Living in an era when we can easily tweak the small (delete a sentence, crop an image) but feel helpless when facing the large (political turmoil, climate change), it’s hard not to fantasize about reworking our histories. But this inclination is not new. Attempting to rework the past, at least on paper, has been the outlet of artists and authors for as long as people have been wishing for different endings. “As If: Alternative Histories From Then to Now,” an exhibition at the Drawing Center, presents eighty-four works from 1888 to the present that “offer examples of how we might reimagine historical narratives in order to contend with the traumas of contemporary life.”
In the late 1970s, the Congolese sculptor Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948-2015) began crafting what he called “extreme maquettes,” fantastical buildings constructed out of whatever he could get his hands on. He built most of these—now on view at “City Dreams”—in the city of his birth, Kinshasa, then-Zaire, where he lived and worked as a teacher and museum conservator before becoming a full-time artist. “City Dreams” lists Kingelez’s materials (a small selection: paper, corrugated cardboard, styrofoam, bottle caps, metal grommets, ballpoint pen shafts) but suggests that there are further mysteries to his work. Out of these modest ingredients Kingelez creates a whole world, entirely his own.