Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
26 April – 7 June 2014
by KATE TIERNAN
Entering the ground floor gallery is reminiscent of being in a bustling market place with 10 stands selling various goods underneath brightly coloured salvaged parasols. Titled Bureau d’échange (Exchange Office), it addresses cultural and economic value. Symbolic objects and tactile raw materials are meticulously laid out: gold-covered stones, cotton-wool buds, hand tools, devalued African notes and smart phones, among others. The inefficient covering from the broken parasols seems a metaphor for Africa’s struggling economies, lacking in protection and framework.
Gaba is always dismantling recognised systems and hierarchies by constructing facades and structures that ask for a new level of engagement. The chosen objects have an inherent value because of where he is placing them in relationship to currency. The redundant paper currency of various African nations is used to decorate, or hung like leaves from the parasol.
Gaba’s installation The Museum of Contemporary African Art, which is not on display here but was shown at Tate Modern in London in 2013, encouraged participation – to play the piano and purchase things from the shop – and active trading. Here, we are not asked to participate, but to be challenged outside the gallery with how to engage in systems perpetuating this separation of worlds, interdependent on one another. Within New York, the first and third worlds live side by side, but how is that negotiated, what practices of adaption enable this distorted cohabitation?
Gaba critiques the underlying values and principles of art and its potential to be renegotiated through a new series of wall-mounted and freestanding coin banks, known as bankivi in a mixed French-Mina dialect. Similar to the donation boxes found in shopping centres and airports, they take the shape of figures and animals, and reference the logos of African and western banks and emblems for causes and charities.
Upstairs, four coin-operated football tables made in Benin are at second glance unconventional; teams are of mixed race, religion and nationality, driven by a shared goal with mutual values and interests. The adjacent gallery hosts a playful billiard game titled Iran, both rooms reminiscent of the games room in The Museum of Contemporary African Art where a huge chessboard was politicised with a facade of euros and dollars. The concourse area holds wooden pallets covered with newspaper to form a display like an impromptu market or gift shop with decorated penholders, markers of identity and global politics.
Gaba is also known for Sweetness, a vast city sculpted from white sugar cubes in 2006, a timely comparison with the much larger recent work by artist Kara Walker highlighting similar issues of trade, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an 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”, at the Domino Sugar Factory, Brooklyn until 6 July. While the controversially coloured building in Harlem’s Sugar Hill by architect David Adjaye is to house a temporary exhibition, If You Build It, curated by arts collective No Longer Empty from 25 June to 10 August 2014.
When silence falls
This is a group exhibition of work by contemporary artists exploring humanitarian crimes. It presents us with alternative perspectives on history, including those of minority groups or people with little power, and the exhibition is an example of how the public art gallery can be used as a forum for learning, understanding and taking responsibility for the past
Glenn Ligon: interview
Glenn Ligon, who was born in 1960, is famed for his thought-provoking works, which combine text, silkscreen painting, neon and video, and explore themes of identity, racism, sexuality and civil rights. Ligon spoke to Studio International before the opening of his exhibition.
Frieze New York 2014
Light rain, heavy traffic and impossibly long queues to access transport marked the Frieze Art Fair’s third iteration on remote Randall’s Island. So did inflation: from last year, bus fares rose from $3 to $7, the number of galleries to 192, the artists to more than 2,300, the show space to 250,000 sq feet, and the catalogue and parking to a hefty $40 each.
The Life and Death of Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović, a master of performance art, in collaboration with theatre director Robert Wilson, with musical arrangements and composition by Antony, and outstanding performances by Willem Dafoe and the rest of the cast, packed the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street for the US premiere of The Life and Death of Marina Abramović.
Kara Walker: interview
At the opening of Kara Walker's first UK exhibition, we spoke to her about her work, which is a dark and, at times, sinister, exploration of race, gender, sexuality and violence in American history and society.