Saturday, 28 September 2013


June 2013: Article for F22 -

There’s quite a bit of art on show during the Basel Fair week: I saw 500 galleries across four of the seven Fairs, the hundred large works and projects of Art Unlimited (in the Art Basel Fair) and Art Parcours (out and about in the city), plus half of the twenty-odd significant non-commercial exhibitions in the city. Given that volume, it would probably be possible to find enough work to support any number of trends. For example I came across various depictions of lightning and flooding (how close are we to natural end times?) and insects (will they take over?). On a more widespread basis, there were certainly fewer jokes and more abstraction than a few years back, and that was true of some photography as well as lots of painting. I wouldn’t claim that there was, numerically, a trend towards combining photography with other disciplines, but there was certainly enough of it to choose ten interesting examples, starting with four German heavyweights...

Gerhard Richter: 924-1 STRIP, 2012, at Marian Goodman (New York / Paris) in Art Basel

One answer to doubts about the importance of painting now that digital technologies dominate might be to technologise it, and that’s what Richter does to an extreme degree putting the scanned template of his Abstract Painting 724-4, 1990, to generate thousands of computer transformations (he has documented some of the interim stages in a book) which conclude with twenty-foot-wide display of more than 8,000 stripes. Each outcome of the procedure is unique, and could be seen as a photograph of the painting, albeit one which fetishises – by maximising - the distortions which occur in any photographic process. Result: an abstract representation of an abstraction.
  Anselm Kiefer: Für Paul Celan: Rutengänger (For Paul Celan: Diviner), 2005-2007, at Galerie Thomas (Munich) in Art Basel

Anselm Kiefer is famous for attaching anything from mud to branches to lead submarines to paintings of enormous size, ambition and sometimes grandiloquence. It’s no surprise then, that there are twigs on this refreshingly intimate photograph with pencil additions. They suggest divining rods, and some also seemed shaped into some potential symbology – both are appropriate to Celan’s poem in which the diviner’s shadow 'does not obliterate the scar of time’.

Thomas Ruff: phg.02_I, 2013, at David Zwirner Gallery (London / New York) in Art Basel

Thomas Ruff’s new series is sort of Richter-in-reverse: from pure computer to a painterly endpoint which, push come to shove, I’d still term a ‘photograph’. Ruff is already known as a photographer who doesn’t take photographs: rather, he finds, re-presents and remodels material from other sources to push against the limits of what photography might be. One way to go, then, is to carry out the refinement from no source at all: what look a bit like photograms (in which objects are placed directly onto light-sensitive paper) derive purely from a virtual studio built by a custom-made software program. 

Franz Ackermann: Hotel Talabashi, 2013, at Mai 36 Gallery (Zurich) in Art Basel

Both Mai 36 and Meyer Riegger showed report-outs from the increasingly complex psycho-geographies of Franz Ackermann. His world-ranging travels feed into constructions in which multiple layers are cut literally away, with various paintings, objects and his own photographs thrown into the frenetic mix. India, Afghanistan and – as shown – Turkey were the inspirations for dizzying evocations of local colour, which also suggest that the imposition of modern values has a certain sameness across the world.

Naomi Safran-Hon: Wadi Salib: Interior Landscape (Purple Wall), 2013, at the Slag Gallery (New York) in the Volta Fair

The Haifa-raised, Brooklyn-based Naomi Safran-Hon sets up a tension between the domestic safety and the political trauma of her home neighbourhood of Wadi Salib, where many of the buildings from which Arabs were ejected in 1948 are now dilapidated. Safran-Hon mounts her own photographs of its walls on canvas, cuts holes in it, mounts lace on the back, pushes concrete through the lace and then adds acrylic. This complex hybrid of photography, sculpture and painting produces powerfully literal and charged abstract effects.

A Kassen: The Colour of Things (Chair), 2013 at Nicholai Wallner (Copenhagen) in Art Basel

The Danish collective A Kassen push equivalence to the limit in their series in which a pulverised   item is smeared on the wall as a  monochrome painting, beside a photograph of how it used to look. What depicts the truer reality?  There were examples at two fairs, each with a different subsidiary logic: at Madrid's Maisterravalbuena in Liste, a guitar was rendered decisively mute; while the chair in the main fair seemed designed to take Joseph Kosuth’s famous contrast between an actual, pictured and verbally defined chair ('One and Three Chairs') that one step further.

Rachel Harrison: Sunset Series, 2000-2012, at Greene Naftali Gallery (New York) in Art Basel

These are very much sculptor’s photographs: Rachel Harrison bought a conventional sunset view from a flea market, then set about both manipulating is an object, eg by bending it; and re-photographing it in various ways, eg altering the lighting, focus, angle of approach, proportion shown etc. Result: a set of 31 analogue variations on the same source which look surprisingly different. Possible subtext: even if we think we share the same dreams or ideals, we may mean rather different things by them…

Alan Michael: three Untitled paintings, 2013, as installed by the Micky Schubert Gallery (Berlin) at Liste

There wasn’t a lot of photorealist painting around the fairs, bit it’s an approach which Scottish artist Alan Michael has said appeals to him for its ‘alienating effect’, and has become the main mode for his depictions of widely-sourced images (he also paints texts). This set of three make a cold fetish of the way a rapid exposure photograph can catch liquids in motion. They’re taken from the publicity shots for the launch of a style magazine, and the use of such laborious and slow means to catch something so fleeting and inconsequential may be no coincidence in that context.

Jimmie Durham: Belo Horizonte, 2013, at kurimanzutto (Mexico City) in Art Basel

Jimmie Durham is known as an artist who campaigns for Native American rights, but his work ranges widely, as in this beautifully balanced and tactile assemblage which uses what Durham himself describes as ‘a HEAVY piece of flat stone. in brazil i got an old foto of a jaguar in a cage, at the flea market. then in rome i had it transferred to a tile, like they put on graves’ and then ‘many objects in the studio all wanted to be part of the piece --- but they were all too much, because the stone is so magnificent (it looks like an aerial foto of of the amazon)... then i found the last rattlesnakeskin. that completed the rather quiet work...’

Harold Ancart: Untitled (Seascape), 2013, at Xavier Hufkens (Brussels) in Art Basel

The Belgian Harold Ancart, best-known for sculptural installations, also alters net-sourced photographs of tourist destinations by burning them and adding flecks of paint. The typical effect is a picture of fire made out of smoke - 'no fire without smoke', if you will. The suggestion of trauma in would be-paradisaical places can be traced back to his own childhood experience of witnessing a major fire while on holiday. Here, though, there’s also the alleviatingly witty paradox  that it’s water which seems to be burning.

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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.