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Five Shows in July

Before many galleries close down for their well-deserved summer break, we wanted to bring your attention to five shows we think are exceptional.

We were surprised to find one of the best exhibitions at one of the biggest galleries in the world. Rarely do we feature the big mega-galleries in our 5 Shows newsletter since they get enough attention and are often overly commercial. It is also true that big galleries who supply big production budgets can often result in over blown work that is expensive for expensive sake. Here we feature one of the giants of relational aesthetics at one of the giants of galleries and the two work perfectly together.

Other shows at more cutting edge spaces feature two of the largest themes of the current biennials: the artist as a musician and the artist as a shaman. As if to prove that traditional mediums are not dead the last two shows feature works that are on the surface very straight forward. Yet underneath the formalism are two deeply conceptual approaches that renew these wall based practices and show us entirely new ways to see painting and photography.


Nik Nowak at Alexander Levy, Berlin

Courtesy Alexander Levy, Berlin

In a packed summer from Kassel to Venice the art world solidified a renewed interest (at least from some so-called star-curators) in sound as art. This includes an expanded interest in composers who cross from music to art. The current exhibition (which closes this weekend) “Infra/Ultra” of Berlin-based composer/artist/polymath Nik Nowak at Alexander Levy is a perfect pairing to explore the new soundscapes of acoustic art. Nowak’s sculptural objects adhere to the central tenet that form follows function which places phonic resonance first and the visual as an after effect. It is often said that sound art reverses the master servant relationship between what we see and what we hear. One can say the main instrument of sound artists (a kin to brush and paint) is the field recorded and this is also where Nowak began. The central work is a large scale installation/object/machine that brings together a “Jamaican sound system,” hybrid tank, merged with a stealth aircraft. Sitting directly on the floor in the middle of the gallery, it becomes a bed of sound insulating gray foam spikes in perfect rows, recalling the grids of Minimalism and industrialized materials. Viewers are invited to lie down and feel the bass played through a vibrating platform below them and experience the high/mid tones from the six speakers above. Hiking in the Austrian Alps Nowak made recordings of natural otherwise inaudible sounds as the title suggest ‘infrasonic’ or ‘ultrasonic.’ Where the naked ear might hear silence from frequencies too high or low in pitch for us to perceive, these vibrations nonetheless move across the soundscape traversing the boundaries of space and time. You can close your eyes to an image, but you can’t close your ears to noise. On the wall outside of the main installation are sound collages visualizing auditory experiences. 

Alexander Levy, Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse 26, 10969 Berlin

Tamara Henderson at Rodeo, London

Courtesy Rodeo, London

As you enter Tamara Henderson’s exhibition “Season's End: Panting Healer” at Rodeo gallery (note that the new front entrance is unmarked, but the gallery is in the same place) you are first struck with the scent of dried flowers and botanicals somewhere between aromatherapy and witches potions. If sound art was one recurring theme this year, another is the artist as shaman. There is magic in Henderson’s show charting real and imagined geographies. A garden of totemic figures occupies the room appearing as scarecrows or recalling Kimonos on ikou frames (the traditional way to display these robes) the sleeves fully outstretched. Each figure represents the seasons and phases of the moon and is made from hand-sewn fabrics, embroidered and collaged pieces. Pockets are filled with herbs, spices, dried botanicals that Henderson accumulated at residencies from Istanbul to Scotland. Scavenging is a big part of her practice as the rectangular fabric are splayed out with found object assemblage sculptures affixed like masks to the top and two boxes on the floor for feet. As if to emphasize the body each figure is fringed with two stripes of fabric like arms running down either side. As you move through the maze of figures, it is like experiencing the wanderer’s mind. Even the large paintings on the wall seem to anthropomorphize and take on a life of its own, this same liveliness is repeated in the curtains made of similar fabric and shapes. We are reminded of a return to earth, that these are new forms of landscape and the spiritual in art – two of the oldest themes reinvented for our time.

Rodeo, 125 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EW

Carsten Höller at Gagosian, New York

Courtesy Gagosian, New York, photo: Rob McKeever

It is too easy to write off the whole category of mega-galleries as being too commercial and in it only for the spectacle and money. Gagosian might embody this ‘selling out’ art for its pure commodity value. Yet the current exhibition of relational aesthetics giant Carsten Höller proves that Gagosian mounts some of the finest exhibitions anywhere in the world, doing what no other gallery – or even museum – can. In “Reason” we enter fully into one of Höller’s laboratories of ideas. He was a biological scientist before he became an artist and his work carries this intellectual background and experiments in self-reproductions. A series of participatory installations are experiments in perception that simultaneously isolates our bodies and senses and bring us into new social contracts. You might want to dismiss the work as too much fun, but underneath there is something very serious. We dive into this visionary space of self-reflection where else but a circle of five mirrored revolving doors. Referring to Alice in Wonderland moving through the looking glass as we are trapped by our reflections moving through space. Like wonderland for the story (which seems to have inspired much of the exhibition), the objects in the show have gone through fantastic scale shifts becoming larger than life. In one sculpture Dice (White Body, Black Dots) an eight-foot cube has tunnels in the place of dots – that you can climb through. In another instance, giant seventeen-foot-high mushrooms are stereotypically cartoonish or splendidly out of the world with red caps and white spots. Perhaps this work titled Flying Mushrooms is the most moving piece in the show. They are a whole solar system with a handle that visitors can push as they move around the room and the worlds revolve around them. It is high drama but also a vital live sense of connection between plant, animal, fungal, celestial and ourselves as part of something greater. 

Gagosian, 555 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011

Reena Spaulings at Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Courtesy Museum Ludwig, Cologne, photo: Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne / Britta Schlier

Often the biography of an artist gives us one way into the work, a mode of entry. In many cases, the biography makes the work more obscure. Who is Reena Spaulings? She is the title character of a Pynchonesque novel published by the collective Bernadette Corporation. She is an art dealer (with an eponymous gallery on Grand Street in New York). As an artist ‘she’ breaks with rules and traditions which may be way museums have been so slow to mount a full exhibition like this one. Her first museum survey fits perfectly in the cutting edge Museum Ludwig which has long been known to take risks. The ‘retrospective’ which contains more new work than historical, provides an overview of the various projects surrounding this illusory figure. The central works are three free-standing as if ‘at attention’ panels of aluminum in the middle of the room that are ‘paintings’ but not in the traditional sense. They are oil paint on surface, but instead of stretchers on the wall they are on wheels like roving billboards. Much of Spaulings work mines the modes of commercial art and advertising. It shows the humor, irony, in how Spaulings claims to only makes what she dubs “hardcore art” but in fact treads the line of low brow. The subject is recreating the famous Gustave Courbet painting The Meeting which depicts the artist himself and a surprise encounter with his patron. Transformed into an expressionistic painting that recalls German figuration of the 1980s it takes two famous periods of painting history and brings them into the present day. On one panel a flag printed entirely of brick wall trompe l'oeil is draped over the corner. These flags are signature to Spaulings work in all their deconstructions of signs and their signifiers. Some of the other paintings in the exhibitions hung in another room are pseudo abstract expressionist which challenges the elitism of that coveted movement. It is impossible to say if this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ abstract art and that inherent ambivalence that throws a monkey wrench in our certainty which is the point. Spaulings subverts the conventions of art and its production, distribution, reception and of course circulation.

Museum Ludwig, Heinrich-Böll-Platz, 50667 Cologne

Thomas Ruff at Mai 36, Zürich

Courtesy Mai 36, Zurich

Thomas Ruff has never strayed too far from his influence as one of the most important students of conceptual German post-war photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher who taught an entire generation of photographers. The Bechers dedicated a lifetime of work on typologies which expanded to the long history of objective (straight) photography. In his newest exhibition of the press++series Ruff again returns to his roots. He directly references one of his early series Zeitungsfotos (Newspaper Photographs) from the early 1990s, in which images were sourced from newspaper prints. In this exhibition, Ruff explores appropriating photographs of archival media clippings from American newspapers across the decades. It is as much a cultural study as it is a formal investigation into the process of photography itself. Ruff scanned both sides of the documents bringing the verso to the front by combining them into one surface. Revealing the processes and post-production of image making, the touch-ups, marking on the paper, stamps, signatures, smudges revealing the history of the image and its making. By superimposing both sides together, Ruff also disrupts the ‘reading’ of the image as it was intended. Instead, he focuses on his long time themes: the archival processes, redistribution of images, generation of new images and their reception in the world.

Mai 36, Raemistrasse 37, 8001 Zürich


– Justin Polera

#New York
Five Shows in May
We searched the globe for five unmissable shows. What we found are artists who blur and break boundaries (including those between abstraction and figuration resulting in a new figure that is hybrid).

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Athena Papadopoulos | Emalin | London
Edith Dekyndt | Konrad Fischer Galerie | Berlin
Jean-Marie Appriou | Jan Kaps | Cologne
Katharina Grosse | Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder | Vienna

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