Art Beat: 6 Exhibitions to See in December

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It’s hard to believe that 2019 is coming to an end. As trawlers of art and culture, we see trends that are either emerging or crystallizing, and this year is all about esoteric symbols, patterns, and unrealized design. For this month’s edition of Art Beat, SIXTY has selected shows in New York and Los Angeles that include an ignored art movement, dream-like states, and symbols that can teach us something.  Herewith, your guide to the best shows happening this December.

Installation view of Allan Sekula, War Without Bodies (1991/1996). Photo by Matthew Septimus.

NEW YORK CITY: ‘Theater of Operations’ at MoMA PS1

The U.S. wars and sanctions against Iraq are some of the most significant global actions of the past 30 years, and yet no exhibition until now has dealt with the art that’s been spawned as a result of it. Theater of Operations at MoMA PS1 brings critical attention to the artists—both Iraqi and Western—who have addressed the fallout.

Such Western artists include the iconic feminist artist Martha Rosler, whose photo montages combine images of war with domestic and commercial settings and objects. Harun Farocki’s experimental documentaries examine the role of media in the perception of war. But it’s the Iraqi artists who make this exhibition so important.

Artists like Jamal Penjweny, whose haunting photo series “Saddam is Here,” from 2010, depicts everyday people holding up an image of Hussein over their face, shed light on work that American audiences are guaranteed to know little to nothing about. These are artists who grew up with the war(s), and integrated its horrors into their art. There is no better time than now for this exhibition. Through March 1, 2020. 

Installation view, Work Desk for an Ambassador’s Wife, 2019. Courtesy of the artists and Marian Goodman Gallery.

NEW YORK CITY: ‘Work Desk for an Ambassador’s Wife’ at Marian Goodman

Most of us interact with interior design in a super passive way, usually based solely on taste—at most we think, I like that couch, or, What an ugly lamp. In her practice, artist Nairy Baghramian gets at the fundamental questions of why things look the way they do in the first place. In a beautiful show at Marian Goodman, Baghramian presents works that probe the ideologies of interior design.

She is joined by a pioneering Swiss/French architect and designer named Janette Laverrière, who, before she passed away in 2011, imagined her own mind as an architectural space. The two met and formed a friendship, finding that they both had an affinity for playful but intellectually engaging design.

At the gallery, there are sketches, drawings, and maquettes of unrealized works by both Baghramian and Laverrière. Before she passed, Laverrière had hundreds upon hundreds of never-made objects. In turn, Baghramian is showing her studies for works that were never intended to be produced, creating a world of objects that exists only in the mind. Through December 20, 2019. 

Isamu Noguchi, Memorial to Buddha (Study for a Memorial on the 2500th Anniversary of Buddha’s Paranamnirvana). Photo: Nicholas Knight. ©INFGM / ARS

NEW YORK CITY: ‘Models for Space’ at Noguchi Museum

Isamu Noguchi was one of the most revered modernist sculptors and designers of the 20th century. Born in Los Angeles to a poet and a writer, the Japanese American was determined to become an artist. So much so that he convinced Brancusi to teach him, despite the fact that they didn’t speak the same language.

The Noguchi Museum is a gem of a place, and there’s a new exhibition up called Models for Space. Besides his sculptures and furniture designs—including a table for Herman Miller that continues today—Noguchi created gardens, architecture, and set designs. The museum is a showcase of Noguchi’s singular aesthetic, and the new show provides insight into works that never got produced, or which were made after his death.

This includes “Model of Gardens for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company,” a circular zenned-out garden space for the company, and “Memorial to Buddha on the 2500th Anniversary of Buddha’s Paranamnirvana,” which was never realized. Together, they show the wide range of his oeuvre, from corporate design to spiritual intention. Through February 2, 2020.

Installation view, ”i’ll see you in the ether,” 2019. Photo by Ruben Diaz.

LOS ANGELES: ‘I’ll see you in the ether’ at Hunter Shaw Fine Art

In 2019 the comeback of the esoteric is stronger than ever. Astrology, witchcraft, and other occult inclinations have bubbled up in popular and underground culture, but often with a digital twist. This show at Hunter Shaw Fine Art showcases artists working with symbols and iconography in a contemporary context.

Developed by self-taught artist and first-time curator Jonny Negron, I’ll see you in the ether focuses on the many realms at play within the body and without, and how meaning gets made, interpreted, and actualized. Does a fire represent total destruction or blazing beginning? Why do triangles have such a loaded history in Christianity, Celtic religion, and Freemasonry? The artists in the show, many of them younger, explore these symbological questions.

They include Nina Hartmann, whose work often explores the darker side of psychedelic culture through montage and symbols. Cécile di Giovanni explores violence and other frightening themes through set design and sculpture. Though arcane subjects and concepts are at the heart of this show, it’s ultimately all about the mystery at the center of everything. See ya in the ether. Through December 22, 2019.

Miriam Schapiro, Heartland, 1985. © 2019 Estate of Miriam Schapiro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Zach Stovall.

LOS ANGELES: ‘Pattern and Decoration’ at MOCA

A little-explored segment of the feminist art movement known as Pattern and Decoration is getting its first comprehensive scholarly treatment at MOCA. Examining the years of 1972 to 1985, the show bursts with the colors and ornamentation that artists use to push against a male-dominated art world, one that was focused on abstraction.

These artists borrowed motifs from the decorative arts movement—itself a powerful strain in American arts and crafts—which was often coded as feminine and for domestic purposes, and thus, not “serious” art. People like Valerie Jaudon, Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnel, and Joyce Kozloff used an incredible array of sources, from Persian carpets to wallpaper to embroidery.

Though the movement is not discussed much today, at the time it was both commercially successful and critically lauded. It also in some ways presaged the mixing of materials and patterns that went on to define contemporary fashion and internet culture, making this show a timely one for your perusal. Ready yourself for a jaw-dropping explosion of hues and embellishment. Through May 11, 2020.

Installation view, Tatiana Trouvé, The Guardian, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian gallery. Photo by Fredrik Nilson Studio.

LOS ANGELES: Tatiana Trouvé at Gagosian

For her very first exhibition in Los Angeles, Italian artist Tatiana Trouvé is exploring the relationship between memory and material. Titled On the Eve of Never Leaving, at the blue-chip Gagosian gallery, Trouvé includes sculptures, large-scale drawings, and a remarkable, site-specific installation evoking the nostalgia and haunting of everyday objects and places.

The massive drawings of forests feel like places you’ve visited in dreams. For them, Trouvé uses pencil and bleach to create shadowy and eye-popping effects that are at once abstract and naturalistic. For the installation, titled “The Shaman,” Trouvé has cracked open the gallery floor, felled a tree, and added water to create a truly unbelievable scene that is both serene and unnerving.

The title of the show is borrowed from the title of a poem by Álvaro de Campos. This was one of the many heteronyms used by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. It’s a fitting use, since Pessoa was obsessed with looping, dreamlike sequences of memory—memories that feel more like dreams than real life. Through January 11, 2020.

Header image: Thuraya Al-Baqsami. The Last Shot. 1991. Courtesy the artist and MoMA PS1

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