Shinsegae Gallery (Seoul) in collaboration with Galerie Chantal Crousel (Paris), Gladstone Gallery (New York, Brussels, and Seoul), kurimanzutto (New York and Mexico City), and Pilar Corrias (London) present ? by Rirkrit Tiravanija. The display brings together a selection of projects by the artist across a variety of media made over the past decade. Widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of his generation, Tiravanija lives and works between New York, Berlin, and Chiang Mai. ? reflects this nomadic existence as he blends and negotiates different methods of traditional craft, cultural contexts, and materials to question the value of objects within and beyond the white cube.
Tiravanija sets out to push the metrics of certainty in untitled 2012 (?). The wall-based sculpture, one of several punctuation works on view, forms a question mark out of light bulbs, four of which were first exhibited in different locations throughout Art Basel Miami Beach. The repetition grounds the wanderer in a point of return, prompting a reassessment of the role of the viewer. The motif of the question mark stems from Tiravanija’s interest in the work of Slovakian conceptual artist Július Koller (1939–2007), who similarly employed lived experiences and everyday objects in his artistic practice to challenge the cultural context of communist Czechoslovakia. Tiravanija gave new life to Koller’s Universal Futurological Question Mark (UFO) (1978), a happening where Koller and a group of children gathered on a Bratsilava hill and used their bodies to form a question mark. As part of Tiravanija’s solo show U.F.O.-NAUT JK (Július Koller) at kurimanzutto, Mexico City in 2012, he recreated the question mark with a group of people at the Zócalo downtown.
The ping pong table hanging on the wall in untitled 2021 (do we dream under the same sky) derives from another project by Koller in which he transformed the Gallery of the Youth in Bratislava into a sports club with ping-pong tables. Tiravanija repositioned the gallery as a site for communal gatherings in the three-day exhibition untitled 2014 (todos juntos) at kurimanzutto. He welcomed visitors to play ping-pong, eat a barbeque dinner that he cooked, and recline with a dozen others on a 47-foot hammock that hung across the gallery. The artist commissioned inmates of a correctional center near Valladolid, Yucatán, to weave the hammock: the only craft the inmates are allowed to sell. The slogan “todos juntos” (all together) is woven at the hammock’s center in reference to the inmates’ collective work that made the communal rocking possible.
untitled 2018 (6 kilos of rice) belongs to a series of chrome cooking corners reflecting rice cast from silver. Before casting the silver grains, Tiravanija measured a common serving size of rice for a small gathering. Similar to the expansion achieved after cooking rice, an illusion of abundance occurs when multiplied by two stainless steel plates whose structure directly echoes American artist Robert Smithson’s (1938–1973) Nonsite sculptures. Using silver to enhance the weight and monetary value of rice, Tiravanija transfigures notions of utility and excess of a culturally ingrained food as well as the culturally significant land artist.
Printed newspapers from Thailand, Mexico, and the United States also become fine art objects through the application of gold leaf and tree lacquer. untitled 2017 (eclipse of the soul) (Thai Rath, Friday, March 25, 2016) and untitled 2017 (eclipse of the soul) (Inter-national New York Times, Monday, March 17, 2014) consist of news coverage of political turmoil in Thailand in the wake of the 2014 ousting of the Prime Minister and resulting army coup. Tiravanija obscures these political references through the ancient Thai method of applying gold leaf that has been used for generations in the decorative arts in Thailand. A lunar eclipse forms from the newspaper’s negative space, transforming stories of political unrest into mere slivers of information.
“Eclipse of the soul” is one of many slogans found throughout the show. “I usually describe my text works as road signs,” Tiravanija explained in a recent interview with art historian Jörn Schafaff, “Like when you drive on a highway and you drive by a big signage and pick up whatever the words are written on it. It’s about whether that gets into your consciousness or not.” In untitled 2020 (a hurricane in a drop of cum) (two maps, 1965), first exhibited as part of Tiravanija’s solo exhibition untitled 2020 (once upon a time) (after jasper johns) at Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, the artist borrows words from American artist and poet John Giorno’s (1936–2019) rainbow painting A HURRICANE IN A DROP OF CUM (2015). Tiravanija characteristically employs artisanal techniques through weaving the syntax into an Aubusson rug that hangs on the gallery wall. The words overlay a familiar composition from the painting Two Maps (1965) by another American pop artist, Jasper Johns. The readymade map of the United States from Johns’s earlier Map (1961) appears again in the multicolored rug of untitled 2020 (once upon a time) that domesticates the gallery floor. On top of the textile stands a slab of marble resembling a tombstone engraved with Johns’ screenprints of two American flags and Tiravanija’s epitaph, “once upon a time.”
Echoes and polarities between ever evolving pasts are engraved in a twelve-part grid of polished steel. The lines, as seen in untitled 2023 (it’s come to nothing) and untitled 2023 (am i an unshut window), are sourced from the Modern Noh play Hanjo (1955) by Japanese postwar writer Yukio Mishima (1925–70). The classical Japanese dance drama was based on a 14th-century play by the Japanese actor and playwright Motokiyo Zeami (1363–1443), which inturn was based on an ancient Chinese poem. Audiences view their reflection within a lineage of cultural narratives with their own momentarily linked.
Additional texts inscribed onto large-scale panels of brass and stainless steel cover the gallery walls. Their reflective material enhances the temporal encounters that realize all of the works on view. An exchange occurs when audiences witness their reflection against the backdrop of the Shinsegae Gallery through and alongside Tiravanija’s work and other visitors. In ?, the artist presents the materiality of lived experiences and the objects that define them as forms of knowledge that he hopes to share with all those who find themselves swaying on a hammock while staring at their own reflection.