Looking Back, Looking Forward: Part 7
The final installment in our series looking back at the highlights of 2012 and thinking ahead to some reasons to be cheerful in 2013, as chosen by frieze editors and contributors.
Geeta Dayal is a writer based in San Francisco, USA. She is a frequent contributor to frieze.
Laila je t’aime: Guitar Music from the Western Sahel recorded by Christopher Kirkley from 2009-2011 (Sahel Sounds and Mississippi Records)
The death of Ravi Shankar loomed large for me near the end of the year. The impact that Shankar had was tremendous–not simply in terms of music, but in his key role in bringing India and its culture into the eyes and ears of the West. It is a great loss.
The death of Lebbeus Woods was another one that I felt deeply. I had the good fortune to meet Woods, briefly, early in 2012 — we spoke on a panel together at Columbia, a meeting orchestrated by my friend (and 2010 Frieze Art Fair co-panelist) Kazys Varnelis. It was a terribleyear for death — Chris Marker, Pete Namlook, Donna Summer, Ray Bradbury, Adam Yauch, Mike Kelley, Maurice Sendak, Etta James, and too many other greats to name.
It was a year of revelatory centennial celebrations for John Cage, and Conlon Nancarrow. I continue to find new resonances, new meanings, in their work. The SFSound group staged several fantastic concerts of Cage’s work in San Francisco. Also of note was Tom Erbe’s inspiring realization of Cage’s “Williams Mix,” which I was lucky to hear in San Diego.
There were many great concerts – I am still thinking about William Basinski’s transfixing performance at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, which was done completely with delicate tape loops and three vintage tape machines. Fred Frith’s fascinating live reboot of his 1980 album ‘Gravity’ in San Francisco, with an array of young performers, made me re-think retromania. Speaking of retromania, I overdosed on Kraftwerk this year at MoMA, and I’m questioning whether the next eight-night marathon at the Tate Modern really makes sense. Seeing Afrika Bambaataa and Ryuichi Sakamoto bopping their heads in the audience during Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ at MoMA was more mesmerizing to me than Kraftwerk itself.
I spent a lot of this year in a computer world, to paraphrase Kraftwerk – it was the Alan Turing centennial this year, as well. The Commodore 64 had its 30th birthday this year. The magnificent reissue of Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe, made at Bell Labs in the 1970s using a hybrid computer system called GROOVE, was one of my favorite records of 2012.
A few more albums: Bee Mask’s When We Were Eating Unripe Pears, Swans’ The Seer, Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch. My favorite cover art this year: the glorious hand-lettered Laila je t’aime: Guitar Music from the Western Sahel LP on Mississippi Records.
Peter J. Russo is coordinator of the NY Art Book Fair and director of Triple Canopy, a nonprofit online magazine, workspace, and platform for editorial and curatorial activities based in New York, Los Angeles, and Berlin.
Shinsuke Ogawa, Narita: The Peasants of the Second Fortress, 16mm, 1971, 143 mins
In no particular order:
Roommates with benefits
Of the dozen or more Light Industry screenings I attended this past year, two stuck out as most memorable: Shinsuke Ogawa’s Narita: The Peasants of the Second Fortress (1971), a moving document of Japanese farmers’ resistance to the seizure of their land for the construction of an international airport; and, ‘For Chris Marker,’ a day of screenings in tribute to the filmmaker. To echo Light Industry’s quoting of Chris Marker, “Rarely has reality needed so much to be imagined.” This seems to sum-up both screenings equally well.
The many projects of Project Projects
‘Design firm’ is simply too restrictive a term to account for the vast repertoire of Project Projects. Principles Prem Krishnamurthy and Adam Michaels both hatched notable initiatives this past year: P!, a Chinatown project space where disciplines collide and the conventions of exhibition display are seemingly broken and then reinvented on-the-fly by Krishnamurthy. Michaels, along with historian Jeffrey T. Schnapp, authored The Electric Information Age Book, an invaluable history of 1960s experimental paperback design, with Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage at center.
Poet and Ugly Duckling Presse editor Matvei Yankelevich’s open letter to literary scholar Marjorie Perloff, published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, helped to force a break in the staid conversation around Conceptualism in poetry. Incredibly useful, a must-read: “At its most successful (where it is pure Conceptual writing), it offers no position, no critique. A statement of facts, like a weather report, is just what it says it is; the argument resides in a different place, on the level of classification or canonization: whether or not this is poetry.”
On the other hand, Claire Bishop ponders her most closely-held artists’ lack of interest in the affect of our digital age with ‘Digital Divide’ – her essay published in a special issue of Artforum dedicated to new media. Bishop suggests that a utopia of unmarketable work or complete obsolescence must be on the way, as she detours through projector-fetish, social practice, and research-driven art, en route to the dead-end “uncreative writing” of Kenny Goldsmith.
Vacuum cleaner user manual
In conjunction with her recent solo exhibition at Greene Naftali, Rachel Harrison created the e-book The Help, A Companion Guide. Published by Badlands Unlimited, Harrison’s working bibliography, process, and deft material sensibility explode underneath the touchscreen in a thousand clashing colors. “Q: Why is there a photograph of a nun on that sculpture?”
Anti-banker anger, riots, and credit crisis
Accompanying Merlin Carptenter’s recent show at Reena Spaulings Fine Art was an 18-page interview with gallery owners John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad. Together, they consider why New York artists aren’t more pissed at their major institutions, as well as the hardships of collaboration with Kelsey and Sundblad’s appropriation of Carpenter’s own work as the sore point.
Gran Fury, Kissing doesn’t kill: Greed and indifference do, 1989
Art, love and politics
Helen Molesworth’s survey of contemporary art’s so-called blind spot (e.g. the 1980s) was as exhilarating as it was exhausting. ‘This Will Have Been’, on view at MCA Chicago before traveling to ICA Boston, neatly organized a decade-plus of rambunctious production into four accessible areas of inquiry—The End is Near, Democracy, Gender Trouble, and Desire and Longing. Included were unmistakable works by David Hammons (How Ya Like Me Now?) and Cady Noland (Chainsaw Cut Cowboy Head), among others. An equally compelling catalogue was produced by MCA’s new publications team, led by former Werkplaats Typografie director James Goggin.
Artists Matthew Porter and Hannah Whitaker’s excellent show The Crystal Chain, organized for Invisible Exports, included work by Boru O’Brien O’Connell and Erin Shirreff as well as lesser-known historical figures, such as the German photographer Ellen Auerbach. Looking at both content and strategy, the exhibition considered what latent concepts in early twentieth-century photography might yet resurface in the work of artists today. Crystal Chain found a printed form as Blind Spot Magazine #45
Frank Heath’s rigorous debut solo exhibition, presented by Simon Subal Gallery, brought enigmatic subject matter into clear focus: Objects addressed to nonexistent Manhattan addresses, Times classifieds re-run with precision, and _Graffiti Report Form_—an unplaceable video concerned with Morningside Park, where the 1968 student revolts at Columbia University took flight.
In the immediate wake of the hurricane, and long since, the activist-based relief group repaired battered homes and flooded basements while advocating on behalf of residents, many of whom were still without heat or electricity at the time of writing. At its peak, Occupy Sandy was reportedly delivering meals 10,000 meals per day. Inspiring and unparalleled.
Carol Yinghua Lu is a contributing editor of frieze, based in Beijing, China.
Geng Jianyi, Interchange of Light, oil on canvas, 1.4 × 1m, 1993-1996
Simon Sheikh, ‘Instituting the Institution’, speech given as part of No Ground Underneath: Curating On the Nexus of Changes symposium, Times Museum, Guangzhou
A thought-provoking argument on the social and political implications of the act of instituting and the responsibility of arts institutions, which linked artistic practice to a larger social and political imaginary.
‘Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection’, Seattle Art Museum
A fascinating survey of aboriginal art from Australia. It was an informative and mesmerizing introduction, by way of over 100 artworks from the late 20th to early 21st century—paintings on canvas; ochres on bark; sculptures carved of wood, woven of fiber and cast in bronze – to a significant chapter in the history of art.
‘Wu Zhi’: Geng Jianyi’s Solo Exhibition, Minsheng Museum of Art, Shanghai
It’s a rare opportunity to view a considerable body of works by Geng Jianyi from 1985 to 2008. Most of the works on show had not been seen previously. Based in Hangzhou and teaching in the National Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Geng Jianyi has developed an elastic conceptual practice that resists confirmation with existing historical narratives and categorization of artistic creation.
Minimalism and Beyond: Rasheed Araeen at Tate Britain, (Third Text, 2007)
A visit to Rasheed Araeen’s studio in London
On the occasion of curating the 9th Gwangju Biennale, I made a research trip to London where I visited the studio of Rasheed Araeen to discuss the work that he would be presenting. Rasheed met with me in front of the window in his study overlooking the garden. It was the same image that appeared on the cover of the catalogue of Rasheed Araeen’s retrospective in Tate Britain in 2007.
Inside/Outside: Materialising the Social, South Tank, Tate Modern
This one-day symposium in the South Tank was an excellent example of the remarkable adaptability of a museum space such as that of the Tanks. It was just a matter of overnight that the Tank was transformed into an innovative programme of keynote lectures, conversations, artist talks and performances materialising the fluid boundary between institutions and individual practitioners, institutionalized practice and artistic attempts to escape rules and conventions.
The 8th Taipei Biennale, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei
Curated by Anselm Franke, the biennale was an in-depth and scholarly look into a broad spectrum of human histories, both factual and fictional ones and a re-examination of our common perceptions of modernity. Titled ‘Death and Life of Fiction or the Modern Taowu’, the exhibition took its inspiration from Taiwanese art historian David Der-Wei Wang’s book The Monster That Is History, in which history itself is compared to the ancient Chinese monster Taowu, and sought to give forms to this indefinable being, which Franke compared to “a possible common experience of all modernity.”
Elementary, a new Sherlock Holmes drama series
In this highly addictive TV series, Modern-day Homles is portrayed as a re-habbing crime consultant working in New York outside of the official police system, with a female Watson (played by Lucy Liu). Holmes, played by Johnny Lee Miller, dresses like a free-spirited intellectual with a deliberately ragged and understated sense of fashion, is the perfect embodiment of the art critic. Though working in opposition to crimes and flaws Holmes, with his history of drug addiction, is himself deeply flawed and therefore implicated him in the same sense of guilt that accompanies any kind of addiction, be that crime or art-making. His addiction now is solving mysteries. He believes in first-hand information and being present at the crime scene rather than basing his judgment on assumptions and hearsay. He trusts his own intuition and is extremely perceptive, but also goes to great lengths to prove them right. He maintains his independence and feels that there is no system to fall back on, whilst still working closely with the system.
The private collection of Antonio Dalle Nogare in Bolzano
No labels, no exhibition title. The visit to Antonio Dalle Nogare’s private collection was facilitated by one of his colleagues who could only communicate in Italian. Barely 20 minutes drive into the suburb of Bolzano, we arrived in an unassuming modernist building housing two floors with more than a dozen pieces of intelligent and understated conceptual artworks. We knew next to nothing about the collection but were completely over-awed by the breadth and vision of this collection, a collection that pays no attention either to the tastes of the market or the favorites of the art historians. There is no need to offer any explanation of the works. The undistracted experience of the artworks was honored as the priority here.
Tom Morton is a contributing editor of frieze based in London, UK.
Alexander Tovborg, Teenage Jesus (revolt), 2012, acrylic, pastel crayon, and crepe paper on canvas, 2 × 2.5m
Highlights of 2012
So much has been written about dOCUMENTA (13) that I’m minded to keep my comments brief: bar a couple of episodes of curatorial incontinence, it was really rather fantastic, with works by Tino Sehgal, Pierre Huyghe, and Lara Favaretto, providing particular high points. In terms of solo shows, Michael Krebber’s almost-but-not-quite a retrospective ‘Les escargots ridiculisés’ at CAPC Bordeaux was an obvious winner, as was Matthew Day Jackson’s ‘In Search Of…’ at the GEM museum in The Hague, while Jess Flood-Paddock impressed with her exhibition ‘X’ at Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam – a strange and beguiling essay on love via the London plane tree, sea crustaceans, and alternative therapy. The young Danish artist Alexander Tovborg has had a run of exciting shows this year (Brand New Gallery, Milan, Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, and The Hospitalhof, Stuttgart), all of which approached that most unfashionable of subjects, faith, in a way that feels both wide-eyed and curiously wise. At Sheffield’s S1 Gallery, Keith Wilson’s exhibition ‘Calendar’ was open for a single day – those who saw it could count themselves lucky to encounter, briefly, a work by one of the smartest British sculptors of his generation. London treats included Ed Atkin’s ‘Us Dead Talk Love’ at Chisenhale, Roger Hiorns at Corvi-Mora, and Tino Sehgal (again) at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
2012 saw the welcome return of two pretty much peerless TV shows – Channel 4’s pitiless sitcom Peep Show, and HBO’s improbably enjoyable fantasy epic Game of Thrones. Albums keeping me company included Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, while Ned Beaumann’s The Teleportation Accident and Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods (published in 2012 in the UK) were reminders of the novel’s capacity to surprise, and delight. Having failed to see Michael Haneke’s Amour over the Christmas holidays, I’m afraid my default film of 2012 will have to be Joss Whedon’s Marvel Avengers Assemble. Also of note: Stewart Lee’s standup set ‘Carpet Remnant World’, Stanford professor Robert P. Harrison’s podcast Entitled Opinions (essentially Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on smart drugs), and the literary websites thewhitereview.org and themillions.com.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL FOR 2013:
There are some intriguing group shows on the horizon – Massimiliano Gioni’s Venice Biennale, of course, but also Brian Dillon’s ‘Curiosity: Art & The Pleasure of Knowing’, at Turner Contemporary, Margate, and ‘Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture’ at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, both of which promise intellectually stimulating meditations on the fretful business of taxonomy and display. Later in the year, the British artists Cullinan Richards will curate an as-yet-untitled show at dispari&dispari, Reggio Emilia, Italy, that looks likely to push their ongoing explorations into the instability of painting into fascinating new terrain. I’m also looking forward to Dan Coopey bringing his witty and very stylish sculptures to London’s Gallery Vela, Matthew Darbyshire’s solo show at FRAC Nord Pas-de-Calais, Dunkerque, and to picking up a physical copy of Scott King’s recording ‘You’re My Favourite Artist’, a scabrously funny send-up of London art world mores that will be released by Vinyl Factory in early March.
Jörg Heiser is co-editor frieze, and co-publisher frieze d/e
Richard Gerstl, semi-nude self-portrait, 1904/5
My highlights of 2012, organized by month (mostly including defining moment or favourite single work)
Animism, Generali Foundation, Vienna: Stimulating exhibition, curated by Anselm Franke. Animism: the idea that plants or animals are endowed with a soul, and that stones or bones or plastic toys are not dead, or at the very least become animated by our imagination; and how that affects social interactions. The show filled that concept – once considered primitive by positivist science, now reflecting a recent increase in interest as an aesthetic and social concept – with life: animating animism. My favourite part: a 19th century anonymous landscape that forms a face, paired with a somewhat similar piece by Salvador Dalí (Paranoic Visage, 1931): ‘Leaving through a stack of photographs, Dalí found what he thought was an unknown Picasso. Then he saw it was actually an African village’. Both pieces were ‘merely’ presented via illustrations in Stewart Guthrie’s amazing book Faces in the Clouds. A New Theory of Religion (1995), in a vitrine – but still.
(This travelling exhibition started already in 2010, on show first in Antwerp at Extra City Kunsthal and M HKA , then Kunsthalle Bern, but I first saw it in Vienna.)
Susan Hiller, Kunsthalle Nürnberg: I had seen Psi-Girls before – the 1999, 5-screen video installation featuring scenes of telekinetic girls, taken from Hollywood films from the 1970s through ‘80s. But this time I saw it in this survey of Hiller’s video work, together with my daughter of six, and it was great to see her as transfixed as I was; she danced frenetically to the percussive musical interludes. And just to note, Hiller’s work, from the 1970s on, has clairvoyantly anticipated many things that many younger artists are doing today.
Isa Genzken, Schinkel-Pavillon, Berlin: My favourite piece in this elegant and hilarious show of combine sculpture could almost be overlooked, hung behind the reception desk: a collage made of wallpaper, foil and lacquer, sketching the outline of a body, the head of which is a 1980s photograph of Genzken with her then-husband Gerhard Richter – a nod, somehow bold and subtle at once, in the direction of Richter’s vast retrospective exhibition that was on show at the same time over at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie.
Willem de Rooij, Kunstverein München. A show of blissfully gleaming, hand-woven abstract tapestries that dealt with the question whether it is possible to escape what de Rooij calls ‘referential terror’, the tendency of contemporary artists to bathe in the glory of whatever intellectual or art historic sources they cite in their work. Coming from an artist who himself has made work that is all about reference, the tapestries reminiscent of Bauhaus ideals exposed the paradox rather than offering a way out. My favourite title: Taping Precognitive Tribes (2012), an anagram of… well, of what? Was it Perceptive Bigot Straining? Or was it Brave Nice Ego-Trip Spitting? Or Abortive Genetics Tripping? Or Big Painting Retrospective? I can’t remember.
Albert Oehlen, Kunstmuseum Bonn. ‘In every good art work, there is a problem and the solution comes as a surprise’, says Oehlen in the catalogue accompanying this concise survey of 40 paintings dating from 1988 to 2012. And indeed a series of recent canvasses pleasantly surprised with a loose, collagey attitude uncharacteristic for Oehlen’s busy, bursting abstractions of previous years. A palette of fresh spring hues spreads across the white picture plane like psychedelic fume – but it is contrasted with stuck-on cut-outs from supermarket ad leaflets, featuring meat filets, garden furniture, or tennis socks with German flag stripes. The problem: painting being too much in love with its own grace; the solution: a surprisingly healthy dose of bad taste.
Joel Sternfeld, FOAM, Amsterdam. I thought I had had sort of an idea of what Sternfeld’s photography is about before I realized its depth and scope over four decades in this survey. It seems almost each series he’s done served as a cue for other photographer-artists to later built whole careers on: urban street photography, flash in the face and seen with an eye for staging, anticipating Philip Lorca di Corcia; suburban big format scenes reminiscent of Jeff Wall; vistas avant Andreas Gursky; scene of the crime documentations predating David Goldblatt, to name but a few. The aforementioned artists did manage to unfold their respective, original visual language; still it was striking to see how Sternfeld had sown a good part of the seeds. I especially loved the image of the adolescent son with his father in too tight pants, in front of their suburban house.
Tova Mozard, The Big Scene, 2010, film still
Tova Mozard, Hazelblad Center, Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s impressive how this young Swedish artist extracts fresh imagery from seemingly well-trodden ground – the photographic staging of scenes reminiscent of Hollywood Americana, Hitchcock/Lynch, and of (post-)oedipal dramas featuring fatherly figures or the artist’s actual mother and grandmother. Her single-shot video portrait of Cowboy Russ (2008) is striking: he retells in detail a duel scene from The Magnificient Seven (1960) standing in a drab little flat, and she captures his vulnerability, his anxiousness, by simply letting the camera run longer than he thought she would.
Brian O’Doherty, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin. O’Doherty, apart from having written the modern classic Inside the White Cube (1976), is a conceptual artist, a Booker-Prize-nominated novelist, an art critic and art magazine editor, a television presenter, a curator, a former medical doctor, and not least, a bearer of multiple selves. In Berlin he showed a small, concise selection of art work since the 1960s, including a new example from his ongoing series of ‘Rope-Drawings’ (drawings involving geometric patterns applied directly onto a corner of the room which in turn relate to thin white ropes stretched across the room in such a manner that these elements together form a drawing, a painting, a flickering back-and-forth between 2- and 3-dimensionality).
The medical doctor joined the conceptual artist for one of O’Doherty’s most impressive pieces: in 1966, he took an electrocardiogram of Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp’s heartbeat is translated into the dance of a single oscillograph line in a box on the wall, which in Berlin one approached from a distance, at the end of a narrow passage, a bit like a saint’s relics. The concept of the readymade is applied to its own maker (the ‘found’ heartbeat), while its emphasis on the banal object is first disembodied (it’s actually not an object but ‘just’ light) and then re-invested with bodily qualities, in fact with the hauntingly ambivalent aspect of human existence itself: simultaneously triumphal (I’m alive!) and vulnerable (I could be dead any minute…).
Tino Sehgal, Villa Sarasin, Geneva. This was (more than just) the test-run to Sehgal’s much-praised instalment at dOCUMENTA (13). The latter deserves the praise, but it was especially rewarding to see the piece unfold, delicately, with only a few visitors present at a time, in a beautiful old villa on the outskirts of Geneva, with Sehgal’s interpreters finding their way into navigating the long, winding road of the dramaturgy of songs and monologues, gentle gestures and choral humming in the dark.
Dieter Roth, Museum Moderner Kunst, Salzburg. Dieter Roth’s work has been widely shown and discussed in recent years, but there are always and still magic moments to be discovered: here, for me it was a 1979 note that Roth had apparently left for his studio assistant asking him to deal with a couple of invoices – the note in fact being inserted as speech bubbles into a comic panel featuring Batman and Superman, and a villain whose head Roth had quickly painted to look like his own. Now isn’t that a great illustration of the grand idea of merging art and life.
Robert Longo, Capitain Petzel, Berlin. Longo’s large-scale black-and-white drawings are quite impressive, but his 60 minute performance piece shown in the basement of the gallery on the opening night was a real surprise._ 45 People Simultaneously Reading “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville_ (2012) provides what the title suggests, with the performers in black clothes evenly distributed on a large wooden platform with ropes around it, halfway between a ship’s deck and a boxing ring. The sound produced was, as one might assume, at first cacophonous and pretty loud; but once one zoomed in one could experience individuals trying to do their best at reading passionately, or accurately, or impressively from that great bible of the American soul – a virtual menagerie of human talent, ambition and vanity, very similar to the Internet in fact: as said, halfway between a ship’s deck and a boxing ring.
In the Whitney Biennial, New York, Nick Mauss’s installation was amongst my favourites. It combined the staging of a remade 1939 interior – an antechamber in a Parisian cosmetic company originally designed by Christian Bérard – with works from the Whitney’s collection, including a beautiful 1940 painted portrait of a hairy-chested man by Marsden Harley, a serial photographic piece by Warhol of a bicycle rider’s crotch, and an image of Helio Oiticica sporting nothing but one of his own ‘Parangolés’ –pieces to be watched and worn, halfway between canvas and cloak – and glancing over his shoulder with eye-lids half closed. The feelings and connotations evoked by the constellation was summed up in Mauss’s title: Concern, Crush, Desire.
Dana Schutz, Petzel, New York. Schutz’s painted figurations always keep me interested, thanks to her bold willingness to explore the dark dungeons of awkwardness and embarrassment, and to constantly rail with the brush against the impossibility of depicting them in a single image thus doing so nevertheless. Here, what cheered me up especially was a series of small canvasses of women yawning.
Lygia Pape, Pinacoteca, Saõ Paulo. This show had been at the Serpentine in London beforehand, but I caught it during a Brazil trip. I had seen Pape’s huge installation of rays of golden strings in Venice, but to see all her visceral video work (close-ups of mouths; musicians and the artist jumping out of paper cubes like jack-out-of-the-box) and her beautiful three-dimensional paper foldings – most of which kept with a 7’’ or 12’’ inch square format, as if to subtly allude to the immense importance of music records for Brazilian culture. I liked that Pape also made trashy-pulpy cinema posters like the one for Nelson Ferreira Dos Santo’s film Mandacaru Vermelho (1961).
Milton Machado, SP-arte, Saõ Paulo. Two amazing drawings by Milton Machado shown by gallery Nara Roessler at SP-arte in Saõ Paulo: (+) x (
) (1976) is the architectural fantasy of the construction of a convention centre from layers of black and white slices, as if created in a struggle between positive and negative space, sort of half way between Constant’s networks and Oscar Niemeyer’s curves (see my obituary here), which felt apt given the piece was shown in Niemeyer’s Biennial building. The second drawing switches from Macro to Micro-perspective: Evoluçaõ do meu pé chato (Evolution of my flatfoot, 1977), features the artist’s foot print, accompanied by three construction drawings projecting the foot’s mutation from foot to wood plane.
Martin Gostner, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. A single piece or ‘intervention’ entitled Erker der blauen Pferde (Oriel of the Blue Horses, 2012), as part of Gostner’s ongoing series of works under the header of ‘Erker’ – placements or creations of (sculptural) works in unforeseen sites, unannounced until established, from open rural fields that used to be a battleground in Italy to, as in this case, the sculpture garden platform around Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie. Gostner made resin casts of horse apples dyed in a blue chosen to be as close as possible to the blue in Franz Marc’s Der Turm der Blauen Pferde (The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913), which once was in the collection of Berlin’s National Gallery but had been lost during WWII (its last ‘owner’ was Hermann Göring). The droppings provoked probing shoe-tipping, as well as the image of Marc’s horses, before galloping away, having left an aptly modest, street-level, if fuck-you commentary on the vertical grandiosity and spectacle of any other cultural utterance nearby.
Duncan Campbell, Manifesta, Genk, Belgium. I hadn’t seen Campbell’s film Make it New John (2009) until its inclusion in Manifesta; it’s about the strange story of a car – the DMC-12, a stainless steel sports car best known as time machine in the ‘Back to the Future’ films – built in Northern Ireland in the 1970s on initiative of American entrepreneur John De Lorean: from dreams of prosperity to the grand disillusionment of bankruptcy, with the investor flying home in a Concorde. The documentary footage Campbell excavated from the vaults of television is fascinating to start with, but he increased the fascination by including some of the left-out bits from the cutting-room floor – the awkward moments of, say, politicians inspecting a factory plant normally not made part of a quick newsreel – as well as entirely staged scenes in period style.
Superflex, TBA 21, Vienna. The TBA 21 art institute has started its programme at its new site this year: Atelier Augarten, the former studio of the Austrian ‘state sculptor’ Gustinus Ambrosi, whom was a portraitist not only of Mussolini but also championed an overblown triumphal style of sculpture well in tune with the aesthetics favoured by the Nazis (In 1942 Albert Speer commissioned him to do a marble sculpture to be called Maiden with Cow for the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin). As the inaugural show, an appropriate documentary exhibition exploring Ambrosi’s archive was paired with Superflex’ project of a pair of life cows living outside the building for the duration of the exhibition, descendent from the very Tirolian cow that had been the model for Ambrosi, and with whom the sculptor had apparently fallen madly in love with – literally, erotically. There is an image on display of him embracing her head, and once you see it you will understand.
Meshac Gaba, Marriage Room: Museum of Contemporary African Art, 2000-09, dimensions variable, installation view
Meshac Gaba, Paris Triennial. Gaba’s installation Marriage Room: Museum of Contemporary African Art (2000–2009). I had always thought the worst thing any artist could do is to declare an intimate act involving or demanding someone else’s consent – including people who can’t give that consent because they are too young, too sick, or otherwise not enabled to judge the situation – a piece of art: giving birth, putting someone dying on display etc. I just felt that this kind of ‘real-life’ readymade would inevitably be pretentious or cynical or both. All the more was I pleasantly surprised how Gaba’s piece is neither. It’s about his own marriage to his Dutch spouse, and involves objects relating to his and his wife’s respective backgrounds, in a way that plays on both anthropological museum displays as well as flee market stands, transcending the limits of cultural cliché, as well as circumventing the pitfalls of the ‘real life’ readymade.
Mount Fuji doesn’t exist, Le Plateau, Paris. Conceived and installed by Elodie Royer and Yoann Gourmel, this exhibition featured works that are, to quote the curators, ‘free from any ostentation or spectacular quality, in favour of day-to-day actions’, resulting in the art work being ‘embodied everywhere and nowhere at once’. This may sound almost a little over-exaggerated, since even the most ephemeral art work does become embodied in a precise location once it’s made part of a white cube group exhibition such as this, but in any case the show included an array of gentle and pleasurable surprises, from a lost James Lee Byars exhibition being reconstructed by the curators by merely pointing out the points in the room where the respective piece would have been installed, to documentations of the joyous and strangely beautiful actions of the Japanese artist group The Play that was founded in the 1960s and is still occasionally operating. My favourite piece of theirs involves a giant egg being floated on the sea, with them inside.
Trisha Donnelly,Untitled, 2010–ongoing. Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13). Photograph: Nils Klinger
Jérôme Bel, Trisha Donelly at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel. Trisha Donelly’s opaquely beautiful, abstract, silent film loop was screened continuously in an ordinary Kassel cinema. Darkly grey flickering and shining patterns suggested, in equal measures, veils in a breeze and digital error, as if one was watching not a film but the ghost of a film. I enjoyed that piece, not only because it managed to strangely mesmerize and puzzle my eyes but also because it also seemed to comment on the demise of cinema without the least bit of sentimentalism or nostalgia.
As for Jérôme Bel’s theatre piece Disabled Theatre (2012) – it just blew my mind (why that was the case I discussed in the second half of my blog response to “documenta“http://blog.frieze.com/documenta13-day-three-off-the-main-sites-central-kassel/ ).
In July I was on holidays, seeing no art at all. Instead I read books, watched great television series, and listened to music (not that I don’t do that during the rest of the year, but more of it then). In any case I take this as an excuse to list some of the things I watched, read, and listened to all through this year, and that I enjoyed.
TELEVISION: stand-up comedian Louie C.K.’s show Louie, all three seasons, pushed what Larry David has achieved with Curb Your Enthusiasm in an even more daring, awkward, sardonically self-effacing direction – while Lena Dunham’s Girls’ first season started okay and got better and brilliant, bringing the disarming Judd-Apatow-comedy logic of slapstick colliding with love tribulation to the world of TV sitcom; the first season of Danish-Swedish crime series The Bridge, with its Aspergerish Swedish homicide detective Sofia Helin, was scary/deadpan/uncanny; Homeland, the thriller series about the CIA trying to prevent terrorist attacks, makes me feel uncomfortable about its politics the way ‘24’ did, in fact maybe even more so, because it comes with a veneer of liberal values, but I couldn’t stop watching it nevertheless, with its visual language and storytelling almost as eloquent as that of Breaking Bad; talking about it, the first half of the final season of Breaking Bad ended with a DEA agent sitting on his brother-in-law’s toilet having a huge Eureka moment, and it’s close to torture to let us viewers wait for almost a year to see what the guy does next – now that is a new definition of the cliff hanger: the toilet seater??!; and ok, I admit, me and my partner Sarah also perversely enjoyed watching Downton Abbey – despite of the evil lesbian lady’s maid, the gay valet she manipulates to do evil things, and all the other bullshit politics that presumably play a part in making it the favourite of David Cameron; I guess it’s a bit like watching porn – class porn? Everyone has to know their position…
On a lighter note, I loved Will Ferrell’s appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show (promoting his great The Campaign movie; I didn’t get much to the cinema this year, something I want to change…), with his instant hit ‘I got my tight pants on’. “Don’t wake the Snake!!!”)
MUSIC: It was the year, for me, of a surprise return of HipHop/R&B. I thought everything had been rapped and done, but then came, of course, Frank Ocean with his channel Orange album, and the epic close to 10 minutes masterpiece ‘Pyramids’: check out the incredible psychedelic Synth-break 4.30 minutes into it. ‘Bad Religion’ is another favourite track. Other highlights in that vein include Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream album, especially the dramatic synth-cascades of ‘Don’t look back’; Canadian The Weeknd’s album Trilogy; and the haunted minimal R&B of How to Dress Well, especially the track ‘Cold Nites’.
As for HipHop, Kendrick Lamar’s album good kid, m.A.A.d. city on Dr. Dre’s aftermath label stood out, but really it was the year of female rappers: ‘Werkin’ Girls’ by Angel Haze is a fantastic rap track; Azealia Banks rocked with her enthusiastically raunchy ‘212’ track, as well as with ‘Atlantis’; and Nicki Minaj is always fun (especially if she puts on what I know must be annoying to anyone living in the UK, her ‘Werkin’ Girls’ by Angel Haze is a fantastic rap track; Brit accent), and she can even persuade me to listen to cheesy Euro Trash beats thanks to her funny and inventive raps, but if the music is daringly minimal and inventive as well as with her ‘Come on a Cone’, then indeed, to quote Minaj, her ‘shit is so cold it belong in Alaska’.
Otherwise, I rediscovered Brazilian music after my first trip to the country in May. Seminal albums mostly from the early 1970s I heard for the first time this year include Jorge Ben’s A Tabua de Esmeralda (1974), Joaõ Bosco’s 1973 debut album, and Acabou Chorare by Novos Baianos from 1972. I knew quite a bit by Chico Buarque, but strangely I had missed his stunning ‘Construção’ (1971). So also counting in Caetano Veloso’s 1972 Transa, within just three years, all these masterpieces came out (and there are more). But not that there’s no new stuff, even by the veterans: Recanto by Bahian singer Gal Costa, its subtle mixture of minimal electronics and soft guitar produced by her long-time fellow Veloso, is the best comeback album in a long long time (watch her goose-bump-amazing live singing on television). Lucas Santtana’s 2012 album O Deus Que Devasta Mas Também Cura shows there are innovative, new approaches to the old Tropicalia formula.
My bet for a future pop star: Ariel Pink. Seeing Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti live in Berlin made be a believer: how the band translated lo-fi sardonic dreamer pop into energetic life mode, while Pink would sing the first three songs from backstage, via projected video – and did so as an elegant Bowie, an abrasively cheerful Cobain, a deadpan Jarvis Cocker all at the same time.
BOOKS: John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbour (of 2010) is one of the best mystery thrillers I’ve came across in recent years (Lindqvist is the same author on whose eponymous book the Swedish vampire film ‘Let The Right One In’ is based). It features two Zombie-like creatures whom exclusively speak in quotes from Morrissey lyrics. My kinda Stephen King. You might mistake Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle for cheesy Tolkin fantasy stuff, set as it is in some magic middle ages, but apart from the fact that it’s great suspense, where do you get that kind of stuff reflecting the hero’s troubles at raising his university tuitions? Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? is the kind of novel that we need more of – not caring much about all these tired expectations of the ‘well-crafted’ story, while not giving in to all too easy concepts of meta-(non)-fiction doodling either, really probing the literary exploration of contemporary young female (but not only female) experience. I’ve started reading Lynne Tillman’s fiction this year, and loved her short story collection Some Day This Will Be Funny (2011). Most of the non-fiction stuff I read this year was not of this year: Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition (2000) makes a clear point that most nationalist traditions were in fact invented in the 19th century; I started to read Vladimir Majakovsky’s collected works, and was amazed how fresh and daring his early poetry is; Caetano Veloso’s memoir Tropical Truth (2003) is a brilliant account of the Tropicalia movement; Leon Festinger’s A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) helps to understand contemporary collective fantasy’s such as the Mayan end of the world, as much as it helps to understand contemporary art.
I’m running out of time and space with this round-up, so I’ll hurry up a bit. Alexandra Bircken’s solo at Kunstverein Hamburg offered great sculptural inventiveness.
And August brought the appalling verdict against Pussy Riot, which shows Russia on the verge of becoming a Fascist state – or is it already? Sending two young mothers to two years of penal colony in rural Ural for being intelligent, political and rebellious is pointing in the direction, in any case. Which leaves Westerners with the task to show solidarity while not taking themselves too seriously doing so (as if they could bathe in the glory of rebellion remotely). Indie-rock-dadism is annoying and needs to be fought against, and there is persistent sexism in the music industry, but Pussy Riot are – bravely – about taking on even bigger opponents: the state church, dictatorial leaders; therefore it’s questionable to take Pussy Riot’s aesthetics – the masks, the punk rock, the Foucault quotes – as an excuse for desperate attempts to get marketable attention. More generally speaking, what is brave in one place might be complacent in another.
Monica Bonvicini, exhibition view at Collection Falckenberg/Deichtorhallen
Again, Hamburg: Monica Bonvicini’s show of work in drawings from 25 years at Collection Falckenberg/Deichtorhallen made clear to me how that medium actually for her is ‘more’ than just a space for sketching and modelling sculptures and installation, but a medium of humour and grace in its own right.
Sharyar Nashat, Silberkuppe, Berlin: eloquent abstraction, spandex body suits in greenscreen green.
Rodney Graham’s ‘Super-Heavy Flute’ record edition, which I came across at Jörg Johnen Gallery in Berlin, is really enjoyable!
Mike Nelson, Galerie Neugerriemschneider. In a temporary location at Gartenstraße, Nelson transformed an empty old building by almost not transforming it. An inserted staircase, a wooden stage, a single spotlight, and not much else, created a precise, haunting, moving experience.
Fort, Galerie Crone, Berlin: the young artist group re-invigorated the seemingly tired idea of the supermarket readymade by transplanting an entire interior of a ‘Schlecker’ pharmacy – a chain that recently had gone bankrupt, bringing up issues of exploitation of low-paid female workers in the aftermath – to the gallery. The crucial point was how they did it: as you entered the gallery you just saw a freestanding wall – the back of the shelves, which dawned on you only after traversing the entire space, finally seeing the empty shelves and cashier. From abstraction to bleak reality literally within one short walk.
Tino Sehgal, Tate Modern, London: I was quite sceptical because I knew what a problem crowds are to Sehgal’s work. In fact I remember him saying in the early 2000s how much he disliked exhibition openings, because he felt the presence of a crowd made the proper experience of his work – the encounter with his ‘interpreters’ or protagonists enacting the piece, whether it involves movements or verbal exchange or both – impossible. Surprisingly, not so, even in the train-station-like atmosphere of the Turbine Hall. The answer to the problem was to make the protagonists a crowd themselves – a crowd with its own logic of movement and exchange, unison or not. And then to have individuals peel away from it and approach random visitors to engage them in conversations that were sometimes a little silly, sometimes sad, but in any case disarming, probing ones willingness to test where the conversation could lead to.
Some critics furrow their brows harbouring strong reservations against Sehgal’s supposed fetishization of the body and dialogical activity of his protagonists, at times of exploitation in the neo-liberal service industries – which to me is as laughable as saying that, say, Édouard Manet by painting bourgeois gentlemen with top hats was a sinister supporter of the fierce exploitation of the working class.
Oliver Laric, online. Laric showed some of his work at the Frieze Talks. I had seen quite a bit of his work ‘live’, but this presentation made me realize what a treasure chest his website is, leading you in all sorts of different directions. For example with the many versions, made by online users, of his green screen version of a Mariah Carey video clip. How contemporary art can go viral.
Alessio delli Castelli, gallery Dan Gunn, Berlin. What a smart debut show for this new gallery. Especially loved the Warburgian collages.
Real fun at the ‘Naked Men’ exhibition at Leopold Museum in Vienna (there was also an exhibition called ‘The Naked Man’ at Lentos museum in Linz, Austria, but apparently no direction connection, apart from the theme itself). An absolute highlight was a semi-nude self-portrait of 1904/5 by Richard Gerstl, a young Viennese painter who had been the lover of Arnold Schoenberg’s wife Mathilde and committed suicide in 1908, at the age of 25.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Photograph: John Lewis Marshall
Re-opened Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam: two paintings shown across from each other in the corner captured my attention: Nola Hatterman’s portrait, in the style of Neue Sachlichkeit, of the Surinamese boxer, barman and carbaret artist Jimmy van der Lak, sitting Gentleman-style on the terrace of a café (On The Terrace, 1930, acquired by the Stedeliijk in 1931). And Johan van Hell’s Musical Saw of 1934 (acquired in 1935), which shows two street musicians, with a policeman in the background, and the musical saw bent between the legs of the seated fellow being an obvious and ironic allusion to a phallus, and the persecution of homosexuals. Two great paintings of Dutch artists I had never heard of before, reminding me that museum collections are still full of stuff waiting to be rediscovered.
I finally managed to see all three Caravaggios in Naples in three different locations: The Seven Works of Mercy (1607) at a chapel, The Flagellation of Christ (1607) at Capo di Monte Museum, and his very last painting, The Matyrdom of Saint Ursula (1610), at a former bank. Can’t get enough of it.
Reasons to be cheerful in 2013:
Thomas Bayrle at WIELS, Brussels, February; Franz West at MUMOK, Vienna, in February; Werner Büttner, ZKM, Karlsruhe, April; Anri Sala in the German Pavilion, which will in fact be the French Pavilion, at the Venice Biennale; Louise Lawler at Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Isa Genzken at MoMA, New York, and Laura Lima at Migros Museum, Zurich, in November. In February, the release of Azealia Banks’ debut album. The second season of Girls, and the last eight episodes of Breaking Bad. Can’t wait.