953), has created a kind of giant white bas-relief depicting two emerging young boys with vacant expressions, on which we imagine society can impose its obsessions and quirks.
Muna El Fituri
Muna El Fituri who, like Thomas Houseago, hasn’t seen the exhibition in person while under lockdown, describes the spirit of Los Angeles as being like a kind of magic: “The freedom, the space, the openness here are unique.”
In Los Angeles, one of the emblematic activists for the African-American art community is Karon Davis (born in 1977) who, together with her late husband the artist Noah Davis, founded the Underground Museum (see the report on the subject and her interview). She is also an artist, and at Punta della Dogana she is exhibiting “The Birth of Horus”, a figure made out of humble materials such as plaster and hemp which represents an Egyptian guardian deity.
Karon Davis is a friend of Arthur Jafa (born in 1960), winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale 2019 (see the report on the subject), who created the 7-minute video from 2016 entitled “Love is the message. The message is death”. It’s a compilation of images gathered from the internet and scored by a piece of gospel-inspired music by the American star Kanye West (see the report on the subject). At the end of June 2020 over ten of the planet’s major museums streamed this poignant and genre-defying film, a story of violence and African-American suffering, over the course of a weekend in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The work can also be found on display as part of the “Untitled” exhibition.
In 2016 Arthur Jafa didn’t ask the popstar for permission to use his music (see the report where he talks about this in Turin). This time it’s Kanye himself who has asked him to make a video for his song “Wash Us In The Blood”. And that too forms part of the Los Angeles scene.
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