Adel Abdessemed is a prominent figure of the international art scene. From drawing to video, from sculpture to installation, Adel probes in the wounds of our present. The Algerian-born, Paris-based Abdessemed works within a wide range of media (drawing, video, photography, performance, and installation), transforming everyday materials and images into unexpected, charged, and sometimes shocking artistic declarations. He pulls freely from myriad sources – personal, social, and political to create a visual language that is simultaneously rich and economical, sensitive and controversial, radical and mundane.

Many situations created by Abdessemed are based on singular and deliberate actions, or, as he calls them, acts, which are testified, more than documented, with videos and photographs, and are often later juxtaposed with a sculptural remainder from the action itself.

Commissioned as part of “Mixed Bathing World” Beppu International Art Triennale 2009, Japan, and part of an ongoing series of works ‘Exit’; eight yellow neon works by Abdessemed, bring to mind feelings of both rejection and isolation. An example of the wit employed by the artist to engage the viewer, these site-specific works that play on this ubiquitous word, were temporarily placed in transitional spaces throughout the city, appearing then disappearing, reflecting on the plight of political refugees worldwide.

Adel Abdessemed, Exit, 2009.  © Adel Abdessemed. Courtesy Beppu Project and David Zwirner Gallery, New York

Exit takes language as its object. It affects a simple change of letter in the lighted signs widely used to indicate a way out: exit becomes exil (“exile” in French). It plays on the sign’s status of symbol, creating another word/image whose slight difference from the original triggers surprise. The resulting work is placed at the entrance of an exhibition venue, where it marks a line to be crossed. The word “exile” alludes to the artist himself, forced to leave Algeria in 1994, while the association with “exit” signs also evokes the act of crossing borders, a liberating act central to Abdessemed’s art. 

Adel Abdessemed, Unsin, 2009.  © Adel Abdessemed. Courtesy Beppu Project and David Zwirner Gallery, New York
‘Usine’ is a short video in which the main characters are animals. They are not small innocent animals; here Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ reigns. Chaos is played out among dogs, cockerels, scorpions, snakes and other reptiles, all struggling for their lives. Abdessemed reveals the horrors with a disturbing simplicity. Soberly registering, he leaves the viewer with the question: Are there similarities between the animals’ survival instinct and human nature?

Adel Abdessemed was born in 1971 in Constantine, Algeria and moved to Paris in 1994 during a time of civil strife and political repression in Algeria. He is currently based in New York. His work has also been presented at four Venice Biennales (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015), where he received the Benesse Prize (2007), at two Biennales in Istanbul (2007, 2017), and in the Biennales of Havana (2009), Gwangju (2008), Lyon (2007), and São Paulo (2006). In 2010, he participated in the first Triennale in Aichi, in 2017 at the Triennale of Milan and at the Triennale Oku- Noto in Suzu (Japan). In 2018 he participated at the Triennale Echigo-Tsumari Art. On the same year, he also took part in the Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles, where he exhibited a series of photographs and sculptures curated by Jean Nouvel. In 2015 he directed the scenography and light of Retour à Berratham, during the Avignon Festival, for the choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. In 2016, he was invited to draw the poster for the Avignon Festival and to create his project Surfaces. At the same time, the organisation Bold Tendencies commissioned the work Bristow as part of its artistic program in Peckham (London).

His work has a been the subject, during the last thirty years, of numerous major solo exhibitions, at MoMA PS1 in New York, MIT List Art Center in Cambridge (Massachusetts), Magasin – Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Grenoble, at Parasol Unit in London, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Musée national d’Art Moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris for a retrospective, Adel Abdessemed. Je suis Innocent » (2012), CAC in Málaga, or at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal. Two major monographic exhibitions take place in 2018: Otchi Tchiornie at the Musée du Grand-Hornu in Belgium, and L’Antidote at the MAC Lyon. The artist is represented by David Zwirner Gallery, New York.