Highlights 2013 - Negar Azimi

Negar Azimi is senior editor of Bidoun.

Philippe Parreno, The Writer (2007), installation view, 'Anywhere, Anywhere, Out Of The World', Palais de Tokyo, 2013; courtesy: Esther Schipper, Berlin

Philippe Parreno, The Writer (2007), installation view, 'Anywhere, Anywhere, Out Of The World', Palais de Tokyo, 2013; courtesy: Esther Schipper, Berlin

There’s a darkened room deep in the nether regions of Philippe Parreno’s solo appropriation of Paris’s Palais de Tokyo (‘Anywhere, Anywhere, Out of the World’) in which cinema marquee lights of different shapes, sizes, and styles hang – there are 16 of them – flickering on and off and on again (there’s also one outside the entrance to the 1930s art deco building). When it’s in full motion, the motley collection of retired electrical bodies amounts to a strange symphony, like spirits suddenly communicating to us from the dead. The rest of this humongous show – which indulges in the thrilling logic of a children’s hide and seek game – is pretty terrific, too.

Le Corbusier, Marie Cuttoli(detail) (1936), © F.L.C. / Adagp, Paris 2013

Le Corbusier, Marie Cuttoli(detail) (1936), © F.L.C. / Adagp, Paris 2013

Next door at Musée d’Art Moderne is ‘Decorum’, an exhibition of diverse textile work by artists or, as I took to calling it by the third time I saw it, ‘that carpet show’. It turns out that many of the big male guns made work with textiles (Picasso, Brassai), but so, too, did others (Caroline Achaintre, Guidette Carbonell). ‘Decorum’ is generous, warm and playful at moments (take the nice touch of a stray flower by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, who served as the show’s guest artistic director, or a frame lying absently on the floor as if by accident next to a Frances Bacon rug). The exhibition’s straightforwardness without sacrifice to rigour or seriousness was pleasing as it brought renewed vitality and curiosity to an art that is mostly viewed as minor or decorative craft. On occasion, a vernacular and in some cases ancient work from Iran or Morocco or Egypt was thrown in, as the press release stated, ‘to underscore meaningful similarities and differences’. I like that: no pointless intellectual acrobatics to make sense of the question of multiple modernities or indulge in the familiar game of ‘is it craft or art?’ Simply put, there are similarities and there are differences. Enjoy. All of it makes you want to curl up and take a nap.

František Kupka, The First Step (1910–13), included in 'Trisha Donnelly: Artist's Choice', MoMA, New York, 2013; courtesy: Hillman Periodicals Fund

František Kupka, The First Step (1910–13), included in 'Trisha Donnelly: Artist's Choice', MoMA, New York, 2013; courtesy: Hillman Periodicals Fund

A disclosure: I love everything Trisha Donnelly breathes life into. Enigmatic without being obfuscatory, vividly personal without being opaque, her works operate their magic on all your senses care of multiple registers. Giving her the keys to the store room of New York’s Museum of Modern Art as the tenth artist invited to mount an exhibition in the museum’s bounds was an inspired decision. Witness finely detailed bird photography, a shiny black pyramid fashioned from plastic, stairs that lead … nowhere, computer generated paintings commissioned by a CEO at Hewlett Packard that approximate astrological charts or colourful South American textiles. This accumulation of mostly long-unseen and in some cases never-seen work spread across three rooms wasn’t at all about that (tired) rubric of outsider art, but rather, about art that engages the eye and the ear in new and unexpected ways as a voyage to outer space would. And it had Trisha’s weird and wonderful fingerprints all over it.

A hip-hop track beckons you into Frances Stark’s Bobby Jesus’s Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention Is Free (2013) at this year’s Carnegie International. In a video narrative that is at times a pleasingly confusing torrent of words and associations, the artist recounts a dialogue with Bobby Jesus, a young man who lives on what he describes as ‘Planet Hood’. A flood of images – from portraits of rappers to old masters – makes this an unlikely multimedia experience that is at turns angry, urgent, and funny.

Much has been written about Massimiliano Gioni’s noteworthy ‘Encyclopedic Palace’ at the 55th Venice Biennale, but it was the show within the show organized by Cindy Sherman that made for the most unusually cohesive landscape of images. Her personal photo album collection (itself an extraordinary document of so many varieties of spraywork hair!), drawings collected from prison inmates, creepy dolls and additional quirky eclectica provided a privileged window into the artist’s own psyche.

Yto Barrada’s ‘Album: Cinematheque Tangier’ at the Walker Art Center. I didn’t see the show, but I did follow the artist’s progress as she brought together strands of her own work with the life of the 1930s-era Cinematheque she runs in the heart of Tangier. One feeds the other. In the process of watching this sprawling exhibition come to be, I learned about scopitones, juke-box like technologies that like some antique predecessor of the music video once held 16mm films within them. At the Walker, Barrada installed a series of scopitones featuring films made by North African guest workers in the 1950s – moving tales of migration and desire – once installed in the cafes and bars they frequented.

I went to an early tour of the newly reopened former textile factory at 101 Spring Street in New York that served as the home and studio of the late Donald Judd and indulged in his barely visible interventions, oversize kitchenware, the neat children’s quarters and, of course, his mega sparse floor-bed … so minimal, so special, and yes, so male. Herein is a workshop for ideas that would eventually take form elsewhere, not to mention a strangely appealing vision of design and domesticity.

Mitra Farahani, Fifi Howls from Happiness (2013), film still

Mitra Farahani, Fifi Howls from Happiness (2013), film still

Fifi Howls from Happiness directed by Mitra Farahani is a welcome window into the life of an under-recognized artist. Built around the late Bahman Mohasses, one of the enfants terribles of the modern movement in Iran, Farahani’s documentary portrait captures the madness and beauty of the artist’s last moments on earth (literally) in exile in Italy. Deserving of a large-scale appreciation, Mohasses’s crooked painting and sculptural work is macabre and funny at once. The Fifi of the title – a single painterly work that he loved most – was recently on view at New York’s Asia Society’s ‘Iran Modern’ exhibition.

Both Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers boasted female protagonists I fell for – fleshy, painfully real, irreverent, foiled. While the former had many filmic moments I delighted in (falling while running is always a gas), the latter held within its bounds a multitude of sentences I smiled at, underlined, and read over and over again. Kushner’s ability to vividly summon up historical scenes as diverse as the narrow New York art world of the 1970s or the radical Italian left of the same period reveals her skill as a gifted ventriloquist.

Hilton Als is simply put one of our best living critics. White Girls, a collection of new and old essays on subjects ranging from Truman Capote to Michael Jackson to Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley meditates mindfully on vexed questions of race, queerness, and longing. It is in turns searing, revelatory, violently true.

An English translation of Albert Cossery’s 1948 Laziness in the Fertile Valley published by the storied New Directions publishing house has odd resonance with the current moment in Egypt where a nation’s debut experiment with democracy has climaxed with a devastating military coup. Like its stylish author, a protagonist flâneur of the cosmopolitan Egyptian surrealist movement who spent most of his life ogling pretty girls, living in the Hotel La Louisiane on Paris’s Left Bank, and, well, being lazy (he wrote a book every decade or so), this story about a family of heroic lay-abouts haunts us with an unlikely imperative: Repose! Repose!

Mike Kelley, Day is Done (2005-06), film still

Mike Kelley, Day is Done (2005-06), film still

Requisite nods: Mike Kelley at PS1. The sensitive installation of Day is Done (2005-06) alone is worth the visit. Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue (2013): poetic rhapsody about the origins of the universe I couldn’t keep my eyes off. The brass band at Jeremy Deller’s after-party at the Venice Biennale (the work was good, too). Meredith Monk’s magical mouth acrobatics in concert in London during the Frieze Art Fair. The pink-legged dog in Pierre Huyghe’s show at the Pompidou (the ultimate artistic quotation from an artist who revels in quotation). The New York Review of Book’s reissue of Renata Adler’s Speedboat and Pitch Dark represent quirky journalism that is both on and productively off-point. Forty-One False Starts: Janet Malcolm can walk on water.

Negar Azimi is a writer and senior editor of Bidoun.

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