BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 14 JUN 24

What to See Across Europe This Summer

From Joan Semmel’s unflinching depiction of female sexuality to Atiéna R. Kilfa’s sharp reimagining of film noir techniques

BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 14 JUN 24

Toyin Ojih Odutola | Kunsthalle Basel | 7 June – 1 September

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Opin ojo (EOD - End of Day), 2022-23
Toyin Ojih Odutola, Opin ojo (EOD - End of Day), 2022–23. Courtesy: © Toyin Ojih Odutola and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

For her first institutional solo exhibition in Switzerland, Toyin Ojih Odutola pays homage to her late grandmother by bestowing her surname, Oriaku, to a new series of tableaux vivants – ‘Ilé Oriaku’ (House of Abundance, 2024).

The solitary figures that occupy each canvas reside within different rooms of an imaginary Mbari House – a now-obsolete southeast Nigerian building that hosted cultural meetings and spiritual ceremonies. More striking than the artist’s depictions of the interiors, however, is how she has illustrated the characters’ complex emotional worlds. In works such as Anyi Di Ato Ibi (We Become the Third Place) (2023–24) and Opin ọjọ (EOD–End of Day) (2022–23), the inner thoughts of each protagonist are manifested as shadowy doppelgangers or reinterpreted into patterned swathes of burnt saffron, ochre and toffee. – Angel Lambo

Joan Semmel | Xavier Hufkens, Brussels | 24 April 22 June

Joan Semmel, Camera Choreography, 2006/2021
Joan Semmel, Camera Choreography, 2006/2021, oil on canvas, 1.9 × 2.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Joan Semmel paints big. ‘An Other View’ (her first solo show in Europe since 1965) only extends to ten works, but is a perfectly formed overview. An untitled sex painting from 1971 at first reads as a strongly coloured abstract. It guides your eye to a central spire of acidic aquamarine flanked by gritty earth-toned forms, before delivering a powerful jolt of recognition: Oh my god, that actually is an erect cock! The bodies are fragmented, seen from multiple angles, recording not just the look of fucking, but the mobile experience of it. (The painting looks almost freakishly contemporary, which makes me wonder whether the art world has been re-prudified by the new yardstick of Instagram.) – Hettie Judah

Vaginal Davis | Moderna Museet, Stockholm | 18 May – 13 October

Vaginal Davis, The Fantasia Library (detail), 2024
Vaginal Davis, The Fantasia Library (detail), 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Vaginal Davis 2024 and Moderna Museet; photograph: My Matson/Moderna Museet

I first encountered Vaginal Davis’s work in 2008, while interning at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. I had been assigned the job of facilitating Davis’s performance Colonize Me (2008), a series of private one-on-one encounters with the artist that took place inside a dressing room. Among my tasks were informing participants of the terms of their meeting with Davis – the Black, intersex and genderqueer doyenne of Los Angeles’s homocore scene – and obtaining proof of consent (as I recall participants had to disrobe). I never got to experience the work myself, but I’ll never forget how gobsmacked everyone looked afterward.

I observed similar reactions in visitors to ‘Magnificent Product’ at Moderna Museet, the centrepiece of Davis’s sprawling retrospective currently on view at four different venues in Stockholm. (The other exhibitions are at Accelerator, Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation and the National Museum, with Moderna Dansteatern and Tensta konsthall joining in the autumn.) Seated on a pew inside the installation The Carla DuPlantier Cinerama Dome (2024), I watched viewers enter then hastily exit a screening of the documentary The Last Club Sucker (1999), which follows Davis as she charms the crowd gathered for the final instalment of Club Sucker, her Sunday afternoon punk rock and performance art club in LA’s Silver Lake neighbourhood. In the video, Davis periodically stops to fondle and tenderly suck the cocks of various attendees. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned contemporary-art enthusiast squirm. – Matthew Rana

 Atiéna R. Kilfa | Den Frie, Copenhagen | 4 May – 8 September 

Atiéna R. Kilfa, ‘Special Effect’, 2024
Atiéna R. Kilfa, ‘Special Effect’, 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: David Stjernholm

Rooted in German expressionist cinema, film noir is notable for its dramatic lighting, disorienting camera angles and entrenched sense of dread. The genre, which flourished in Hollywood during the 1940s and ’50s, captured something of the existential crises of the postwar years. Atiéna R. Kilfa’s film Rotor Vector (2024) – currently on view in her solo exhibition, ‘Special Effect’, at Den Frie – pays homage to the unease of the genre, starring a protagonist that could easily have stepped out of a sinister crime story. – Alice Godwin

‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’ | Fondation Pernod Ricard, Paris | 7 May – 13 July 

‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’, 2024
‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’, 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: Fondation Pernod Ricard, Paris; photograph: Martin Argyroglo

‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’ sees artist-curator David Douard channel the poetics of movement and cross-pollination, which animate his sculptural practice, into a group show of unlikely and mysterious rewards. It constellates mostly pre-existing work by 13 artists in Douard’s orbit to gesture towards the stimulation and polyvocal affect generated by the shared-studio environment. Though Douard’s practice remains entwined with the ‘post-internet art’ label, this show is suggestive of the rough-and-ready analogue media that have long inflected his work – think graffiti and fanzines – and named after a beloved 1982 record by jangle-pop outfit Felt. Like the music of that band, this show dares you to succumb to its accumulated disorientations. – Dylan Huw

Main image: Joan Semmel, Yellow Sky, 2015, oil on canvas, 130 × 180 × 3 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Contemporary Art and Culture