David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by Adel
Abdessemed. Spanning both of the gallery’s 525 and 533 West 19th Street
spaces, Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf is Abdessemed’s second solo exhibition
since he joined 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
The exhibition brings together recent works that revolve around the themes
of war, violence, and spectatorship. The 525 gallery space will present works
grouped by Abdessemed as primarily concerned with the dichotomy between
meaning and matter: they include Décor, which presents four life-size sculptures
of the crucified Jesus made entirely from razor wire. Modeled after German
Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald’s Crucifixion (a part of his Isenheim Altarpiece from 1506-1515), the contorted, twisted
figures hang against an otherwise naked wall without the structure of the cross itself. Creating a formal juxtaposition between the
hazardous qualities of the razor wire and its abstract appearance, Décor enhances the connotations of physical suffering implicit in
the subject matter, while the repetitive appearance of the sculptures creates a distinctively decorative effect.
Occupying the floor in front of Décor is a group of over thirty larger-than-life-sized microphones made from hand-blown glass.
Perhaps an allegory for the ideal of transparent communication and open dialogue, the title of the work, L’avenir est aux fantômes
(The future belongs to ghosts), is a reference to the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida, whose characterization of a variety
of phenomena as “ghosts” was highlighted in Ken McMullen’s film Ghost Dance, 1983, featuring Derrida himself. Also on view
nearby is La Grande Parade, a large installation of Abdessemed’s drawings of porcupines, weasels, tortoises, and other reptiles.
Executed in the artist’s loose style, the animals have sticks of dynamite strapped to them as if presenting an allusion to modernday
In the 533 gallery space, which brings together works Abdessemed has characterized as primarily concerned with substantive
themes of hope, death, memory, and compulsion, viewers first encounter Hope, an installation of a boat found abandoned on a
beach in the Florida Keys. Used illegally to transport immigrants in pursuit of a new life to the United States, often compromising
their safety in the process, the boat is presented as it was discovered, but has been filled to the brim with black bags cast
in polyurethane resin from actual, stuffed garbage sacks. While a crude and provocative analogy between the trash and the
boat’s former passengers appears explicit, Hope presents an art historical reference to Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich’s
apocalyptic painting from 1823-1824, The Wreck of the Hope, featuring a capsized vessel in a sea of icebergs.
Also in the 533 gallery space will be Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, a wall installation of taxidermy animals, including wolves,
which takes its title from the famous soundtrack to Disney’s 1933 cartoon The Three Little Pigs as well as from Barnett Newman’s
version of the phrase for his series of paintings from the late 1960s, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue. Following on from Abdessemed’s previous work with preserved animals, the
installation juxtaposes the age-old practice of taxidermy,
used for scientific as well as for decorative purposes,
with a reference to meaningless slaughter and war—the
animals in the installation have subsequently been burnt
and are a monotonous black while the overall dimensions
correspond to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937, a now classic
representation of the effects of war on civilians. Near the
installation, Mémoire presents a video showing a baboon
spelling out the words “Tutsis” and “Hutus” on a white wall,
which refer to the names of the opposing ethnic groups
involved in the 1994 Rwandan civil war and the ensuing
Coup de tête depicts the moment French footballer
Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian Marco Materazzi
in the 2006 World Cup final in Germany in a heated
response to a verbal insult by the latter. While it presents a realistic rendition of the event, Abdessemed’s slightly larger-thanlife,
resin sculpture is not so much a commemoration of the incident itself as it is a testament to the emotions and underlying
narratives which often accompany major sports events. By distilling the moment of Zidane’s much scrutinized violent
impulse, Abdessemed’s work draws attention to the verbal insults and provocations that often flourish in the sport without
any visible manifestation, and further emphasizes the obsessive interest in drama that lies beyond the game itself. As such, it
reverberates with the underlying theme of the exhibition, which is concerned with familiar manifestations of aggression and
violence. Drawing on a multitude of seemingly converse and often visually spectacular references and symbols, Abdessemed
highlights the interconnectedness of innate aspects of human behavior, while at the same time challenging passive modes
Born in Constantine, Algeria, Adel Abdessemed attended the École des Beaux-Arts d’Alger, Algiers, and the École nationale des
Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France. He had his first American gallery exhibition, RIO, at David Zwirner in 2009.
A major survey of the artist’s work is planned for October 2012 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and will be accompanied
by an exhibition catalogue. Abdessemed’s work was recently the subject of solo exhibitions at Parasol unit foundation for
contemporary art, London, and the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto (both 2010). Other notable solo exhibitions include
the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2009); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Le Magasin-
Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble, France (both 2008); and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City,
New York (2007).
The artist has participated in a number of significant group exhibitions, including the 3rd Thessaloniki Biennale; In Praise of Doubt,
Punta della Dogana, Venice (both 2011); Aichi Triennale 2010, Nagoya, Japan (2010); Mapping the Studio: Artists from the François
Pinault Collection, Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice; 10th Lyon Biennale, France; 10th Istanbul Biennial; 10th Havana
Biennial (all 2009); 7th Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, South Korea (2008); and the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).
His work is represented in prominent collections internationally, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Israel Museum,
Jerusalem; Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Geneva; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and the François Pinault
Foundation, Venice. He lives and works in Paris.
A comprehensive monograph of Abdessemed’s work is currently being prepared by David Zwirner in collaboration with Pier Luigi
Tazzi and Steidl.