mounir fatmi
QAGOMA, Brisbane

The Sublime: Contemporary Works from the Collection, 2014

Sublime: Contemporary Works from The Collection

Qagoma, Brisbane

30 Aug 2014 – 24 May 2015


‘Sublime: Contemporary Works from the Collection’ draws together culturally diverse points of contact with notions of the sublime through major works from QAGOMA’s Australian and international collections. Here, we trace some of the multiple historical and cultural narratives surrounding the sublime.

In the last 30 years there has been sustained attention to concepts of the sublime in philosophy and in contemporary art writing, which has generated a vast critical literature. This year’s nineteenth Biennale of Sydney, ‘You Imagine What You Desire’, was conceived by curator Juliana Engberg in relation to a particular understanding of the sublime, linked to desire and the unconscious.

Most discussions of a contemporary sublime refer to European and North American art. Some refer to the Romantic era’s explorations of ‘the incommensurability of the sensible to the metaphysical (to the Idea, to God)’, others to abstract painting’s ‘virtually ungraspable allusions to the invisible within the visible’. The concept of a digital sublime has recently emerged, in which the experience of infinity previously associated with the natural world is now linked to the digital realm. Many writers also reference a technological or ecological sublime, of man-made catastrophe and humanity’s life-threatening intervention in the natural world.

‘Sublime’ includes major works drawing on widely differing aesthetic heritages and explores the resonance of ideas of the sublime in different cultural contexts. Timo Nasseri, a German artist of Iranian descent, melds the sublime geometries of Islam in his sculptural works. The polished metal and geometric forms of Epistrophy VI 2012 transform the cupola-like muqarnas of Islamic architecture to create a portal into an endlessly reflected world, placing the viewer within its infinite geometry.

The writings of Immanuel Kant, and particularly his idea of the ‘un-presentable’, or that which cannot be represented, are central to recent discussions of the sublime. Interestingly, Kant refers to different cultural sensibilities in developing his argument. His Critique of Judgement (1790) discusses the laws handed down by Moses on Mount Sinai in relation to the sublime, suggesting that there is no more sublime passage than the commandment, ‘Thou shall not make unto thyself any graven image, nor any likeness either of that which is in heaven, or on the earth, or yet under the earth’. The examples of Judaism and Islam allow Kant to argue that when representation is lacking, the imagination becomes more powerful and the experience of the sublime is linked to ‘a presentation of the infinite’. For Kant, Islam approaches a sublime religion of pure reason; his development of the concept of the sublime relies on this reflection on cultural difference.

In European art from the mid eighteenth to mid nineteenth century, the sublime became associated with Romanticism’s evocation of the experience of infinity and vertiginous uncertainty, notably through mountainous landscapes, clouds, mists, and the powerful natural forces of storms and volcanoes. Various contemporary works in the exhibition engage with concepts of the sublime deriving from the Romantic era, including Bill Viola’s early video work Chott el-Djerid (A portrait in light and heat) 1979 with its extreme landscapes of desert and ice, and Bill Henson’s Untitled 2008–09, depicting a mysterious island in dramatic chiaroscuro composition of clouds, rocks and water.

Another notion of the sublime crystallises around forms of abstraction that developed from the 1910s to the 1950s in Europe and North America. Abstraction as the end point of painting in European modernism resonates with Kant’s reflections on the sublime and with what is intimated through geometry and abstraction that cannot be represented. For French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, Kant heralds a solution to ‘the problem of sublime painting’; that is, how abstraction offered an escape from the limits of figuration.3 Works by Oskar Fischinger, Lara Favaretto, Suzanne Kriemann and others play out this discussion within the exhibition. The Gallery recently acquired Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst (Space-Light-Art) c.1926/2012, a recreation of his historic multimedia performances that brought together abstract art, cinema and music, as a three-channel high-definition video installation.

Contemporary philosophical discussions link the sublime to the catastrophies of historical proportions that marked the twentieth century. War and genocide on a previously unimaginable scale provided instances of un-representable horror. Enlightenment beliefs and assumptions about knowledge’s role in improving the human condition through technological and social progress were brought radically into question. In the exhibition, Latifa Echakhch’s A chaque stencil une revolution (For each stencil a revolution) 2007, with its wall of weeping blue pigment, speaks to utopian hopes lost and lamented, as do Nalini Malani’s powerful Mutant II and Mutant III 1996 drawings.

In dialogue, the works in the ‘Sublime’ exhibition testify to a contemporary condition of uncertainty in relation to ideas of progress, whether artistic, technological or social. They also suggest a way forward for contemporary art and culture more broadly through increasingly sensitive forms of interpretation and translation between cultural systems.

Expositions personnelles I Solo shows (selection)
Ceysson & Bénétière 2019Wilde Gallery 2019CDAN Museum 2018
Göteborgs Konsthall 2018Art Front Gallery 2017Officine dell'Immagine 2017
Galerie De Multiples 2017Analix Forever Gallery 2017Jane Lombard Gallery 2017
Galerie Delacroix 2017Goodman Gallery 2017Lawrie Shabibi 2017
Analix Forever Gallery 2017Maisons des Arts du Grütli 2017ADN Platform 2016
Keitelman Gallery 2016Labanque 2016MMP+ 2016
MAMCO 2015MIAMIBUS 2015Analix Forever 2015
CCC Tours 2014ADN Galeria 2014ADN Platform 2014
Analix Forever 2014Yvon Lambert 2014Museum Kunst Palast 2013
Keitelman Gallery 2013Paradise Row 2013Institut Français de Casablanca 2013
Galerie Fatma Jellal 2013Analix Forever 2013Goodman Gallery 2012
Shoshana Wayne Gallery 2012 Lombard-Fried Projects 2012Galerie Conrads 2011
Fondazione Collegio San Carlo 2011Galerie Hussenot 2011AKBank Sanat 2011
Galerie Hussenot 2010Galerie Conrads 2009FRAC Alsace 2009
Galerie Delacroix IFM 2008Creux de l'enfer 2008Galerie Ferdinand van Dieten 2007
Musée national Pablo Picasso 2007Shoshana Wayne Gallery 2007La maison rouge 2007
Lombard Freid projects 2007Bank galerie 2006CAC d'Istres 2005
Espace des arts Colomiers 2004 CAC Le Parvis 2004Migros museum 2003
Biennales & Triennales I Biennials, Triennials (selection)
13eme Biennale de Dakar 20187th Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 20181er Biennale de Rabat 2018
57th Venice Biennale 20177eme Biennale d'Architecture de Shenzhen 201711eme Biennale de Bamako 2017
15eme Biennale d'art contemporain Alios! 2017Biennale Poznan 2016Setouchi Triennale 2016
10èmes Rencontres de Bamako 20155th Thessaloniki Biennale 201516th Media art Biennale Wro 2015
1st Trio Biennale, Rio de Janeiro 20152nd Bodrum Biennial 2015Fotofest Biennial 2014
5th Auckland Triennial 201310th Dakar Biennial 2012 White House Biennial 2013
Manif d'Art 6 20123rd Thessaloniki Biennial 201111th Lyon Biennial 2011
54th Venice Biennial 2011XIIth Cairo Biennial 20101st Mediterranean Biennial of Haifa 2010
Port Izmir 2, international triennial of contemporary art 20108th Dakar Biennial 2010Biennale Cuvée 2010
Xth Lyon Biennial 2009Art Tel Aviv 20098èmes Rencontres de Bamako 2009
1st Brussels Biennial 2008Pontevedra Biennial 200824th Biennial Memorial of Nadezda Petrovic 2007
1st Luanda Triennial 2007 52th Venice Biennial 20078th Sharjah Biennial 2007
2nd Seville Biennial 2006 Gwangju biennial 2004 7th Dakar Biennial 2006
4th Dakar Biennial 20007th Biennal Art Media 1999
Expositions collectives I Group shows (selection)
Bedford Gallery 2019 Evliyagil Museum 2019Jane Lombard 2019
James Cohan 2019Mathaf 2018MACAAL 2018
Fondation Boghossian 2018Sammlung Philara 2018Nasher Museum of Art 2018
Ellen Noël Art Museum 2018Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea 2018MOCAK 2018
Bozar Center for fine arts 2018Philharmonie de Paris 2018The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery 2018
Goodman Gallery 2018Institut Français de Saint Louis 2018Pensacola Museum of Art 2018
Von der Heydt-Kunsthalle 2018Gifu Museum 2017Huntsville Museum of Art 2017
Bandjoun Station 2017Institut des Cultures d’Islam 2017Bellevue Arts Museum 2017
Mudac 2017Primo Marella Gallery 2017Goodman Gallery 2017
MACAAL 2017Museum De Wieger 2017Conrads Gallery 2017
Galerie Ceysson & Bénétière 2017Keitelman Gallery 2017Musée du Pays de Hanau 2017
Château de Servières 2017CEAA 2017Fondazione Fotografia Modena 2017
H&R Block Artspace 2017Bedford Gallery 2016Beijing Today Art Museum 2016
Hôtel des Arts 2016Museum of Old and New Art 2016Labanque 2016
Les Photaumnales 2016Al Maaden 2016Kunsthalle Faust 2016
Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg 2016Archives Nationales 2016Bardo National Museum 2016
Arles 2016Musée d'Art Moderne de Troyes 2016Rotor 2016
Goodman Gallery 2016Musée Bartholdi 2016Institut d’Art Contemporain 2016
Santander Art Gallery 2016Brandts & Viborg Kunsthal 2016Fondazione VIDEOINSIGHT 2015
A Tale of a Tub 2015Contemporary Istanbul 2015ADMAF 2015
Goodman Gallery 2015Keitelman Gallery 2015Galeria Municipal do Porto 2015
Fabra i Coats 2015AMOCA 2015Monastère Royal de Brou 2015
CAC La Traverse 2015FRAC Franche-Comté 2015ZKM 2015
The National Library 2015Station 2015La FabriC - Fondation Salomon 2015
Van Abbemuseum 2015The Brooklyn Museum 2015MMP+ 2015
Sharjah Museum 2015Kamel Lazaar Foundation 2015Sextant & + 2015
Gwangju Museum of Art 2014QAGOMA 2014N.B.K. 2014
CAyT Centro de Arte y Technologia 2014Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery 2014Station 2014
Institut du Monde Arabe 2014Art Gallery of Western Australia 2014Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 2014
Palais de Tokyo 2014L'art dans les chapelles 2013MAD Museum 2013
Marseille - Provence 2013V&A Museum 201330 ans des FRAC 2013
MAC Marseille 2013MAXXI 2013Museu de Arte Moderna de Salvador de Bahia 2012
Institut du Monde Arabe 2012Edge of Arabia 2012Apexart 2012
B.P.S. 22 2012Dorsky Gallery 2012International Center of Graphic Arts 2012
Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art 2011Fondation Blachère 2011Brooklyn Museum 2011
Dublin Contemporary 2011Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts 2011Museum on the Seam 2011
Tri Postal Lille 2011Meeting Point 6 2011The New School 2010
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil 2010Fondazione Fotografia Modena 2010Aargauer Kunsthaus 2010
KAdE 2010Kunst Museum Bochum 2010Moscow museum of modern art 2010
Art Gallery of Ontario 2010Fondation Gulbenkian 2009Centro de Arte de Santa Monica 2009
Beirut Art Center 2009Salina Art Center 2009Kunstverein Medienturm Ilz 2008
Te Papa museum 2008Studio Museum Harlem 2008Haus der Kunst 2008
Centre Pompidou 2008CAAM 2008Centro de Arte de Santa Monica 2008
Johannesburg Art Gallery 2007CAC Le Parvis 2006CAPC musée d'art contemporain 2006
Bank Galerie 2006Les Abattoirs 2006Moderna museet 2006
Mori art museum 2006Wereldmuseum 2005Centre Pompidou 2005
The Stenersen Museum 2005Saw gallery 2005Konstmuseum 2005
Hayward Gallery 2005Museum Kunst Palast 2004Tri Postal Lille 2004
2nd international contemporary art meeting 2003Espacio C 2002O.N.A. Foundation 1999
CAC Castres 1999Musée des beaux-arts de Dôle 1999Musée des arts décoratifs 1999
interventions publiques I public space projects (selection)
metavilla 2015Collateral Project to the 12th Havana Biennial 2015Prison Qara Meknès 2015
Art Paris 2015Analix Forever 2014Sculpture Beach Art Dubai 2012
Le Printemps de Septembre 2012Narracje 4 2012Ivry 2010
FIAC Tuileries 2010 Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2004