“Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams,”
Museum of Modern Art, May 26, 2018 – January 1, 2019
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all about Kingelez (1948-2015), the Congolese sculptor of imaginary skyscrapers and cities out of cardboard, pasted papers, and all manner of miniaturist flotsam and jetsam. Gaudi meets historical Futurism meets the Jetsons meets Hindu gopuram meets Miami Art Deco meets, crucially, the uncompleted modernization of Kinshasa in the early, hopeful reign of OG Mobutu Sese Seko, when Kingelez arrived there from a small village and settled in for the rest of his life.
No one could fail to “like” these cardboard wedding cake-terraced models, dotted with painted details and calligraphic signage, for what Kingelez had faith (literally) would someday become real architecture. In fact, he began his art journey after a professed spiritual (Catholic-inflected) vision and attendant desire to address and contribute to new urban environments that would meet all the needs of its inhabitants. Global art world acclaim came with his inclusion in the landmark (for better or worse) Paris exhibition, Magiciens de la Terre (1989), and related support of mega-collector of Jean Pigozzi, after which his material inventory and the physical space of the works expanded. Overall, however, his vision and approach remained pretty much consistent; likewise, the child-like pleasure of perusing his wonderlands. Creations range from charming World’s Fair-type national pavilions (e.g., Palais de Hirochima; Belle Hollandaise) to kaleidoscope-Coney Island re-dos of corporate and government complexes set amidst painted parks, thoroughfares and recreational sectors that feature sports arenas named after himself. More solemn and sterile but equally utopian, hospital and health-related entities are also given much attention.
Besides being the first retrospective for Kingelez, MoMA’s exhibition includes a superb virtual reality component that places viewers, via special glasses, within one of his more complicated extrêmes maquettes (his term) and allows, with shifting focus for bounding around the buildings. There are no interiors though, nor even the suggestion of such. It’s all surface–but what surface, with its dazzling Surrealist reflection of pipe dreams.