October 24, 2016

Abstract Cries of Murderous Birds: the Trautonium

I had a good time yesterday listening to the trautonium played by Peter Pichler at the Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung. At moments it go so loud and shrill that some people in the audience had to hold their hands on their ears. That’s the sonic power of this pre-synthesizer: its sound is dissonant, it has a great pitch-slide, and you can hit full volume with only a short depression of the finger. One knob in particular seemed to be Pichler’s favourite and he explained later it was the one that can turn a sound from soft to sharp. The trautonium was created in Berlin in 1929 as an instrument that creates a new sound that doesn’t imitate anything. Abstract music, so to say. 

Accompanying a film of Alfred Ehrhardt’s Korallen - Skulpturen der Meere, 1964, it was the sound that made the corals look like aliens. Now I also know why The Birds of Hitchcock freaked me out - the whole sound track was created by the trautonium. Hitchock wanted an electronic, cold, unnatural sound for his horror movie and came upon Oskar Sala playing the trautonium in Berlin. Picher gave us a bit of The Birds at the end of his concert. It is the sound track of the trautonium: abstract cries of murderous birds. Yet the sound of screaming birds wasn’t longer used for the seventh and last attack in the movie. Hitchcock explained: “What I wanted to get in that attack is as if the birds were telling Melanie, ‘Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.’”

October 22, 2016

Cocktail Hour at a François Morellet Exhibition

Invitation card of the exhibition in Thibaut de Ruyter's trademark - the negative photograph

Raisins, green tomatoes and crackers were served together with some delicious cocktails at last night’s finissage of Neue-Neue Nationalgalerie, a François Morellet exhibition at Jordan/Seydoux. I arrived late, hadn’t eaten, and it was the first thing I went for. I swiftly brushed by curator Thibaut de Ruyter, letting him know my first impression - “so 1950s!” He took that the wrong way and kept shadowing me during the rest of the night saying the exhibition was referencing two decades later: the 1970s. Fact is that it was in the 1970s that Morellet had his first big retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Exhibiting at the Neue Nationalgalerie is always a bit of a struggle for artists since there are no walls. Thibaut told me that Van der Rohe had been on the lazy side and he had used an unrealized project for the Bacardi family in Cuba in order to build the museum in Berlin. The result is a transparent hall which is better for having cocktail parties than for hanging exhibitions. So Morellet decided to hang his paintings with wires from the ceiling, which turned out to be a magnificent idea. 

Exhibition view

Thibaut de Ruyter found those exhibition photos of the 1970s, plastered them on one wall, and took over the same hanging for the other works in the space. That’s why I got the 1950s effect, because I’m sure that this hanging method was invented in that decade after the war, a time when space was economized to the fullest. Think of the 1950s kitchens and offices. The same happened with exhibitions space - walls or no walls, hang the pictures in the middle! At least, that’s my theory - I don’t know where I got it from, probably Mad Men. But I must say that it’s also Morellet’s work that made me think in that direction. When you see his work as such, you can see it has aesthetics, but there is also something that makes you wonder if he wasn’t just a white male with the right connections in the 1950s, when being a man still meant you owned the place. This was before Andy Warhol came in.

The thing is, Morellet’s work needs installation and then it does magic. He was apparently good at it himself, and so is Thibaut de Ruyter, who is an architect, which you notice because he is meticulous about space - a wrong plinth can freak him out whereas a perfect symmetry of lines makes him happy. That’s the person you need to handle Morellet’s work. Also because Thibaut, despite his rigour about the 1970s, brings his own subtle humour to it. I mean, he chose the color green for one wall to evoke the green marble shafts of the Neue Nationalgalerie. I can’t explain to you why that is funny but I had to laugh when he told me, so it is. Thibaut actually told me that Morellet himself had a sense of humour.  A visitor said you could see the humour in the titles: they describe exactly what is being done in the paintings (Du vert à l’orange (5 trames de carrés réguliers pivotées sur le côté) which is also kind of funny in that very particular funny kind of way. 

October 16, 2016

Such Great Heights. On Artists Climbing High, the A-Team, Frieze and Karstadt

Thinking about religion this Sunday morning, I decided to stay on a high level in the afternoon and go see the exhibition such great heights at a former indoor climbing hall in Neukölln. The exhibition is organized just for the weekend by artists who, when I talked to them, denied having curated the exhibition. I proposed the word “arranging”, but then the word “hanging” came out as the most adequate. Hanging indeed, because the artists must have climbed quite a bit to install the art work on these climbing walls. The visitor could only see the works from above and binoculars were given for close-up viewing. I loved it - I’ve never been to an exhibition where you could see the art only from one perspective, and I can tell you that the perspective from high above is a good one. It made me wonder if even higher viewing perspectives would be possible, like bird view wise. And don't ask me why, but that made me think of a helicopter chase of the A-Team (probably the climbing hall brought me there), and I looked at the artists who were hanging out together in the space drinking coke, and they did look like a team that is acting on the good side helping the oppressed - isn’t that the definition of artists anyway? 

You see, my fantasy was running wild but the exhibition invited me to do so, with calls of birds that only fly on high heights, a boys band singing in the far back, relaxing peignoirs, flags of unknown territories, sculptures that take form in between half human and half something else, and in the middle of it all was a real man working on what is going to be a boulder hall in the future (I asked the artists but they didn’t pay him to be there on a Sunday. Apparently an art exhibition just isn’t something that would keep the guy from working when he wants to. Word!). I googled the exhibition title when I was back home, thinking it must be a reference to something. It is. It’s a song by The Postal Service and it goes like this: “They will see us waving from such great heights, ‘Come down now,’ they'll say. But everything looks perfect from far away, ‘Come down now,’ but we'll stay...” 

Talking about heights, one of the artists is my anonymous source who I’ve been quoting here before. He has great insights into the art world and he travels high places. That’s why I didn’t need to go to Frieze London last week. I just go to Neukölln and talk to my informant. “How was it?” I asked. “It’s like going to Karstadt”, he said, “but then filled with art works.” “Right on,” I nodded, “seen anything new?” “No, just the usual biggies.” “Mmmm”, I sighted. “But the gallerists were happy,” my informant told me, “The sales went great.” “Aha,” I said, losing interest. “Does that phone number on the exhibition poster work for real?” I asked another artist. It says: “For further information please call 0176 72 644 738 / 0151 72 824 116.” The artist smiled mischievously. Why don’t you try it out, my dear reader, and give a call to up above? Tell them to come down, will you? 

* such great heightsantonia breme andi fisch konrad fischer
lucia kempkes hrefna hörn leifsdóttir thomas mader lucas odahara sarah rosengarten sonia senese lea st.
vince tillotson eva vuillemin & frauke schmidt  josh zielinski