In 1968, Joan Mitchell moved from New York to the village of Vétheuil, France, not far from Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny. In terms of her facture, one can sense the art- historical traditions attached to the places where Mitchell’s art took shape: AbEx and French painting at the turn of the twentieth century, and particularly the key concerns of the latter with light and landscape.
There are ten canvases in Mitchell’s debut exhibition at this gallery: The earliest dates from 1951, and the latest is from 1990–91, shortly before she died. Compellingly, a number of the works escape a particular time frame and come across as remarkably fresh, vivid, and contemporary. What Clement Greenberg reportedly called the “gestural horror” of her work seems here a lyrical and powerful form of gestural abstraction.
Mitchell herself was clear about the importance of nature for her art: “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.” The large-scale diptychs Sunflowers and Trees (both 1990–91) are perfect examples of this. Clear and simple in composition, powerful in color, the sunflowers appear as fireworks in blue, green, red—everything but sunflower yellow, it seems. Meanwhile, the trees take shape as a rhythm of vertical color stems, abstracted to such an extent that the title could also have been People. Denser and even more complex in figuration is Untitled, 1967, wherein a bright red lights up in a mixture of blues and greens, together forming delicate disorder.
Featuring a large ice crystal slowly melting in the center of this domestic yet spruce space—a one-time configuration specially conceived for the opening—Anicka Yi’s Berlin debut exhibition “Denial” exudes a Conceptualist vibe, as if it were recreating a sixties downtown loft happening. Contrary to the stylish installation that sees the majority of the show’s pieces lit and nested in the rectangular cavities of a lilac-gray wall and the glistening materiality that ties the works together (think tinted Perspex, chrome rings and bars, and translucent epoxy, with the occasional enhancing supplement such as a fish oil capsule), Yi manages to resourcefully spoil the cultivated presentation and the various appetites it whets.
Mimetic Peanuts (all works 2013), what appears to be a rough-looking but conceivably tasty Pan-Asian novelty snack, is actually made from dog treats. At the other end of the animal-to-android diet being sampled here, Tyrannical Eating consists of a blank CD that sticks out of a slit in the wall with a dollop of honey on top, a possible suggestion of some office cubicle kink. Yi not only takes care of but also takes pleasure in the ongoing fashion of animating the inanimate. She however endows (her) objects not so much with precariously political agency but instead with the thankless job of perpetually offering us fleeting distraction from urban dejection. As her entertaining text with Jordan Lord that accompanies the exhibition contemplates, Yi’s magpie syntheses of things may literally act as social glue, or better, as bondage, where “couples therapy” and an “Hermès keychain” become inseparable.
Nora Schultz’s exhibition “Stative auf der Flucht / The tripods’ escape” personifies the tripod, weaving it into a gossamer narrative set in an alternate reality. Schultz is dealing in a special brand of speculation––science fiction––as indicated by the show’s accompanying text, a reworking of an interview with an unidentified sci-fi author. But her point of departure should come as no surprise, since it’s formalized in the spindly steel and foam creatures (Tripod I and II, all works 2013) and chunky space-age gear (Moonboots) found in the gallery’s front room. Together, text and object set the scene: Tripods, previously subservient in an image-obsessed culture (perhaps our contemporary art world before point-and-shoot photography?), have managed to think for themselves and are in the process of escaping functionality. We now bear witness to a moment of transition, as the technical support liberates itself and steps forward with one of its legs into a position of autonomy.
As it turns out, Schultz’s long-term habit of building makeshift printing devices and displaying the printed page near the ink-matted matrix was prescient; it has long exhibited an equivalence between image and tools. Here she also honors her tools by depicting the tripod as a motif in several “Rohrschachtest” prints and other drawings. As a result, its legged form resonates with the reclining metal trusses, standing metal armatures, and concrete castings found in the mixed-media installations The tripods’ escape I and II. Still, the small-scale drawings and prints of tripods taped to the walls, as well as the footprint-speckled roll of white paper running the length of the gallery’s hallway, come across a bit like filler––if only for their formal poverty and relative explicitness compared with the three-dimensional constructions. Though Schultz envisions a world where liberated tools “work” with no regard for function, in reality, all forms of work are subject to formidable pressure focused on the ends they might serve.
At first blush, “Restaurant,” the title of Swedish artist Ingrid Furre’s current solo exhibition, is misleading. Rather than summoning the conviviality of collective dining, Furre’s makeshift cabinets and plates (all works Untitled, 2013) reinvent the “restorative” effect of consumption (taking cues from the French verb restaurer [to restore]) as an archaeology of modern things. Skillfully crafted from repurposed wood, which Furre has treated alternately with varnish or gloss paint, these objects—inhabiting a converted residential space in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district—draw us in by keeping their secrets. Bereft of ornament, doors, drawers—all their usual openings—three stained-wood cabinets stand in two of the rooms as if their backs were turned toward the viewer. Four additional sculptural works, which move away from the decorative arts idiom by building upon it, also make use of all sorts of curious imperfections: inaccessible enclosures, uneven surfaces, and hidden recesses. Hung a bit too high on the wall to trigger one’s tactile reflexes, four white plates, made of metal and plaster, have mottled surfaces reminiscent of earthenware pottery.
Furre’s meticulous selection and reworking of natural and industrial materials—wood, plaster, metal, fabric, and foam—strikingly distill material and conceptual approaches seen in her first presentation at the gallery last summer, which included seventy-two pieces of soap that she cast by hand and arranged in piles, as well as three revamped miniaturized pieces of furniture. Here, too, Furre compellingly engages with the legacy of Minimalism, demonstrated by her austere arrangements in the gallery’s rooms. A “white-on-white” constellation in the second room, for example, induces her sculptures to shift and rhyme with their immediate surroundings (the heater, moldings, and structural protrusions), while the unexpected pairing of two works—one painted blue, one black, both tucked away in a corner between two perpendicular doorways—ricochets this disorientation back toward the viewer with a sudden blast of color. It is through such critical transpositions, displacing the concerns of monochrome painting onto spatial configuration, that Furre excavates meaning out of assumed imperfections.
A graphic pattern that creates the illusion of an endless plane made of three-dimensional rhombi is the basis for Angela Bulloch’s latest work. The pattern is both classical, similar to the floors of ancient cathedrals and palaces, and trendy, its blue-gray palette connoting a technological coolness. Bulloch infiltrates digitized systems—their algorithms and mathematical sets of rules—to transpose elements from within the matrix into physical space. Here, the graphic Euclidean plane is manipulated by irregularities, such as bubbles or stretched areas, and materialized as multiple objects.
In one room of the gallery, various totem-like sculptures, such as Rhombi Kind with Clay Head 006 (all works cited, 2014), are made up of irregularly composed stacks of rhombic polyhedrons, which make the sculptures seem two-dimensional. Several wall pieces, including Single Printed Navy Wall Hanging 006, consist of strips of dark felt overlaid with prints of the graphic pattern; small wooden rivets serve as an inner frame from which the strips hang. A gray felt diptych, Hercules Wall Hanging 008, dominates the space, extending downward from the wall to occupy parts of the floor. On the upper right corner, LED lights represent the stellar constellation of Hercules, calculated on a 3-D mapping program to render a view from a faraway point in the universe rather than from Earth.
This back and forth between the virtual and the physical can be disorienting. As if to soothe the discombobulated visitor, two oversize cavernous beanbags have been placed in another room, like invitations to sit back and watch the slow progress of the sound-activated Elliptical Song Drawing Machine. Operated by a musical composition Bulloch performed with David Grubbs in 2013, it’s the first of the artist’s drawing machines programmed to draw circles rather than lines, tracing the composition’s own looped sequences that are audible only through earphones. But there’s no respite from the digital: In Virtual Vitro: Steffi Avatar Video, screened on a tablet, displays a digital talking head that guides the weary through the show.
Most people today probably associate the squeegee as a painting tool with the German powerhouse Gerhard Richter, and not with his (and Sigmar Polke’s) influential but less well-known professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Karl Otto Götz. But for anyone who gets to see Götz’s current retrospective—mounted on the occasion of his hundredth birthday—that just might just change. The exhibition, comprised of prints, paintings, and drawings dating from 1934 to 2010, opens with a brief but mesmerizing film excerpt of Götz in action, circa 1964. Crouching over an unstretched canvas on the floor, Götz quickly draws a large brush dipped in black paint across its surface, creating a fluid, almost calligraphic squiggle. Without a moment’s hesitation, Götz then grabs his squeegee and cuts into the still-wet paint, rapidly traversing the line to create swirling monochromatic ribbons, pools of pigment with delicate bleeding edges, and areas of finely speckled paint that look like an ink wash crossed with aquatint. He repeats the process until he’s satisfied with the final composition, which is invariably an explosive whirl of viscous brushstrokes (sometimes in Technicolor, though most strikingly in black and white) and squeegeed passages of blank canvas, as in Trefang, 1963, and Giverny VII, 1988.
Götz developed his distinctive brand of lyrical abstraction following a period of derivative style-hopping, with hints of Miró, Picasso, and Pollock especially evident in the early works on view here. What is most surprising about his mature paintings is the fact that their seeming haphazardness and intensity of movement belie Götz’s actual process, which often entails preparatory sketches, a few of which are shown alongside completed paintings. The sketches and the film of Götz at work, far from demystifying the artist’s craft, demonstrate that his paintings, much like Pollock’s, are a magical convergence of method and chaos, discipline and spontaneity, worthy of greater recognition among his postwar peers.
“On/off relations,” Philipp Fürhofer’s debut solo exhibition at this gallery, consists of eleven translucent Perspex boxes of varying dimensions, which the artist treats as supports for paint and as vitrines for displaying various objects. Resembling Minimalist sculptures turned neo-expressionist chimera, these cubic gestalts are wroth with the fracas of uneven drips and strata of paint. Some boxes are fitted with mirrors and items that are lit from behind, their silhouettes turning each painting into a platonic microverse of visual possibilities. Freischutz, 224 Watt (all works 2013), for example, displays broken lightbulbs, wooden frames, and multicolored markers and pencils, while Traumschloß Walhall houses cheap party regalia such as plastic champagne flutes, torn leis, and toy guns.
A scenographer for the stage, Fürhofer gives his artworks titles that allude to German opera; the works’ accumulations are pastiches of props that engender the farce and charade of the spectacular. Each thus takes on a crude, provisional quality, tottering between the seamless verisimilitude of operatic performance and the numerous unseen devices and labor contingencies that facilitate the fantasy from backstage. In Walkürenfelszauber, a gathering of incandescent lightbulbs shine through a cathectic curtain of umbral, seemingly metallurgic gray forms. Here, alchemy, not dramaturgical recitation, takes center stage through painting’s kaleidoscopic powers to conjure and evoke. Rheintochter, a freestanding, transparent column, becomes an illusive Cnidaria-Nymphaea hybrid as a heap of lightbulbs-as-bubbles––one of which blushes electric pink––appear to melt into a misty veil of cascading gray trickles. Beneath the fictive waterline, a white cord emerges in the guise of snarled tentacles that slither toward the nearest light-giving charge. Throughout the show, the cheapest and most prosaic of objects are disguised under thick layers of paint and a tenuous suspension of disbelief, bringing to mind two polemics: Does painting––like theater––disclose or obscure veracity; and, is to see as a viewer or audience member ever truly an act of passivity? Fürhofer’s multidimensional characters offer several cogent possibilities.
Art that doesn’t instantly become capital had better get out of the way. This neoliberal mind-set doesn’t necessarily come out in favor of art, but it nevertheless reflects all too well a current tension. “The Best of the Best: On the Risky Business of Art” addresses precisely this problem of cultural precarity, exploring the contradictory demands art faces when it is expected to be both good art and economically viable. Ken Okiishi has taken just this “drive” as his point of departure in the form of an oversize, highly polished and rotating euro coin (Spinning Coin, 2012). Heimo Zobernig, in contrast, shows the other side of the coin: In his Alte Sachen (Old Things), 2010, mannequins showcase revalorized rags.
But what determines the value of art today—price or social meaning? From a historical standpoint, art could only represent itself when it realized a high economic value; it always circulated as a commodity and was traded speculatively. Today a younger generation of artists ask what this means for art in an increasingly globalized marketplace. Fatima Al Qadiri represents a new voice in the exhibition: In an installation from 2013, she examines commodification in a makeshift white cube imprinted with the following words, which are also the title of the work: INSHALLAH (GOD WILLING). WE DO BUSINESS.
Even if the nineteenth-century Persian rug in the middle of the gallery harbors associations with traditional trade, this exhibition deals not only with the exchange of art as commodity or with a predictable critique of the market. The economic conditions of artistic production are also thematized in the form of documents (as in Robert Barry’s Interview Piece, 1969) and exhibition posters (Gerhard Richter’s Ausstellungsplakat des Kunstvereins für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, 1971). Throughout the galleries, this show asks how art might present its conditions, including its social history.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
At first glance, Katie Holten’s six large-scale drawings on canvas and four smaller drawings on paper aim to reassert the medium’s vital relationship to nature—a historical bond that has been largely subsumed over the past century and a half by the ever-evolving medium of photography. While the stark black-and-white palette of Holten’s drawings hint at their mediation by photographic images, these works are magnified and fragmented such that they obscure their real-world references. Constellation (Earth at Night: Germany. Satellite image source: NASA Earth Observatory) (all works cited, 2013), for example, is a drawing of a blown-up satellite photograph of the earth; the clusters of pinpoint “stars” are in fact bursts of electricity from streetlights, cars, neon signs, and domestic interiors, recorded from outer space. The photographic image, as Holten has rendered it, captures detail so fine that the resulting index subverts its purpose, allowing us to mistake an alienating representation of our man-made world for that of distant nature. Holten’s drawings are far more arresting and far less dangerous than the infamously misinterpreted satellite images of silos purportedly containing nuclear weapons in Iraq, but they hint at the same potentially troubling disjuncture between photographs, what they depict, and how they are interpreted.
What is perhaps the strongest work in the show, however, translates one of Holten’s own photographs into drawing, to very different ends. From The Library of Clouds is an oversize black canvas with a massive cloud at its center, turning in on itself with a movement that expresses intense inner turmoil. The work’s title points again to photographic mediation and the archival impulse, but the cloud’s atmospheric quality of coming-into-being, recalling the portraits of Eugène Carrière, offers a poetics that exalt the inimitable power of the drawn image, even—or especially—when a photograph lies hidden behind it.
This multisensorial exhibition opens with a reconstruction of Lygia Clark’s A casa é o corpo (The House is the Body), 2013, a Freudian restaging of conception and birth that was first shown at the 1968 Venice Biennale. The outwardly austere installation conceals a tripartite passageway that facilitates a series of physical experiences of resistance, perseverance, and unease—a metaphor for life’s struggles crafted with air-filled balloons and plastic playhouse balls. A casa é o corpo serves as the perfect introduction to an exhibition of Brazilian installation art not only because it was an important historical precedent for much of the work that followed but also because it insists upon corporeal engagement with simple, evocative materials as a means to psychological—and perhaps even social—transformation.
The other historical installation, Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s Cosmococa CC5 Hendrix War, 1973/2013, takes the body in another direction, offering up hammocks for lounging in an immersive projection of images of Jimi Hendrix, his iconic face highlighted with neatly drawn lines of cocaine. Oiticica and D’Almeida’s psychedelia is echoed in Maria Nepomuceno’s Magmatic, 2013, a room blanketed in bright orange and pink plastic beads, Astroturf, and woven baskets, with a suggestive body-size gash filled with clementines at its center. The phallic pendulums descending from Nepomuceno’s baskets rhyme with Ernesto Neto’s cumin-and-turmeric-scented Life is a River, 2012, and also with the biomorphic protrusions that compose Henrique Oliveira’s Parada dos quasólitos (The Origin of the Third World), 2010. Oliveira is by now well known for working with tapumes, thin plywood sheets used for construction fences and then reused in favelas as building material, which he masterfully layers here to create a cave whose floors buckle and pop with every step.
With few exceptions, the installations gathered in the exhibition privilege the body and its sensory capacities over references to explicit geographical or sociopolitical concerns, demonstrating the legacy of Clark’s search for an art that is relational, subjective, personal, and universal.
Transparent adhesive tape is not normally visible, but in this exhibition it appears as a curtain of delicately glancing light. Karla Black’s Stop Counting (all works 2013), hanging vertically between the ceiling and floor, consists of hundreds of see-through strips that have been altered only by the artist’s paint-stained fingerprints. This provides the work with a notion of the individual while also reflecting the physical process of its production.
Black’s stagings, which are reminiscent of theatrical sets, are often created as site-specific interventions that restructure the space they occupy. But elements in the rest of the exhibition are left purposely without form: Take Let’s Have, which is comprised of cotton pads that have been soaked in fingernail polish and kneaded by hand until the polish has been evenly distributed. Imagine Living consists of strips of aluminum that have been rolled coarsely and then folded and erected, creating sculptures that only stand upright due to the clumps of Vaseline stored in their interiors. These performative actions, kneading and rolling, are an essential part of Black’s sculptural process and are marked by a certain kind of brutality. Another work, Deserves to Mean, further exhibits this: A globe perfectly formed from earth and balsa wood has been hastily filled in with eye shadow. Piles of earth, spilled paint pigments, and constructed plastic film are, in the end, impermanent gestures. After the exhibition, they can simply be swept up and discarded.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
For their first exhibition with the gallery, Jochen Schmith, the artist collective made up of Peter Hoppe, Peter Steckroth, and Carola Wagenplast, has taken up arbitrary phenomena and turned them into what one could call truthfully inauthentic objects. Cigar Ends—Collector’s Waste, 2010, the first work one sees when entering the small rectangular space, consists of seven objects, including bronze casts of cigar butts collected from seven unique locations such as VIP lounges at various art fairs. They are now destined to return to their initial owners as veritable art commodities. Untitled, 2013, a curtain of delicate brown fabric set up on a stage in the center of the room, is embroidered with a pattern of gray blotches. Their outlines originate from the pseudo-expressionist embellishments belonging to Jochen Schmith’s collection of “painter’s pants,” multicolored jeans with fake traces of paint produced by brands such as Dolce & Gabbana.
The earliest work in the show, A-Club, 2006, which is installed at the back wall, includes a small loudspeaker that elaborates the group’s greater artistic perspective in a spoken narrative: Jochen Schmith’s members went to an unemployment office in Hamburg where they were naturalized as artists, identified foremost as painters, and questioned if they were scared of unemployment; they predictably end up unplaceable. The audience hears the edited transcript from the consultations, which are read aloud by a woman who simultaneously translates it from German into English. This effectively decontextualizes the text, taking away its documentary authenticity and replacing it with what Jochen Schmith’s works demonstrate beautifully: gestures of art instead of artistic gestures.