Saturday, 9 February 2019


Art Rotterdam (7-10 Feb) and the associated shows and events in a dynamic and architecturally stimulating city are always interesting – I’ve been several times – and this was the 20th edition. There were 80 galleries showing in the iconic Van Nelle Factory site, plus several prizes and special exhibits. Several British galleries were present with good stands – Division of Labour, FOLD, IMT, l’étrangère – and the excellent Swiss gallery Barbara Seiler but that would have been a little easy. Here are my choices from the Union we’re about to leave…

DD Trans: Permanent, 2017, at Galerie Ramakers, The Hague (Stand 66)
Belgian artist DD Trans, having renamed himself after a passing truck, tweaks – Trans-forms, I suppose – everyday items, typically by fusing them in witty ways. Here a houseplant with leaves on the straight side is given a simultaneous perm and aesthetic facelift out of the ordinary, courtesy of hair rollers. I wanted to capture a suitable admirer, but the first wavy-locked art lover I asked turned me down unceremoniously, probably reckoning me some sort of hair fetishist. So thank you, Sabine!

Jan van Munster: Brainwave, 2004, at Galerie van den Berge, Goes, Netherlands – 60
The veteran Dutch artist’s practice centres on making forms of energy visible. I imagine him wondering, in that context, what he could do with neon and having the brainwave of using his own brainwave. Just so: he was hooked up to an ECG and has represented the energy of his creative thinking through various waves over the years. Black paint over white neon lets the inspiration shine around the edges.

Ed van der Elsken: Paris, 1970 at Annet Gelink, Amsterdam – 28
This image is hardly news: Ed van der Elsken (1925-90) is recognised as the most important Dutch photographer, and is a master of the street. But it feels as fresh as its baguette, and the news is that should be many more such little-seen colour works in the forthcoming exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum (24 May – 6 Oct 2019), which will reveal for the first time the results of preserving and working with an archive of 42,000 slides from the estate.

Cristina Lucas: Tufting (Middle East), 2017, at tegenboschvanvreden, Amsterdam – 32
The Spanish artist’s machine-embroideries on vulnerable silk map the world, but with a curious distribution of place names which drew me in. It turns out that they show where bombs have been dropped on civilians, as made by ‘dropping’ the relevant name. Hence the geographical features of the most troubled areas have been virtually obliterated. The images stems from her impressive film project ‘Unending Lightning’, updated on a rolling basis since 2015-present with all such acts since 1911.

Polonca Lovšin: The Lemon Jacket, 2009, at P74 Gallery, Ljubljana – 67
The Slovenian artist showed considerable invention in her presentation of items alongside documentation of their use: an umbrella-come-come parasol with a built-in water bottle carrier, and this – very small – personal light powered sustainably by a jacket of lemons. Neither idea is quite plausible enough to be design, rather than art experiment, but there is scope to question the boundary – and to muse on them as acts of personal resistance to mass-produced modes of living.

Jos van Merendonk: Untitled wall installation, 2019, at Hidde van Seggelen, Hamburg – 21
Jos van Merendonk applies rules to geometric abstraction until he ends up in a conceptual space. He doesn’t have too many problems procuring his materials, using only standard sizes of square canvas and one colour: chromium oxide green. Then he restricts himself to three shapes derived from a drawing he once happened to make: knot, oval and ‘Z’. Yet his palimpsestic installation at the fair had a lively feel, surprising until you consider he does use all sorts of mark-making devices, and that there are 120 million ways to play the first three moves of a game of chess…

Alex Farrar: Ecstatic (night sweat painting), 2019, at Dürst Britt & Mayhew, The Hague – N 06
London/Amsterdam based Alex Farrar asked one half of several couples to draw the outline of their partner’s sleeping position onto a bedsheet. He then applied a silicone-based paint to reveal where the body touched the material – as none of the pillowed head does. The results are simple yet intimate and rich: Yves Klein’s anthropometry paintings, Floris Neussis’ photograms, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (billboard of an empty bed) and Thom Gunn’s poetry in The Man with Night Sweats come to mind.

Giuseppe De Mattia: Made in Germany, 2015, at Matèria, Rome – 75
We’re all familiar with how people test out pens on a notepad before buying one – indeed, Navid Nuur has used the practice to drive one of his ingenious streams of work. I thought something similar might be in operation here, as the eponymous ‘Made in Germany’ is on the jotting pads on which intricate yet somewhat casual drawings have been made. In fact, the Italian artist Giuseppe De Mattia has collaborated over some years with a pen salesman who draws on the test pads knowing full well that they will become his art. The dance between conception and execution, accidental and deliberate, art and life gets a new twist.

Sarah Smolders: from the series 9 Windows, 2018, at mariondecannière, Antwerp – 11
The non-commercial gallery, which supports a succession of artists for a year rather than representing a few longer term, brought a set of life-sized windows to its booth. Though it looks as if the Belgian artist Sarah Smolders has intervened in gold, they are simply the outsides of the windows of the School of Art in Ghent, as photographed from a scaffold. These originally had highly distinctive textured panes of glass covered in gold leaf, but as that has broken over the years it has been replaced by various other types of glass, which has been cracked and occluded in its turn, forming a grammar of sorts.

Lara Almarcegui: Buried House (Dallas), 2013, at Ellen de Bruijne Projects – 41 / Projections
Art Rotterdam – alone among the fairs I’ve been to – presents artists’ films optimally. I loved the ludicrous yet logical nature of the Rotterdam-based Spaniard Lara Almarcegui’s work in the ‘Projections’ section. Doesn’t a house which has been so central to its inhabitants’ lives deserve some respect at the end of its own? So it is that we follow not just a demolition, but a respectful burial of the remains of this house, which ends up as a small hill in the garden.

Rafaël Rozendaal: Abstract Browsing series, 2019, at Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam – 27
New York based Dutch-Brazilian Rafaël Rozendaal is best known for creating websites as artworks in which geometries mutate. Yet he is interested in both sides of the virtual-physical interface, so it makes sense that he sees an analogy between the pixel and the loom, and transforms his online starting point to tapestries depicting the underlying structure of websites. Now, though, it’s the viewer who needs to move to generate a change in the image

Mariken WesselsArising from the Ground , 2018-19, at The Ravestijn Gallery, Amsterdam – 35
Amsterdam artist Mariken Wessels was sufficiently inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s little-known studies of the motion of an obese person that she bought them from an auction and embarked on a series of photographs and sculptures. Choosing white rather than flesh colour in both photographic and ceramic works, allowing the water’s distortions and her sculptural editing all tend toward abstracting the body while engaging with its fascinating qualities in one of the more left-field presentations at the fair.
Muybridge detail

Sunday, 3 February 2019


Art Geneva is a pleasant experience: a spacious hall, busy enough but uncrowded, substantial yet digestible size, and right next to the airport at the Palexpo exhibition centre. It's tagged 'Salon d'Art', and does have a relaxed and intimate feel compared with the bigger fairs. The 120 galleries are a good blend: modern and contemporary, established and upcoming, with many of Geneva's own galleries as well as those from Zurich, and a sprinkling of international heavy hitters such as Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and Pace. Here are a few recent works which caught my attention: I've chosen from this century, but could equally have opted for the last.

Wolfgang Tillmans: Sheep Shadow 2012 at Galería Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid

Wolfgang Tillmans is a master of the seemingly casual as curiously interesting, but this operates rather differently as a near-illusion, Why has this sheep got two shadows, I wondered? It took me a while to be sure that this wasn’t a digital tweak, but that there are actually two sheep, perfectly in sync. Talking of which…

Allan McCollum: The Shapes Project: Collection of Twenty-Four Perfect Couples, 2016 at Galerie Mitterrand, Paris

An offshoot from McCollum’s long-running system which ‘allows him to make enough unique shapes for every person on the planet to have one of their own’ are anthropomorphised as paired individuals. They don’t fit together like puzzle pieces, nor do they match in size or colour, so it’s either an ironic view of the impossibility of perfection or a strong line on how ‘opposites attract’ – as they can in any healthy community.

Richard Jackson: Beer Lamp, 2003 at Xippas, Paris / Geneva / Montevideo

It’s just as tempting, of course, to read the title as ‘Bear Lamp’, even though there is a ceramic bottle of beer at the bottom, which is the mouth, At the top, which is the bottom and where Jackson’s love of liquidly performative paint might led you to anticipate liquid sucked in or spurted out, there is actually a functioning light, turned on by erecting the bear’s wee appendage.

Joana Vasconcelos: Gestalt, 2017, at Gowen Contemporary, Geneva

The central feature of Gowen's inspired stand was one of the Portuguese artist's series 'Crochet Paintings', crossing the boundaries of domestic craft, painting and sculpture with exuberant impunity. The title claims that this baroque whole is to be seen as more than the sum of its parts: a feminine usurpation of male traditions comes to mind... maybe the forms have a more darkly parasitical way of being than their jolly colours suggest.

Isabelle Cornaro: Untitled (P#6), 2018 at Galerie Mezzanin, Geneva

This is an ideal Art Fair piece. Has someone accidentally trodden on what looks as if it might have been a rather beautiful dragonfly? The description: ‘painted wooden pedestal, miscellaneous heaps of glass and crystal jewellery and pendants’ suggests that the fragments were never conjoined: it's just a sprinkle of jewellery, but elevated in its formlessness by the modernist plinth…

Mustafa Hulusi: Cyprus Realism, (Grape 2), 5 2019 at Pi Artworks, London / Istanbul

What’s this, a painter showing off his realist technique? It’s more of a tease. The Anglo-Cypriot takes photographs then outsources the painting from them, undermining that aspect and foregrounding what the fruit might stand for. The unattainability of authentic consumer satisfaction? The potential parallels of intoxication between art and wine? A critique of politicians failing to be realistic? Yet the grapes remain seductively tempting, however they’re meant.


Valentin Carron: Speed and Aluminium and Trembling, 2017 at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

Carron, one of the most highly regarded Swiss artists, known for his out of kilter apparent appropriations of the traditional and the modern. He had a nice curated solo show at the fair, but my favourite single work of his was this riff on East European brutalism, borrowing concrete motifs which he then overlaid to form something like a comic explosion which was neither concrete not the titular metal but wood, painted with acrylic. 

Ulla von Brandenburg: Elsa, 2017 at Art: Concept, Paris

This 'not me too' moment - of watercolour on assembled papers - is from a series of 'strong women' who have contributed to political, artistic, scientific history, which the multi-media German artist has derived from 19th century photographic sources but updated to suit. Most are simply shown looking resolute, but Elsa is equipped with a modern gun and seems likely to use it.

Dagberto Rodriguez: from the series Es para los revolucionarios, 2018 at Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

It was news to me that art duo Los Carpinteros - Marc Antonio Castillo Valdes and Dagberto Rodriguez Sanchez - split up last year. Anyway, I liked the new solo series from the latter, which combines the epitome and antithesis of American imperialism in his new series: exacting reproductions of classic cars from the 1950's, complete with authentic typefaces - but spelling out quotes from Castro's contemporaneous speeches, here 'your country or death'.

Johan Creten: Vulva Small Purple Heart, 2017

Ceramics are very much of the moment in contemporary art, and Art Geneva has a special section for them - though this alluring mixture of sea anemone, bodily and floral was in the main fair. Perrotin had the blingier gold versions, as is the gallery's wont: Almine Rech had this less ostentatious but ruder glazed stoneware from the Flemish sculptor, with just a little gold lustre . On which salacious theme...

Sarah Slappey: Tan Cloud II, 2019 at Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich

I seem to have chosen well-established artists so far, but New York painter Sarah Slappey (born 1984) was new to me. There's plenty of verve in the sci-fi meets landscape meets organic abstraction meets sexual possibility here. The results are sweetly repulsive. Add the advantage of a catchy name, and I predict she will do well.

Sylvie Fleury: 'Eye Shadows' buckle at J.Hopenstand with two 'Cuddly Paintings'

Geneva partners with the art and design fair PAD. One crossover featured Swiss favourite Sylvie Fleury.  J. Hopenstand, an online producer of  customisable small leather goods showed artist-designed belts alongside some contextualising work. Here, then, are a couple of Fleury's synthetic fur paintings with her belt, which features a buckle available in three make-up-inspired colours.

Beni Bischof: Nici's Bar at Galerie Nicola von Senger, Zurich

The luckiest gallerist at the fair must have been Nicola von Senger: his artist Beni Bischof built him a complete working bar in a style to take him back to his youth, the walls packed with work - complete with photos of Niki with the many artists he has known. Bischof seems to do everything - from gothic abstraction to sausage collages to hijacked ceramics and record sleeves, all shot through with a madcap humour which comes to the fore in his cartoon paintings: they made this the funniest place as well as the most unusual.

Nici in his bar

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.