Sunday, 20 December 2009


Looking back at 2009, hardly a good year due to Art World closing, I nonetheless see that I saw impressive art in Bexhill, Eastbourne, Brighton, Southampton, Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Berlin, Basel, Berne, Zurich, Paris, Copenhagen, Malaga, Venice and New York. But even sticking purely to London and strictly to contemporary, I am spoiled for choice, and shall allow myself a more than excessive 2 x 20 memorable shows in no particular order:

Non-commercial 20:

John Baldessari @ Tate Modern (& Spruth Magers)
Roni Horn @ Tate Modern
Ed Ruscha @ the Hayward
‘The Russian Linesman’ @ the Hayward
Design High @ Louise Blouin
Francis Alys @ NPG
Jeff Koons @ Serpentine
Robert Kusmirowski @ Barbican
‘My Yard’ @ Whitechapel
Richter Portaits @ NPG
Altermodern @ Tate Britain
Jeff McMillan @ Peer
Roger Hiorns for Artangel
Rebecca Warren @ Serpentine
Anish Kapoor @ Royal Academy
Iza Genzken @ Whitechapel
Michael Snow @ BFI Southbank
DJ Simpson @ Bloomberg
‘The Photographic Object’ @ The Photographer’s Gallery
Mat Collishaw @ The Freud Museum

Commercial 20:

André Butzer @ Alison Jacques
Tala Madani @ Pilar Corrias
Philip Allen @ The Approach
Cinthia Marcelle @ Sprovieri
David Claerbout @ Hauser & Wirth
‘In Between the Lines’ @ Trinity Contemporary
Alexis Harding @ Mummery & Schnelle
Caragh Thuring @ Thomas Dane
Phyllida Barlow @ One in the Other
Glenn Brown @ Gagosian
Keith Coventry @ Haunch of Venison
Richard Serra @ Gagosian
Leonardo Drew @ FAS
Cedric Chistie @ Flowers East
Marnie Weber @ Simon Lee
Sara Haq @ Alexia Goethe
Carter @ Hotel
Adeela Suleman @ Aicon
Oliver Laric @ Seventeen
‘Supersurface’ @ Laurent Delaye (Robyn Denny, Michael Stubbs,
Danny Rolph, Perry Roberts, Shaan Syed)

Mummery & Schnelle deserve a special mention, as Maria Chevska, Carol Rhodes and Robert Bordo were all top shows as well as Alexis Harding. It was tempting to include the current London and Oxford double of Miroslav Balka (or even treble as he showed at White Cube in January) as one show. I also liked several shows about – well, nothing really: parts II and III of Laure Genillard’s ‘Presque Rien’, ‘Beyond these Walls’ at the South London Gallery and not so much the retrospective of various voids initiated by from the Pompidou Centre and which I caught in Berne (how can voids go on tour?) as the fascinating catalogue which justified the show. Also Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom as the most interesting new emergent, at both Primo Alonso and Josh Lilley, and Vanessa Billy and Ryan Mosley as rapid riders.

The best new galleries were Poppy Sebire (kicking off jointly with Alan Cristea through a lively two-location show of Boo Ritson), Josh Lilley, East Central and Calvert22 in a year in which, despite the recession, there was no reduction in the total number of spaces in London. And after something of a drift west in 2008, the trend reversed a bit in 2009, with the excellent Rokeby (star show Tom Badley)and Ritter/Zamet (star show Dolly Thompsett) moving east, and Vyner Street enhanced by the arrival of two of the liveliest galleries: Madder 139 and (imminently) Vegas.

So what about outside London? That’s a bit more arbitrary, but I liked:

Martin Kippenberger @ MOMA, New York
Vanessa Beecroft: VB64 @ Deitch Projects, New York
Kirsten Ortwed @ Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
Beat Zoderer @ Bartha Garage, Basel
Giuseppe Penone @ Ikon, Birmingham
Alberto Giacometti @ Foundation Bayeler, Basel
Joseph Beuys @ de la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill
Chema Cobo & Wilhelm Sasnal @ CAC Malaga
Susan Collins @ de la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill
Clay Ketter @ Daniel Templon, Paris
Subversive Spaces @ Whitworth, Manchester
Shaun Gladwell (Australia), Martin Boyce (Scotland), John Gerrard
(collateral event) @ Venice Biennale - more on this below
‘Deterioration, They Said’ @ Migros, Zurich (mainly for the wonderful Shana Moulton)

Phew! And that’s not even to mention the best show of the year: the less contemporary Seurat survey ‘Figure and Space’, which I caught in Zurich.


The Venice Biennale closed on 22 November. With 77 national pavilions, Daniel Birnbaum’s colossal ‘Making Worlds’ exhibition (which itself featured 90 artists) and 44 collateral events, there can have been few artistic themes or approaches which were not covered. But Venice is the classic city of water and light, and there was certainly plenty of both in some of the best work to be seen.

Mike Bouchet: Watershed, 2009 in ‘Making Worlds’ - the house as it sank, and as it was later reinstalled

But we start with a problem. Two artists aimed very directly to occupy the waters of Venice. Mike Bouchet had what Daniel Birnbaum called the megalomaniac idea of building a replica of a typical American suburban home which would float incongruously on pontoons in the basin of the Arsenale, allowing the historic backdrop to highlight its modular repetition. Appropriately, perhaps, the house sank during installation. When reinstalled, it was with a little extra meaning to its take on the American dream.

Alexander Ponomarev: ‘SubTiziano’ from the ongoing cycle ‘Utilisation of Packs’ (1999-2009) in Grand Canal @ Universita Ca’ Foscari

Alexander Ponomarev, one of many Russians putting on a strong showing, took fewer risks in bringing a submarine to the archetypal Venetian light of the Grand Canal. Ponanarev sees this as a tribute to both Leonardo, original conceiver of he submarine, and Titian, conqueror of colour for whom it is painted with colourful ‘negative camouflage’. It is also the ninth in a series which turns a deadly weapon into a marker of aesthetic connections, emerging around the globe to demonstrate the power of art.

Aleksandra Mir: ‘VENEZIA (all places contain all others)’, 2009, in ‘Making Worlds’

The Italian-based Pole Aleksandra Mir chose a hundred images of watery scenes from around the world, over which she had the word ‘Venezia’ teasingly overlaid in a range of typical postcard styles. A million of these postcards are to be given away to Biennale visitors so that they can activate the work by posting them across the world. ‘The idea of waterways as a supra-national entity’, says Mir, ‘mirrors patterns of globalization, the erosion of the nation state through the growth of travel and communication and its reemergence as a brand to be marketed’.

Miquel Barceló: ‘Djoliba (Riu de Sang)’, 2009, for Spain

Newer media dominated in the national pavilions, but the Spanish featured the paintings and ceramics of Miquel Barceló, fresh from his controversial ceiling painting for the United Nations in Geneva, which used a hundred tons of paint in icicle forms. His newest, near-abstract, series shimmeringly capture the foam of waves off Mali in an all-over surface which exploits paint as a natural force: Barcelo visibly plays with how the application of wet and mobile paint leads to a dry and static result which looks wet and mobile.

Poitr Uklański: ‘Untitled (Dancing Nazis)’, 2008, in ‘Mapping the Studio’ @ Palazzo Grassi / Punta Della Dogana

New York / Warsaw based Pole Poitr Uklański featured in both halves of Francois Pinault’s vast presentation of just 20% of his collection – and infiltrated much of the Palazzo Grassi with the sound of his Untitled (Dancing Nazis). It combined portraits of actors playing Nazis with the rather un-Venetian light of a flashing disco floor as modernist grid. Whether it was about the role of the audience, the artificial construction of meanings, the aesthetic appeal of fascism or how close creation and destruction may be in human nature, this was a striking piece. Cheekily, too, this ‘new work’ was made out of reinstalling Uklański’s two signature pieces Dance Floor (1996) and The Nazis (1998).

Nikola Uzunovski: ‘My Sunshine’, 2007-09, for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

An ‘unlikely country award’ for the charming and generous project by Macedonia’s Nikola Uzunovski. He is studying how to make ‘artificial suns’ in polar areas to give their people more hours of light in winter, and presented serious-looking physics and video documentation of his ongoing experiments. They involve launching flying spheres so that they reflect sunlight and take on something of the sun’s appearance. An absurdist poke, perhaps, at the politics of global warming – while suggesting how hard it will be to solve those problems though technological means.

Iván Navarro: ‘Resistance’, 2009, for Chile

Iván Navarro grew up under Pinochet’s dictatorship but is now based in New York. For 'Resistance' he showed a chair made of fluorescent tubes, which itself adds a threatening edge to minimalist form: light is a symbol for hope but here suggests a machine for killing, too. The chair was attached it to a bicycle so that the chair was illuminated by pedaling the bike, and a video showed it being ridden around Times Square in New York, bringing a political edge to the comparisons between bodily-generated and commercial light. What kind of power was being criticized?

Spencer Finch: ‘Moonlight (Venice, March 10, 2009)’ in ‘Making Worlds’

American Spencer Finch combines light and dark and grids more poetically in paying homage to his ‘favourite Italian, Galileo Galilei’, who 400 years ago became the first to train a telescope on the moon. Finch shifts the colour of sunlight to that of the Venetian moonlight, which he measured using a colourometer at midnight on 10 March, 2009, by applying coloured filters to the windows of the Arsenale. The pay-off is that what sounds a dry scientific translation of our subjective experience actually proves decidedly beautiful.

Martin Boyce: ‘No Reflections’, 2009 @ Palazzo Pisani

Martin Boyce, for Scotland, also replaces one light source with another, swapping the elegant chandeliers of the 15th century Palazzo Pisani for metal lights. They use a set of forms derived from a 1925 concrete tree which Boyce has said represents ‘a perfect collapse of architecture and nature’. Seven rooms re-imagine the Palace as an urban garden, creating an atmosphere of displaced but atmospherically resonant decline. There is no water, but its former presence is implied by the visitor needing to use stepping stones to cross a room covered in crepe paper leaves left by evaporated pools – hence the title, ‘No Reflections’.

Bruce Nauman: ‘Three Head Fountain (Juliet, Andrew, Rinde)’, 2005, for USA

Quite apart from providing the key work for the ‘Mapping the Studio’ presentation of the Pinault collection, Bruce Nauman won the prize for best national pavilion for America with a retrospective across three buildings. Thus his aggressive explorations of our collective neuroses permeated the city. The works were linked by three threads, one of which was the water and light combination of ‘Fountains and Neons’. And the water gushed – oddly enough – from everywhere except the mouths - in two Three Head Fountains in a glass extension to the Gardenia Pavilion.

Tatsuo Miyajima: ‘Spirits in the Water with Cuban Artists’, 2009, in ‘In-Finitum’ @ the Palazzo Fortuny

The Japanese installation artist Tatsuo Miyajima is known for his sculptural use of repeatedly counting LED numbers. This work, well-suited to the Fortuny’s atmospheric and darkened display of old and new on themes around the infinite, is part of Miyajima’s ‘Time in Water’ series, which set the numbers in a pool. It relates specifically to a visit to Cuba following the hurricane in 2008, after which Miyajima paid tribute to the potential recuperative value of art by timing the counting to match the heartbeats of 300 Cuban artists. ‘I believe the greatest artists are not those participating in international art exhibitions’, he has said, ‘but human beings who inspire and who give hope to society’.

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.