Counsel for the month ahead.
December 2017

Tunga. Xifópagas Capilares. 1984. Performance. Courtesy the estate of Tunga and Luhring Augustine, New York. © Tunga.

Tunga
Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Opens December 15

 
When you get big in Brazil no one will call you sir or madam, senhor or senhora; anyone who’s anyone has a nickname. The two previous presidents, whom English-language newspapers bloodlessly called Mr. da Silva and Ms. Rousseff, are known here only as Lula and Dilma. Few Brazilians could immediately identify Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but Pelé is only the most famous of nicknamed footballers; later stars of the national team include Dunga, Dida, Cafu, Kaká, and Hulk. (The last one is pronounced oow-key, by the way.) Specialists in onomastics disagree on why Brazilians love nicknames, or apelidos — it could be a natural response to long Portuguese names, though it could also be a legacy of Brazil’s massive slave population, as nicknames served to distinguish free from unfree. Whatever the reason, the sculptor Antônio José de Barros Carvalho e Mello Mourão would have had a good reason to call himself something else, something reflective of his enigmatic art and its distinct mix of European, African, and indigenous traditions. Tunga, a childhood nickname with no strict meaning, seemed to suit.

Tunga was born in Pernambuco in 1952, and he was barely out of his teens when he nabbed his first show in Rio, an exhibition of drawings which he called the “Museum of Childhood Masturbation.” Those early works, with their literary flourishes and characteristic mix of smooth, abstracted, and erotic forms, set the stage for increasingly baroque sculptures, installations, and performances, which emphasized the possibilities of the body often by including bones, teeth, and especially hair. Consider his breakthrough work Xifópagas Capilares (Siamese Hair Twins), from 1984: a performance in which two young girls walk in tandem, their Rapunzel-length wigs braided together into a single catenary of knotty tresses. Those girls suggested a story, but never narrated one; they were silent, mere flesh, and yet their bodies were never fully their own. (The girls reappeared at Frieze London in 2015, where a few hasty Instagrammers may have mistaken them for two Cousins Itt.) Themes of braiding and reflecting coursed through Tunga’s art; plaited gold laments could lie on a gallery floor, while sinuous drawings employed cunning symmetries to heighten their erotic tension.

Last year Tunga died, too young, after a short illness. This retrospective at Brazil’s best modern art museum will not, however, have the air of a memorial; the more than a hundred works here come from the explicitly sexual side of Tunga’s career, and include not just the erogenous drawings and performance documentation, but also bonelike wedding rings made in tribute to Madame de Sade. (It comes as Brazilian politicians have waged war against the freedom of artists, notably women and queers; MASP’s other summer show, “Histories of Sexuality,” has been beset by evangelical protesters along Avenida Paulista.) Beyond the erotics, though, Tunga was among the most erudite of sculptors; he called his studio a “Pensatorium,” and yet his art always refused the show-and-tell, read-the-wall-text-first allusions too common at fairs and biennials today. There might be something salutary in looking again at his beguiling sculpture, and embracing an art that starts with the body but ends in the mind.

Phumzile Khanyile. From the series Plastic Crowns. 2017. Part of Rencontres de Bamako.

The Everywhere Studio
Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
Opens December 1

Ahead of Art Basel Miami Beach, this new museum (the result of an acrimonious dispute at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami) inaugurates its permanent home with a 50-person group show focused on artists’ garrets and ateliers. Also in store at the new ICA: solo presentations of Senga Nengudi, Hélio Oiticica, and Ed and Nancy Kienholz.

 
William Forsythe and Ryoji Ikeda
La Villette, Paris
Opens December 1

The American choreographer and Japanese sound artist present simultaneous mind-altering installations in a 220,000-square-foot space (in a park that was once Paris’s own Meatpacking District). In one area are Forsythe’s hundreds of suspended pendulums that you can push and dodge; in another you can wander around and dance to Ikeda’s spectral barcodes and electronic soundbath. Trippy, stimulating, and maybe the best kind of holiday fun.

 
Rencontres de Bamako
Musée National de Mali and throughout Bamako
Opens December 2

Few places have a photographic tradition with as strong a national signature as Mali, where portraitists such as Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta inspired a whole generation of camera artists. This 11th edition of Africa’s most important photography show, curated by Marie-Ann Yemsi, includes two artists featured in this magazine: the French-Algerian polymath Neïl Beloufa, interviewed in Even no. 3, and the South African photographer Michael McGarry, whose reportage from Angola set the tone for Even no. 6.

 
Miyako Ishiuchi
Yokohama Museum of Art
Opens December 9

If you saw her remarkable solo show at the Getty Center in 2015, you won’t have forgotten this photographer’s Yokosuka Story, an unglamorous and deeply personal portrait of her hometown — best known for its American military base. This full retrospective includes that early masterpiece as well as her more recent color photography, much of which documents objects that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

 

Rick Owens’s spring/summer 2018 menswear collection, presented at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. Photo: Swan Gallet.

Nairy Baghramian
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
Opens December 7

Known for her abstract, minimal sculptures of the domestic and the mundane, the German-Iranian artist debuts her first Scandinavian solo with site-specific work, featuring vast opalescent shapes perched on elongated, gleaming legs. (An American exhibition continues at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis through Feb. 4.) Long interested in the dominion of space, from homes to orifices, her pieces are quiet and contemplative in their revelations, more felt than observed.

 
Hito Steyerl
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Opens December 13

Now is an apt time to revisit Steyerl’s prescient half-hour film, whose survey of the world’s economic and social unraveling rings even truer now. (Another magazine named the German artist the most powerful person in the art world this year — a quantification of social power she must have found grimly hilarious.) Here we look not only at liquidity as water and weather but also as production and consumption, the movement of assets, and technology — the ultimate lubricant for it all.

 
Rick Owens
Triennale di Milano
Opens December 15

Let’s get real: could the depressive German choreographer Anne Imhof have won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale without Owens, whose slouchy black schmattas have become a uniform for a generation of shiftless youth? This retrospective, during Milan’s fashion week, is set to showcase the Californian designer’s often brutal clothing, as well as the furniture designs recently shown at MOCA in LA.

 
Jesper Just
EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
Opens December 17

The Dane loves cinematic clichés — insofar as he can turn them over and break them. Each of his brief and wondrous films keeps some ornamentation of traditional cinema (whether in genre or storyline) and then subverts social and cultural stereotypes with rare poignancy and emotional attunement. Be prepared to get close and walk around the 82-foot long projections to experience their full force.