October 28, 2016

Art Question: Can an artist still work with the material fat?

It’s really hard to pull it off. Some material is just done with. It’s rare that an artist used a material in such a way you can’t use it anymore. Whereas Andy Warhol did it with coca cola, Josef Beuys took fat. Yesterday I met somebody who did pull it off though. It’s Wolfgang Müller and we met for cheese cake at Café Olé in the Boddinstraße in Neukölln. In his backpack he had a fat ball in bronze with him. Who would ever think to make a bronze sculpture out of a fat ball? The artist does. It's called Übermaterialisierung. I know Wolfgang Müller once did research on which brand of fat ball is the best. I imagine him watching the birds at his window. Luckily the Berlin winter is long so you can do in depth research. You probably want to know which fat ball came out as the most qualitative. I don’t know. Unfortunately TEST Magazine doesn't publish the results of artistic research on products.

October 25, 2016

Art Question: Why is Female Sound Bad to Hear?

“Why is female sound bad to hear?” that’s the question asked by Anne Carson in an essay on the gender of sound. It reminded me of the artist Tino Seghal choosing women to perform the role of security guard in the museum, surprising the visitor with singing in high pitch voices. As we know, high pitch equals low authority in our society. Carson notices how in Homer’s Odysseus disorderly female sound is associated with wild space. A man is supposed to control his own emotions and therefore their sound, whereas a “woman is that creature who puts the inside on the outside.” 

Carson refers also to an anecdote Ernest Hemingway wrote about in his memoirs A Moveable Feast, when he accidentally listened in to women’s voices from the room next door and was so repelled by it that he left. One of them was the voice of Gertrude Stein, the other probably her partner Alicia Toklas. Hemingway wrote: “Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, ‘Don’t pussy. Don’t, please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.' ... She got to look like a Roman emperor and that was fine if you liked your women to look like Roman emperors .... I could never make friends again truly, neither in my heart nor in my head.” Truth be told, Gertrude Stein wasn’t that nice about Hemingway either. “He looks like a modern,” she said, “and he smells of the museums.”

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

Art Question: Do Contemporary Art And Religion Go Together?

Yesterday during my guided tour we started talking about how many are surprised to discover that Andy Warhol was religious. Others are surprised to hear that Joseph Beuys wasn’t religious, although his work is covered with crosses. Warhol didn’t make a public thing out of his piety. But his bedroom was adorned with santos carving, a crucifix, a statuette of the Risen Christ and next to the majestic canopied bed a devotional book was lying on the bedside table. Warhol also attended Sunday mass regularly. And when he died in 1987, he was buried at the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh. After my guided tour, a worried visitor asked me if religion and contemporary art are irreconcilable, he himself being a bit on the religious side. “Isn’t religion all about following rules, something that doesn’t go well with the boundary-free art world?” he asked me. I told him that the art world has also its rules and in my opinion, there are ethical boundaries that apply to the making of art. I'm also convinced there is a certain spirituality in art. “Good art touches upon something beyond”, I said while focussing my eyes on an imaginary far horizon. “Think of the mystics that Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass set about,” I uttered as my last words before making a swift turn left to the wardrobe. 

October 9, 2016

Two Critics Waiting in Line of the EDEKA

It was in the line of the EDEKA on Sunday that I felt a man pushing at my back. I turned around to see my former professor, legendary art historian Horst Bredekamp, standing there. Not really my professor, but we met a few times when I was studying cultural history, and he was a bit of a mentor to me.  “Are you trying to get ahead of me?” I laughed. I used to know him as the calmness himself, although according to his publishing list, he must be incredibly busy. “Oh, Herr Professor Bredekamp!” I exclaimed, German fashion wise. “Ah yes,” he said although it is improbable he remembered me because I never did anything memorable in art history. “I crossed over in the contemporary art field!” I told him, thinking the news would make him happy. He pulled a face. “Ah, too bad,” he sighted, “the contemporary needs historians. Our society is flattening.” I nodded. It’s true that as an historian you have this feeling of importance most of all because everyone else ignores your importance. We continued our conversation about how impossible shopping on a Sunday is, a sign of our horrible 24/7 society that doesn’t leave any time for a pause. But he himself had just come back from a trip to Paris and needed food. I had promised to bake a cake and had forgotten I needed butter to do so. So there we stood, as real cultural critics complaining but participating all the same. 

October 2, 2016

Oooookay. More Flesh or the Existential Crisis of the Art Critic

My favourite answer to criticism, is to mimick Ms. Swan's '"Ooooookay". 

“You have to give your reader more flesh”, my friend criticised me Friday night over a glass of red wine. “People will get the impression you’re the writer of short, one-paragraph funny stories. “They’re not just funny, “ I protested, “they go beyond!” “And do you know”, I complained, “how much time it takes to write a whole review?” We were sitting in the Bergmannkiez in a dark basement bar. We had just given up trying to go to the Eigen + Art Lab exhibition opening somewhere far up north. Our friend with car had let us down and to take public transport seemed unfathomable for some reason.  “Okay,” I said, using my last argument, “I haven’t seen anything I can put my teeth in, really.” “That’s no reason,” my friend replied, “Go to the Gemäldegalerie and write about Vermeer.” “Vermeer?” I cried out. WTF, it’s not because I’m Dutch speaking that I have some inner connection to Vermeer. It’s like telling him (who's French) to go check out that new Cézanne movie.

Annabel Daou at Galerie Tanja Wagner

But maybe my friend is right: I could go see some Vermeer and take my friend, the artist Akane Kimbara. She’s a huge fan of Vermeer and travels to places just to see his work. Yet, you know, I would be more interested in why she does that then to talk about the Vermeer work itself. It seems that, lately, I’ve been leaving the art work behind to talk about everything else but the art. I like to watch the ambiance around the art work, how it gets into people’s head, how they behave around it. In the end, it’s true I’m not an art historian but a cultural historian. Maybe I should start identifying as a cultural critic. I like art criticism most when it opens up to society anyway. Yet being a "cultural critic" sounds a bit as if one is always nagging at culture, saying how bad things are going. Doesn't it sound more exiting to be a philosopher - opening up art to phenomenology? But who dares to use such a big word as "philosopher," even my favorite Susan Sontag didn’t call herself one. 

Chiharu Shiota at Blain Southern

Actually, I’d say that Susan Sontag is the reason for my lack of “substantial” reviews lately. I’ve been under her influence since teaching Against Interpretation for the Cultural Theory class at Node Center. It made me turn against interpretation , preferring feeling and experience instead of logical analysis, which is a bit of a fatal attitude for any longish art reviews in which you’re bound to go into interpretation. I guess I’m interpreting Sontag a bit wrong by getting lazy in interpretation. For instance, take my gallery hopping last Saturday. At Galerie Tanja Wagner I saw the work by Annabel Daou, and since I wasn't interested in reading the content of what was written by the artist on those many tiny papers, I took some steps back so I was able to get a beautiful black and white overview of the whole. I stayed with aesthetics, and was totally happy doing so. I didn’t even read the press text. The same at Blain Southern with Chiharu Shiota’s installation, a web of red yarn connected to boats.With Blain Southern it’s always the question if the space or the art work is the most impressive one. But I know for sure it’s an improvement that the artist left out the kitschy keys she used in her red web of last year’s Venice Biennial. 

Since I can’t help it (sorry my friend!), here a little funny anecdote about my visit to Blain Southern. During my gallery hopping I was followed by three men who were apparently on the same track. They were dressed like collectors,  if you know what I mean (striped shirt casually tugged into the Ralph Lauren pants) and they also acted like collectors (a certain air of money in their gestures). At Blain Southern one of them asked the price of Shiota’s work exhibited upstairs, which consisted of small canvases put together in an arrangement of some sort. “No,” the gallery salesperson said, “one can’t just buy one, one has to buy the whole composition.” “10.000”, I heard her mention. I climbed the stairs to see those canvases for myself. They’re creepy little things stitched with the same red yarn as used in the installation below. Smart move, collectors will probably buy those little canvases merely to talk about the big installation. Some art works just exist to refer to another one, and that’s oooookay.