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‘I don’t want people to walk out from a group exhibition wondering if there was one of my works in there or if they missed it’ once stated Chuck Close in regard to the gigantic size of his paintings. As many other goals in his career, visibility is one that Close has definitely accomplished. Tony Godfrey’s survey in this issue is respectfully critical, but there are no doubts on where on Close’s art stands today – a fact made even more remarkable by the combative spirit with whom he has faced adversities that would have broken the spirit of many other individuals. Close’s larger-than-life portraits might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his passion and dedication are so inspirational that they deserve all the honours and accolades they have received over the years, last but not least the cover of this issue of RES. Arie Amaya-Akkermans’ deep insight into the ‘Art Cities of the Future’ is matched by Paco Barragán’s interview with German dealer Matthias Arndt, and his decision to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his gallery by opening a second branch in Singapore. Other conversations in this issue include Marc Glöde with Carsten Nicolai on his film work, Eugenio Viola with Marina Dacci, director of the Maramotti Foundation, and Hans Ulrich Obrist with Michael Druks, arguably one of the most influential and unjustly underrated artists from his generation, whereas Kaspar König casts a few lights on the tenth edition of Manifesta. Andrea Kroksnes, Senior Curator at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, tells of her working experience with Maja Bajevic; Finally Declan Long and Lilly Wei complete an already strong issue with their analysis on the work of Elizabeth Magill and Sean Scully. Enjoy the reading. Michele Robecchi
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ART CITIES OF THE FUTURE
ARIE AMAYA-AKKERMANS I S T H E R E A D I F F E R E N C E B E T W E E N encyclopaedic, critical and historical discourse in the arts today? It would be difficult to tell. At a time when both ‘contemporary’ and ‘global’ have come to embody practices rooted in the rootlessness and liquidity of the modern world, the contemporary finds itself exhausted and its critical energy nearly depleted. Once a historical movement, the contemporary is said to have ‘gone too far’; having forgotten its origins at a turning point between art history, theory and praxis. It is seemly no longer aware of the presence of the past as their predecessors knew it. Two solutions have been proposed for this problem: Either melancholy or diversity. The first one is encompassed in the emergence of institutional discourses such as the motto of the Documenta 12 (2007) ‘Ist die Moderne unsere Antike?’ (Is Modernity our Antiquity?) And young market institutions with simultaneous educational and archaeological justifications such as Frieze Masters and the new Dubai Modern. A gaze towards the ‘Other’ embodies the solution of diversity and inclusion. The ‘Other’ is not simply ‘foreign’ but a distinctly separate order ofrepresentation. While a number of artists from the ‘other territory’ have established themselves in the ranks of the so-called international art, such as Mona Hatoum, Doris Salcedo or Anish Kapoor, an imbalance still remains. Phaidon’s book ‘Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes’ is perhaps one of the first serious encyclopaedic surveys of the decentralization of the art world that has encouraged diversity. Taking the city as the basic unit of globalization, the book explores a number of cities that are home to a vibrant homegrown art scene. From Beirut to Bogota, Istanbul to Vancouver, Singapore to Lagos, the ten cities featured stand out for having developed autonomous institutional frameworks for art and from them, having catapulted many young artists into the ranks of international art.
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Before commenting on these institutional frameworks, the question begets itself: What is a city of the future? A recent report by a prestigious financial consulting firm, concluded that the distinguishing feature of a ‘city of the future’ is the seamless combination of global competition and local leadership. Nothing would suggest that this is not the case in the art world; paraphrasing the Colombian curator José Roca, a scene in these cities developed naturally and without the pressure of the art market. ‘Glocal’ art, however, does not necessarily point towards democratization in the art world, but to a number of overlapping paradoxes.
Antonio Caro, Colombia, 1976/2010 Enamel on tin, 70 × 100 cm. Bogotá, Colombia
Gigi Scaria Someone Left a Horse on the Shore, 2007 Digital print on archival paper, 109 × 164 cm. Delhi, India
7 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Nilbar Güreş The Living Room, from the series ‘çırçır’, 2010 C-print, 120 × 180 cm. Istanbul, Turkey
Aslı Çavuşoğlu Murder in Three Acts, 2012 Film and performance Istanbul, Turkey
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Expectations are placed on the normativity of representation of ‘foreignness’ that should always operate within the generic grammar of contemporary art. Accordingly, institutions derive their authority from the ‘contemporary’, whose authority in turn is self-referential. In Istanbul, for example, grand institutions exist that while well-funded and staffed by cutting-edge professionals, play the role of putting Turkey in the art map rather than truly nurturing a scene, for in the words of different art dealers from the city, there’s no conversation about art and not much of an audience either. A small group of local artists stand out internationally, but young artists complain about lack of opportunities and nepotism. A recent panel hosted in Beirut by leading contemporary artists from the city, addressed the question of what is an emerging artist, without reaching a consensus and one of the participants ironically noted: ‘Emerging artist is whoever writes in the applications for residencies that he is’. Although the city produced a prolific number of international artists, they tend to represent abroad extreme narratives either of radical utopianism or cultural pessimism, hardly negotiating critical alternatives. The gallery scene remains very small and conservative, and young artists feel the need to emigrate and succeed abroad in order to be exhibited back home later.
Jungho Oak Anyang City Rainbow: Anyang Stream, 2007 Digital C-print, 70 × 47 cm. Seoul, South Korea
Hodeuk Kim Wave of Mind, Awakening Moment Between, 2011 Ink on Korean paper and water, dimensions variable Seoul, South Korea
The globalization of art, coeval with the emergence of art fairs all over the world and their accompanying biennials and academic conferences, play right into the hands of gentrification and the expansion of financial markets embodied in corporate collections and social responsibility. These phenomena often take place only to the advantage of dealers with international networks, and the impact on art schools on the margins of the centres of art, remains very slow and limited. A Turkish critic recently remarked how ‘expensive’ it is to be in the art world – the need for well paid business jobs to ‘survive in art’, finding money to travel, and securing VIP cards for art fairs and biennials and be seen in the ‘circles’. Year in and out, the trends significantly change. The post 9/11 period saw a curatorial craze to investigate artistic movements in the Middle East, and more recently the consolidation of a few Latin American artists in the grand halls of London and New York – a chain of events that sent shock waves to art advisers all too willing to update their portfolios with new ‘stuff’ from Colombia and Panama. Last year the African art fair in London, coeval with Frieze, made mid-size galleries take an interest in West African and Nigerian art (a curated pavilion on West African art debuted at Art Dubai 2013), which happens to coincide with the financial boom of Nigeria and Uganda. Art galleries, design shops and champagne vending machines are now a sight in the lush districts of highly impoverished cities. The centres of the art world (and the art market itself) are not decentralizing or being replaced anytime soon. The new art cities of the future, under the current realities of the market, will be the art cities of the future insofar as they will be showrooms for the centres of the art world expanding its reach towards a global aesthetics. The global often depoliticizes the agonistic character of these very urban practices reflecting the reality of social and economic conflict, if only by exaggerating them in such a way that the boundary between an imaginary and a document is blurred. Some of these cities will remain at the margins, while others already occupy intermediate spaces, but the major collecting and curating practices remain trends still monopolized from the very centre. RES NOVEMBER 2012
Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a Beirut-based specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East with a focus on Lebanon and Turkey, as well as an assistant curator at Albareh Art Gallery, Bahrain.
Kevin Schmidt Prospect Point, 2007 LightJet print, 188 × 221 cm. Vancouver, Canada
11 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Peju Layiwola Oba Ghato Okper (Long Live the King), 2009 installation with gourds, fishing line and acrylic paint, dimensions variable Lagos, Nigeria
Runo Lagomarsino Against Times, 2010 Dia projection loop of 27 original images in Kodak slide projection carousel with timer SĂŁo Paulo, Brazil
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Mark, 1979 Acrylic on gessoed canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York.
I H A V E A P R O B L E M . There is no doubting the importance of the painter Chuck Close, but every time I go to a museum and see there is an exhibition of Chuck Close my heart sinks. Quite frankly, with some exceptions, his work leaves me cold – unmoved and uninterested. Yet, by any reckoning, he is an important and influential artist. Of course, as always, the US validation (or adulation) machine has worked supremely well: an artist like Close has received many exhibitions, sales, handsome monographs from MoMA, Abrams and Abbeville. There have been many curators and critics (e.g. University professors) ready to discuss his work in an approving way. But quite apart from that he seems so exemplary as an artist: there is no doubting his commitment, his ingenuity or his intelligence. Few artists are as articulate or thoughtful as he is in interviews. Try reading his interview with Vija Celmins for insight and clarity! (1) Or his interview with Kiki Smith. (2) Nor is there any doubting his courage: paralysed from the neck down when a blood vessel broke in his spinal column in 1988 he has fought to regain sufficient body movement to carry on painting as he did before. He studied at Yale in the same years (62-64) as Richard Serra and Brice Marden. He learned, as he remarked later, to talk intelligently about art there but, though what he made was technically excellent, it meant nothing to him for, as he said years later, ‘the first generation abstract expressionists suffered and after that it was a system. We painted out of that system. We weren’t tortured, anguished, alcoholic people. We were art students, for Christ’s sake... I couldn’t do anything but weak impersonations of their work.’ (3) ‘I didn’t want to just make stuff that looked like art. Usually, if stuff looks like art, it looks like someone else’s art.’ (4) In 1967, seeking an out from this trap he gave up his brush and oil paint and began spraying with water based pigments. Seeking to keep that overall surface of abstract expressionism, but without its ‘anguished’ rhetoric he gridded the canvas up and painted photographs meticulously square by square - enlarged. It is important to note that in his thinking at this point he was much closer to conceptual art than to any return to humanist, figure painting. He wanted a system to work with. He hates, indicatively, Francis Bacon. Close’s ‘Big Self Portrait’ (1968) was a ruthless re-presentation of a photo, gridded up and painted meticulously on a vast scale – nearly three metres high. It can still shock: it is so big, but so unheroic. ‘I wanted to make paintings that were big, aggressive and confrontational.’ (5)
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But what could he do next? He did not want to go down the route Warhol had taken of commissioned portraits for New York’s glitterati. He makes paintings, as he says, of heads not faces. And in fact he makes paintings of photograph of heads – sometimes returning to the same photograph again and again. However nowadays he also refers to them as ‘road maps of
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15 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Lorna, 2006 Jacquard tapestry, 261.6 x 200.7 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York.
Cindy, 2006 Jacquard tapestry, 261.6 x 200.7 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York.
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17 Georgia, 1985 Wet pulp paper on canvas, 243.84 x 182.88 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery Photograph by Bill Jacobson.
people’s lives’. Although he has ‘tried to purge my work of as much baggage of traditional portrait painting as I could, (6) ’ his paintings are nevertheless sometimes intriguing as portraits: angry Richard Serra, manic Lucas Samaras and girl next door Cindy Sherman. By 1991 when he organized an exhibition of portraits by others at MoMA he had to admit he had been influenced by his predecessors. Since childhood he has had severe dyslexia and prosopagnosia – acute difficulty in remembering faces. It is difficult to know how this has affected his art or whether his ultra-cool, processorientated approach should be seen as an equivalent to Sol LeWitt’s concepts and coolly obsessive mark-making. In 1992 Close spoke of how he wanted to paint the every bit of painting with the same emphasizes. ‘Now there is no invention at all; I simply accept the subject matter: I accept the situation… I’m not concerned with painting people or with making humanistic paintings.’ (7)
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Such indifference is a common approach in both modernism and post modernism, from James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp onwards. But unlike them there is no teasing in Close, no signs of impish humour or cultural irony. His way of working is too myopic for that: working close up, rarely stepping back. He does details. He himself talks of them as like mosaics done stone by stone. (8) And this where I get lost and uninterested: close up it the works are boring. It doesn’t matter whether as in the early works it is a meticulous simulacrum or in the later ones where each square may be one colour with another colour blobbed on it. It is too much like knitting or filling in for me. Yes, there is a grandeur to those vast early paintings. They are so dumb, so blank, so numbed. But after that? A plethora of different fiddle-faddle techniques: paint put on with thumbprints, grid on the diagonal. So big, so empty, so many. Did he need to make so many?
But it is not how I feel about the photographs. Like the prints the photographs are to a made in collaboration with other people. But he is in control: he knows what he wants and is articulate enough to express it. Re-using the old method of daguerreotype he focuses on faces: the focal range is very narrow: nose and ears will be out of focus: but like the early painting – though they are much smaller - road maps of skin. Wrinkles, hair, dryness and dampness. It is here that he seems to be picking up that intensity that made the earliest paintings so compelling. And that makes me wonder again: is this nonplussed response to most of Close’s work a blind spot in my ‘taste’ or understanding - like Tolstoy’s inability to respond to Shakespeare? NOTES (1) Vija Celmins interviewed by Chuck Close, 1992, in Between Artists: Twelve Contemporary American Artists interview Twelve Contemporary American Artists, LA, A./R.T. Presss, 1996. pp. 17-44 (2) Bomb No. 49 (Fall 1994) pp. 38-45 (3) 1979. Quoted in Robert Storr, Chuck Close, MOMA, 1998, p. 30 (4) Interview with Chuck Close. Barbara Diamonstein, Inside the Art World, New York, 1994, p. 46 (5) ibid. p. 50 (6) Interview with Cindy Nemser, Artforum 8, Jan 1970 p. 53 (7) Vija Celmins interviewed by Chuck Close op. cit. p. 20 (8) Quoted by Deborah Wye in Robert Storr, Chuck Close, MOMA, 1998, p. 71 (9) Quoted in Terrie Sultan, Chuck Close Prints, Exhibition University of Houston, 2003, p. 86.
Photographs courtesy of Ellen Page Wilson (pp. 11, 13), Bill Jacobson (p. 12), and Magnolia Editions (pp. 14, 15). Tony Godfrey has written about contemporary art since 1979. His books include ‘Conceptual Art’ (1998) and ‘Painting Today’ (2009). Until 2009 he lived and worked in London. Since then he has lived and worked in Singapore and Manila. Recent curatorial projects include ‘Marcel Duchamp in South-East Asia’ and ‘Do you Believe in Angels?’ He is currently writing a book on Painting in Indonesia.
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If we compare Close to Vija Celmins or Gerhard Richter’s photorealist paintings he is much more brutal or clinical. There is a pathos, melancholy even, to their work that is absent from Close. Not so much ‘humanism’ as a sense of loss. So, is this obsession with detail mesmeric or geeky for other viewers? It is at its most extreme in the prints – where mezzotint, etching, spit-bite, aquatint, litho, linoleum cut, etc. have all been used by him mediums. He likes techniques and he has worked with brilliant printmaking technicians. He sees printmaking as a creative, not reproductive place: ‘My art is an invention of means rather than an invention of interesting shapes and interesting colours. It is a belief that idea are generated by activity.’ (9) The prints are very popular: collectors like to see lots of techniques too. To their delight his commitment to detail and process leads him to extremes: a woodblock with ninety-five different colours, a mezzotint that is amongst the largest ever made. Personally I am impressed, of course, but unmoved. A technical ‘tour de force’ is not a guarantee of an interesting artwork. In England we sometimes use the acronym SFW – So Fucking What? And that is how I feel about much of the prints
19 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Lucas II, 1987 Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 76.2 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York.
Zhang Huan I, 2008 Oil on canvas, 257.8 x 213.4 cm. © Chuck Close. Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York.
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Big Self-Portrait, 1967 - 68 Acrylic on gessoed canvas, 273 x 212.1 cm Â© Chuck Close Courtesy Pace Gallery, New York Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
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DECLAN LONG A M O N G T H E L A N D S C A P E S F E A T U R E D in Jane Campion’s extraordinary recent T V drama ‘Top of the Lake’, is a place called ‘Paradise’. It is a gloriously open lakeside setting, a place of apparent peace and natural perfection. But it is also a haunted and contested terrain: a site of tragic past events and present-day disputes. For all its overt magnificence, ‘Paradise’ is a strangely uneasy location – and in this way it is entirely typical of Campion’s richly un-reassuring vision of landscape. Travelling beyond the troubled grandeur of the lake, Campion leads us to a variously dreamy and disturbing diversity of forest hideaways – homes to assorted escapees from the constraints of modern life. And though Campion consistently pictures these forest havens with a luminous, high-definition beauty, the aesthetic immersion in nature offers no simple consolations or straightforward lessons. Rather, these woods – like ‘Paradise’ – are envisioned as densely contradictory landscapes, accommodating uncomfortably coinciding perceptions and expectations of place.
Cross-Country, 2013 Oil on canvas, 46 x 51 cm. Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London
A similar kind of concentrated ambiguity regarding the natural world – a disquieting density of potential atmosphere and allusion – characterises the paintings of Londonbased Northern Irish artist Elizabeth Magill. Over the course of her thirty-year career (she graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1984) Magill has been repeatedly drawn to woodlands and wild places – and she draws from them a gorgeous and engrossing multiplicity of visual and sensory ‘description’. From time to time – such as at points in ‘Quasi-Real and Branch-Like’, her 2013 exhibition at London’s Wilkinson Gallery – Magill’s art appears lovingly alert to the precise, actuallyexisting details of forest landscapes. There are so many studied groupings of entwined trees in her paintings, so many acutely observed convolutions of interlocking branches. ‘Dendriform’ (2012), one of several such works featured in the Wilkinson show, employs a title (meaning ‘tree-like form’) that pits generic categorization against the unruly idiosyncrasy of uniquely configured natural relationships. The painting goes close-up on the intimate, entangled togetherness of a busy stretch of forest: a dozen or so thin, twiggy, wind-bent trees, endlessly overlapping and interconnecting, none standing entirely alone as a separate, emblematic entity. ‘Betula Pendula’, also from 2012, takes the Latin name for the silver birch tree as its typological title – as if the sampling and analysis of a distinct species is of critical artistic importance. But backlit with a pallid yellow glow (an edge-of-suburbia sort of illumination, perhaps) each slender, silvery trunk assumes a spectral insubstantiality. In this instance, the trees seem to be disappearing from view, just as Magill carefully singles out their skinny forms for special attention.
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If Magill’s art often involves, then, an embedded but offbeat style of botanical scrutiny – undertaken, no doubt, with intensifying environmental threats to such wild places prominently in mind – a spirit of disconcerting ghostliness is also persistently present. Magill frequently creates woodland scenes with apparently exacting, conscientious fidelity to the given conditions
Mending Wall, 2010 Oil on can, 38.6 x 43.6 cm. Courtesy Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
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25 Underlap, 2014 Oil on canvas, 198 x 178 cm. Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London
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of reality – her paintings are insistently attentive to infinitesimal visual detail – but there is also an abiding and stirring sense of these places as not quite real, or as only ‘Quasi-Real’. For all the intensity of the artist’s gaze, it might be that no single, stable place is fully, objectively ‘there’ to be pictured. Rather, place sometimes emerges in these paintings as a convulsively beautiful amalgam of sensory affects, visual impressions and imaginative possibilities. These landscapes – maybe like all landscapes – are the products of slanted and enchanted perceptions: formed and transformed under the influence of personal memories, potent myths and artistic conventions, as much as from any tangible physical properties. The vital focus of ‘Sighting’ (2012), for instance, might be the long-beaked, white-plumed little bird that sits on a raised branch in the upper part of the picture – a glimpse, perhaps, of a rare but crucially real part of the forest fauna. But the key subject might also be the strange, uncertain material substance of the forest itself. It is a space somehow both inchoate and decomposing all at once. These woods combine organic solidity with other strains of near-translucent, phantasmal growth: we see thick, firm branches twisting around the trunks of other, eerily ethereal and semi-invisible trees, as if this were a meeting not just of different species but of different realities. The declaration of ‘sighting’ here hints at supernatural access: a usually unseen dimension of space is potentially opened up, or the imprint of another moment in time is made evident within the anxiously-held present. Such tentative connections and unlikely proximities bring to mind an observation made by the writer Robert MacFarlane in his book ‘The Wild Places’: ‘within the stories of forests, different times and worlds can be joined’. To contemplate the co-existence of multiple stories and perceptions of place might also, of course, require us to consider occasions when such visions clash. And, indeed, the enlivening sense of visionary capaciousness in Elizabeth Magill’s paintings – the world as we recognise it becoming radically other-worldly – is accompanied by ongoing implications of territorial tension. Particular places are not often identified in any reductive, literal way in Magill’s art, but the assumption tends to linger that wherever we are – and however alien and absurd the content of these pictures becomes – we are not very far from the formative world of her youth in the ‘divided landscapes’ of Northern Ireland. The recent painting ‘Cross Country’ (2013) centres on a towering telegraph pole standing in outlandish, isolated splendour against a spectacular, psychedelic sun: so offering an extravagantly expanded natural context for an everyday structure. But the evident Christian over-tones of the picture – beams of sunlight radiate outwards around the centrally-positioned ‘cross’ at the top of the pole – surely also point to the lasting problems of religion-defined geography in Magill’s home ‘country’. Any such message, however – any obvious telegraphing of guaranteed meaning – remains indistinct. There is no strong definition to these suggestions of political discontent, no clarity to the marks of conflict on the landscape. The 2010 painting, ‘Mending Wall’ (featured in an exhibition at Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery that same year) might be exemplary in this regard. Here is a mostly pale and hazy view of partially forested hillside: an ostensibly ‘open’ space that is hard to bring into perfect focus within a barely penetrable painterly miasma of scratches, strokes, smears and heavy impasto smudges. It is landscape as aesthetic hallucination rather than measured representation. And yet once again the title offers an antithetical insinuation – referencing Robert Frost’s memorable poetic rumination on the ongoing business of maintaining boundaries between neighbouring lands. (A poem, incidentally, that featured for many years on the school curriculum in Northern Ireland). Against the painting’s sublime sense of ‘unfenced existence’ (to borrow a phrase from another poet, Philip Larkin), is an unexpected allusion to the probable presence of lasting, if not always visible, lines of division in the landscape.
27 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Sighting, 2012 Oil on canvas, 168 x 198 cm Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London.
Betula Pendula, 2012 Oil on canvas, 171 x 200.8 cm Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London.
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29 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Sighting, 2012 Oil on canvas, 168 x 198 cm Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London.
A case could be made for Elizabeth Magill’s work as an assiduous and, in extreme moments, artistically turbulent attempt to eradicate all such lines, social and psychological. And in this way, perhaps, her aspirations are against the odds, against logic. Her paintings mix worlds – and words – in ways that intentionally confound sense. A ballet dancer pirouettes on the back of a mule in ‘Ballymule’ (2010): producing from this invented Irish place-name a preposterous, punning collision of situations. As with all of Magill’s later work, this painting’s dizzying effects also arise from a collision of techniques: bewitchingly refined accomplishment combining with more aggressive, excessive gestures. (Martin Herbert, notably, has written of her penchant for ‘painterly rough-housing’). Undoing a painting’s expected composure and coherence seems an essential part of the process. She refuses to let her scenes ‘settle’ – thus leaving us permanently suspended (as another of her titles suggests) in a ‘passage between estrangement and attachment’.
Declan Long is Programme Director of the MA Art in the Contemporary World at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin. He is a contributor to Artforum, Frieze and Source Photographic Review. In 2013 he was a member of the judging panel of the Turner Prize.
Ballymule, 2010 Oil & collage on canvas, 38.6 x 43.6 cm. Courtesy Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
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SEAN SCULLY – THE PAINTER IS PRESENT
LILLY WEI Sean Scully, often named as one of the most accomplished of living abstract artists, is best known for commanding, bigger than life paintings of luminous bands of saturated colour – or ‘bricks’, as he sometimes calls them. Scully has likened his process to the building of a wall and indeed, his paintings suggest walls, as well as windows and doors, the scaffold for his lavishly layered pigments and rhythmic brushstrokes. His evolution has been extraordinarily focused as he grappled – and continues to do so – with the legacies of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and European masters, tacking back and forth between painting’s past, present and future. In hindsight, Scully’s course seemed inevitable but like any artistic odyssey, it was once uncharted, unformulated, drawing inspiration from myriad sources. Scully was born in Dublin in 1945, his family relocating to England four years after. Raised in the working class area of South London, he studied painting at Croydon College of Art in London, graduating from Newcastle University with high honours in 1971. Although he started as a figurative painter, he was soon introduced to the works of Mark Rothko and Bridget Riley and switched to abstraction. Experimenting with complex grids of intersecting lines, his scale varying from very small to enormous, his formal vocabulary was far more austere at the time, his palette largely monochromatic, engaged by Minimalist ideologies that then dominated the discourse. In his show at the Drawing Center in New York in late 2013, works on paper from 1974-75 link his initial explorations of grids and stripes to his most recent work, demonstrating how his thinking, themes and motifs have matured but also remained remarkably similar over four decades. Using acrylic, ink, graphite and masking tape, and including a few notebook sketches and typewritten drawings, often sectioned, they also pointed toward his future multi-panel constructions. One constant of note, among many, is the delicacy of touch in these drawings, a delicacy that appears even in his most muscular paintings, traces, most likely, of his early interest in printmaking and drawing.
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In 1969, while still a student, Scully went to Morocco and later to Mexico, Spain, the south of France, places that greatly affected his artistic trajectory. Always keenly sensitive to place and its specific coloration and light, he was stunned by how vivid the world could be gilded by the steady sunshine of the South, so different from the moody, unreliable light of London. His response was swift, resulting in more sensuous, far less buttoned-up work, an expressive abstraction derived from experience ‘as something felt and something seen’, he said, with an autobiographical narrative running through them that might be called representational, although the polemics of representation and abstraction are of no interest to him.
Grey Red Grey, 1975 Acrylic and tape on canvas, 172.7 x 182.9 cm. © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
33 He began to make watercolours as well as other works on paper, to quickly seize the nuances of the light’s fugitive effects before they vanished. Photography also entered his repertoire, another way to document the transitory that was both objective and emotional. Eventually, Scully established residences in Barcelona, New York and outside Munich, as if to steep himself in both northern and southern light, each with its own revelations. Drawn to opposites, he also has a profound affinity for barren, primitive places, the Aran Islands, the Southwest desert among them, where he could confront ‘essential truths’, once observing that ‘painting is primitive. In 1972, he came to the United States on a yearlong graduate fellowship to Harvard University. The country suited him and he returned in 1975, becoming an American citizen eight years later. By 1981, he had stopped taping his stripes and began to paint freehand, layering the paint, the brushwork visible, colour and space now of paramount importance. He then explored works on panels, in which the clarity of geometric form was made more expressive, more dramatic through texture and colour. A few years later, the paintings became increasingly architectonic and assertive, soon including the insertion of smaller canvases into larger ones. A few years after that, he began to show with increasing frequency, in great demand internationally and in the United States, his works widely collected by major museums, art institutions and privately. He recalled his second trip to Mexico, in 1983 or 1984, where he visited the ruins of Chichén Itzá, Palenque, Copán, Uxmal and lesser known sites, each with its own ‘mystical presence,’ he claimed, seduced by the play of light across the ancient stone walls, the Mayan, a ‘culture of walls and light.’ Scully was attracted to their weight, their stacked, interlocked construction and the way the light altered their appearance: ‘ …a yellow in the morning will be pale and it will be deep orange in the afternoon. And a green will change to gray in the morning and to a strange blue-black colour at night’. He was very responsive to that kind of stimuli and compared his studies of colour and light to those of Monet and Cézanne. On that trip, he made a small watercolour, ‘a little wall’ composed of blocks that were ‘vaguely geometric’, as the artist described it. Scully called it ‘Wall of Light’ and put it away but in 1998, after many subsequent trips to Mexico, it resurfaced as the title of an ongoing series of works that number in the hundreds, the great undertaking of his life. It consists of oil paintings, watercolours, pastels and aquatints, characterized by a variable, all-over, post-and-lintel-like arrangement of bundled vertical and horizontal bars, a version of the grid that is a Scully staple. Within that structure, the colours responded to each other in smooth and jarring syncopations that complicate the composition’s more regular geometries, a dialectical mode that has long been another constant in the artist’s lexicon.
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They are usually associated with events in Scully’s life and the places they were painted, their titles reflecting the location, such as ‘Chelsea Wall I’ (1999), the first work he made in his Manhattan studio and ‘Wall of Light Desert Night’ (1999), based on a trip through the Nevadan desert. With its glimmering light and modulated tonalities, it is one of the series’ highlights. Returning to Las Vegas from the Valley of Fire at sunset, the light
Change #22, 1975 Acrylic and tape on paper, 54.8 x 77.4 cm. © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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Sean Scully, 1975 Horizontals #1 Acrylic, tape, ink and graphite on paper, 55.7 x 75.9 cm Private Collection © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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Night and Day, 2012 Oil on aluminum, 279.4 x 812.8 cm. Â© Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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37 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Chelsea Wall #1, 1999 Oil on linen, 279.4 x 335.3 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
fading, he was astonished by the array of extraordinary colours he saw – blue, rose, blacks, silvery and matte greys—in the shadows cast by the jagged, prehistoric rock formations flooding the rough floor of the desert. He painted it as soon as he could, seizing, in one exhilarating session, a transcendent moment, translating it first into the materiality of paint and then into something less tangible, more poetic, more poignant. At the exhibition of recent paintings in Chelsea at Cheim and Read, on view at approximately the same time as the drawing show of early works, some were additions to the ‘Wall of Light’ series. They are even more assured, the brushwork confident, as loose and lush as it has ever been, the colours resonant, the eye revelling in the visceral, idiosyncratic laying of his ‘bricks’. Others are from a new sequence, ‘Landlines,’ consisting at times of woozily stacked bands of juicy colours that reach from edge to edge, bleeding into each other a little where they meet, leaking a flash of light here and there, another affirmation of paint and the handmade. The imposing, multi-panel ‘Night and Day’ (2012) was the most immersive of the works installed, its dissonant, unpredictable rhythms the beat that animates its extensive surface. Stretching outward almost 27 feet and rising above 9 feet, the dimensions are architectural, approximating a real wall. Its presence, less quantifiable, makes the painting seem even bigger than its actual size. A symphonic range of greys, whites and blacks, brooding but sonorous, its wintry sheen raw but also tender, it is reminiscent of the colour and light of the Bavarian countryside where he painted it. Scully has said that there is a yearning in abstraction, an appeal to the human soul that can’t be expressed in any other form of painting, that doesn’t make illustrations of things that already exist in the world, but instead goes deeper than appearances. He remains, it is apparent, an unapologetic Romantic whose strength is in what he has called his simplicity, staking all on the intuitive, the experiential. It is the independent position of an independent artist, rooted in a lifelong, deeply felt belief that art matters, life matters, that they are inseparable, and a muddle of pigment can conjure both.
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Lilly Wei is a New York-based art critic, art writer, journalist and independent curator whose focus is contemporary art. Her most recent curatorial project was ‘The Compromised Land: Recent Photography and Video from Israel’ at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, New York. Wei was born in Chengdu, China and has an MA in art history from Columbia University, New York.
Wall of Light Pink, 1998 Oil on linen, 274.3 x 304.8 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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Wall of Light Desert Night, 1999 Oil on linen, 274.3 x 335.3 cm. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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Doric Brown, 2009 Oil on alu-dibond, 273.8 x 411 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
Wall of Light, 1999 Oil on linen, 203.2 x 190.5 cm. © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
41 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Landline Deep Blue, 2014 Oil on aluminum, 215.9 x 190.5 cm © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
Cut Ground Light Blue, 2010 Oil on linen, 280.2 x 224 cm. © Sean Scully Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
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FUTURE PAST PERFECT: A CONVERSATION WITH CARSTEN NICOLAI MARC GLÖDE MARC GLÖDE I would like to start with a question about the concept for the whole series of films ‘Future Past Perfect’ (2009-ongoing). Can you elaborate on the main idea behind it? CARSTEN NICOLAI I started the series about eight years ago, maybe a bit earlier. My initial idea was to make a diary. I knew that I wanted to make a film, but I have a problem with narratives – all my work is very much resisting the idea. My strategy was to imagine the best possible film I could make and shoot only one scene out of it. I intentionally did not play a single note for one year, allowing that particular scene to continuously resurface. In a way each film represents the year when the scene was shot. As a result, the four short films have no connection to each other. Actually, they are pretty much disconnected but they somehow represent what I imagine a big movie should have in part. That’s why I used the word diary to describe them. Together, the four films were made over a period of six or seven years – there were years where I couldn’t make it. I needed more time. I think I will continue though. There are a few more ideas baking for the future. MG Does that mean that every film can change the direction of what’s going to happen next? I mean, were you surprising yourself in the process? CN There is no big masterplan behind it. Basically it is a very personal review of myself – the space between my imagination and what I want to do. This piece is pretty much disconnected from rest of my work. It’s more like a personal sketchbook. That was maybe also the reason why I refused to show these films for a long time. I wanted them to lead an almost secretive existence, but I guess in the end I didn’t succeed… I was always thinking that I could have more –three didn’t seem enough. It was only when the fourth one was completed that I felt in a position to accept the offer of screening them alltogether. MG What is very interesting to me is how you decided the running order. Was it already clear to you when you started that ‘Sononda’ was going to be the first film? CN ‘Sononda’ was the first film I shot but the editing process took a long time. It was followed by the third one, ‘U_09-1’, because I was struggling with finding the location for the second one, ‘Cité radieuse’. I was looking for a house that had a certain architectural complexity but it was impossible to shoot in the first one I had in mind because it was so tiny. Eventually Le Corbusier came up and I thought it was perfect. As a result, I made the second film much later. The running order is dictated by ideas rather than by execution. RES NOVEMBER 2012
MG When I watched ‘Sononda’ for the first time, what was fascinating for me was the in-between mode that I found myself in. I felt captured between something artificial and natural, and I couldn’t
Future past perfect pt. 01 (Sononda), 2010 HD video, 07:28 min.
45 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Future past perfect pt. 02 (citÃ© radieuse), 2012 HD short movie on blue ray disc, 07:43 min.
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47 CN The main footage from ‘Sononda’ is not computer generated. It was shot in a canyon in Arizona. It is a beautiful place and I tried not to show where it was made. I wanted to keep it a secret and maintain some sort of ambivalence. I work with a lot of computer generated and abstract images all the time. I very much enjoyed shooting abstract footage with the camera, especially the first and the fourth film. Nevertheless, as you mentioned, these films have both such a degree of abstraction that you can see a connection to computer animation. MG Another thing that came to mind was a certain tradition of visual music. It was striking – I was asking myself, am I actually hearing this sound or am I hearing the optical momentum? There was this sensorial transition between the visual and the accoustic sphere that I found amazing. Is this something that was inspiring you or that you had a special interest in? CN I wrote a lot of music that has been used for films. In a way one could say that the way I approached the music in these films was very classical. The great thing was to be involved in the filming and the music at the same time. The soundtrack was made after storyboarding and shooting but before editing. That is pretty unusual, because normally you only work on the soundtrack once you have an edited version of the film. The decision of how to edit the music dictated how I wanted to edit the film. The last film, ‘Stratus’, is made from still photography. In the end, as a film, it is shaped by the music. MG The question of how to present the films seems to be a key point as well. You said already that the whole series wasn’t shown yet in theatres except for the one that was screened at the Oberhausen Filmfestival. In ‘U_09-1’ it becomes very obvious that there is an interest in the machine, or, more specifically, on how you work with machines, and how bringing these experiences into a film context challenges the cinematic machine. Furthermore, this aspect leads us directly to your second film, which is also dealing with a very important machine – the Unité d’Habitation and Le Corbusier’s idea to rethink the house as a machine to live in. CN The film shot in Japan with the vending machine has a very Kraftwerkian approach. It is pretty obvious. In the end the machine performs a piece of music in front of this guy who simply tries to buy a cup of tea. Maybe my work gives machines the space they need to have their own spirit, their own soul. We talk all the time about ghosts in the machine when we work with analog systems, more specifically when we know that what is happening is unpredictable. In this very cold machinery environment, there is a certain kind of unpredictable life inside, and that is a funny interpretation of the ghost in the machine idea – malfunctioning machines. I like ‘Malfunction’ both as a topic and as a word.
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MG One of the things that was said about Le Corbusier for a long time was that he produced good ideas but malfunctioning machines. Some versions of the Unité d’Habitation didn’t work out and it was only after some time that it became fancy to live in them again. And of course they were subsequently rediscovered as cultural icons. But how was it for you to approach the reality of the Unité? Was there a malfunctioning point to it?
CN Actually, I wasn’t so keen about Le Corbusier from the beginning. The first building I had in mind was a metabolistic building structured like a capsule hotel that I saw in Tokyo. It was very modular, but at the same time each of the rooms was so personal because of the people who lived inside. Ultimately I couldn’t film in the building because it was so compressed there wasn’t even the space for the camera. Then I discovered Unité d’Habitation and the concept of Cité radieuse, the vertical city, and so on. In a way I myself grew up in such a building – a kind of stripped down East German version of that. I tried to make ‘Cité radieuse’ as beautiful as possible. To be honest I was really depressed when I saw the final edit without the music. The shooting itself was actually not easy but I loved the building and the mythology around it. I wanted to communicate that the building is a living organism. In a way it is a machine, as you said, but I like to think about it also as an organism. My film is a portrait of that. What was interesting for me was that I asked Ryuichi Sakamoto, who I am often collaborating with, to write the music. I asked him to come up with a kind of children’s melody in order to give lightness to the more dark and depressing images. MG At the same time the whole building develops its own rhythm. The rhythm obviously comes out of the music, but the building itself seems to have a rhythm. Maybe that leads back to your idea of organism and the heartbeat of the machine we were talking about earlier on. CN The building is pretty much like a complex grid. It’s not so easy to understand it at first, but as a grid it has a rhythm and I tried to follow it. When you are outside, on the top, where the kindergarden is, the film becomes very sculptural and very, let’s say, artistic. The chimneys are the final image. I guess I approached it as a sculpture and not just as a building, a machine, or an organism. MG Rhythm leads us to the third film, U_09-1’, that for me personally was really the big surprise when I was sitting with the audience in the Oberhausen Film Festival. I was stunned since it has a narration, at least for a Carsten Nicolai film. At the same time there was another side to it, which was purely physical. These dynamics bring me back to other works that you do, and even though you said you try to avoid ‘narrative’, the narrative momentum comes across as a key aspect that you present and challenge at the same time. Could a pixel tell its own story, and say, ‘Hey, look at me. This is how I work, this is how I function’, and have a beautiful narrative running parallel to the main story? CN ‘U_09-1’ has indeed a narrative background, and even an actor. Probably it was the most demanding film I’ve ever made. It was also the first time where I was thrown into a situation where I felt like a proper director because we had a production team. At the same time you can see it is almost like a music video. The soundtrack is from one of the tracks from my solo album. It has this kind of double life. That was also the reason why it was shown in Oberhausen. MG Your last film, ‘Stratus’, returns to various aspects of your practice like your interest in flat surfaces, or the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm. CN These are themes that I have been following for years and have been inherent to my work for a long time. I have photographed and collected still images of clouds for thirteen years and at some point I thought about making a short movie about it. I started filming short clips out of this material, likeshort sequences. I was shooting clouds during all my travels, while I was sitting in
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make a decision about which side I was on. This seems to resonatie with what you do in your other visual work – those moments where you can’t decide what is natural, what our definitions are, and what it means to move towards the boundary that separates this binary structure.
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the plane. I would always try to book a window seat on the far end or on the far front in order to have the possibility to shoot. Of course it doesn’t happen very often to have such a dense cloud surface that results in images where you cannot tell if it is a cloud or some microscopic structure. So yes, I think it was pretty much about macroscopic and microscopic structures from the beginning. This last film was interesting because on the one hand it had the smallest crew involved, and on the other hand it was the project that had the biggest amount of pre-existing material. We had to go through three thousand photographs of clouds. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the film to be, but I had the feeling that there wasn’t enough material. So I started shooting clouds again for at least another six months. Later I chose to adopt some interesting editing criteria, for example in the scene where you feel like you go deeper and deeper inside of the structure. This was actually generated from another piece I made in 2012 where I tried to apply some psycho-acoustic ideas to the visual dimension – an effect called ‘chapel sound’. It is an effect where the sound is rising in a specific frequency range and then you are fading it out at the moment of introducing the next tone. The result is that the sound seems to be constantly rising or falling although it’s actually not the case – it’s just an impression. So my idea was to apply the same logic to the editing process. MG Another film that I have in mind – almost as a counter point to what you have just explained – is Charles & Ray Eames’ ‘Powers of Ten’. It deals with a fully intact organization of micro- and macrocosms. It seems to me that in your films it is exactly the other way around – the challenge is to go deeper into something, maybe to lose yourself in little fluffy clouds, instead of being capable to seperate and organize a spatial field. CN The Eames’ films are a wonderful reference – thank you. However, I think what I was doing here was to stay strongly focused on the cloud topic. I have been fascinated with clouds for a long time and I believe they have been a source of fascination for a lot of artists for many centuries. But my films are more structuralistic rather than narrative. MG Finally, I wanted to ask you, if there is a fifth film in the making that you can talk about? CN I’m planning a fifth film although I am struggling a little with it the moment. I will not talk about it in detail now, I can only say that it involves a living thing – an animal actually. So it will take a lot of time, a very specific location, and a lot of permissions. Carsten Nicolai (Chemnitz, Germany, 1965) is an artist and a musician. He participated to international group exhibitions like Documenta 10 in Kassel and the 49th and 50th Venice Bienniale. Nicolai’s work was also the subject of large solo presentations at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich and CAC in Vilnius. Under the stage name Noto (or Alvas Noto), Nicolai has also enjoyed a successful career in electronic music, collaborating with musicians such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryoji Ikeda, Blixa Bargeld, Michael Nyman, Mika Vainio, Thomas Knak and Olaf Bender, and performing in club and concert halls as well as art venues like the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Kunsthaus Graz and Tate Modern in London. Marc Glöde is a curator and art critic based in Berlin and Zurich. He has taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden and The Free University of Berlin, and since 2012 he is working as Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. His most recent curatorial projects include ‘ABC – Art Berlin Contemporary’ (Berlin, 2010-2012), ‘(Re)locating the Self’ (Y8, Hamburg, 2011) and ‘Filmic Reflections on the Document’ (Videonale, Bonn, 2011). Since 2008 he is curator of the Art Basel’s Film Programme. His writing has been published in Art in America, Fantom, Texte zur Kunst, Parkett, and X-TRA Magazine among others.
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Future past perfect pt. 03 (u_08-1), 2009 HD short movie on blue ray disc, 03:43 min
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Future past perfect pt. 04 (stratus), 2013 HD short movie on blu ray disc, 04:24 min
53 (1) Carsten Nicolai, Future Past Perfect pt. 01 (Sononda), 2010 HD video, 07:28 min. Sononda is the first part of the short film series future past perfect and was originally recorded in 2006. The series whose single fragments are supposed to be parts of a larger scale film project is designed as a row of conceptually independent movies that document Nicolai’s focus of interest of the respective year of origin and also builds up on the results of the movie(s) before. Despite Sononda’s visual quality seems artificial at times, it was shot in a natural environment. The focus is directed on the sculptural quality of light. The correspondence of both music – with its low frequency modulations and merging soundscapes – and light play on the curved surfaces of the sculptural stone formations create an ever-changing atmosphere of concrete and abstract appearances. Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and Pace Gallery, New York/London/Beijing (2) Carsten Nicolai, Future Past Perfect pt. 02 (cité radieuse), 2012 HD short movie on blue ray disc 07:43 min. In a short cinematic essay, the second part of the series of short movies called ‘Future Past Perfect’ illustrates the issue of the individual that is brought into line with a vertically organised social structure. Shot at Le Corbusier’s unité d’habitation in Nantes (also called cité radieuse), the film concentrates on the modular system applied for the residential building which finds its expression down into the smallest details of design: doors, windows, taps, door handles, light switches, etc. constitute the inhabitants living space through their standardised forms. The cinematic result is a combination of consecutive sequences of single images and tracking shots of various details inside the apartments and on the hallways of the apartment block. Thereby, both the different benchmarks of standardized production are correlated and the reciprocity of the built-up environment with the inhabitants individual appropriation are examined. Courtesy by the Artist and Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and Pace Gallery, New York/London/Beijing VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. (3) Carsten Nicolai, Future Past Perfect pt. 03 (u_08-1), 2009 HD short movie on blue ray disc, 03:43 min. Conceived as the third part of the series under the name future past perfect, the short film introduces a narrative story that was inspired by a fascination for automation processes as well as on codes and grids that materialized in the record ‘Alva Noto. Unitxt’ (2008). The series itself started in 2006 and is designed as a row of conceptually independent movies that document Nicolai’s focus of interest of the respective year of origin and also builds up on the results of the movie(s) before. A quiet autumn night in Tokyo. a man stops his car at a shop front with a number of vending machines to get a last drink of tea on his way home. He inserts a coin, but instead of the usual procedure, the machine starts performing its own peculiar performance. Actor: Kyusaku Shimada Sound: Alva Noto Voice: Anne-James Chaton Director: Carsten Nicolai 2nd director: Simon Mayer Music: Alva Noto, unitxt u_08-1, taken from Alva Noto, ‘Unitxt’ (Raster-Noton, 2008) Courtesy by the Artist and Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and Pace Gallery, New York/London/Beijing VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. (4) Carsten Nicolai, Future Past Perfect pt. 04 (Stratus), 2013 HD short movie on blu ray disc, 04:24 min. Conceived as the fourth part of the series under the name future past perfect, the short film is the result of a long-term fascination with clouds, their movements, structure/texture, and their potentially infinite variety of forms. Shot from the plane on various trips, the sequences of cloud imagery are edited and collaged in different ways to match the diverse qualities of constitution and behaviour of clouds. the short movie especially focused on so-called stratus clouds, a category of clouds that usually appears rather flat, hazy and featureless. Their visual quality as seen from above may imply micro and macro structures at the same time thus potentially deceives the viewer’s perception. Photos: Carsten Nicolai Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzg/Berlin and Pace Gallery, New York/London/Beijing
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NOTES for images
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strategy pointing at the will to present a consistent and unitary vision of the choices being conceived in order to place Italian and international research in a dialectical relationship within a close narrative from the second post-war period to the present day. Or is this a case of professional bias on my part?
EUGENIO VIOLA EUGENIO VIOLA Let me start our interview with a deliberately ‘politicallyincorrect’ question. Collezione Maramotti is a private collection originating from a fashion brand, Max Mara, and open to the public. This is a clear example of modern patronage, of a compulsion lying between fetish possession and generous sharing. In many similar experiences, understanding whether an artwork belongs to the collector or rather the opposite, is not always an easy task, and consequently whether the planning and related acquisitions by the collection are directly linked to the collector’s taste or not. How do things stand in the Maramotti family?
Chantal Joffe Moll with the Cat, 2014 Oil on canvas, 213.5 x 152.5 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Victoria Miro Gallery, London
MARINA DACCI First of all I should clarify that Collezione Maramotti is not a corporate collection. Max Mara supports the Collection from a financial point of view to guarantee visitors’ admission and the provision of all related cultural services completely free of charge, but it does not in any way interfere with the cultural and artistic choices pertaining to the Maramotti family. Of course Achilles Maramotti was a businessman who created the Max Mara fashion company, but the two activities have followed two parallel courses without ever merging together.
Your question about whether an artwork belongs to the collector or vice versa, with the collector belonging to the artwork, is quite pertinent. If you go to our website dedicated to the collection and its projects, you’ll see that we have ‘borrowed’ a sentence from Walter Benjamin as an ideal ‘introduction’ to the meaning of collecting. Perhaps the most deeply hidden motive of people collecting can be described in this way: they take up the struggle against dispersion. Right from the start great collectors are struck by the confusion, by the scatter in which the things of the world are found. The drive behind gathering and collecting is not in conflict with the idea of sharing one’s passions. In essence, the artwork lies in the eye of the beholder and belongs only to itself. As evidence of this, the Collection offers its visitors a fruition model which accompanies them without interfering with a personal approach and interpretation. Understanding a story of collecting does not necessarily mean following the same codes of artistic taste and interpretation, but simply establishing a contact and sharing impressions, choices and passions to develop individual reflections. We only provide some rules of engagement – the time needed to establish a consistent contact with art, and advance booking, which enable us to make each visit a personal experience.
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EV My question stems from a curator’s point of view. The guidelines of the collection seem to favour languages linked to the ‘reason for paintings’, connecting the original core of the collection, started by Achille Maramotti, to its more recent explorations. In general, this seems to me a precise
MD Many ask which criteria are applied to choose the artists who are invited to collaborate with the collection. Exploring the collection just once would be enough to answer the question. There has always been a strong attention paid to painting for its ability to remain vital, to renew itself with the passing of time also in a dialogue with new media. Likewise, there is a rather strong attention being paid to the metaphysical aura of the works and the archetypical dimension which seem to lie at the basis of many artists represented in the collection. In order to assure continuity to the collection (which has been going on without interruption since the 1960s) these focusing points lie also at the basis of the choices made by the artists being invited today. This consistency, which certainly set the collection apart from a strong market connotation, has contributed to give it a strong ‘personality’ on the art scene, together with the fact that no circuit exhibitions are displayed, but instead real commissions and production projects that are then acquired and at times exported abroad. EV I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the collection and the building connected to it. It was originally born as the historical headquarters of the Max Mara group, which has always exhibited, even during its previous life as a manufacturing facility, a selection of the works from the collection, as its founder believed that their presence would engender a stimulating alliance between creativity and manufacturing. This is an ante litteram humanistic approach quite close to the one developed by Adriano Olivetti just a few years earlier. MD You’re right. From an architectural point of view the first Max Mara manufacturing plant was one of the first Italian examples of brutal organic architecture housing an industrial production plant. Designed by two young architects in close cooperation with the owner, at the time 1957, it was considered very innovative and is still today a very flexible structure in its role of cultural facility. For its restyling, the choice has been to preserve the original materials and project layout, and to update technological fixtures to make them suitable to house art works safely. The choice of refitting this space from a facility for industrial production to a venue of artistic production has also some ‘sentimental’ reasons which emphasize a strong relationship with the memory of what was once housed there, its links with the territory and also the exhibition of artworks purchased with the designers who worked there when it was a manufacturing plant. It was about learning how to see in order to offer fashion designers a different reading of the present and an anticipation of the future. The same sharing spirit did drive the collector’s heirs to open the doors of a private space to other art lovers, totally free of charge – sharing the vision and feelings that art gives freely. The first two floors of the building display the historical collection starting from the Italian New Avant-garde and exploring the international art scene down to the years 2000. There are more than two hundred works on display, from Lucio Fontana to Francis Bacon, from Osvaldo Licini to Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni to Pino Pascal, Jannis Kounellis to Michelangelo Pistoletto, Trans-Avant-garde, the rooms dedicated to German art with Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Jörg Immendorf, the long relationship with American art from Eric Fischl to Alex Katz, from Julian Schnabel to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and also Peter Halley,
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COLLEZIONE MARAMOTTI / MARINA DACCI
57 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Eric Fischl Birthday Boy, 1983 Oil on canvas, 214 x 214 cm. © Eric Fischl
Laure Prouvost Farfromwords car mirrors eat raspberries when swimming through the sun, to swallow sweet smells, 2013 Exhibition view, Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia © Laure Prouvost. Photo courtesy of Dario Lasagni
Tom Sachs, Ellen Gallagher, Christopher Wool… The ground floor houses three spaces for temporary exhibitions for new projects, a nice library and the archive open to scholars and researchers, with its documents, bibliographic materials and artist’s books created by the artists whose works are carried by the collection.
on the art scene. Finally, Collezione Maramotti wants to provide a narrative, and as such visitors should bring back from it an experience that reflects the Maramotti family’s commitment. The founder’s long journey of discovery and appreciation of art is presented in the highlights of the permanent collection, alongside the most recent commissions displayed on a regular basis in the temporary exhibition spaces.
EV Over the past few years Collezione Maramotti has achieved an international reputation as one of the most interesting centres for production and exhibition of contemporary art. Can you tell me something about the mission of Collezione Maramotti?
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MD Perhaps we may summarise it in three main points. Collezione Maramotti is first and foremost an independent private entity which does not receive any public fund, and therefore is fully accountable for its choices in terms of consistency, expected results, and quality and processes determined in total autonomy. Second, it’s a private space. Of course a private collection is not a museum and should not try to imitate one – they have different missions and ways of choosing, educational purposes and impacts on their audiences. But I believe that it would be nice and important for art audiences to have access to different levels of research for a variety of views
EV I would like to ask you a few more technical questions. Are the works in the Collection exhibited on rotation? And if so, how? And how do you proceed with new acquisitions? How do you develop the program of exhibitions and collateral activities? Have you planned an enlargement of exhibition spaces in the near future? MD The choice of how and what to exhibit in the permanent collection has been one of the most important themes discussed before the opening of the collection to the public. The choice has been to display a series of works that were representative of the chronological development of the collection. Next to these historicized works, there are on display works by artists who did not reach the same levels of notoriety although they were equally significant at the time
59 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Collezione Maramotti Exhibition view with artworks by Julian Schnabel and Alex Katz Photo courtesy of Dario Lasagni
Collezione Maramotti Exhibition view with artworks by Ellen Gallagher Photo courtesy of Dario Lasagni
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61 EV Would you like to talk a bit about your experience as the director of Collezione Maramotti? MD The so-called ‘enterprising’ culture of the collection starts from the assumption that any well-organized project is the result of effective teamwork infusing each process with active participation and enthusiasm. Therefore the ‘collection project’ sees the participation of many subjects –the vision and passion of the Maramotti family, who continue to believe and invest in culture, which is then passed on to our staff working with the artists in all the stages of the process with flexibility, responsibility and sense of belonging. We do not truly believe that the success of a project depends on a single person because this would mean that this model is fragile. EV It seems to me that multiple guidelines are found in the Collezione, including a system of collaborations with Italian and international institutions. I’m referring to the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, organized together with the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, in its fifth edition this year, or the partnership established even before the opening of the Collezione to the public, with the Parsons The New School for Design of New York. Can you tell me something about these two experiences? MD Alongside the two main activities of the Collection there are other collateral projects and activities. The Max Mara Art Prize, that initially saw the partnership between Max Mara and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, has been further enriched by a collaboration with the Collezione which, besides housing, exhibiting and acquiring the winner’s project, actively participates in the organization of the six-month residence of the winning artist in Italy, thus becoming a full third partner.
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Another project started in 2009 in collaboration with Teatri di Reggio Emilia is Festival Aperto. It consists in the production of site-specific performances combining together dance and visual art in non-theatrical settings. In the Collection premises, we have planned and presented performances with Trisha Brown, Shen Wei and Mc Gregory. The third is the participation in the annual Festival of Photography in Reggio Emilia, which brings to town one of our specific projects where photography and our experience merge. The same is also true for the Parsons New School for Design, with which Max Mara has collaborated for more than fifteen years supporting young talented students of the photography course, and with their works being acquired and exhibited in New York.
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of their acquisition. The itinerary through the 43 rooms of the permanent collection is a walk inside a personal story, a biography made of images. If we start from this assumption, rotating the artworks on display according to an outside critical-curatorial interpretation would be meaningless. Of course, the remaining part of the collection, which shares the same approach with what is on exhibit permanently, may be displayed in temporary thematic exhibitions together with special commissions, as it has been done several times in the past. The space has in fact turned into a critical element, as all the new commissions are acquired after being exhibited, and this would certainly call for a logistical solution. As for exhibitions, there is a year planning defined on a regular basis and discussed with the collectors in a sort of informal board meetings. Now the collection organizes around three to four productions a year plus the exhibition in the ‘Fotografia European’ circuit.
Michelangelo Pistoletto Lui e Lei abbracciati, 1968 Tissue paper on stainless steel, 120 x 100 cm. © Michelangelo Pistoletto
63 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Laure Prouvost Swallow, 2013 Film still, digital video Courtesy of Laure Prouvost, Collezione Maramotti and MOT International, London/Brussels
EV Which are the upcoming projects of Collezione Maramotti? MD In autumn there will be an interesting exchange on female identity by two women artists – Alessandra Ariatti and Chantal Joffe. One is Italian, one is British, and both have focused their artistic research on portraits, mostly of women, but starting from totally different research approaches and with different formal outcomes.
Marina Dacci is the Director of Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia. She was Head of the Department of Culture of City of Reggio Emilia and general coordinator of the first edition of the European Week of Photography (Fotografia European), an event that takes place every year in the city since 2006.
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Eugenio Viola (Naples, 1975) is a Phd, art critic and Curator at Large at MADRE, The Contemporary Art Museum of Naples, where he is working since 2009. He is a scholar of theories and practices related to the performance art. His writing has appeared in Flash Art, artforum.com and Exit Express. He has edited several catalogues and crated a number of exhibitions in Italy and abroad, including Francis Alÿs (MADRE, Naples, 2014); Mark Raidpere (EKKM The Contemporary Art Museum of Tallinn, 2013) and Marina Abramović (PAC, Milan, 2012).
Jason Dodge A permanently open window, 2013 Permanent installation © Jason Dodge Photo Courtesy of Dario Lasagni
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Gerhard Richter Kleiner Liegender Akt, 1967 Oil on canvas, 90 x 107 cm.
67 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, 16-17 November 2013 Scavenger Site specific performance Courtesy of Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia Photo Courtesy of Dario Lasagni
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CONVERSATION WITH KASPER KÖNIG
MICHELE ROBECCHI MICHELE ROBECCHI I understand you have been dealing with the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg on the occasion of your work as curator of Manifesta 10 at the Hermitage Museum. Given your experience with the Städelschule in Frankfurt, what kind of difference did you encounter between art education in Russia and in Germany? KASPER KÖNIG Well, the Academy in St. Petersburg is really academic, but it’s academic as kind of a joke. For example, painting students are asked to copy a painting their professor has copied from a previous professor. MR Well, that actually sounds fairly conceptual. (laughs) KK I know. (laughs) Regrettably it’s not intentionally conceptual. It’s a self-serving academic position, although admittedly a curious one. My involvement with the Academy during Manifesta started because of Pawel Althamer, whom I wanted to have in the show. He was trained as a figurative sculptor and has subsequently maintained this aspect very much alive in his work by portraying his family as dolls with the aid of friends and students. The two positions – one more academic, one more contemporary – are interrelated in his practice, and I liked the idea of bringing him to St. Petersburg to work within the Academy. But then he invited Artur Zmijewski as a potential collaborator, and Zmijewski is a very orthodox figure, very radical, and the playfulness disappeared. So I gave a lecture at the Academy instead. I’m not mentioning this as an alibi though – it’s just to say that there have been so many complications with this edition of Manifesta. And sometimes it’s good to hear what they are and to talk about it. MR Were any of the artists you invited intimidated at all by the idea of showing their work in a venerable institution like the Hermitage? KK Yes, and understandably so. But they could undercut it if they wished so. For example Francis Alÿs re-enacted a road trip (‘Lada Kopeika Project’, 2014) that originally didn’t work out the way he had planned. When he was seventeen or something, he and his brother wanted to go to Leningrad with a Russian car. It broke down along the way and they never made it. So now they’ve done it again and the car ended up parked in the courtyard of the entrance of the Hermitage, as if it crashed against a tree. There was a long discussion with the directors about how to make this happen, and when eventually it did, everybody threw up their arms. It’s a bit like a ‘before and after’ the Soviet regime. This was one of the many taboos we had to deal with and I’m so glad it’s been addressed in this way. It’s about mending fences in a way. RES NOVEMBER 2012
MR ‘Westkunst’, the exhibition you organized in Cologne in 1981, was very much about the division
Francis Alÿs Lada Kopeika Project, 2014 Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner Gallery, New York New commission for Manifesta 10
71 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Wael Shawky Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, 2012 HD video, color, sound, 60:00:53 min. Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut
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73 KK ‘Westkunst’ was an exhibition about the history of European avant-garde up to the 1970s. The title was a pun on the word ‘Weltkunst’ (World Art). Those were the cold war days so it ended up reflecting this division. The great Russian art around at the time wasn’t in the show. It just wasn’t possible. Stalinism was still with us. I didn’t think too much about it though. An exhibition can only be a model to itself, not to other exhibitions. MR The first time we met, about ten years ago, Martha Kuzma was a co-curator of Manifesta in Don Ostia-San Sebastian and you were a board member… KK Ah, yes. Actually Martha Kuzma is adamantly against this edition of Manifesta. She feels it has been instrumentalized by Putin for political purposes. But she’s wrong. Contemporary art is not particularly liked in Russia. It’s not like the Olympics. People won’t go to see it with the same interest. There’s very little political capital to be made out of it. MR But what was your take on Manifesta at the time?
Marc Camille Chaimowicz Photomontage no. 1 for The Hermitage, Room 305, London, 2013 Photomontage on paper, 21 x 29.7 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Cabinet, London
KK I was very supportive of the concept when I was a board member. I really liked Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana in 2000. That show was very important to me. I stepped down after two terms because I felt the board had to change. People like Chris Deacon insisted on staying on but I thought it was a good idea to establish a rotation and have different people every few years. I would have never imagined I would end up doing something for Manifesta in those days. It was conceived as a platform for young curators. But this was a very particular edition, they needed someone with a solid museum background, so they asked only three people and I was one of them. And in all honesty, the reason why I accepted wasn’t so much about Manifesta as to having the opportunity to work in a magic place like the Hermitage. MR It’s a very charismatic venue. KK It’s got everything – it’s luxurious, complex, exotic, full of history. I remember when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum for the first time in 1976. I spent two days there and I hated it. It had no character. It could have been anywhere. The Hermitage is exactly the opposite. It’s like the Kremlin and the Vatican combined. Even people who have never been there are familiar with it through the work of Isenstein and Sokurov. And I do get along very well with the director, Mikhail Piotrovsky. MR As a museum director yourself, what difference do you see between an institution like the Hermitage and the Ludwig?
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Marlene Dumas Pjotr Tsjaikofski, 2014 Ink on paper, 44 x 35 cm. Photo courtesy of Bernard Ruijgrok Piezographics © and courtesy of Marlene Dumas Commissioned by Manifesta 10, Saint Petersburg, Russia
KK: You can’t really compare. I’m an amateur in comparison. I’m more like an art historian. I’m only working here because of Manifesta. I could never apply for a directorial post at the Hermitage, I just don’t have the credentials. I’m very much aware of being a guest here – there is no arrogance on my part. They’re using me as a guinea pig for trying something new. My job is to deliver. MR It’s also interesting to see you working in Russia given your background with public sculpture.
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between Western and Eastern Europe. Do you feel things came full circle for yourself as well?
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Winter Palace © Pavel Losevsky Dreamstime.com
Elena Kovylina Equality, 2009 Video still from Performance Courtesy of the Artist
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Palace Square © Andrey Koturanov Dreamstime.com
77 MR During the presentation of Manifesta you mentioned that one of your goals was to objectify the museum. What does ‘objectifying a museum’ mean? KK I mean objectifying what the contributions in the museum are. The Hermitage is really made for the public. It’s very accessible. It makes 2000 years of art extremely readable. I wanted the new art in it to stay in tune with this spirit. It has to make sense and be plausible for someone who is curious. It’s for people who want to find out, not for people who walk in with the preconception that because this is contemporary art it’s garbage. You know, there is still a strong Oligarch aesthetics in place in Russia. Contemporary art is really not that popular. It is received in a very polemical way. MR Traditionally Manifesta is prone to explore politically hot areas. It didn’t just happen in Ljubljana – there was also Manifesta 5 in the Basque Countries in 2004 and the disastrous Manifesta 6 in Cyprus in 2006. Why do you think people were so tickled about the show being held in Russia this time around? KK What they failed to understand was the timeline. The idea of hosting the show in St. Petersburg started because of the 250th Anniversary of the Hermitage Museum. There was an opportunity to have Manifesta and they decided to do it. It was pretty much an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg. They couldn’t foresee the current political situation when they initiated the process in 2012. Having said that, it’s important for an institution like Manifesta to have political momentum. This is the first time Manifesta travels to Eastern Europe. Ljubljana was former Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia wasn’t really part of the Eastern block. As for the political situation in Russia, I’m not that naïve – I was aware from the beginning of the implications. I always knew it was going to be precarious. But then it turned out to be so precarious that it became even more necessary to stick it out. I am happy I had to fight for it. That’s also why I decided to ask Joanna Warsza to organize the public programme. I’m not from Eastern Europe and I don’t have a strong connection with the young scene and what’s going on there. It’s very important to have her on board.
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MR Manifesta 6 was conceived with the idea of tackling a very specific political issue – the division of Cyprus. Artists were invited to adhere to an educational model set up by the curators that eventually failed. Conversely, your edition seems to have more in common with the one in Ljubljana, with the exhibition reflecting the pre-existent social and political context in which it takes place. The difference is the timing. Whereas Ljubljana was about painting a pan-European picture of contemporary art after decades of separation, St. Petersburg has contemporary art engaged in a dialogue with history of art through a venue like the Hermitage that, because of its geographical position, can potential stimulate a desire to respond by addressing political issues. What was your initial experience with the artists you invited when you outlined the concept of the show?
KK I was a bit worried about what artists would come up with. It wasn’t so much about freedom of expression – I just didn’t want them to fall for cheap provocation, sensationalism or even opportunism. But I didn’t censor anybody. Marlene Dumas for example address questions of culture and same-sex relationship in a very playful way. But she is not an activist – she is an interesting artist first and foremost, and activism just happens to be part of her work. This is a trait that cannot be generalised. It can also be the other way around. MR Were there any artists who refused to participate? KK We had three artists who refused to participate. With two I actually had a very productive discussion. I invited them to come over and just have a look, with the agreement that they didn’t have to commit to anything if they didn’t want to. They accepted the invitation but eventually bowled out because they felt uncomfortable. MR Do you think the political debate took some of the focus away from the exhibition? KK It’s inevitable. Istanbul isn’t that different, if you think about it. The political situation is pretty incandescent there too, and the fact that it was so much out in the open over the past few months made life for the art in the Biennale quite difficult. The Standing Man in Taksim Square will probably go down as one of the greatest pieces of the early 21th Century. How can you match something like that? It’s the same as some of the things that happened in St. Petersburg. When the art group Voina painted a gigantic prick on the bridge in front of the FSB headquarters, the FSB made such a big fuss out of it that by they time they decided to get rid of it, it was already too late. They only made it more visible. I think some of the criticisms about censorship in Russia are a little disingenuous. When people asked Mikhail Piotrovsky to talk about the Guggenheim Hermitage experience in Las Vegas in 2008 [during the official presentation of Manifesta in London at King’s College in Spring 2014, Editor’s Note], he candidly said it was a flop. Well, I dare you to find anyone in the Guggenheim organization able to say the same. It’s the American corporate mentality – they would never allow a Guggenheim associate to publicly say it was a mistake. Piotrovsky is the director of the State Hermitage but he is also an independent mind. And he is not alone. There are the cases of Michael Khodorkovsky, Grigory Revzin, even Pussy Riot. I don’t think the West is in a position to perceive Russia in its complexity. Russia is aware of this, which means that criticism is not given full consideration unless it is informed by a deeper insight and a better understanding of the situation as a whole. Manifesta 10 is an old-fashion exhibition in a way. I don’t think we will find answers to political questions through art. It’s too complicated.
Kasper König (Mettingen, 1943) is an art historian and curator. He was Professor at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf and Director of the Städelschule in Frankfurt, where he founded the Portikus exhibition hall in 1987. He has been director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne from 2000 to 2012. In 1977, in collaboration with Klaus Bussman, he launched Skulptur Projekte Münster, an exhibition of public sculpture held every ten years. Michele Robecchi is a writer and a curator based in London, where is an editor at Phaidon Press and a Visiting Lecturer at Christie’s Education.
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KK Yes. What is public in Russia is private in the West and vice versa. The state was responsible for making monuments, and that is something interesting in its own.
ANDREA KROKSNES I N T H E M I D D L E O F T H E S P A C E , hanging right under its ceiling, the eye fixes on a sequence of sentences mounted one after another: We Are Hungry in Three Languages We’ll be on Top We Are the Image of the Future We Are the People We’ll Take More Care of You We Shall Overcome We Want Bread, and Roses Too The neon letters glow in a light blue. The words are a strong declaration of political engagement but the atmosphere in the huge glass pavilion is quiet if not solemn. At one end of the gallery there is a tent-like structure; upon entering we see words dancing weightlessly in the dark interior. On a closer look it becomes clear that the words are projected by a slide projector; an old washing machine has been transformed into a steam blower generating the mist that make the words appearing and disappearing in the vapour. Some of the windows of the pavilion are smeared with dust, with slogans written with fingers onto them; scaffoldings left in front of the window wall suggests that a performance has taken place earlier. A small container that is placed in the middle of the space holds an archive about political slogans and their historical backgrounds for the visitor to consult. The installation described above is a representative moment in the recent oeuvre of Maja Bajevic. It was featured in the group exhibition ‘Take Liberty’ this spring/summer that I organized for the National Museum in Oslo. Bajevic’s installation inhabited the entire Pavilion of the architecture museum. Built in 2008, the glass and concrete structure designed by
79 Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn (1924-2009) harks back to his earlier works such as the iconic Nordic Pavilion in Venice’s Giardini, and heeds the modernist call for rationality and transparency. Bajevic disregards the clean and impersonal vocabulary of this public space with the remnants of performative elements: windows are dirtied with dust and slogans are smeared with fingers onto them. For the Sverre Fehn Pavilion in Oslo, Bajevic made a new participatory element for the viewers to engage in. The entire floor of the pavilion is clad with linoleum. In the lino flooring there are carved out posters with slogans on it. Visitors can make their own prints, choosing their favouritepolitical declaration. Templates of the printed posters are taped to the glass walls. All theelements in the room, from the neon letters to the small archive, the steam machine tent, thescaffolding and the smeared windows, the lino carvings on the floor and the posters loosely taped to the walls, come across as temporarily set up, ready to be moved soon again. Thus the pavilionlooks more like a laboratory that invites visitors for contemplation and participation rather than aproper museum show. One could argue that with this strategy, Bajevic unhinges the clean andtransparent ideals of the existing modernist space by introducing opacity and dirt, yet herinstallation seems to be made so specifically for the space that the modernist architect almost becomes her secret collaborator. Although Fehn built many museum spaces, the idea of a museum always troubled him slightly. Rather than accentuating the focus on the museum as a container of material things, he wanted to redefine its position as secular cathedral with a special power by creating a public space that provided an equally sacred atmosphere. In Bajevic’s installation, this aspect gets enhanced by the few material objects we encounter. We can hear slogans sung by five different voices echoing through the space. The slow and simple performance is reminiscent of meditation or religious rituals – time seems eclipsed. The passing nature of all history can be sensed as a lived bodily experience. ‘To Be Continued’ is a multilayered performative installation that Bajevic first exhibited at the Palacio Crystal at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in 2011. A year later it was shown in Berlin at the Daad Gallery and in New York at the Graduate Center’s James Gallery. Every time the installation was enriched with different elements while keeping the centre core of the artwork the same – an extensive research of political slogans from the last 100 years that the artist initiated almost two decades ago and made permanently accessible to viewers. In Madrid there was a further participatory element: visitors could climb a bunker-like structure and then dive down again on a huge, fun slide. Like in other works before, Bajevic here deals with question of democracy, the division between collective and individual identity, and the ephemeral and constructed character of identity and even history itself. Her work expresses both the individual’s desire for freedom and the need for communal solidarity. To what degree personal freedom is respected varies not only from one historical specific context to the next, but also from one segment of a given society to the next. Bajevic’ installation touches on many themes – from sexual and ethnic identity, to cultural belonging, to civil disobedience and the struggle for independence. What ultimately emerges is a concept of history that is not fixed and permanent, but can only be understood as a state of continuous conflict between differing opinions and values.
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Andrea Kroksnes is Senior Curator at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, Norway. She is the author of numerous publications and catalogues and has contributed to magazines and journals such as Artforum, Kunst og Kultur, Texte zur Kunst, Springerin: Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, Siksi – The Nordic Art Review, Parkett and NU. In 2003 she was the cocurator of the Nordic Pavillon at the 50th Venice Biennale.
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MAJA BAJEVIC’ CONTINUOUS INVESTIGATION INTO HISTORY
81 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Maja Bajevic To Be Continued, 2011-2014 Installation view at the Sverre Fehn Pavillion at the Architecture Museum / National Museum in Oslo Photo by Annar BjĂ¸rgli, Nasjonalmuseet
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CONVERSATION WITH MATTHIAS ARNDT
PACO BARRAGÁN ‘I truly love and believe in a direct interaction and exchange with the artists and the audience’ Arndt is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2014. It’s a remarkable event in a competitive sector as contemporary art is today, and a perfect opportunity for an overall recapitulation of the gallery’s trajectory. We talked to Matthias Arndt about his experience with the art market, art fairs, collectors, and the challenges a gallery is called to face in the 21st Century. PACO BARRAGÁN In your opinion, what were the gallery’s strongest achievements during the past twenty years? MATTHIAS ARNDT The first major achievement was that we succeeded in bringing the art market to Berlin, a place that in the early post-wall days was teeming with international artists but had no market and practically no local support. When we opened in 1994, I have been told that ‘Berlin will never, never ever make it’. Düsseldorf and Cologne were at the centre of the German art market. So together with the artists and a group of fellow gallerists we managed to transform Berlin into an art centre and create the premises for the international audience to come over here. Another major achievement was commercial success. After having identified the artists I would consider fundamental for my time and my understanding of what art is and what it can do within society, we successfully built a market around them, including artists who don’t make the most commercial work like Thomas Hirschhorn, Sophie Calle, Nedko Solakov and later on Gilbert & George. Since I had no startcapital, family means or connections, I had to conceive the gallery as a solid and viable business, mainly for the artists but also for myself. Making the right artistic choices definitely helped. We participated in major international art fairs like Art Basel, Art Basel Miami, Frieze and FIAC from the beginning. Parallel to this, during the first seven years of the gallery, I worked as an advisor, establishing a company for arts management. We worked for Documenta, in 1997, Expo 2000 in Hannover, and the Volkswagen Group, and we developed a communication platform for the Berlin art scene, such as the Berlin Art Week. PB Conversely, what are the fields where the gallery has been less successful or failed to meet your expectations?
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MA Building a structure and growing with the artists was and certainly is the most exciting part of my business. But the larger a structure becomes, the less you can focus on contents, core-businesses and strengths. I primarily conceived the gallery as a forum for the artists and a tool to expand the radius of their work to a larger international audience, but with the growth of the artists roster, 2000 sqm of space inBerlin and Zurich, offices in New York and Beijing, and
Migration Melbourne Migration Melbourne Edition 30 October to 15 December 2012 Migration migrates to Melbourne, Australia’s leading cultural city Arndt Australia Announces Melbourne Pop Up Exhibition
a staff of 35 people (a big structure even for international standards), I found myself more like a manager of a global corporation than the art expert working on the content side and the pulse of artistic creation. But I wasn’t ready to make massive concessions towards a much more commercial orientation and sacrifice what I considered relevant in art. I should have hired exclusively ‘sales staff’ – management consultants, financial directors, etc. but this was not the vision I had for my business. So I had to make a tough choice and halt my business expansion in order to reorganise and reposition my operation. I took advantage of the global financial crisis to think how, from my personal perspective, the format of a 21st century gallery should be like to respond to the needs of artists and clients in a global art market. Today I have a staff of twelve people between Berlin and Singapore, with me working as a dealer, agent, advisor and expert for International and Southeast-Asian Contemporary Art. PB You just mentioned the crisis and the choices you had to make to make the gallery economically viable. Yet, despite of the crisis, there are more galleries now than ever, and the world has become more global. What are in your opinion the most important changes that have affected the modus operandi of the gallery? (Like for example the traditional sale with a more direct and intimate relationship with the collector) MA The art business has changed on many levels since we opened the door twenty years ago in Berlin. The good news is that contemporary art has never been more in demand and more accessible than today. You can safely say that the audience and the market have increased over the past ten-fifteen years. On the other hand, with more players involved, the pressure and competition between artists, collectors, gallerists and curators is dramatically more intense. Artists, once in the limelight, are forced to be more productive. They also choose to work with more dealers, and be represented in every major art capital in the west hemisphere and Far East Asia. As for dealers, from being a reference point for collectors looking for a particular piece or simply seeking advice, they now have to work in a world where information about the whereabouts and the cost of an artwork are verifiable with a mouse click through platforms like artnet.com, artprice. com etc. Auction houses and secondary market dealers have realized that the primary market is a lucrative place to cop clients and direct consignments from artists. Art fairs have earned immense importance as platforms for the display and trade of art and for networking in general. Last but not
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Mooi Indie – Beautiful Indies, August 01 – October 03, 2014 Indonesian Art Now, Group exhibition Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide Australia, Curated by Matthias Arndt
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least, large corporate collections have increased their influence as tastemakers and trendsetters, with bigger budgets than many public institutions. So the environment we are working in today is 100% different from what it was twenty years ago. Having said that, change is the motor for all innovation and progress. I never understood the concept of the commercial gallery as a static format, and I never stopped asking myself how to improve my business model and what services I have to provide to the artists, as well as to the private, corporate and public collections I work with. So in 2010 I announced a change of format and approach, working on ‘ARNDT 2.0’ if you like. Gallerists today have to be dealers as well as agents, advisors and experts. PB Since the beginning of the 21st century, art fairs have become the absolute key players in the art world, and the sales platform par excellence for a gallery. This of course can be read in different ways. What are the positive and less positive sides of what I framed as the ‘art fair age’ from your perspective? MA Art fairs have undoubtedly become the focal point – a situation that present many advantages for all parties involved. At key conventions such as Art Basel, Art Basel Miami, Art Basel Hong Kong, FIAC or Frieze, dealers present their best works, collectors and curators have the best offer in a limited time and territory, and have perfect conditions for networking. However, the pressure behind the scenes is immense. Artists now produce for fairs rather than for solo shows in galleries, and cater to a larger audience. Dealers are engaged in an extreme competition to stay on board, with selection committees composed of other dealers deciding about their competitors’ application. Finally, the costs and efforts demanded by major art fairs are huge, and inevitably affect the selection of artists and works on show. So art fairs are incredibly important, but the education of the audience, the long term advisory of the clientele and also the career edification of an artist is still happening in galleries, museums and other institutions. And fairs wouldn’t exist without galleries. I truly believe in the direct interaction and exchange with the artists and the audience, and that’s the reason why I stuck to the idea of having my own space in Berlin, and now also in Singapore.
Art Basel, 2008 Basel
PB Let’s talk about your gallery in Singapore. Why Singapore? What is your experience in terms of local collectors and institutions? MA I started visiting Asia about six years ago, and was particularly fascinated by the depth and diversity of the Southeast-Asian artistic landscape. ‘ASIA: Looking South’, our first show with SEA Art in Berlin in 2011, was an ‘eye-opener’ for me. For personal reasons my family had to move to Australia. Geographically, Singapore is in the middle between Berlin and Melbourne. It is also the biggest ‘Art Hub’ in Asia after Hong Kong, where many international galleries and businesses are already operating. Most importantly, Singapore is the gateway to Southeast Asia. The idea of Gillman Barracks, a gallery and art centre in a former army compound appealed me and reminded me of Berlin, where many dealers and artists successfully worked together to create a major international art hub. So we started with a smaller space in January 2013, and we will expand to a larger location in January 2015, with my family and I finally moving to Singapore in June.
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PB In your Singapore branch you have started to do pop-up exhibitions. You also stressed the importance of educating the audience. Can you talk about this and what motivated this approach? MA The pop-up shows actually started in Sydney and Melbourne in 2012. Both exhibitions were titled
Migration Sydney Migration First International Pop Up Show by ARNDT opening in Sydney March 26th March 27th to July 10th 2012 Photo by Gerard Wood
93 For Singapore we have different plans. It will be a permanent space, and we are already collaborating with many local institutions as well as setting up initiatives and events. For every exhibition we organize an artist’s talk, produce a short online film about the artist, the work, and the show, and we will soon start holding ‘Art Appreciation Courses’, working with external experts we either invite to Singapore or who come to visit. And we will continue on our mission to bring the best emerging and established artists from Asia to Berlin and Europe, and premiere major international shows in Singapore while expanding our activity in Asia and Australia as well.
Matthias Arndt (Frankfurt, 1968) is a gallerist, advisor and dealer based in Berlin and Singapore. In 1994 he founded the gallery Arndt & Partner in Berlin, subsequently opening other branches in Zurich and now Singapore. He has lectured at the Berlin Institute for Cultural and Media Management from 1996 to 2004, and was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2001. Paco Barragán is an independent curator and a PhD Candidate at University of Salamanca in Spain. He served as co-curator for the International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Prague in 2005 and the Bienal de Lanzarote in 2009, and has organized a number of international exhibitions including ‘The End of History and The Return of History Painting’ at the Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem (MMKA) in Arnhem (2010), and ‘Patria o libertad. The Rethorics of Patriotism’, at MoCCA in Toronto (2011). He is a Contributing Editor of Art Pulse magazine and has authored many books and publications, including ‘The Art Fair Age’ (Charta, 2008) and co-editor with Selene Wendt of ‘When a Painting moves… Something Must be Rotten!’ (Charta, 2011).
PB In light of your experience, what would you recommend to a young professional who wants to open a gallery? MA The advice I would give to someone who would like to open a gallery is the following: 1. Do an internship or an apprenticeship in a major gallery first, and get an insight into the secondary market before starting your own business. 2. If you still want to do it, then make sure you have a business plan that allows you to be financially independent for at least three or four years. 3. Have a global vision and overview, and be a good networker. Without alliances there is no growth in any business. 4. Think out of the box. There is no formula or written rule about what a gallery has to be in the 21st century. 5. Do your own thing and avoid business partnerships and other investments until your own sense of business is mature enough. 6. Build an inventory as soon and as much as you can. PB In what way the 2014 Matthias Arndt resembles the 1994 Matthias Arndt? How has he changed?
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MA The 2014 Matthias Arndt has fewer illusions about enthusiasm and passion being the only condition for success in art today. Business acumen, figures and networking are of even greater importance for my success today. So the 2014 Matthias Arndt is grateful for the twenty years of experience, global expertise, and contacts that make things so much easier. The 1994 Matthias’ spirit of following his own curiosity to discover and explore new art landscapes and markets and bring the best from one world to the other, either by being the initiator and the moderator, trusting his feeling for quality and his intuition for identifying new trends is still with me and is the main driving force for everything I do.
Art Basel, 2014 Hong Kong
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‘Migration’. One was in a former office building and one in a former Institute for Blind People. The idea is not new but is effective. It’s about showing art in unconventional spaces and environments, enabling a new audience to approach it without that ‘Schwellenangst’ of them not being art experts. But it also vitalises and created a buzz in the existing art community. Commercially, both shows did incredibly well (they also ended up being as expensive and as much as an effort as a running a permanent gallery). We were surprised to see how many people turned up. Not having a commercial gallery in some areas enables you to work in a different way. For example, I am now advising a number of private collections and museums in Asia-Pacific.
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Exhibiition View, 2014 Art Stage Singapore ARNDT Booth
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CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL DRUKS
HANS ULRICH OBRIST HANS ULRICH OBRIST I first learned about your work during a trip to Tel Aviv organized by the independent patrons group Outset Contemporary Art Fund. I would like to begin with your first exhibition with Menachem Binetski in the Student’s House in the Tel Aviv University in 1966. How did it come about? MICHAEL DRUKS That exhibition happened because Menachem Binetski and I dropped out of art school. Two years later, the school organised a big show and they didn’t include us, so we said, ‘OK, you don’t want to show us, we are going to make our own show’. And we did, and it was successful. HUO And what did you show? MD Mostly assemblages. Alexander Archipenko was a big influence on me at the time, although I can’t offer a logical explanation on why. I never stopped drawing and painting, even when I was doing conceptual art. I had done assemblages with coloured cover of books, old books, and I was interested in the way Georges Braque used colours, but it was a bit of a problem for me because I used book covers. I had to destroy books, and in Israel books were considered sacred objects. So it was a bit of a taboo that I had to break.
Untitled, 2012 Oil on card, 68 x 55 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
HUO Did you draw any inspirations from artists from Israel or was it mostly from abroad? MD Mostly from abroad. There were art books at home but almost nothing about Israeli art. At that time I thought of my work as Pop Art, but it became a bit Archipenko, and later on very much like Dada. The idea was to create my own version of Pop Art, and that’s why I sometimes use objects and then pieces of advertising. I was attracted to the commercial word, but the Israeli landscape is different, the colours are different from the US, so the result becomes different as well. HUO Why did you leave Israel? MD I just left like any small country boy who wants to go to the big city. I was very innocent and full with curiosity. HUO And when did you come to London? MD I came to London in 1971. For a while I was involved with people in the Artists Meeting Place. RES NOVEMBER 2012
HUO Who were your friends? John Latham?
Untitled, 2010 Oil on card, 60 x 50 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
99 HUO How about Richard Hamilton? MD I didn’t like Hamilton in particular. His work was too close to design and advertising, in my opinion. HUO So what did you like about Pop Art? MD I didn’t like Pop Art, I just was impressed by it! (laughs) There is a separation between what I like and what I have done. It was the material that influenced me more than the artistic idea. It was about using materials that were close to me, like a kitchen artist, you know, whatever was available. It was also about the sensuality of the material. HUO When did the conceptual dimension enter the work? MD Well, I didn’t have an academic education, but I was well read. What I thought was that I could use conceptual techniques and tools without necessarily turning them into conceptual art. Yona Fischer organised a big conceptual exhibition in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem called ‘Concept and Information’ (1971) and asked me to participate. He talked about conceptual art but I didn’t know what he meant. He became agitated with me. I asked him over and over again what he was expecting me to do, and then he said sharply ‘You do whatever you want to do’. It turned out to be a pivotal moment. I did exactly what I wanted without thinking about art, history of art, or whatever, and since then it became the route I chose to follow – do what you want, the way you want, regardless of how it would fit into a general art discourse. Every idea I had was digested, analysed and realised. It was a conceptual reaction – first it was the subject, then it was the trigger, then the subject again, then it was analysis, and the work was the conclusion of that analysis. This was the process, combining a specific technique with a specific conclusion. HUO And then at some point typography and mapping started playing a role in your work. ‘Druksland’ (1974) is an amazing piece of physical and social mapping. How did it come about? MD It was about my position in the world. When I left Israel, I started using maps. This is the first explanation, and although at the time I wasn’t aware of it, there were more reasons I learned about a few years later. My father was the librarian in a maps archive. He was working in the government with maps, and was responsible for the library. He was also an amateur artist, and in a way a frustrated man, so maybe my decision to be a professional artist was born out of a sense of vindication. It is possible that as a child these things subconsciously got into me. HUO The map includes some names too – Tchernichovsky, Richter, Ibsen… MD Those are names of some of the streets I lived in. Some are places, some are names from literature and theatre. RES NOVEMBER 2012
HUO And there is also your name – ‘Right Druks’.
Untitled, 2006 Oil on card 60 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
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MD No, I met him briefly, but he was a bit odd... I am more an isolated character. Maybe it’s a self-defence mechanism.
101 MD Chance? Oh, a big one. But if I would take chance as a metaphor for where I am today, I would say it’s about mutation. Mutation can be either positive or negative. When I was experimenting with this process, there were a lot of mutations. The decision was whether to leave them or not. In a way it’s not that different from what I’ve been doing all along and I’m still doing now. Normally if you see a target, you would go for it, but I don’t do things that way – I shoot first, and then I decide where is the target (laughs). What I mean is that I start within the logic of abstract painting, with harmony, composition, etc. Then I instinctively start to manipulate it by inserting figurative traits between the lines and the spots until the painting becomes a picture that hints to a context and looks very natural at first sight. HUO So the theme of the work emerges while you are at it? MD Yes, it’s like being born. And then if it’s good, it gets its own life. My conceptual work was either a comment or a reaction to something, but my paintings are not like this. The starting point is to create something and then see if this either becomes alive or not. Monument, 1970 Watercolour on photo collage, 27 x 40 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
MD That’s a socio-political position – ‘Right Druks, Left Druks’. It’s just how I was personally, demographically, and politically positioned within the environment I was living in. HUO What role does memory play in the work? MD Practically none. It is about the present. There might be some memories in there but they are not the subject. It’s more a physical issue. HUO Your brain and the globe. MD Yes. The collocation of names has a different function.
HUO In 1975 you did an exhibition of photography and video at De Appel. One photograph I have in mind is Self-Portrait with Price Tag (1974). How did photography and video enter the work? MD It was a reaction to the system of information, and television in particular. But I quickly lost interest in that kind of approach. I don’t think reacting to something automatically means that you have a great message to give. I don’t want to be a victim. Yes, the self-portrait with the price tag is technically different from my drawings, but the mindset is the same. It is not the brand that is important. What is important is the way I think, and the thinking is complicated – I constantly represent things with different angles and possibilities. Maybe it is the influence of the religious education that I had. I don’t see them as paintings, I see them as pictures. There is a difference between paintings and pictures. HUO About a year later, in 1976, you had a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery called ‘Everybody’s Own Yard’.
HUO Have you done many maps? MD I’ve done other sets of maps. They’re all in the Tel Aviv Museum, but I play with different kinds of things. I’ve done some landscapes from maps. The idea was fascinating, because a map is normally something you would look from up to down, so I changed the position and turn them into landscapes. It was about playing with the position of the viewer on the map from other angles.
MD Yes. It was about the connection between the body and the mind. I asked people to take a measuring concept like a yard or a metre and to demonstrate it with their hands. Each one of them did it differently. Some got it smaller, some got it bigger, and some correct, so I wondered what was the reason for the differences. It turned out that it has to do with the correlation between the height and the width of the person as an individual. The Da Vinci code is about the average proportion within the body, so in a way I broke his model.
HUO How do these landscapes work?
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MD I don’t know. The colours are always physical. I use the colour in a physical way. Again, a lot of it is happens unconsciously. It’s playing with a material – a bit like a child with cubes. It’s very intuitive.
HUO I have a feeling that time plays a significant role in your work. MD It certainly does. You see, unlike dance, literature and film, painting is an art that hasn’t got a specific timeline. In the past it was an achievement to take a two-dimensional object and add something to it. Now it’s different – you can have sound, installation, real
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HUO What is the role of chance?
103 HUO Do you think that this concept of the static picture projecting mental energy could be related to Henri Bergson’s idea of ‘Élan Vital’? MD I don’t know. Energy is not necessary physical – it could be mystical, it could be mental, it could be whatever. In my case the objective is to tickle the viewer to have a second look in order to make it work. HUO When you stated that your paintings are pictures, you also added that they are ‘not language, not personal, not comments, not metaphoric’. MD When we say metaphor, we mean a new representation of something from the past. The pictures I have created have comparatively a very short past. Their history is only the process of making them. That’s why they are about the present. HUO So, you are happy with these works? MD Yes, I feel a little more confident now. It is important to me to be aware of what I am doing, why I am doing it, and keeping it fresh by doing something different all the time. When I was in art school they taught me history of art as a sequence of events measured by half-centuries. Movement–Reaction, Movement-Reaction etc. This is all right for old history, but from the 19th century onwards this linear idea can’t be hold on to. The connections got more complex, movements got mixed up together, while being more scattered at the same time. They look like an explosion made of different points of view. They all broke up with figurative art, and started exploring different avenues until they got to abstraction and just went racing in that direction. I think this period of time is more like a junction than a straight line. And I think abstraction in itself proved to be a dead end, and the evidence is that the term didn’t hold. It became ‘abstract expressionism’, ‘op-art’, ‘minimal art’, ‘action painting’ and so on. My solution was to go back to the junction and open a new kind of avenue from there with a different kind of artistic energy. I’m trying to find something which is not between abstraction and figuration, but it is something else. HUO I understand. It’s more like a third space. You also said that the pictures are the footprints of your mind. MD That’s because if the pictures represent anything at all, it’s the structure of my mind. Untitled, 2011 Oil on card, 65 x 56 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
HUO How do they relate to your dreams?
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MD They are totally different from my dreams. My dreams have plots, they are in movement and they have their own independent logic. Maybe you associate them with my pictures
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movement, light, etc. What I was interested in was to return to this primary two-dimensional mode and see if it is possible to add something to it in a different way. What I want to do is to create within the viewers a sense of Déjà vu. Not a Déja Vu about art, but a Déja Vu about their own experience, and to see if they can use it as a base to create their own personal context to the picture and to come up with new narratives that would define its time.
105 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Everybody’s Own Yard, 1976 Silver bromide print mounted on card, 25 x 15 cm.Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
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Untitled, 2012 Oil on card, 70 x 58 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
HUO And what’s the role of writing in your painting? In your work from the 1970s there is a lot of writing. MD It was connected with the idea of conceptual art. The majority of my writing now is done to clear things to myself and it is totally separate from my painting. I did some poetry too. HUO Are you interested at all in cosmic abstraction? MD I don’t know. I don’t think in terms of cosmic. I’m interested in science, but as a layman. It’s more about the concept, the idea, rather than getting into it. I guess I need to know where I am from. (laughs) The basic thing is that the picture, as a product, is a very static object. So I have to create some kind of movement, but not a symbolised movement. The movement has to be in the mind of the viewer. I can make things flying or falling with a trick, but an illusion about movement is not movement in itself. My way is to use the curiosity and confusion of the viewer to create the movement within the viewer himself. But the picture as a picture has to be very attractive, so people are stimulated to solve the problem, and then it is their work to find a solution for themselves. It’s a bit like two minds meeting and negotiating, but the interpretation is free. It is very democratic from an interpretation perspective. There are definitely not impositions. It gives a chance. It can go this way or the other way.
Michael Druks (b. Jerusalem in 1940) is an artist based in London. He has exhibited internationally in museums and institutions over the past decades, including Modern Art Oxford, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, the De Appel Foundation in Amsterdam and the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Major retrospectives of his work have been held at the Haifa Museum (2004) and the Museum of Art in Ein Harod (2007). Hans Ulrich Obrist is Co-Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. Prior to this he was curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris from 2000 to 2006, as well as curator of the Museum in Progress, Vienna, from 1993 to 2001. Obrist has co-curated over 250 exhibitions since 1991, including the 1st Berlin Biennale (1998), ‘Laboratorium’ (1999), the 1st and 2nd Moscow Biennale (2005 and 2007), and ‘Indian Highway’ (2008-11). Accompanying Obrist’s curatorial projects are his editorial accomplishments; these include the writings of Gerhard Richter, Louise Bourgeois and Gilbert & George, and a series of conversation books published by Walther Kö nig started in 2007. Obrist has contributed to over 200 book projects; his recent publications include ‘Ai Weiwei Speaks’ (Penguin, London, 2011) and ‘A Brief History of New Music’ (JRP Ringier, Zurich, 2014).
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Picture, 2010 Oil on cardboard, 65 x 52 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
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107 Picture, 2010 Oil on cardboard, 64 x 52 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
because my pictures have their own logic as well. It is always possible to find a connection between two different things. I could make a connection between scientific theory, how the creation of the world took place, and connecting it to the old testament. Forty or fifty years ago, simple was beautiful in science. They were looking for a simple formula. Now complicated is beautiful. I am fascinated by complication. Yet my pictures are very simple. You know, the mind is complicated, but the product itself is very simple. I care about colour, I care about light, I care about composition. Composition for me is very important. It has also to do with my culture. There’s a Jewish saying – ‘The place is God. God is the place’.
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Assemblage, 1968 Mixed media, 26 x 22 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Loushy Art & Projects, Tel Aviv
MICHELE ROBECCHI Now in its fourth incarnation following the inaugural exhibition at the Manchester International Festival (2011) and subsequent legs in Essen (2012) and Sydney (2013), ‘14 Rooms’ landed in Switzerland last June on the occasion of Art Basel augmented of an extra room for Jordan Wolfson’s robotic ‘Female Figure’ (2014) and an unrealized/unrealizable project by John Baldessari. The show organised by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist lays a bridge between the concept of living sculpture and performance art by walking the fine line that separates group shows from a series of solo presentations, the works of the artists invited having no interaction or dialogue with each other. Confined to their own designated quarter, they can only be experienced by opening the door and walking in, putting work and viewer in an intimate relationship. Two other interesting ramifications are that at times this activity feels a little intrusive, and that uniform spots prompt comparisons viewers wouldn’t ordinarily do but this too can be part of the fun. The aforementioned work by Baldessari in the corridor is the only one that didn’t benefit from a closeted environment, not being an actual piece but a presentation of the correspondence between the curators and different institutions on the subject of the artist wanting to exhibit a real cadaver. It is hard to imagine how a project that failed to materialize in the 1970s, when Chris Burden was able to get shot in a gallery, could possibly take place in these more restrictive age. Although at the end of the day the problem turns out to be technical rather than ethical (further proof is offered by artists like Damien Hirst or Gunther von Hagens having exhibited human bones or imbalsamated bodies in the past), Baldessari’s idea might be better off by existing only in virtuality. Many things have changed in art and society over forty years, and if an old artwork can still says a lot about its time, bringing it out of the fridge after spending four decades without never being tested is not as effective. There is no way to know what kind of response it could have generated at the time of its conception and even more importantly what were the original conditions that initiated the process in the artist’s mind. In a pre-internet, pre-CNN world, where news from long distance wars would filter mostly through the pages of a newspaper, a dead body in a gallery could have resonate in many ways. But in 2014, with all sort of images available, its experimental edge is practically lost.
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The other end of the spectrum of Baldessari is Bruce Nauman. Renewed for his performative work at closed doors, Nauman agreed to re-enact one of his 1968 studio actions, ‘Wall Floor Position’. Confronted with an actual man crawling on the surface of the room rather than a black and white video, the work acquires a different dimension. If its original version was of a more conceptual nature, namely investigating how every single deed made inside a place conventionally devoted to creation could be considered art, here it has a more tangible sculptural value, dealing with issues of mass and space, with viewers vividly aware of their own presence within the space
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Damien Hirst Leonard & Raphael Kadid, 2014 Household gloss on wall, chairs and twins; Dimensions variable Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
113 Unlike Nauman, for example, Marina Abramovic’s ‘Luminosity’, a piece where a naked woman stands in a cross position against a white panel in a dark room, suffers from being performed by someone who is not the artist. When viewed in perspective with Abramovic’s theory that performance art is like a music score and that as such it can be staged anytime as long as it stays true to its original principles, the work in itself makes sense. However, one of the unexpected
Marina Abramovic Luminosity, 1997 11 Rooms Manchester International Festival Photo credit courtesy Manchester City Galleries
Joan Jonas Mirror Check, 1970 Performed for 11 Rooms at the Manchester International Festival 2011 Photo credit courtesy Manchester City Galleries
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side-consequences of Abramovic’s recent exhibition ‘The Artist is Present’ at MoMA was indeed how her presence at the meditation table overshadowed all the other performances in the museum regardless of their historical significance. Abramovic’s art, by her own will, is very much associated with her – her personal history, her body, her mind. Having an artist’s surrogate, no matter how accurately it replicates the intended action, inevitably dilutes the overall effect. In contrast to Abramovic, Joan Jonas’ ‘Mirror Check’ (1970) achieves something quite
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they occupy. Further evidence of this process is that although all the rooms are roughly of the same size, Nauman’s is possibly the only one who feels claustrophobic. This says a lot about how the most minimal of the interventions can have the most powerful effect, and in doing so it sets a benchmark for all the rest of the works in the exhibition.
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Santiago Sierra Veterans of the Wars of Eritrea, Kosovo and Togo Facing the Corner, 2014 Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
Xu Zhen In Just a Blink of an Eye, 2005 Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014 MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG
117 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Bruce Nauman Re-enactments of Bruce Naumanâ€™s 1968 video Wall Floor Positions Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
John Baldessari Archive: Unrealized Proposal for Cadaver Piece, 1970/2011 Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler, Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
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on how most veterans, after facing unimaginable horrors on the front, have a hard time adjusting to reality. Roman Ondák’s ‘Swap’ (2011), arguably one of the most interactive pieces in the show, has the participants agreeing on dedicating some of their professional time for free to the person they swap business card with. The involvement of business cards already targets a very specific demographic. In the context of Art Basel, this became almost exclusively a matchmaking exercise for dealers and collectors. Regrettably it is not possible to know who maintained the bargain. Allora & Calzadilla’s ‘Revolving Door’ (2011), a group of eleven individuals in line rotating in a round room, and Laura Lima’s ‘Man=flesh/ Woman=flesh – Flat’ (1997) constitute the two moments where the room is not exactly a welcoming place. Whereas in Lima’s case it’s an architectural issue – the ceiling is literally 40 cm above the floor – the performers’ movement in Allora & Calzadilla’s case forces visitors to renegotiate their presence and take a quick way out. In light of ‘14 Rooms’ been advertised as a performance art exhibition, it is surprising to see Tino Sehgal amongst the participants. Either he has relented on his insistence that his work is something else, or the format proved to be too appealing to resist. Like Ondák, the nearby Art Fair proved to be the major preserve where to poach, giving the action a note of familiarity with a large number of performers being known to the audience. Contra-Allora & Calzadilla, Sehgal’s talent for choreographing his collaborators is brilliant. Allora & Calzadilla had occasional moments of sparks in the past, but their work has trouble holding up when put next to others. Compared to Nauman or Tino Sehgal, ‘Revolving Door’ comes across as derivative if facile. extraordinary. The piece is old, the woman obsessively checking every single part of her body with a hand mirror is not the artist, and yet its impact is not at all diminished. One is reminded not only of what an exceptional artist Jonas is, but also of the early feminist battles and the role of women in society – debates that sparked in the late 1960s/early 1970s and that are still very much alive to these days. The generation of performance art pioneers is completed by Yoko Ono’s ‘Touch’ (1963). Admittedly, the jury is still out when it comes to determine how Ono’s actions survived the test of time. Some come out stronger than ever, others look a little naïve. The vague set of instructions dictated by ‘Touch’ leaves such a wide room to interpretation that it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen. This brings an element of potential danger otherwise absent in other works in the show, but the fact that visitors, when left to their own devices, responded to Ono’s request in a genuinely nice way stands as a tribute to her positive energy and fundamental trust in the human kind.
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Xu Zhen’s ‘In Just a Blink of an Eye’ (2014) and Santiago Sierra’s ‘Veterans of the Wars of Eritrea, Kosovo and Togo Facing the Corner’ (2014) are further instances of solitary performers in an empty room both dealing with hot political topics in their own way, the main difference beings that Xu thrives on ambiguity, with the magically frozen moment of a body falling in space acting as a subtle metaphor for the social situation of the performer (in most cases unemployed or hard-labouring immigrants recruited on site), while Sierra goes for the jugular. The conflict survivor quietly turning his back on the public in Sierra’s work disturbingly resembles military punishment but it can also be viewed as a moment of soul searching. Either way, the anonymity of the subject and its refusal to engage (or acknowledge, for that matter) anything or anybody in the room broads the distance between him and the public even further, providing a strong metaphor
One of the most intriguing parts of ‘14 Rooms’ is to see artists not too conversant with the vocabulary of performance being put in a position where they have to give it a shot. Ed Atkins’ digital animation ‘No One is More Work Than Me’ (2014) doesn’t part too much from his regular practice. Damien Hirst’s set of identical paintings, chairs, and people, on the other hand, address issues of identity without relying on his usually bombastic style. The outcome is not entirely convincing. Whether this is imputable to Hirst not feeling at home with sobriety or his lack of group exhibitions practice is difficult to tell, but the overall feeling is that his contribution to the show is merely adequate. Biesenbach and Obrist have declared that given its structural flexibility, there is no reason why ‘14 Rooms’ couldn’t go on forever. This would be a first in the history of exhibitions, a sort of art equivalent of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, and very much in tune with the curators’ proclivity for developing new formats. Whatever this will end up being a mansion or a hotel, prosaic as it may sound only time will tell. Michele Robecchi is a writer and a curator based in London, where is an editor at Phaidon Press and a Visiting Lecturer at Christie’s Education.
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Otobong Nkanga Diaspore, 2014 Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
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Laura Lima Man=flesh/Woman=flesh â€“ FLAT, 1997 Presented at 14 Rooms in Basel by Fondation Beyeler Art Basel, Theater Basel in 2014
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123 RES NOVEMBER 2012 Jordan Wolfson Female Figure, 2014 Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London 2014
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Published on Apr 14, 2017
Published on Apr 14, 2017
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