BY Elizabeth Fullerton with/about Anne Imhof, 2019
Anne Imhof presents seductive, melancholy performance populated by beautiful, androgynous, sullen youths. Over six nights in March, the German artist staged Sex, her latest epic composition, in the Tanks at Tate Modern, cylinders that stored oil when the building was a power station and that were converted into performance galleries in 2012. Sex shared some similarities with Imhof’s powerful, angst-ridden Faust, which earned her the Golden Lion for best national pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Like that work, Sex featured dancers, musicians, and models in club gear singing, headbanging, and wrestling across different spaces over four hours. But Sex, shaped by Tate Modern’s three subterranean spaces and incorporating Imhof’s paintings and sculptures, was more elaborate and ambitious in scale than Faust. The South and East tanks were each dominated by a pierlike structure, one for audience members to stand on and the other accessible only to performers. The adjacent Transformer Galleries were lined with Imhof’s large-scale yellow and black paintings (“Gradients”), graffito works (“Scratches”), and silkscreen prints portraying her partner and collaborator Eliza Douglas with her mouth open in a silent scream. In this third area, which evoked the intimacy of the bedroom, performers sprawled on high plinths or crouched on shabby mattresses surrounded by smashed iPhones, beer cans, bongs, sex toys, and S/M gear. A mesmerized audience trailed the performers as Imhof coordinated her team’s movements by text message.