Adel Abdessemed, Telle mÃ¨re tel fils, 2008, Airplanes, felt, aluminum, metal, Image Size: 27 x 4 x 5 meters / 88.6 x 13.12 x 16.4 feet. Image: David Zwirner
Does anyone like Adel Abdessemed's exhibition at David Zwirner? Past endless Facebook debate, and slams from major publications, the only positive reviews I've read (if you can call them that) are descriptive. “Algeria native and raw conceptualist takes his cues from ‘passion and rage,’” says the Village Voice. The L Magazine similarly writes, “In his spectacular and unsettling works, Abdessemed prods our tolerance for violence, suspense and absurdity.”
I suppose the show achieves the prodding that The L Magazine describes, but it doesn’t amount to much. Spanning all three Zwirner galleries in Chelsea, readers who haven't seen the show will likely recognize a much distributed image of Abdessemed's three knotted airplanes. Probably the most interesting aspect of the piece comes from its reference to the poster for the 1980 Hollywood comedy Airplane! In the context of the gloom and doom of the show, I’m fairly certain the nod is unintentional.
As a whole, the show speaks to the subject of war and instinctual violence, so perhaps in this sense, the base quality of the exhibition can be rationalized. J.G. Ballard may provide a more sophisticated touchstone for this artist, but outside of his novel Crash, conflict typically involves more than just the physical. Reflecting this narrow focus, the worst piece at Zwirner, an 1 1/2 minute video loop of pitbulls, snakes, spiders and other dangerous animals fighting with each other easily attracts the most attention. As a general rule of thumb I tend not to respond to this kind of art – having the shit scared out of me due to an empathetic response isn’t what I look for from an artist — though up until the press response it hadn’t occurred to me to discuss the piece. I still don’t see how this is different from any other inane Youtube video, but for the fact that it’s on display at Zwirner.
The evil music box made from the oil can, soccer ball of razor wire, and rock climber photograph with an actual “death” rock adjacent all tap into the same war and survival themes in the show. But in each case, the meaning of the piece is delivered upon impact. Only two short videos of amputees and non-amputees suspended over a tarp from a rope provide greater satisfaction. Here the physical struggle doesn’t seem quite so contrived, though it may be calculated. It's not a perfect departure point of course — I'm still left cold by the work — but it would certainly provide more substantive subject matter for discussion.
Howard Halle at Time Out New York on Adel Abdessemed
Roberta Smith at The New York Times on Adel Abdessemed
Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine on Adel Abdessemed Plus read the debate on his facebook page.
Update: A positive review from Berin Golonu at Art in America!