Magazine article Artforum International

Biennale De Montreal: Various Venues

Magazine article Artforum International

Biennale De Montreal: Various Venues

Article excerpt

The 2016 Biennale de Montreal, titled "Le Grand Balcon" (The Grand Balcony) and organized by Belgian curator Philippe Pirotte (with curatorial advisors Corey McCorkle, Aseman Sabet, and Kitty Scott), was refreshingly ambiguous, intentionally confused, decidedly unruly, convincingly contradictory, and consistently chaotic. The curatorial statement mentioned a gloriously diverse range of touchstones, including Jean Genet's strongly political absurdist play Le Balcon (The Balcony), 1956--which examines authenticity, representation, truth, and illusion--as well as the Marquis de Sade and an enigmatic portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Yet these references were overshadowed by the exhibition itself, which had neither an overall plot nor overarching themes. The list of fifty-five international participants offered a cross section of established luminaries, including Kerry James Marshall, Isa Genzken, Thomas Bayrle, Nicole Eisenman, and Luc Tuymans; rising stars, such as Anne Imhof, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Lena Henke, and Luke Willis Thompson; and a few new names, such as Zac Langdon-Pole, Myriam Jacob-Allard, and Nadia Belerique. Within this mix, Cranach's Portrait of a Lady, ca. 1540, played a central, disruptive role. The painting has been altered and partly overpainted on numerous occasions since its sixteenth-century debut, and its inclusion here pointed toward unstable authenticity and questionable narratives given its tumultuous history and somewhat mysterious origin.

The show's standout piece was perhaps Moyra Davey's intimate video Hemlock Forest, 2016, which revisits her 2011 video Les Goddesses. Including an homage to the early filmic style of Chantal Akerman via a restaging of a scene from the late filmmaker's 1967 News from Home, Davey's highly autobiographical work--a meditation on the artist's son's impending departure for college--speaks to beauty, intimacy, motherhood, and loss in a slowed-down world away from contemporary anxieties.

Highly topical was another filmic work, this one by Eric Baudelaire, Prelude to AKA Jihadi, 2016, which traces the actual journey of a young Frenchman to Syria. Without ever revealing the motivations behind the protagonist's decision to aid the Syrian rebels (and his likely if unconfirmed involvement with ISIS), the film connects disparate fragments of his mental and physical expedition. …

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