David Zwirner is pleased to present the first American gallery exhibition by Adel Abdessemed. Encompassing all three of the main gallery spaces at David Zwirner, RIO features sculptures, videos, photographs, and drawings made from 2008 to 2009. The installation of the show envisages a maze of main rooms, corridors, and entrances that collectively create a complex yet harmonious environment. Visitors are given the possibility of several different journeys though the spaces, while individual works still remain autonomous.
The massive sculpture, Telle mère tel fils (2008), engulfs one of the galleries (519 West 19th Street). Over sixty-five feet long, the work is a braid of three airplanes, made of their original cockpits and tailfins, while the fuselages are reconstructed in soft felt filled with air.
The center gallery space (525 West 19th Street) hosts a number of works. In Usine (2009), Abdessemed films an encounter between mammals, reptiles, and insects. Revealed in a quick minute-and-a-half video loop is both nature and mankind’s propensity toward survival and destruction. Also presented is Music box (2009), a sculpture made of a steel oil barrel, which functions as a real musical instrument. Stationary pins on a revolving cylinder strike the teeth of a metal comb, producing sounds that fill the room: music from Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie). Prostitute (2008) addresses the theme of religion. Three prostitutes each meticulously hand wrote, page by page, one of three religious texts: the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran. These leather-bound manuscripts are displayed as closed books in stacked shopping bags, the completed activity quietly offered for viewers’ consumption. Another work, made with razor wire – like the previous work Wall drawing (2006) where Abdessemed used razor wire in the form of simple circles that hung on the wall – is Soccer ball (2009), placed on the gallery’s floor.
Since moving to New York in 2008, the city has become part of Abdessemed’s work, and seen in the same gallery space is Lincoln (2009). Captured on a busy street corner, this photograph depicts a statute of the president, holding up and supporting Abdessemed. Lincoln echoes an earlier work, Nafissa (2006), where Abdessemed is seen on a Paris street being held in his mother’s arms. Presented in the third main gallery space (533 West 19th Street) is the seminal work, Practice zero tolerance (retournée) (2008), a large-scale terra cotta sculpture molded on an impounded car from the insurrections in the banlieues of Paris in 2005. As if upended by protestors, the vehicle’s charred chassis rests on its side, a symbol not only of the civil unrest in France, but of car bombings and suicide attacks around the globe.
Many situations created by Abdessemed are based on singular and deliberate actions, or, as he calls them, acts, which are testified, more than documented, with videos and photographs, and are often later juxtaposed with a sculptural remainder from the action itself. The same gallery space is occupied by a group of works that represent this structure. In Grand canyon (2008), Abdessemed dangles from a precipice over the canyon’s abyss and carves the single word “DEATH” into the underside of the boulder from which he is hanging. The two-part work consists of a photograph of the artist’s action, along with the rock, relocated afterwards to the gallery. Grand canyon correlates to a recent work, Also sprach Allah (2008), shown in a group exhibition at David Zwirner last summer. In this work, Abdessemed is repeatedly catapulted by a manned blanket toss in order to reach a carpet mounted on the ceiling. With each toss in the air, he adds a single mark on the carpet, eventually spelling out “Also Sprach Allah,” which translates to “Thus Spoke Allah” and refers directly to Also Sprach Zarathustra by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This action – demonstrating how a group can propel an individual to take action in the name of God – is documented in a video that accompanies the finished, framed carpet.
Reminiscent of Helikoptère (2007), is Enter the circle (2009). In this new work, Abdessemed is suspended upside down from a helicopter hovering fifty feet above the ground. In a motion that is both jagged yet fluid, he draws a complete circle with oil pastel onto a large panel.
For the two-part video, Les ailes de dieu I (2009) and Les ailes de dieu II (2009), a man without arms is suspended from a helicopter to make a drawing with his feet, while in the other video, a man without legs draws with his hands as he hangs down.
Elsewhere at David Zwirner is The sea, another video that captures similarly intense physical movements, where Abdessemed balances on a slab of wood on rough ebbing and flowing ocean waves. Other photographs include the family portrait Saturday (2008), where his young daughters and wife take dog skeletons for a walk down a New York City street, and Jasmine (2009), a street scene where a mother dog protects her multiple puppies.
Among new drawings made for the exhibition at David Zwirner are Untitled (I take care of History) (2009) and The best, the most, the only (2009), which consists of charcoal drawings (of hands and animals) inside notebooks, placed on music stands.
Born in 1971 in Constantine, Algeria, Adel Abdessemed attended the École des Beaux-Arts d’Alger and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. He currently lives and works in New York. In 2008, MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts hosted a solo exhibition of his work, organized by Jane Farver and accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with essays by Farver, Tom McDonough, and Pier Luigi Tazzi, and an interview with Noam Chomsky. Abdessemed recently has been the focus of solo exhibitions at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy (2009), Le Magasin – Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble, France (2008), and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2007). He recently was included in the 7th Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, Korea (2008) and the 52nd Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2007). His work is in the collections of Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Fondation François Pinault, Venice, Italy; Fonds régional d’art contemporain Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France; Fonds régional d’art contemporain des Pays de la Loire, Carquefou, France; Fundación Montenmedio Arte Contemporáneo, Vejer de la Frontera, Spain; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland; Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France.