Posts filed under ‘Exhibition Review’

Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now

“Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now” was an exhibition curated by guest curator Lydia Yee at the Bronx Museum in New York from September 14, 2008 to January 25, 2009.

Usually associated with graffiti, the label “street art” actually embodies a wider range of practices brilliantly covered by this exhibition.
From street photography, to documentation of performances and ephemeral actions, videos, and art objects made from found materials, the show included works by Robert Frank, William Klein, Jacques de la Villeglé, Yoko Ono, Vito Acconci, Martha Rosler, Sophie Calle, Nikki S. Lee, Francis Alÿs among others.
I especially appreciated the work of Francis Alÿs, the information on the Fluxus tours in New York and Robin Rhode’s piece.

My greatest discovery was Tehching Hsieh‘s performance work, for its hardship, invisibility strategies, integrity and radicality.
Tehching Hsieh accomplished several one year performances (Cage Piece, Time Clock Piece, Outdoor Piece, Rope Piece and No Art Piece), meticulously cataloguing and recording the entire process.
In the Outdoor Piece, 1981/82, he lived one year in New York without ever entering an enclosed space or a city building, with exception for one night spent in jail. In the Rope Piece, he tied himself to another person with a 2,4 meter rope and stayed in the same room, unallowed to touch each other for a whole year.

“Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now” joins works which directly address street struggle, the indistinguishibility from art and daily life, the blurring distinctions between art and non-art, artist and audience, at the same time offering a ground for the critique of the institutions of art.

April 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Re.Act – performancekunst der 1960er und 70er jahre heute

Yoko Ono, Cut-piece performance, 1965

Curated by Bettina Knaup and Beatrice E. Stammer “Re.Act – performance art from the 60s and 70s today” could be seen from December 13th 2008 through February 8th 2009 at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Documenting performative works from 24 artists spanning across two generations, the exhibition intended to document and reflect the diversity and complexity of feminist performative strategies which appeared within a wide range of social and political contexts. Including works by performance movements from Eastern and South Eastern Europe as well as the former GDR, the exhibition documented many artistic and socially critical strategies of the 1960s, 70s through today.
In the intersection between art and life, private and public, performance offered the ideal medium for examining, deconstructing or reinventing female identity back then, in this way forcing a certain reevaluation of the attributions of femininity in mainstream culture.

Among my favourite performers are Yoko Ono (J/USA) whose performance “Cut Piece” both in its historical and re-staged 2003 version could be seen, Valie Export, Ewa Partum and the younger Kate Gilmore (USA) with her strong sometimes mocking performances.

Without intending to be an historical survey but simply present historical positions together with more recent ones, establishing relations between both generations was really the goal. Moreover the exhibition intended to show women artists working today that what they are doing is more related to their predecessor’s achievements than they are ready to admit, sometimes out of blunt ignorance. What the exhibition failed to show however, is why today’s performers seem not to be interested in political strident, ideologically didactic but instead choose to mock certain gestures of the past and mostly transmit a certain sense of an impossibility of change or uneffectiveness of certain actions, thus undermining any possibility for idealism. Today’s disbelieve and sense of impotency or frustration remains to be understood and represents the most urgent question.

May 12, 2009 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

“Political/ Minimal” at the KW Berlin and the road conceptualism has travelled

Francis Alys, Paradox of Praxis 1

Recently, while visiting „Political/Minimal“ curated by Klaus Biesenbach at the Kunst Werke in Berlin, I found myself wondering about the possibility of keeping on doing conceptual work today. Afterall hasn’t conceptualism exhauted all its self-reflexive possibilities already?

Done only one or two years ago, some of the works in the exhibition explore a classical reportoire of forms which are usually associated with minimal art from the 60s. Instead of repeating its typical hermetism this revived minimal brings forth all kinds of political issues.

I was specially impressed by Terence Koh´s piece, an unpretencious pink triangle which mimed the real one sewed in Men´s shirts to differentiate them as homosexuals in concentration camps. This fact alone explains and contributed to their small survival rate.

In Derek Jarman´s film „Blue“ (1993), an empty blue surface is projected together with a soundtrack revealing quotations from the artist´s diary as he went blind because of AIDS. The film, his final work, accompanies the disease process on an almost daily basis. Speaking of quotation, Tino Sehgal performed “Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things”, a dance piece based on some of Dan Graham´s and Bruce Nauman´s historical performances.
All works pointing to the fact that contemporary conceptual works seem to have abandoned the self-reflexivity and hermetic level which characterized conceptualism in the late 60s and early 70s to embrace aesthetic, personal or political experiences foreign to historical conceptualism.

In itself, this use of former formal structures and strategies to convey a whole new meanings represents an openness. No doubt, did self-reflexivity correspond to a specific moment in Modernism, in which different disciplines took themselves and their own field of research as their own prime subject matter, be it as a reaction to the threat of new disciplines popping up or, the trend of interdisciplinary methods or, a specific socio-political context.

Self-reflexive new media artworks conceptualize their own technical specificity, like Paik exploring things like the effects of magnets in electronic images or, pioneering live broadcasting or, Vito Acconci developing work which played with the possibilities opened up by closed-circuit, etc. in some sort of parallel to Greenberg’s ideas on self-specificity on painting.

Instead of representing a certain decay or a dead end, self-reflexivity has come to include a broader sense. The exhibition “Political/ Minimal” teaches us exactly how historical conceptualism surpassed its own hermeticism to embrace a whole new series of issues outside itself.

Given their specific nature, media art works occasionate an unforeseen and totally different relation with the society they are produced in and which they are produced for. Technology is part of all levels of our life, it is designed to be automatic and acritically assimilated, its is filled up with corporate values and hidden intentions (to force a new need upon us, to makes start a new behaviour, etc) and is distributed through whole different channels. It is in this sense that works reflecting upon the effects and consequences of technology could also be considered self-reflexive.

In this sense, some works no longer conceptualize around their specific technical functions and language but on their impact on us, on society at a larger scale instead.
Moreover, works dealing with self-reference, quotation, referring and reflecting upon icons of the past, should also be thought of as self-reflexive works – Duchamp´s Gioconda with a Moustache when mocking artistic value, cultural tradition, etc.

Self-reflexivity in media art thus includes works dealing strictly with the technical specificities offered by the medium (formalism), works dealing with the consequences for the individuum and society derived from the specific technical possibilities opened by the medium and works referring, quoting other works within a given cultural tradition (linguistics).

May 10, 2009 at 12:19 am Leave a comment

“Still Men Out There”, an exhibition by Bjørn Melhus in Istanbul

Until the middle of last April a selection of Bjørn Melhus’ works could be visited at the Amerikan Hastanesi Sanat Galerisi ”Operation Room”. Presenting key works within the artist’s oeuvre, such as “Again & Again “„The Oral Thing“ (2001) or „Still Men Out There“ (2003) – from which the exhibition borrowed its title -, the show also featured more recent pieces like his 2008 multi-channel video installation „Deadly Storms“.

The selection offered the viewer the opportunity to grasp several decisive aspects in Bjørn Melhus’ work. Namely, the artist’s multiple attention to the worlds of American commercial film, television pop music and publicity, the coexistence throughout his oeuvre of pieces in which the artists embodies all the media roles and pieces in which he consciously redraws himself from and which result more abstract. Finally, a certain performative aspect was made available through the documentation published in the catalogue for occasion of this exhibition showing the intense and rich pre-production work in Bjørn Melhus’ films.

Manifold, the exhibition provided the viewer with the opportunity to compare works regarded upon as „classical“ – those in which the artist himself appears and enacts different characters -, with a work like „Still Men Out There“. Less “recognizable” as a Melhus’ piece, “Still Men Out There” is basically a pure synchronized sound and light installation in which the artist consciously redraw his own figure from. Next to pieces which are figurative and in which Melhus embodies different roles, the artist has also created pieces in which images are reduced to abstract fields of color. Both strategies have in fact always coexisted in Bjørn Melhus’ production. His absence in some of his works is not as unusual as one might think and is not without consequences for the overall understanding of his work. Far from being an isolated example, one must only think of „Emotional Fields“(2007), „Murphy“ (2008) or Melhus’ successive tree houses to recognize just that. Significantly all these works have been produced in parallel to the ones in which the artist plays different roles, including that of a woman, and which the public specially identifies the artist for and critics have payed most attention to.


Thus missing a trademark – Melhus himself -, “Still Men Out There” (the installation) contains however other characteristics of the artist’s work, such as the exploration of the conventions of film (American war cinema in this case), repetition and multiplication of effects and found sound footage.
Placed on the floor in three concentric circles, the eighteen monitors show their screens facing up. Monochrome color fields alternate rhythmically, pulsing to the sound of machine guns. The soundtrack, composed of snippets from mainstream war movies includes everything a good war film needs, from marching troops, to tragic love, to gunfire, to heroic soliloquies. These sequences of monochrome image, script and sound produce a penetrating effect. At times full of pathos, other times purely kitsch, “Still Men Out There” stresses the highly entertaining and spectacle qualities present in American mainstream war cinema. The work’s sources are well documentated, “Still Men Out There” takes on sound footage from “Platoon” (Oliver Stone, 1986), “The Thin Red Line” (Terrence Malick, 1998), “Black Hawk Down” (Ridley Scott, 2001) and “We Were Soldiers” (Randall Wallace, 2002).
Melhus is interested here how cinema, as the greatest manipulative technical dispositive of all times, has been conditioning our feelings and behavior in respect to what our cultural notions, in this case of war and death, concern.

Regarding this, the artist has said in an interview: “Still Men Out There is not a statement about war or politics (even if the material does refer back to this reality), but is about evoking and exposing cinematic stereotypes”. But this is only partially true, for in the end the work does open into the ideological workings of cinematic war representation.

It is extremely significant that we are being offered the spectacle of war with no images (except for monochromatic images), in this way addressing directly what has been described as “American media’s refusal to show the American dead and injured in the war” in recent times. On the one hand the work pervades the idea that one can no longer trust any image of war to be authentic and that the only solution would be the renunciation of all imagery. This feeling is a direct consequence of the on-going control of images of war scenarios since the Golf War – from which only generic night shots of Bagdad under attack were divulged. And the so-called “embeded journalism” in practice since the Iraq war – when journalists march alongside the troops during their advance – which results in a loss of objectivity, and also contributed to a general sense of crisis due to the conflict of interests it generates.
On the other hand, because we can identify the audio sources of the installation, it is forcing us to deconstruct the cultural references regarding war on cinema, thus awakening all sorts of images of war which lie dormant in our heads and which obviously have been shaped by the mass media.
“Still Men Out There” is not only exploring the impact of American cinema on our collective memory but also forcing us to admit that some of our notions are being actively designed by it, against historical facts and in favour of specific ideologies.

The work is thus not only bringing cinematic stereotypes into light but also forcing us to consider the reception of cinematic war representation critically. The sound and its different moments borrow a narrative structure to a work, which is in itself abstract. As already noted, this “practice of fragmentation, destruction, and reconstitution of well-known figures, topics, and strategies of the mass media opens up not only a network of new interpretations and critical commentaries, but also defines the relationship of mass media and viewer anew” (Schmidt, Bremen, 2002).
By exposing the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, Melhus rebels against pre-established simplifications and global cultural standardization. Admitting that no images exist today outside of the corporate media, Melhus’ works contest such iconographic hegemony.

Both fascinated and disgusted by the American mainstream media culture, Bjørn Melhus has made his field of research what others would hastily judge as American “trash”. In a meticulous and consequent way he has been thus exposing the manipulative power of modern media by successively paying attention to several genres, including Hollywood films, news TV channels or the talk show format, just to name but a few cases.

With his systematic examination of different mass media frameworks, Bjørn Melhus has been exposing the stereotyped voices, gestures and slogans which are being conveyed on a daily basis and which seem to be dictating our behaviour despite of us. What to do with this awareness, a sort of pledge for responsibility, is the question left open to every single viewer.

(Excerpt of my review published in RES – Art World, Issue #02 May, 2009)

May 9, 2009 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

ON CENSORSHIP. “Imaginary Coordinates” at the Spertus Museum / Chicago

Imaginary Coordinates“, an exhibition curated by Rhoda Rosen at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, originally scheduled to be open through September 7 suddenly closed in the end of June allegedly in response to pressure from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and individual donors. As Deanna Isaacs reported on May 29 on the Chicago Reader: “The Jewish United Fund, a major Spertus supporter, had taken a look and promptly canceled a May 13 fund-raising dinner booked for the tenth floor boardroom. Michael Kotzen, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says he moved the event after hearing from “a number of people who thought the exhibit wasn’t appropriate” in “content and point of view””.

The exhibition showed maps (including palestinian maps) focusing on different geographic interpretations of the Holy Land some dating back to the 15th century together with contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, in what appeared to be an effort to open up and reconcile the museum´s permanent historical collection with contemporary art.

Quoted by Lauren Weinberg on June 20th on Time Out Chicago, museum president Dr. Howard A. Sulkin said: “We came to realize that parts of the exhibition were not in keeping with our mission as a Jewish organization and did not belong at Spertus. This exhibition caused pain for members of our key audience who felt it presented anti-Israel points of view.”

The central polemic of the show is that several of the works “implicitly criticize” Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. And pro-Israel supporters object to seeing work that is critical of Israel and supportive of Palestine within a Jewish museum.

Though there has been a refusal to which speficif objects were considered deemed offensive, Museum´s chair and the Spertus board of trustees reject claims of censorship. On one hand they say that “Spertus is not interested in going around and hurting people’s feelings”, and on the other that they are “committed to asking the hard-nosed questions about a lot of things” ?!? – a clear example of “the schizophrenic nature of this conflict” as Richard Silverstein has put it.
As Patty Gerstenblith bluntly writes on the Chicago Tribune on June 24: “It is unfortunate when donors wield more influence over museum exhibits than the museum’s professional staff and that controversial topics cannot be raised because of objections from a local community. Presenting viewpoints that may be unsettling and challenging are precisely the role that museums should play in our modern society”.
This should give us something to think about next time we discuss changing museum funding in Europe to be more like the american private donorship system!

Margeret Ewing, who seems to be the only one critizing the exhibition without political or partidary motivations, refers to the display of maps as adding little to a furthered understanding of the question of how the land of Isreal and Palestine is defined and to the exclusiveness of female contemporary artists as insufficiently explained within the exhibition!! Which is extremely funny, if you think about the polemic the show has raised and that Ewing – a sort of authority in art exhibitions´ critique – dismisses the show as “weak” from the curatorial point of view!

Lynn Pollack of Chicago´s Jewish Voice for Peace gave a very interesting statement to the Chicago Tribune. She said: “These are not fringe Palestinian and Israeli artists. These are mainstream artists who are able to display in their own country. Why can´t this art be seen by American Jews? It´s really a shame”.

On his turn, Richard Silverstein who runs a blog on on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world music, asks if the Spertus Museum “must pull its punches by cancelling an exhibit most viewers and artists found well within the consensus of political and artistic discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hasn´t lost the right to call itself and art museum?”.
And goes on to react to the patronizing attitude by Michael Kotzin (executive vice president of Jewish United Fund/ Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago who said that pieces “like those videos lacked context”) saying: “We can think for ourselves, thank you Mr. Kotzin. We don´t need to be protected from dangerous art, art that makes us think”.

Usually I don´t comment on exhibitions which I didn´t see. But, since this one was shut before any of us had the chance to see it, discuss and make an opinion not to mention that the uploaded video of the exhibition is no longer available on the internet and catalogues became extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find (I am lucky enough to have held one in my hands!), I feel my usual criteria shouldn´t apply. For me this is a clear case of censorship and one of great gravity for money and religion overruled freedom of thought, critique and dicussion!

July 21, 2008 at 5:23 pm 2 comments


Installation View

Did you know there is a slum in Leipzig?

Living in or off a dump was the leitmotiv for Arte a Full, a three-day-exhibition presented by the Ser Humanos Foundation, which gathered artists from different countries working in different media in the Westwerk in Leipzig.

Art a Full brought forth several topics currently under discussion. See the full list of participating artists here >>
Concerning the concept of identity and the need to redefine it; Julia Gaisbacher for instance, questioned how our identity is being redefined in the information age, creating what she calls 21st century portraits by enlarging human finger prints thus stressing how portrait has changed from the depiction of a face to biometric data, more in accordance with our present surveillance society. Baluri Kim brought the gender issue into discussion by questioning what does it mean to be normal, in this way demanding an update of attitudes. Katia Klose´s installation, with photographs and recorded testimonies, also addressed how one builds one´s own identity, narrating one´s own story through, sometimes traumatic, past memories.

Martin Blankenhagen

Concerning the image of the foreigner/ enemy, Alexander Jöchl and Victor Lopez reflected upon the concept of the „Other“ in relation to linguistic, territorial and economical borders. And Arcadio Ciccarese , Hein Petschulat and Martin Blankenhagen explored the different impacts the Media is having on our life today. In “The Next Best Superstar”, Ciccarese asks us to reflect if religious motivated fundamentalist attacks somehow don´t share a sort of 15-minutes-of-fame strategy we see on television castings every day. Unfortunately his question is far more interesting than the installation itself.
Hein Petschulat on his turn, considered the importance of headlines and breaking news, which we absorb both consciously and unconsciously on a daily basis. And Martin Blankenhagen´s manipulated photos not limited by trueness nor faithfulness to reality – just like the Media – which make use of violence and destruction, bringing it to a new aesthetic level, which – the author hopes – remind us of the responsibility each and any one of us has while dealing with such images today.

Konstantinos Goutos, Pietà
Questioning (the end of) ideologies in today´s world, Lucia Baruelli´s nomadic installation, playing with the interchange between the concepts of propaganda and communication, joined Kontantinos Goutos´ film “Pietà” in underlying exactly the schizophrenic gap between the political ideals of a few and reality for the most. As a flanêur, Goutos shot the scene without purpose nor plan, he tells us only when and where it took place. With our necessity to rebuild narratives, we presume that, meanwhile his accidental walk through the city of Athens just a few days before the parliament elections of 2007, he witnessed a girl lying on the ground – maybe because of drugs – and a friend possibly trying to help. On the background we hear a part of the elections campaign of the communist party in Greece, with popular, protest songs from the sixties, of Mikis Theodorakis… It unpretentiously shows the separation and incommunicability of worlds; how the blind struggle for power runs side by side with individualist escapist reverie.
“Wolfen Nord”, a documentary by Hagen Wiel, speaks exactly of the vacuum left behind by the failure of the socialist dream. Taking a new building style developed since the 50s that was part of a visionary project and what came out of it, he seeks to discover through his camera a possible meaning for a ghost landscape showing the essence of a time standing still.

Roosevelt Asmani, Kairo Intervention
Also concerning the passage of time and its consequences, Mirko Tzotschew´s „Moskauer Strasse“, depicted the frailty of thoughts and things under the unstoppable march of time. Experience which was dramatized by Roosevelt Asmani in his film „Kairo Intervention“, where velocity and our current hectic pace took the leading role.

Claudia Balsters, Dallas.Von Menshen im Müll
Concerning documentary strategies, Claudia Balsters´work „Dallas.Von Menshen im Müll“, depicted exactly the daily life of those living off a dump. It made me think of Agnès Varda´s film Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse, in which the director focuses exactly on gleaners, those who gather the spoils left after a harvest, as well as those who mine the trash. Throughout Varda´s documentary, different people present their reasons for living off a dump. Against what one might think, it doesn´t always happen for economic reasons. Of course that the majority exist on the leavings of others for poverty reasons, but there are also those who choose to do it following their consciousness, exercising their ethic, turning their findings into art or, believe it or not, just for fun. In Varda´s film we are surprised to find out about a man with a high-degree education who choose to live his life off a dump and sleep in homeless shelters as a reaction against a capitalistic consumerist society. In his case it´s a moral, ethic and political attitude, an utopic act of resistance. Varda´s film manifolds how much more complex the subject in fact is.

Diagnosing social, economic, political restraints and, in Oswaldo Macià´s case even proposing a revolution on how we should apprehend reality, all artists present at Arte A Full seemed engaged in examining the causes and problems undermining today´s society. And in this way making the limits of the systems that entrap us more visible. Though some works didn´t quite deliver the complexity they promised on a theoretical level, after visiting Art a Full one does get the feeling that the limits of our cage are a bit more recognizable.

February 18, 2008 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

The HORRIFC – Joe Coleman “Internal Digging” at the KW Berlin

Joe Coleman

Occupying three floors at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin), “Internal Digging” from Joe Coleman, curated by Susanne Pfeffer, was the first exhibition to encompass all aspects of Joe Coleman´s work. Joe Coleman (born in 1955) paints, draws, performs, makes music and collects. According to the text that accompanies the exhibition, he has been collecting relics, specimens, documents and oddities in his apartment in Brooklyn for more than thirty years and these are his own source of inspiration and reference for his wax figures, paintings, drawings and films.

Though he states he has no idea how the whole image is going to look like when he starts it, his dense visual cosmos combines the compositional principles of icon painting with those of comic strips. He mostly portrays bikers, serial killers, hillbillies, escape artists, and elephant men, curiosities that both remind us of former cabinets de curiosité and fairgrounds, mixed with contemporary reality at times, directly dealing with perversity, mental disease, obscenity, pornography and murders.

Coleman´s wax figure, depicting himself inside a coffin – asks us: “Has it occurred to you that this may be your last farewell?” and then his laughter sounds just like an horror movie. There are in fact, some pretty horrible things to see and read throughout the exhibition and at the end of the visit one is reminded of Coleman´s disturbing question at the beginning of the show.

At some point, in one of his paintings, he compares himself to George Grosz and his country situation to the one lived in Weimar / Germany in the past. He says: “With a great savage cruelty Grosz attacked with pen, brush and paint what he hated and what he feared… humanity. I have always felt a strong kinship with him. I live in a society not unlike Grosz´s Weimar Germany just before the rise of Fascism. The disillusionment of the Vietnam war, the decadence of the sex and drug revolution all seem to mirror the world of George Grosz”.

The exhibition is truly a plunge into Coleman´s private obsessed and tormented world, where all the vicious and sick aspects of human kind are depicted in a detailed and propagandistic way, just like sensationalist press but on painting. Because we feel no empathy nor compassion, his work doesn´t qualify as grotesque, it´s purely horrifying. His vision is totally pessimistic and by the time we leave the show we are totally convinced that there can´t be no salvation! Specially disturbing is his painting on child murders, stressing how people, and even children, always took pleasure in performing the most horrifying acts.

Coleman´s paintings force the viewer to bring his own moral judgments into play, there is no possibility of detached contemplation nor visual pleasure. Coleman confronts us with your our own general desire to watch and observe but return us the sickest of visions. One is forced to speak and think of “evil” with no chance to understand it or, making it rational by framing it within a given social context. It is just there with no possible explanation. There´s no doubt on his technique but, one questions the pertinence of being confronted with such a vision. Why should his work matter?
He is emphasizing something that we all know that exists but, for in order to keep on living, we forget and trust that it is under control through laws, penalties, jail and in some countries death sentences. Unfortunately he only shows and explores it and takes no stand. Still, it could be argued that he is forcing the viewer to think about it. In this sense, his value would then be, by exploring our sick desire of looking into horrifying things, he would intend to make us feel something and force us to make a judgment. But is this strategy really of worth, when we are subject to violence and cruelty in other media on a daily basis? Has such an exposure really made us more political?

Coleman has exhibited at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2201) and in Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2007) and is represented in many important art collections, specially in the USA.

November 3, 2007 at 6:06 pm 1 comment

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