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Ai Weiwei, Collapsed Template (detail), 2007

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documenta 12
July 25 - August 7, 2007

Living up to its reputation for idiosyncrasy, documenta 12 intermixes iconic and unknown artworks for an exploration of disparate practices. We discuss the surprising choices, such as early paintings by John McCracken and Trisha Brown’s show-stealing dance performance. We interview Chinese megastar Ai Weiwei, who brought 1,001 people to the exhibition, and spotlight the emerging French artist Saâdane Afif, who creates large installations from musical elements. For our media pick, we consider documentary photography by the politically minded Martha Rosler. Moving beyond Kassel, we review the standout shows of Karen Kilimnik at ICA Philadelphia, Yuri Masnyj at New York's Metro Pictures, and Mamma Andersson at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Schnabel Not So Pretty in Pink
(The Villager, June 20-26)
Is it hot pink? Is it burgundy? A debate rages over the color of artist and director Julian Schnabel's strongly hued 17-story tower in New York's Greenwich Village. Schnabel himself is reported to have variously dubbed the color as "Pompeii red" and "Venetian red" and is said to be upset at the media frenzy surrounding the structure. The stucco of the building's façade failed to cure properly, resulting in some white coming through the red paint. Whatever color it is (or is supposed to be), Schnabel's assistant Brian Kelly insists that the color was not chosen in retaliation to neighbors who opposed the construction project.

Akron Unveils Wild New Expansion
(The Washington Post, July 13)
The Akron Art Museum is opening its $35 million expansion by Austrian architect Wolf D. Prix — a structure boasting metal and mesh wings jutting out at severe angles over a glass-and-aluminum core. The new building more than triples the size of the institution, imparting a decidedly futuristic bent to the brick design of the 1889 original. Museum officials are apparently hoping that the work of Prix's firm, Coop Himmelb(l)au, with its commitment to innovation and off-kilter aesthetics, will result in a "Bilbao effect" for Akron, emulating the boom enjoyed by the industrial Spanish city following the debut of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim.

Cohen Lends Met Hirst Shark
(Bloomberg, July 13)
Hedge-fund manager and art collector Steven A. Cohen has agreed to loan Damien Hirst's 1991 work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a period of three years. One of the most well-known works in contemporary art, the sculpture, purchased by Cohen in 2005 for $8 million, features a 13-foot tiger shark in a tank of formaldehyde. The shark in the tank is not the original, which had started to deteriorate. "It should be especially revealing and stimulating to confront this work in the context of the entire history of art,'' Metropolitan director Philippe de Montebello said. In related news, Hirst purportedly sold $265 million worth of art from his recent exhibition at London's White Cube.

Faked Degrees Halt Star's Rise
(The Independent, July 13)
One of Korea's rising art-world stars has been revealed to be a charlatan. Recently tapped to be the co-curator for the 2008 Gwangju Biennale, Shin Jeong-ah, 35, curator of the prestigious Sungkok Art Museum and the youngest professor at Dongguk University, claimed to hold degrees from Yale and University of Kansas. The University of Kansas said that Shin, known as "Cinderella" in art circles, had attended classes there, but did not graduate with a degree, while officials from Yale refuted Shin's claim that she had received a doctorate in art history from the institution. In addition, the dissertation she submitted to Dongguk was heavily plagiarized. Shin has said that she will take legal action in her defense, but many expect that her career is over.

Hammer to receive major collection more »

Koons responds to tough questions from UK interviewer more »

Art that should come with a health warning more »

Collector accuses Warhol estate of art-market conspiracy more »

Celebrated artists take their turns as curators more »

Boston gallerists getting younger more »

Berlin's increasingly commercial art scene more »

The Tate looks to increase minority attendance more »

Allan Shulman and his hybrid, tropical architecture more »

Is Chris Doyle's 50,000 Beds tied to tourism? more »

LA crafts scene gets a dose of hipness more »

Phillips de Pury & Co. works out entrance-fee agreement with Charles Saatchi's museum more »

Graffiti art supporting Olympic Games finds fans in China more »

A look at photographer Jon Huck's contemporary Couples more »

Conceptualist Rudolf Stingel gets a Whitney retrospective more »

Are Elton John and George Michael the new Medicis? more »

Italy preps its first contemporary art museum more »

Sales continue to rise at Christie's more »

Drawings by rock legends Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix on display more »

Serpentine curator Kitty Scott discusses working with Paul Chan, Matthew Barney in London more »

Greek contemporary art museum building will finally be restored more »

California architect George Yu dies at 43 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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[ documenta 12 ]


John McCracken / Gerwald Rockenschaub / Tanaka Atsuko / Peter Friedl

Every five years, documenta turns the sleepy German city of Kassel into an international bastion of high art tourism. This year, the renowned exhibition's 12th incarnation boasts over 500 artworks by more than 100 artists and spans seven large venues — including one in Roses, Spain. Conceived by artistic director Roger M. Buergel and curator Ruth Noack, documenta 12 eschews a singular theme in favor of "radical formlessness." Instead of canned interpretations, viewers are provided with three questions to ponder in connection with the works on display.

The exhibition's artists manifest a range of conceptual and material approaches. The sleek, minimalist sculptures of American John McCracken contrast markedly with a selection of small mandala paintings from earlier in his career. German artist Cosima von Bonin's installations encompass Rorschach tests, oversized stuffed animals, and hanging lengths of bamboo; her Austrian neighbor Gerwald Rockenschaub's offerings include a stack of monochromatic carpets in different colors and sizes as well as an enormous inflated cube. Kerry James Marshall, whose intense acrylic and collage portraits seem to appear around every corner, also presents a recent series of comic strips entitled Dailies (Rythm Mastr) that explores perspectives on quotidian life in black America. Some of the most extraordinary drawings in documenta 12 find inspiration in the everyday. Annie Pootoogook's pencil, crayon, and ink compositions depict the vicissitudes of modern Inuit existence, from the menace of a polar bear to the media presence of Jerry Springer. The obsessive, overlapping lines of Pakistani artist Nasreen Mohamedi's drawings are seen in her diaries as well, and Japanese artist Tanaka Atsuko's calendar shows meticulous pencil drawings made during a prolonged hospitalization. More humorous are the childhood sketches of Austrian Peter Friedl, which resonate unmistakably with his current, mature work.

The photographs at documenta 12 are decidedly political and confrontational, such as KwieKulik's images of domestic playgrounds that challenged the stifling atmosphere of '70s socialist Poland. Not quite photojournalism, South African Guy Tillim's chronicle of the Congolese struggle for democracy highlights the margins of major events, while Dutch artist Lidwien van de Ven probes friction between East and West through juxtapositions of ambient imagery with densely populated group scenes. Elsewhere, video and performance works almost steal the show. Veteran choreographer Trisha Brown's Floor of the Forest creates a live interplay between dancers' bodies and structural installation. Perhaps documenta 12's most decisive tour de force, Bosnian artist Danica Dakic's El Dorado video features a group of disadvantaged youths performing their stories before a magical panorama in Kassel's German Wallpaper Museum. Insightfully evoking the global via the local, this piece alone makes a trip to Kassel worthwhile. (SK)

documenta 12 is on view in Kassel, Germany, through September 23. For more coverage, catch documenta 12 in 5 minutes, a video on YouTube; view installation photos on Flickr; and stay abreast of new activities via the documenta12blog.

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Karen Kilimnik

Institute of Contemporary Art
Now through August 5

  Philadelphia native Karen Kilimnik's first American survey presents more than 100 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, installations, and rarely seen video works fusing a range of high- and low-brow references, from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and George Stubbs' equestrian sketches to Charles Manson's twisted family values. Viewers can follow the development of the artist's installation aesthetic: earlier scatter works sit aside a site-specific red chamber that's part Uffizi Gallery and part English-manor drawing room, complementing an off-site installation at the historic Powel House. Most fun, however, are stylized images of pouting beauties — think Kate Moss, Isabel Adjani, and Bananarama — that, prefiguring Elizabeth Peyton's quixotic portraiture, often substitute for Kilimnik's ego-ideal. (NB)

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

Yuri Masnyj: The Night's Still Young
New York

Metro Pictures
Now through July 31

  Injecting images of domestic interiors with the implications of cerebral domains, Yuri Masnyj's works on paper and assemblage-inspired sculptures examine the artistic reverberations of household elements as seen through the prism of 20th-century art. The drawings depict pared-down rooms and still lifes of Cubist wine bottles and thick books, whose arrangements are mirrored in the handcrafted sculptural compositions. Referencing constructivist elements, Masnyj titles intimidating tomes and imagined corporate posters with nonsensical words that graphically resemble text on Soviet propaganda posters. By playfully mixing somber grays with rainbow hues, Masnyj probes the solidification of once-radical styles, seeking fertile ground for new combinations. (CYK)

Wilhelm Sasnal

Hauser & Wirth
Now through July 28

  For his new show of paintings, drawings, and a 16mm film, Wilhelm Sasnal draws inspiration from 20th-century rock icon Elvis Presley. Several paintings take viewers on a fantasy ride through the King's legendary estate, Graceland, imagining scenes such as an austere room with a grand piano and armchair through a forlorn, green-tinted palette. Another work, with the year "1977" cut into its pink canvas, both alludes to Presley's death and playfully references artists On Kawara and Lucio Fontana. The film uses grainy concert footage that the artist found on YouTube of Elvis performing just weeks before his passing, offering poignant insights into fallen idols and 21st-century media consumption. (AM)

Sweet Bird of Youth

Arndt & Partner
Now through August 31

  Ex-Dior designer Hedi Slimane's curatorial debut at Arndt & Partner, Sweet Bird of Youth features fashionable artists including Ryan McGinley, Dash Snow, and Matt Saunders, among others. Lust, insurrection, and glamour recur in black, white, neon, and mirrors, but the works' minimalist presentation communicates restraint. William Cordova's stacks of newspapers featuring photos of bound prisoners stand in the entry, and Slimane's glittering 17-meter carpet extends through the main space. The curator also contributed the exhibition's title piece, a simple black structure that supports the phrase "Sweet Bird of Youth" in white neon letters softly glowing across its length. Clippings of male sex symbols hang limply from the sign's electric cord, and innocence is long lost. (CR)

Mamma Andersson

Moderna Museet
Now through August 5

  Though talented Swedish painter Mamma Andersson burst onto the international scene just four years ago at the 2003 Venice Biennale, Stockholm's Moderna Museet has already organized a traveling mid-career survey of her work. Spanning five years, the exhibition presents recent depictions of elegant and richly complex interiors, a shift from the expressionistic landscapes — haunted by spectral figures — that she painted for much of the '90s. In the diptych We Do Boring Things Together, two dark-haired adults hunch over a desk; the wall above them in the left panel contains a faded inversion of the figures from the right, painted in thin washes of color to the brink of abstraction. (HGM)

The comprehensive catalogue for the exhibition is reviewed in the Rural issue of Boldtype.

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[ Saâdane Afif ]

Saâdane Afif

The sophisticated, music-based constructions of Saâdane Afif are just beginning to receive international recognition. Working in Berlin, Afif creates installations and neon signs that use musical composition, notation, and iconography to structure and guide the viewer's experience.

For Lyrics, his "sung retrospective" at Palais de Tokyo in 2005, Afif asked composers such as Tujiko Noriko and Ludovic Poulet (aka Portradium) to create music based on lyrics he commissioned from writers, describing his earlier works. He then covered the gallery walls with the texts while providing headphones for visitors to listen to the interpretations of his art.

Occupying the literal and figurative epicenter of documenta 12's temporary Aue-Pavilion, Afif's Black Chords Plays Lyrics combines Lyrics' novel retrospective approach with Power Chords, a 2005 work that turned wooden sculptures by minimalist artist André Cadere into music. Afif has arranged 13 guitars and amps in a black-draped room that also serves as a passageway to the other half of the exhibition. The guitars are hooked up to mechanized strummers, which cover the guitar strings like black plastic hubcaps. Approaching from afar, one hears the eerie echo of the seemingly random chords as they filter through the pavilion. Upon leaving the room, the experience repeats, this time with the sound receding into the sensory confusion of the other installations.

This restrained disruption of perception, movement, and space is a thought-provoking formal experiment. While compressing an entire other career into one installation, it also engages viewers on an immediate level and constitutes a haunting calling card for an innovative artist. (AM)

Saâdane Afif's work is on view at documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, through September 23. The artist's first monograph, Power Chords, was published by JRP/Ringier in 2006.

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[ Ai Weiwei ]


Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is one of the most prominent figures in Chinese contemporary art and culture. The son of legendary poet Ai Qing, the younger Ai was a founding member of the avant-garde Stars groups in the late '70s. After living and working in New York from 1981 to1993, he returned to China and helped establish the famous Beijing East Village. Artkrush contributor Samantha Culp interviews Ai about his groundbreaking work at documenta 12, including the Fairytale project, for which he brought 1,001 Chinese citizens to Kassel — home of the Brothers Grimm.
AK: How did the idea for Fairytale come about, and how did you find 1,001 people in China willing to participate in a project in Germany?

AW: I grew up in Xinjiang within a hardcore communist society — we got all our education in labor camps. Today, it's a very different time; the development of political, economic, and technical systems has brought us to a completely new age.

At the same time, I think the old systems and power structures, based on the old thinking, are still here — especially in China, but also in the West. I believe that personal awareness and experience is absolutely essential for social change; that change should be based on an individual confrontation with reality.

When documenta asked me to do a project, I really wanted to do this exercise, Fairytale, of bringing 1,001 people to the event as a kind of disruptive intervention. It wasn't a specific commentary on documenta — any other show or fair still operates within the old framework of thought. This way of presenting [art], the kind of communication, who's doing what, how it's received — it's all based on the old structure. My project draws from personal effort and results in an individual engagement, no matter who the viewer is — somebody who's art-savvy or somebody who doesn't know art at all, but is just willing to have contact with this experience.

I recruited participants on my personal blog. The whole process went so well on the Internet; we couldn't have done it otherwise. People really had a sense of trust in this new channel of expression, which was very encouraging. I didn't know them, they didn't know me, but we could still communicate well. Still, it was more or less intangible until the time when everyone actually got on the bus. I was very touched and impressed to finally see everyone as a real person.

AK: What were some of the biggest challenges of bringing such a large group to Kassel?

keep reading the interview »

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  Martha Rosler: Passionate Signals
Martha Rosler, Beatrice von Bismarck, and Inka Schube
Hatje Cantz

Best-known for her antiwar and feminist photomontages and videos deconstructing everyday life, Martha Rosler is one of the most significant artists working today. Her investigative work in photography, video, performance, and installation and her critical writing have influenced a generation of postmodern artists and scholars. This insightful book, which was published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany, celebrating Rosler's receipt of the 2005 Spectrum Prize, presents 180 photographs of shop windows, signage, subways, airports, and street items. The images, assembled from five different documentary series, examine social stereotypes and political propaganda while revealing the poetic possibilities of photographing in public places. Equaling the imagery in strength are the ideas Rosler shares, in an interview with Molly Nesbit and Hans Ulrich Obrist, about her visual diaries and other seminal works. (PL)

Martha Rosler's work is on view at documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany through September 23. Martha Rosler Library, an exhibition comprised of 7,700 books from the artist's personal collection, can be seen at Berlin’s unitednationsplaza through August 31.

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Cover Art
Ai Weiwei
Collapsed Template, 2007
Wooden doors and windows from destroyed Ming and Qing Dynasty houses, wooden base
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist; documenta GmbH, Kassel; and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, Lucerne
Photo: Julia Zimmermann
© Ai Weiwei; Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, Lucerne; and documenta GmbH, Kassel
All Rights Reserved

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