Sometimes an exhibition can’t do justice to an artist. For over a decade, Kendall Geers has been acclaimed and excoriated elsewhere for his interventions—which deal viscerally with power structures, violence, forensic evidence, and guilt. He earned a major reputation as an insider’s outsider. Now this Afrikaner, whose outrageous oeuvre ought to be as familiar to us as William Kentridge’s, finally has his first solo here. But the curtain-wall installation (rolled razor-mesh wire in the form of the Parthenon’s columns), the three ink drawings, and the key to the gallery (replicated in gold) seem pretty tame—unless you know the backstory.
It includes his 6,000-volt electric-fence installation, his brick-thrown-through-a-window piece, his museum bomb-threat texts, and a hole blasted in a gallery wall. It involves protest, homage, vandalism, and the attempted appropriation of a nationalistic centennial celebration in Pretoria as his own artwork, titled Guilty. His works, which have provoked boycotts from museum staffs, caused viewers to flee, and elicited death threats, are about domination and social control, individual and collective responsibility.
“I come from the most violent city in the world,” Geers has said. But his site-specific confrontational art implicates us all. So you’d better think twice about the razor-wire barrier blocking the tranquil garden view. Titled Akropolis Now, it links the Athenian creation of democracy with the destructions inflicted by fortress America in the name of freedom. The explosive drawings—of a shattered dome left standing in Hiroshima after the blast—make a similar historic point. And the gold key? Well, it does have the potential to violate this locked gallery’s tight security.