in Critic's Guides | 01 FEB 19

The Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2019: the View from the Americas

From an epic Rembrandt restoration and Charles White retrospective, to a trip to the Museum of Frogs, the best things ahead of us this year

in Critic's Guides | 01 FEB 19

James Rondeau
Jennifer Burris
Jill Glessing​
Jonathan Griffin
Magali Arriola

Simon Castets

Rembrandt’s Night Watch restoration, 2018. Courtesy: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 

James Rondeau
James Rondeau is the President and Director of the Art Institute of Chicago.

2019 brings a number of extraordinary opportunities – the opening of a transformative art complex, a revelatory look at a famous painting and exhibitions of artists from near and far. I am very eager to visit the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne when it opens in April. Designed by architectural firm Barozzi Veiga, it is the first of three museums forming the epicentre of a future arts neighbourhood. This July, visitors to the Rijksmuseum will be able to experience the museum’s most iconic painting, Rembrandt’s Night Watch, in an entirely new way. Conservators will perform a full examination and restoration within the public gallery space as part of a partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago focused on public-facing art and science programmes. In September, DePaul Art Museum presents a survey by Chicago-based artist Julia Fish with a selection of paintings and works on paper – at once rigorous and meditative – inspired by the places she inhabits: her studio, her home, her world. Thanks to a recent gift, the Art Institute now houses the largest collection of posters by the Medu Art Ensemble outside of South Africa. In April 2019, the museum will present an exhibition of Medu posters that attests to the collective’s transformative impact on the visual culture of apartheid-era resistance during the late-twentieth century. 

Jason Moran, ‘STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1’, 2015. Courtesy: the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York; photograph:  Farzad Owrang, © Jason Moran

Jennifer Burris
Jennifer Burris is a curator and writer based in Bogotá, Colombia where she is director of Athenée Press. 

Two landmark projects from 2018 – the publication of Frantz Fanon: Alienation and Freedom, edited by Jean Khalfa and Robert J.C. Young for Bloomsbury Press, and the ‘Scattered Seeds’ series of film screenings and residency collaborations between Colombia, Senegal and South Africa – constructed a critical and artistic field upon which some of the most hotly anticipated projects of 2019 will play out. Highlighting research-driven processes of historical recuperation, attuned observational practices that seek the political in the everyday, and the constant geographical interchange of ideas, peoples and objects, these exhibitions and publications focus on the ideological and spatial construction of the Americas. 

This December in Bogotá, artist Doris Salcedo opened the counter-monument Fragmentos, a 19th-century colonial house whose 800-metre floor consists of 37 tons of melted firearms, surrendered by the FARC and converted into tiles in collaboration with women affected by Colombia’s longstanding conflict. A site for artistic commissions devoted to processes of historical rupture and the effects of violence, inaugural presentations by Clemencia Echeverri and Felipe Arturo will open in early June. Three artists with roots in the Caribbean – Christopher Cozier, Alia Farid and Ulrik Lopez – will debut game-changing projects at curator Claire Tancons’s contribution to The Sharjah Biennial 14, ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’ (March–June). Lopez deploys Yoruba traditions of syncretism tied to Santería to re-create a 1966 experimental ballet from the XVII Chess Olympics, a performative embodiment of Cuba-United States relations during the Cold War, while Farid will present a video, edited in Mexico, focused on the musical and theatrical culture of a small fisherman’s village called Salakh in Qeshm. (This work resonates with researcher Samak Kosem’s ‘non-human ethnography’ exploring homosexuality in Muslim societies in Thailand’s Deep South. In 2019 Kosem will publish this research with Thirdspace Publishing in a book titled And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold). In February, Farid will also present an installation in Kiev for the Future Generation Art Prize that emerged from her solo exhibition at NC-Arte in Bogotá, ‘Formas caídas’ (Fallen Forms, May–July 2018), curated by Claudia Segura. Organized by Magalí Arriola for the Mexican Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale, artist Pablo Vargas Lugo’s ‘Actos de Dios’ will tackle fundamental narratives in this moment of their global re-emergence. 

The musical influence of Vargas Lugo’s practice is reflected in composer Jason Moran’s anticipated solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art, co-organized by curators Adrienne Edwards with Danielle A. Jackson, which promises to be a standout. So too does the long-awaited Vija Celmins retrospective, which will travel from SFMoMA to the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Met Breuer. Finally, the always-excellent Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, led by curator Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, kicks off its transformative year of establishing the Atlanta University Center Initiative to Increase Diversity in the Museum Field with a solo presentation by painter Amy Sherald, originally organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. 

Chantal Ackerman, In the Mirror, 1971. Courtesy: the artist

Jill Glessing​
Jill Glessing is a writer and lecturer in the History of Photography, Art History, and Visual Art Theory at Ryerson University, Ontario.

With the spectre of fascism looming around the world, as well as the clashing pressures of migration and decolonization, I am looking forward to the work of artists and curators who are engaging critically in these ideological struggles to sustain us with glimpses of intelligence, humanity and poetry.

In Canada:

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), continuing its inaugural programming after reopening in September, presents two works by Chantal Ackerman: her early film, In the Mirror (1971) and her final video installation, NOW (2015). The museum’s 2019 programme also includes promising presentations by Basma Alsharif, Mark Dion and Shezad Dawood, as well as the group exhibition ‘Age of You’, curated by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans-Ulrich Obrist.

In the fall, the Art Gallery of Ontario will mount the first Canadian retrospective of work by Hito Steyerl.‘The Way She Looks: A History of Female Gazes in African Portraiture’, drawn from photographs in the Walther Collection, will open at the Ryerson Image Center in September.

Outside of Canada:

‘Sink Without Trace’ at London’s P21 Gallery will be the first exhibition to focus on migrant deaths at sea and include works by migrants and refugees.

In a world of austerity, Sally Mann’s photographs offer glimpses of beauty and tenderness beneath the surface. The Jeu de Paume, Paris will open Mann’s first retrospective, ‘A Thousand Crossings’ in June.

Curator Jorge Ribalta’s work often attends to relations between working class interests and art. His book Renaissance: Scenes of Industrial Reconversion in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Coalfield (Leuven University Press), to be published in March, will explore an instance of labour displacement and cultural gentrification.

Astute cultural observation and analysis remain essential in troubled times. The winter edition of the New York based online publication World Records Journal will offer a timely examination of the value of documentary forms in relation to Hannah Arendt’s writing on democracy and authoritarianism, titled ‘In the Presence of Others’.

Charles White, Sound of Silence, 1978, colour lithograph on paper, 64 × 90 cm. Courtesy: © The Charles White Archives Inc and the Art Institute of Chicago

Jonathan Griffin
Jonathan Griffin is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles, USA. 

Of course, I’m looking forward to the hotly anticipated West Coast outing in February of Charles White’s retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which travels from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago. But two satellite presentations, both homegrown, have the potential to be just as exciting.

Also organized by LACMA, ‘Life Model: Charles White and his Students’ will focus on White’s enormous impact as a teacher at the Otis Art Institute in the 1960s and ‘70s. Held at the elementary school located on the original Otis campus that is now named after him, ‘Life Model’ will bring together various artists – including Kerry James Marshall, Ulysses Jenkins and Richard Wyatt – for whom White was an exemplary and inspirational figure in a racist art world.

At the California African American Museum – currently going from strength to strength – an exhibition titled ‘Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary’ will make an argument for White’s continuing and posthumous influence (he died in 1979). The show, curated by Essence Harden and Leigh Raiford, will gather work by diverse younger artists including Sadie Barnett, Greg Breda, Arielle Danielle, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Lava Thomas.

Adriana Bustos, Venus, 2018, acrylic, graphite and silver leaves on canvas. Courtesy: the artist 

Magali Arriola

Magalí Arriola is an art critic and independent curator based in Mexico City, Mexico. She is a contributing editor of frieze.

The two major economies in Latin America – Mexico and Brazil – took a radical turn in their most recent elections. The former exuded excitement about the advancement of its first leftist government only to now release anxiety and suspicion over what now appears to be the advocacy of a nationalist nostalgia for its rancid ancien régime. Brazil is now coping with an extreme right that longs to unleash the power of the military. It is crudely intolerant of LGBT rights, has no respect for culture and represents a blunt threat to our environment and life itself. As we’ve learned in recent years, these concerns are hardly exclusive to the Americas. The 58th Venice Biennale, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’, and the 14th Sharjah Biennial, ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’, promise to offer two different takes on how to deal with our globalized world in times of political crises, social disorder, media perversion and environmental degradation. Both events will take us on a liberating journey through the renegotiation of our cultural beliefs by way of imagining alternative narratives through which to (re)construct our history on an everyday basis. If all of these weren’t enough to keep us going through an invigorating 2019, hopefully the third season of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective will continue to masterfully portray a party of antiheroes struggling to cope with a devastatingly ordinary life. From them we might learn to keep waging a relentless battle against the decadence and corruption of our social and political institutions.

Dora Budor, ‘Adaptation of an Instrument’, 2016, installation view. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Courtesy: the artist 

Simon Castets
Simon Castets is the Director of the Swiss Institute in New York 

In 1967, French sociologist Luc Boltanski published his ironically titled essay ‘le Bonheur suisse’ (Swiss Happiness). Aimed at understanding the latent tension between Switzerland’s global reputation for contentedness and its ranking as Europe's most suicidal nation at the time, Boltanski’s essay was based upon a series of in-depth questionnaires. One of those, focused on cultural practices across all social strata of Switzerland, highlighted astonishingly high visitor rates for cultural institutions, including theatres and museums. An explanation for this finding, which undoubtedly counted toward the well-being score of the Confederation, was in the sheer number of cultural institutions across the country. This vast quantity is, of course, due to a combination of exceptional funding sources and overlapping administrative segmentations, but also an unparalleled taste for the idiosyncratic. In addition to the kunsthalles, kunstvereins and kunstmuseums that occupy each canton, Switzerland boasts museums devoted to Beck typewriters, customs forms, Charlie Chaplin, telephones and diseased body parts. Virtually everything is on the table to be exalted, examined and protected by institutions.

And while the hyper-specificity of these spaces may seem frivolous, the detail in which they examine the world may give us a better understanding of our place in it. In 2019, as self-proclaimed ‘universalist’ museums worldwide grapple with a much-needed reexamination of their scope and the feasibility of their ambitions, one might find comfort in the extreme-niche museum. I would suggest to any contemporary-art-fatigued individual to visit one of these institutions in the coming year.

A personal favorite is the Musée Valaisan des Bisses in Boytre-Ayent, Switzerland. Open seasonally between 27 April 27 and 9 November, the Musée des Bisses focuses exclusively on the immemorial and untranslatable technique of the bisse, a man-made waterway running down the mountains toward cultivated fields. Dating back from the Roman period, the bisse has been a key element of the area's development and continues to be used as a means of irrigation as far as Nepal. Housed in a 17th-century building, the museum is composed of ten rooms over 3 floors, each devoted to a specific aspect of this archaic, though persistently vital infrastructure.

Perhaps more unexpected than obscure is the glossy and new Maison du Basket (House of Basketball). Managed by the international Basketball Federation, this museum is situated in the suburb of Mies on an 8,000-square-metre plot of land overlooking Lake Geneva, ten minutes outside of the city center. In addition to serving as FIBA’s headquarters, the structure, unified by the recurring lattice motif evocative of a net, houses an exhibition hall, the FIBA Hall of Fame, a court for visitors and a library named for famed Spanish coach Pedro Ferrándiz. The building was designed by Lausanne-based architect Rodolphe Luscher, who completed the project in 2012. When viewed from above, as it often is by planes descending into the Geneva Airport, the museum resembles the outline of a human hand.

In 1979, Dr. h.c. Heinrich Weiss-Stauffacher founded the Museum of Music Automatons in the city of Seewen in the Canton of Solothurn. This spring, in celebration of its forty-year anniversary, the museum will present ‘Automaton Music 4.0’, an exhibition of the museum’s expansive collection divided into four categories: Automatons, cylinder and disc music boxes, musical souvenirs and Swiss railway station music boxes. The exhibition’s title references the current, fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, which is characterized by the development of cyber-physical systems and data exchange. ‘Automaton Music 4.0’ will exhibit objects that apply these new technologies to these nostalgic devices.

And while there is no special exhibition planned at the Musée des Grenouilles (Museum of Frogs) in the ancient town of Estavayer, it remains one of my favourite Swiss museums due to its namesake, permanent collection of taxidermied frogs staged in human poses and dress. In these disquietingly cute tableaux, amphibians dine on noodles, take notes in a classroom and play a game of pool, clustered around a billiards table. The museum in Estavayer is not entirely devoted to frogs, which somehow makes its extensive collection even stranger. The room is included amongst other collections of prehistoric artifacts and quotidian tools and crafts. The phenomenon of humanizing preserved frogs was quite popular in the 19th century and is not exclusive to Switzerland. In fact, there is a large collection housed in a museum called Froggyland in Split, Croatia, which was profiled a few years ago in what is our generation’s own, digital cabinet of curiosities, the Daily Mail.

And while I’m not sure she has ever paid a visit to Froggyland, Croatian artist Dora Budor has made use of amphibian props from Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia in some of her most significant sculptures. Her European solo institutional debut at the Kunsthalle Basel is one exhibition in 2019 that I am exceedingly eager to visit. While many of the details and surprises remain confidential, Budor’s exhibition synthesizes many of the same peculiar themes these niche-museums strive to promote. By incorporating environments, sculptures, sound, animatronics and machinic interventions, Budor will investigate the architectural history of the Kunsthalle Basel. Sound, dust (which she used to great effect this past year in the group exhibition ‘Being There’ at the Louisiana Museum of Art) and structural modulations will render the exhibition, in her words ‘a reactive biotope’. The Kunsthalle Basel, will become an instrument. The institution will function as a mysterious, colossal automaton.

I’m drawn to Budor’s work for many reasons, but its urgency comes from her deft negotiation of, and willingness to hybridize, the human and inhuman elements of our chaotic world. It is increasingly difficult to delineate the manner in which humans shape environments from how environments shape humans. The work of artists like Budor probe how these relations have become irreversibly entangled.  Karen Barad emphasizes, in her essay ‘Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness’, the tendency museums have to ‘invisibilize’ through abstract, universalist thinking. A museum trading in such universalisms operates at a distance from how the world works. Perhaps it’s best to start small. To consider our relationship with the inhuman by observing the histories of how water is carried down a mountain, why a music box gives us such pleasure and why we chose to dress frogs in our likeness. Our entangled world can be more clearly understood through specific, niche perspectives. Start small, make links, set it in motion.

Main image: Kader Attia, from the ‘Rochers Carrés’ photographs, 2008. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler