As implied by its title, “Neue Räume” (New Spaces) is the first show to take place in this newly refurbished space. Moreover, it is the first exhibition of Dorit Margreiter’s work at the gallery. These simple conditions led the artist to conclude that this blank slate is an artistic equivalent to that of a frontier, therefore requiring her to revisit the history of the Western genre. The result of this dryly hilarious reasoning, underpinned by her erudition in cinema history, is a short 16-mm film featuring a lone rider and his horse in a sublime landscape, titled Transfer (Monument Valley), 2016. Shot at John Ford Point in Monument Valley, Arizona, this film is both the centerpiece and the synthesis of the exhibition, which otherwise features a collection of works produced since 2015 spread across four rooms. Each element in the film nods to the central subjects of other pieces, including the nature of filmmaking, the sun, and equestrianism, just to name a few.
This show is bracketed by Experimental Noise (No.8) and Experimental Noise (No.9), both 2015. At first glance, these two large photographs seem to be pictures of a starry sky. However, they are in fact wholly digitally produced images that re-create the appearance of scratched and dirty film. These are essentially Photoshop filters that produce the effect of damaged photo negatives. Within their minimal visual language, they contain a poignant rebuke of both flawless digital images and the trend for tastefully aged and distressed products. More important, they point to the central concern of Margreiter’s practice: the act of image production and its attendant historical circumstances.
In 1978, Renate Bertlmann, wearing a mask and veil, had herself pushed in a wheelchair around the Österreichischer Kunstverein. Extremely pregnant, she continued the endurance piece until she eventually gave birth and simply left her newborn lying on the floor. At that time, the artist garnered much attention for work that challenged the boundary between private and the public spheres, attraction and repulsion; she was censured and vilified as a psychopath. At the center of this oeuvre of social critique is an examination of gender stereotypes, an exploration of role-play, and a protest against the oppression of women. Working in a similar vein as Eva Hesse, Judith Bernstein, and Betty Tompkins, Bertlmann deals—in works such as Zärtliche Berührungen (Tender Touches), 1976, showing a blown-up pink-and-purple condom—with fears, desires, and wishes at the intersection of the body and gender, power and powerlessness. Gabriele Schor, director of the Verbund Art Collection, curated this retrospective, which comprises installations, photographs, sculptures, drawings, and films, all accompanied by a publication. It is displayed on many floors of this vertical gallery, a staircase in a company building. The artist’s motto—“AMO ERGO SUM” (I love therefore I am)—the title of the exhibition, implies that erotically stunted and twisted human beings cannot make a revolution. Thus, in such works as the folkloric San Erectus, 1979, the artist always sticks to humor as a means of irony.
Despite Bertlmann’s emancipatory engagement in theory and practice, feminists have accused her of acting phallocentrically, because she often uses the penis as caricature in drawings and latex sculptures and stages condoms and dildos symbolically. In response to this, the artist holds that “patriarchy maintains a gigantic, phallic arsenal to safeguard its continued existence (and holdings).” One might even see her acts of appropriation as disempowering hegemonies.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Louisiana has been very busy. This thrilling presentation of the museum’s recent contemporary acquisitions reflects an impressive variety of media by male and female artists of divergent nationalities, races, and ages. As dynamic and heterogeneous as the show is, the themes of playfulness and political engagement continuously run through the installations, which unfold throughout the entire museum and spill onto the grounds outside.
Representative of such works is American Alex Da Corte’s Pop-infused multimedia installation Delirium – The Foolish Virgin, Scene I, 2014, which blends bright neon colors with sensuous materials and patterns to create an alternate universe reminiscent of a dreamlike disco hall. On the other end of the spectrum is Vietnamese American artist Tiffany Chung’s Finding One’s Shadow in Ruins and Rubble, 2014, which consists of thirty-one hauntingly beautiful, glowing boxes sitting on the bare gallery floor, which illuminate scenes of destroyed Syrian homes. The exhibition’s selection of works on paper is particularly strong and includes British artist Simon Evans’s detailed drawing collages, such as In the Arena of Vanguard Cities, 2013, which creatively relates the topography of cities to personal thought. Scandinavian artists are also well represented in the show. Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s short film Me and My Mother, 2015, combines humor and absurdity to probe one of the most natural familial bonds. The video portrays the artist and his mother as she spits on him over and over in fascinatingly visceral detail.
Showing concurrently with “Illumination” is “Fire Under Snow,” an exciting collection of recent film and video acquisitions, which also includes playful and politically provocative works. Not to be missed is an all-encompassing and masterful installation of William Kentridge’s breathtaking The Refusal of Time, 2012.
With works by twenty-three artists from fifteen countries, “The Travellers” spans space, time, and media. Though its primary motifs may at first seem facile—postcards, trains, and islands all make repeated appearances—the subject matter is consequential. These works reckon with questions of mobility: How can an experience be captured? What constitutes authentic cultural representation? And who has the agency to wander?
Most works are overtly political, like Sislej Xhafa’s Barka (Boat), 2011/2016, a fifteen-foot boat made from shoes found on the beaches of Lampedusa, Italy. The diversity of the empty footwear underscores the heterogeneity of those who are desperate to secure a better life via emigration. Vesna Pavlović’s Fototeka (Photo Archive), 2013/2016, projects images of Josip Broz Tito’s international travels onto a gray synthetic curtain, evoking a contrast between the easy mobility of the Yugoslavian dictator and his captive citizenry. An Ecuadorian bus is festooned with symbols and abbreviations in Dushko Petrovich’s acrylic-on-paper El Oso Carnal (The Carnal Bear), 2013/2016, which presents a personal summary of migrations that define the artist’s life.
Despite the gravity of the topic, humor is still evident. Wojciech Gilewicz’s video Painter’s Painting, 2015, shows the artist working on plein-air paintings in unlikely locations: at a weight-lifting gym, proximate to a food stall, inside a phone booth. Viewers only see the canvas from the back, so there is no confirmation that the artist is actually re-creating these scenes, but no matter––what’s important is the sense of trying to capture a fleeting vista. It’s a gag, but at its core is the legitimate issue of how to see and record the world as we move through it, and as it moves through us.
In Poland, pickle juice is traditionally thought to be an effective hangover cure; and if the nation’s extreme right-wing PiS party seems drunk on their newly acquired power, then Slavs and Tatars’ playful symbology suggests a remedy for their staggering nationalist rhetoric. In the center of the main gallery, a bar serves both juice and a dose of political commentary. Three varieties are offered: traditional cucumber, delicious mushroom, and a garlic so pungent that many might likely decline on the basis of scent alone. After downing a shot or two, visitors are free to take in the other works, which include Pan Chrzan (Mr. Horseradish) (all works 2016), a woolen rug depicting a cartoonish conjoined-twin horseradish root with one end menacing the other, and the banner Hammer and Nipple, featuring long cucumber breasts that leak milk-white letters spelling out, in Polish, “Sour on power: the tits of government only provide kefir.” Hanging above it all is the large vinyl print Life Is Like a Cucumber: One Day in Your Hand, One Day in Your Ass, which shows a cucumber-thumb thrust between the index and middle fingers of a fist, a gesture that translates to “You aren’t getting anything.”
This country has a history of political rebellion as satire—the Orange Alternative for instance, operating mainly during the 1980s, created happenings that burlesqued authority through various hijinks, including dwarf-themed graffiti and cardboard mock-military parades. Slavs and Tatars’ slick presentation contrasts with the DIY aesthetic of protest objects made during the material scarcity of Communist rule, but the sentiment is the same: Perhaps the only way to counter the recklessness of the current government’s actions is with absurdity.
Love can be a difficult thing to stomach or otherwise endure, and so it is somewhat unsurprising that love is the word that has both made and destroyed Robert Indiana’s artistic legacy. Copies of Love, 1966, can be found in sculptures, T-shirts, and stationary the world over; as the design was never copyrighted, many have the erroneous impression that it enabled Indiana to sell out. The reality, of course, is that the work’s commercial success outside the confines of the art world effectively diminished his seriousness as an artist. Fellow Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist were protected from such charges because their work was said to issue from an intentionally ironic stance; as Peter Plagens noted in his review of Indiana’s 2013 retrospective at the Whitney, Indiana’s reputation has suffered because of his sincerity. Indeed, art-historical accounts all point to Indiana’s rejection from the zeitgeist’s dominant cliques. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg wanted nothing to do with him, and they actively campaigned to have his work excluded from important group exhibitions. And his long-term relationship with hard-edge abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly came to an end, according to legend, on the day that Indiana began to incorporate words into his paintings.
This current exhibition and accompanying catalogue, co-organized by Galerie Gmurzynska and the first of its kind on Russian soil, seeks to restart the conversation with a look at works from every phase of the artist’s career. There aren’t many paintings, simply because Indiana never made that many. One notable exception is the large-scale acrylic canvas featuring the words Terra Nova, from 1981. The bulk of the exhibition, however, consists of serigraph editions, among which one finds many surprises, such as the rhombus-shaped The Brooklyn Bridge, 1971, a visual interpretation of Hart Crane’s most famous poem.
In his book Berlin Childhood Around 1900 (1950), Walter Benjamin recounts loggias from his childhood as places where “space and time come into their own and find each other.” The liminal space that these loggias occupy in Benjamin’s mind seem to provide both the maneuvering area and the impetus for the coagulation of space and time. Through cross-media experimentation with oil, acrylic, printing, and india ink, Eva Nielsen’s depictions of landscapes, ruins, and Parisian suburbia make time materialize, only to stop it in its tracks with her show of “New Paintings.”
For instance, in Lucite, 2015, a single-story house and its columned patio can be seen as if you’re seeing it through a net being pulled in different directions. As the pattern is screen-printed, the painting manifests an illusion-breaking flatness where the net appears to fold onto itself. An ambiguous sense of time prevails. The identically titled diptych, also from 2015, divides a similarly obstructed yet slightly more distant view of the same house into halves, with an empty deck chair in partial shade. By splitting the bucolic scene, surprising undertones of doom and disintegration arise. A semblance of motion invades the picture plane in Dondal, 2016, due to the moiré effect achieved by repeated printing. With no narrative agenda in sight, the artist weaves an interior with large windows into its leafy exterior through strategic reflections. Marcel Duchamp’s Sad Young Man on a Train, 1911–12 , appears to have finally arrived at his destination, but Nielsen keeps going.
In Madame de Staël’s 1807 classic, Corinne, the Italian heroine treats a visiting Scottish nobleman to the view from Rome’s Capitoline Hill, with the caveat that “readings in history . . . do not act upon our souls like these scattered stones.” The conviction that our antiquity must be experienced firsthand was one of the primary motivations behind the Grand Tour, an itinerary popularized in the late seventeenth century that sent well-born Europeans off in search of the supposed origins of Western Civilization, as if the future of the present lay squarely in the past.
Andreas Angelidakis’s exhibition “Soft Ruin” keeps this custom in mind as it speculates as to what kind of legacy our own present might leave behind. Building an Electronic Ruin, 2011, a five-minute video set in the abandoned screenscapes of the once-popular virtual world Second Life, follows the attempts of the artist’s avatar—Andreas Onlyone—to construct simulated ruins, since animated structures do not age and are immune to decay. The game’s cursor struggles to navigate through the program’s hopelessly cluttered interface as the character prowls through online ghost towns, their outdated billboards still flashing. The accompanying text ponders the fate of other abandoned virtual commons, such as Myspace or Friendster. What happens to these electronic artifacts? “Maybe one day Facebook will be our ancient Rome,” the artist concludes. But what insight could this Grand Tour 2.0—screenshots subbed in for “scattered stones”—possibly yield? And given the extreme temporal disjuncture of technology only a decade old, what even constitutes antiquity to a contemporary audience?