July 2017

Navin Rawanchaikul. A Tale of Two Homes. 2015. Installation. Courtesy Navin Production, Chiang Mai.

Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1980s to Now
National Art Center and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
Opens July 5

No sex is one thing; no sex and no immigration is harder to bear. After Japan’s credit boom went bust in 1991, and after Tokyoites surrendered their deeds to Columbia Pictures and Rockefeller Center, the world’s second-largest economy fell into an economic stagnation that has stubbornly refused to lift. The hiring freezes, the spending curtails: they were followed, as winter follows fall, by a sociological crisis that can seem unfathomable. Demographers observed that Japan’s population was now shrinking by two million people a decade, with no sign of reversal — and this in the country with the longest life expectancy on the planet. You could just about make up the difference by letting new people in, but in Japan, where fantasies of a homogenous nation still hold sway, the door has stayed stubbornly shut; even demand for construction workers at sites of the 2020 Olympics have to be met by locals. Japan, one columnist wrote, “has embarked on a path no developed nation has ever followed—of sustained and inexorable population decline.” And it is hard not to find cultural significance in the statistics that decline throws up: Japan’s adult diapers now outsell ones for babies.

Consider for a moment, though, that a quick flight southwest from Okinawa live 640 million people — citizens of a ten-country bloc where GDP growth averages over 5% a year. Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Myanmar form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an intergovernmental and economic union much like a nascent EU. Its ascendancy has not gone unnoticed by Japan, the first Asian country to establish relations with the union, which sees ASEAN as not only a growth market but an ally in power struggles with China.

If cultural recognition constitutes true acceptance of political power and economic prowess, this summer, Japan has acceded to a fine moment of cultural diplomacy. The Mori Art Museum and National Art Center in Tokyo, two blocks away from each other in Roppongi, are jointly mounting the largest and most significant show of contemporary southeast Asian art, following a years-long research project that took Japanese curators to all ten ASEAN countries. (Who knew there were studios to visit in Brunei?) Only a few of the 85 artists in “Sunshowers” have international reputations, among them the great Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, author of tender videos of dogs and death; the Cambodian photographer Vandy Rattana, who produced a forceful portfolio for Even no. 2, is included as well. Many artists from Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and other smaller countries have had no real global exposure at all, though that is soon to change. The Japanese must know that the meteorological phenomenon of sunshowers — light rain on a sunny day — occurs when wind from a distant storm blows rain into a cloudless area. If sunshowers fall on southeast Asia, the storm comes from the Land of the Rising Sun itself, where it is still brewing.

Jade burial suit with silver threads. Western Han Dynasty, c. 206 BC–AD 8. Xuzhou Museum, China. In "China and Egypt."

Francis Bacon/Bruce Nauman
Musée Fabre, Montpellier
Opens July 1

Ahead of next year’s definitive Nauman retrospective at MoMA and the Schaulager in Basel, this exceptional museum in southern France is mounting a face-off between the neon-inclined American conceptualist and a similarly body-obsessed British painter. The Pompidou has loaned dozens of works by both artists, for whom violence is commonplace but human dignity is not yet lost.

Lucy Skaer
Museo Tamayo, Mexico City
Opens July 1

The Scottish artist, known for her antiquarian instincts, is showing five years' worth of intricate chests made from slats from her family home, which she has encrusted with ceramics and stones. Accompanying photographs document the process of transforming prosaic floors into curious relics.

Christian Dior
Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris
Opens July 5

It’s been 70 years since the House of Dior began, but we’ll take any excuse to see 300 haute couture gowns pulled straight from the archives. On view are the creations of M. Dior and the six designers who succeeded him — but look closely and you’ll see more than fanciful dresses. Ever since Bernard Arnault acquired control of Dior for just one franc, designers have been whirled around, and in recent years, their tenures have only been getting shorter.

China and Egypt
Neues Museum, Berlin
Opens July 6

Spanning no less than five millennia, this arbitrary-sounding exhibition places religious statuary and mummified royals alongside jade funerary shrouds from thousands of miles away. Hard to know if the pairing will illuminate much, but David Chipperfield’s Neues is perhaps the most beautiful museum in the world — and you can always pause before the jaw-dropping bust of Nefertiti, her cheekbones high as ever.

Ettore Sottsass. "Carlton" room divider. 1981. Wood and plastic laminate.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power
Tate Modern, London
Opens July 12

The Brits try their best with 20 years of American art and agitprop, from the civil rights movement to the more militant 70s. If some of these artists’ icon worship — Warhol silkscreening Muhammad Ali, hot-toned odes to Angela Davis — now holds only historical interest, the show also promises to place Betye Saar, Lorraine O’Grady, and other black feminist artists within the struggles of the age.

M.F. Husain
Art Institute of Chicago
Opens July 14

The last works of the most recognized modern Indian painter are finally being shown stateside, in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. Eight large triptychs — some of which depict the nude Hindu gods and goddesses that earned the artist death threats — are grandiose in both physical and ideological scale. Indian civilization, from the country’s ancient origins and religion to its society and rituals, is rendered in colorful, Cubist detail.

Ettore Sottsass
Met Breuer, New York
Opens July 21

If you don’t know him, then surely you know his work: impractical and, dare we say, sometimes repulsive furniture in bright, clashing colors. Sottsass, an Italian architect and designer, was also the founder of the Memphis design collective, whose debut incited a near riot at the 1981 Milan Salone. Though his work is now a staple with the DWR crowd, this retrospective reminds us how radical it once was to celebrate exuberance over good taste.

Haroon Mirza
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Opens July 21

Six years ago the British artist won the Silver Lion in Venice for his crackling installations of sound and light; now he is souping up the tallest gallery in Herzog & de Meuron’s museum on Biscayne Bay. Mirza has spent the last year designing an electronic rig that allies paintings on the walls with LEDs and speakers; think of the new work as a sublimation of the Pérez’s (iffy) collection into pure form.