Munich’s institutions give any city a run for its money, from ancient to classical to modern to contemporary. They have a transatlantic flavour at the moment, with Ellen Gallagher’s retrospective and Matthew Barney’s massive new installation ‘River of Fundament’ at the Haus der Kunst (12 rooms tied into a seven hour film); then Cy Twombly and Dark Pop at the Museum Bandhorst, which has an exceptional Warhol collection. That trend carried through to the smaller galleries, where I saw shows by Peter Halley, David Smith, Nicolas Ceccaldi (more Canadian than he sounds), Michael Venezia (from Brooklyn, not Venice) and Jeremy Thomas.
Jeremy Thomas: Kinta Blue, 2014 at Galerie Renata Bender
The only Briton with a substantial presence was David Shrigley, though I thought ‘Jeremy Thomas’ a rather English name for an American. He has developed a novel sculptural process in New Mexico, welding together two similar geometrical plates of steel, then blowing them up to make somewhat unpredictable shapes which retain the opening through which the pressurised air was forced. One side is then lacquered to a vivid finish, the other patinated. Result: a somewhat sexualised hybrid of burst seedpod and wrecked farm machinery.
Munich also provided, at the Ethnographic Museum, an unusually harrowing exhibition: Ann-Christiane Woehrl’s photographed survivors of fire and acid attacks in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Uganda. ‘In / Visible’ depicts 48 such women against a neutral black background for them to pose as they see fit, and shows scenes from the everyday life of one from each country - those six also being interviewed about their experiences.It's a tough subject to balance between empathy and exploitation, but the disfigured women emerge with beauty refreshed through the inner dignity which follows the horror.
SUNDAY - ZURICH
A relaxing, if early, four hours on the train brought me past Swiss lakes to Zurich.
Jérôme Leuba: BATTLEFIELD #101, BIKES, 2014 in Public Art in Zurich
Valentin Carron: Ciaos, 2014, at Galerie Eva Presenhuber
Painting and sculpture dominates the stands at Art Basel, but a shift towards performance is also evident. Indeed, found myself smiling, clapping and shouting in accordance with headphone instructions at PSM gallery along with two other participants. Only when they seemed ready to go on indefinitely did I realise they were paid (by Christian Falsnaes) to be there… A spectacular extension to the halls provided mirror-doored Herzog & de Meuron rooms in which the visitor encountered at least one person who is not the artist but is an artwork, from a Tino Sehgal conversation to a Bruce Nauman re-enactment to the radiant presence of a wall-mounted nude by Marina Abramovic - sitting, of course, on a bicycle seat. Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s ’14 Rooms’ was the biggest hit of the Fair.
Alexandra Bircken: Diana, 2014 at BQ (Berlin) - Art Basel
Back on the bike-track Cologne-based Alexandra Bircken - who studies fashion at St Martins in the 90's - is best-known for incorporating knitting with found items as she re-purposes them. However, her dramatic presentation of a motorbike removed from the world of speed did the business straight. With nods, perhaps, to Damien Hirst's divided cow and use of butterflies and to Arman's slicing of model cars, Bircken humanises the machine through the heart-like presence of the seat among what then seem intestinal innards, and - judged by the model's name - she makes it a woman, possibly the Queen of Hearts herself.