Sarah Sze has long been creating intricate, fragile ecosystems that feel like a complex construction made of giant toothpicks (and just about anything else she can find) that could come tumbling down with a mere touch. These installations have grown more detailed over time, incorporating high-tech electronic elements while expanding the breadth of its range. Her latest immersive exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar in Chelsea begins outside the gallery and continues in the hallways, large main space, back room, and upstairs, on the walls and the floors and the ceilings. There’s something everywhere, transforming parts of the gallery into her studio, revealing her extraordinary process. Originally a painter who now considers herself a sculptor, the Boston-born, New York-based artist centers the show with Crescent (Timekeeper), an exquisite work consisting of dozens of objects, from ladders, boxes, and rocks to plants, lamps, and bottles. Videos are projected onto torn pieces of paper, including a flying eagle, prowling wolves, the swirling ocean, and a burning fire, enhanced by sound as well, each open in its own internet browser, leaving it up to the viewer to make a narrative.
There are no barriers to prevent you from getting too close to the delicate piece; there’s a guard situated on the other side of the room, but Sze trusts us to not wreak havoc. She also shows us what she’s doing; the hallway is filled with her notes, some of the materials she uses (tape, paint, push pins, photographs, videos), while behind Crescent (Timekeeper) is a stack of slowly turning projectors, casting light and shadows everywhere. The back room is a cluttered studio setting with boxes, painted canvases with images stuck on, water bottles, paper towels, and other general detritus — the process has become the work.
Upstairs is a room of four gorgeous painting collages, streaks of white paint on the floor forming a half-moon around one, as if beaming in through the skylight. Be sure to get close to the works to experience their startling depth. In the smaller, dark room, Sze lays bare her process of projecting tiny images onto a wall, revealing how she first designs them on a computer, then projects them through a sculptural form and onto the far wall. It’s utterly ingenious and wholly captivating.
Sze’s works are particularly suited to our image-saturated urban life, and especially here in New York City: Her Triple Point (Pendulum) is part of MoMA’s “Surrounds: 11 Installations” exhibition opening next week, her Blueprint for a Landscape can be seen all over the 96th St. stop on the Second Ave. subway, and her birdhouse Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat) was on the High Line in 2012. And in 2006, her partially submersive Corner Plot welcomed people to the Scholars’ Gate entrance to Central Park.
In her 2018 essay “The Tattered Ruins of the Map: On Sarah Sze’s Centrifuge,” Sze’s friend, award-winning writer Zadie Smith, writes, “Like so much of Sarah Sze’s work, Centrifuge is a complex constellation of elements, in which all constituents present themselves simultaneously. . . . After the rupture, after the apocalypse, amid the ruin of cables and wires, someone might ask: what was the purpose of all of those images within and through which we lived?” This is true of her current Chelsea show, as Sze merges disparate components and artistic disciplines, both analog and digital, to forge a deep dive into the nature of time, space, and memory in a chaotic age.
Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through October 19, free
Hong Kong-born, Nebraska-raised artist Paul Chan uses inflatable air dancers to reference art-historical themes and offer his take on the sorry state of the world in “The Bather’s Dilemma,” continuing at Greene Naftali through October 19. Chan, whose video installations include The 7 Lights, in which animated versions of people and debris fall from above, has created a series of beach tableaux in which the air dancers, generally seen as happy synthetic beings flailing about playfully, are weighed down, stuck, facing the problems tearing us apart despite their often bright color schemes. “At every age, overwhelming structural iniquities bring meaningless and arbitrary suffering and pain,” Chan writes in his “Sex, Water, Salvation, or What Is a Bather?” essay for the “Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection” show on view at the Museum Mile institution through January 12. “And at every age, people organize to resist the best they can to try to stop the calamities from claiming more lives. Progress here means the collective power to stop ourselves from what we are most in danger of becoming. But progress takes a toll, especially on those who want it most. Resistance wears down the spirit, and makes a mess of the body and mind. It is a shame that it feels natural to expect suffering in oneself for the sake of ending it in others, and commonplace to accept this terrible symmetry as the price one pays for progress.”
At Greene Naftali, works such as Khara En Tria (Joyer in 3), 2chained or Genesia and Nemesia, Phenus 1, and La Baigneur 7 (Teenyelemachus) employ specially placed fans to make the figures move in specific patterns with one another, rather than randomly as air dancers usually do. Towels serve as counterweights and also are hung on the walls like canvases. The works recall paintings by Cézanne, Munch, and Renoir but are not celebrations in the sand. Chan continues, “The bather in art breaks with this terrible symmetry by offering an image of another way forward. Works that take up this motif invite us to reflect on how pleasure renews us. They are reminders that pleasing and being pleased – without aggression or guilt – expands our capacity for fellow feeling. Genuine pleasure is rejuvenating. And like that perfect night of sleep, it has a clarifying quality, as if one has emerged from a kind of cleansing. This sense of being cleansed is stimulating and healing, insofar as it helps renew us to more ably face what the day demands.” However, he makes clear: “Progress without pleasure at heart is not progress at all. But pleasure without progress in mind is destructive, deadening, or a bore.”
Poordysseus is an upside-down bather trapped in a vitrine. The hunched-over, black La Baigneur 7 (Teenyelemachus) includes what Chan calls “suicide cords,” electrical wiring plugged into shoes. The blue Bropheus wears a shirt that says, “Iche Hab Diche Lieb, Mann” (“I love you, man”), and he is situated on a beach towel made of opioid labels and an American flag color scheme. In the back room, smaller models stand on wooden platforms on the wall, studio detritus hanging below. The beach is supposed to be a place of beauty, a respite from the intense pressure of daily life, an opportunity to commune with nature, and one’s fellow human beings, in a carefree manner, despite the possibility of jellyfish and sharks in the water. But Chan also sees at least some hope in “The Bather’s Dilemma”; in the abovementioned essay, he is writing about the Guggenheim show but it also relates to his Greene Naftali exhibit: “Consider the following artworks as spirited invitations that encourage us to recall how enlivening it is to be near or in a river, some lake, or the open sea — and maybe a figure or two, naked or clothed, alone or no, to remember all that has been lost, how close it all is to disappearing, and what it takes to go on.”
Two years ago, Kara Walker’s site-specific Katastwóf Karavan nearly didn’t make it to New Orleans’ Prospect.4 Triennial: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp because of disagreements over shipping costs. But it ultimately took its place on Algiers Point, and now the completely fabricated wagon will be pulling into the Pamella and Daniel DeVos Family Largo outside the Whitney, where it will perform for free from 1:00 to 6:30 on Saturday. The California-born, New York-based artist was inspired to construct the wagon after reading an insufficient, small historical plaque (see below) at Algiers Point identifying the location where enslaved Africans were “held before being ferried across the river to the Slave Auctions” as well as after hearing calliope music coming from the Natchez riverboat, a steamboat reminiscent of the kind used to transport the slaves. The four-wheeled, four-ton circus-style wagon features Walker’s trademark silhouette figures of slaves being abused by masters on all four sides in water-cut steel, with a loud, thirty-eight-note steam-powered calliope inside, custom made by Kenneth Griffard. The presentation is taking place in conjunction with jazz musician Jason Moran’s solo show at the Whitney, which continues through January 5; Texas native Moran will play the calliope at 6:00 on Saturday.
In the Prospect.4 performance handout, Walker, whose My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love ran at the Whitney in 2007-8, explained, “I was thinking a lot about music as the bearer of our emotional history, and about the way Jazz and gospel and African American Music are testaments to survival of our culture in the face of unrelenting, nihilistic ‘Progress’ and how it’s regarded as a monument in American History etc. But also thinking about how the Industrial Revolution, the Steam Engine and Cotton Gin were pivotal in usurping and grinding up the bodies of laborers and how much of that action, John Henry style, occurs today, with Humans fighting uphill battles to prove themselves against the latest technology. Steam engines are quaint things of the past, but industry presses on without us. The Machines have changed, but the action stays the same. How would it be if the old steam engines that ate us, swallowed too, our songs and pain, and what if, when its time was done, and slated for the scrapheap, the Steam Engine sang out in solidarity?”
Incorporating the Haitian Creole word for “catastrophe” in its name, Katastwóf Karavan — “We simply say ‘Slavery’ as if that were a legitimate job instead of what it was, a Catastrophe for millions,” Walker explains — will also play such civil-rights-era, celebratory, and protest songs as “We Shall Overcome,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Walker, whose Fons Americanus is currently wowing visitors at the Tate Modern and whose Domino Sugar Factory installation A Subtlety caused a sensation in New York five years ago, holds nothing back in her work, confronting racial prejudice and inadequate histories head-on. “Forgetting is preferable to remembering, as remembering stirs action,” she writes in the handout.
For more than forty years, Jenny Holzer has been producing text-based art, carving words into marble, projecting them on walls and buildings, running them digitally across sculptural signs, compiling them in lists, and even stitching them onto a dress Lorde wore to the Grammys. Her work has been seen on Singapore’s city hall, Silo No 5. in Montreal, the Potomac River, NYU’s Bobst Library, the New York Public Library, the Guggenheim, and Rockefeller Center. Her latest project takes her back to Rock Center with “Vigil,” a commission from the public arts organization Creative Time, which will be holding its tenth annual summit next month, asking the question “Can speaking truth to power unravel the age of disillusion we find ourselves in?”
From 8:00 to 10:00 on the evenings of October 10-12, the Ohio-born, New York-based Holzer will zero in on the rise of gun violence in the US, projecting excerpts from the 2017 book Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, which combines poetry from established writers with responses from gun control activists, politicians, survivors of mass shootings, and family members of victims; stories from the award-winning activist website Moments that Survive, collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, which is dedicated to ending gun violence; and poems by teenagers who refuse to be silent. Holzer previously collaborated with Creative Time on “For New York City: Planes and Projections” and “For the City” in 2004-5, and her ongoing “It Is Guns” series, featuring such statements as “Scream Again,” “The President Backs Away,” and “Too Late Now” on trucks, has traveled to Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Tallahassee, New York, and other American cities.
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Peter Jay Sharp Building, 230 Lafayette Ave.
BAM Fisher, Fishman Space, 321 Ashland Pl.
October 15 - December 15
Like myriad loyal BAMgoers, I look forward every year to the announcement of the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which has been presenting cutting-edge, experimental, and innovative dance, music, film, theater, opera, and hard-to-categorize multidisciplinary performances from around the world for nearly forty years. We eagerly scour the schedule to see when our longtime BAM favorites will be returning, scanning for such beloved names and companies as Robert Wilson, Sasha Waltz, Grupo Corpo, Batsheva, Philip Glass, Sankai Juku, Ivo van Hove, Mark Morris, Théâtre de la Ville, William Kentridge, Laurie Anderson, and the incomparable Pina Bausch, programmed by masterful executive producer Joe Melillo since 1999.
But this year’s lineup features nary a single familiar name, including that of Melillo, who retired after the Winter/Spring season. For his debut Next Wave Festival, new artistic director David Binder has opted to include a roster of performers all making their BAM debuts as well. But don’t be scared off by the lack of recognition. There was a time when no one in New York had ever seen Pina Bausch, Sankai Juku, Batsheva, Sasha Waltz, et al. And by its very nature, the Next Wave is all about the future of performance, delivered to an eager and intrepid audience open to anything and everything.
“In programming my first season at BAM, I was inspired by the genesis of Next Wave and the groundbreaking work of my predecessors, Harvey Lichtenstein and Joe Melillo,” Binder said in a statement. “Next Wave is a place to see, share, and celebrate the most exciting new ideas in theater, music, dance, and, especially, the unclassifiable adventures. We’ve invited a slate of artists who have never performed at BAM. Each and every one of them is making a BAM debut, with artistic work that’s surprising and resonant. I’m excited to launch this season and to build BAM’s next chapter
The 2019 Next Wave roster is an impressive one, kicking off October 15-20 with Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teaċ Daṁsa’s Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, about a young girl sexually assaulted by a priest. In The Second Woman, Alia Shawkat performs the same scene from John Cassavetes’s Opening Night one hundred times with one hundred different men over the course of twenty-four consecutive hours. Christiane Jatahy’s What if they went to Moscow? explores film and theater in a retelling of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters that takes place concurrently onstage at the BAM Fisher and onscreen at BAM Rose Cinemas, the audiences switching places as the performance repeats. In Dante or Die’s User Not Found, audience members sit in a café at the Greene Grape Annex on Fulton St., following the exploits of a man a few tables away. Dimitris Papaioannou breaks boundaries as he explores human existence in The Great Tamer. And Glenn Kaino’s When a Pot Finds Its Purpose will be the inaugural free exhibition at the new Rudin Family Gallery at BAM Strong.
The 2019 Next Wave Festival also includes Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua’s Inoah, Dumbworld’s free outdoor art piece He Did What?, Selina Thompson’s free interactive installation Race Cards, Dead Centre’s Hamnet, Marlene Monteiro Freitas’s Bacchae: Prelude to a Purge, Untitled Projects/Unicorn Theatre, UK’s The End of Eddy, Peeping Tom’s 32 rue Vandenbranden, Fuel/National Theatre/Leeds Playhouse’s Barber Shop Chronicles, Kyle Marshall Choreography’s A.D. & Colored, Kate McIntosh’s In Many Hands, and Meow Meow’s A Very Meow Meow Holiday Show. Still worried about unfamiliarity? If you’ve been to BAM before, you should be ready, willing, and able to be surprised, and if you’ve never been to BAM, you should be preparing to make your debut.