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    The Endless Encore: A Sprawling 14-Hour Documentary Captures Documenta’s Twilight Era

    “This Documenta will be like no other Documenta,” says Paul B. Preciado some four hours into a 14 hour documentary about the 2017 edition of the prestigious German quinquennial art show. He clarifies: “It will be the last one… A Documenta for the end of times.” Among its facets, Dimitris Athiridis’s 2024 film Exergue—which means other side of the coin, apt for an exhibition most famous for going millions of euros over budget—is an uncanny and oddly reassuring reminder of how the world used to be ending not so many years ago, albeit in a slightly different way from how it is ending now.
    Premiering at the annual Berlinale last month (the documentary was viewable over the course of two days, with six and half hour segments split up with a 60-minute intermission), Exergue is the product of Athiridis tailing around artistic director Adam Szymczyk and his large curatorial team, among them Preciado who served as curator of the public program, capturing 800 hours of footage across four years leading up to their controversial exhibition. “Learning from Athens,” as Szymczyk’s Documenta was called, took place between its usual home of Kassel, a famously uncharming town amidst the rolling hills of Germany’s fairy tale land, and the Greek capital, then the nexus of financial collapse and the ensuing neoliberal austerity measures imposed via the E.U. and Germany’s then-chancellor Angela Merkel. The shores of the bankrupt Aegean island state were also the frontlines of the refugee crisis that included Syrians in the thousands seeking shelter.
    Adam Szymczyk with Edvine Larssen’s Verging (2016) © Faliro House Productions
    Exergue tells the story of an art world in a chronic state of attendance at the end of times, of its wrinkled and wonderful minds that etch out a living out by grappling with this paradox. At different points in the film, the ensemble of curators is periodically distracted from their work as gunshots sound from a rooftop during a research trip to pre-blast Beirut; members of Greece’s alt-right party Golden Dawn set fire to an African street vendor’s property right outside Documenta’s HQ and the team looks on in disbelief as they smoke their cigarettes in the lights of the blaze. When news of the Paris shooting in November of 2015 ticks in, Preciado reflects that “we have to be more radical, like never before.” Speaking to the writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie in Beirut about the traveling circus of the art world, Szymczyk bluntly states that “the party’s over.”
    Of course, there have been more shootings and devastation, in Paris and elsewhere—one loses track. Meanwhile, the party Szymczyk refers to continues to end and return; it is the same one that was over when COVID hit in 2020, before going into turbo-mode with more coke-fuelled pop-ups in Seoul, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. It is a party so grotesque in its nature that it must necessarily always be ending in order for us to bear the fact that it happened in the first place, and that we all went and that we are still there.
    Adam Szymczyk and Marta Minujín © Faliro House Productions
    The premiere of Exergue meets us in a moment when, in the aftermath of Documenta’s subsequent fifteenth edition, the time-worn organization really does seem to be in death throes. The exhibition in 2022—curated by the Indonesian collective ruangrupa deploying a mode of decentralized authorship that was attractive mostly on paper—included an anti-semitic caricature that shot parts of the German public into a state of collective psychosis we’ve come to know well in the years since. Last fall, the organization’s finding committee that was set up to elect the curator for Documenta 16, fell apart after member Ranjit Hoskoté resigned following accusations of anti-semitism due to his signature on a petition condemning a well-documented alliance between Zionism and extremist Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) back in 2018.
    In an open letter to the CEO of Documenta, Andreas Hoffmann, Hoskotés wrote: “It is clear to me that in this poisoned atmosphere there is no room for a differentiated discussion of the issues at hand… My conscience does not allow me to accept this blanket definition [of anti-semitism] and this restriction of human empathy … A system that insists on such a definition and such restrictions—and that chooses to ignore both criticism and compassion—is a system that has lost its moral compass. I say this with the greatest sadness.”
    Adam Szymczyk, Katerina Tselou, and Cecilia Vicuña with Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread Athens (2017) © Faliro House Productions
    That same month in 2023, as Artforum saw the dismissal of its editor-in-chief in the wake of an open letter, which was followed by a walkout of key members of its editorial staff, it seemed modernist institutions were falling like flies. And so it would not be #MeToo, nor austerity measures, nor the pandemic, nor the near-bankruptcy caused by Documenta’s sojourn in Athens, but a strange and wilful mobilisation of inherited guilt under the sign of real political violence that would end the party. Exergue emerges as we wonder whether this time, it may actually be over for good.
    More than anything, across its 14-hour run Exergue becomes a character study of Szymczyk, his generation, and his milieu. The Polish curator, born in 1970 and formerly the rock-star director of Kunsthalle Basel, is a perfect specimen of the aughts: with skinny jeans, emo haircut, lanky boyish appearance, and Margiela stitches on the back of his black blazer. He is Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive. He rarely raises his voice but instead flips his hair and mysteriously wanders off camera or takes a picture with his phone at the edge of the screen. He is sensitive, but not neurotic—he is not a millennial. He plays Nick Cave on piano, wears a tote bag, smokes endlessly, unbuttons a bottle of Amstel and believes that art can have real political impact. I personally have assigned art a somewhat more modest role vis-a-vis the world’s various fires than Szymczyk. Yet I am happy for Szymczyk, the fantast, the incorrigible dreamer. Perhaps his was the last Documenta. What we saw in 2022 was a denouement, a final blowout on a ruined campsite.
    Rebecca Belmore, Biinjiya_iing Onji (From inside), 2017 © Faliro House Productions
    We watch his cohort artist Douglas Gordon asking for the nearest hospital: “I will have a breakdown in about 15 minutes,” he says. We see lit minds and idiosyncratic temperaments that are powerless in the face of practicalities, who are wizards at projection. I did not expect to sit through as many hours of Athiridis’s documentary as I did, but Szymczyk’s particular Gen X charisma kept me, if not exactly hooked, then lulled into a type of charmed complacency, exerting the kind of patience usually reserved for the young. We see Wilson-Goldie get turned down for a photo op of Szymczyk (for Artforum’s series Scene & Herd). Szymczyk declines, saying he doesn’t like how that “gossip column” tends to throw everyone—artists, dealers, collectors, critics—into “the same pot.” (He later takes the picture.) Exergue is a portrait of this pot-ness that Szymczyk seems to willfully or strategically deny.
    Documenta 14’s main problem was its size. This much is clear from watching Athiridis’s film and also from having visited the exhibition back in 2017—both from a financial perspective and an art critical one. There is simply no reason to produce a show of such a magnitude, especially one that purports to be critical of capitalism, spectacle, growth, and of the imperialist ambition to grasp the whole world through a single project. In Exergue we watch this car crash happen in slow-motion.
    Douglas Gordon © Faliro House Productions copy
    Dieter Roelstaete, also on the Documenta 14 curatorial team, is another of the film’s delightful Gen X characters. After they’ve gone through “101 artists proposing 101 projects,” he asks whether, given the mounting financial woes, this is not when they should decide which ones to go for and which not: “Or am I deluded? Am I hallucinating?” Roelstaete even brings a scythe to prove his point. There is some laughter. “You mean cuts and austerity measures,” says another curator Monika Szewczyk—jokingly but also not.
    At another point in the film, Szymczyk offers his counter-argument: that they need more artists to balance the exhibition’s identity matrix, with Szewczyk chiming in that they should distribute as much money as possible to as many artists as possible as a matter of political principle.
    So, if one wonders why this room full of curators is so hesitant to curate—that is, to choose one thing and not another which is surely the crux of the profession—the answer perhaps lies in the ethos of this team, a sense that “curating” is paramount to a kind of economical redistribution. After formalism (which, in 1972, critic Robert Hughes called “a game not worth playing anymore”) a new game developed out of the discourses of globalization and postmodernism: attitude morphed into identity, pluralism into intersectionality. By the time Szymczyk came around, the game had become one of casting a net so wide, and stretching it at every corner to include every possible subject position, that the centre—as Yeats’s famous line goes—could not possibly hold.
    The Parthenon of Books (2017) by Marta Minujín, Kassel, Germany © Faliro House Productions Kopie
    This method of curation has since become something a recipe for every major exhibition. The upcoming Venice Biennale, called ”Foreigners Everywhere,” includes more than 300 artists most of whom are from the Global South. Szymczyk calls it “global shopping” and attributes it to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s 2012 Documenta, admitting that “it was good,” and noting his own edition would “do the same, but more.” In another emblematic scene, we see Preciado lay out the thematic ground that the exhibition proposes to cover:
    “ruins, monumentality, multiple temporalities, multiple modernities, institutional ruins, new institutionality… politics versus state craft, disability studies, anti-psychiatry, sexual politics, post-porn politics, trans-feminism, energy politics… death, radical mourning, necropolitics, technologies of consciousness, epistemologies of the oppressed… shamanism, multi-naturalism, architecture as protocol for the invention of freedom… pan-africanism, black traditions, anti-colonial and decolonial knowledges, first nation peoples, indigenism… radical pedagogy.”
    At the end, Szymczyk comments that the list is “kind of maybe lacking… realism?” A couple of smiles break out around the table, and even in the cinema one could sense a palpable moment of relief from the audience as Roelstraete concedes that this all does sound “slightly unrealistic.” However it soon becomes clear that Szymczyk is actually talking about the realism of Gustave Courbet—socialist realism. Of course! Nevermind reality.
    Artistic director of documenta 14 Adam Szymczyk speaks at a press conference of documenta 14 at the Athens Concert Hall on April 6, 2017 in Athens, Greece. Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
    When the budgetary issue becomes too great to ignore, Roelstraete organizes a summit at the unimposing site of the so-called Währungskonklave (currency conclave) where officials had met in 1948 to reconstitute the German currency. In this evocative setting, the revelation of the concept of “money” as an arbitrary cultural construct seems to offer at least a provisional solution to their problems—a wonderful move, priceless in its welding of intellectual ambition and practical absurdity. Moments such as these make “Learning from Athens” look like an accelerationist plot to dismantle modernism and capitalism—or, at the very least, the Documenta gGmbH, modernist relic of an institution that it is—and Preciado’s quip about “the last Documenta” echoes less like a grim prediction than a statement of intent. In this, Documenta 14 was almost successful—if only the art hadn’t been as good as it was.
    For, as Daniel Birnbaum remarked in Artforum at the time, there was a “show-within-a-show;” behind the savior complex, the political allegory, the auto-ethnography, there was a trove of excellent works, intelligent and erotic, in turn. Seven years on, I remember whole rooms of the Neue Galerie in Kassel and the EMST in Athens: Alina Szapownikow together with Lorenza Böttner was electric. Stanley Whitney’s color fields, the Sami Flags, Ernest Mancoba’s watercolors communicated something so clear about abstraction, musicality, and power; Vivian Suter in the Acropolis Park; Jonas Mekas upstairs in the train station. Lines burst out of canonical modernism to loop in Amrita Sher-Gil and trace back to Johann Winckelmann.
    People visit an installation by Argentinian artist Vivian Suter called “Nisyros” at the frames of Documenta 14 art exhibition, at Filopappou Hill in Athens in July 14, 2017. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images)
    No one would have anticipated it then, but so many of the artists featured have cropped up across the European institutional landscape again and again in the years since, just as so many of the issues on Preciado’s laundry list have become lightning rods. It could have been circumstantial—I was younger then—but I don’t think I’ve felt quite like that about an exhibition before or since. In Kassel in 2017, I left my group behind, skipped lunch, just kept going, wanting to know where the argument would branch off to next. It was an argument that worked intellectually—and this was the great feat—without being primarily cerebral. You took the leap with them, as Annette Kuhlenkampf, Documenta’s then-CEO, also did (a 64 million euro leap), and you take it again, with Athiridis—for 14 hours.
    No amount of dextrose could have saved Documenta 15. There was no exhibition-inside-the-exhibition because there was barely an exhibition behind the curatorial foil. The anti-semitism scandal of that year could not have happened in the same way in 2017 because no one would have believed any picture in Szymzcyk’s show to be so simple or unselfconscious. By staying in line with the Contemporary Art trademark, Documenta 14 reaped the benefits of the complex object ontology developed within that field by which Taring Padi’s mural may have at least been partly buffered by critical reflexion.
    Paintings (2017) by US-artist Stanley Whitney are pictured the Documenta 14 art exhibition in Kassel on June 7, 2017. Photo: Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images
    When, during Documenta 14, theorist “Bifo” Berardi had his performance canceled for comparing the refugee crisis with the Holocaust, a new performance was staged to address the issue intellectually. “Yes, I am ashamed,” responded Berardi. “Ashamed that I cannot stop fascism.” Roetstaele, when presenting the planned inclusion of the then-recently recovered estate of Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, explains the German government’s resistance by saying they have a strong interest in using the recovered paintings as an opportunity “to publicly expatiate their guilt.”
    Five years later, Taring Padi’s caricature presented another such opportunity, but this time ruangrupa—whose biggest success was managing to fall wholly outside that art world pot (we know that barely anyone from the concurrent Art Basel had reason to attend the opening)—had few tools to defend themselves. What I saw in their great after-party was art demoted to the status of a more or less arbitrary outcome of community activity. But exhibitions have publics, not communities. To make art for a community is to concede to making art for your friends. To me, that spells art for the end of times.
    Adam Szymczyk © Faliro House Productions
    Documenta 14, too, included this pretension: to effect real social impact in Athens, build relationships, not be a UFO. In this respect, Szymscyk wanted to have his cake and eat it too—cultural prestige and grassroots credibility; theory and practice. The cake, more concretely, was the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art, EMST, which he got in exchange for giving the Kassel Fridericianum over to a display of their collection. Theoretically, as his curators excitedly exclaim when the idea is first presented, “it puts everything into place” and “addresses the issues of repatriation [and] archaeology.” But in practice, as Exergue shows, the invitation to the Fridericianum was first and foremost the solution to a problem of square meters in Athens, and it read that way to viewers, too—as if you did not even need to actually see it. The ESMT director, Katerina Koskina, a small, busy lady, tough as jerky, smelled foul play from the onset, and resisted in her various creative ways until the end. In Athiridis’s film, she takes on the role of villain. Or anti-hero?
    But what could Documenta possibly have fixed for the Athenians, for the Greeks, for refugees, or for anyone anywhere? Was its landing in Athens a form of crisis tourism? Yes. But it was also something else: an art exhibition. An intellectual, political, and artistic proposal, rare in scope and ambition. The other side of the coin shows a group of sharp, creative minds playing a game that couldn’t be won.
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    Daniel Arsham’s Never-Before-Seen Photos Make Their Museum Debut

    The 20 or so images now featured in Daniel Arsham’s first photography exhibition were never meant for our eyes. The sculptor had shot these photos purely for pleasure—amassing thousands upon thousands of them over three decades—never intending to put them on view. “I never thought about showing my photography,” he told me. “It was just what I was drawn to.” 
    We’re walking through “Phases” at Fotografiska New York, for which Arsham has disgorged his extensive archive, now numbering about 200,000 images across negatives and hard drives. “I had some crazy stuff that I had forgotten about,” he said. The mostly black-and-white photos in the show are thematically grouped: cityscapes in one section, portraits in another, and close-ups of birds in yet another.
    Installation view of “Daniel Arsham: Phases” at Fotografiska New York. Photo: Min Chen.
    On one wall hangs a series of long exposures of the night sky, their stars crystal clear. Arsham explained that he shot some of these with the digital Leica M9 until a software update curtailed the shutter speed on bulb mode (he even fired off an email to the company about the issue). “So, I have now gone back to analog for that,” he told me, pointing to one photograph. “I think this exposure is, like, three minutes. You can even see the stars moving.” 
    This meticulously technical, almost geeky, approach to photography is long nurtured. Arsham received his first camera, a Pentax K1000, at age 11, a gift from his grandfather, who also taught him the basics of focus, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. It launched a steady, lifelong pursuit that has run alongside his sculptural practice, built on his signature “eroded” forms.
    Installation view of “Daniel Arsham: Phases” at Fotografiska New York. Photo: Min Chen.
    But while a handful of Arsham’s sculptures are dotted throughout the exhibition, he sees his photography work as separate. “It feels so different,” he said. “When I’m in the studio, I’m often working towards an exhibition and I’m creating a body of work with an intention around the full experience of the show. In this case [of photography], it’s more just playing.” 
    Still, the motifs in Arsham’s photographs do echo elements of his sculptures. One can see how his knack for dramatic framing and his eye for negative space might come into play in his studio. There’s even a smattering of photographs of sculptures, including one of the Winged Victory of Samothrace installed at the Louvre in Paris, each of them framed to emphasize their scale or textures.
    Installation view of “Daniel Arsham: Phases” at Fotografiska New York. Photo: Min Chen.
    The exhibition is accompanied by the hardcover volume Daniel Arsham: Photographer—Arsham’s first photography book—its vast contents spanning street scenes, self-portraits, nature shots, casual snaps, and far more than is included in the show. Flipping through it, he points out various images: one of a sunrise as seen through some fog in Battery Park City where he once resided, a darkly silhouetted portrait of A$AP Rocky, and a perspective view of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.
    Viewed as a body of work, one gets the sense that photography is as much a creative outlet as it is a personal project for Arsham. The book is dedicated to his late grandfather and its introduction, penned by the artist, discusses “using a camera to both document and understand life.” 
    Installation view of “Daniel Arsham: Phases” at Fotografiska New York, with wall text handwritten by Daniel Arsham. Photo: Min Chen.
    As he does in the book’s introduction, Arsham told me about receiving his first camera and turning it on the Miami suburb he grew up in. “The houses were basically the same, but the landscaping was different. People would paint their doors different colors and they had different door knockers,” he said. “So, I took photos of all the doors in the neighborhood—they’re all the same but they’re all different.” 
    He lost those images when Hurricane Andrew struck the neighborhood, wrecking his family’s home. What remained, however, was a photograph of a young Arsham posing alongside his beloved Pentax.
    “It’s cool,” he said, showing me the image on the last page of Photographer. “I never thought that I would ever get to do an exhibition like this.”
    “Phases” is on view at Fotografiska, 281 Park Ave South, New York, through June 14. 
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    These Were the Highlights of the 4th Lagos Biennial

    Last month, the Lagos Biennial assembled the works of over 80 artists for its fourth edition, on a site named in honor of the first Prime Minister of an “independent” Nigeria. Prior to being renamed Tafawa Balewa Square in 1960, the 14.5-hectare plaza had been known as “Lagos Racecourse,” having been “given” to British colonial authorities by the Oba of Lagos in 1859. In less than two centuries, this particular piece of land was transferred through the hands of the Lagos Royal Family, the British Royal Family, the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and—since Abuja became Nigeria’s capital city—the Lagos State Government. The square is a high-potential and largely underserved space, and the co-artistic directors of this year’s Lagos Biennial, Folakunle Oshun and Kathryn Weir, invited audiences to use the historically charged site to reflect on the idea of the nation-state.
    A Curatorial Critique
    Given the title and theme of “Refuge,” the 2024 Lagos Biennial was undeniably ambitious, in a way that has prompted a flurry of urgent conversations on the ontology of art biennials in post-colonial African urban centers. Unfortunately, public audiences and engagement during the show’s short run were lower than expected. That fact, coupled with a flurry of tech issues, caused considerations around functionality, utility, and accessibility to rise to the fore.
    La Biennale di Venezia, the first art biennale, was founded in 1895, at the height of European imperialism. It is challenging to disassociate its offspring, even in their contemporary and supposedly revolutionary forms, from that origin. So long as art-making practices from Africa and the Global South continue to write themselves into a Eurocentric canon, they will find themselves subjected to the gross power imbalances of Eurocentric hegemonies. The alternative models proposed by the major players in the current restitution wave—of which Nigeria is definitely one—in the coming years are likely to have defining consequences.
    Installation view of the Traces of Ecstasy Pavilion. Image courtesy of the Lagos Biennial.
    Yet the agility of Lagosians and indeed Nigerians remains unmatched, as demonstrated by this event’s extremely dedicated team. Amid global difficulties that are felt exponentially more keenly in Lagos, the mere completion of the event’s fourth edition deserves applause. Indeed, the caliber of works presented was impressive, albeit with a notable number of comments about the lack of (younger) local and regional artists. If imperialism ruled the 19th through to the first half of the 20th century, and the proceeding period of nationalism is being eroded by multinational tech companies, the ways in which African philosophical, artistic, and cultural production choose to assert themselves at this moment feel increasingly critical.
    The philosophies of Ubuntu and universal consciousness are intrinsic to African epistemologies, expressing connection both across space with other humans, the planet, and the cosmos, and across time through the prevalence of ancestral veneration and divination. In African belief systems which understand existence beyond the linearity of time, the importance of process is perhaps already a given for an art event like this. Yet at the same time, the curatorial theme of this Lagos Biennale, “Refuge,” also appeared to semantically echo much of the thinking from documenta 15 (whose theme was collectivity), and the wider global cultural shift that has become popular in non-commercial praxis. And considering the sheer, possibly daunting scale of Tafawa Balewa Square, which requires a certain level of scenography due to its vast open spaces, the curatorial decision to show prototypes rather than final works and to allow for aesthetically ambiguous outputs was bold, if also possibly symptomatic of funding constraints.
    Em’kal Eyongakpa, Betok babhi, Babhi betandat, bassem (2022-2024). Image courtesy of the Lagos Biennial.
    There can be no question about the power and pertinence of the content presented at the fourth Lagos Biennial. Nevertheless, the modes of presentation make for a little bit of head scratching. The jury is still out on how well its theme translated and resonated, within the unique context of Lagos.
    Works of Interest
    Upon entering the main arena at Tafawa Balewa Square, guests were invited to step into a portal of new possibilities by revisiting the wisdom of the past, through the display of a set of doors by legendary artist Demas Nwoko. The artist and architect was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2023, an apt recognition for his decades of contributions to the discourse on modernity.
    Bruce Onobrakpeya’s sculptures. Image courtesy of the Lagos Biennial.
    The doors prefaced the towering sculptures of one of Nwoko’s Zaria Art Society contemporary, Bruce Onobrakpeya. Masks and Onabrakpeya’s metal works were caged in by used car parts, motherboards, and other waste materials, which formed the outer structure of the sculptures. The artist invites us to remember that energy never dies and that even the most discarded materials may find new purpose and meaning—an important omen in the context of a global state of affairs which seems to be leading to increased violence, both against one another and against the planet itself.
    A packed performance program was kicked off with an emphatic group spectacle by Native Maqari. On a long stretch of fabric, a dancer dressed in a custom piece from the Lagos-based “wearable art brand” IAMISIGO and sporting an extended ponytail covered in black paint contorted her way across its length, marking both the canvas and the surrounding audiences. In a spine-tingling performance underscored by the piercing sounds of the lira (a Moroccan Berber flute), Maqari floated through the crowd, reading out the descriptions of skin bleaching products, and handing out samples to guests. Skin bleaching is a topic that is still under-discussed yet has a booming industry regionally—a blatant hangover from the deep internalization of Eurocentric beauty standards.
    Native Maqari’s performance at the Lagos Biennial. Image courtesy of Ugochukwu Emebiriodo.
    In a film and performance by Jermay Michael Gabriel and Justin Randolph Thompson titled Members Don’t Git Weary, the artists remembered Tafawa Balewa Square as the site of FESTAC ’77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. A guitar solo by Thompson coupled with Amharic prayers and incantations by Michael Gabriel brought to life a moving-image work that revisited pan-African memories through texts from W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.
    Cameroonian artist Em’kal Eyongakpa’s interpretation of the theme of “refuge” connected deeply with a variety of guests (notably the on-site and construction staff). Incorporating a bass speaker set beneath a wooden palette, the piece’s sound vibrations seemed to invigorate the audiences, who took to sitting, standing, and lying on the installation. In a fast-paced city whose citizens are subjected to all the ills of capitalism, where the acquisition and accumulation of capital supersedes most other ambitions, this opportunity to connect with embodied feelings was particularly well received.
    “Traces of Ecstasy,” a cohesive and collaborative pavilion curated by K.J. Abudu and designed by Nolan Oswald Dennis, most efficiently demonstrated and presented the positive intent of the fourth edition. There, Evan Ifakoya ring-fenced a space for processing healing and trauma, via a sound work that reflected on the migration of spiritual practices across the Black Atlantic.
    At the center of the structure, Temitayo Shonibare’s noteworthy three-channel video installation invited audiences to revisit the recent traumas from Nigeria’s End SARS protests from 2020. Combining animation, raw footage recorded on mobile phones, and found visuals and audio, the piece is underscored by a delectable sound mix, charged with the revolutionary spirit of the fatal protests.
    Overhead view of the Traces of Ecstasy pavilion. Image courtesy of the Lagos Biennial.
    Overhead in the pavilion, a revived interest in Yoruba spirituality—particularly amongst younger generations of continental west Africans, and a diaspora in South, Central, and North America, as well as in Europe—manifested through the flowing adire fabrics of Adeju Thompson’s design practice, Lagos Space Programme. Drawing on the importance of indigo in many west African spiritual practices, the artist prompted the audience to look beyond themselves and take solace in the knowledge of divine protection.
    And truly, the Lagos Biennial was most deeply rooted in the power of faith, which Victor Ehikhamenor deftly presented through the latest evolution of his chapel series, titled Miracle Central. From the center of a physical imitation of a chapel, the voices of bellowing Pentecostal pastors projected to an audience of hanging chairs, instruments, microphones, and a pulpit, with one of the artist’s well-known large-scale rosary works suspended as the backdrop of the chapel.
    Ehikhamenor continues to meditate on the omnipresence of religion in Nigeria, creating space for the urgently needed reflections and conversations on one of the country’s—and the continent’s—most contentious subjects. Through an installation that resonated powerfully with local audiences, the artist demonstrated the possibilities of how multidisciplinary and installation practices can critically engage communities beyond the art industry itself, both locally in Nigeria and in the wider West African region.
    Where Next?
    Even as a host of new galleries cropping up in Lagos in recent years, the city’s biennial is establishing itself as a noteworthy case study for non-commercial exhibitions, locally and in the Global South at large. There was a certain warmth felt as local and international art communities gathered to realize this 4th edition of the Lagos Biennial. Collaboration and community were the most consistent feeling permeating the event, though it must be admitted that these seemed contingent on a certain degree of exclusivity. Simply put, there was also a slight feeling that the art world had descended upon Lagos to talk to itself for a week.
    CBN outdoor cinema at Plan B. Image courtesy of Plan B.
    But finally, some encouragement can be drawn from the fact that the biennial’s conceptual fingerprints are left lingering throughout the city—perhaps most excitingly around the corner from Tafawa Balewa Square, where the multinational collective of artists, curators, and organizers known as CBN (a Fela Kuti-esque parody of the Central Bank of Nigeria), created a 10-day street-cinema. Hosted on the facade of Plan B, an artist residency space, the outdoor screenings programmed an imaginative selection of short and feature films, among other moving-image work by artists. During the run of the biennial, it quickly established itself as the after-hours highlight. The ten-day program was frequented by Lagos Island locals, who were joined by the city’s young creative community and some of the spillover crowd from the biennial.
    Lagos needs no invitation to innovate, and there is a united appreciation for the biennial’s fourth edition as a physical exhibition, especially after the 3rd edition responded to the constraints of COVID by converting itself into a publication. Therefore, despite the challenges faced, one must hope that this exhibition will have inspired new ways of approaching, thinking, and making in Nigeria and beyond. The impact of these, even if slow, may generate positive lasting effects.
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    The Every Woman Biennial Champions More Than 200 Artists. Here’s a Look Inside

    As Women’s History Month comes to a close, run—don’t walk—to see the latest iteration of the “Every Woman Biennial,” which is as dynamic, fascinating, and just plain fun as ever. The show, formerly known as the Whitney Houston Biennial and now in its fifth edition, closes Sunday.
    The female and non-binary art festival features 200 contemporary artists whose works are hung in a salon-style exhibition, as well as a slate of performances. The 2024 exhibition’s title, “I Will Always Love You,” continues its homage to Whitney Houston’s music, and includes work by stars like Michele Pred, Pussy Riot/Nadya Tolokonnikova, Phoebe Legere, Swoon, and many more.
    Image courtesy Every Woman Biennial
    The wide-ranging material on view includes paintings, prints, textiles, and video. Pred’s eye-catching Love as Activism (2022), a neon-red heart surrounding a pink fist, lights up La MaMa’s street window and is visible to passersby. Pussy Riot/Nadya Tolokonnikova’s Holy Squirt (2023) is a pink and glittered take on a holy water fountain, inviting all to be “conceptually baptized” in the Holy Rainbow Church of Matriarchy (matriarchy is a theme explored by several artists in the show).
    A dedicated section of the gallery also includes specially created (and very affordable) talismans by each artist that in many cases derive from or expand on the nearby works, many of which have already found buyers.
    The show, which launched on March 2 and drew an opening night crowd of roughly 2,000, is marking its closing weekend with high-energy performances with music, dancers from the Metropolitan Opera, and a mixed-reality “rock opera” from Erin Ko and Kanami Kusajima.
    Pussy Riot/ Nadya Tolokonnikova, Holy Squirt, (2023) at the Every Woman Biennial.
    The show is co-curated by a team that includes founder C. Finley, executive director and producer Molly Caldwell, artistic director Eddy Segal, and gallery and production manager Jerelyn Huber.
    When the show started in 2014, it was an organic response to create a place for women artists not being equally represented in exhibitions and biennials.
    C. Finley was asked by friends what she would do if she ran a biennial and she responded: “I’d make it all women!” Segal had the idea to name it the Whitney Houston Biennial. A one-night show  was organized in which women came together in a Brooklyn loft, hung their artworks, and made impromptu performances for hundreds of friends and fans.
    Kariny Padilla, Guilty of Nothing (2024). Image courtesy of the artist and Every Woman Biennial.
    Two years later, the show was timed to coincide with the Whitney Biennial, and was expanded to a full exhibition of women and non-binary artists in a downtown gallery, with work selected from an open call. The event have continued to be presented in New York since then and has expanded to sister cities—Los Angeles in 2019 and London in 2021.
    Identity and gender fluidity, social and racial justice, women’s rights, and flipping the stereotypes of “women’s work” are focuses of many of the artists’ pieces, which provide representations of their daily lives, bodies, desires, and traumas. Many also immortalize those they cherish—friends, lovers, mothers, grandmothers, mentors, and icons.
    The show continues through Sunday March 24 at La MaMa Galleria at 47 Great Jones Street, New York.
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    Why Dutch Golden Age Portraitists Loved Painting Exaggerated Facial Expressions

    Early Netherlandish painters of the 1400s pioneered portraits as highly detailed, distinctive records of an individual. Two centuries later, artists of the Dutch Golden Age made these faces come alive with an expressive, characterful twist. This genre of smirks, pouts, glowers, and gapes was dubbed the “tronies.”
    “Turning Heads,” a survey of “tronies” that features works by world famous Old Master painters like Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and Johannes Vermeer, recently opened at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Some examples of the genre that will be familiar with audiences include Rembrandt’s The Laughing Man (1629–30) and Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat (ca. 1665–67).
    Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Red Hat (ca. 1665–67). Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
    This small jewel painted on panel from Vermeer’s limited oeuvre has a particularly spontaneous air, as though the subject has turned with surprise to see us enter the room. Though no amount of ravishing detail is spared on the rich textures of the woman’s hat and shawl, her face stands out for its strikingly lifelike, everywoman familiarity.
    Circle of Rembrandt van Rijn, The Man with the Golden Helmet (ca. 1650). Courtesy of Gemäldegalerie Berlin.
    Rather than rely on descriptive documents of a specific sitter that may or may not be saved for posterity, intimate studies of human subjects could be used to capture fleeting interior states with universal resonance. The private contemplation tinged with anguish on this elder man’s face provides an interesting counterpoint to the obviously impressive glimmering gold of his helmet.
    Rembrandt van Rijn, Interior with Figures (1628). Courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.
    A rare genre scene attributed to Rembrandt, Interior with Figures is a dimly lit work that contains an ambiguous confrontation between a group, in which narrative depth is provided by the the expressions and gestures exhibited by the central figures. Across the canvas, we can variously read defiance, shock, confusion, and shame.
    Michael Sweerts, Head of a Woman (ca. 1654). Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum.
    The Brussels-born Flemish painter Michael Sweerts worked in many places, including Persia (now Iran) and Goa, India. In his mid-twenties, he moved to Rome for nearly a decade, joining a movement of fellow Dutch and Flemish genre painters known as the Bamboccianti for their shared interest in everyday scenes of peasant life and people living on the margins of society. Erring from caricature, Head of a Woman is empathetic painting of a humble woman captures some of her vulnerability through its careful depiction of her weathered features, toothless grimace, and teary eyes.
    Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a Bearded Man (c. 1612). Photo courtesy of Princely Collections Liechtenstein, Vienna.
    With the invention of “tronies,” artists of the Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque era were able to get creative, experimenting with technical skills to bring about fun visual effects. In this way, they also discovered the capacity of painting to materialize otherwise abstract, intangible notions like emotions, age, wisdom, or fragility. Explorations and introspections like these would have a lasting influence on modernism.
    Michael Sweerts, Head of a Woman (ca. 1654). Photo courtesy of Leicester Museum & Gallery.
    “Turning Heads: Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer” is on view at the National Gallery of Ireland until May 26, 2024. 
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    ‘Ceramics Are as Contemporary as a Smartphone:’ Chiara Camoni on Her Tactile Sculptures

    Chiara Camoni believes that there are two kinds of artists. There are “those who do not touch matter,” she says, “and those who cannot do without it.”
    “I belong to this second group,” Camoni adds. That feels apparent when looking at her highly sensual works, rich organic matter mixes with tactile ceramics. Her carefully conceived sculptures explore the meeting point between domestic design and the natural world: vibrant flowers, colorful vegetation, and anthromorphized forms meet in energetic installations, which are created via her instinctive gestures.
    The Italian artist also draws and makes vegetable prints; she has previously worked on expansive films. Much of this range is on view in “Call and gather. Sisters. Moths and flame twisters. Lioness bones, snakes and stones,” her new exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, the largest body of work ever shown by the artist.
    The exhibition’s radial floor design is inspired by Italy’s late Renaissance gardens and ancient amphitheaters, inviting viewers to wander through its various pathways or linger for a moment among individual works.
    Photo: Arthur Pequin
    “When I entered the Shed space at Pirelli HangarBicocca, I immediately felt the need to seek its center, then to open the doors to let the light in,” Camoni tells me in an interview. “At that point, I began to relate to the space in its entirety. Without raising walls, I drew corridors, rooms, environments. Images of archaeological sites and gardens came in, and we know that weeds, shrubs, and wild vegetation happily grow where there are ruins.”
    Her Butterfly Vases (2020–22) challenge the imagined line between art and craft and are made using foraged plants. They are glazed with sand collected from local rivers and the iridescent ashes of flowers, reimagining Egyptian canopic jars, ancient food storage earthenware, and antique decorative vases.
    The show also features the artist’s human-sized Sisters (2017–23), which change form through the duration of an exhibition. Some, for example, are made of wax which gradually melts, creating a constantly evolving form.
    Chiara Camoni’s Sister, (2022). Installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024. Produced by Biennale Gherdëina. Courtesy the artist; SpazioA, Pistoia, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio
    “I work by addressing monumentality not in terms of size, but rather in poignancy, density, reiteration of gestures, temporal duration,” Camoni says. “The Sisters are monumental figures, although they are on a human scale. They are sculptures that live in change, filled with themselves, composed of thousands of small pieces of hand-molded terracotta. They configure themselves differently each time: they come, they show off, and then they are ready to disappear again!”
    Camoni’s ceramics mirror the inherently individual nature of her organic matter. They are rustic, asymmetrical, and carry the various marks and scars left by the artist’s hand. “I believe they come from an unconscious, emotional zone and do not follow the linear progression of rational thought,” she adds.
    Chiara Camoni’s “Call and gather. Sisters. Moths and flame twisters. Lioness bones, snakes and stones.” Exhibition view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, (2024). Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio
    Camoni has a highly collaborative process with nature, but also with friends and family who take part in creative workshops. “Much of my work originates at home or in the garden, conditioned by the weather and climate, as well as the surrounding sounds and voices,” she says. “I experience the wonder, the encounter with the artwork, which I consider a subject in its own right, that demands an active relationship.”
    She began working together with her grandmother, Ines Bassanetti, early in her artistic practice in 2002. Bassanetti went on to become her assistant, leading to an unusually close familial artistic bond. Her grandmother created a body of plant and animal drawings with Camoni, part of La Grande Madre series. More recently, the artist invited friends and collaborators to choose books and memorabilia for Carrozzone (2021), an installation taking the form of a traditional wagon.
    Chiara Camoni’s “Call and gather. Sisters. Moths and flame twisters. Lioness bones, snakes and stones.” Exhibition view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, (2024). Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, MilanPhoto Agostino Osio
    “I believe that authorship can be opened to other people,” she notes. “I like to bypass a certain technical competence, to welcome unexpected deviations. I also feel that around the artworks in the before and after—in the creative moment that precedes them and in the fruition and activation that follows—moments of intensity, little epiphanies coagulate. If I am not alone, if there is someone with me who sees and feels all this, then they really exist.”
    Many of the items used in the artist’s work—from plants to ashes, sand, and soil—are collected from her surroundings. It is important to her that they come from her everyday experience, and she often transforms original materials in radical ways, sometimes burning or combining, modeling or sorting them. While she roots her practice within ancestral and archaic traditions, she also references a sense of collapsing time with her materials.
    Chiara Camoni’s Dogs (Bruno and Tre), (2024). Installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024. Produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca. Courtesy the artist; SpazioA, Pistoia, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio
    “Ceramics, stone, or wood are as contemporary to us as a smartphone,” she says. “It all starts with a walk, which can also take place in a city; I collect flowers, leaves, wild herbs and, thanks to the juices they release on the fabric, these figures ‘arrive.’ I consider them to be spirits hidden behind the first level of reality, as we see it.”
    Camoni hopes her works create an embodied experience for the viewer, which goes beyond the visual. “This exhibition is informed with energy, which I hope will be felt,” she notes. “There is a vibration running through it all, moving in the snakes slithering low to the ground, rising in the more vertical figures, winding up and down. There are so many eyes, looking everywhere, crossing the audience’s gazes but also looking at each other…”

    “Call and gather. Sisters. Moths and flame twisters. Lioness bones, snakes and stones” is on view at Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, through July 21, 2024.

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    A New Biennial Takes Shape in the Emerging Design Hub of Doha

    Qatar’s cultural landscape is progressing at a dizzying speed. The office leading the diminutive Gulf country’s cultural development, Qatar Museums, is investing heavily in the effort, allocating billions  to erect world-class museums, restore important heritage sites, and stage public art installations, many of them in far-flung patches of the desert. Barely the size of Jamaica, Qatar has opened no fewer than five major museums in the last 15 years, as well as numerous stadiums—as many as eight—in advance of the World Cup in 2022, the first Arab nation to host the international sporting event.
    A new biennial, Design Doha, is the latest arrow in Qatar Museums’ quiver, and the newest initiative from its chairperson, Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family. She is also a leading collector, known for acquiring major works from Paul Cézanne to Mark Rothko, on Qatar’s behalf.
    Design Doha continues Qatar’s bid to transform the peninsula’s capital city into a global center of art and design. This year, its inaugural edition, the platform featured over 100 designers from the Middle East and North African (MENA), working in a range of disciplines, from architecture, urbanism, and landscape design to graphic design, textiles, woodwork, glass, and ceramics.
    Richard Yasmine’s After Ago Collection, a tribute to Beirut’s architectural history.
    Attending the opening week of Design Doha followed a dizzying pace, too, hustling between a head-spinning line-up of events, exhibitions, popups, and activations—each one bursting with top-notch craftsmanship and novel ingenuity. The sentiment was shared by the platform’s artistic director Glenn Adamson. The New York-based art and design historian said he was taken with the “explosive energy and creativity” of the Arab design scene. “As a newcomer to the region myself, I didn’t appreciate just how much talent there was,” he continued, “and it’s been inspiring to see the energy and commitment that participants brought to the event.”
    The central showcase, “Arab Design Now” (through August 5), is said to be the first museum-level survey of contemporary Arab design. It consists of 74 works by MENA designers spread across several floors of M7, a creative hive centrally located in the modern, bustling neighborhood of Msheireb. The exhibition, curated by Rana Beiruti (founder of Amman Design Week in Jordan) reflects how “the Arab world is a diverse place,” she told me, “full of people from different walks of life and cultures. I wanted to celebrate that and show that Arab design is not disconnected from the global condition of design. Arab designers face and respond to the same challenges for our collective future.”
    Installation view of “Arab Design Now” with Salima Naji’s clay dwellings on the right. © Edmund Sumner. Courtesy of Qatar Museums.
    “I also wanted to highlight,” she added, “the importance of looking at craft as an extension of the land, and the way designers in the Arab world respond to the unique geography of the region with innovation in material and attentiveness to sustainability.”
    In one work, Sharing the Earth (Spatial Interiorities) (2023), architect Salima Naji mined her decades of research into vernacular building in Morocco, constructing a two-part cylindrical dwelling out of clay, straw, wool, and palm trunks sourced from a farm in Qatar, with traditional oculi at the top to allow for air flow. In another work, Tiamat (2023), designer AAU ANASTAS created a structure in self-supporting stone, its undulating shape informed by computational analysis of sand dunes as well as the Gothic-inspired pointed arches found across Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.
    AAU ANASTAS, Tiamat (2023). © Edmund Sumner. Courtesy of Qatar Museums.
    Another observation from Design Doha is how carefully the designers have struck a balance between traditional craft sensibilities and contemporary aesthetics. “This is clearly a region that is currently enjoying the best of both worlds,” said Adamson. “Like Japan, Italy and Scandinavia in the 1950s and 1960s—geographies that reshaped global design at the time—you have a basis of continuous artisanship combined with newly emerging experimental practice.”
    Installation view of “100 Arabic Posters.” © Jochen Braun. Courtesy of Qatar Museums.
    Elsewhere in M7, an exhibition of 100 Arabic posters presented the vibrancy of graphic design in the region while another looked back on a century of architecture in Doha, tracing the history of the city’s built environment through a variety of interpreted styles such as Arabic Deco, Doha Classicism, and Qatar’s take on Brutalism.
    Upstairs in a dimly lit, contemplative space, we took in “Weaving Poems,” showcasing the talent of Afghan-born, Amman-based designer Maryam Omar, who was commissioned to create a series of hand-woven abstract carpets inspired by the poetry and oral heritage of women weavers in Afghanistan, with whom she co-created the carpets. The exhibition is a product of Turquoise Mountain, a nonprofit founded by King Charles in 2006 to support artists across Afghanistan, Myanmar, and the Middle East.
    Installation view of “Weaving Poems.” © Julián Velásquez. Courtesy of Qatar Museums.
    Another highlight is Moroccan artist Amine al Gotaibi’s astonishing work Desert installed at the Ned. “The combination of his soulful work in copper and wool with David Chipperfield’s sublime reimagination of an existing building (the former Ministry of the Interior) is just perfection,” said Adamson.
    No cultural excursion to Doha would be complete without outings to the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, an instant landmark when it launched in 2008; the National Library, created by Rem Koolhaas/OMA (who’s also designing the Qatar Auto Museum, to be completed later this year), said to house a million rare books, manuscripts, and other materials stacked in a single open-space plan; and the striking new National Museum, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel to resemble massive discs of “desert rose” crystal formations, the kind that occur naturally in the Arabian Desert.
    The National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel. Photo: Lee Carter.
    Two more major museums are planned before the decade is out. Opening in 2029, the Lusail Museum—designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron—will hold one of the world’s most extensive collections of art, much of it from Qatar Museums’ holdings of European painters depicting the Arab world. And, in 2030, the Art Mill Museum will arrive, housed in a historic flour mill and designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. The museum will incorporate the mill’s signature towering silos in its design.)
    Then there’s Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East (2014) near the village of Zekreet on the western shore of the peninsula (about an hour’s drive from Doha on the east coast). Its four monumental Cor-Ten plates jut out of the sand like relics of a future civilization, in keeping with the cryptic austerity of the surrounding terrain.
    Richard Serra, East-West/West-East (2014). Photo: Lee Carter.
    There’s no question this is an optimistic moment for Qatar’s art and design scene, bolstered by the royal family’s largesse, a long history of fine craftsmanship, and a newly outward-looking perspective.
    “Now that we have this success behind us and people know what Design Doha is,” reflected Adamson, “I think it will be possible to do something still more ambitious… I think the Arab region is now positioned to assume not just a more active, but in fact a leadership role in the global design conversation.”
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    Anaïs Nin’s Never-Before-Seen Paintings and Personal Artifacts Get an Outing in L.A.

    Rare treasures from the life of literary legend Anaïs Nin went on view in Santa Monica this week. The famed diarist was born in France, raised in New York, and returned to Paris before moving to America permanently in the 1930s. She spent a significant amount of time in LA along the way. Her ashes were scattered in Santa Monica Bay.
    Elizabeth Banks’s Brownstone Productions collaborated with the Anaïs Nin Foundation on “Celebrating a Renegade,” a multigenerational exhibition that shares ephemera, artworks Nin made, paintings made of her, and pieces from five contemporary artists inspired by her legacy. The Georgian Hotel’s creative director Amber Arbucci curated the show, which remains on view at the landmark hotel’s Gallery 33 through March 22.
    An installation featuring Nin’s typewriter, and three portraits pulled from her Silver Lake home—two of which are by John Maynard. Photo: Dashiell King, courtesy of The Georgian Hotel
    Exhibition producer Brandon Milbradt told me she pitched this concept to the Georgian while developing a TV series around Nin. “Anaïs deeply admired artists, was a champion of other creators,” Milbrandt wrote. “I thought, why not showcase Anaïs with artists inspired by Nin herself?” Throughout her life, Nin produced four novels, four works of nonfiction, five collections of short stories, and kept a diary for 63 years that detailed her poetic introspections and many torrid affairs. Never-before-seen watercolors that famed author Henry Miller painted for Nin appear in “Celebrating a Renegade.”
    Henry Miller, Childhood Dream (1973). Photo: Dashiell King, courtesy of The Georgian Hotel
    “Anaïs was a dangerous writer in her time, and, for better or worse, is just as relevant today,” Milbradt said. In the 47 years since Nin’s death, she’s been called a monster (because she terminated a pregnancy), a narcissist (because she liked ostentatious outfits), and a bigamist (because she was.) But, as Nin’s diary noted, “no one has ever loved an adventurous woman as they have loved adventurous men.”
    Anaïs Nin. Courtesy of the Anaïs Nin Foundation
    Nin was born in 1903 to two musicians. Nin’s mother moved her and her two brothers to New York after her father absconded with his mistress. Nin’s diary began as a letter entreating her father to return on that very voyage, at age 11. She dropped out of high school to work as an artist’s model and met her first husband, banker Hugh Guiler, in Havana at 20. Guiler elected to be omitted from the seven volumes of Nin’s diary that she edited and published from 1966 through 1977, but they stayed together throughout Nin’s life. Guiler’s money helped support the bohemians she knew.
    Anaïs Nin, Circle of Friends, New York. Photo by Dashiell King. courtesy of The Georgian Hotel
    “You are always asked to solve problems, to help, to be selfless,” Miller is recorded as telling Nin in a 1932 diary entry. “Meanwhile there is your writing, deeper and better than anybody’s, which nobody gives a damn about and nobody helps you to do.” Readers did give a damn about Nin’s writing though, ever since her diary debuted at the height of feminism’s second wave—and despite a period of repudiation when her ex-husband published her unedited diaries and extensive erotica.
    Henry Miller, For Anaïs from Henry (1979). Photo by Dashiell King. courtesy of The Georgian Hotel
    No amount of moralizing ever extinguished Nin’s impact. Social media and sex positivity have reinstated her accolades.
    “Celebrating a Renegade” hangs Nin’s rarely-seen Circle of Friends drawings next to a contemporary collage with her face at center by Colette Standish, who produced an entire series of treated mirrors and lightboxes titled “Anaïs Through the Looking Glass and Other Stories.” The nudes of Michelle Magdalena Maddox’s sensual black-and-white photographs evoke Nin in more ways than one. Javiera Estrada’s technicolor free love photography also appears, alongside an intimate bathtub scene painted by Chloe Strang. Elsewhere, fragments from Amanda Maciel Antunes’s Trapeze Project foreground Nin’s relics.
    An installation featuring Anaïs Nin’s diaries, old photos, and a handwritten note from Henry Miller on vintage Barbizon Hotel stationary. Photo by Dashiell King. courtesy of The Georgian Hotel
    “From the little girl with a diary who migrated with her single mother as a child to begin a life in a new country, to the woman of many deaths and rebirths whose complexity of life challenged the dominant gender paradigms of our times,” Maciel Antunes said, “I want to remember her as a woman who removed obstacles to create her own freedom and did not wait for it to be given to her.” Nin’s handwritten journals sit nearby in a glass case. Animated by the artworks of our time, you can all but hear her voice floating off the bay, encouraging everyone who passes through “Celebrating a Renegade” to seize their liberty too.
    “Celebrating a Renegade” is on view at Gallery 33, 1415 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, California, through March 22.
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