Monday, 28 September 2015



I travelled to Berlin mainly in connection with the show I’ve co-curated with Bella Easton at a project space in Wedding. then moved on directly to Venice. So was there any other art reason to visit Berlin? Well, there was the abc Art Fair, a Frieze-quality gathering of 100-odd galleries following the visitor-friendly solo project format (16-20 Sept); there was, in Positions, the second year of a worthy satellite. And the city has 500-odd other spaces, many of a high standard. So yes, there were questions to be asked aside from our Collateral Drawing Berlin...

 Where to Park the Bicycle?

Fritz Balthaus: More, 2015 - bike lock

Approaching the deserted Academie der Kunst just before it opened, I was amused to see that someone had padlocked a bicycle to the reclining  nude which Henry Moore had bequeathed to the Academy.  But of course it turned out to be one of a dozen witty interventions by Fritz Balthaus under the title ‘Fritz, I like the way you grasp a situation by its balls’, all designed to subvert the rules of the institution – another being ‘no pets allowed’, in response to which Balthaus had installed a version of a Francois Morellet sculpture which had previously proved a good nesting site for birds - so encouraging them to become pets of a sort. There was also  a fine  show of Bernard Frize’s paintings – indeed that was why I was there – in recognition of his winning the Kathy Kollwicz prize. Chiming with Balthaus, Sofia Hultén’s typically inventive use of materials found on the street in  at the Daniel Marzona  gallery included this puzzler of a reconfiguration, a sort of Rubik’s Cube meets Möbius strip strip for the art of parking bicycles.    

Sofia Hultén This, That, Other, 2015

Where to Put that Stuff? 

Fritz Balthaus: Reisekonstructivismus, 2010 - window frames, security tape

Suppose I’d chosen to focus on a different work by Fritz Balthaus? This painting is displayed where it shouldn’t be – not just stuck behind a column, but in public when it ought to be in the storeroom, as it’s still protectively taped from transit. And yet the effect of tape and placement and tape is close to many a modernist abstract and a decontructionist display gesture. Then I would have paired it with one of my favourite Berlin gallery shows: Berlin based Pole Monika Grzymala at Galerie Crone. Downstairs: the winningly faxed-in tale and product of how she broke her foot and, unable to travel to Mexico, had to follow up with an A4 fax a day to make the 454 part wall work ‘The Making of Forming Something New’. Upstairs, a post-recovery installations of tape, plus photographs of installation of tape to quite different effect.

Unititled tape work by Monika Grzymala, 2015

Did the Gold Standard Apply?

Not only did Alicja Kwade had a very extensive solo show at Haus am Waldsee, she came up with a with a perfect Art Fair piece for abc: performative, popular and purchasable.  König presented GoldVolks (Gold People), a work produced in collaboration with the goldsmith Georg Hornemann in which 97 gold cubes on chains were displayed in order of size to make  harpsichord formation which did indeed seem likely to make tinkling music as the contiguous lengths trembled. Kwade typically examines the apparent reality of social conventions, and  the value of gold might be thought of as one. The cubes’ sizes represented listed nations’ gold reserves per person, so in a sense owned by the typical citizen. The Swiss were well ahead at 129 grammes, stressing their financial independence,  ahead of the Lebanon  (49g) in a table which concluded with Yemen’s 0.06g, Gaps appeared, as visitors could wear appropriate pendants round the fair, so temporarily sharing the nation’s wealth, or buy them for  €2,600-26,000 according to size. The UK was at a modest and relatively affordable 34th (€3,400), just behind Greece, oddly enough. Bella’s husband didn’t take the hint, though.

Bella drops an unsuccessful hint

Where is the Fun Zone?

Laure Prouvost: Beak Branch, 2015

Fun pick of the gallery shows was by 2013 Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost's Dear dirty dark drink drift down deep droll (in der dole) at carlier / gerbuer. ‘THIS IS THE ONLY THING TO SEE HERE’ said a typically laconic work in the office, but there was plenty elsewhere as she extended the Tate exhibition’s conceit of her grandfather as a conceptual artist who disappeared into a tunnel to Africa. Visitors entered through the shelves of a library containing her grandfather’s books, and were plunged into a film space in which Prouvost’s fantasies of escape ranged wildly for 10 multi-cut minutes from birth to apocalypse in her breathy French accent. The sight of flowers kissing each other remains most vivid. The tunnel then branched into… sculptures of branches with various wacky purposes – the Egg Branch, for example, economically cut out the need for a separate kitchen to fry the eggs, while the Beak Branch builds the birds straight in. Then there were video shovels, one with GPS, one with sexy scenes; and a tea party tapestry.  There were plenty of flowers at abc, too, but none of them were kissing. On the other had there were two stone age people, in concrete, making love in the animal style, the limited tenderness that modern yet somehow appropriate material allowed them was witnessed by laptop transmission as well as directly.The result, claimed the press release for Tilman Hornig’s presentation at Gallerie Gebr. Lehmann,  was a ‘weird future ancestral fake-porn reality show’ which exposed how cheaply we can be ,made to feel better with our lives. If that means the crowd were diverted by the sight, quite so, though maybe not for exactly those reasons.

Tilman Hornig: The love life of the Neanderthals

What's in the Language of Gaps?

‘Is there concealed beauty behind the everyday news of the world of finance and economy?’ asked German artist Anke Becker at Berlin's Manière Noire at the Positions fair. Becker, who follows several strands of cunning collage, has recently been revealing the more personal and lyrical  news hidden in clippings from the Financial Times by painting over most of them. The technique of her Economic Words is far from new (Tom Phillips’ A Humament may be the most famous example), but Becker proves particularly adept in choosing which words to keep so as to trigger both verbal poignancy and visual pattern. ‘In the far distance mist all around us', 'crazy days for free' and 'the sound of the black close to the white' don't sound very like the FT. Back at abc, Yngve Holen at Galerie Neu may not have provided the perfect psychological preparation for my flight to Venice, but Extended Operations XWB did make for possibly the most striking exhibit: on the wall, unsettling behind-the-scenes tales from an air pilot; on the floor, a set of flat forms resembling a plane’s inter-seat corridor, complete with carpet top and emergency escape indicators; on top of those forms, 3D prints of joints of meat, fashioned from stone unlikely to fly.  We the onlookers, soon to be similar chunks of meat hurtling through space. The sound of the black, perhaps, close to the white.

 Yngve Holen – Extended Operations XWB, (2014), Installation view, 2015

How's the Alternative Scene?

Philipp Fürhofer: Under the Skin, 2015
Berlin has a lively alternative scene of artist-run project spaces: just in the Wedding district in which Collateral Drawing Berlin opened at rosalux, there were a dozen such which coordinated their openings for  7-11 on the Friday night. Elsewhere, the Kreuzberg Pavilion is one of the best known, with the unusual model of a one evening only (8-1) show every Saturday night: we caught Ulrike Buhl’s curation, themed to eternal return, which included Philipp Fürhofer with as convincing a combination of painting and video as I’ve seen, in which the viewers were also reflected in and the layers included smoke on a never-ending cycle of emergence and dispersal. Alex Hudson, now based in Malmo, is an artist I know from London who was – even more alternatively, showing in a bar – which explained what I had initially suspected were the misprinted gallery opening hours of 12.00 – 02.00!  His cycle of ‘modern paintings almost in the old style’ created an world apart which included this compelling odd, slightly Doig-like character.

Alex Hudson: White Noise, 2015 at Kremanski

How Do You Tell Memory Cards from Lorries?

Dennis Loesch installation 

It's true.  Dittrich & Schlechtriem showed two metre high paintings of SD memory cards  by Dennis Loesch, made of wood and painted with computer-generated imagery. They represented physically just how much data is really on those cards, whilst giving us none of it and memorilasing the recurring technical obsolescence of each new storage solution. Yet they also operated effectively as abstractions on the interface of painting and sculpture. That last could also be said of  Gedi Sibony's similarly sized works at Galerie Neu... but these were the latest in the New York artists series which are cut from decommissioned trailers and shown as found. That means the original commercial decisions,use in practice and rough over-painting of brands which takes place when lorries are taken out of service lie behind the marks which Sibony selects - so bringing one system into contact with another.  Sibony was also a link to Venice, as there were more such trailer paintings there...

Gedi Sibony installation - Berlin


Autumn is a good time to take in the Venice Biennale and all that goes with it... My favourite national pavilions were the Netherlands, Australia and Cyprus, all widely praised. I had more time for Austria, Switzerland and Mozambique than seemed usual. As capitalist-dependant critiques of capitalism go,  'All the World's Futures', across the main sites, was too big but had plenty of good things, including from Robert Smithson, Phillip Parreno (who lit the Arsenale with flickering doubt), Huma Bhabha, Marlene Dumas' skulls, Adel Abdessemed, Terry Adkins, Melvin Edwards, Monica Bonvincini, Taryn Simon, Steve McQueen, Lilli Reynaud Dewar, Cao Fei, Chris Ofili, Chantal Akerman, The Propeller Group, Tiffany Chung and Sarah Sze...

How Do You Tell Lorries from Posters?

Gedi Sibony installation - Venice

When Gedi Sibony appeared in the Arsenale, he put me less in mind of abstract painting and more of the torn poster décollages of Raymond Hains, Jacques de la Villeglé, Mimmo Rotello etc. That’s because – I dare say deliberately – the work was close to Kay Hassan’s very lively South African update of that tradition: in Everyday People, he makes portraits of ordinary Johannesburg citizens whom he monumentalises at poster size by combining shreds of advertising posters. The layering, according to the Biennale catalogue, acts as ‘a sort of metaphor’ for social memories  embodied in material possessions handed down across generations or inscribed in patterns of mass consumption. 

Kay Hassan at the Arsenale

Whither Nationhood in Eastern Europe?

Jiří  David in his installation

Jiří David, for the Czech Republic (which alternates with Slovakia)  mused on national identity now that the pan-Serb Czechoslovakia  (1918-92) no longer exists. He presented an apocryphonic version of Alphone Mucha’s monumental chunk of myth ‘The Apotheosis of the Slavs: Slavs for Humanity’ (1926) – a towering 4x6 metres. David’s version kept to the original dimensions, but reduced Mucha to black and white and inserted twenty-odd changes from tattoos on arms and the addition of a terrorist hood, to his own appearance as a goblin. He left the room bare apart from a corridor at the back, in which he squeezed the spectators between this giant painting and an equal-sized mirror, so reflecting us into the now hard-to-see scene. The complexities of national identity as the Bienalle’s structuring theme in a fluidly globalised world were also picked up effectively by Ivan Grubenov’s United Dead Nations in the Serbian Pavilion, where many flags from ten former states had been trashed and mixed up into ten piles on the floor -  which had taken on a multi-coloured hue suggesting the flags’ various colours had bled out. The flags were originals – which Grubenov has been collecting since 2003 - and Jugoslavia (1941-2003) was, of course, among the dead. 

One of Ivan Grubenov's ten piles of flags

What is a Double Boltanski?

Christian Boltanski: still from The Man Who Coughs, 1969

Of those few in both halves of 'All The World's Futures', Christian Boltanski made the strongest impression. He’s best known for dark photographic installations memorialising the holocaust, and I wouldn’t have recognised either as his work. The Man Who Coughs, in the Giardini, is a three minute loop of a masked man violently hacking, surrounded by pools of blood. It was one of five films intended to form a disturbing replacements for the adverts  in cinema in the wake of the actions of 1968: the blood coughed up stands in for the past patterns those supporting change were anxious might recur. Boltanski's lyrical new film at the Arsenale, showing 850 Japanese bells situated to replicate the map of the stars on the night the artist was born, all swinging from metal rods in a field in Chile as if they were flowers. Their wind-modulated tinkling provided the most enchanting of the many sounds in Okwui Enwezor's curation... here, too, though, there was  darkness as Boltanski's title refers to the altars to the dead installed along Chilean roadsides. 

Christian Boltanski: still from Animatas, 2014

How to Curate the Self and Others?

Jean-Luc Moulène La Toupie (Spinning Top)

Danh Vo, a Vietnamese whose family escaped by boat to Denmark, which he represented in the Biennale even though he currently lives in Mexico, also became the first artist to curate at the immense Punta della Dogana. Vo combined his own work with pieces from the Pinault Collection, invited artists and historic Venetian institutions to make a 120 work show which outshone the Biennale’s over-crowded ‘All The World’s Futures’.  Though primarily, I dare say, a selection based on taste rather than the more rigorous programmatics of the official group show, Vos' choices cohered to form a triple reliquary: of his own family history, which typically adds the charge of art to the objects he uses; of lost lives through the inclusion of many works by artists affected by AIDS, their friends, and subsequent gay artists: and – potentially – for Venice itself with the waters – rising now with no political will to stop the trend -  visible from every room. That sense of the past under attack was present in this wonderfully innovative performance collage by Jean-Luc Moulène. He used a concrete mixer to force three cement garden sculptures to wear each other down to make a unified and yet surreally absurd whole from a goose, a female figure and a portrait bust. Danh Vo has his own way of forcing sculptures into conjunction, and such echoes were common in his 'Slip of the Tongue', as were works I would happily have picked as highlights from Venice.

Danh Vo:  Your Mother sucks cocks in Hell (several of Vo's titles are quotations from The Exorcist, which had a big impact on him aged seven - and may flag parallel profanities in the film and in cutting Madonnas in half). 

What is a Triple Baijani?

from Paul Huxley's installation 'Where do we come from? Where are we going?', 2015

The Triple Baijani may sound like an ice-skating manoeuvre, but Azerbaijanis seemed to have spent the most in Venice, renting three very large and central Palazzos. One, oddly, showed easily the most British-based artists on view in Venice, more than a third of an international cast of 35 on themes of environmental concern. Noemi Goodall, Gordon Cheung, Julian Perry, Stephanie Quayle, Bill Woodrow, Rose Wylie, Tania Kovats, Laura Ford etc all had excellent work here, and Paul Huxley had painted directly onto the walls of one room with his characteristic abstract motifs... which turned out to represent trends in sea levels, greenhouse gasses and – as above – changes in the planet’s biomass: the rise of human population (red), the growth of animal farming (blue) and the resulting decline of natural wildlife (yellow) are plotting by the vertical dimension of mass The volume of humans and their domestically bred animals has doubling in the last fifty years , at the expense of the reduction in wildlife (there were 3bn of us in 1950, 7bn now. And differently disturbing was Chris Jordan's film of how albatrosses are killed by ingesting the plastic which he extracts from the corpses .

Still from Chris Jordan: 'Midway: Message from the Gyre', 2009 - ongoing

Second, Azerbajan had a similarly immodest space providing what looked a faintly full history of its own modern art, one figure in which – Javad Mirjavadov (1923-92) – had some visceral appeal along expressionist Picasso lines with what other paintings in the show suggested was a pretty typical national colour sense. 

Javad Mirjavadov: Nest, 1982
Third was one of those shows which fall into the trap of striving for too much importance: the title ‘The Union of Fire and Water’ suggested that might be likely, and the setting of the Palazzo Barbero didn’t help, as it easily outgunned the Azerbajan third string. I enjoyed a laugh, however, at Rashad Alakbarov’s installation of several staircases zigzagging round a room which the visitor was forced to labour up down and thrice around – as if they’re aren’t enough steps in Venice!

Rashad Alakbarov's staircases

Which Artist had the Best and Worst of Times?

Martial Raysse: Make Up, 1962

I wasn’t particularly surprised – though the quantity did impress me - by how fresh and imaginative the pop-tinged French artist Martial Raysse’s 1960’s work was in his 200 work retrospective at Pinault’s other venue, the Palazzo Grassi: How about his short cut to a Bird of Paradise, or a face with a paint-brush stuck on to apply her make-up with,  a spring morning with a corner of green neon, the visions of hygiene formed by a portrait in a towel hung in a fake bathroom, or his trademark negatively coloured films,..  But I was amazed by the later works mixed in with all that zing: paintings, often heroic in scale, which attempt to update allegorical and  carnivalesque modes from classical to modern times and fall remorselessly flat, both as paintings and as content, whatever the symbolism means. I suppose it’s admirable that Raysse hasn’t kept on churning out his sixties mode, but I couldn’t find anything after 1972 that wasn’t pretty dreadful!
Martial Raysse: Le Carnaval à Périgueux, 1992

Is There Room for Beauty to Conclude?

Minjung Kim: Red Mountain, 2014

There was still room, though, for apolitical beauty – maybe not in the Biennale itself, but in collateral  events. The Palazzo Fortuny, which always curates strikingly, showed Hans op de Beek’s ‘Night Time’ in optimum conditions, possibly the most beautiful video I know, Luxembourg & Dayan had a pop-up show “The Light, the Shade, the Depth,” by New York based Korean Minjung Kim. She plays on the meditative repetition of not quite fully controllable processes, some measured, some spontaneous. The most striking are her collages of red or black ink-washed rice paper which she delicately singes to make irregular edges overlaid to form mountains.  There was also something of the collage and the mountain – albeit inverted – about Ursula von Rydingsvard’s sculptures combining slices of trees, brought to Venice by Yorkshire Sculpture Park and appropriately placed in the Giardino della Marinaressa. Talking of inversion, although monumental they were were no taller at 3m than Baselitz’s latest self-portraits in the Arsenale.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Scratch, 2013-14

No comments:

Post a comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

About Me

My photo
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.