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Five Shows in May

After several weeks on the road, we are taking a moment to renourish and rest, as Christine Macel would say in her 57th Venice Biennale into “a moment of otium.” It is the calm before the storm of June with travels to Kassel, Münster and Basel coming up.

In our hometown of Berlin, former president Obama joined chancellor Merkel at the symbolic Brandenburg Gate to celebrate a landmark 500 years since the Reformation. He gave some urgent ideas that resonate with the art being made today: “In this new world that we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves: we can’t hide behind a wall.” Not hiding behind borders 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). Also a recurring trope is the neo-pastoral concerned with the relationship between science, colonialism, postmodernism and even the spiritual. They show us new possibilities in art which are challenging, radical, and contribute to the current dialog.


Annika Yi at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, photo: David Heald

“I’m working with anxiety. Especially in the West, we have this morbid fear of bacteria” articulates Korean-born and New York-based artist Anicka Yi, winner of the Guggenheim’s 2016 Hugo Boss Prize. She is quintessentially an artist of the post-medium condition whose material signifiers are the invisible (microbes) made visible and olfactory by collective growth. Her exhibition, “Life is Cheap” is boundary breaking even to the point of traumatically disrupting order or odor. She is one of the rare artists working today who merges science and art in a way that does justice to both (it is not illustrative or suffering from oversimplification). Working with molecular biologists and forensic chemists from Columbia University she transforms the obsessively aseptic and pure white space of the gallery into a laboratory experiment that is ever changing (ever in flux the exhibition challenges our strong desire to reify art as something fixed, preserved and lasting). As soon as you enter the main gallery you are hit with a specially developed scent, Immigrant Caucus, based on bacteria taken from sites in Manhattan’s Chinatown and Koreatown. The walls are covered with tiles made of agar (a medium of Petri dishes) that have been ‘colonized,’ drawing attention to the interrelationship between science, colonialism, postmodernism, and bio-piracy. Fleshy silicone sheets covered with splotchy colonies (which turn the surface into a microbiome, like the systems of bacteria that live in our guts) are then draped over tripods which signify the abject body turned inside out. We are drawn in exactly at the same time we are repulsed working on the unconscious level of the abject.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10128

Athena Papadopoulos at Emalin, London
Courtesy Emalin, London
You enter the show of Athena Papadopoulos at Emalin into a forest of unknowable species, a grouping of figurative sculptures larger than life with multiple bulbous legs inside cartooned high heel platform shoes (with titles like SmurfetteChewed upSpit Out and Battered). This is a first of many signifiers that these are gendered female but in a post-gendered world that is left unresolved. These oversized creatures are both ‘other’ and boundary defining subject-objects composed of (purposely deskilled) wood dowels screwed and glued with an incredible list of materials that sounds like someone raped an anthropologist drag queen's closet: self-tanner, synthetic hair, taxidermy insects, freeze dried worms, crustaceans and fish, crows feet, nail polish, confetti, bird feathers, hair dye, lipstick on fabric and wool, lingerie, and dyed fur. Other materials signify the fragile corporeal body (Pepto Bismol, Berocca, red wine) whose surface is covered in brown fur that looks dipped in an oozing batter (a play on the word ‘battered’ which refers to domestic violence) all the more cartooned by the exhibition title “The Smurfette.” Kin and kind to anthropomorphized Christmas trees adorned with antlers, ornaments, lingerie, pigmented resin words that spell out the loaded names of the figures. They crowd the center of the gallery on their own stage of carpet dirtied with make-up foundation and bleach, invading your space. This is a nod to what feminist art can be today, owning the word given to the only female character in the comic The Smurfs created by evil to spy on the good males and sow jealousy. 

Emalin, Unit 4 Huntingdon Estate, Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6JU

Edith Dekyndt at Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin
Courtesy Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin
They Shoot Horses (Part Two) is an installation consisting of a ten meter long heavy beige velvet curtain paired with a video projection, which theatrically divides the main downstairs gallery into two spaces. When you enter symbolically front stage, the room is darkened by the curtain transforming it into a black box for the video projection while walking around there is a fully light bright space. Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt explores in her first solo with Konrad Fischer Galerie the physical phenomena of materials in all their magical alchemical potential. The title refers to a 1935 novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy about a young desperate (and suicidal) couple who enter a dance marathon contest climaxing in 879 hours of dancing. Thus, the elegantly hanging velvet pooled perfectly on the floor becomes a signifier of the 1930’s ballroom bourgeois luxury life. All the more so because on the front side the curtain is a pattern of small silver dots in perfect regular diamonds. When you walk around you see each dot is the head of a steel nail piercing through the curtain. What was at first soft velvet with delicate ornamentation is now the punctum of the real with all its violence and anxiety. This juxtaposition between comfort and affluence with real danger is mirrored in the second part of the work the projected video of found footage (which Dekyndt subtly re-colors and blurs) of a 1930s dance marathon during the prohibition where people danced until they dropped. The only other work hung in the groundfloor gallery is a steely sky blue painting titled Winter Drums 2, which both evokes its formal quality reminiscent of broken ice and potentially the process by which it was made. Dekyndt drapes quietly colored silk (or other very thin translucent fabrics) over pillows (or similar bulges) and covers them in clear resin. The results are beautiful ghosts of monochrome paintings (without paint and brush or the hand of the artist) and only the material itself that holds the shape. Upstairs is part two of the exhibition which is more organic, ecological and even neo-pastoral: works that use earth, gold, fur, black and white fabric and human hair.

Konrad Fischer Galerie, Lindenstrasse 35, 10969 Berlin

Jean-Marie Appriou at Jan Kaps, Cologne
Courtesy Jan Kaps, Cologne
Jan Kaps shows an ambitious (in a commensurate way) solo exhibition by the young French artist, Jean-Marie Appriou titled “Harvest,” which invokes the mythologies of the garden of delight or the neo-pastoral. The journey through the natural world from the perspective of ecology updated for a time of the so-called Anthropocene, Capitalocene and Chthulucene (not so much the classical image of the pastoral of a shepherd with his flock but after the fall from Eden). She is an artist of the feminist techno-organic ‘new figuration,’ a theme on a lot of young artists minds, several of whom are in the five shows of this newsletter. The many works on view could be a single installation (a whole world of harvest) or simply discrete objects that are intricately interconnected: detached female heads cast in colored glass, aluminium cast crickets, glass flies, ceramic sarcophagus-like bodies, whole oversized glass balls shaped like nutmeg, farming tools of scythe and fork. The materials are as important as what they signify, glass, ceramic, aluminum all of which reveal the labor that went into their making. The hand of the artist is very present. The aluminum cast figure Rainbow immediately recalls the many figures of Louise Bourgeois Arch of Hysteria, here equally spiritual or even theological but not as tormented. In another room is a shrunken Aluminum Ox surrounded by enlarged glass blown nutmeg seeds, dark brown egg shapes enmeshed with bright red veins of glass that drip over them. It looks as if a cephalopod mollusk creature had grabbed them with all its tentacles. The enlarged aluminum scythes are a memento mori, the figure of death in the garden, wonky and fragile as they are – but ultimately inescapable.

Jan Kaps, Jülicher Strasse 24A, 50674 Cologne 

Katharina Grosse at Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna
Courtesy Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna
Berlin artist Katharina Grosse has a central place in the dialog around international painting since the 1990s. She is famed for working on a monumental scale that goes beyond the canvas support into large-scale installations. Early on she experimented with various brushes and techniques until she discovered her now signature industrial-strength spray-paint guns, which she uses to great effect. Shooting pure screamingly saturated pigments into explosions on the surface with blasts that blur, overlap, coverup, displace, distort, and most of all complement each other. Unlike her installations, her exhibition at Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder keeps her paintings ‘confined’ to the support of canvases (and framed), as discrete objects. They are tightly compressed, rejecting the non-representational ‘all-overness’ of Abstract Expressionism which refused any illusion, she instead creates portals into a small room where all the color has been crammed into a tiny space. It is intentionally hard to tell the actual process and order the colors were applied; the layers bleed into each other. The drips nod to one of the few female Ab-Ex artists, Joan Mitchell who all but owned the drip as a gesture. She takes from the long post-war history of mostly-male abstract expressionist heroism and one-ups the masculinity of the conquering action and process itself drawing our attention to painting as gestures that are relational and spatial. She has said she uses a gun because it makes her bigger, in both space and ideas. Grosse makes physical the way we see the world. “The way the eyes move up, look down, grasp the space – spray paint is equal to that movement.” 

Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Grünangergasse 1, 1010 Vienna


– Justin Polera

#New York
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.

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Tamara Henderson | Rodeo | London
Carsten Höller | Gagosian | New York
Reena Spaulings | Museum Ludwig | Cologne
Thomas Ruff | Mai 36 | Zürich

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