For her solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, titled Whites, Romanian artist Andra Ursuta has developed a series of new sculptures that draw from a piece she first made in 2013 (Broken Obelisk). That sculpture was based, as its title implies, on Barnett Newman’s eponymous monument, made over the years between 1963 and 1969, which is in turn a reference to the 19th century monument commemorating George Washington, the first U.S. president, which for its part was formally appropriated from the pyramidion-topped pillars that stand at the entrances to temples in ancient Egypt. Each member of Ursuta’s new family of figures, on view at the Kunsthalle, is slightly different and has a vaguely anthropomorphic form, with eye sockets or nostrils cast from human skulls sunk into a smooth surface; any semblance of a commemorative monument is here turned into a deformed, humanoid figure. Instead of pedestals, the figures rest on old kitchen chairs, secondhand office furnishings, modernist design classics and cast transparent resin bases, some embedded with fake vegetable slices. If a commemorative monument is usually soaring and grandiose, implicating high-minded ideals and righteous values, Ursuta’s morose, dejected versions tell of the downfall of the Western modernist, idealist project. Also, they remind us of the instability of the images we use to commemorate history – images that can be endlessly bent and adjusted to shifting political needs.
Whites by Andra Ursuta
Through November 1
Photo: Philipp Hanger
Courtesy Andra Ursuta; Massimo de Carlo, Milan/London; Ramiken Crucible, New York