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Shirin Neshat's Turbulent, a video installation of two singers projected on opposite walls of an otherwise darkened gallery, looks like a stripped-down CNN documentary, or a particularly inspired segment of 60 Minutes. With it, she rescues her art from a pictorial and pedantic dead end. Neshat, 41, was born in Iran, left in 1973, and didn't go back until 1989. She returned to the U.S. to make black-and-white photographs of herself covered head to toe in a black chador. Graphically slick, her pictures were also profoundly didactic, stuck in the self- inscribed cul-de-sac of "identity art." Turbulentchanges everything.

A primal scream: a still from Shirin Neshat's Turbulent (1998) with singer Sussan Deyhim
Shirim Neshat / Whitney Museum Of American Art
A primal scream: a still from Shirin Neshat's Turbulent (1998) with singer Sussan Deyhim

Details

Doug Aitken
303 Gallery
525 West 22nd Street
Through January 30

Shirin Neshat
The Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris
120 Park Avenue
Through January 15

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On one wall, a male singer enters a concert hall while an all-male audience looks on. He begins to sing an enraptured 13th-century poem of sacred and erotic longing. When he finishes, the audience applauds. He looks across the room at the other projection, to a woman in a chador, who has stood silently throughout his song, in a similar, but empty, auditorium. In Iran, women are not permitted to sing in public. She sings an impassioned, wordless song of supernal sounds, breaths, wails, cries, and moans, as if a thousand voices were pouring out of her. It's amazing— a primal scream. You think you hear birds, brooks, and the secret sounds of the human heart. In this, the best work of her career so far, Neshat has made an overtly political work that isn't bogged down in politics, and suggests she should abandon still photography for video.

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