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Kurt Schwitters

Galerie Gmurzynska | Zurich
Paradeplatz 2
June 12–September 30

View of “Kurt Schwitters: Merz,” 2016.

Putting on a commanding exhibition during Art Basel isn’t easy, but this gallery has succeeded with a display of Kurt Schwitters’s Merz to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Dada movement, launched at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Featuring several dozen posthumous works by Dada’s agent from Hannover, the exhibition was designed by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid—who died a few weeks before the opening—making for a perfect pairing.

Schwitters famously constructed the Merzbau, 1923–37—an expressionist Gesamtkunstwerk lost in a hail of bombs during World War II—in his family’s home. Far from the artist’s spatial collage with its many nooks and crannies, in Hadid’s flowing installation a visitor can experience a free-form adaptation of it through bellied curves of plastic and marble, among other materials, that stretch as if to suck the capital out of the banks across the street into the gallery space. One is led to and immersed in the furthest niches and alcoves of the display, finding constructivist collages made of painted segments of wood such as Blue, 1923–26, and Treble Clef, 1923–27, or works on paper like Mz 196, 1921. Along with these are a great deal of what would now be designated as “mail art,” including letters and postcards that were supposed to carry the artist out into the world via his 1919 poem “To Anna Flower,” as documented in Postcard to Mr. Walter Drexel, “Anna Blume,” 1921. It’s a pity that all that’s gathered here will soon be scattered again, widespread and little seen, but treasured.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

John Baldessari

Mai 36 Galerie
Rämistrasse 37
June 11–August 8

View of “John Baldessari: New Work,” 2016.

John Baldessari, the master of Conceptual Pop art, turned eighty-five last month. He gave himself the best birthday present: this exhibition. The gallery has worked closely with the artist for more than twenty years and is now showing a new group of his works. It can be considered a condensation of Baldessari’s production to date, as well as the summa of his life’s work, all while maintaining a carefree, brazen, and cheerful tone.

Once again, he directs us to the intersection of writing and images, of high and low, to exercise and unfurl our imagination. Text runs underneath picture in eight large-format acrylic paintings on varnished ink-jet prints with white borders at the bottom—all words are reduced to simple nouns: “Chair,” “Olive Oil,” “Radio,” or “Pencil.” As one would expect from this artist, the terms serve no explanatory function but rather open spaces for contemplation together with the figurative ciphers above, rendered strange by their sheer, brightly colored backgrounds.
In his choice of motifs taken from Hollywood cinema, the artist remains true to himself while asking his public to engage with a gay capriciousness. For instance, in the work Goethe (all works 2015), titled after the German prince of poets, one encounters a gunslinger with a pale-orange nose and an otherwise blank face. Erich von Stroheim’s cryptically dazzling Count Karamzin, from the silent-film drama Foolish Wives (1922), is reduced to a Thing with its head painted over in blue. This is Baldessari at his best.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Yngve Holen

Kunsthalle Basel
Steinenberg 7
May 13–August 14

Yngve Holen and Aedrhlsomrs Othryutupt Lauecehrofn, 13 7E 2C 35 D7 16 32 9A FB 07 27 12 E1 B5 2D 16 7F 19 8D 69 D8 E8 8A 18 A3 97 7A 57 7B 14 4C 8D 0E FE 39 92 1E E1 3A 66 8A E1 1E D4 5E 2A 35 13 21 5F 20 BE 2A BD A6 9B EB 39 BA 67 AA BA E8 F6, 2016, SLS prints, sound, sixteen parts, each 8 x 4 x 4".

No matter where the German-Norwegian sculptor Yngve Holen’s works have been seen in recent years, they always focus on the pressure exerted by high-tech machines on a curiously absent human body. Even this solo exhibition “VerticalSeat”––named for the notion of a cheap airline offering only standing seats in order to squeeze more passengers onto a plane––demonstrates once again how technology looks back at its creator. Factory-fresh headlights for buses or motor scooters turn into a series of four works titled “Hater Headlight” (all works 2016), hateful-looking techno-fetish items placed as isolated components on the walls. Holen also takes handblown glass and cuts it into the shape of airplane windows for the series “Window Seat,” whose optical designs are reminiscent of the Nazar amulet, which is supposed to ward off the evil eye. Four frontal views of CT scanners, used by doctors to look inside the body, can also be found in the exhibition and are painted the bright ivory of German taxis, turning our gaze to the body in transit.

Compared with Holen’s earlier shows, what is striking here is that the artist’s material language has become noticeably more concise, distinguishing his practice through a few well-targeted interventions with corporate ready-mades. The biggest development, however, is most certainly the manifestation of bodies for an installation created in collaboration with the musician Aedrhlsomrs Othryutupt Lauecehrofn. Eerie sounds—labeled as recordings of individual vowels made by MRT scans and 3-D printers—rise from sixteen busts, which are fragments of SLS-printed faces and the glottises of both artists. This strange droning produced by a technological incursion into the interior of the body leaves the greatest impression, which is saying something, given that Cake, a Porsche Panamera sawed into four clean pieces, also makes an appearance here.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Moritz Scheper