Quiet Politics press release | David Zwirner

In an election year, one might examine how politics can be addressed in art. Finding inspiration in the axiom that Francis Alÿs explored in his recent exhibition at David Zwirner, which posited that "sometimes doing something poetic can become political, and sometimes doing something political can become poetic," this exhibition will specifically investigate the ostensibly 'understated' politics that inform a number of artists who have found powerful ways of commenting on social and political concerns as part of a multi-layered artistic practice. 

The works in Quiet Politics are characterized by their ability to address politics in a way that reveals itself poetically–by calling attention to myriad issues (the history of art, identity politics, globalization, consumerism, violence, and social inequality, among others) through seemingly simple aesthetic or conceptual gestures. Such works carry the potential to expand the means of political expression and consciousness. 

Applying different media and genres, including video, photography, performance, and sculpture, Adel Abdessemed addresses the darker aspects of human nature and globalized culture in his provocative work. Cocktail, 2007, takes the form of a group of music stands upon which lie charcoal drawings that show hooded figures throwing sparkling stones in a kind of silent rebellion.

Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla have been collaborating since 1995 to create a diverse body of work that examines ideas of nationality, borders, and democracy in the context of an increasingly international and consumerist society. The Nature of Conflict, 2004, presents side by side a container of used motor oil and a container of water, placed beneath a photograph of the two substances together.

Michael Brown's sculptural work addresses social issues through a delicate economy of means. The exhibition includes a work from his stainless steel series titled In the Meantime…, 2007, which presents a highly polished and fractured mirrored surface, as if smashed by a fist.

Robert Gober infuses mundane objects with an unsettling sense of unfamiliarity and deeper psychological resonance. Untitled, 1991, which appears at first glance to be a found newspaper page, has in fact been re-worked by the artist's hand and conflates gruesome news items with wedding announcements, the weather, and advertisements. Among the printed news items is a brief announcement of the artist's own death as a boy of six.

The exhibition includes two works that exemplify Felix Gonzalez-Torres's interest in opening his art up to continuous reinterpretation by inviting his public's (democratic) interaction. "Untitled" (Fear), 1992, is a minimal, blue mirrored box that reflects and engages the context in which it is exhibited. Also in the exhibition is "Untitled" (for New York), a delicate and evocative "light string" sculpture by the artist. Made from readily-available cords, light-fixtures, and bulbs, the configuration of this work remains open and to be determined by the person installing the work.

In his sculptures and installations, David Hammons typically refers his viewers to obscured histories and discourses not normally presented in "high" culture. Through the contextual shifts that take place with his minimal gestures and sly sense of humor, Hammons's artwork functions to reveal and undermine institutionalized power structures. The exhibition will include one of the artist’s signature works, the U.N.I.A. Flag, 1990, in which Hammons has replaced the colors of the American flag with those associated with Africa and the Black Power movement.

Quiet Politics will include a work from Roni Horn's long-running photographic series of taxidermied Icelandic wildfowl. Photographed against white backgrounds, in a seemingly conventional portrait format, the birds, which are exhibited in pairs, are viewed from behind. The artist has noted on this body of work that "with two objects that are one object you have an integral use of the world. You have the necessary inclusion of circumstance."

While they relate to the history of geometric abstraction, Lisa Oppenheim's cibachrome series of Multicultural Crayon Displacements examine, in her words, "how the visual language of racial designation is constructed, in part, by the production of color categories." Using the earliest method of making color photographs (an additive color process developed by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell in the late 19th century) as an entry point, Oppenheim uses a process of color separation that is based on the Crayola Company's set of 'multicultural' crayons. 

Walid Raad's work examines how the collective experience and memory of traumatic historical events might be documented. The Atlas Group was founded by the artist as an imaginary foundation set up to research and archive the contemporary history of Raad’s native Lebanon. I Only Wish That I Could Weep, 2002/2001, is a fictional document that ostensibly presents the film footage from the surveillance camera of a Lebanese security agent who would divert his camera's focus away from its designated target every evening to record the sun while it set over the sea.

Rosemarie Trockel'Balaklava, 1986, represents five wool masks that incorporate distinct knitted patterns (hammer and sickles, swastikas, Playboy bunnies, waves, plus and minus signs). On this work the artist has commented, "For me and in my position as a woman it is more difficult, as women have historically always been left out. And that's why I'm interested not only in the history of the victor, but also in that of the weaker party. The masks, for example, consist not only of what they say or intend to say, but also of what they exclude. They have absence as their subject."

Christopher Williams's conceptual work explores the discursive conditions of photography. Quiet Politics will include works from his Angola to Vietnam* series from 1989, which document Harvard University's botanical museum’s collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century glass flowers. The museum's collection represents and archives hundreds of species of flowers in the form of life-sized glass models. Williams photographed flowers from twenty-seven countries where disappearances and human rights abuses were known to have occurred according to a 1986 report issued by the Commission on International Humanitarian Issues.

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