Archive for the ‘Art Reviews’ Category

Stefan Constantinescu’s Films on Love at Kalmar Museum of Art

In Art Reviews on March 23, 2014 at 9:04 am
Stefan Constantinescu
Kalmar Konstmuseum
Stadsparken , 392 33 Kalmar, Sweden
08 February 2014 – 27 April 2014

The Everyday Takes Control: Stefan Constantinescu’s Films on Love

In the first of seven films in a series dealing with love between men and women (started in 2009 and proposed to end in 2019), a man sits down on a bus in Bucharest, Romania and telephones his wife or girlfriend. He becomes increasingly threatening and verbally violent, compulsively repeating the same questions and accusations over and over in a sort of trance-like loop. Troleibuzul 92 (Bus number 92) (2009) depicts a very private and intimate conversation that is played out in the public space, turning the audience, like the other passengers on the bus, into unwilling participants in a potentially explosive scenario, leaving us to wonder where voyeurism ends and personal responsibility begins. But the film doesn’t offer any conclusions, ending as it began, with one person getting off and another getting on, transforming this otherwise exceptional scene into another part of everyday occurrence.

Love, intimacy, routine, repetition, identity, the normalcy of aberration in daily life, and the conflict between private and public are all themes that Romanian-Swedish artist and filmmaker Stefan Constantinescu explores in the three films that he has finished so far and which are currently on view at the Kalmar Art Museum in Sweden. His work also explores new ways of understanding the exhibitional possibilities of cinema within the museum context as well as viewer perception within the contemporary art institution. In this solo show, a black box was constructed in which the films are screened at specific times designated at the entrance, allowing visitors to manage their viewing experience. In contrast to video art, which the museum has turned into art object, in and out of which visitors wander uncommittedly while consuming mere snippets of the work, narrative films like Constantinescu’s must be experienced linearly from beginning to end. Therefore offering a structure for viewing the films as films, not as objects, to which the audience must dedicate itself for a set period of time, becomes the challenge of curators working in this field. And it’s not always easy to find a solution, but recreating the cinema within the museum is a safe bet, merging two institutions in crisis and stretching the reach of each one into the other’s terrain thus expanding the audience of both.

 Stefan Constantinescu, Still from “Family Dinner”, 2012; © Ştefan Constantinescu

In Family Dinner (2012), the mask of the model Swedish family is removed revealing a true picture of the complexity of contemporary relationships. While husband and daughter prepare dinner, the mother takes a bath and engages in cell phone sex with a co-worker, her dream being interrupted repeatedly by several humorous events rooted in her reality. At one moment, while she is texting a sexy note, her husband calls her from the kitchen disrupting her mood. Or some moments later, while she tries to pleasure herself and text with the other hand, her phone battery suddenly runs out. Her attempts to regain those moments of transgressive gratification and fantasy are constantly frustrated by real life, so she returns to the routine of her normal role within the household and joins the others for the meal they had prepared. We are left to wonder how this situation will play out, but the everyday seems to take control once again.

The last film from the series that has been produced thus far is Six Big Fish (2013).Here, two Swedish artists, Ann Sofi and Andreas, are staying in an apartment in Bucharest on a residency and suddenly find themselves responsible for six large live fish when the next door neighbor intrusively drops them off for their landlord. The film is shot as Ann Sofi’s video diary, a film within a film, from her point of view. The couple’s different perspectives on life and art inform their approach as to what to do with the fish, and ultimately test their relationship. Ann Sofi believes that art triumphs over life and therefore she has the right to record the fish dying, while Andreas chooses to offer the fish life by trying, despite several unfortunate adventures, to find a spot to set them free. The power of the everyday wins in the end once again as the couple, frazzled and strained by the day’s events, returns to normalcy after the fish swim away.

Stefan Constantinescu, Still from “Six Big Fish”, 2013; © Ştefan Constantinescu

Filmed in an austere and restrained aesthetic, the films reflect the Romanian New Wave and fall within the film d’auteur tradition. The image is heavily controlled and the films seem almost documentarian, but the narrative is disturbing and subversive, creating a tension between what we see and what we perceive. The ten-year project undertaken by Constantinescu is ambitious and stirring. By focusing on love, what might otherwise seem in these times of conflict as too light of a theme, Constantinescu actually reveals the elements underlying contemporary society, from cynicism and selfishness, banality of transgression, hypocrisy and morality, to ultimately the condition of humanity itself torn between caring and indifference, love and violence.

Sandra Boeschenstein – Marlene Frei Editions, Zurich

In Art Reviews on January 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Sandra Boeschenstein at Marlene Frei in the January issue of Art in America

Sandra Boeschenstein: The Pollination of the Highest Corners, 2013, oil and oilstick on paper, 27½ by 39⅜ inches; at Marlene Frei.

Where the Light Is in the Imagination (2013), an oil-and-oilstick work on paper, depicts a black interior in which little white helicopters the size of insects fly at different heights; they are connected to one another by white strings, which together form the outline of a seemingly 3-D shape that, like an M.C. Escher picture, could not exist in real space. A lamp hangs from the string of one helicopter and shines on a tablecloth covering a table without legs, as if the cloth were floating in space. The Pollination of the Highest Corners (2013) (above) depicts a long, dramatically lit hallway leading to a doorway that seems to dissolve in white light. Ladders lean against the dark walls and suited men tinker with the ceiling. A blossoming tree branch lies in the foreground as if in a different time and space. These are just some of the odd situations in Swiss artist Sandra Boeschenstein’s recent show, “In the Earth’s Own Shadow,” which featured 39 black-and-white works on paper (some with red marks or stamps) from 2007 to 2013.

woher das Licht in den Vorstellungen, 2013
Ölkreide und Ölfarbe auf Papier, 70 × 100 cm

The show focused on eight new works (most about 28 by 40 inches) in which Boeschenstein experiments with a process wherein she rolls black oil paint over a layer of white oilstick; she creates the drawings by etching the finest of lines into the top layer. The combination of quick and rough paint application and the painstaking precision of the linear work produces a surreal effect by enhancing the ambiguity of the pictorial space.

Era at Breakfast (2013) also shows a dark interior. On the back wall is a large frame that reveals another room; the frame can’t be a doorway because its bottom is well above the floor. Is it a mirror? A painting? Strings from the top corners of the frame stretch into the middle ground and are attached to the floor by the noses of miniature airplanes. Nearby, a suitcase sits on top of four revolvers, while another stands upright with four revolvers sticking out of it.

Ära beim Frühstück, 2013
Ölkreide und Ölfarbe auf Papier, 70 × 100 cm

Boeschenstein’s drawings recall the scenarios of early 20th-century expressionist films, where angles were manipulated and chiaroscuro used to establish psychological tension. But her bizarre arrangements of everyday objects and absurd, dreamlike spaces make these drawings difficult to categorize. Her poetic titles give the impression of particular meaning but, according to the artist, she is juxtaposing text and image with the intention of creating moments of perplexity for the viewer to ponder, not explanations.

The items represented in Boeschenstein’s drawings derive from her environment. On her travels or daily walks she keeps mental notes on various quotidian things that strike her in powerful, visceral ways. She calls upon these memories as others might use clip art. Thus a loaf of bread, an airplane or a cow become mere building blocks, like the found objects a sculptor might use to create a composition. The bread no longer signifies food, but instead might serve as a support for a painting or as a pattern on a dress. The new relationships established between familiar items offer us the chance to lose ourselves in these works and act as coproducers, shaping our own new visions of reality.

Ericka Beckman at Kunsthalle Bern

In Art Reviews on September 9, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Published in Art in America, September 2013

Despite a 30-plus-year filmmaking career that has earned her numerous awards as well as inclusion in various art biennials and film festivals—and the admiration of Jean-Luc Godard—Ericka Beckman has not received the international art world recognition one would expect. The retrospective “Works 1978-2012,” however, firmly established her as one of the most important artists from the Pictures Generation still working today.

The exhibition, which occupied all seven rooms of the Kunsthalle Bern, featured her best-known work, “Super 8 Trilogy” (1978-80), several recent films and two galleries dedicated to her stand-alone photographic installations. Her films have a surrealist character, recalling the early experiments of Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Georges Méliès and Luis Buñuel. Her sets and special effects are handcrafted, and this DIY approach intensifies the dreamlike scenarios she creates, while underscoring the artificiality of the medium. In all her fast-paced, action-oriented films, we see an intense preoccupation with labor, competition and technology as well as other aspects of modernity.

In Cinderella (1986), a 30-minute, nonlinear narrative, the title character is situated in what appears to be a medieval workshop making an iron bell inside a forging oven. Suddenly, as if to reward her labor, a package appears with a ball gown in it. As per the fairytale, she must be home by midnight. Beckman uses 1980s video game imagery (think Tron) to place her heroine in a battle against the clock. A cardboard clock tower appears repeatedly in the background, as if haunting her, and, along with the handcrafted video game settings, serves as a metaphor for society’s restrictions and requirements, particularly in relation to women. Beckman’s Cinderella ultimately circumvents this whole construct in a feminist twist when she realizes that she doesn’t need to consider the clock at all and that she is free-from the prince, the gown and the game. Much of the off-screen sound is provided by a chanting chorus that functions much like that of an ancient Greek play, narrating the story and questioning the characters.

Modernism and its discontents are at the heart of Switch Center (2002), which focuses on architecture in the former Soviet bloc. Shot in Hungary in an abandoned water purification plant, Switch Center features characters, mostly male, engaged in constant motion: turning levers, climbing up and down the stairs, and vigorously operating various buttons. The clearly choreographed action mocks the absurd, mindless, repetitive processes of industrial production. (A sole female character is the only one, in the end, who seems to be liberated from the confines imposed by Beckman, and by society.) The characters’ movements, separated here from a discernible function, become theatrical and dancelike, and, in the context of the architecture, refer to the compromised history of Communism and Soviet-style collectivism. However, post-Soviet societies aim to erase that history through the demolition of this architecture and to replace it with malls, signs of the new world order of unmitigated capitalism. The title of the film is itself symbolic of the switch from one regime to another, embodied as it is in the building’s fate.


Last paragraph of my initial review was not published, but here it is:

Although Beckman has shied away from the commercial side of the art world—she does not have a gallery, and her work doesn’t fit conveniently into a particular category—her experimental films are clear works of art. She has been embraced by institutions, yet her well-deserved celebrity is still to come.

[The show travels to  Le Magasin Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble in February 2014.]

Loredana Sperini, Zurich

In Art Reviews on April 12, 2013 at 8:55 am

This review appears in the March/April issue of Art In America

Loredana Sperini’s recent show “Tra di Noi” (Between Us), at Freymond-Guth’s new space in the Löwenbräu complex, continued the Swiss artist’s fascination with contrasting materials.  Sperini, who was initially trained in fiber arts and has a strong background in craft, pursued an art education only later.  She has been working with a multitude of materials and in very disparate forms, like wax, drawing, fabric, sculpture, found ceramic, and installation, since the beginning of her career in the early 2000s.   Here, as elsewhere, she juxtaposed soft with hard and warm with cold materials, revealing the tensions between the natural and manufactured worlds.

Sperini’s current formal interest is the crystal, which she references in the 10 wall-hung mixed-medium pieces, two floor sculptures and a wall installation on view, all untitled and made specifically for the exhibition. Despite often being ridiculed as a new-age accessory (crystals are historically associated with healing and spirituality, black magic, and sometimes endowing owners with superhuman abilities), the beauty of their structure is undeniable. The crystal’s allure  is in large part due to its geometric regularity and its ability to reflect and refract light. And our admiration for these naturally occurring structures, their strength and brilliance, has inspired us to artificially interpret and try to fashion them for hundreds of years.

And yet Sperini’s focus is on fragility, rather than the sturdiness that we associate with gems.  In her nine small paintings  made of wax on panels of cast cement, the fragility of the  composition itself is emphasized. The artist fills cracks that she herself creates in the cement casts with layer  upon layer of different colored waxes, sculpting and shaping  angles and lines into the malleable wax surface that allude to  the geometric crystal forms. The translucence of the wax layers establishes a visual allusion to the refraction of light in actual crystals, and the effect is mesmerizing.

In her work, Loredana plays with our ambivalence toward the crystal, alluding to both its beauty but also to the dubious connotations it evokes in contemporary culture. For example, an untitled wax and cement sculpture resembles a large chunk of an amethyst geode, the type one might find in a new-age bookstore. One side is grey and rocklike, while the other features purple wax in angles and planes. A violet wax arm, an element that directly links this work to Loredana’s previous wax sculptures of body parts, hangs under one of the vertices, as if it were spurting from it. Contained within the cupped hand is a disembodied pair of human lips. This piece evokes the human body’s fragility and uncertain placement in the world.

In an approximately 7-foot-high floor sculpture, a black polygon frame is attached to a black mirrored glass quadrilateral. Reflections of the gallery in the glass evoke the fractured and multiplied reality implied by the many faces of a crystal.  The conflict between nature and culture, which leads to the battle for control over our environment, is also a subtext exemplified through the juxtaposition of body parts and geometric forms, as well as man-made and natural materials. But most importantly, the work exhibits a love for materiality and form, a tenderness for beauty, and a respect for craft that is often absent in contemporary practice.

Perfect Synthesis: The Installation Art of Sarah Sze – from 2008

In Art Reviews, Other, misc. art on April 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Sarah Sze, Proportioned to the Groove, 2005, as Installed In Artists In Depth at the Museum of Contemporary Art, ChIcago, 2008. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund.

This article was published in December 2008 in Chicago Artists’ News, now defunct.  It was part of a series on collecting the ephemeral and immaterial.
Sarah Sze is a creator of complex and often contradictory ecosystems, and like ecosystems, her installations are sometimes ephemeral. Thousands of everyday objects, ranging from the miniscule to the large, are carefully and obsessively organized in spectacular configurations punctuated by empty space and connected by various mechanisms, lending her work its often imposing scale and architectural character. Sze’s work is composed of heterogeneous elements — household items, vegetation, and even water flowing through channels — which, once assembled, create fantastic worlds shot through with childlike wonder and scientific fascination.
Some of Sze’s preferred materials, for example, plastic bottles, bottle caps, forks, and buttons, are arranged in small microcosms of activity alongside sprouting vegetation and water sprinklers, attesting not only to the artist’s ecological concerns, but also to humanity’s apparently insurmountable attachment to consumer products and pollutants. Though Sze’s installations may at first appear as hodgepodges of everyday materials, the elements of her work are minutely arranged, making use of color coordination and patterning to evoke abstract imagery from a distance, and extraordinary animation upon closer inspection.

The unique quality of Sze’s work derives not only from her ability to juxtapose all these disparate elements; her splendid installations, at once spatially prodigious and delicate, are also ingenious feats of engineering. To install all these items, held together by wires that balance myriad miniature worlds, is an enormous undertaking — as is their de-installation and re-installation.

Sarah Sze, “Tilting Blue,” 2006, Malmo Konstall, Malmo, Sweden

How do museums collect Sze ‘s work, and what exactly is being collected when the pieces rely more on the ability of the artist to create a relationship between banal items than on the items themselves? And how do museums, after purchasing an installation, reinstall such a piece? Elizabeth Smith, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and curator of Sze’s 1999 MCA installation as well as the current show in which Sze is featured, “Artists in Depth: Works from the MCA Collection,” tells me that the documentation for these types of installations is crucial to the ability to reinstall at a future date. Curators at the MCA, with the help of Sze’s assistant, worked with photographs and written instructions to install the piece now on display. Storing the work is easy: since the pieces are small, they just need to be collected and labeled properly, and organized in a way that can facilitate future groupings.
If all the components of this installation are so commonplace, what exactly is the museum getting when it purchases such a piece — and can’t these items just be replaced by others of the same sort? This is the curatorial challenge with which Smith and other curators of conceptually driven, site-specific installations have to grapple. Smith remarks that “purchase includes not just the object(s) that are presented but also an understanding about the parameters of the installation (much like with the work of Dan Flavin or Sol LeWitt, to name a couple of other precursors to more conceptual installation works where following the artist’s instructions on how to recreate/install the work is as important as the object itself).”

Curators are now the caretakers not only of objects, but also of concepts and ideas. The work of Sarah Sze, at once complex and elegant, represents a perfect synthesis of both concept and object to create an intriguing intellectual experience.

Yto Barrada at Fotomuseum, Winterthur

In Art Reviews on March 8, 2013 at 8:54 am

Published in Art in America, March 2013.  WINTERTHUR


Fotomuseum Winterthur

It is difficult not to be suspicious ofexhibitions initiated or organized by corporations. After all, such shows serve to enhance the reputation of the funder in the eyes ofthe public. Therefore it was with some ambivalence that I approached Yto Barrada’s “Riffs,” Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year exhibition for 2011. (It debuted at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, and has been touring through Europe and the U.S. since.) Fortunately, Barrada’s exhibition did not make grandiose political statements about the evils of globalization or modernity, which would have seemed disingenuous. Instead the three l6mm films and 5O-some photographs, made between 1999 and 2011, were thoughtful considerations of a place in transition and the passage of time.

“Riffs” focused on Tangier, Morocco, a cosmopolitan city at the core of many Westcrners’ fantasies of freedom and escape, where the Parisian-born artist was raised. In addition to its musical associations, the title alludes to Morocco’s Rif mountain region (a nexus of resistance to colonial rule), as well as to Cinema Rif, the movie theater in Tangier where Barrada cofounded and directs a film program; selections were shown in a screening room at the exhibition. This combination of meanings set the tone for the show.

Most of the photographs are medium-size and the colors are generally muted. While the press materials indicate that they document the current realities ofTangier, what makes the images striking is their evocation of things once there but now unseen. Two of the most impressive photographs dealing with history, memory and absence are Family Tree (2005) and Marks Left by a Football—Tangier (2002). In Family Tree, the minimalist composition features a light pink background with oval and rectangular spots of darker pink irregularly distributed over its surface. On closer inspection, we see that the pink background is faded wallpaper, and the dark spots are areas once covered by picture frames. It is an image of missing pictures whose existence is nonetheless recorded. Similarly, Marks Left by a Football preserves the memory of people practicing soccer on a scuffed wall.

In the S-minute l6mm film Beau Geste (2009), a group of workers organized by Barrada builds a cement support for a huge lone palm tree in a vacant lot. From the artist’s voiceover, we learn that the tree had been attacked by the landowner, who was attempting to circumvent a law which prohibits the sale of land where trees grow. The poetic action of the guerrilla gardeners is indeed just as the title announces—a nice gesture devoid of real impact. It will not prevent the owner from trying again or lead to any systemic change. The empty lot, surrounded by multistory buildings, hints at what once occupied the space, and the tree remains the only visible mark of its history.

Like most of the work in the show, the film is imbued with nostalgia for Tangier’s past—a past that is not visible but whose absence is felt in the present.

Manifesta in Genk, Belgium

In Art Reviews on February 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm

This article was published in the March 2013 issue of Sculpture Magazine

The former mining complex building in Genk, Belgium, the Waterschei, is a wonderful relic and an impressive piece of art nouveau architecture that feels more like a sculpture than a building.  The space is pregnant with the history of Limburg – a region that, from 1901 when Andre Dumont discovered coal and until 1986 when the last mine closed, was synonymous with the coal industry in Belgium.  The region has since then reinvented itself, attracting other industries, specifically auto manufacturing and the cultural and tourism industries.

But Genk cannot escape the shadow of its past, and luckily Manifesta, the roving European biennial that used the Waterschei as its only site, didn’t want to ignore it either.   Seamlessly integrated into the theme, The Deep of the Modern, the multiplicity of issues associated with the impact of coal in the local and global contexts are dealt with both directly and indirectly in the three separate sections of Manifesta 9.

The first part of Manifesta, and clearly the one that all the art aficionados flocked to, was the contemporary art section.  It featured thirty-nine international positions, most of whom were lesser-known artists, a strategy that was refreshing and needed after the series of usual suspects that seems to make the international circuits.  Curatorially coherent and artistically significant, Poetics of Restructuring places its focus on labor issues and the changing nature of today’s modes of production.  The impact of the post-industrial Western world on developing countries is carefully treated, as well as the general capitalist and globalisation topics that tend to percolate at any self-respecting biennale.   Several works stood out as not only topical, but poetic and beautiful.

The pièce de resistance is without a doubt Ni Haifeng’s Para-Production, an immense cluster of draping fabric that occupies the entire central atrium of the Waterschei from the ground to the next floor.  Sewing machines are installed for visitors to participate in the Sisyphean task of producing more useless fabric shreds that might eventually end up as part of the sculpture in a future incarnation.  Ni thus highlights the tediousness of the process of production, and the alienation of the worker from the product of his labor, both typical results of modernity.

Another artist that deals with absurd and tedious production processes, as well as Sisyphean tasks that seem to suck individuality out of the worker, is Ante Timmermans.  His Make a Molehill Out of a Mountain(of Work)  treats the subject poetically, especially during his 2-day performance which saw him acting the part of a petty bureaucrat sitting at a desk at the center of a cubicle made from office shelving units functioning as walls, and perforating sheets of paper with a hole-punch.  The sheets were then stamped and filed in 3-ring binders, which were subsequently archived on other shelves in the back.  Out of the paper circles left behind the perforation action, Timmermans was trying to build a hill – a task that was clearly absurd and Sisyphean, but that became funny and engaging.    So engaging in fact that visitors wanted to help him, and several tried out the petty bureaucrat role too, taking Timmermans’s tools and serving themselves the experience.  This did not sit well with the artist, who preferred his audience to just observe.  But relational art is still de rigeur and audiences expect to take an active role in art production, especially in a context that treats issues of production so eloquently.

Coal Drawing Machine by Carlos Amorales examines the relationship between human and machine production.  Amorales  programmed an automatic printing press to create large-scale chalk drawings that were then hung from the ceiling in a labyrinthine layout through which visitors could walk.  Each roll of paper is programmed to feature a different drawing pattern, which is precise in its execution, but due to the nature of charcoal as an ink, also shows signs of imperfection and sometimes smears in its outcome.  The creation of this confusion between craft and machine-manufacturing is an interesting take exactly because the theme of authenticity and aura in art is still such a contested topic.  And of course labor issues are inherent in this discussion, when more and more artists outsource the production of their work to places like China.

Memory, nostalgia, and history are evoked in several projects with particularly captivating results in a few.  Emre Hüner’s installation A Little Larger than the Entire Universe features contemporary objects, many hand-made, others manufactured, exhibited in a manner similar to archaeological artefacts from a past civilization, that not only contain mysterious significances and meanings that we attempt to reconstruct and that continue to escape us, but that we also fetishize as art objects without necessarily understanding their former function.

Monument to the Memory of the Idea of the Internationale, a sound work by Nemanja Cvijanovic, is a small music box with a crank connected to a microphone, that once activated by a visitor, plays the Internationale.  And not only does the Internationale play loudly on the floor with the music box, but it follows you throughout the entire building and its surroundings, enveloping you in layers of history, conflict, labour politics, and ultimately nostalgia for a time when people fought for their principles and utopias, and the world order was still being shaped and defined – was this time ever that way or do we mythologize it?

The demise of the metalworking industry in Charleroi, Belgium is rendered in a poignant and disturbing work by Michael Matthys who created a large installation, La Ville Rouge, composed of hundreds of drawings made in cow blood of the former factory and industrial complex and its demise, along with a larger installation, Moloch, made from 1000 aquatints pasted on the wall as wall paper.

Memory is used in a poetic and lyrical way in Sounds from Beneath, the sound/video installation by Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow that features a choir of former miners set in a desolate post-industrial landscape, vocalizing the underground sounds that they remember from their coalmining days.  The resulting chants and visuals turn into a sculptural piece as they engulf and place us in a liminal space not in the mines but not completely out of them either.

And despite the quantity of remarkable work within Poetics of Restructuring, the even more impressive part of the biennale was its historical art exhibition, The Age of Coal.  A perfectly curated show, clear about the consistent impact that coal exploitation has had on modern industry and life, sensitive of the diversity of artistic responses to this very modern phenomenon, and careful to integrate aesthetics with historical perspectives as well as subtly highlight artistic criticism, the exhibition is truly a tour de force.  It treats all aspects of the coal era, from its affect on the environment, its impact on the working class, its relationship with politics and inter-class conflict, its connection with new technologies and knowledge, and ultimately how all these were translated through artistic production and positions.   If there was anything that was not perfect, it might be the Dark Matter section, which featured way too many coal piles by way too many different artists (Richard Long’s rectangular pile, Marcel Broodthaers’s coal pile, Bernar Venet’s coal pile, and David Hammond’s coal pile) to really resonate.  One pile would have sufficed and would have made more of an impact.

The third and last section of The Deep of the Modern is 17 Tons, the heritage section, which focuses on the impact that the closing of the mines had on cultural production in Europe.  A variety of organizations and groups collaborated, with each one contributing a smaller exhibition within the exhibition dealing with the legacy and collective memory of the coal-mining experience.

Overall, Manifesta 9 was well organized, thoughtful, careful, and dug deep into the issues surrounding the geographic, social, and economic context of the region, as well as the broader issues that co-exist, but are often ignored at major biennales in favour of “statements”, which are usually too exaggerated to really strike a chord and “mean” something.  In choosing locale to dictate its direction, Manifesta was able to tackle many subjects that are still intensely relevant but without the strident oppositional stance that sometimes make biennales seem farcical.

Onorato and Krebs at Raebervonsteglin, Zurich

In Art Reviews on December 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Published in December 2012 issue of Art in America.

In their current exhibition the young Swiss photography duo, Onorato/Krebs, address the process of creating an image by revealing the actual mechanisms behind the compositions, especially the construction of sculptural elements of which they are particularly fond, and which they build specifically for the large photographs, installation and film on view.

Wozu Zeit, or For What is Time, featuring ten new works made especially for this show, not only reflects on the timelessness of photography, but also alludes to the art history canon itself, and the impact of photography on perception and ultimately on the construction of our worldview.  But although many might still feel that image makes reality, Onorato/Krebs seem to be rejecting this view by showing us in all their work the tools they use for constructing their images, and they are primitive, elementary, makeshift, and signal the early age of mechanics.   Onorato/Krebs seem to allude to Barthes’s description of cameras as “related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision” and in that spirit, recreate those mechanisms as subjects in their image making.

It is not, therefore, a coincidence that they have included a sound-making installation that looks like an antiquated home-made machine from another century, with various household items as drums, on which hammers are programmed to bang every few seconds in a precisely calibrated fashion to supply the score of their 16mm film titled Blockbuster (2012, 5 minutes). Played on an old projector that protrudes through the wall into the adjacent room, the film depicts a man standing on a ladder and through a perfectly composed play with space, seems to be furiously hammering away at the top of various buildings, which actually exist in the back plane, as if adding the finishing touches or trying to single-handedly bring them down. The sound made by the machine creates the audio effects for the banging of the hammer. This wonderfully humorous and absurd little film, with a punning title, brings us back to the early years of film-making, where the appropriate music was played by a piano-player in the theatre hall, or later edited into the movie, to provide the atmosphere and the emotional cues for the audience.  It also alludes to the labor issues connected to industrialization, and the need for more precise forms of documentation and classification, which gave way to the advent of the camera and film, initially intended as scientific instruments.  The hammering sound and the man in action also suggests the act of building and making, of shaping and creating the space around us in a very physical and direct way, and by extension in a metaphorical sense, the way in which we construct our reality and understanding of the world.


This playful approach to revealing the process of construction is also found in Fog and Demolition Continues, both black-and-white photographs made with an analog camera, the former depicting a dilapidated or unfinished building in the back plane, and in the front plane a perfectly juxtaposed wooden frame outlining the contours of the building, while the latter depicts in chronophotography a moving contraption in the gaping hole of the debris of a structure.  These photographs not only disclose the sculptural source material of photography, but also are a throwback to early photographers, starting with Etienne-Jules Marey, who experimented with capturing the mechanics of motion and the passing of time.  The histories of urbanization and photography and their inherent correlation to modernity are always a subtext throughout.



Nude, Descending, Stairs reverses Duchamp’s effort to translate chronophotography to painting, as Onorato/Krebs create a painterly work through photographic means.  What results is an assemblage of two images of a female nude descending a staircase, taken from different angles, which are superimposed manually but in different directions, on the backdrop of a metal-link fence and grass, staple features of the modern city.  Reference and meaning multiply into a loop.

The work of Onorato/Krebs is an homage to the technologies of the past.  However the work does not wallow in nostalgia or sentimentality, instead it is humorous and even ironic toward those who tend to glorify those bygone days.  Onorato/Krebs allow us to reflect on our current modes of production, mostly characterized by outsourcing and industrial fabrication, as well as the impact of time on our perception of the world.  With smart references and quotations, Onorato/Krebs develop their own language that is whimsical, thoughtful, and thoroughly constructed.

Froh Aussicht – Art on the Farm

In Art History, Art Reviews, Other, misc. art on August 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Download the Froh Aussicht article from the September/October 2012 issue of Sculpture Magazine: froh Aussicht article

There are many examples of art projects using the natural landscape, of course going back to the Land Art movement of the late 60s and 70s, with artists not only locating their work in nature but utilizing the environment as material, as an existential part of the work.

But there is a new trend taking place in Switzerland with art projects and sculptures being placed and exhibited in the large expanses of the rural areas, thus creating a new way of viewing and appreciating art.  It is helpful to this strategy that people in Switzerland are very physically active, and around any given village or small settlement you will see people with Nordic walking sticks making their way through the green expanse of neighbouring fields for a nice afternoon hike.  This strategy gives a new meaning to the concept of public art and its public…
“Since we began this project, we have had about ten or more local people stopping by daily to check out the artwork on their way to the woods for their regular walks, and this is really new,” says Martin Blum, the founder of Froh Aussicht, a working farm in Canton Zurich which he has also turned into a sculpture garden since 2008.
The project began when Martin met a student at the University of Basel who, knowing about his farm, and about his interest to start an exhibiting venue there, approached him with the idea of using it for a temporary installation.  In the first year two temporary projects were developed and installed: Heavy Cloud by Mia Marfurt, a part of a brick wall inserted into the grazing field of Froh Aussicht’s cows, commenting on the construction development surrounding the farm and its encroachment on the natural landscape, and a study by the collective Airtrain, whose practice is between public art and performance.  Ironically, Heavy Cloud had to be removed in 2010 because it itself was an intervention in the land, and according to Swiss authorities, despite it being private property, it was not safe for the land.  Thus another layer is added to the question of what is private and what is public.
Every year since then, Martin Blum, who is also a practicing artist and farmer, has supported the installation of two projects. The New York-based Swiss artist Christophe Dräger created an electrical maze based on the one in the movie The Shining for the same grazing cows.  The grass underneath the electrical wires grew while the rest was eaten by the cows during the four month duration.  Amazingly, the labyrinth that was formed in true Land Art fashion was visible from space at the end of the four months.  Other artists also integrated the space of the farm and its resources within their projects.  Their interventions were direct responses to the land and the concerns around that very particular space, while others also used the land as a material.
Yet in 2010 a new guest temporarily moved on the farm: the Migros Museum for Contemporary Art based in Zurich and funded by the supermarket chain Migros, hosted an exhibition of sculptures called The Garden of Forking Paths.  The idea came from an existing interest of curator and director of Migros, Heike Munder, in the tradition of “Follies”, architectural constructions popular in 18th century French and English gardens that served no other purpose but to decorate and offer a Romantic element.
The projects in the exhibition, The Garden of Forking Paths, don’t so much utilize the land as material as many of the initial projects do, but rather as an exhibition space and maybe romantic inspiration, exactly as the original follies did two centuries ago.
One of the most humorous sculptures included in the show is a 3m tall snowman made of marble by Swiss artist Peter Regli, part of his Reality Hacking series.  The intervention of a wintry image in the summery landscape of the farm at the time of the exhibition offered a comical juxtaposition, and the material, so full of historical weight and gravitas, poked fun at the seriousness with which many sculptors approach their practice.  But it also alludes to the ambiguous position that the farm occupies in our psyche.  A place of both romantic meditation on nature and our inability to control it, but also the place where we are most in control of nature, where our culture wins over the forces of nature.  Thus a snowman that is made of universally available material during a certain season, snow, is now sculpted out of one of the most precious building stones.
Another interesting project dealing with the duality of nature vs. culture on a farm is Fabian Marti’s Heroic Dose, a small greenhouse decorated with psychedelic swirls in black and white, growing psychoactive plants, including cannabis, opium poppy and others.   The plants that grow in the greenhouse are the ones found in nature, but can be turned into drugs through human intervention, just as agriculture has domesticated plants that grew in the wild.  Therefore the farm is the frontier on which the battle between humans’ power to control their environment and the forces of nature is most bitterly fought.
Then there was the horrible post-modern installation of Liz Craft, the Los Angeles based artist, which really took the idea of the “exclusively decorative architectural element” of the folly to extremes.  Mixing all sorts of materials, bronze, wood, gypsum, and others, as well as styles, Liz Craft creates a mishmash unforgettable for its heavy-handedness.  Ms. Craft went so far as to import a real tree for her installation rather than integrate the existing trees on the farm.  Now that’s real folly…
With the departure of the Migros Musem’s exhibition, Martin Blum is in the process of planning for the upcoming year.  He is currently getting ready to host the production of a music video by Roman Keller & Christina Hemauer, featuring the Rap musician “Big Zis” and in April there will be the opening of a piece by Swiss sculptor Bob Gramsma as well as a performance by Lutz/Guggisberg. In the fall Swiss artist Isabel Krieg will also contribute a sculpture to the ongoing project.
The success of the collaboration with Migros strengthened Martin Blum’s conviction that exhibiting work in this new way is not only good for art but also good for his farm’s business.  Martin estimates that about 3000 people visited the Migros Museum’s exhibition and were thus introduced to contemporary art in an unlikely place, a place of tradition and ritual.  So, not only is the farm a battleground between humans and nature, but it is now, thanks to Martin’s initiative, also a more engaging battleground between the contemporary and the past, where both are set up to learn from each other.

Picks from Art Statements, Art Unlimited and Swiss Art Awards

In Art Reviews on June 16, 2012 at 9:00 pm

After seeing so much art lately, I have to say that I’m a bit burnt out, especially from the sheer quantity of banality that passes for greatness. I’m bored of hearing gallerists and artists throw around the term “conceptual art” for any scribble, blank page, or lack of content and form. Besides the fact that conceptual art was once upon a time interesting when it was first being truly explored in the 60s, I think that now more than ever artists actually have a responsibility to communicate.  Relying only on their “concepts” doesn’t cut it.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t artists whose work is conceptually strong, and who manage to transcend this condition – they are the few that actually make the connection.

Maybe due to overload, or ennui, my benchmark was set quite high this year – that’s why I found the Swiss Art Awards to be rather bland.  There were, however,  a few projects that stood out (unfortunately my choices don’t really coincide with the jury’s).

Navid Tschopp’s live skype projection and conversation between visitor (in the Swiss Art Awards exhibition hall in Basel) and himself (from his Zurich studio) – quite disconcerting (to be talking to a wall…), but fun and truly connective.

Cat Tuong Nguyen’s video of himself performing a street-crossing in mad traffic in Saigon.
(unfortunately I didn’t take a picture).

I am now seeing that I long for humor and social commentary….

Art Statements, like last year, was also rather weak with a few exceptions.

Dominick Lang (whose work I also saw at the Paris Triennale) at Hunt Kastner, Prague

Amalia Pica’s sculptures at Galeria Diana Stigter in Art Statements, really made me laugh – loved her work.

Rokni Haerizadeh’s A Place Beyond Good and Evil, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, was really interesting and mesmerizing even, and the newspaper that was distributed along with the project was also good. It is an animation collaged on top of telecasts of the Iranian protests two years ago, along with Bosch-esque drawings of monsters and creatures on top of newspaper photographs also documenting the Iranian protests.

But by far the best piece in Statements was the video by Martin Skauen, Slideshow Johnny, a personal account of an experimental artist and his influences, but delivered in a hilarious and biting manner.

Then there was Art Unlimited….(unlimited financing for state-of-the art production costs…)
But even here there were some things to choose from.

ARIEL SCHLESINGER’s piece was suspenseful and kinda unsettling…will it explode?
Title | Untitled (Empty Room), 2012
Media | Gas tanks, propane, glass door, nozzle; dimensions variable

It was difficult not to be impressed by DAMIÁN ORTEGA’s installation – very photogenic
Architecture Without Architects, 2010
Mixed-media installation; dimensions variable

Title | Homage to Luis Buñuel, 2012
Media | Installation

Title | untitled: stage, 2011
Media | Timber, polystyrene, paint; overall dimensions: 1297⁄8 x 5311⁄2 x 1967⁄8 inches,
330 x 1350 x 510 cm

MELVIN EDWARDS was the type of conceptual, minimalist art that I wanted to see again and again – very good stuff
Pyramid up and down pyramid, 1970/2012
Barbed wire and chain

And so was ROBERT MORRIS’s eternally relevant and contemporary floor installation, which encouraged the visitor to find a path
Untitled (Scatter Piece), 1968/69
Felt, steel, lead, copper, zinc, aluminum, brass; indeterminate dimensions

Title | Gekröse, 2011
Media | Lacquered aluminum

Title | A Room Full of Lovers, 2012
Media | Steel, chain, and C – clamps

On NINA BEIER’s rug a dog would come and lie down every 10 minutes or so (I missed him) and would play dead.
Title | Tragedy, 2011
Media | Persian rug, dog; edition of 3

The ubiquitous UGO RONDINONE
primitive, 2011
60 parts: cast bronze patinated, stained-glass window, steel frame; site-specific

ALICJA KWADE’s bricolage installation was great
In Circles, 2012
Metal plates, metal pipes, metal mesh, perforated metal, metal rails, steel plates,
steel bar, copper tubes, brass rings, brass rods, euro coins, wood moldings, wood
panels, glass panels, mirrors, door, bricks, window, neon tubes, lacquer, rust;
approx. 280 x diameter 1200 cm

VALENTIN CARRON is the new face of the Swiss Pavilion in the next Venice Biennale
Title | They I you he we, 2012
Media | Wrought iron; 393¾ inches, 1000 cm

Title | The Working Palace (La Scène Primitive, acte Art Basel – Art Unlimited – 2012), 2012
Media | Decor (cyma of variable materials), variable wall sheeting (paper, variable pigments,
laser print on paper), different scenic elements (filament, cord, anatomic models,
paper beadlets …), variable lighting (LED, flashlight, theater spots, fair lighting)

One piece that I didn’t get to experience although I would have loved to was Mike Nelson’s After Kerouac.  The line was gigantic and I was on a tight schedule.


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