2014 April: Galleries, Berlin and Embarrassing Press Releases

Lately I have been visiting galleries all around London.

In March I saw Erik Van Lieshout’s “Private View” at Maureen Paley gallery. The space was broken up into a chaotic maze of cardboard and wooden constructions covered in paper collage. The images featured mostly members from the Dutch royal family cut out from newspapers and collaged together in awkward ways, using also family photos and photos of the working class in his home country.

I could see that there were witty stories at play here but I couldn’t understand them, probably because I know nothing about life in the Netherlands. To me the exhibition looked haphazard and interesting, but somehow pointless. Upstairs was a film also, and it showed the artist in the gallery space with bits and pieces of his materials lying all over the floor as he is in the process of putting together the exhibition, and I didn’t find this interesting, as it is very long and uneventful.

Erik van Lieshout also had work at the 2013 Venice Biennale which I happened to not see. He showed a film that follows the lives of his mother, father and sister, all of whom are social workers, investigating both the personal (his family and their relationships and concerns) and the impersonal (their duties and work). He was also interested in exploring “why people want to help each other” and the altruistic aspects of their work versus their private concerns. He made a raised construction that resembled a beach, complete with parasols and a retro car with open doors, for people to sit amongst and watch in an outdoor cinema. I feel sorry to have missed it as it sounds interesting.

At the Approach in Bethnal Green I saw Sophie Bueno-Boutellier. Although the paintings were to my mind strategically commercial and quite uninspired looking, and the sculptural installation was quite boring, there was something innovative and interesting about her tapestries. Using threads barely differing in colour (different kinds of beiges) she transferred blown up images of details of folded fabrics, onto tapestry. This gave a strange illusionary effect. The objects felt familiar and three dimensional, yet the image appeared abstract. Using the same material (woven thread) as a medium to depict the fabrics, was also an interesting analysis of material.

I was also in Berlin on a trip with my college and was lucky enough to see a great variety of work. In the large national galleries, there was familiar American and British modern art, but as I traversed a bit out of town I saw all kinds of experimental shows. Some of them were highly commercial, and some of them were impossible to capitalise on. Some of them I liked, some of them not.

Some of these press releases are hilarious. I saw some interesting plaster sculptures made from moulds that hung from the wall and protruded. This was by Stijn Ank, at Michael Janssen Gallery. An explanatory passage reads:

“The fact of the matter is that these solid shapes are not figures, they don’t have a face from which any significance could be read. But they are shapes, and they make sense: they pave the way for a sensible interaction, or an interaction of senses. They make sense and they make sense recur. They take a sensible stance, petitioning us to make sense ourselves, so much so that our senses work, before we can attribute any meaning to them, the instant we see them as physically sensual.

The sense of these works is to make our senses work.”

Aside from this ridiculousness (language barriers are no excuse here) the sculptures were certainly interesting to look at, the way they looked like soft and delicate tissues despite their hard and heavy material.

At Dittrich & Schlechtriem Gallery I saw some pretty cool work by Klaus Jørres (“Era”). I must quote a press release here as well:

“…a purism that represents the intrinsic value of the object as a thing in itself. The semblance of simplicity unifies the canvas as an object and surface, turning it into an interpellative resonance chamber that leaves the viewer in a state of stark self-reflection”

Almost the very same verbal support is repeatedly used for works of minimalism as far as I can tell, even where it does not feel relevant, and has been used for a long time. I think the Neue Nationalgallerie has virtually the same description for Paul Newmann’s painting, and this is so old by now. The idea, that is, that the picture is so flat and endless and uniform that it serves as a mirror into your soul, or interacts directly with your subconscious like a Rorschach inkblot test. Then on top of that, the recurring flamboyant language such as describing a canvas as an “interpellative resonance chamber”. I have actually no problem with hyping up a truly interesting aspect of a work with verbal ideas; if they are truly reflecting on something prominent about the work. But I feel so much of this writing is a pure sexification, with so obviously little to do with the work that it is embarrassing to me to imagine writing such a thing… I appreciate the idea of textual support for various ideas that enforce the power of a work, but I believe they are done far too carelessly too often, and that they could be far more interesting and relevant to a reader.

As for the work, Klaus did do something I rather liked. He spray painted straight lines onto black surfaces with a white grid. The grid is reminiscent of mathematical paper, structural and designed for working something out or drawing something precisely. The spray paint on the other hand, is ghostly and elusive, and so when applied on top of a grid, it seems to float, or interact with the grid defyingly. A grid of this nature may be used to figure out the area of a shape, but the strips of paint hover around the squares like a gas seeping through a barbed fence. I think it is interesting because of the sense of physics it communicates. You stand and wonder what is solid, what is in front and behind, what is grounded and what is floating.

Then there was Jonathan Vandyke at Loock Galerie. He was doing that thing where you go through a hefty amount of process to produce a work far removed from its initial beginnings, but which also serves as an evidential remnant of the process. In this case, I did enjoy the end product, and I thought it was very appropriately displayed, but I would prefer not to know about the process! I love dance and believe there are lots of cool things that can happen when you combine dance and fine art, but this was the old covering yourself in paint, sporadically covering others with paint, and rubbing bodies together, in order to make their clothes colourful. These garments were then stripped into pieces and from them were made quilted fabrics that were then stretched as canvases over frames, and as paintings they looked pretty cool. They were hung on wooden beams which traced around the gallery creating a sort of maze, hung such that it was possible to look both in front and behind the paintings, where they also looked interesting.

Michiel Ceulers at Johan Kønig spoke to us about his method, which was quite interesting. He enjoys using industrial paint and approaches. Using tape to create 3 dimensional grids around canvases, he fills the cavities with this gooey paint, after which he strips off the tape leaving the painted studs behind.

So then I came back home and saw Franz Ackermann at the White Cube. The urban landscapes were musical and colourful and had impact. I must say I didn’t much like the three dimensional paintings with pop-up like layers, it seemed to try too hard to be decorative rather than explorative. I remember noticing that various bits and pieces of the large paintings suddenly interested me more than the whole thing. I also preferred his watercolours and drawings. They were particularly wild and playful, and gave me the impression that he was really attempting to inhabit these urban spaces with his brush. The larger works attempt to tie all these experimental pieces together with design-minded correctness and this seems a pity to me.

Also at the White Cube, Darren Almond had some very beautiful photographs of isolated landscapes displayed that were taken all over the world. They were all taken under the light of a full moon, with long exposure, enabling, as the gallery claims, “details undetectable to the human eye to be revealed”. The title for his series I think is wonderful: “To Leave a Light Impression”. Not only does it connote the use of this particular and relatively rare form of light, but it reflects upon his travels as a whole as just a light treading of the earth, and his photographs as just a slither of a glimpse at the wonderfully diverse planet we live on.

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