Alice Attie, Karin Sander, and Jongsuk Yoon

Galerie Nächst St. Stephan
Grünangergasse 1/2
January 12–March 3

Karin Sander, Glass Piece 22, 2017, glass, 8 x 3 x 4".

The pleasure of a group show lies in the possibility of seeing hitherto unacknowledged or overlooked qualities of the artists’ work revealed through their juxtaposition. This exhibition—focusing on Alice Attie, Karin Sander, and Jongsuk Yoon—achieves this cross-fertilization with ease and quiet elegance.

The contrast is particularly stark between Attie’s exquisite, meticulous drawings and Yoon’s large, brash Abstract Expressionism–influenced canvases. However, when the works are compared, the intensity and tacit wildness of Attie’s Black Planet, 2017, and Landscape, 2016, and the restrained color of Yoon’s paintings become more apparent, as though the individual strengths of the artists’ respective practices seen together allowed the less assertive elements of each to come to the fore. This dynamic is further enriched by Sander’s blobby glass sculptures from the ongoing series “Glass Piece,” 2015–. These small works, appearing as if they were melting and perched as though they were about to fall off their support, introduce a lightness and a sense of humor to the installation.

What these three bodies of work share is their interest in productively utilizing artistic conventions. Yoon reinterprets a language of canonical painting, and Sander subverts the traditional aims of the process of glassmaking, while Attie questions the distinctions between visual and written phrasing, or aesthetics and theory. This is most visible in her series “Class Notes,” 2012–, where she transforms notes she took while attending philosophy lectures into geometric drawings. The artist’s fine, delicate lines writhe upon closer inspection. They are at once tactile and cerebral, and it is pure joy to look at them.

Yuki Higashino

Teresa Margolles

French Pavilion
Savska cesta 25
January 18–February 24

Teresa Margolles, Sutura, 2018. Performance view, the French pavilion, Zagreb, 2018.

World’s Fair pavilions are designed to create a lasting impression of monumental (though ultimately momentary) grandeur. As such, their architects rarely account for an afterlife. Take Zagreb’s French pavilion, a striking cylindrical building that alternately suggests a birdcage and a zoetrope. Designed by architect Robert Camelot for the 1936–37 fair, the structure was consigned to an ambiguous life as “storage space” up until its recent renovation. This phrasing strategically obscures the building’s brief turn in 1941 as an impromptu detention center for Croatia’s fascist-sympathizing Ustaše government, where prisoners would wait for trains to camps such as Gospić, Jasenovac, or Auschwitz under the pavilion’s proud inscription: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”

Last September, while visiting the edifice (today part of the University of Zagreb’s student center), Teresa Margolles discovered a line of abandoned train tracks, barely visible within the grass outside. The artist meticulously cleared the weeds from the rails, revealing this iron scar. Expanding the gesture for her new commission, Sutura, 2018, she intertwined the building’s history with that of three transgender prostitutes who were brutally murdered in Ciudad Juarez in the past three years. Margolles traveled to the murder sites and used damp canvas—itself reminiscent of the coverings thrown over corpses—to mop up what little remains of the crime might still bear witness: dust, hairs, or tiny shards of glass. She then brought these cloths to Zagreb, where she invited members from the city’s LGBTIQ community to sew them together into a single shroud while sharing and recording their own personal histories. During the exhibition opening, these volunteers lifted up the conjoined canvas—its stitches rough and hedged, like train tracks—in the middle of the French pavilion, while a set of towering speakers broadcast their stories into the space. Effectively suturing past and present traumas, this fleeting act felt nothing less than monumental.

Kate Sutton

Luboš Plný

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art
Poupětova 1
December 14–March 12

Luboš Plný, Untitled, 2012, ink, acrylic, and stamp on paper, 33 x 23''.

Model, janitor, railway electrician: If Luboš Plný’s myriad vocations exclude formal training in art, this sweeping exhibition confirms the artist’s prowess and the contemporary art world’s desire to embrace a practice it once considered “outsider.” Here, we see Plný mercilessly rive his body and psyche, amassing the effects of his self-criticism and physical depredation in collage, sculpture, and photography.

In two collages from 2012 and 2014 (both Untitled), Plný draws his brain as delicate dissections. Each slice bristles with detail. Often, labels refer to body parts as well as the maladies they may unleash. (The word “insomnia” is incised on the encephalon.) The works will fascinate and confuse viewers who know their science. For instance, Plný’s use of blues and reds evokes the circulation of blood, yet he applies the colors indiscriminately. As expressive graphics, his collages connect to Surrealist drawing; as rigorous analyses, they link to the Conceptualists’ obsession with systems. The works describe a netherworld of hovering shapes, twisted networks, and torrential vitality. They posit that the matter within us—the matter that is us—constitutes a world of functions and malfunctions.

Sex Toys and Love, both 2017, are more mechanical and brutal. Sex Toys, a sweeping wall installation, combines antlers, children’s toys, furniture, and other knobby elements into an unsettling circuit of suffering and pleasure. In Love, the assembled bits are raw and vaguely tribal; the vagina is reduced to a plastic tube, while beaded ropes hang from phalluses. Plný compels us to ask how well we know ourselves—and where such a search could even begin.

Christianna Bonin

Ion Bitzan

National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC)
Str. Izvor, 2-4, wing E4, sect.5
November 23–April 1

Ion Bitzan, Image Generator, 1972, 120 boxes, wood, wax, ink, 3 x 1 1/7 x 1/2”.

Aside from painting commissions under the approval of Romania’s Communist Party, Ion Bitzan independently created objects, installations, drawings, maps, books, and manuscripts. His oeuvre, made up of nearly a thousand works, could be called social realist, but also minimalist, conceptualist, functionalist, gestural, and abstract. After post-Communist years dominated by a Romanian discourse of resentment concerning art sanctioned by the Communist Party—a discourse devoid of any real criticality—now comes a moment when art historians and curators are beginning to rediscover a mass of artworks hidden in museum depots.

This exhibition displays only a fragment of Bitzan’s output, often juxtaposing the artist’s so-called official art with his experimental work. This decision risks locking Bitzan’s works into a binary of good and evil. Better to consider their aesthetic qualities, how their surfaces are often barely sketched, as in Compoziție cu Nicolae Ceaușescu, 1986, a portrait of the titular dictator looking stunned and unnatural, the brushstrokes giving an impression of forceful incompleteness. Rauschenberg and Pop art are discreetly present.

When the subject matter was imposed upon him, Bitzan disclosed exceptional irony while generating his own method. It was authorization that allowed him an extended degree of technical freedom and modernity, while the neo-avant-garde Bitzan was in an unstoppable, fervent search for new mediums and affinities. This is evidenced by Image Generator, 1972, which consists of one hundred and twenty wooden boxes containing wax. The installation, in addition to resembling an abandoned hive, demonstrates the severe and playful commitment to deconstruction that drove much of the artist’s work, both official and independent.

Daria Ghiu