The title of Haim Steinbach’s latest exhibition, “Once Again the World Is Flat,” reminds us that our digital world is as flat as the Great Salt Lake Desert or a computer screen. It also evokes Edwin A. Abbott’s satiric novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, from 1884, which sought to carry the reader away from the mundane, the flat, and the plain into new worlds of insight and experience.
Steinbach succeeds in this with the three outposts of this exhibition, which include the Kunsthalle Zürich, the CCS Bard in New York, and at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In the foyer of the Kunsthalle, the visitor first encounters Display #7, 1979/2014, two mounted shelves with everyday things, like bibelots and flower vases from a living room cabinet, in a brightly wallpapered corner. Previously installed in the entrance gallery of Artists Space in New York in 1979, it is shown here framed by custom walls built into the space—staying true to the conceptual intervention of the artist’s work into the status of our world of objects.
The viewer is meant to follow along, continuing on to Shelf with Globe, 1980, and subsequently Shelf with Picnic Set, 1983, and then through wall openings covered with the artist’s textual wallpaper and up the stairs to reach Jacob’s Ladder, 1997/2014, a monumental installation in which the artist has stacked gravel on shelves installed around a construction ladder. The visitor ends with Basics, 1986, a grouping of militant teddy bears presented on constructivist consoles, and Untitled (Daybed, Coffin), 1989, a modern daybed by Mies van der Rohe paired with a child’s coffin, which are together encased in a wooden box. At this point, one has long left the flatland behind.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
A few group and solo exhibitions in New York, Paris, and Marseille hardly sufficed to make the painter Philippe Vandenberg—who committed suicide in Brussels in 2009—known to a greater public beyond the borders of his native country. This show marks the debut of his work in Switzerland. The course run by “Dog Day,” which is curated by Hamburg entrepreneur and collector Harald Falckenberg, invites the visitor on a journey of discovery. An untitled painting from 2008 sets the pace. On a black-and-white background charged with powerful, horizontal brushstrokes, a message in blue, orange, and black letters stands out: KILL THE DOG/DAY/KILL THEM ALL. The observer might read it as the cynically humorous protest of a seeker who in the end found no foothold in art.
Vandenberg’s works revel in the juxtaposition of ironic figuration and abstraction (à la Martin Kippenberger and Sigmar Polke) and, moreover, in the blurring of writing and image, in the vein of Cy Twombly. All of this comes to mind when looking at Vandenberg’s “L’Important c’est le kamikaze” (The important thing is the kamikaze), which he worked on between 1989 and 2005. Yet his unadorned, parched works give the viewer the greatest pause when they are left without titles. In a 2007 work, for instance, against a thickly painted black background there is this to read: DIEU ARRIVE (God arrives). As the “A” is unrecognizable, and the first “R” looks like a “P,” the viewer might also see: DIEU PRIVE (God [is] private). A theologian could hardly render a more accurate depiction of the abyss that opens between the two statements. God and life appear as if wrested from the deep oil background. Our existences struggle forth in scrawl.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Though Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s portrait has adorned a Swiss banknote since 1995, the modernist pioneer’s oeuvre has not yet been exhaustively researched or presented. Thankfully, this retrospective attempts to achieve those goals by gathering over three hundred works, including rarely seen costumes as well as a large array of her sketches—works that add complexity to our understanding of her practice.
The show focuses on Taeuber-Arp’s multifaceted, Bauhaus-spirited practice, which is evident in her paintings, her small-scale accessories and fabrics, and her designs for theatrical sets and original marionettes—notably for Carlo Gozzi’s 1918 avant-garde play König Hirsch (King Stag). Iterations of shapes manifest in her design objects, as in the famous wooden sculpture Coupe Dada, 1916, and the ironic painted hat rack–object Portrait Jean Arp, 1918, as well as in her mazelike spatial paintings, which also echo her furniture and architectural design—see the drawing Axonometric Drawing of Galerie Goemans, 1928–30, one of two blueprints in the show.
While the exhibition smartly groups motifs and media, the galleries also showcase repetition and difference, shifting between graphics and bas-reliefs, hard and soft surfaces, and representing space as conceived, perceived, and performed by the artist, who attended Rudolf Laban and Mary Wigman’s Zurich School of Dance. Though the show balances scholarly approach and sensory enjoyment, its enthusiastic presentation pardonably risks leveling off Taeuber-Arp’s delicate understandings of point, line, and plane by its sheer density. Overall, however, the array points out not only formal similarities but also Taeuber-Arp’s superlative sense for equilibrium.
Alberto Garutti’s latest solo exhibition includes the work Untitled, 2014—a sequence of colors printed on nearly thirty-three feet of fabric, which is folded in a serpentine fashion over a series of five brass-colored metal rollers. The fabric scrolls over the mechanized bars slowly and inexorably every day of the exhibition. It is possible to first encounter an entire yellow monochrome square and then a portion of another square, perhaps blue, only for it to change into a light green as one exits the gallery, due to the work’s evolving structure.
The entire chromatic cycle takes twenty-four hours to complete its passage. It seems as though the colors can resonate with the moods of visitors or reverberate with weather conditions outside. Some colors cannot be perceived, since they become visible only at night. Other colors evoke experiences tied to abstract painting or activate memories of landscapes.
The gallery’s second location, in Agra, includes some of Garutti’s older works. On view is Cristallo Rosso (Red Crystal), 1995/2014, which is composed of an oversize iron structure that holds a large piece of red glass pitched against a wall. The piece relates back to an experience the artist had in a small apartment with windows that faced onto a courtyard opposite a red house. When the sun was out, the artist’s room would be bathed in a luminous pink. Here, the wall behind the work is casted in a pink shadow, creating an epiphany for the viewer.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
This twenty-four-room exhibition surveys Paul Chan’s sculptures, videos, animations, drawings, and projections, as well as his often-political ruminations on life and death. Though he appears to keep his art-making and activism mostly separate, here Chan absorbs a multitude of intellectual and otherwise notable sources, such as Henry Darger, Charles Fourier, Diane Arbus, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Beckett, and even Batman, the Joker, and George W. Bush, with a twist.
Beginning with one of the earliest works on view, the low-tech colorful animation Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2003, which features schoolgirls running, cartwheeling, and defecating in post-apocalyptic-looking fields, as well as in improbable scenes of orgies and massacres, the exhibition continues with this complex, polymathic premise. A flaneur bouncing from popular culture to allusions to cultural (Western) landmarks, Chan questions and reinvents perceptions about the Internet, language, and semiotics. Some of the most exciting pieces on view are the so-called arguments, and the “nonprojections” series that Chan started creating in 2013. Both are made of electrical wires and outlets plugging ordinary objects together, the latter including projectors that project nothing. Meanwhile, Master Argument, 2013, a large-scale floor installation of numerous pair of shoes plugged together with electrical cords and concrete, becomes the ultimate representation of the agora and its vox populi. Through these simplified installations, Chan manages to divert the common towards the universal.
The oeuvre of Vern Blosum manifests the limits of a persona. According to the press release of the artist’s retrospective exhibition, the thirty paintings made between 1961 and 1964 on view are ascribed to Blosum, the pseudonym of the (said to be) still-working anonymous painter, who was awarded the highest symbols of acceptance of the mid-twentieth-century New York art scene: a solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery and inclusion in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Despite the latter having removed Blosum’s work from its catalogue when the artist’s identity could not be confirmed, the person operating under this enigmatic signature made a grouping of paintings that epitomizes early 1960s Pop art, both formally—with a flatness of surface and the use of primary colors and precise lines—and in content. For instance, Blosum rendered a blue fire hydrant at the center of one canvas, with its title, Homage to Ivan K., 1963, inscribed directly beneath, indicating the significant Pop art dealer Ivan Karp. Elsewhere, Blosum’s renderings of self-evident, everyday objects, such as his series of white-and-gray depictions of parking meters on white canvas, are here sensitively hung in simple format along the four tall main-room walls of the Kunsthalle Bern. Most paintings are titled as the time remaining on the depicted meter, such as Ten Minutes from 1962.
These explicit paintings of prosaic subjects are so typical of the era that curator Lucy Lippard cited a 1964 Blosum painting of a pay phone (Telephone) in her seminal book on the movement titled Pop Art (1966). The book is prominently displayed open to this page in a vitrine in the adjoining reading room, demonstrating the trajectory of a body of work independent of its author.
Emanuel Rossetti’s “Delay Dust” starts on an unusual note for an institutional solo exhibition. Before even entering, one encounters a work by another artist, Georgia Sagri’s Sick Building, 2014, a log lodged in a wooden, florescent painted frame, installed outside in front of the building. By incorporating Sagri’s piece, Rossetti gestures to his artistic milieu, as if signaling its importance to be equal to any of his own works. The inside of the museum is dominated by Rossetti’s Vomitory, 2014, a soft, blood-red carpet that covers floors and walls of the central lobby and a side gallery, upholstering the acoustic space that reverberates with the sound installation Boundaries # 2, 2014. Simple black speakers placed one per room throughout the museum emit an array of swelling and decaying sustained tones, lingering on the edge of audible, in a collage of drone music. The speaker’s frequencies bleed across multiple rooms, connecting the red-carpeted spaces with the surrounding bare, white rooms.
One of Rossetti’s unframed film stills, which features a donut-shaped image rendered in SketchUp, Untitled, 2010, is displayed in the lower floor galleries, but its reception is interrupted by a shrill, timed ring from upstairs of Gallery Bells, 2014, a zigzag layout of five metal bells laid out on the floor and installed in one of the red rooms. This pervasive sound unites the visual displays, putting them in dialogue across spatial boundaries and reiterating Rossetti’s opening gesture of including Sagri, in the way it evinces a determination on Rossetti’s part to bridge connections between individual practices, mediums, and environments