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Weekly Update – ICA Fall shows


This week’s Weekly has my review of the John Armleder show at the ICA. Here’s the link to the art page and below is the copy with some more pictures. Speaking of pictures, here’s my flickr set and here’s Libby’s.

Connect the Dots
Artists at the ICA see spots.

John Armleder
John Armleder’s works feature dots and spots and lines and squiggles and grids and what look like cartoons. The whole is greater than the parts and the best way to see it is to immerse yourself in the installation.

The institute that in 2004 organized “The Big Nothing”—a group show and citywide festival about the concept of nothingness in art—follows up this fall with “About Nothing,” a drawing show with almost 500 works by Swiss artist John Armleder.

John Armleder
Drawings continue up the wall to the ceiling.

The 40-year retrospective at the ICA, which originated at Kunsthalle Zürich and is hung in a fresh installation in Philadelphia, is Armleder’s first major American show. It looks terrific in the ICA’s canyonesque space. The artist, a second-generation Fluxus, claims his works are about nothing. But instead of a void of content, I saw cartoon figures, saw-tooth blades, psychedelic wavy lines, grids, squiggles and dots everywhere (dots cut out of paper, dots made from circles, dots galore). All of that content in this massive floor-to-ceiling installation conjured much—but mostly the idea of drawing your way to infinity.

John Armleder
Snowflake wallpaper here and daisy-snowflake wallpaper on another wall.

Yayoi Kusama is a point of comparison. Her lifetime oeuvre of dot environments­­—drawings, paintings and sculptural environments that are dot wonderlands­—is about calling up a cosmic oneness through work.

John Armleder
Drawings look like a wallpapering of the wall.

Armleder’s huge installation—which ICA associate curator Jenelle Porter compares to a supermarket—does the same thing as Kusama’s. It immerses you in an energy field about work and about oneness—an energy field with the ability to transport.

Crowd at opening going upstairs to see Irene Fortuyn’s ramp piece.

Armleder­ says he’s not about the individual drawings but about the whole. In this democratic installation the artist sacrifices the individual in the cause of something bigger. It’s a generous letting-go that allows the viewer a way in. Unlike Kusama’s cosmos-conjuring, Armleder channels the flotsam and jetsam of life. His focus on small moments is humble, and yet the works are more than mere doodles.

yayoi kusama luhring agustine
I only have one photo of Yayoi Kusama’s work…it’s of this chess set commissioned by a Chelsea gallery. Click to see it big to get all the great details.

I loved walking through the ICA’s big cave, my eye darting here and there, caught by a flash of color or an interesting shape or texture. Like Lascaux’s cave walls, Armleder’s walls don’t yield their secrets, but they speak about moving forward in life and art by the honest work of making a painting or a drawing. Armleder’s visual thinking—documented here over 40 years—argues the daily practice of ink or paint or tape or pencil on paper is like visual aerobics: something able to enrich body, mind and society.

Peter Eisenman, Laurie Olin
Eisenman/Olin Fertilizers installation. Note the peephole in the black wall. Peepholes are all the rage these days.

Meanwhile, the ICA’s three other installations are also full of big ideas and visual delights. Dutch artist Irene Fortuyn’s ramp project using tree branches, ashes and newspaper garlands is a nice metaphor for the passage of time and the dailiness of life.

Christopher Myers
Christopher Myers’ totemic piece in “Fables.” This was an homage to the world’s ugliest woman, a real historical being from Mexico who was “shown” on the carnival circuit in Europe.

“Fables,” the group show in the Project Space, is a juicy treat with works of beauty and anger by four artists exploring social history, ethnicity and lies. And Peter Eisenman and Laurie Olin’s “Fertilizers,” a sculptural ramp up to a peephole, is a great celebration of the architects’ career-spanning collaboration.
“Fables”; “Irene Fortuyn: The Ramp Project”; “John Armleder: About Nothing: Works on Paper 1962-2007” and “Olin/Eisenman: Fertilizers”
Through Dec. 17. Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. 215.898.5911.