In search of an art that expands the possibilities of a troubled world

The world is broken. Humans hang around, overwhelmed and anxious, glued to tiny screens, living fossils in an archeology of traumas – r...


The world is broken. Humans hang around, overwhelmed and anxious, glued to tiny screens, living fossils in an archeology of traumas – racial, economic, ecological – that all seem to be activated at once. In the face of a pandemic, political and economic leaders have proven unequal in the challenge of leading their people and the planet to safety. The playbook is empty. They lacked mediocrity, surveillance, algorithm.

This compound failure is a failure of the imagination. But if the powerful run out of ideas beyond clinging to wealth and control in the face of disaster, art reminds us that there are other options. And so this season more than ever, I turn to an art that refuses to abdicate: exhibitions and projects that offer global reach and historical insight, that tap into ancestral and community knowledge, that invite us to a thought. constellational.

The New Museum Triennial (October 28-January 23) should be a good start. The triennial’s established mission – to showcase emerging artists from around the world – is crucial in this time of national isolation; and the theme of this edition, to do with neglected materials, decay and renewal, seems appropriate. I am delighted that it includes the amazing young South African artist Bronwyn Katz, whose sculptures of copper, iron ore and found objects are aesthetically concise – not to say minimal – but strangely charged with the spiritual strength of this country’s geological and social terrain.

I often think of the 1970s, when competition between nations (and dissent within them) opposed real social projects – European social democracy, Third Worldism, the various tendencies of communism – before the Reagan-Thatcher “revolution” introduced the hegemonic cult of finance. It was a turbulent time with many failed experiments, but it produced thinking with purpose, offering glimpses of a better world.

What if global transfers of resources had taken place, as recommended in 1980 in North-South: a program for survival, the report of a committee chaired by Willy Brandt, the former German Chancellor who knelt in contrition for the Holocaust and made peace with the East? On the art front, at the time, many European opinions and even establishment figures supported restitution of works looted in colonial wars, an idea that is only now making painstaking progress. What if this humanistic logic had prevailed from the start, instead of raw market power and zero-sum thinking?

We will never know, but in the work of contemporary artists enlightened by the aspirations and illusions of this era, we can perhaps find a glimpse of the present. What could a global consciousness be today?

In Amant, in Brooklyn, a show of Grada Kilomba (until October 31) uses an installation and video performance to examine postcolonial trauma using Greek myth and psychoanalysis. At the same place, Manthia Diawara (Nov. 11-March 27) will present a preview of a multichannel work inspired by the work of Édouard Glissant, the Martinican philosopher who claimed for the oppressed the “right to opacity”. not Explain. Diawara was a friend of Glissant, who died in 2011; his film stars, among others, David Hammons, Danny Glover, Wole Soyinka and Maryse Condé.

In her four-part book “Who’s Afraid of Ideology”, filmmaker Marwa Arsanios examines the new liberation movements – ecological and feminist – in Kurdistan, Lebanon, Colombia; the complete project shows this season at Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center (September 17-February 27). Here in New York, I will be looking for international work – for example that of the Indian photographer Gauri gill, at James Cohan’s (Oct. 7-Nov. 13), and the Burmese painter in exile Sawangwongse Yawnghwe, at Jane Lombard (September 10-October 23) – for its subject matter and style, but also for connecting across the chasm of travel bans and vaccine inequality. (Here are the artists, art managers, and gallery staff producing shows under these conditions.)

I hope the Prospect 5 triennial in New Orleans, already postponed from last year by the pandemic, may take place as planned (October 23-January 23). The program is rich, with a high proportion of local artists as well as interventions from non-locals (Kevin Beasley, Simone Leigh, London duo Cooking Sections and more) which should illuminate how a large artistic gathering can be productively woven. in their host community. This is still a problem for biennials, but Prospect – who was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – can hopefully set an example, following this new trauma, to emulate for others. other cities.

Louisiana-made projects are also coming to New York, with Dread scottthe photographs and the banners of his community re-enactment in 2019 of a slave rebellion, in Cristin Tierney (September 17-December 18); and Dawoud Beyplanting site photography and video, to Sean Kelly (September 10-October 23).

If you can hit the road, however, you could travel to the Texas Biennale, which features 51 artists at five museums in Houston and San Antonio (until Jan.31). The Dallas Museum of Art has the spiritual-minded painter’s first solo museum Naudline Pierre (September 26-May 15); the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth features works on paper by Sandy Rodriguez (December 18-April 17), combining inspiration from the flora of the California desert with the social upheavals and isolation of the past year.

I’m not looking for “pandemic art” per se – we’re still deep inside. But the historical global shock that we have been going through since March 2020 is channeled slowly but surely into great artistic creations.

“Five Murmurations”, the new video installation by John akomfrah at Lisson Gallery (until October 16), is a “film archive of today” by the British director whose career, from work on race and class in the 1980s to recent projects on oceans and climate change, traces how we got to this point.

And at the hyperlocal level, I look forward to the first public programs of the Queens MuseumYear of uncertainty. “The museum – with an already strong track record of creative engagement with its borough – works with artist-in-residence and community groups to interpret and reflect in the culture and projects of the museum the existential challenge of our time.

It’s not in the halls of power, but rather in places like Queens – hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic, but also vibrant and diverse, connected by its immigrant population to most countries of the world – that we can gain solid understanding, even hope, as we strive to come out of ruin.

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