The Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed, who divides his time between Paris and Marrakech, confronts the problems and challenges of our multicultural, globalized world, as well as intimate human relations, in artworks that span a wide range of mediums. This exhibition of recent work featured sculptures in both glass and rubber, and two series of large-scale drawings executed in black stone on paper.
The first series of drawings was titled “Lampedusa,” after the Italian island that has become the prime European entry point for asylum seekers from Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean; in 2013 a boat sank off Lampedusa’s coast, killing more than 300 Eritrean and Somalian migrants. Each drawing depicts a refugee boat overloaded with passengers and riding low in the water. Rendered as dark smudges, the people aboard huddle together or, in one instance, appear to reach out for help, their plight emphasized by the drawings’ deep blacks. The “Park” series, on the other hand, consisted of casual sketches of elderly men engrossed in their newspapers, in which they might be reading about the same Lampedusa tragedy. Lighter in tone, these works emphasize the calm imperviousness of the men to the suffering going on in the world around them.
The centerpiece of the exhibition, Merci, la vie en miettes (Thank You, Life Shattered), 2014, took an entirely different tack. This monumental sculpture, executed in Murano glass and 20 feet long, is of two skeletons—said to represent the artist and his wife—locked in a reclining embrace, their lower extremities a pile of shattered glass. The artist considered this accidental breakage, which occurred only 24 hours after the sculpture had been installed in the gallery, a positive development—and revised the title (formerly just Merci) accordingly. Thus it became, like the drawings, a powerful commentary on both the realities and fragility of life.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 108.