It’s fitting that Georgia-born Berliner Thea Djordjadze makes careful use of the greenery behind this gallery without ever inviting the viewer outside. She knows that the looming windows to the backyard garden are usually hidden with drywall and she exposes them, save for the silver hinged shutters and a sheet of Plexiglas covering one, which is painted with a pastel wash of yellow and blue. The genteel view is multiplied by its reflection in the polished stainless steel used to annex the first two areas of the exhibition.
Djordjadze built the space out into three chambers: this first room, a metal tunnel, and the last, where raw plywood cuts the space into a smaller one, as in the early stages of home renovations, with reflective Plexiglas tacked to the perimeter. Both the first and last rooms are empty, save for objects assorted around the periphery or displayed on the walls. In the entry room is a pair of ambiguous concrete slabs and mahogany framed plaster paintings. One, Untitled, 2016, features a curved chair back from her installation at Karlsaue Park for Documenta 13. In the final area above the exit from the makeshift steel corridor is another reworked piece: a yellow foam and Plexiglas bench titled Only Way Is to 200 It, 2016, which looks suspiciously like museum furniture.
Words such as translation and abstraction are often thrown around in regard to Djordjadze’s work. Perhaps this is because it quietly begs a narrative while playfully eschewing clarity. Here, a woman is saddled with making a warm, modernist home out of an unwieldy space. Moving through the installation, one is surrounded by trippy idyllic suburban views from windows across the way. Lest one forget the show’s title, this is a place for “listening the pressure that surrounds you.”
For more than forty years, Horst Ademeit dedicated his life to tracking his obsession with cold rays, a form of radiation he believed was poisoning the immediate environment around his small apartment in Düsseldorf. Ademeit attempted to combat the rays by eating sand and cigarette ash, inserting knots of nylon into his ears, and attaching lengths of copper wiring to his body.
As hardly anyone besides him believed in the existence of this subtle but noxious form of pollution, he began to rigorously document its existence with the technology at his disposal––namely Polaroid photographs, on whose frames he would inscribe long, detailed notes in minuscule handwriting. Several dozen were taken a day, every day, for almost twenty years, amounting to a collection of thousands of pictures that he would carry with him in a trolley everywhere he went to protect them from his landlord, who he was convinced was trying to destroy his life, even by poisoning his food.
The centerpieces of the exhibition are chronologically ordered Polaroids and journals from Ademeit’s vast archive. Together, they form a brief glimpse of a project that is more than a mere evocation of paranoia and an extreme system of belief, but a poignant and often revealing diary of a life lived in the margins of the past century.
Wolfgang Tillmans’s latest exhibition—consisting of a few more recent table displays from his series “Truth Study Center,” 2005–, and photographs shown in a range of sizes, some framed, others not—presents images of corridors, flora, dismantled technologies, people, exhibition models, the ocean, and buildings, along with snapshots of past yet still influential subcultures. The show is set up as an appealing invitation to a profound artist’s studio, which, rather than being a place of production that emulates traditional ideas of art and labor, is as much a conceptual, political, and social site where the relationship between artist, work, and technologies is analyzed. In this sense, the installation here can be interpreted as an artistic archaeology of the different vitalities contained within the studio environment. Life there is not so different from other lives—in studio still life, c, 2014, for instance, Tillmans has supplemented the cigarettes, plants, and coffee cups depicted in many of his other still lifes with computer screens and other digital hardware, emphasizing the complexity of these apparatus’s roles in our lives.
Meanwhile, the insides of material worlds are entered and explored as studios themselves, as in CLC 800, dismantled, a, 2011, which depicts a demounted photocopy machine, and Kopierer, b, 2010, showing the scanner unit of another, similar machine. The images complicate the active forces of technologies, whose processes can become the content of the artwork they produce. This is an exhibition in which pictures, as assemblages of diverse forms of lives—human or otherwise—meet places, becoming essential collaborators. These sites then operate as feedback mechanisms, constantly looping between artists and their machines.
“Refugees as an object of contemplation,” reads the headline of a newspaper displayed in one of several wall-mounted vitrines. Is it a reproach or an invitation? This ambiguity gives Tobias Zielony’s exhibition its power, fixing viewers in a compromised position for a show against voyeurism.
The newspaper hails from a project Zielony began in 2014, although the language is not his own. Compelled by refugees’ calls for political agency in Germany, the artist documented African refugees in acts of resistance in Hamburg and Berlin, then distributed his photographs to a range of African newspapers to use as they pleased. The Citizen, 2015, is a selection of the resulting reportage, displayed adjacent to large prints of Zielony’s original photographs. The texts ensure a plurality of voices that never let one picture do all the talking.
Across the gallery, Storyboard (Monuments Men), 2015, interrogates a more familiar mode of contemplation. Photographs of objects from the Ethnological Museum of Berlin reveal that although African refugees might be new to Germany, their cultural heritage has been a longtime resident. In one image, a European man poses jauntily beneath curved tusks of freshly looted ivory from the kingdom of Benin. In a more recent picture, Sudanese activist Napuli Paul Langa reaches toward the branches of a tree she called home for five days in protest of the 2014 eviction of homeless refugees from Oranienplatz in Berlin. Juxtaposed, such images are a bleak reminder of all that Europe has stolen from the people it hopes to keep out.
For this exhibition, titled “Irrkunst,” Edmund de Waal took inspiration from Walter Benjamin, who spent his childhood in the same neighborhood where this gallery’s two spaces are located. Benjamin’s method of getting lost while walking and exploring cities, or looking for a system to structure his writings (without ever succeeding), is a model that de Waal embraces for his own practice as an artist.
The majority of works here are Plexiglas vitrines filled with small porcelain vessels, all made in 2016. The arrangement of similar-looking white, or occasionally black, ones clustered in tidy groups on shelves—such as in Archive or The Task of the Critic—resemble the sequence of words in a poem. The lyricism here, though, comes from the objects—their numerous minute variations in color and shape make each item unique, while shards of their broken brethren are also incorporated into the individual compositions. Some are even gilded on the splintered side, like lucky accidents.
The artist’s attraction to these simple cups lies in their abstract qualities, and though they are solid forms, they also represent absence or emptiness. While his work has a clear connection to Minimalism in terms of repetition and variations on a motif, a personal signature seems equally important. Each container suggests a history, which connects it to people or places. In some cases, this is literally true, as in My Problem with the Frankfurt School, where fragments from a Sung dynasty tea bowl are collected into a single black bowl.
Erwin Wurm has a knack for finding eureka moments in the most mundane circumstances. Domestic objects as activated by everyday people define his current exhibition, bringing together three bodies of work ranging from the early 1990s—including printed instructions on paper outlining fattening recipes—to the present, with oversize bronze and polyester sculptures that look like they’ve been bashed or clawed.
Turning spectators into participants, Wurm invites audiences to complete his works by literally stepping into them and accepting his play on conventions at face value. Narrow House, 2010, for instance, is a scaled-down replica of his childhood home in Austria, reflecting the narrow-mindedness of the small town in which he grew up. Miniaturized kitchen and bath appliances, a hallway library, rotary telephone, and family photos complete the setting. Two pairs of wonky flip-flops are a wry addition—Wurm doesn’t take himself too seriously, and neither should you.
Low, white, square plinths fill the main hall, each displaying brief instructions in English or German for his series of “One Minute Sculptures,” 1997–, shown alongside David Shrigley–style pen illustrations. A chair, a purse, a doghouse, tennis balls, and a pile of philosophy books are distributed for visitors to pick up and use to fulfill given tasks toward the completion of a sculpture. Sit on a prayer rug and think about Spinoza’s theories on free will or stick your face in the chair seat like an idiot—why not? Wurm offers a safe space to reflect and fool around. Anyhow, it’s only for sixty seconds, enough time to giggle awkwardly and snap a decent Instagram picture before realizing you too are a work of art.
Isa Genzken’s comprehensive exhibition “Make Yourself Pretty!” is, for Berlin, a truly overdue survey of her life’s work, bringing together excerpts from the artist’s entire spectrum of sculpture, painting, film, photography, and books. On the floor in the atrium of this venue lies the series “Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos,” 1976–82, an array of long, slender, abstract wooden sculptures that have the same presence as any upright figure. Corporeal elements are a motif in her sculptural pieces, including in the series “Schauspieler” (Actors), 2013–. These theatrically and trashily clad mannequins are dressed in the artist’s own clothes and posed either in dense circular groupings or as lone wolves. A legible formal connection between these two series owes to the exhibition being organized as a kind of montage and not, as is customary for a retrospective, chronologically.
Continuities as well as intentional ruptures manifest themselves throughout. A particular dissonance stems from themes such as architecture and the urban—as seen in the assemblages Fuck the Bauhaus, 2000, or Ground Zero, 2008; pop culture and corporeality—the collaged Jacken und Hemden (Jackets and Shirts), 1998, and photographic series “Ohr” (Ear), 1980–2012; or the staging of the self—the Nefertiti busts Nofrete, 2014–2015, and the deadpan series “X-Ray,” 1989–2015—all being brought into dialogue. Part of the brilliance of Genzken’s work is her ability to invent new formal languages that depart from the path of linearity, especially when she drops in highly personal references. Despite the destructive and recklessly uncomfortable character of some of these works, the exhibition also has the lively feel of something moving, as if the work of turning internal impulses and desires into tangible creations is still in progress and always calling hierarchies and definitions into question.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Julian Rosefeldt presents a thoughtfully crafted installation of thirteen videos from 2014–15 that run in tandem across a large open-plan room. Titled “Manifesto”—a word characterized by “appellative language, militant provocation, and often propagandistic self-promotion,” as the introductory exhibition text emphasizes—the exhibition features a collage of politically underpinned treatises by philosophers, artists, architects, choreographers, and filmmakers from movements such as Futurism, Dadaism, and Fluxus. These urgent diktats are all channeled through Cate Blanchett via the videos’ thirteen versatile characters. Using different oratory styles, she delivers impassioned speeches that should, ostensibly, be awkward to recite, but the stirring words are believable when coupled with quotidian situations. Blanchett transforms into a range of prismatic figures—stockbroker, factory worker, puppeteer, funeral speaker, rocker, and choreographer—whose recognizable milieus endow the texts with new meaning.
Switching out the agitated male voice these manifestos are associated with for a more affecting delivery, Blanchett mainly plays women, though she also embodies a homeless man spouting anti-elitism from manifestos by Aleksandr Rodchenko, Lucio Fontana, and Guy Debord. Elsewhere, the actress reels off media rhetoric as a TV anchor and announces excerpts from texts by Sturtevant and Sol LeWitt as though they were “breaking news,” followed by banter with a field reporter about conceptual art. In another film she’s a schoolteacher roaming the classroom, quoting passages by filmmakers Dziga Vertov, Werner Herzog, and Thomas Vinterberg, which her young pupils dutifully echo back. Each piece features a moment when the main character faces the viewer in direct address. Coming together in brief but perfect confluence, the thirteen manifesto-films harmonize, their diverse content and pitch suddenly a mellifluous hum.
In 1992, Joseph Grigely discovered the abandoned archives of Gregory Battcock, the great 1970s art critic who was murdered in his holiday apartment in Puerto Rico in 1980. In a small series of vitrines containing an edited selection of Battcock’s papers, and with some framed posters and an abstract painting from his early art career hanging on a wall, Grigely tells a story that leaves us wanting more. Excerpts from banter and rant-filled essays and reviews make us nostalgic for a time when art criticism was practiced as a literary form. In one, Seth Siegelaub is described as “a pleasant sort of sexy chap.” That same essay, “Painting Is Obsolete,” from 1969, declares, “Why do we have to experience anything. I don’t like playing with buttons and little balls, and opening little doors, and patting slimy surfaces or listening to gurgling or popping sounds when I’m around art. I can do all that, even better, with real things and if art is anything remotely like imitation of reality then I don’t like it since I don’t like imitations.”
Like John Ruskin before him, Battcock rated life over art. Therein lies his greatness as an art critic. Operating on the side of the life force, he strove, through his writings, to bring the sheer vivacity and fun, tragic, anarchic unpredictability of existence into the increasingly closed off world of art. An avid traveler, he authored a series of essays on an ocean liner, even arguing that a major US art museum should purchase a transatlantic passenger ship and keep it operating in perpetuity. Realizing that no art magazine would dare publish such a piece of writing today, one notes just how much the art world lost when Battcock perished.