Large, bright windows and dim inner spaces, landscapes plunged in melodramatic light alternating between idyll and dystopia, isolated protagonists with grotesque features, and bleak images that anticipate the catastrophic political developments of the 1930s: In this overdue exhibition, Franz Sedlacek is fairly characterized as a “Chemist of the Imagination.” With a magic-realist, graceful brushstroke, he offers a view on a shadowy world, he exaggerates an oppressive present with dark tones, and he transforms the uncanny into the transcendental.
Sedlacek, who was born in Breslau (then part of the German Empire, today the Polish city of Wrocław) in 1891, is relatively contemporary compared with the antediluvian artists who most commonly become subject to retrospective artistic rediscovery. His oil paintings of the 1920s and ’30s—representative of a fantastic combination of the influences of the Neue Sachlichkeit plus a skepticism of progress and neo-Romantic seascapes—also feel timely in that they invoke, as does so much very contemporary art, oppressive atmospheres and irritating states of mind. Sedlacek officially joined the Nazis in 1939 and his paintings negotiate the turbulence and disavowals of the First Republic and the repressive climate of Austrian fascism. “In my work I can say with colors what I think of my contemporaries without being sent to a concentration camp,” he once surprisingly said.
“Viennese Painter Revels in the Grotesque” was how Life magazine categorized his paintings in 1937. The canvases bear the traits of caricature; the parodic quality of his work was also manifest in his theatrical works, short films, and grotesque-absurd poems. Providing just a snapshot view of his career, this show, with its images of cities, still lifes, interiors, and landscapes, captivates with a visionary power that has lost none of its intensity.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Amar Kanwar’s ongoing project The Sovereign Forest captures the changes and destruction caused over the past decade by the severe industrial interference caused by mining in the traditionally agrarian state of Odisha, India, and it also tracks resistance among the state’s communities. Since its inception, the piece has grown into a multimedia research platform in which Kanwar displays found and collected images and legal records. He does this not in an evidentiary way, but by creating fictitious archival constructions that are rooted in poetry, consequently forming an artificial memory. Rejecting individual authority, Kanwar turns his voice into many, allowing the audience to participate and contribute to his political and perceptive output.
Occupying all of TBA21’s exhibition spaces, this multisensory exhibition (which shares the title of the project) features two films, an installation of rice seed samples, three videos projected on large handmade books, and a documentary archive of previously suppressed evidence and factual and fictional records of the conflict—contributed and supplemented by visitors. The archive is presented in an “evidence room,” within which visitors are allowed to bring, research, and discuss materials about violent interventions in their daily lives and environment. All of the works come together to create multiple ways of understanding and illuminating the depths of this modern war without using the formal information provided through journalism and forensic research. Rather than taking a documentary, informative, and testimonial look at the crime as it is actually happening, Kanwar orchestrates traces by interweaving his own texts and poetry through the work, instilling a sense of collective belonging to this particular history. The show queries conventional distinctions between fact and fiction by asking how a story—in particular one characterized as traumatic—gains potency through the efficacy of poetry.
Korean artist Lee Bul’s first major European museum exhibition begins in the air. Cast in white polyurethane and suspended across Mudam’s I. M. Pei–designed glass and concrete atrium, two squads of sci-fi species appear frozen in the midst of a celestial ballet or battle. Perhaps a little worse for the wear (variably missing arms, legs, and heads), the hard-bodied, humanoid “Cyborgs,” 1997–2011, face off against the amorphous tentacled “Anagrams,” 1999–2006. Alternately evoking classical Greek marbles and “Star Wars” creatures, these ghostly human-scale beings appear to have arisen from Lee’s alien universes and landscapes exhibited on the museum’s lower level.
Playing with scale and legibility, Lee’s topographies are ambiguously utopian or dystopian. A Perfect Suffering, 2011, is part of a sculptural series featuring helical metal armatures adorned with shiny chains, crystals, and glass beads. Hung from the ceiling, these steely, glittering chandeliers are also microcosmic landscapes—floating mountains colonized with winding roadways and Frank Gehry-style buildings. Installed atop a table like an architectural model, Mon grand récit: Weep into stones… (My grand narrative: Weep into stones), 2005, recasts real-world attractions—an upside-down Hagia Sophia, a roller coaster-like ring road, a flashing billboard—as a miniature amusement park ride that is at once anachronistically futuristic and ancient. Having observed Lee’s sci-fi terrains and creatures from afar, the viewer also has a chance to experience these elaborate fantasy worlds from within. Past a black curtain and through a low-ceilinged tunnel (Souterrain, 2012) is a large-scale installation whose mirrored floor is populated by two structures whose curious forms tempt the viewer to venture inside. The more disorienting is Via Negativa, 2012, a snail-shaped labyrinth made of wood, mirrors, and LED lights. Excerpts from psychologist Julian Jaynes’s text on the bicameral mind (in English and Korean) plastered to the structure’s exterior walls appear a vain attempt to verbalize the overwhelmingly discombobulating experience of Lee’s hall of mirrors.
“I is another" wrote Arthur Rimbaud words that apply well to the work of Portuguese artist Jorge Molder. For the past three-plus decades, the Lisbon-born artist has called upon his own image as a model for his photos. Two separate museum exhibitions documenting his practice have opened in his hometown, one at the Museu do Chiado and the other at the Museu da Electricidad. On view at the former is “Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief,” an expansive exhibition of works spanning 1989 to 2012 that showcases the variety of ways Molder fictionalized his own image. Throughout, the artist seems to have drawn inspiration from both people and situations that linger between reality and fiction—for example Pinocchio, 2009, in which the artist casted parts of his body in plaster. Similarly in the series of photographs, “The Origin of Species,” 2012, Molder appears in different postures in front of a black square; traces of his movement blur over some of the images, causing him to appear animalistic.
Molder’s latest series, “The Scale of Mohs,” 2012–13, (on view at the Museu da Electricidad) features the artist as a gesticulating clown who is concerned with his appearance. The title refers to a scale designed by German mineralogist Friedrich Moh that indicates the hardness of minerals, ranging from soft talc to hard diamond. Given the attention to the surface of the face in these photos, the title could refer to the way human skin is inevitably scratched by time. The clown seems to sense his mortality, even though he is entertaining with full dedication. Part of the images looks like drawing or painting, even though that is a illusion, carried out in a digital printing technique. The clown, working on his make up in red and white, adds another layer to the confusion about the reality of the image.
In his first solo exhibition at the gallery’s new Madrid location, Fran Meana tackles memories of twentieth-century history while inquiring into the tension between form and image, tangibility and visibility. At the heart of this show is a quaint pedagogical program from the 1910s at a small school embedded within a mining complex in the northern region of Asturias, an area destined toward hardship due to the dismantling of old industrial compounds. The school’s masters created teaching methodologies informed by the use of stone reliefs in geometrical patterns: Meana reaches back to these reliefs and fights their obsolescence through the use of contemporary tools. In doing so, he also questions issues related to today’s artistic concerns, namely those involving process and presentation.
In the series “The Immaterial Material” (all works 2014), Meana creates the same geometrical patterns on cement plates through the use of a CNC milling machine. There is a strong sense of the fragmentary since the cement plates are only small pieces of a larger whole, evoking ancient stele with abstract pictograms as they lean on austere metal adjustable shelves. Some of these shelves may be removed from the structure so that the stele lie bare on the floor. In other works from the series, some of the shelves hang on the wall, becoming tableaux of old black-and-white photographs of the school and succinctly drawn floor plans.
By asserting this profoundly analogical pedagogical practice, the exhibition sheds light on the transition from craftsmanship to modern technologies, one that is echoed by the shift from the vaporous images that still strive to preserve the memory of the school to the tangible and truly corporeal tridimensional forms the artist creates. Deeply concerned by the conceptual and narrative potential of display, Meana’s current show is so far his best attempt at merging formalism and content.
Directed by Maria Lind, this dynamic project encompasses exhibitions, excursions, and lectures about the people and city of Tensta, a suburb northwest of central Stockholm. The immense program explores history and collective memory while pivoting around a seven-month exhibition cycle with a rigorous schedule of almost daily events. The current session (January 18 to May 18, 2014) sees the participation of over thirty artists—including Minouk Lim, Mila Ivanow, and Tarek Atoui—as well as architects, local collectives and associations, sociologists, cultural geographers, and academics who will discuss issues related to Tensta. Originally a farming area, today Tensta is home to nineteen thousand people, and many live in modernist apartments that were built in the late 1960s as part of a government initiative to solve the housing crisis. With this rapid growth, the identity of the suburb transformed dramatically; the project addresses the problems of a shifting collective memory and the role of cultural heritage.
The museum is a hub for fruitful dialogue. A highlight is Petra Bauer’s collaboration with the local Women’s Center of Tensta-Hjulsta (KITH), political scientist Sofia Wiberg, and architect Filippa Stålhane. Together they present eight “acts” or workshops focusing on listening as a political act and pedagogical tool. The acts thematically focus on housing, home, and living conditions. These ideas continue in the museum with the Grand Domestic Revolution’s open-source library, workshops from artist Ahmet Ögüt and the Silent University, and a lecture by Marion von Osten on her project-exhibition “In the Desert of Modernity—Colonial Planning and After.”
For the duration of the exhibition, the Konsthall has also adapted the institutional title of “Tensta Museum,” an act that critiques institutional authority while simultaneously claiming that authority for as its own. This assumed title manipulates the hierarchy of institutional rhetoric (and associated funding) and reflects a desire for Tensta and its konsthall to be valued by the state. In all, the project weaves together a compelling cartography of a new Sweden: a country beyond stereotypes, which engages with a complex political and social landscape. It manages to orchestrate audiences into meaningful encounters with the city and boldly celebrates and gives voice to the multifaceted lives of the people and communities that form this place.
Curated by Elif Gül Tirben, this group exhibition is the first show at Tankut Aykut Gallery—a young, timely contribution to the rapidly growing gallery scene in Istanbul. The show brings together the gritty aesthetic of the neighborhood—where numerous small businesses can still be found, despite the rapid urban renewal that is transforming the area—with an unassuming visual language that runs throughout the exhibition. For instance, Fatma Belkıs and Onur Gökmen’s installation Company as Nose as Company, 2014, consists of a small folding wooden table, the type that is often seen bearing trivial commodities such as cigarettes or knickknacks on local streets. Here, however, over twenty noses walk around the tabletop thanks to small battery-powered motors: a Gogol story sprung eerily and excessively to life. Witty, understated, exchangeable, and reproducible, the noses evoke objects that would cheaply fill shoppers’ bags of goods, embodying both commodity fetishism and the functionality of objects.
Meanwhile, Komet’s States of Becoming a Bird, 2013, is a beautiful and diminutive sculpture encased in glass. This playful, handmade work contains perhaps the most direct reference to the title of the exhibition, as it hints at a state of becoming and the in-betweenness of character, both artistic and personal, as its abstract form (reminiscent of a horse’s head), emerging from the neck of a vase like something hatching from a shell or a chrysalis, hints at a state of becoming, an unfinished quality of character. Born in 1941, Komet is the oldest artist here by a few decades, and his work anchors the conceptual framework of the exhibition. Merve Ertufan’s Sketch, 2014, is another highlight. In this video, the artist sits and speaks with an illustrator who makes a sketch of her. One notices the board game Guess Who? on the table that separates them, and the air of self-consciousness that grows throughout the interaction. In the end, Sketch is a poetic stand-in for “the” artist in her studio.