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Mounir Fatmi, Les Connections, 2004 (detail)

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African Art Now
May 3-16, 2006

The only biennial devoted to contemporary African art, Dak'Art lights up West Africa this week with a showcase of visual artists, designers, and digital innovators. After surveying its offerings, we spotlight the South African photographer and performance artist Robin Rhode, who plays tricks on the eyes with his chalk illusions. Deferring to experts on African creativity, we interview super-curator Okwui Enwezor, the man behind Snap Judgments at ICP in New York, and review a new book on Jean Pigozzi's Contemporary African Art Collection. Among our reviews of global exhibitions, we feature Ellen Gallagher's project DeLuxe, a playful response to the evolution of African-American culture.

  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the Tony™ Award-winning new musical comedy that has the critics reaching for their dictionaries. "R-I-O-T-O-U-S-L-Y   F-U-N-N-Y," writes the New York Times. "H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S-L-Y   H-I-P," raves the San Francisco Chronicle. See what all the buzz is about at Spelling Bee — now on Broadway, and in San Francisco and Chicago.

Immigrant Artists Compete for Asylum
(Mainichi Daily News, April 28)
In a unique response to the roiling national debate on immigration, more than 200 artists from 43 countries took part in the AsylumNYC project by the Wooloo Productions collective at White Box in Chelsea. Ten finalists were selected to live and work for a week in the gallery space, creating art that they hoped would land them a solo show as well as the services of an immigration lawyer, who promises to secure the winning artist a visa good for three years. On April 28th, the winner was announced: Dusanka Komnenic, a painter and art instructor from Serbia-Montenegro whose current visa expires next month.

Joshua Tree Scene Blooms
(New York Times, April 21)
With its newfound status as "the art world's Palm Springs," the California desert towns near Joshua Tree National Park are attracting the attention of collectors and creators alike. Forward-thinking builders such as Taalman Koch Architecture continue to make use of the land's wide-open spaces, while painter Ed Ruscha and performance artist Ann Magnuson call the area home. So does conceptualist Andrea Zittel, who is overseeing the scene's annual highlight, High Desert Test Sites, on May 6 and 7. The festival will include work by dozens of artists, including Jeremy Deller, Chuck Moffit, and Ecoshack.

Gehry Unveils LA Plans
(Los Angeles Times, April 25)
Frank Gehry just can't stay out of the news. The architect's recently unveiled plans to revitalize Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles have stirred debate about the project's purpose and viability. Gehry's proposal calls for a glass-curtained 47-story tower, a 24-story structure, numerous retail pavilions, and a boutique hotel as well as 100 affordable housing units and 400 condos. intended to serve as a cultural and business hub for the surrounding areas, the project has thus far failed to attract several key retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Trader Joe's.

Three Asian Biennials Join Forces
(Korea Times, April 24)
In an effort to present the widening scope of Asian art to the international community, the directors of three September biennials in Gwangju, Shanghai, and Singapore have taken the unprecedented step of co-promoting their events. The sixth Gwangju Biennale plans to focus on art concerned with modernization and globalization, the first Singapore Biennale will feature art constructed around the theme of "belief," and the sixth Shanghai Biennale will be curated with an emphasis on design. Event organizers are hoping to create travel packages that will make it easy for tourists to attend all three festivals.

Meier brings modern architecture to ancient Rome  more »

Miró family objects to Google's "painted" logo  more »

Tokyo mayor slams contemporary art exhibition  more »

Fridges make for cool art in Cuba  more »

Baroness vows to chain herself to tree for Prado protest  more »

Police crack down on Beijing's new gallery district  more »

Outspoken artist Stella Vine compares art world to sex trade  more »

Pelli's Madison museum opens  more »

Editors of Architectural Record to curate US Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennial  more »

Cai Guo-Qiang's new work takes flight at Metropolitan Museum  more »

Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try akreader1 as the username and password.

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[ Dak'Art 2006 ]


El Anatsui / Kori Newkirk / Amal El Kenawy / Adel Abdessemed

Dakar, situated on the westernmost point of the continent of Africa, enjoys a stellar reputation for music and film, and the Biennial of Contemporary African Art, or Dak'Art, transforms Senegal's capital city into the showcase locale for African visual art. The Biennial continues a tradition of international art events for Senegal, which — before globalization was chic — hosted the first worldwide black arts festival within a few years of gaining independence in 1966.

Conceived in 1992 as a literary and visual art exhibition, Dak'Art has become a sonorous voice in the ever-expanding chorus of international contemporary-art shows and a destination for global players. And while the modus operandi of most biennials tend toward condensing the global at the local, Dak'Art's particular brand of cosmopolitanism starts with solo exhibitions, then telescopes out into a salon of African artists, opens up to include the African Diaspora, and finally embraces the entire world by hosting special and unofficial exhibitions — such as the Salon of Design, Dak'Art Off, and a digital arts installation, Dak'Art_Lab — by artists and curators of African and non-African heritage.

The nuanced tag line for Dak'Art 2006, "Afrique: entendus, sous-entendus et malentendus" (Africa: understood, implied and misunderstood), sets up a critical dialogue for the more than 80 artists presented this year, more than double the artists from the last biennial. The artists' practices range from more "traditional" works — concerned with visual styles from Africa — to more conceptual practices that raise a variety of issues in all contemporary media. In the latter group, artistic strategies include work with body and identity issues, especially in performance work by South African Berni Searle and Kenyan Ingrid Mwangi, and jarring installations by Algerian Adel Abdessemed; Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté tackles historical memory in his works on fabric; and Benin artist Dominique Zinkpé's sculptures of excess and detritus comment on the intersection of local customs and geopolitics.

Organized by the Senegalese government and lacking the imprimatur of a star curator — artists are selected by committee — Dak'Art could find itself vulnerable to accusations of propagandism. To address and deflect such criticism, Dak'Art set up an international advisory team of "commissars" to ensure diversity in style, content, and national origin. If one doubts the viability of such an arrangement, consider this question: How many nations can boast significant government patronage for the arts and claim a poet as their most famous president and national hero? (NB)

The 7th Biennial of Contemporary African Art is on view May 5 - June 5, 2006 in Dakar, Senegal.

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Francesco Vezzoli: The Gore Vidal Trilogy
Los Angeles

Now through May 20

  Francesco Vezzoli appropriates three films scripted by Gore Vidal to denounce power's corruptive effects. The lascivious video Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's "Caligula" employs a host of celebrities and the odd gilded strap-on to satirize Hollywood excess. A Casting Call for the New "Myra Breckenridge", a performance piece, features impersonators primping for the prized role; and a series of mixed-media embroideries, "Suddenly, Last Summer" Walk of Fame, portrays actors framed in gold stars crying blue-and-white tears. While Trailer steals the show, Walk of Fame's pointed references suggest Vezzoli's real villain operates on a global stage. Combined, these works recount a David and Goliath-style allegory, set in the film industry, in which the nasty giant wins. (CG)

Nathalie Djurberg
New York

Zach Feuer Gallery
Now through May 27

  For her New York debut, Swedish native Nathalie Djurberg exhibits an action-packed series of stop-motion animations starring a seemingly lovable cast of clay figures. However, these videos are not Saturday-morning material. Instead, Djurberg's vignettes depict outrageous sexualized episodes. A music box-style soundtrack plays alongside themes of domination, sadism, and general erotic abandon. Introducing childhood into these abnormal scenes, Djurberg shows a spoiled girl sexually humiliating another child and a boy petting, biting, and molesting his cat, all while bodily fluids spill out of the characters in unimaginable quantities. Djurberg's work presents a fresh new approach to abject art. (JC)

Édouard Levé

Loevenbruck Gallery
Now through May 20

  Unlike his earlier color series employing obvious social references, such as the ball-grabbing scenes in Rugby or the sexual positions of Pornographie, Édouard Levé's black-and-white Série Fictions is powerfully enigmatic. Each photograph exudes a dreamlike quality, capturing characters frozen in ambiguous acts of ceremonial seriousness. Mysterious and subtle, they invite the viewer to guess their meaning. In one print, a lady seated in regal posture is waited on hand and foot by five male attendants; in another, a woman holds a delicate silver teakettle above a man's mouth. With characters dressed in black and set in a black studio, these stunning prints possess an austere elegance accentuated by the black walls of the gallery installation. (MS)

Ellen Gallagher: DeLuxe

Hauser & Wirth
Now through May 13

  Layering colored plasticine, googly eyes, and paint onto vintage ads from African-American magazines, Ellen Gallagher creates mysterious, alien forms. Weighed down by their new accessories, models for hair oil and afro picks transform into characters from '50s sci-fi flicks or blond-bombshell parodies. In DeLuxe these collages mock the absurdity of cosmetic transformation and racial assimilation, while also serving as an exercise in abstract formalism. Gallagher, who cites Agnes Martin as her inspiration, arranges the 60 works in the series into a grid, exposing patterns of repetition and variation. In two large text pieces, black plasticine text is set on a gray ground, transforming aggressive advertising slogans into soft, murky forms. (BR)

Saint Clair Cemin: Saluti da Vietri

Galleria Paolo Curti / Annamaria
Gambuzzi & Co.
Now through June 7

  Brazilian sculptor Saint Clair Cemin has spent his illustrious career making the monumental whimsical and the intimate profound. Here he presents a new body of hand-crafted, glazed sculptures completed at the workshop of master ceramic artisan Vincenzo Santoriello, who previously collaborated with artists Miquel Barcelo and Enzo Cucchi, among others. Cemin's playful clay works are filled with motion and almost appear animated. Sirena Rossa and Sirena Nera seem to decompose in a tangle of lumpy limbs, then miraculously reassemble for the refocusing eye. Scapegoat, a kinetic mass cascading down a stepped stand, assumes a life of its own. Other works recall the Adriatic's rich pottery tradition. (MW)

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[ Robin Rhode ]

Robin Rhode

Performance is at the core of Robin Rhode's multimedia practice, which is often divided into the three categories of live performance, photography, and digital animation. Indeed, Rhode's performances, in which he is often the main actor, set the stage for a theatre of the absurd that incorporates drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and music.

Rhode, who was born in Cape Town in 1976 and currently lives in Berlin, combines showmanship with social commentary, humor with art history, and urban poetry with artistic mastery. In the sketches he creates for make-believe stages before live audiences, in photographic series reminiscent of chronophotography, and in digital animations akin to flip-books, childhood memories and adolescent desires are constantly reworked into street-life scenes, playground games, and domestic activities.

In a fantasy world where second and third dimensions as well as vertical and horizontal planes are blurred, and where drawings stand in for actual objects, Rhode can ride a charcoal skateboard and invite audience members to join in, or entice children into playing games with chalk. His works are both personal evocations of his South African upbringing in the black community of the Cape and the urban jungle of Johannesburg and broader depictions of global youth subculture.

In The Storyteller, a new work currently on view in his first solo show in France, Rhode collaborated with a professional dancer, who performs in an eerie background of dead leaves. As Rhode moves more toward the role of director, he is beginning to tell stories beyond himself without shedding his very personal style. (CT)

Robin Rhode participates in Dak'Art, May 5 - June 5. His work is on view in Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art at the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, through May 7, and a solo show will take place at the Shisheido Gallery in Tokyo June 6 - July 30. Rhode is represented by Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York.

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[ Okwui Enwezor ]


Mohamed Camara / Guy Tillim / Boubacar Touré Mandémory / Zohra Bensemra

Paul Laster interviews Okwui Enwezor, curator of Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. Enwezor is the dean of academic affairs at the San Francisco Art Institute and artistic director of the second Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville. He served as artistic director for the 2002 Documenta and 1997 Biennial of Johannesburg, and has organized numerous international exhibitions of contemporary art.

AK: Snap Judgment presents work from the past five years by 35 artists from a dozen African nations. Several of the photographers — such as Oladélé Ajiboye Bamgboye, Allan deSouza, Moshekwa Langa, and Otobong Nkanga — live in Europe and the US while Yto Barrada, Andrew Dosunmu, Theo Eshetu, and Randa Shaath are of African descent but were born elsewhere. How did you discover the various artists' work, and what was the process for viewing and selecting it for the exhibition?

OE: When we talk about Africa we must begin with the process of identification from the perspective of the artist. How do they see themselves? Which cultural side do they consider themselves fundamentally committed to? This is the first issue for me — to get to know the work of these artists by understanding the framework in which they have positioned themselves. While this situation is not exclusive to Africa, it's a point of departure for studying the art of the continent. We are almost at the tail end of the process of identification based on national borders. Currently, we are looking at artists who were born elsewhere but feel very committed — philosophically, culturally, and ethically — to Africa. These artists are very open and in many ways are committed to a very broad mode of working that is not just simply tied to their cultural or ethnic identity. This is only one part of who they are and how they express themselves.

AK: Did you travel extensively to assemble the show?

OE: I frequently travel back and forth to Africa, so my engagement with African artists was deeper than just seeking out artists who look African or think African or identify with Africa. I am constantly on the continent, in various capacities as a curator, a writer, and simply a visitor. I found many of these artists through my travels, but also through the work of others. These are not undiscovered African artists. These are artists who have been working over a very long period of time and have exhibited in a wide variety of contexts. I'm interested in investigating the shifts in the positioning of artists, rather than where they were born or where they come from. So I look at the different positions of those who were born outside of Africa but have self-identified with a notion of Africa, which is not in any way monolithic, but actually very diverse. People have a range of intentions and motivations for identifying as African. But looking at all of this different positioning, I thought it would be important to make an exhibition that goes beyond the territorial limits of the continent, to show Africa in its global dimensions. This for me was really the point of departure.

AK: You were one of the co-curators for the seminal 1996 Guggenheim Museum exhibition In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present, which introduced the portrait photography of Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibé, and Samuel Fosso to an international audience. How has photography in Africa evolved in the past decade?

keep reading the interview »

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  Arts of Africa: The Contemporary Collection of Jean Pigozzi
André Magnin

A collector of contemporary art since the mid-'70s, Jean Pigozzi had an epiphany when he saw the work of African artists in the seminal 1989 exhibition Magicians of the Earth in Paris. He subsequently met André Magnin, one of the show's curators, and over the next 15 years they assembled the Contemporary African Art Collection, which is beautifully illustrated and discussed in this book. The collection, which was recently exhibited in a traveling show, includes Depara's black-and-white photos of '50s and '60s hipsters, Camille-Pierre Bodo's colorful paintings of popular subjects, Bodys Isek Kingelez's models for utopian cities, Romuald Hazoumé's modern-day masks, Pascale Marthine Tayou's videos of everyday life, and other poetic and provocative works. This well-designed volume supplies an impressive overview of world-class art. (PL)

A further investigation of the collection, African Art Now: Masterpieces from the Jean Pigozzi Collection, was published in conjunction with the traveling exhibition.

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Cover Art
Mounir Fatmi
Les Connections, 2004
Books and connection cables
Dimensions variable
Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster
Bryony Roberts
Andrew Maerkle
Greg Zinman
Nikki Columbus
Jocelyn K. Glei
Mark Mangan
Shana Nys Dambrot
Allison Kave
Marlyne Sahakian
Sarah Kessler
Laura Moser

Naomi Beckwith
Justin Conner
Rachel Cook
Lisa Cooley
Annette Ferrara
Cole Godvin
Leigh Goldstein
Katherine Gunderson
Jessica Kraft
Catherine Krudy
Katie Kurtz
Melissa Lo
Christopher Y. Lew
Natasha Madov
Audrey M. Mast
Shiraz Randeria
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Claire Trancons
Hannah Vaughan
Michelle Weinberg

Anjuli Ayer
Morgan Croney
Jules Gaffney

Mailer Design
Jessica Bauer-Greene
Mark Barry

Christopher Elam
Mark Barry

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