24 Artists to Watch in 2013: Part 1 of 2

As in past years, Modern Painters presents a list of emerging artists whose work we — and the artist-nominators we’ve collaborated with — find especially promising. In previous lists, we have showcased as few as nine artists and as many as 100. This time we’ve opted for two dozen, which allows us to describe and reproduce work by each while remaining broad and international in our reach. We remain convinced that other artists are the best spotters of talent, and so again this year we’ve relied on the expert aid of a group of seasoned artists: Rita Ackermann, Dike Blair, Sarah Cain, Anne Collier, N. Dash, Thomas Demand, Natalie Frank, Coco Fusco, Samara Golden, Susan Hefuna, Adam Helms, Glenn Kaino, Ali Kazma, Sam Moyer, Lisa Oppenheim, Erik Parker, Tal R, Kirstine Roepstorff, Tino Sehgal, Katrin Sigurdardottir, Fiona Tan, Nari Ward, Jonas Wood, Erwin Wurm. Erik Wysocan.

Benjamin Hirte


Born 1980, Aschaffenburg, Germany. Lives in Vienna.

A sculptor, Hirte thinks in a complex way about presentation and the ideas behind exhibitions, both for his art — which draws on the history and audience of the spaces in which he shows his work — and in his curatorial practice. Even though the artworks themselves seem like formalist sculptures and found objects, he sees them as a collage bringing together diverse elements from sculpture and the world of objects. 

Lisa Oppenheim — who exhibited a work in a recent show Hirte curated at Drei Gallery, in Cologne — says, “What is remarkable about Hirte’s work is the way in which collage functions as a structuring logic rather than simply a way of describing formal aspects of individual pieces. A central theme in his practice seems to be the way in which ideas are in themselves collages, sourced from different media and historical and physical spaces.” And indeed, the uniting methodology in Hirte’s work draws on ideas that belong to linguistics: wordplay, syntax, and semantics. “But with an undertone of parody,” the artist adds.

Margaret Lee

Born 1980, the Bronx, New York. Lives in Brooklyn.

“All of my work is human-scale, scaled to real life, and appropriative of the banal and everyday,” says Lee of her photographs and sculptures, which often fixate on subjects as unremarkable as the potato. “They’re handmade readymades — which, I know, is a contradiction.” Her show last year at Jack Hanley Gallery, in New York, included a watermelon fabricated from plaster and a faux zebra skin made with painted linen. The artist, who runs the New York gallery 47 Canal and is the founder of 179 Canal Gallery, currently has work in “New Pictures of Common Objects,” curated by Christopher Lew and on view at MoMA PS1 through December 31. “While Margaret’s work is rooted in handmade sculpture, it speaks to concerns of life in the 21st century,” explains Lew, “especially how the intangible online world is never that far from the physical.”

Edgardo Aragon

Born 1985, Oaxaca, Mexico. Lives in Oaxaca and Mexico City.

“My work speaks about how power in high places is used to corner a large segment of society,” says Aragon, whose videos deal with conflict in his home country. “I am currently making a video whose origin lies in the social protest against mining on the continent. The result of my investigation is an action executed by a male choir that sings in front of a mine that was abandoned during the colonial period in Oaxaca. The musical composition is made from the street protest slogans, with stylistic hints of Baroque. Another project consists in metaphorically re-creating a ‘death flight,’ which was something that the government used to disappear tortured bodies of peasants.” The tossing of people from planes into the ocean was a tactic, he tells us, that originated in the South Pacific during the 1970s. “This despicable practice was subsequently adopted by the South American dictatorships to eliminate their rivals,” Aragon says. “And for another recent project, I made a video about the tiny borders that are generated in a small town in southern Mexico, where the residents have violent disputes over how their territory is marked. 13 musicians play separate funeral marches while standing on stone mounds, whose function is to draw the territorial lines.”

Ajay Kurian

Born 1984, Baltimore. Lives in Brooklyn.

Lately, Kurian has pursued projects “concerned with reaching beyond the human,” as he puts it. One, to be exhibited this fall in India, consists of clarified butter, or ghee, silkscreened directly onto linen. The butter is then dusted with gold, as for fingerprints. The silkscreened images are either taken from the patterns inside security envelopes or are fabrications incorporating quasi-crystalline formations. Both, Kurian says, “are meant to withhold information from others. I found that I was more interested in the mechanism that hid the information than in the information itself. Thus the image becomes a screen, revealing and hiding simultaneously. This work addresses the sense of hiding or withdrawal as a general motif, almost as an aesthetic law: Nothing presents itself as such. Phenomenally, the silkscreened pattern can just barely be seen, and only in a particular light. In the right or wrong position, it disappears into a cloud of golden dust and the scent of musty butter. The series is titled ‘Prevenient,’ meaning anticipatory; it’s a word borrowed from a phrase, ‘prevenient grace,’ coined by the 18th-century theologian John Wesley.”

Katja Mater

Born 1979, Hoorn, the Netherlands. Lives in Amsterdam.

“I record the numerous ways we can look at photography and think about photographic images,” Mater says of her work. Her process is exceptional in that she investigates photography by turning it on itself, disrupting our sense of what this medium is. In her hands, photography loses any relationship to the documentary and instead approaches something closer to painting and drawing, which she takes as the basis of her practice. She interpolates drawing with photograph y— for example, using a camera to record the process of drawing, which is then masked by multiple negatives, generating countless different outcomes from one supposedly unique drawing. Mater is currently producing a book to be published early next year by Roma.

Ian Cheng

Born 1984, Los Angeles. Lives in New York.

“My work can’t disguise a love for cinema, special effects, eroticism, stupidity, optical and linguistic distortion, and a desire to promote images to the respect status of objects,” says Cheng, a man of many hats. In addition to making animated videos — This Papaya Tastes Perfect was shown as part of “A Disagreeable Object” at the Sculpture Center, in Queens, this past fall; the same piece had earlier been presented on an iPhone at West Street Gallery, also in New York — Cheng is director of operations for Badlands, the publishing outlet launched by artist Paul Chan, as well as a director, most recently of a music video featuring carnage rendered in 3-D for the band Liars. Currently he’s working on a 3-D animated film in collaboration with the artist Christian de Vietri. Cheng elaborates: “It will explore the ‘sculpting of copyright’ of CGI celebrities through a narrative that documents their transformation from iconic protagonists into a heterogeneous deformed primordial mess. It’ll utilize motion capture both as a technical process to be pushed far beyond its elegant use in Hollywood films and as a radically economical solution to producing a visually unbounded feature-length film.” Other projects include learning to make iPhone apps and coauthoring a romance/self-help novel with the artist (and his girlfriend) Rachel Rose, called Active Social Personal Work Life. Above all, Cheng says he wants “to live to be 200 years old in order to bear witness to long-term evolutionary and cultural change, and so I’m working on getting better at living.”

Angelika Loderer

Born 1984, Feldbach, Austria. Lives in Vienna and Feldbach.

“Stimulated by the idea of what contemporary sculpture is and could be about,” Loderer consistently pushes the medium’s envelope. For Stillleben als Hausfassade (Still Life as House Façade), 2012, she covered a bucket of fruit in yellow housepaint. Schüttlöche, 2012, is a series of aluminum casts of mole tunnels that, when positioned in a gallery space, resemble dancing alien organisms. Loderer has also made art out of car windshields and slabs of asphalt dangling from plain chairs, and has crafted a pair of semi-wearable shoe sculptures. “I’m interested in the nature of materials and their interactions with each other, in an ephemeral and formal way,” she says.

Guillaume Airiaud

Born 1983, Nantes, France. Lives in Berlin.

“There is a certain kind of loneliness to Airiaud’s entire body of work which touches me profoundly,” says artist Kirstine Roepstorff. “I have a copy of his handmade book Thoughts After the Research for the Project ‘Love Me Tender,” she continues. “It’s very beautiful and poetic. He has a very precise, distinct way of working, using metaphors and storytelling elegantly.”

Airiaud’s work process is rooted in his use of materials and includes experimentation with techniques and presentation methods, and it touches upon subjects as abstract as fiction, death, love, and play. “Patient handcrafting brings me to another level of excitement and inspiration,” says the artist, who, apart from making books, works in sculpture, collage, painting, and drawing. He recently collaborated with fashion designer Martin Niklas Wieser on a collection of garments. Airiaud produced some of the pieces in metal. “A major part of it is to create an environment to represent the vision of the project, which we are just starting to develop,” he explains. “It may involve various disciplines: installation, performance, video, photography, and so forth.” The collection will be out next spring.

Meleko Mokgosi

Born 1981, Francistown, Botswana. Lives in New York and works in New York, Los Angeles, and Gaborone, Botswana.

Mokgosi’s large-scale, project-based installations, such as Pax Afrikaner, 2008–11, and Pax Kaffraria, 2010–12, take the form of history paintings on panel. They serve, in the artist’s words, as “a conceptual, theoretical, and personal working-through of a particular dilemma: the physical and epistemological violence toward black foreigners in southern Africa.”

 Using cinematic tropes as well as psychoanalytic and postcolonial theory, his practice interrogates the specificity of regionalism in order to address questions of nationhood, colonial and anticolonial sentiments, and the perception of historicized events. “I am especially interested in how Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and semiotics can be used to comprehend national identification and occurrences such as the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa,” he says. “Pax Kaffraria is a project divided into eight chapters. The installation is constructed to mimic a filmstrip: It strategically uses cinematic scale, privileges peripheral vision as opposed to frontal, and utilizes tropes of cinematic shots—pans and medium-long shots—as well as inter-titles to conceptually frame each chapter. This project investigates nationalism by taking Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as case studies. Pax Kaffraria is a conflation of two terms. The word pax, taken from the original phrase ‘we Romans have purchased the Pax Romana with our blood,’ highlights the essence of institutionalized, enforced ‘peace’ at the height of the Roman Empire. Pax Romana, contrary to conventional belief, is not about peace; it is about nationalism, the bond between blood and soil. Kaffraria is a term that was first used by the British in the 18th century to establish British Kaffraria, a subordinate administrative entity that was primarily inhabited by the Xhosa people. More precisely, kaffraria is a British adaptation of the word kaffir, which is used as the equivalent of nigger. Pax Kaffraria, then, is a forcefully made appellation that is chiefly historical.”

Kyla Hansen

Born 1983, Panaca, Nevada. Lives in Claremont, California.

“I tend to alter and add to found objects — rural desert debris, backyard junk, furniture remnants — Frankensteining them together with glitter, whimsy, and blatant artifice,” Hansen says. Her materials evoke the provincial places she explores in her work. “I still love looking at the way certain things are put together in small, rural towns, the aesthetics of some backwards, makeshift way of getting something done,” Hansen explains. “The objects I make all seem to have a frivolity about them. They look like they could be broken down, packed away, and wheeled to the next town — kind of like a traveling circus.”

“Hansen’s work reminds me of happening upon a desert sunset at the same time you catch yourself laughing at what was just whispered in your ear.”  —Sarah Cain

Fiona Mackay

Born 1984, Aberdeen, Scotland. Lives in Glasgow and Brussels.

Mackay’s vibrant wax and batik dye paintings are inherently contrary, oscillating between controlled design and the fluid spontaneity her medium commands. “My work has always been concerned with opposites, whether in regard to medium, imagery, or application, in an attempt to confess a personal narrative, versus a public system of signs always in potential flux,” she says. With her batiks Mackay creates further tension by placing a traditional craft within the context of fine art. “The result is a combination of opposites between male and female,” Mackay explains of the process, “on the one hand connecting to the glory days of abstract painting, a predominantly male territory, while on the other hand situated within the world of textiles and folk art, connected to craft and its usual association to the feminine.”

Isabel Lewis

Born 1981, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Lives in Berlin.

Trained as a dancer, Lewis says that her work “strives to find a new mode of performative expression that is not clearly derivative of performance art, nor of theater, nor of dance, while perhaps touching aspects of all these modes of performance.” In her various activities, which run the gamut from dance to curating to visual art, she frequently collaborates with artists, writers, other dancers, and even family members (she makes work with her three siblings under the name Lewis Forever). Her projects experiment with combinations of dance, film screenings, readings, and other such activities. She sees dance “as a way of conversing with social, aesthetic, and political value systems,” exploring our relationship with objects, spaces, technology, and each other.

This article was published in the December 2012 issue of Modern Painters and will appear on ARTINFO in two parts.