Art that STIRred 2019

Our roundup of the top 10 exhibitions and artworks of 2019 that were powerful, distinctive and unforgettable.

by STIRworld Dec 20, 2019

From Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods at the UN to the Pink seesaws at the US-Mexico border, 2019 has been a year of inspiring and powerful art. We round up 10 distinct works, in no particular order, of art that made an impact that is here to stay.

1. DYSFUNCTIONAL, Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

Lying at the intersection of art, design and architecture, Carpenters Workshop Gallery's exhibition Dysfunctional raised concerns about form versus function.

Exhibiting over 50 works by 23 international artists, the works on display delved into the question of form versus function in a world where technological advancement is increasingly changing the landscape of art and design. Exhibited in the ‘ca’d’oro’, which houses artworks from the Baroque and Renaissance age, the contemporary works while in direct contrast to the architectural richness of the original space, created a sense of wonder and shock at times, stimulating a dialogue that raised pertinent concerns about history, technology, art, ecology and, most importantly, sustainability.

In the words of Julien Lombrail and Loic Le Gaillard, co-founders of Carpenters Workshop Gallery, “We decided to stage Dysfunctional during the world’s most important art exhibition, the Venice Art Biennale, to question what defines an artwork, why can artworks not be functional, and when does design become art?”

Read the full article here.

Studio Drift; Fragile Future Chandelier Venice Mantegna; 2019; Dandelion seed, phosphorus bronze, light fittings; H316 L241.6 W262 CM / H124.4 L95.1 W103.2 in; Unique | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Studio Drift; Fragile Future Chandelier Venice Mantegna; 2019; Dandelion seed, phosphorus bronze, light fittings; H316 L241.6 W262 CM / H124.4 L95.1 W103.2 in; Unique Image Credit: Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery

2. IN REAL LIFE, Olafur Eliasson
Tate Modern, London, UK

The Danish-Icelandic artist is known for his all-encompassing, immersive work that unites the worlds of architecture, ecology, food, education, sustainability, climate change, perception and collective activity.

Eliasson has changed the way people relate to art by creating spectacle and wonderment around his work. One of highlights of In Real Life was Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) 2010. This was a 39-metre-long tunnel filled with fog. Viewers could see only 1.5 metres ahead, becoming temporarily blinded with their other senses are heightened.

"Olafur represents a totally new model for an artist. His activities extend far beyond those of most artists working today. In any given period of time he might be, for example, taking commissions for architectural designs (through his architectural practice Studio Other Spaces), or designs for stage productions; organising support for his Little Sun social business, speaking at conferences and summits dedicated to art and its power to accomplish change, working on ideas for restaurant pop-ups, or meeting with leading thinkers in fields as diverse as food, neuroscience, and urban planning to talk about new ways of understanding the world that will, in turn, inform his artistic practice," said assistant curator of the exhibition, Emma Lewis.

Read the full article here.

Big Bang Fountain, 2014 Water, strobe light, pump, nozzle, stainless steel, wood, foam, plastic, control unit, dye 1650 x 1600 x 1600 mm Installation view at Moderna Museet, Stockholm 2015 | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Big Bang Fountain, 2014 Water, strobe light, pump, nozzle, stainless steel, wood, foam, plastic, control unit, dye 1650 x 1600 x 1600 mm Installation view at Moderna Museet, Stockholm 2015 Image Credit: Anders Sune Berg Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles © 2014 Olafur Eliasson

3. HYUNDAI COMMISSION, Kara Walker
Tate Modern, London, UK

The shadowy world (usually room-sized) of Kara Elizabeth Walker gently beguiled the viewer into believing that they are looking at historical tableaux, only to shock them as they draw nearer. The perfect scene of plantation life in the antebellum South, however, came apart upon closer scrutiny, for the shadow figures defecated, sucked and ejaculated as they revelled in all kinds of erotic, sadistic and masochistic acts.

Walker, an American contemporary painter, silhouette artist, print-maker, installation artist, and a filmmaker, is known for slowly pulling the rug from under the viewer, exposing them to a world where she brings them into close contact with the issues of race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity.

Underpinning its overt rhetoric of black female sexuality is Walker’s critique of the treatment meted out to coloured and immigrant factory workers of the sugar factory who had been underpaid, maimed or killed in accidents with no life or medical insurance. Walker wrote in her artist statement, “[It is] … a homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Read the full article here.

Kara Walker, The Katastwof Karavan, 152 x 216 x 100 inches, installation view, New Orleans, L A, 2018| Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Kara Walker, The Katastwof Karavan, 152 x 216 x 100 inches, installation view, New Orleans, L A, 2018 Image Credit: Alex Marks © Kara Walker

4. LANDS, WATER AND SKIES, Nikhil Chopra
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

The artist’s residency programme at the Metropolitan Museum of Art explored the landscapes of his grandparents’ homeland through a performative and immersive art experience titled Lands, Waters and Skies.

During his residency, Chopra interrogated how identities are formed and understood through a series of dramatic characters. For nine consecutive days, he inhabited various personae and interacted with The Met collection. Akin to a nomadic traveller, he moved through the museum, following an itinerary of his own making that questioned the museum's own organisational principles.

“As a child, I spent many summers in Pahalgam with my grandparents in their little cottage on the Liddar river,” he recalls. “They had to sell their home for a pittance in 1989, when the area became politically troubled. These early formative years of my life were framed within this landscape,” he said of his inspiration.

Read the full article here.

Nikhil Chopra during his performance Le Perle-Noire Le Marais at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2014| Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Nikhil Chopra during his performance Le Perle-Noire Le Marais at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2014 Image Credit: Manisha Gera Baswani

5. BAKA, Takashi Murakami
Gallery Perrotin, Paris, France

Takashi Murakami, whose iconic works script the meeting of graphic art, pop art and high art in Japan, created a stir with his show Baka, part of the drive to raise funds to rebuild the Notre Dame de Paris. Murakami’s character Mr DOB - a hybrid of Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog and Doraemon - asked the existential question ‘why’ for his exhibition in Paris.

The show, hosted by Gallery Perrotin, presented about 30 works in Perrotin’s Salle de Bal at 60 rue de Turenne. The large space was dedicated to Mr. DOB, the iconic character created by the artist in 1993. For this exhibition, the artist had created six new portraits of Mr. DOB in shaped canvas formed around the character’s contours. In the middle of the room, a central five-foot sculpture represented the same full-length character.

Read the full articlehere.

Self-Portrait: Contemplation, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 56 1/16 x 46 1/8 inch, 2019 | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Self-Portrait: Contemplation, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 56 1/16 x 46 1/8 inch, 2019 Image Credit: © Takashi

6. PINK SEESAWS, Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello
US-Mexico border

San Francisco-based architects and educators, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, brought together the children of the US and Mexico as they installed fluorescent pink seesaws at a section of the Mexico-United States border wall.

On July 28, 2019, the duo revealed a temporary installation at the El Paso-Juárez divide, where three seesaws were eased between the metal slats of the border wall. It brought much excitement among the people living on either side as they were invited to play with one another. Interestingly, the wall, which creates a separation in the first place, is what also facilitated this play.

The work is an illustration of the relationship between the two regions that are set apart due to political tensions. Through the innocuous symbol of a child’s toy, it depicted that 'there can be equality and joy through the connections we make along the border’.

Read the full article here.

A view of the Teeter Totter Wall installation at the El Paso and Juárez divide | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
A view of the Teeter Totter Wall installation at the El Paso and Juárez divide Image Credit: Courtesy of Rael San Fratello (Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello)

7. POLLUTION PODS, Michael Pinsky
UN headquarters, New York, USA

The World Health Organisation (WHO) installed artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods during the UN Climate Action Summit in New York to raise awareness about the impact of climate change and increasing air pollution, which is killing nearly seven million lives every year. Hosted in the lawns of the UN Headquarters, the experiential installation welcomed climate activists and world leaders to engage in dialogues and propose solutions to mitigate climate change for a livable future.

Pinsky’s installation was the perfect fit to highlight the urgency of the matter. The work featured five inter-connected geodesic domes, mimicking the air quality of five international cities - Tautra (Norway), Beijing (China), London (UK), São Paolo (Brazil) and New Delhi (India).

With only a minute or two inside the pods, the visitors experienced uneasiness and shortness of breath as each pod contained carefully mixed recipes emulating the relative presence of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide – the toxic ingredients that are polluting our cities and poisoning our health.

Read the full article here.

Pollution Pods for the temporary commission Climart in Trondheim, Norway (2017)  | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Pollution Pods for the temporary commission Climart in Trondheim, Norway (2017) Image Credit: Michael Pinsky

8. PRESENCE, Daan Roosegaarde
Groninger Museum, Groningen, the Netherlands

The Dutch artist’s solo exhibition, Presence, made visitors part of the interactive artworks as they were compelled to actively co-design the installations in a neon dreamscape.

Rebelling against the ‘Please do not touch’ custom of the art world and going beyond merely ‘observing’ art, Presence at the Groninger Museum encouraged visitors to touch, push, lie down, roll, draw and write.

This was Roosegaarde’s first major solo project for a museum. With Presence, unlike his previous works, Roosegaarde delved into museum-specific work, requiring a radical change in his usual mindset of approaching an installation to conform within a museum’s four walls. 

Read the full article here.

Lolas – tiny, glowing jellyfish type organisms | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Lolas – tiny, glowing jellyfish type organisms Image Credit: Pim Hendriksen

9. THE ART OF TEXT, Youdhisthir Maharjan
Kathmandu, Nepal

When STIR visited the artist’s Kathmandu studio for a first ever demo-interview, we observed that he had the steady hands of a surgeon and patience of a fisherman. His creations seemed fragile . They were old and new at the same time, since his process uses pages from discarded books, yet giving them a new meaning.

 “I am keen to make alien something that is very familiar. I force my viewer to find new meaning in the text, which I make illegible but offer a fresh possibility through my work,” said Maharjan.

Read the full article here.

Youdhisthir Maharjan giving a studio demo-interview to Rahul Kumar from STIR | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
Youdhisthir Maharjan giving a studio demo-interview to Rahul Kumar from STIR Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR

10. THIS MUCH I'M WORTH, Rachel Ara
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

Having worked as a computer systems designer and cabinetmaker for nearly 30 years, Ara ventured into full-fledged artistic works barely five years ago. A multi-disciplinary artist with a Fine Art degree from Goldsmiths, and a diverse set of skills across materials and technology, she uses art as a medium to share her explorations of the relationship between gender, technology and systems of power.

In her own words, This Much I’m Worth, exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is “a digital art piece that continually displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms called ‘the endorsers’. It is constructed with materials that have a history loaded with association. Implicated in the history of neon is its use in the sex trade, its cultural significance today is more commonly a troupe of contemporary art. It is both a functional object and spectacle seeking to question values, worth and algorithmic bias.”

Read the full article here.

This digital art piece, made solely by women, displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms, called endorsers | Art Roundup 2019| STIRworld
This digital art piece, made solely by women, displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms, called endorsers Image Credit: Samta Nadeem

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