By Ravini, Sinziana
Artforum International , Vol. 50, No. 8
The social turn, the pedagogical turn, the speculative turn. How many more "turns" can the art world put up with before getting too dizzy to stand up? One turn that I hope is here to stay, though, is the esoteric turn, with its passionate quest for the murky realms of the unknown. But how does one expose secretive practices without killing the mystery? Shouldn't the occult remain occult? Still, the timing of "Secret Societies: To Know, to Dare, to Will, to Keep Silence," curated by Alexis Vaillant and Cristina Ricupero and previously on view at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, would seem to be perfect, given such disparate phenomena as WikiLeaks' "war on secrecy" and the US government's widely proclaimed yet more or less hidden "war on terror." The world is rife with conspiracy theories. And the art world itself can be seen as a huge secret society for the already initiated. If anything, curating a show on the subject might seem slightly redundant.
Entering the exhibition was like being admitted to a clandestine club in which a party might have been about to start at any minute. At the entrance, a bizarrely ornamented golden foot was leaning against the wall, looking like something from a parallel civilization. The artist behind this work, Obst (Fruit), 2008, is Steven Claydon, the British syncretist who loves to create installations representing all kinds of philosophical principles and deities. Further along, The Somnambulist, 2006, a wax doll representing an underfed, punky vampire by Goshka Macuga, lay peacefully on a gray carpet. To its left hung a nineteenth-century painting borrowed from a Masonic temple in Stuttgart, Germany, and a wall sculpture with totemic figures, Double Cloak of Stars, 2009, by Matthew Ronay. In the next room, Karo Sieben (Seven of Diamonds), 2007, a reconstructed chessboard by Ulla von Brandenburg, seemed to echo the typical decor of Masonic temples, perfectly accompanied by an astonishingly odd sculpture--Font, 2010, by Tim Ellis,
The exhibition's labyrinthine structure drew one onward. …