February 21, 2016

Process Art. Its Manual, and How Not To Lose Your Cool

On Friday I went to a conference on process art at the museum. What is process art? Take Joseph Beuys’ multiple Lemon Light / Capri Battery - that’s process art. The problem at the museum is that this real lemon gets mouldy instead of drying out. But basically everything is process art in contemporary art. In the end, it will all disappear. It fits perfectly with my theory on Das Verschwinden des Materials (the disappearance of material). The trick is that good art turns into a memory image (while bad art vanishes totally). I know that sucks when you want to own something or if you want future generations to see it as well. So I visited the conference because I wanted to meet the ones who are obstructing my theory: the art restorers. Their aim is to slow down time so that the art work doesn’t fall apart that easily. I've talked about restorers before, in the embodiment of Franziska Klinkmüller, and at the conference she was sitting on my left side, and on my right side was Viola Eickmeier, who is an art producer. I could relax, but my companions were of course very tense, laughing ironically here and there, with all this responsibility weighting on their shoulders. 

I went to the talk of Patrick Peternader who is in charge of the Flick Collection in the Hamburger Bahnhof. I never saw Patrick Peternader lose his cool when facing an art work, which is exceptional in the museum world. A Dan Flavin neon light might start to flicker, but Patrick Peternader won't blink a nervous eye. So I know he must be doing it right and I wanted to know his secret. He told us how he’s handling art. Basically, when an art work is bought by the Flick Collection, money is only transferred when a decent manual has been delivered by the artist on how to install the art work. The ideal is that the manual is so precise, clear, and instructive that even somebody who is not familiar with the work and the artist could install it. Patrick Peternader admitted that this ideal manual rarely manifests itself. Mostly the manual is as complex as the work. My advice would thus be to buy simple art - simple art is the best anyway (take Andy Warhol), and to buy art à la Dieter Roth, like the moldy cheese, where it’s not necessary to have a manual since the idea is that it keeps on changing until it stops to exist. The only thing you can do is to put it under a bell jar. Finally, it becomes oral history. And hasn't history proven that the oral totally wins from the written one?  

February 19, 2016

German Progress, Art Gossip on the Train, and the Richard Meier Style Room in Frankfurt

Me sneaking at my neighbour's magazine. Photo: Silke

Train rides can be surreal in Germany. First of all they change your perception of Germany as an efficient, punctual country. But they also defy your idea of what progress is supposed to mean. Take the ticket controller who protested about my wrinkled ticket, saying that her new equipment is very sensitive and that such wrinkles don’t register. Ha! One would think that progress makes sure that equipment is so sensitive that it can even register your code through all wrinkles, spots, smudges etc. But no, progress means that technology is developed so that only the wrinkle-free, spotless surface can be registered. This made me think of flawless art like the one of Alicja Kwade that is very popular now. Art reveals so much about society, doesn’t it? 

I had a good time on the train to Frankfurt though. I always bring heaps of work because I have this wrong positive perception of myself as someone who will take advantage of 4 hours concentrated time on the train. Unfortunately, as always, I started staring out the window, contemplating the German landscape and wondering what people are doing in remote areas, how do they survive outside Berlin? I’m always in awe. Then I got distracted by the magazine of my neighbor, a woman reading Freitzeit Woche. It was about how to get rid of the nasty callused skin on your feet, and another one about nobility living in a castle. Such magazines always fascinate and repulse me simultaneously, and here my self-destructiveness manifests itself in that I just can’t stop reading. The same happens when I'm at the hairdresser where I always read Gala Magazine. Will these magazines die out together with the elderly generation? I asked myself. Silke from the press office caught me in the act and because she didn’t want to disturb my fun, she only showed me the photograph when we had arrived in Frankfurt. Very nice indeed.

Happy in the Richard Meier Style Room. Photo: Silke

I spotted a few more art people on the train who were on their way to Karsruhe for a regional art fair. Trains are great for gossip because people are bored and reveal things they would otherwise never say to you. So I can tell you that Julia Stoschek is moving to Berlin, also her art space, since she is pregnant, and her boyfriend lives in Berlin and he is a very good “partie” as they say in Germany. They didn’t want to tell me more, and asked me worriedly if I do a society column. I wouldn’t call my blog like that, would you? Anyway,  aim was the exhibition in Frankfurter Kunstverein, about which I will tell you in the near future. After visiting the show and eating Frankfurt’s famous green sauce with eggs, I had an hour left before taking the 4 hours track back to Berlin, and I took advantage to see the Museum für Angewandte Kunst. I just went to see the one room curated by Thibaut de Ruyter since I’m a fan after his show at Eigen + Art Lab. Finding it, the green hairy carpet underneath the Corbusier chairs caught my attention immediately. WTF! Hairy green! Even wearing green clothes is problematic. I scanned the flyer twice to find out where it came from, but no trace of the carpet’s source, whereas every other item in the room is labelled. Thibaut told me later he had consciously placed it in the Richard Meier style room, because he wanted to reenact the environment Meier’s furniture had been shown in - that is rich people who do their villas to the perfection, but they always get it wrong somewhere somehow. Haha!  

Grüne Soße

On the train ride back I sat next to an art critic from the famous Artforum. We started talking about the anthropological phenomena we spotted in the art world, which was very interesting but I can’t reveal to you more about the content. .. he told me he would take revenge if I did so. I got very excited about that, thinking he would write badly about me in Artforum. You know how bad publicity is good publicity anyway.  Oh, he said, they wouldn’t publish it because you’re not known enough. Hehe! I’m scared anyway (I do secretly think I’m big enough for Artforum...) Shouldn’t the press office scan its people better? he wondered while looking at me... 

February 18, 2016

Guest Blogger Shuai Wang Escapes Berlin Winter for a Los Angeles Art Break

You know Shuai Wang. He's the art lover in my art lovers series! You might have seen him on my Instagram because we do gallery hopping and he's very photogenic when positioned next to the art. We even wrote a poem together after seeing an Agnes Martin exhibition at the Tate and you can also read our WhatsApp conversation about art. Now, I knew Shuai has a sharp eye, and when he came back from his trip to Los Angeles he surprised me with his first art review. I'm thrilled! And I just hope there will be more. 

South LA, aerial view

It was almost nine years ago when I took the morning flight down to Los Angeles. The plane flew towards downtown and took a sharp U turn, then descended towards the faintly gold sheets of city grids. This view of South LA below had this two dimensional quality that I have seen nowhere else since. During this exact same descent, but unlike the nervous fresh geology graduate I was, who dreaded the idea of having to start from absolute zero in a city of mostly single story houses and freeways, I had a sense that this time I was in for a treat. Partly perhaps I knew I could finally take a break from Berlin winter 2016, but mostly because I knew I would get to hang out with my good friend Alice, an LA based artist, who had already planned an exciting list of outings at various art locations in the city.

I first visited the main location of MOCA on Grand Avenue and the Broad. Similar to various upper-end institution shows I have been to in Europe and North America, this time I feel I am starting to recognize more and more names that appeared in many other shows before. I suppose once you have been written into art history, your work is a must have everywhere.

A piece from Barbara Kasten's Construct NYC series, 
one of the pieces that really got my attention at the MOCA.

The Broad is the new contemporary art museum in LA, located just across the street from MOCA. While the entry is free, to ensure a reasonable amount of waiting, I had to wake up and go there 30 minutes before opening time. The collection displayed in the museum is vast, filled with works from well known and familiar names. The works there have a very common theme: they all look great, shiny, have a good colour combination, are edgy but not too edgy, talk about interesting themes but not offensive. I suppose this is to be expected from a show sourced from, what I assume, a for-profit collection. I thought this can be a great place of learning for artists who are particularly interested in “making it.” I think there is a specific look that the art market is going after at any given time, this show provides a summary of those looks.

On the following evening, Alice took me to an exhibition at the Historic Southwest Museum, where Brock Enright and Thomas McDonell's show are being hosted at the entrance tunnel. The tunnel consisted of series of small display boxes, each containing a sculpture. One sculpture with a shopping cart, of which one of the wheels is constantly spinning, making a dim sound and a video sculpture streaming video captured from behind the TV display are the only two sculptures that I can still recall without looking at my photos. I thought the location was quite unique. The location is in the hilly residential Mount Washington area, which was very beautiful at night. 

Exhibition at the Historic Southwest Museum

The second opening of the evening was the much hyped outdoor Art Bandini. Prior to arriving, it was a struggle to find its location. I was informed later that their opening location and time are only revealed shortly before the opening. And the shows are usually on for a very limited amount of time. The location was packed, with a very casually dressed hipster crowd. The artwork was either presented outside or in very humbly constructed and brightly lit door-less structures. Though I gathered how it must be an important place for people in the LA art scene to socialize, I have failed to appreciate the quality of the works presented. This reminded of countless number of artist organized shows I have encountered in Berlin. 

Outdoor video projection and performance at Art Bandini

The start of the third evening was marked by the opening of the Jiro Takamatsu at the Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery. It is one of the most professionally curated shows that one can ever expect. But it was no surprise to find such show at one of the most prestigious locations in LA. The space was stunning. Hidden inside of a high walled compound, in the up and coming Midcity part of LA. From the entry garden, one is presented the view of the tasteful lit gallery space through its glass wall. The centerpiece of Takamatsu's show is his piece Rusty Ground, which was exhibited at the Documenta 6 (1977). Other works of his consisted of geometric drawings, ghostly/shadowy object paintings and a tilted ladder standing tilted on a brick with accompanying photographs. The photographs of the ladder and the brick stood out the most. Alice commented on how Takamatsu does not go deep into explaining why the work is the way it is, much of the creative process seems to rely on instincts. 

 Garden view of Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Rusty Ground by Jiro Takamatsu

Jiro Takamatsu

Jiro Takamatsu

We then headed towards Boyle Heights, which is just east of downtown LA. This is one of the most hyped up and coming areas in the creative scene, with rents going up quickly and tons of spaces are being taken for artist and gallery use. Driving after dark on empty and wide roads over concrete bridges with intimidating looking industrial complexes passing by, I thought this is one of the most mysterious but luring LA moments. This must be one of the reasons why David Lynch is such a big fan of LA. 

The first show we visited in this area is the solo show by Laure Prouvost at the Fahrenheit organised by the Flax Foundation. The main piece of the show consisted of a video projection, with the floor space in front of the video project coated with a layer of blue resin. Mixed in the resin are many small objects that seem to be related to the storyline of the video. A car that appeared in the video was also parked in the gallery parking lot, playing, in sync, the audio track. While the video did make me want to watch it for at least a couple minutes, it seemed like it was produced in less than a week. The whole video screamed “I want to be Ryan Trecartin.” I had the feeling that this is just another version of these semi-surreal video collages that you encounter in art shows everywhere these days. 

Video installation by Laure Prouvost 
at Fahrenheit by FLAX

The evening ended by a quick browse at the nearby Mitchell Syrop show at Francois Ghebaly, where we were chatted up briefly by the owner, mistaking us possibly as rich Chinese collectors. Outside of its parking lot there was a food truck, that sold delicious tacos. Maybe someone should take up this business idea for Berlin openings.

On Monday evening, I went to a party downtown called Mustache Monday, known to be frequented by gay artists in town. As many people in the crowd dressed quite similar to the Berlin circle, which is quite unusual for LA, I couldn't stop thinking that there are probably a lot of non-LA people there. This was confirmed by the sighting of a few New York and Berlin based people, whose names I would only share with An. The music of the place, for a gay party, was surprisingly macho and aggressive, very hip-hop oriented. Maybe there is an equivalence that can be drawn between the South LA gangster thing and that of the German Prolls. 

Night flight out of LA, the plane first headed westward toward the ocean, then made a right turn, giving its passengers a grand view of the city, busting with light. This trip to LA nine years after my experience of living here as a geologist could not have been more different. Unlike the nine years younger me, who was complaining about the city's traffic, architecture and its American-ness, I found myself being mesmerized by its incredible diversity and what it offers in possibilities. It is because of this diversity and vast range of opportunities that my ongoing discussion with Alice, in regards to what makes a true artist, was brought up during my time spent with her. I am still wondering how one can describe it. Similar to any art center, artists in LA feel the need to participate in the scene in order to find a way to make it. But the city's wealth and its relative lower cost of living has encouraged many to make art without such participation. Are they the true artists?

February 11, 2016

How to Have an Art Overdose or Überdosis? Excess at the Art Bookstore

Sales rule at the art bookstore: "Good things are never cheap."

In the freelance business you need to brainstorm every few months for new projects. I do a reorientation like once a year, mostly in September. I also tend to do creative brainstorming for other people’s businesses. When I go to a café, as a curator I tend to come up with ways to improve the place aesthetically so it can attract more customers. Most of the time I have to keep these ideas for improvement to myself. There’s only one place where I dare to utter them and that is at the art bookstore, since I hang there a lot and I feel that as a loyal customer I may have my input in the business. The salespeople at the art book store have been quite resistant so far. They are appreciative about my engagement, so they tell me, but my ideas are not commercial enough. "What is better than profit?" salesperson S. asked me: "more profit!" 

Yet, a few weeks ago, a new salesperson started out at the bookstore and I thought I could use this blank page to my advantage to sell my ideas. While I was boasting to her about my great ideas for the art bookstore, the director of the museum came in and overheard me. I felt obliged to elaborate on one of my ideas, which involves Joseph Beuys, which happens to be the director’s specialization. It’s about making two packages of books - one tower of Andy Warhol books, which would be wrapped like a present and called “Over-Dose Andy Warhol,” and another tower of books called “Überdosis Joseph Beuys.” Both overdoses could be neutralized if you buy them together because you know how too much of an Andy Warhol is an over-dose and too much of a Joseph Beuys is an Überdosis, but both together are very digestable. This I know by experience. When I started out doing guided tours at the museum, the artist Wolfgang Müller explained to me the benefit of combining Warhol and Beuys one after the other. You see, Beuys and Warhol are complementary opposites. Whereas Warhol goes to the surface to dig for its hidden messages, Beuys starts on the opposite side, let’s say the roots then to go on to their substance. Giving guided tours, I enjoy shocking my (especially German) audience by calling Joseph Beuys the German Andy Warhol. Both were icons, like the Beatles in the music, and both had humor, which involves a certain surface, although you would think that, at first sight, Beuys is nothing but intense. 

The director clearly thought my overdose / Überdosis was a funny idea. I mean, he smiled, and I saw how P., who is in charge of the art bookstore, started to slightly reconsider his opinion about my proposal. Until now he hasn’t acted upon it, but I’ve good hopes that by Christmas time 2016 he will have done so. You can help me out by asking the sales people where you can buy that overdose or Überdosis. It will make them realise there's a substantial market of art lovers who are in urgent need of excess.

February 10, 2016

What Would Jennifer Do? Nr. 3: Akane Kimbara on How Artists Look at Art

Japanese artist, art blogger and friend Akane Kimbara and I do gallery hopping and we do so always with Jennifer on our mind. Last week we were at KW which ended up with me reflecting about choosing love. Now Akane writes for the first time in English to explain to me how an artist looks at art.

お久しぶりです。共通の友人ジェニファーが以前メッセでJoão Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paivaの作品を見てすごく気に入ったらしく、是非、展覧会を見に行って二人の感想聞かせて!と言ってきたのでWWJD第二弾となりました。

I usually write about my thoughts and theories in Japanese, even though I’m not quite sure how many people can read them, while your blog is followed by people all over the world. But this time, I would really like to share my opinions. So I will make an effort and write this entry in English. Last time we met, we touched on some different topics - the affinity between artists of three particular countries - Japan, Iceland and Switzerland, and the “trendy” styles of female and male artists around the age of forty. An, let’s speak about each of these topics in more depth sometime - maybe we could do a symposium or a workshop together?

You wrote about why Jennifer likes those filmic meditations… huhuhu, filmic meditations... (I like this word!) To be honest, I also like them. Quite a lot! Because we hadn’t met each other for a long time, we chatted that day about personal stuff, and so I didn’t really pay that much attention to the films. But when I was at home, I remembered what I saw, and I was overcome by the thought that I wanted to see these films again - even though the sound of the projectors was distracting. (I understand the aesthetic that the artists were striving for, but still I would have preferred if the room had been silent - it would have been more effective for me.)

Such filmic meditations do not have a clear beginning or end, and are not just "tickling" or "clever". But I sensed something, even though I only saw short, but engaging sequences. If Jennifer and I had visited the exhibition together, we probably would have stayed a long time just to watch the films. We feel something. That means there is something. Of course, this stems from our Zen-nun like tastes. But it’s not just that, there is also a difference in perspective between an artist and an art-historian or curator in the way we perceive works of art. 

When I look at a work by a fellow artist, I’m mainly interested in the way they process their thoughts. In your "Berlin Art Lovers" segment, I talked about the development of an artwork being similar to the growing of a plant. When I look at art, I probably start looking for the root of each artist right away, and try to grasp it. In the end, it is not so important to me what shape a work of art assumes, because each artist has their own style and medium anyway. 

I think you might be looking for a more concrete answer from a work itself. If I may describe this, I would say: an artist is growing a work from the seed to the plant. The curator creates their work from the finished plant, right? Therefore you need more of a tangible harvest. Both are very creative ways to work. You as a curator need many different kinds of plants (artworks) and concentrate on finding a new interpretation or perspective. The artist, on the other hand, is busy raising their own plant, developing their own work. For me, it is not the priority if I like or dislike the form that an artwork takes, as long as I can get in touch with the thought process of the artist. What is the most important aspect for you, when you look at a piece of work?

I like bell hooks’ definition of love. In my mind, another important aspect is "passion" or “excitement”. When I create a work of art, or when you think and write about art, we definitely need excitement. Without it, one cannot reach the necessary strength to fully express oneself. Even those trendy female artist around 40, who hide any hint of emotion in their work, or the trendy male artists creating impeccable objects and giving them poetic names for mystical sheen, they also need excitement first.

By the way, are there also thoughts, interpretations, philosophies or manifestos that are “trendy” or popular among curators at the moment?

February 4, 2016

What Would Jennifer Do? Nr. 2: All About Love

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva in KW, Berlin

It was a Friday night, freezing outside and cosy warm inside. I decided to stay home. After reading Patti Smith’s M Train, I  can now admit that I too watch detectives, but unlike Patti Smith I watch only the traditional ones like Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse and Columbo. So that night I watched a show in which Poirot sees an art exhibition he clearly dislikes: “It’s most educational.” I remember Miss Marple saying something similar: “It’s most enlightening!” Haha, both are much worse than the usual “it's interesting.” Meanwhile my friend Will was being brave and was so nice to keep me updated with WhatsApp about his gallery hopping route. He started at Duve and ended a few hours later at insitu. “Courageous,” I messaged him, feeling a little envious. “I love art”, he replied. 

A few days later, under better weather circumstances, I was on the road myself because I’m an art lover too. I made a great discovery, which I have to tell you first. The café of the Boden Museum is beautiful! There’s nobody there, no tourists, and you can sit underneath that majestical roof and the service is just wonderful (this is a secret tip, only for readers of this blog <3). Artist and art blogger Akane Kimbara joined me since we were determined to write the second part of our WWJD-series, which started last November. Akane told me that our friend Jennifer had told her to see the show at KW. The downstairs exhibition was by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. The hum of the many 16mm film projectors created the sound of lawnmowers and when I closed my eyes I was back in the Belgian country on a summer day. I could see why Jennifer likes these filmic meditations. The projections are beautiful and zen. But I’m afraid I have a perverse mind, so I was only thinking that this was too beautiful: put an old camera on a turtle for a while, slow down the time, make it silent, and it’s bound to be beautiful. Akane agreed there was lack of “tickling” of some sort. 

That’s when Akane told me her theory about this “tickling” quality of art. You can find it in art made in Japan, Iceland, and Switzerland. The similarity between the three countries might have come about because of the geographical isolation (even Switzerland is like an island in Europe). I would add that also the volcanic chemistry might connect Japan and Iceland, but I’m unsure if Switzerland has some - it must since they have the Alps, right? Other big art theories were discussed, inspired by Akane’s recent gallery hopping with Jennifer in New York. You see, there’s a generation of female artists around 40, with Alicja Kwade on top, which takes cold materials like sand, marble, glass, gold to make their flawless art and then afterwards peppers it with some philosophy. I believe that these female artists want to counter the reduction of women artists to their body and biography. This trend sells very well, which is obvious if you work with materials that are high on the conventional list and you refuse to make them flawed. Then there’s generation of male artists around 40, who make well executed objects and then choose the most poetic titles to give the work some mystical glance. This we saw on the second floor of KW in a show by Michael Müller. Take the title “Oral / Mango Milk and Sweet Smoke,” which basically refers to a cigarette but box. This generation of male artists are perfect exhibition makers, because they create images for galleries, installations for museums, and some little pieces for collectors. Very agreeable, indeed.

Lada Nakonechna at Eigen +Art Galerie

So far the theoretical part of our tour. We crossed the street to Eigen + Art Galerie, where I had met the Ukrainian artist Lada Nakonechna the week before at the opening. I had been impressed by her appearances, because there is this centered quality to her being, and I was curious to see the art. Made in contemporary Ukraine, Nakonechna’s work is about barricades, demonstrations, and war. Still, this is not “political art”: no direct war images are to be seen. In her theatrical installation Nakonechna abstrahizes coldly and sensually at the same time, which makes you freeze, as if holding you back so you can gather your calm. How different is the noise I encountered at the Christian Jankowski’s exhibition in Contemporary Fine Arts. I can’t deal with this high voltage of an art work, it screams too much. I can’t explain it exactly but it’s seemingly outrageous art work, which is so neoliberal capitalism to me.

Talking outrageous anti-art, Dada is now 100 years old. I talked about this with Wolfgang Müller, who wrote this week about Dada for the newspaper Freitag (buy it tomorrow!) and he told me that he didn’t think Dada was an anti-art. He used some adjectives that I have never before heard mentioned in the context of Dada: ethical, humanistic, and liebevoll (loving or caring). As a curator I know about curare (caring), but I’d never thought before about art being loving. Wolfgang told me that art is not out to violate or offend, to be hurtful or abusive.  As it happens, I’ve been reading a lot about love lately. I have this idea that 2016 is all about love making, the action of love, the one that takes place in collaboration and communication, in intimacy and generosity. It was in bell hooks All About Love that I came upon love's greatest definition: “Love is an act of will - both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to, we choose to love.” In my last WWJD I talked about sex. Well, love making is still close, but it's getting more satisfactory, isn't it?