Lights! Camera! Philippe Parreno at Park Avenue Armory

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When you have a 55,000 square-foot exhibition hall like the Park Avenue Armory, you’ve got a lot of space to play with. French artist Philippe Parreno does so with some very beautiful lighting in a loosely timed exhibition structure that works as a conceptual frame for some recent films. It feels like entering the belly of a mechanical, glammed-up 42nd-street-in-the-1950s whale. Neither it–nor that metaphor–are exactly coherent, but at least “H(n)ypn(y)osis” is fascinating to behold. Screens whir and click, pianos tinkle, music becomes drowned in ocean waves or city street noise (literally being pumped in from the outside streets), marquees blink, blinds shut, screens light, and bleacher seating begins its infinitely slow twirl.

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Installation view, visitors in front of piano playing itself

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Installation view during a lull in activity

Inside this vast space, the visitor is free to move about as he or she chooses. While something of an open-ended system of parts, moments of focus have been clearly selected. When I was there, two child actors entered together, drawing attention as they robotically began identical monologues in opposite parts of the vast hall, reciting dialogues from the perspective of Ann Lee, a Manga character Parreno ‘copyrighted’ years ago (this work is the result of a collaboration with Tino Sehgal). And of course, when the room darkens and a screen lights up, the crowd drifts toward it like a sea of minnows.

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The contents of the films and their tone varied–from a realistic meditation of the crowd that mirrored our positions as viewers in the audience to the imagined animated monsters of a young boy in Chinatown. The other films by Parreno on view are an animated manga version of Ann Lee talking to the viewer, a train ride mimicking that taken by the corpse of Robert Kennedy in 1968, and an uncanny reenactment of Marilyn’s life in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, which you gradually realize is being told not through her eyes but those of a machine.

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Installation view

That machine is the camera, ever-present in the exhibition as a whole. Parreno harps on the apparatus or lens by which the whole smoke-and-mirrors routine of film, and more largely of art, is made possible throughout–for example, in the exposed bulbs and wiring, the mechanical noises, and the simple drama of the lights going up and the show being over.

Up for one more week–through August 2. Make sure to allow yourself two hours to really see all of the different aspects of the exhibition. More images below.

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Installation view of video Anywhere Out of the World (2000)

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Installation view of film Marilyn (2012)

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Installation view of film Marilyn (2012)

Puppets as dramatis personae: Wael Shawky at MoMA PS1

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Installation view, “Cabinet Crusades” at MoMA PS1

Puppets. Not something I’d normally be fascinated by, but the marionettes Wael Shawky uses to populate his complex historical videos are fantastical, gorgeous works of art in themselves. Cabaret Crusades” at MoMA PS1 presents the artist’s trilogy of videos that recount the history of the Crusades from an Arab perspective and in addition displays the numerous puppets themselves. The glass puppets in his most recent video especially move in a particular, haunting way and make a kind of clicking sound. Never do you forget that you are watching a performance in the face of such clear artifice, but the enigmatic faces of these human representatives, aided in part by soulful singing, bring distant history into the realm of pathos.

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Marionette from Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala. 2014. Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut / Hamburg. Photo: © Achim Kukulies © Art Collection NRW, Dusseldorf.

I happily spent a few hours watching these tales of conflict unfold, and it is not difficult to see parallels in contemporary instances of cultural differences, mistrust, violence, and greed. Puppets and pathos–maybe not what you might expect from a retelling of the Crusades, but well worth an afternoon. On view through August 31st.

Wael Shawky. Film still of Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File, 2010. HD video. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Sfeir-Semler.

Wael Shawky. Film still of Cabaret Crusades: The Horror Show File, 2010. HD video. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Sfeir-Semler.

 

Pierre Huyghe (Twice Over) at The Met

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Past the torn-up pavement gathering water in new pools, at the far end of the long terrace in front of the stunning view of midtown, Pierre Huyghe has placed a rectangular aquarium as part of his Met Roof installation, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 1, 2015. Reminiscent of the Damien Hirst shark on view in the galleries below not so long ago, this aquarium’s aqua waters are also punctuated by a murky grey shape–in this case: a rock. The rock hovers above a pile of grey sand so that the two almost touch.

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Clearly, this off-center, relatively small arrangement of inert matter is anticlimactic after striding across the hot pavement. Such inconspicuousness is typical of the French artist’s works. Here, its subtlety becomes apparent as you stare at the tank and discover tiny organisms skirting about. They are lampreys and triops (apparently ancient species that do little more than swim and reproduce). Together with the excavation of the roofing tiles, their presence suggests the desire to unearth some primordial history or an other way of being with nature than the carefully manicured park below.

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Huyghe’s projects have including living animals, plants, and other natural elements before, and at the Met it seems like he is trying to create a minimalist ecosystem. Rather than abundance, what Huyghe presents seems basic, if not barely sufficient. At least for me, it is not easy to connect the work to its immediate environment aside from a sweeping generalizations about the disparity between nature (the work) and culture (the museum).

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However, much to my delight, the Roof Garden installation is complimented by a riveting, 19-minute video shown in the Modern and Contemporary Galleries downstairs. Untitled (Human Mask) (2011-2) provides a vignette of a strange creature in a desolate world. Set in a deserted Fukushima, Japan after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, the camera follows a pet monkey, which continues to go through the actions its owners had trained it to do–help serve in a sake house. The owners had trained the monkey to wear a mask while serving (thus, the title), and the half-human, half-animal creature alone in the post-apocalyptic scenario is at least one reason the video has such pathos. How much does the monkey understand the drastically changed situation? The video is beautiful and mournful, compelling viewing despite lacking dialogue or plot.

Untitled (Human Mask) is only up for 3 more weeks–until August 9.