Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through January 1, $25
“If you succeed in building a model, you visualize what is living inside you so that the outside world can adapt it, study it, discover it, see it,” Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez says in a promotional video for the dazzling exhibition “Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams,” continuing at MoMA through January 1. The deservedly popular show consists of buildings, plazas, and urban areas that sprung from Kingelez’s vast imagination, using paper, paperboard, plastic, and such found materials as soda cans and bottlecaps, that practically beg visitors to study them, discover them, see them. And as playful and colorful as they are, with an infectious, childlike quality, they also comment on economic inequality, the importance of community, and a government’s responsibility to its citizenry. Kingelez, who was born in Kinshasa in 1948 and passed away in 2015, built an urban utopia that included such fantastical architectural structures as “Kinshasa la Belle,” “U.N.” “Miss Hotel Brussels,” “The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA,” and “Palais d’Hirochima,” reimagining urban renewal and the social contract while referencing the AIDS crisis, international diplomacy, tourism, and nuclear war. Most impressive are several large areas that resemble gigantic game boards, such as “Ville Fantôme,” “Ville de Sète 3009,” and “Kimbembele Ihunga,” but they are more than just massive toys or maquettes for the future. “Without a model, you are nowhere. A nation that can’t make models is a nation that doesn’t understand things, a nation that doesn’t live,” Kingelez said.
Curators Sarah Suzuki and Hillary Reder organize the show with plenty of room to wander around the installations, as well as adding ceiling mirrors to better experience the remarkable details on several of the bigger works. In a back room, “Ville Fantôme” comes alive in a large-scale, sophisticated virtual reality experience that allows the viewer to navigate through one of Kingelez’s creations as if life-size. The exhibition, the first American retrospective of his work, also features a soundtrack selected by Carsten Höller and Kristian Sjöblom, with songs by Franco & Le T.P.O.K. Jazz, Docteur Nico & l’African Fiesta Sukisa, Pepe Ndombe & L’Orchestre Afrizam, M’Pongo Love, and Ndombe Opetum, Pepe Ndombe & Zing Zong Personnel, among others, bringing music into these inviting spaces. In search of a “better, more peaceful world,” Kingelez described himself as “a designer, an architect, a sculptor, engineer, artist.” He might have saved “artist” for last, but he is finally being recognized for his bold, imaginative artistic expression. On December 10, MoMA will host “An Evening with Bogosi Sekhukhuni,” with the South African artist presenting video works dealing with technology and the diaspora, followed by a conversation with Sekhukhuni, poet manuel arturo abreu and MoMA curatorial fellow Hanna Girma. On December 5 (11:30), 12 (1:30), and 19 (11:30), Angela Garcia will lead the Gallery Sessions tour “Bodys Isek Kingelez’s Extreme Maquettes”; on December 15 and 31 (1:30), Maya Jeffereis will lead “Drawing in Bodys Isek Kingelez”; and on December 22 (11:30) and 27 (1:30), Petra Pankow will lead “Bodys Isek Kingelez’s Urban Dreamscapes.”