Anna Gritz took over as director of the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin earlier this year, launching her program in September with “Leila Hekmat: Female Remedy,” the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition. In October, Gritz organized “Atiéna R. Kilfa: The Unhomely” at Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art.
GISÈLE VIENNE (MUSÉE D’ART MODERNE DE PARIS; CURATED BY ANNE DRESSEN)
Inside the basement gallery, the air froze in one’s lungs. Here, the Franco-Austrian choreographer, visual artist, and stage director Gisèle Vienne had assembled sixty life-size adolescent dolls in a long row of glass casings. Each body represented a fully developed character stemming from the artist’s performances and photographs; they were at times activated by ventriloquism. There was a tenderness in the depiction of the dolls and their teenage accoutrements—the dark eyeshadow, the ripped stockings—that was undercut by anguish. Blank stares and bandaged wrists left open the question of whether the cruelty originated from the dolls or was afflicting them; either way, there was no doubt that here childhood was no place of innocence.
SARAH MALDOROR (PALAIS DE TOKYO, PARIS; CURATED BY CÉDRIC FAUQ AND FRANÇOIS PIRON)
This long-overdue survey was the first devoted to Maldoror (1929–2020), the grand pioneer of African film in France. Titled “Tricontinental Cinema,” it displayed her works according to the places in which she lived, which were fleshed out through her exchanges with local artists and intellectuals. Fauq and Piron instigated new conversations by interspersing contributions from contemporary artists (Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Melvin Edwards, Ana Mercedes Hoyos, and Kapwani Kiwanga among them). By allowing insights into Maldoror’s personal experiences, her status as a woman and a mother, her economic circumstances, and her political activism to interact with the film excerpts, the show succeeded in presenting not just the work of a life, but that life itself.
SUSAN MEISELAS (C/O BERLIN; CURATED BY FELIX HOFFMANN)
This exhibition’s achievement lay in the fact that it let viewers feel like they were sifting through an artist’s archive while at the same time discovering the work as if it had been made yesterday, which is also the strength of Meiselas’s photography in general. Her compassionate approach and her radical choice in subject matter are as current as ever and, to my surprise, just as vexing. Early series like “Carnival Strippers,” 1972–75, were expanded through a slideshow of previously omitted color images, as well as extensive notes and interviews with the women pictured. These new materials gave insight into Meiselas’s conscientious turn to collaboration to address the uneven power dynamic created by the camera.
IMAGES OF THE PROTESTS IN IRAN SPARKED BY THE DEATH IN CUSTODY OF MAHSA AMINI
On October 7, 2022, water running through fountains all over Tehran turned bloodred. This protest by unknown artists was a response to Iran’s lethal attempts to crush the brave mass demonstrations sparked by Amini’s death. The photographs of women in revolt double as a script, highlighting the power of the image in this struggle for liberty. Or as the anonymous writer L put it in the essay “Women Reflected in Their Own History,” “What desires were released from the prison of our bodies during these days!”
GHISLAINE LEUNG (MUSEUM ABTEIBERG, MÖNCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY; CURATED BY SUSANNE TITZ AND HARIS GIANNOURAS)
I was working with Leung on a group show at the time of this exhibition, and it was astonishing to see how she expanded the logic of her solo exhibition in Mönchengladbach. At Museum Abteiberg, Leung stained the walls with a thin layer of brown paint that reached standard picture-hanging height. The gesture left a deep impression on me, as the artist managed to directly express the negotiations among life, the institution, and the institutionalized body. The show was both universal and personal, dominant and timid, taking hold of space while also respectfully framing the work of others.
HELEN MOLESWORTH, DEATH OF AN ARTIST (PUSHKIN)
Surprisingly close in format to the true-crime genre, Molesworth’s podcast tells the story of Ana Mendieta’s untimely death in a manner that is both sensitive and highly gripping. Weaving new interviews together with archival recordings (many of them stemming from the research that investigative reporter Robert Katz amassed for his 1990 book on the subject), Molesworth is not just shedding a fresh perspective on Mendieta’s violent death and the incomprehensible silence that followed; she is also pioneering a brave, relentless, and radically personal means of writing art history.
“DANH VO, ISAMU NOGUCHI, PARK SEO-BO” (FONDAZIONE QUERINI STAMPALIA, VENICE; CURATED BY DANH VO AND CHIARA BERTOLA)
This year, the Querini Stampalia invited Vo to curate a show in its permanent collection as part of its series “Conserving the Future.” Together with Bertola, the artist brought his own work into conversation with that of Noguchi and Park, allowing the objects to playfully interact with the foundation’s encyclopedic collection and eclectic mix of architectural styles. The exhibition was most memorable when it used Noguchi’s light sculptures to illuminate the interior settings, especially the acqua alta (high water) chambers of the legendary Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa.
BEA SCHLINGELHOFF (KUNSTVEREIN MÜNCHEN, MUNICH CURATED BY GLORIA HASNAY)
Schlingelhoff has a knack for dissecting infrastructures to highlight the underlying (often patriarchal) power structures at play. At the Kunstverein München, the artist went a step further and instigated actual systemic change. Her research unearthed the institution’s role in the Third Reich and the notorious “Degenerate Art” exhibition, which took place in the kunstverein building in 1937. As a result, the kunstverein issued an official apology and even altered its bylaws to deter future injustices.
KIRSTY BELL, THE UNDERCURRENTS (FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS)
From the vantage point of the window of her apartment on the third floor of a residence on the shore of Berlin’s Landwehr Canal, Bell tells the story of the building, its inhabitants, the city, and her own personal background. The book is striking because it traces both what remains and what is no longer there, offering a history of inherited trauma settled into bricks and atmospheric conditions. Using waterways as a driving force, Bell parlays radical close readings of the minutiae around us into a speculative investigation of the psychological state of the city. Unfolding from the perspective of a newcomer, The Undercurrents goes deeper than anything I have ever read on Berlin.
“FUTURE BODIES FROM A RECENT PAST” (MUSEUM BRANDHORST, MUNICH; CURATED BY PATRIZIA DANDER AND FRANZISKA LINHARDT)
It is rare to see an exhibition that assembles so many favorite practices of mine in one place. It is as if the curators climbed into my brain to unravel a thread that I had yet to make sense of myself. Artists like Judith Hopf, Joachim Bandau, Nancy Grossman, Nicola L, Tetsumi Kudo, and Carol Rama, among others, explore the reciprocal exchange between the body and technology. Avital Ronell called this “bionic assimilation,” but it is more—it is about the body as an environment, a kinetic site where nerves thicken into cables and skin reimagines itself as steel.
On view through January 15, 2023.