The centerpiece of Reinhard Mucha’s solo show at Sprüth Magers is the installation Frankfurter Block , 2012, so named because it first appeared at Frankfurt’s Galerie Grässlin, where it occupied a space that has been loosely recreated for the current Berlin iteration. This embedding of a work’s exhibition history within that work itself, such that the two become inseparable, is characteristic of Mucha’s oeuvre, which is often obtuse and self-referential. The eleven works in the show, some of which date as far back as 1981, feel like clues or bits of a narrative that, by design, never quite coalesce into anything concrete and knowable. What exactly is a viewer to make of vitrines filled with thick, sealed envelopes addressed to the artist himself? Or walls of framed photocopied coupons? Or any of a number of oblique nods to fellow Düsseldorfer Joseph Beuys, including a rolled felt blanket, Braunkreuz-like smears of paint in a set of drawings, the use of the vitrine as a framing device, and the application of the term “Block” to describe the complex of assembled works?
If it all sounds a little dry, it is. But the heady Conceptualism of Mucha’s enigmatic self-construction in Frankfurter Block is balanced by the formal intrigue of his familiar wall-mounted sculptures, which appear in the installation as well as in the adjacent gallery. Titled after provincial German towns, the sculptures, all dating between 2007 and 2014, are hulking glass-faced assemblages of recycled industrial material and pieces of furniture. The layers of each work have a specific history and subtly allude, as some have noted, to various aspects of Germany’s traumatic past. But considered on their own, freed of the weight of press release detail, they are equally compelling as masterful studies in surface, depth, texture, composition, and ultimately, gestalt.
This retrospective of works by the late Otto Piene, titled “More Sky,” spans two institutions and includes his early drawings and paintings from the 1950s as well as an assembly of rotating light sculptures from the ’60s and ’70s at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. On July 19, three air sculptures, including Berlin Superstar, 1984, were also launched for one night atop Mies van der Rohe’s austere Neue Nationalgalerie. However, the most impressive of these restagings was Piene’s immersive, twenty-five-minute slide performance, Die Sonne kommt näher (The Proliferation of the Sun),1966–67. Now housed on the ground floor of Mies van der Rohe’s glass-encased structure and screened at night, the work is a vivid digital projection of 1,120 hand-painted color slides onto several large, diaphanous screens clustered in the hall. Speakers placed throughout the space play a recording of a young Piene directing projectionists, with the hum and clang of analog carousel projectors audible in the background. Round, abstract shapes multiply on every visual register with increasing speed and intensity, culminating in his incessant repetition of the words, “the sun, the sun….”
Completed a decade after his 1957 cofounding of ZERO—the German postwar artistic group that sought to carve out a new space for art in the wake of World War II—Piene’s multimedia creation casts the sun as the future. However, it’s a strange reversal of the Russian Futurist’s 1913 opera Victory over the Sun, in which the fiery sphere of light represents the historical past that must be vanquished. One cannot help but wonder if the strict dichotomy the artist sought to introduce between the lights of Allied aircraft and his subsequent technocratic spectacles was ever entirely successful. Despite Piene’s resolute desire to break free from the nation’s history and the legacy of that war, its hold on his practice—exemplified by the unfurling of his 1972 Olympic Rainbow, a 2,400-foot-long, helium-filled air sculpture at the closing of Munich’s Olympic Games shortly after the Black September attacks—would seem inescapable. These odd historical entanglements are what makes this exhibition so timely.
Filmic images do not function as representations of external phenomena, observed philosopher Gilles Deleuze in his key study on cinema. These images are instead concrete realities of movement and time. Strictly speaking, Zofia Kulik’s latest solo exhibition, “Instead of Sculpture – Sequences 1968-71,” doesn’t feature film or sculpture, but a body of early photographs. Filmic registers suffuse these works, however, and serve to interrogate both the classical genre of sculpture and its gendered tradition.
Among photographs of objects and materials, as in Bundle Tower, a three-part series depicting a formless heap of gray, wooly thread with protruding paper scrolls (all works 1968–71), the artist’s photo sequences of a middle-aged woman in states of undress are conceptually and affectively the strongest. Instead of Sculpture: Lady Halina and Cones, for instance, pictures a model in a bikini and sunglasses sitting with crossed-over arms on a chair. The first image of the smiling woman feels personal and yet somewhat awkward, like an intimate snapshot of someone only distantly known. Followed by a sculpture of the model’s naked body, upon which a string of yellow paper cones has been placed, the series progresses with shots of Lady Halina’s body bending and turning as if prompted to move by the cones covering it. Kulik stages the female body to become a sculptural prop—a malleable, soft object. But here, there is not only a smooth surface made to last, but a living and aging body. Her model’s skin, like human celluloid, has recorded the passage of time.
In her latest exhibition, “Columbine Library,” Bunny Rogers refers to the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Dark subjects aren’t new for Rogers: Themes such as lost innocence, angst at the end of childhood, and untimely death frequently inhabit her practice, in which she navigates chat rooms, gaming communities, and other online activities designed for but not exclusively used by prepubescent girls. Her own preteen obsessions, particularly with Neopets, often appear in her work—cutiefied artifacts from a life lived online.
Clone State Bookcase (all works 2014), a replica of a Columbine High bookcase, is stocked with plush dolls of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, the tormented musician who succumbed to addiction and depression in 2003. Black ribbons embossed with an image of a bull are draped from the shelves (Smith had a Ferdinand the Bull tattoo on his arm). Opposite, Clone State Chairs features two velvet backpacks bearing cartoon characters—Joan of Arc of Clone High and Gaz of Invader Zim—on two chairs joined at an angle. Seven vestiges in Self Portraits on a wall cast the artist as a digital character.
A video installation spread across two rooms shows a digital animation of Joan of Arc and Gaz in the reimagined loci of the massacre, the high school’s library and cafeteria, reading from Rogers’s collected poems, Cunny Poem Vol. 1, dubbed in her own sticky, affectless voice. The net of references to Rogers’s universe of motifs (wilted flowers, ribbons, joint chairs, fan articles) can intrigue or alienate. We’ve entered a stage where the performance is always on, fusing online and IRL, and coalescing meticulous theatrics with crushing candor.
In his first exhibition in Germany, Van Hanos poses the question of what can painting be today? His answer is spread across six canvases, each easily shifting between Photorealism, Impressionism, Pre-Raphaelite abundance, or, as in Kids at Play (all works 2014), translucent layering reminiscent of Sigmar Polke. While his control of these techniques is impressive, the stylistic disjunction is indispensable to Hanos’s total concept. By working in various modes of representation and refusing allegiance to any, he negates the medium’s alleged death and shows that painting, like people, can evolve with time and experience.
His painting A fuses art-historical tropes such as that of the reclining nude to a contemporary situation, wherein an African American man seated on a couch raises himself up to look at a photo on the artist Jamian Juliano-Villani’s phone. With camera cables bundled on the floor of the surrounding room, the painting seems to recreate the tableau of a photo shoot. Curiously, sofa cushions printed with the man’s recumbent, naked body, including his sock-covered feet, are set behind him. Dualities and mirroring effects abound here, doubling a houseplant to the left of the couch and a fixture on the floor, creating a series of A-shaped motifs throughout. Another painting titled The Mothership is a synthesis of Photorealism and flat, cartoonish figuration. Minutely rendered root vegetables and a metallic salad bowl float in the center of the composition, while naively drawn figures toil in a field under the bowl or chop off a branch in a tree above. In the background, a sun graphic juxtaposed with crosses, circles, and tubes evokes old etchings of alchemical emblems as if alluding to the near-mythical hand of the artist, most potent when it resists definition.
Émilie Pitoiset produces artworks that trace a collection of characters through an ongoing narrative articulated across multiple platforms, including exhibition, film, and performance, the latter of which is often in collaboration with critics and writers such as Sinziana Ravini and Catherine Robbe-Grillet. This exhibition is composed mainly of sculptures, one of which is a fur coat attached to the gallery wall by a band of black tape, titled When have you imagined, met, reseen this character? (all works 2014). Nearby are several pairs of black-leather-gloved clay hands. One of the pairs, Duelle, is affixed to a gallery pillar at its truncated wrist with fingers from one hand gripping the glove of one opposing, evoking the traditional chevalier challenge for a duel. Two other glove-clad hands protrude from another wall, Object little-a, wherein right and left join in cupping a white plaster cast of Pitoiset’s own palm, an unexpectedly biographical element in a show otherwise made up of works related to fictional personae.
Rather than explicitly personifying characters, these objects are enigmatic tokens that allude to subjectivity. A single-channel video loop presented on a black monitor, The third party, reiterates that fragmentation, as actors appear differentiated only by traces of identity, such as their accessories—black suits, white shirts, eye masks—and symbolic or transitional locations such as escalators and office desks in the Frankfurt bank where the video was shot. Across all the works in this exhibition, protagonists are represented but, ironically, not seen, demonstrating Pitoiset’s inclination towards a type of circumscribed imagery that, not unlike Nouveau Roman literature, begs a close reading.
“It’s an orange brainwash tribute, it’s a revolution love infidelity speech,” spoke Sue Tompkins in a kind of rap during a performance on the opening night of her current solo exhibition, “Zog, I’m not over today.” The spoken word was here extended through movement so that her gestures and glances embodied the qualities of tempo, rhythm, and cadence, while Tompkins smiled, never standing still.
Tompkins’s script, which was declaimed in a free-form style (as in her previous performances with her band Life Without Buildings), was based on text fragments culled from everyday life. These reappear in an array of formats in this show. Works on paper (typed on newsprint) look like single-sheet poems lined up in two white vitrines. Words are here contracted, interrupted, repeated, and give rise to new formulations, while letters are often accompanied by typed symbols that nearly create an image and produce the echo of a stammering voice. Luminous, enigmatic, and isolated, the words and numbers from these works also appear in paintings. With these, Tompkins’s free and associative approach to text is echoed in her color choices—incoherent combinations and cuts and holes abound. The repeating words and aspects of poetic and musical composition are blended into a montage that breaks with conventional formats of painting.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
“Pictures,” the first exhibition at Artists Space organized by an outside curator, instituted a paradigmatic shift in the late 1970s critical conception of image construction as influenced by film, photography, and developments in broadcasted media. This exhibition pays tribute to its curator, the art historian and critic Douglas Crimp, while also anticipating his forthcoming memoir, titled Before Pictures. Organized by Christopher Müller, Diedrich Diederichsen, Juliane Rebentisch, and Marc Siegel, the show offers an elegant staging of works by artists including Louise Lawler, Jack Smith, Philip Smith, and Agnes Martin, in addition to archival photographs and publications displayed in vitrines, on monitors, and hung in a survey of recent art history that is far from memorializing but rather enlivened by rhythms of associations and relationships. A tribute to Crimp’s activism during the AIDS crisis takes up the back wall of the main gallery, where artists’ posters from the late 1980s, dated by stridency, are shown along with stickers and books, setting forth the premise emerging at the time that lived experience can inform a truly theoretical and actively political position.
Samples from Crimp’s memoir are also featured as wall texts. One text relates to a selection of photographs on view, including Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Day’s End” Building Cuts with Nude Man), 1975–86, which Alvin Baltrop took of New York’s west-side piers. They speak to how the city’s subcultures thrived on the derelict urban landscape of the time. Generally, memoirs tend to be digressive outtakes from the official cultural record, but this exhibition is more like a gleaning from the theater of life, an archive of select fragments hailing from New York’s recent past and transplanted in this city of contemporary cultural mythologies.
Fiona Rae’s latest exhibition brings together three series of charcoal-on-paper drawings. All produced in 2014, they follow the turn Rae has taken in her paintings this year. The artist has left behind the distinctive style of canvases laden with multicolored painterly marks and dotted with comics-like figures, letters, and pictograms, as her most recent paintings feature abstractions in a monochrome gray palette.
Though the drawings are smaller than her large-scale canvases, she achieves the same abstracted, expressive immediacy; without loosing any of their dynamism, her gestural brushstrokes are transliterated into charcoal traces. In the drawing Figure (2m), for instance, bold charcoal loops are rendered with swift, sure hand movements, while smudges and tiny marks evoke multiple dimensions, achieving an ambiguity that appears strangely calculated. Rae has created vibrant dreamscapes on paper that, through repetition, oscillate between cartoonish fantasies and nightmarish specters.
Works are indexed rather than titled. Throughout the series, beginning with Drawing (Figure 3a) and ending with Drawing (Figure 3f), a cloudy oblong form rendered in elliptical movements acts as a leitmotif. While in the first work it’s a scarecrow with a pitchfork in hand, as the series progresses, the shape becomes murkier, more open and tenebrous, shifting to a cartoon dog and ending with animated ghouls in a lively, dark circus. The works are as open as Rorschach tests. Rae’s uniquely abstract work successfully eschews the illustrative in this new medium for the artist.
Margaret Harrison’s latest exhibition is an anachronistic experience. Walk into the gallery’s back room and peek at the septuagenarian British feminist artist’s naughty lithographs, displayed in suggestively half-open drawers. There are two from 1971, the year Harrison’s first-ever gallery exhibition was shut down by the London police—a drawing of a corseted but otherwise nude Hugh Hefner as one of his own bunnies was apparently just too much. The lithographs’ preoccupations are braless merry widows, scarlet nipples, and food: An engorged lemon being squeezed by a pinup spurts glistening droplets in Take One Lemon, 1971, while in Good Enough To Eat, 1971, a fleshy bombshell stands in for the meat in a British rail sandwich, her upturned palms submissively curled atop a slice of a hard-boiled egg.
These are startling pictures. They are rendered with the skill of a young artist trained in painting and drawing in 1960s London, as two sensational acrylics of spineless sea urchins on canvas, Echinodermata I and II, from 1966 attest. There is malice in Beautiful Ugly Telephone, 2004, which gets at the banal entrapment of corporate life. The work is part of a series called “Beautiful Ugly Violence,” which presents paintings of ordinary objects—a kettle, scissors—that have been used as weapons against women. In the bruise-colored Marilyn Is Dead! (blue-grey), 1994, the icon of female sexuality evokes a Victorian memento mori picture of a dead child, her signature snub nose and full lips recalling the girl’s life cut short.
The central piece in Grit Richter’s exhibition, a wall painting titled The Big House Self (all works 2014), is a grid of fifteen multicolored shapes on a black background underneath a white, dotted rooftop line. Slotted into the grid like rooms under the roof are Minimal forms such as a yellow square, a red circle, and a white X, which could allude to different elements of the “Self” of Jungian psychology. Displayed on the ground are five small sculptures made of pigmented concrete that look like slightly quashed pillows with trompe l’oeil fabric seams, with titles such as untitled (Betonkissen #2). The canvases on the wall similarly create contrast by mixing visual vocabularies of hard-edge abstraction, movie-advertisement graphics, and Surrealism into window-bounded perspectives and dreamlike images or projections of fantasy. Utilizing alternately controlled and accidental brushwork, Richter constructs compositions of frames within each painting as if to facilitate a formal coexistence of different levels of reality.
Shine On, You Crazy Diamond (Room #1, The Echo Chamber) is a sculpture made of vertical tree branches, the upper part of which is covered with a patchwork of textiles resembling a tent. The work is open around most of the main body of the piece, and it seems fragile but also as if it could offer a kind of shelter, thus addressing a further function beside discrete, decorative sculpture. As a whole, this exhibition is balanced by a smooth, transitional flow between paintings and sculptures that explore a complex notion of the self while having a lighthearted aesthetic.