September 29, 2016

Little Thoughts on Art: Did Warhol Meet Picasso?

Andy Warhol loved France, or at least, I know for sure he loved the French language. He had such a good time in Paris exhibiting his Flowers there (I believe it was in 1965) that he decided it would be the place to declare that he was leaving painting behind. He told the French press: “I only want to make movies now.” And he was excited to see the next day how they had reformulated it in the papers as “going to devote my life to the cinema.” He was equally excited when he disovered the French word magnétophone for his “wife”, the tape recorder: “Doesn’t that look nice on the page? Different. A new word for the same thing.”  But what Andy Warhol admired most about Paris, was definitely Pablo Picasso. Prolific, great at PR, huge production - Picasso can be seen as Warhol’s mentor. Did both stars ever meet? So far I know, they didn’t. But after that first show in Paris, Andy Warhol left very happy. With all the publicity in the French press he was sure, so he wrote in POPism, that “Picasso must have heard of us at last.”

September 23, 2016

Andy Warhol in Heipzig, oh sorry, Leipzig!

It’s been a few weeks by now and the exhibition has already finished. I’m sorry for that, but I was particularly moved after seeing Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests show in Leipzig. It was nice to stick to that feeling for a while without spelling it out. The Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst showed a selection of Warhol’s Screen Tests, of which he made 471 between 1964 and 1966. The work is very simple - Andy Warhol at his best: a 16 mm camera filming somebody’s face for 2 minutes and 50 seconds and then slowing the film down to 4 minutes. You’re basically observing people’s faces looking in the camera. Soundless. There is a beauty about it that gets under your skin. 

I also didn’t want to write about the show because I feel reluctant about its curating. It's not important in the end, with the work being so strong. The art of curation with Andy Warhol is to just let it be, as simple as possible. The curator Julia Schäfer clearly wanted to be creative and complicate matters. The Screen Tests were shown on wooden panels, which was okay but intrusive nevertheless. It got worse later when the display was suddenly changed into a projection on glass and in a film set. In Warhol’s Screen Tests there are no hierarchies between the persons being filmed: everybody got the 2 minutes and 50 seconds. The curator’s display shouldn’t have messed with that.

There was one particular thing of the curating that got on my nerves: in the middle of the exhibition, on some shelves, the curator had displayed books marked with quotes that apparently had inspired her research. I hated it. It was too much information and it damaged the quietness of my viewing experience with that so-called "knowledge." As it is: I don’t want to see any research stuff in exhibitions anymore - damn, just show us the final result! Yeah, I got very edgy and afterwards I couldn’t concentrate anymore. 

A few weeks later on the train from Halle to Berlin a friend told me it’s probably the slow motion that is so attractive for us in a time when everything goes speedy. It’s true, after spending an hour at the David Claerbout exhibition in KINDL this weekend, I realized there is something mesmerizing about slowing time down. Some artists fasten things up and I’m not really a fan of that: it makes me nervous. 

Leipzig is, by the way, an excellent city for slowing down. It was my first time there and I was surprised to see there are no hipsters yet in Leizpig. Instead I saw many hippies hanging out as if George W. Bush never happened. My friend got really excited and decided to move there on the spot. "Probably cheap rent for big spaces," she was dreaming. However, back in Berlin, she found out that everybody wants to move to Leipzig. That’s why it’s now called Heipzig. 

September 22, 2016

Guest Blogger Vanessa Gravenor - Part Deux: Nomadism

Did you ever give residencies, nomadism, and social relations in the art world some critical thought? Art writer and artist Vanessa Gravenor does. If you missed out on the first contribution, check it out here, and if you're hooked, go also to the conversation Gravenor is organising on November 3d about "Precarity, Analysing the Mobilising Forces Behind Art Labor" at KN - Art in Context, Berlin. 

Performance of Vanessa Gravenor becoming picaro

Nomadism is art labor’s default mode, and moreover, it has transformed all social relations inevitable. If life mimics art, then life certainly mimics the mobilizing forces that underpin this art. Andrew Ross writes in an e-flux article how it is a relatively new phenomenon to begin talking about the economic structures that produces culture, art work, and how the artist actually monetizes his/her/their labor.

Before, monetary misery was taken as a romantic aspect of the artist’s life, but now, more than ever, the neoliberal horizon of capitalism has embraced the notion of the “creative,” and thus, redefining the state of precarity the artist resides inside. He writes:
the ethnographic evidence on knowledge and creative industry workplaces shows that job gratification, for creatives, still comes at a heavy sacrificial cost... self- exploitation in response to the gift of autonomy, and dispensability in exchange for flexibility

In an essay written in 2006, when the residency was in its hay-day, when artists still believed that travel was a type of utopia, Hito Steyerl and Boris Buden highlight the irony of being in residence somewhere, for in political terms, one never receives residency, but a temporary form of dwelling, which always has a time restriction.
They write: “we could call it the problem of the residue. But what is this? There is always a difference between the number of people who reside in a certain place and those who are being taken into account. The mere residents are usually in excess over the others. While the former simply happen to live there, the latter are being woven into a network of nation, representation and benefits” (Hito Steyerl and Boris Buden).
Artist in a residency have no political representation, they don’t vote, but their difference is limited to a very specific type of cultural capital that often rarely leaves a residue. Quoting this essay in Active Withdrawals: Life and Death of Institutional Critique, a survey book talking about alternative institutional spaces and interventions, the author explains how the labor produced in the residency is always relational or performative in the form of meetings, talks, and networks. The residency is modelled after a utopia, a non-place, which isn’t necessarily always a beacon of promise, but can sometimes turn into a heterotopia, or a space with an exasperated sense of rules and dominion. Noting this turn of labor, Sabeth Buchmann notes that the turn towards “shared knowledge” and “shared space” is in fact a product of the neoliberal system of management. Thus, even though shared labor is often seen as part of this post-marxist critiques, within the art world’s networked turn, the gift economy or “rehearsal aesthetics” as Buchmann calls them, have much in common with the neoliberal thinktank.

After thought: Melancholia

Another facet of the precariat life is the autoimmunization of social relations. 
What does this mean? We all know the signs, the artist who seeks out a friend who from a distance is making really radical work and has a contemporary aesthetic. Yet, the closer the precariat gets to this friend, the less and less the friend from a distance seems radical or even on the edge of things. The precariat is always in a state of a one night stand with everybody around them, and once one turns on the lights in the morning and he or she sees the person they have slept with, and the precariat realizes how hideous it all was. This, my friend, is the autoimmunization of social relations. Autoimmune like an internal disease that afflicts the artist freelance existence. 
Once friends or even lovers find themselves on the inside of the precariat’s social relations, the precariat rejects them as unwanted spawn. Perhaps we should add another synonym to the precariat’s indexical vocabulary: the narcissist. 

Vanessa Gravenor

September 19, 2016

ABC Art fair: Good Crazy Won

Roman Signer, Hose, 2015, Photo: Häusler Contemporary

I wasn’t feeling it, the Berlin Art Week. The gallery visits, I thought, would be nicer to do on some quiet fall days. I also didn’t make it to the opening of ABC art fair on Thursday night. A friend did and he told me he saw “ein paar gute Sachen, ein paar langweilige Sachen”. That probably nailed it down just fine, but I went to see for myself anyway. What I dislike about art fairs are booths fitting the art works according to colors. But the ABC art fair doesn’t do booths, it does walls. Don’t ask: the difference between both escapes me too. This year the ABC art fair was also very small, which made me circle it twice and I don’t know about that either.

Kirsten Justusen, Aviskarl Gallery

Yet I saw a few art works that are good crazy, if you know what I mean. Sometimes one artist can set the tone of a whole space, and this time it was definitely Roman Signer. He put up a big sand hour in a closet, titled Hose (interpretable in both English and German). He himself didn’t show up to do the performance at the opening night, so the Häusler Contemporary gallery director told me. It was she who poured the bucket of sand. At the Aviskarl Gallery booth I also liked the photos of Kristen Justusen vacuuming the sand (or is the water) at the beach. I didn’t try to think things through here, sometimes looks say it all. 

Laure Prouvost, Carlier Gebauer

Best gallery mise-en-scene went to Carlier Gebauer, displaying two video pieces by Laure Prouvost behind a tapestry-like decor. One video shows Prouvost moisturizing an art book. I just had gone to the hairdresser for an intensive hydration treatment with Moroccan Oil, so I could totally relate. If it makes me happy, it probably makes art history happy too. At the Capitain Petzel booth I liked the green sculptures by Monika Sosnowska and I could appreciate them even more after the salesperson showed me the crazy staircase the artist had made at their gallery. My friend kept saying “Capitain Pretzel” to the salesperson, who didn’t blink an eye and told me later they’re totally used to this at the gallery. Petzel or Pretzel, the art might look crazy but don’t make the customer look the same. 

Monika Sosnowska, Capitain Petzel

September 14, 2016

Little Thoughts on Art: I'm Popular

I’ve never been so popular. People are reading my texts by the thousands. That’s the visitors’ rate of the exhibition Das Kapital in Hamburger Bahnhof. Curators Catherine Nichols and Eugen Blume asked me to write the short texts for their exhibition items and then they put them in a pink booklet for the visitors to take along in the exhibition. Pink, the most pop color! You can imagine how excited I am. Every time I’m at the museum, I go see my fans. I must say that sometimes they seem to be more interested in my texts than in the visuals. Short texts are the hardest genre to write for an art writer. The visitors are not stupid and have eyes to see for themselves. You also don’t want to kill the art work by interpreting it. So what to write about? Well, go and see for yourself in Das Kapital exhibition, my dear reader. Should I start a Facebook group for this? 

September 4, 2016

Little Thoughts about Art: Sweat

Sweat is so revealing, isn’t it. It can be the body showing its fear, its anxieties, its arousal. But we never make sweat into a topic, so far as I know, philosophically. Unlike shit or urine, art hasn’t made it into a material either. Only Grace Jones did, and in her memoirs I’ll Never Write My Memoirs she writes about it: “I was, abstractly, sweating on the front cover of Living My Life, either because I had been in a fight after some kind of argument - there is a plaster over my eyebrow, and I look like I’ve just delivered a killer blow - or because I had just had sex with someone, somewhere. Or perhaps I was thinking about the world around me, and what was happening after all those parties, and all that togetherness. The sweat of the 1980s, of anxiety and threat, was very different from the no-holds-barred 1970s disco sweat.” It made me think, how do we sweat in the 2010s? 

September 1, 2016

Summer Musing: Big or Small

I’m not a fan of Anselm Kiefer’s work. It’s too material loaded for me, too easy somehow: you put a lot of poisonous material on your canvas, add a Paul Celan title, and then it’s about war. But there’s one painting I do like and that’s Lilith, mainly because it’s about Lilith, the first free woman in Jewish mythology, who left paradise voluntarily when she wasn't allowed to be Adam’s equal. That painting now hangs in the exhibition Das Kapital by Catherine Nichols and Eugen Blume in Hamburger Bahnhof. You might remember the old days when the huge historical hall of Hamburger Bahnhof was filled with the Anselm Kiefers, then for them to be moved to the smaller but still biggish Kleiheushalle. Now Lilith is exhibited in the small transition room to the restaurant Sarah Wiener. And no kidding, it serves Kiefer well. It’s much stronger! Who would have thought! You can’t keep a distance  to the work and therefore you get more fully absorbed into the material and that does the trick. It's a surprise to me but sometimes big work needs a small space.