David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Adel Abdessemed. Le vase abominable is the artist’s third solo show with David Zwirner since joining the gallery in 2008.
Across a wide range of media, Abdessemed transforms well-known materials and imagery into charged artistic declarations. The artist pulls freely from myriad sources—personal, historical, social, and political—to create a visual language that is simultaneously rich and economical, sensitive and controversial, radical and mundane.
In Le vase abominable, cultural references become inseparable from themes of war, violence, and spectatorship. The ground floor presents three works comprising familiar, ceremonial objects: vases and a life-sized throne. The eponymous Le vase abominable is a two-meter tall copper pot positioned on top of a replica of a large explosive device, a carefully crafted bomb, whose relationship to the vase remains ambiguous. Nearby is a group of five smaller, similarly shaped vases each made from a different material, including gold, gum, and salt. Their repetitive yet incongruous appearance highlights a recurring dichotomy in the artist’s work between décor and fetish, which appears further intensified by the materials used.
The twang of the void, a life-sized throne made from razor wire, is modeled on an actual throne used by Queen Elizabeth II. The sharp contrast between the hazardous qualities of the material—with its double-edged blades and needle-sharp edges—and its seductive appearance as abstract form is especially poignant in the shape of the traditional seat of the British throne.
On the second floor, a group of works takes their point of departure in the well-known reportage photograph of children fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. Made entirely in mammoth ivory, Cri depicts the young girl in the center of the image, running naked with her arms outstretched and her mouth open in a scream. Her life-sized figure is accompanied by a series of drawings featuring soldiers in full gear—they may represent those surrounding the children in the photograph, or any other armed conflict. An animation, entitled State, is projected onto all four walls in a separate room and features labyrinth-like drawings which recall Republican prisoner protests at HM Prison Maze in Northern Ireland during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fighting for their right to wear their own clothes on the basis that they were not convicted criminals, they wrapped themselves in blankets rather than the provided uniforms and refused to leave their cells, which in turn were not sufficiently cleaned. They consequently smeared the walls with their own excrement, beginning the so-called “dirty protests.”