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February 12, 2009

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Franz Ackermann, <I>Gateway-Getaway</I>, 2008-09
Franz Ackermann, Gateway-Getaway, 2008-09

Identity and altermodernity in the UK

Looking to London for cultural inspiration, this issue of Artkrush focuses on two controversial exhibitions at competing art institutions. Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East opened on January 30 at the formidable Saatchi Gallery, which shares newly renovated quarters with auction house Phillips de Pury & Company in the old Duke of York's barracks. Altermodern, the 2009 Tate Triennial exhibition, premiered at the venerable Tate Britain on February 3. One show conceptually challenges social identities in a misunderstood part of the world, while the other creates misunderstanding with its view of the present and its manifesto for change — yet still turns out to be entertaining.

- Paul Laster, Managing Editor
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Unveiled »
New Art from the Middle East
Shadi Ghadirian, <I>Like Everyday</I>, 2000-01
Shadi Ghadirian, Like Everyday, 2000-01
Saatchi Gallery, London
Now through May 9

The second in the Saatchi Gallery's trilogy of exhibitions of contemporary art from emerging global markets, Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East follows last year's popular show of new Chinese art, and precedes a survey of work from India.

features 19 young artists from a region fraught with images of uncertainty and revolt in the media. Offering raw and provocative perspectives on the sensibilities of a new wave of artists, it blurs the boundaries between censorship and freedom, playing heavily on social issues and perceived gender roles.

The highly political commentary on the role of women in Islam is evident in French-Algerian Kader Attia's arresting Ghost (2007), a series of 240 tin-foil shells of veiled women, arranged in rows in the posture of Islamic prayer, devoid of face and identity. Similarly, Tehran-based photographer Shadi Ghadirian's Like Everyday (2000-01) series of large-format photographs showcases a variety of female figures, whose faces are replaced by domestic items, such as an iron or a rubber glove — borrowing from Marcel Duchamp's notion of the readymade to comment on the confinement of women to domestic quarters.

In contrast, another Tehran-based artist, Shirin Fakhim, exploits the taboo subject of sexual deviance in her hyperbolic and humorous Tehran Prostitute (2008), a series of life-size female and transgender figures composed of household pots, pans, rope, and trashy, padded lingerie. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to female sculptures made by YBA artist Sarah Lucas, Fakhim's works mock the incongruous relationship between sex and morality in post-Revolutionary Iran.

-Sara Raza
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Altermodern »
Tate Triennial redefines modernity
Bob and Roberta Smith, <I>Off Voice Fly Tip</I>, 2009
Bob and Roberta Smith, Off Voice Fly Tip, 2009
At times messy, at times streamlined, Altermodern is an intriguing medley of new and recent art by 28 British and international artists. Subodh Gupta's ceiling-high mushroom cloud of shiny saucepans fills the entrance of the Tate Britain, from floor to domed ceiling, serving as an explosive harbinger of the mishmash of medium, reference, and genre to come. Nicholas Bourriaud, the curator of Tate Britain's fourth triennial, sets out to redefine modernity in our globalized, culturally intertwined times. In some ways it's best to leave this premise — both theoretical conundrum and irreverent jest — at the door; the artworks themselves already demand enough cogitation.

After Gupta's gleaming kitchen utensils comes a series of installations with a more rough-and-ready feel. A placard painted with the words "I wish I could have voted for Barack Obama" and second-hand tricycles at its base is one of a series of works the artist known as Bob and Roberta Smith will make during the exhibition. Each of these items will end up in gallery storage, open to the public. In Franz Ackermann's Gateway-Getaway, empty pickle and juice jars congregate around a rotating sail-like board, which in turn is circled by glossy, psychedelic paintings on one side and an ominously empty cage on the other; from three and two-dimensional planes to enclosed space, it's tricky to find one's feet in Ackermann's contribution (for which some sections have been made in transit), but perhaps that's the point.

Equally unpredictable, in a carnivalesque and celebratory way, is Spartacus Chetwynd's Hermitos Children, a detective-cum-soap-opera-cum-erotic-TV-show featuring dildo seesaws and stuffed pigs. Visitors are invited to recline on a giant beanbag, which somewhat tames the rampant zaniness of the underground performances that Chetwynd documents in her orgiastic mashup, played on multiple TV monitors.

Charles Avery invites us into his imaginary world through drawings and an effigy of the head of a prehistoric creature, his titular "Aleph Nul." Taking an alternative approach to revealing what's in the head of an artist, meanwhile, Loris Gréaud records his brain activity during intense thought. The resulting installation consists of gleaming white vibrators that transmit electrical signals triggered by his brainwaves — his thoughts hum and purr, becoming physically manifested.

Extramission 6 (Black Maria) sees Lindsay Seers look both inward and outward. Installed in a shed-like replica of Thomas Edison's Black Maria — the first film production studio — a possibly fictional documentary tells the artist's remarkable story of the loss of her photographic memory and the ensuing trauma, which sees her become a human camera and then a projector. Does the artist's name somehow foretell this?

Veering to the totally absurd is Nathaniel Mellors' Giantbum. A winding, felt-lined tunnel takes us to a set of three latex masks, their mouths opening and closing in time to a voice issuing from above. The masks, it appears, are of a character played by the artist, who features in videos mounted along the way, in which a troupe of actors are trapped in a giant's bum. By the end of the gloriously sprawling, gargantuan Altermodern, it's easy to understand how they feel.

-Helen Holtom

Altermodern, which is accompanied by a catalogue, is on view at the Tate Britain through April 26. Find photos of the exhibition on Flickr.
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The best in recent art-news coverage
Cultural acclaim, residents' anger (Boston Globe)
Shepard Fairey's arrest for graffiti crimes exposes an ongoing social battle in Boston.

Flames engulf Beijing hotel (Washington Post)
The Rem Koolhaas-designed Mandarin Oriental burns after being showered in illegal fireworks.

Jay Jopling: Crunch time for Mr Brit Art (London Times)
Artists and colleagues recall the London art dealer's charisma, even before he began dating Lily Allen.

Radical architect Jan Kaplický dies (Guardian)
The revered Future Systems partner collapsed in a Prague street, hours before the birth of a new child.

Poo-extruding artwork useless but entertaining, says artist (
Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye shares his thoughts on Cloaca No. 5, a "sporty" machine that eats food and defecates.

'Untouched' East German flat discovered (Telegraph)
Architect Mark Aretz unlocks the door to a 20-year-old time capsule while renovating a Leipzig apartment building.

A shaper of talent for a changing art world (New York Times)
A savvy Times reporter charts Deitch Projects director and former model Nicola Vassell's rise to power after shifting careers.

Norman Foster likely to lose 'Lord' title (UnBiege)
Britain's House of Lords is rumored to be considering stripping starchitect Sir Norman Foster of his title because of his Swiss tax status and criminal record.

A horse of a different color divides Denver (Wall Street Journal)
Artist Luis Jiménez' colossal blue mustang sculpture, which crushed him to death before completion, is scaring the hell out of visitors and residents, provoking calls for its removal.

Mr. President, tear down this painting (Huffington Post)
Author and blogger Jonathan Melber proposes that Obama take the concept of change to the installation of contemporary art in the White House.
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