MoMA: Bodys Isek Kingelez City of Dreams Review

Bodys Isek Kingelez’s vast body of work is a kaleidoscopic, vibrant manifestation of the artist’s imagined utopia . His City of Dreams utilizes an amalgam of materials ranging from paper, cardboard, foamcore, and even found materials to reify his vision for an entire global network modeled upon harmony and esteemed virtues. What can probably be best described as his endeavor of utopic urban planning, Kingelez’s meticulous sculptures depict a more equitable society, featuring various municipal initiatives and addresses key sociopolitical debates of his time, which include healthcare in the form of HIV/AIDS prevention, and democracy. Out of humble cardstock and paper, Kingelez devotes certain buildings, structures, and even mini-worlds to his pursuit of an idealized, more equitable and sustainable future.

While I found Kingelez’s dedication, precision, and technical skill to be nothing short of impressive and admirable, I was preoccupied with the idea that one person’s chosen, personal utopia is not necessarily someone else’s- one individual’s utopia might be another’s dystopia. This thought occurred to me as I tried to imagine myself as an integrated character in Kingelez’s world. The psychedelic, almost too-happy colors seemed artificial; I imagined that the oversaturation of his utopia would be a contributing factor to chronic migraines. In addition, his predilection for unusually shaped skyscrapers and bulky factory-like buildings culminated in the construction of hyper-industrialized worlds, which felt like a scene from a futuristic Disney film at first glance, but felt claustrophobic and invoked some Foucauldian, panopticon-esque sentiments afterwards. To his credit, the sheer scale and achievement of Kingelez’s work is incredible and matched by few artists. I was particularly inspired by his social awareness and integration of current events and international affairs in his work, and how he was able to articulate his worldview in such a bold, optimistic manner.

One particular piece that stood out to me was U.N. (1995). In the description accompanying the piece, it mentions that the dominant motif, the eight-pointed stars represent member countries, which Kingelez hopes to be equal. He imagines the U.N. as a ‘palace’, an ‘indispensable tool for the democracy of nations’. In reality, member nations of the U.N. are anything but equal. While each state is sovereign in its own right, Security Council powers far overshadow the vast majority of other states. Kingelez’s notion of the ‘democracy of nations’ is far-fetched indeed, as our current world order as we know it operates on a hierarchy of exploitation and unequal representation.

Ultimately, I was very much overwhelmed and captivated by Kingelez’s work. While I was very much impressed by the finesse of his work, I was more fascinated by the uncompromising optimism behind his art. Kingelez created his sculptures with the select purpose of sharing his vision for utopia with a world plunging towards dystopia.

U.N. (1995) by Bodys Isek Kingelez

Dorothe (2007) by Bodys Isek Kingelez

sketch of Dorothe

Ville Fantome (1996) by Bodys Isek Kingelez

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