Spotlight: Adel Abdessemed Taps Into a Dark World of Parable and Power in a Solo Museum Exhibition in Shanghai

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About the Artist: Born in Constantine, Algeria, artist Adel Abdessemed (b. 1971) lives and works in Paris and is known for his cross-media works that powerfully confront the violence permeating today’s world. Encompassing drawing, video, sculpture, and monumental installation, the artist attempts to awaken viewers from a media-induced apathy to the struggles of our times by questioning, through his symbol-laden creations, how power shapes our realities. Currently, “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message”—a solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work, curated by Larys Frogier—is on view at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai. Abdessemed shows in Asia with Tang Contemporary Art, which has locations in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. 

Why We Like It: The exhibition title “An Imperial Message” takes its name from a short story by Franz Kafka, and the roughly 40 works on view—10 of which were created for the exhibition—capture something of the author’s fantastical and dystopian outlook. A series of large charcoal drawings, entitled Air (2021), is among the new works in the show. Cascading across vast swaths of paper, it depicts individual figures in moments of falling, images at once gut-wrenching and seemingly transcendent. Throughout the exhibition, animals appear as symbolic portents. The video work titled (2021) features a pigeon perched against a darkened backdrop; this work’s title is an allusion to Franz Schubert’s posthumously published composition of the same name. Two more video works, Un chat noir passe entre nous (2018) and Politics of the Studio, Nelson (2020), respectively feature a black cat and a massive white bull (pictured in the artist’s studio) and further embellish the fabulous, foreboding nature of Abdessemed’s works.

According to the Experts: “Adel Abdessemed has a unique position in contemporary art, and the way he touches those who engage his works has virtually no equivalent. That effect lies in his unique use of raw, simple materials and words, as well as straightforward but very subtle fabrication of the image, but also in the way his works revisit some of the historical and theoretical assumptions in the contemporary arts,” said Larys Frogier, director of the Rockbund Art Museum. 

See images from “An Imperial Message” below. 

Installation view of Air (2021). Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of (2021) in “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message.” Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of Un chat noir passe entre nous (2018) . Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of (2018) in “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message.” Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of “An Imperial Message,” 2022. Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of (2017–20) in “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message.” Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of Politics of the Studio, Out Out Brief Candle (2020). Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of (2020) in “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message.” Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of <i>Politics of the Studio, Nelson</i> in "Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message." Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

Installation view of “Adel Abdessemed: An Imperial Message,” 2022. Courtesy of the Rockbund Art Museum.

 

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