Diana Al-Hadid in New York
Diana Al-Hadid in New York
The subject of Diana Al-Hadids new exhibition, which opened yesterday at Perry Rubenstein Gallery and runs through October 9, is what she calls “impossible architecture.” In four intricately constructed, large-scale sculptural installations and a series of related drawings, she imagines fusions of the labyrinth at Crete and the Tower of Babel, each a tragic case of unrestrained ambition that, through its own undoing, amounts to what Hadid refers to as an “argument against infinity.” Lest one think that this sort of grandiosity is limited to a legendary past, Al-Hadid also points out that at this very moment, scientists at a subterranean laboratory on the Franco-Swiss border are using the world’s largest particle accelerator to find the so-called “god particle”; that’s where she got the title of her show, “Reverse Collider.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in these brainy themes, the sculptures impress above all with their physicality. “I make large work because I like to run around it, see it from different angles, have my body be part of it,” says the artist of the pieces in Rubenstein’s show, some of which take up entire walls or reach from floor to ceiling. Contrasting with this imposing scale, however, is a pronounced tactility and sense of fragility. Rather than re-create the ancient architectures at their awesome zenith, Al-Hadid has represented them mid-destruction, when the hubristic overreach of their creators hit a tipping point and they began to crumble. Thus you have images of a floor melting, a structure falling in on itself, and a once-mighty tower reduced to a faint imprint on the floor — eerie reminders that it is not only ancient towers that collapse.
The four major works in the show represent various visions of Babel’s destruction. In The Tower of Infinite Problems and The Problem of Infinite Towers, you see a close-up of a single level of the tower mid-collapse, the floor split in two and falling in on itself, a complex structural machinery of pipes and pistons melting, a series of supports skinned down to their honeycomb innards. A wall installation, The Path of Diminishing Returns, shows the end of the destruction — the tower meant to “reach unto heaven” reduced to a labyrinthine etching in the floor (like those at cathedrals such as Amiens and Chartres) with a gaping hole at its center, which the artist, who is Syrian-born and of Muslim heritage, relates to the centrality of Mecca. Self-Melt is something of a summation, showing a Babel-like structure (evocative of Brueghels famed depiction) in the form of an hourglass, its center eaten away, its top dripping down, its base a runny, pulpy wreck.
In the end, Al-Hadid’s work presents a series of paradoxes — it is at once conceptual and tactile, grandiose and fragile — at the heart of which lies one of the central puzzles of art: how the creative act requires structures and patterns, but also that these structures and patterns be broken and subverted. It is this tension between ritual and rebellion that gives her art its energy and beauty.
Once you’ve checked out Al-Hadid’s show, here are a few more exhibitions she recommends for the weekend in New York:
"Two shows at MoMA caught my attention. The 'Wunderkammer' show in the Prints and Illustrated Books gallery is inspired by 16th-century 'cabinets of curiosities.' The show groups together works ranging from the turn of the 20th century (particularly the Surrealists) to contemporary (such as personal favorites by Trenton Doyle Hancock and Gert and Uwe Tobias). The organizing principle is anything that defies category — the unusual, the unnatural, and the hybrid. Many of these otherworldly images were born directly of raw everyday materials or, in the case of the artist Not Vital, directly from the bodies of two lambs (he made an aquatint by dousing fleece in printmaking solution to etch into a plate). Another interesting specimen is a book by Olafur Eliasson, in which each page is laser-cut to create a negative impression of a house. A few other favorites were: a strange and beautiful print of a town forming a bridge by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, a sentimental drawing of a 'Green Animal' by Minnie Evans, and Max Ernst’s 'collage novel.'
"The second show at MoMA, 'Home Delivery,' is also pretty great, and some of the pieces feel like surreal time capsules. For me, some of the early prefab architecture of the ’60s and ’70s evokes a rusting, dislocated 'future'; it reminded me of the abandoned pod city of San Zhi in China (Matti Suuronen’s space-agey 'Futuro House'). It was interesting to see how architects explored innovative materials of their time — as in the all-plastic house — while working to preserve a singularity and comfort in the modular designs. What I found most interesting were the adaptive superstructures that acted like flexible skeletons, such as the Stadt Ragnitz’s 'mechanical column,' which you can see in a stunning model. You can also watch a video of Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower being built capsule by capsule at the factory and craned over to the building’s spine, where it is plugged into place."
3. Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through September 21
"This also deservedly popular show makes a strong 'partner' to the 'Modern Dwelling' show at MoMA. One of its hilarious gems is a video that shows Fuller surrounded by hippies in San Francisco answering questions and giving advice about how to get started on improving the world — he even offers advice on raising children. The drawings in the show are beautiful renderings of simple geometric forms that grow into complex plans for efficient homes, or 'dwelling machines,' and buildings such as a '4D tower garage,' which Fuller writes has the potential to be 'collosally beautiful.' Another gem is a Western Union telegram to Fuller’s friend and collaborator Isamu Noguchi explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity. There is so much to learn from this show, and there are so many Fuller-isms that it’s worth getting the catalog for the extra-credit reading."
4. Phoebe Washburn: Tickle the Shitstem at Zach Feuer, through October 4
"This promises to be one of the most rewarding and exciting shows in Chelsea this season. Washburn has elaborated on her work at this year’s Whitney Biennial with an installation that consumes the entire gallery with an elaborate system of waste filtration and recycling. The 'not a pencil' pencils that line the front corner wall trigger suspicion about the contents of the Gatorade bottles behind the counter. Her world is a strange balance of the hypnotic and repellent. Among the stranger items are T-shirt filtering systems and dirty golf-ball water tanks engulfed by a complex grid of 2x4s."
5. Martin Boyce and Ugo Rondinone: We Burn, We Shiver. at the Sculpture Center, September 7 – November 30
"I am looking forward to the opening of this two-person show. Boyce presents a suspended sculpture that looks like a spider web of fluorescent lights covering the ceiling of the space (40 x 50 feet and installed 20 feet above ground). Rondinone’s piece includes a cast bronze 19th century fireplace filled with lead."
6. Alexey Kallima: Chechen Women’s Team of Parachute Jumping and Its Virtual Fans at Lehmann Maupin, through October 18
"Alexey Kallima makes paintings and installations drawing from his life as a Chechen refugee in Moscow. The work seems mysterious, and the drawings are beautifully loose and energetic and have an intimate quality, with the subjects sometimes looking directly at the viewer, as if through a camera lens."