Forms is the 8th annual thematic group exhibition presented jointly by Jeffrey Deitch and Gagosian during Art Basel Miami Beach.
The dominant narrative of modern art has focused largely on a swing between the stylistic oppositions of figuration and abstraction. Forms explores alternatives to these paired categories through works that investigate how objects might function as surrogates for human reality, or that refer to objects indirectly through abstracted visual language. Playing on the ambiguities of its title, the art in Forms exists somewhere between a nonrepresentational formalism and a realism of forms, proposing different models for communicating the physical and symbolic complexities of the body.
In a painting and a sculpture from the Ömega Man series, Albert Oehlen portrays a simplified humanoid form inspired by the character of Dr. Robert Neville from the 1971 sci-fi movie The Omega Man, who symbolizes runaway scientific development that precipitates humanity’s demise. In Ömega Man 2 (2021), the shape stands out against a yellow ground; in Untitled (2022), it is rendered in robust cast aluminum. Theaster Gates conjures figuration through perceptible traces of human activity. The salvaged wooden floorboards of his sculpture THIS WAY (2021) retain the visual and tactile evidence of movement, while the ceramic work Vessel #24 (2020) acts as a universal object of ritual significance that recalls the human form.
Other participants in the exhibition posit objects and their depictions as surrogates for the body through visual and social allusions to human presence. Carol Bove’s “collage sculpture” Sinister Sappy Seeping (2023) incorporates stainless steel and urethane paint into an abstract form loosely suggestive of a reclining figure, the seeming softness of the object’s surface emphasizing a connection between inert material and living flesh. In a mirrored columnar “box” sculpture emblazoned with commercial signage, Lauren Halsey reflects on her South Central Los Angeles roots to construct a radical vision of urban life, acknowledging the area’s past and imagining its future in a space of collective celebration.
In Nari Ward’s sculpture Soul Arch Fixed (2021), a surfboard covered with copper and a red patina sits atop an old Harlem church pew upholstered with firehose. “Soul arch” describes a maneuver in which a surfer arches his or her back while riding in a demonstration of nonchalance. The board in Ward’s work becomes a contemporary crucifix, and by situating an object used for physical activity as a stand-in for the experience of spiritual apotheosis, the artist suggests a link between the two. Tauba Auerbach’s acrylic painting Foam (2023) presents an image of air bubbles based on a close-up photograph. Making use of a fine stippling technique, Auerbach effectively spans the border between realism and abstraction while also mapping the intersection of free will, spontaneous transformation, and the vital forces contained within microscopic particles. And to produce Basel Painting #1 (2017), Piero Golia replaced the hand of the living artist with that of a large robot, which was programmed to react to visitors entering the exhibition space of the Kunsthaus Baselland by modifying the geometric abstract canvases it was tasked with creating.
Adam McEwen’s painting Rendezvous (2023) is one of several he has produced depicting Bic Cristal ballpoint pens. Stylized improvisations on the basic form of a ubiquitous functional object, these images exhibit a heraldic quality. Using patterns of rhythmic curves to modulate the pens’ rigid structure, he prompts these inanimate objects to suggest an unexpected social interplay, even as the painting’s ostensible subject matter remains fundamentally at odds with the idea of figurative life. Finally, in a 2023 work by Giuseppe Penone, it is not an external instrument but instead the artist’s hand itself that offers evidence of human presence and articulates a spirit of creativity. Penone uses imprints of his hand to generate shapes which he then translates from ink on paper to large-format oil painting, allowing them to cross and recross the border between unmediated mark and figurative representation.
Featured artists include Ai Weiwei, Tauba Auerbach, Ashley Bickerton, Carol Bove, Sascha Braunig, John Chamberlain, Judy Chicago, Bita Fayyazi, Urs Fischer, Theaster Gates, Piero Golia, Peter Halley, Lauren Halsey, Madeline Hollander, Devin Johnson, Josh Kline, Li Shurui, Adam McEwen, Peter Nagy, Albert Oehlen, Ariana Papademetropoulos, Steven Parrino, Giuseppe Penone, Brian Rochefort, Alexandria Smith, Philip Taaffe, Nari Ward, and Stanley Whitney.
FORMS Presented by Gagosian & Jeffrey Deitch, December 5th–10th, 2023, Miami Design District, 35 NE 40th Street, Miami
Opening reception: Tuesday, December 5th, 5–8pm