Thursday, January 24, 2008

Archive Fever at the ICP, New York

Okwui Enwezor, center right; Francesco Bonami, right; at the
Patrons' opening of Archive Fever (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, Okwui Enwezor's latest exhibition at the International Photography Center, New York is one quietly powerful show, its unique installation darkly elegant. You descend the stairway into the show and is confronted with a sight that stokes your curiosity: the gallery is covered with raw plywood, of the type used for crating stuff, and your left is Andy Warhol's silk-screened Race Riot from the early 1960s and right in front is Robert Morris' also silk-screened, even more disturbing image of a dead woman in a state of undress, framed with a black baroque frame. And then the show draws you in through its labyrinthine course, the walls changing from the plywood orchre to dark grey, framing an assortment of work, from Lorna Simpson to Sherrie Levine, to Fazal Sheikh's "Victor Weeps: Afghanistan photographs (the next day, my 29 month-old son, Arinze, on seeing the NY Times review image of the iconic Sheikh photo of a wrinkled hand with slender hands in which is placed an old passport photo of a turbaned old, possibly blind, man, screamed "museum!").

Okwui with State College (PA) artist Christopher Campbell; on the floor,
Felix Gonzalez-Torres' printed photos of Americans killed by gun violence (for takeaway)
(Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

The largest installation is perhaps Hans-Peter Feldman's room filled with front pages of newspapers from around the world reporting the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Naturally, I scanned the room immediately for African representation! Well, there on the back central wall is the page of The Guardian of Lagos. This show, like so many of Okwui's projects makes you wonder why, despite the profound presence of archival material in the work of contemporary artists, no one thought of this show before now. Archive Fever is a strangely intimate show. The relatively small scale of the works gives it the feel of a rigorously organized university museum show, the kind of show that you rarely see in the "big" venues these days.

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