documenta diaries ii: topical solution

    One of the paradoxes that has emerged from documenta 14 is that many of its spectacular installations make very simple statements about global consumerism using enormous material expenditures. In fact it can be difficult to see past the pyramids, windmills, and tents erected to comment on issues such as migration and the market-possessed-body – elaborate efforts to illustrate political generalities – to documenta’s truer theme, an attempt by curator Adam Szymczyk to assail, or at least supplement, canonical art history with work by indigenous and overlooked artists. 

    iQhiya, Monday, 2017, Performance und Installation, Ehemaliger unterirdischer Bahnhof (KulturBahnhof), Kassel, documenta 14, Foto: Fred Dott

    iQhiya, Monday, 2017, Performance und Installation, Ehemaliger unterirdischer Bahnhof (KulturBahnhof), Kassel, documenta 14, Foto: Fred Dott

    But the contemporary art fair world floats above scholarship on a bubble of self-satisfaction. The documenta participants who are the big draws – Mona Hatoum and Pierre Huyghe for example – aren’t worried about posterity. So what was meant to be exposure becomes competition for a footnote. Some of this lesser-known work also really struggles when removed from its local context. Poor facture and inappropriate plinths meant as fauxnaïf comes across as a weird form of doubled sociological good intentions gone awry, and, amid Kassel’s half-hearted Brutalist buildings, calls to mind Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of Bavarians dressed as Native Americans. In this respect, perhaps it was afterall an important achievement, and more consistent with Szymczyk’s goal, to move the most of documenta to Athens.

    One excellent work, shown above, is iQhiya’s Monday (2017), which unfortunately was performed only once on 13 June. Staged in Kassel’s “little” Bahnhof, the spoken, moved, video, books, saws, pens, needles cloth, and film endurance piece used an eight-hour projection loop of Sarafina! (1992) to examine the “hidden curriculum” experience of black, South African women college students. Mimicking the rhythm of a real school day, naturally people wandered in and out. The coming and goings of the Eurobahn and Regio trains moving through the station plinked the hour glass and also made a rumbling vibration that was unsettling and comforting at the same time. I’m not sure if the reference to Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Human Being @Work (2009) was intentional or ephemeral coincidence, but the eleven-member iQhiya troupe made use of sound and light in a similar way as Tayou’s (also very successful) occupation of the Biennale di Venezia’s Arsenale – only with real trains.

    Now, about Olu Oguibe…

    (more…)

    documenta diaries I: press opening

    For the first installment of documenta diaries…here is George Baker’s “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor” (2004). Much of the work seen thus far at the German quinquennial, having liberated itself from theory and history, is therefore very literal, in a Thelma-Golden’s-1993-Whitney-Biennal way. There is more going on at documenta, of course, than granular personal narrative…but the emphasis is definitely on identity and by extension individuality. (more…)

    Schwitters’s Shadow Signatures: Merzbau at Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 1

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    Merzbau reimagining at Sprengel Museum, Hannover.

    Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau.

    Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau.

    Merzbau Reconstruction at Sprengel Museum Hannover.

    Merzbau Reconstruction at Sprengel Museum Hannover.

    Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau at Sprengel Museum.

    Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau at Sprengel Museum.

    Hannover’s Sprengel Museum is such a fascinating space this most recent visit deserves a series of discrete posts of mostly photos. It was here in 2009 to see the visiting Hund vor der Welt on loan to the Sprengel for “Die Schönheit einer zerbrechenden Welt (1910 – 1914)  Franz Marc, August Macke und Robert Delaunay” exhibition that I became very focused on Marc’s portraits of Russi.

    The museum still holds some Marcs and Mackes in its permanent collection but there is also much more to see, including a reconstruction the main room of one of Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbauten, created in 1983 by Peter Bissegger. Bissegger, a theatrical designer who has made several Merzbau recreations, based his reconstruction on Wilhelm Redemann’s photographs from the early 1930s. Schwitters lived in Hannover; the apartment building where this version of the Merzbau lived was destroyed in 1943.

    Gwendolen Webster has written a wonderful paper full of designs and drawings from Schwitters and information about the Merzbauten in Norway and England call The Reception of the Merzbau which you can read by following the link.

    Midnight Atlantic City

    Franz Marc's Deer in the Snow at the Lenbachhaus; Persona

    Franz Marc’s Deer in the Snow at the Lenbachhaus; Persona

    The article M83: Why Music Is Contemporary Art on the Installation website provides an excellent forum, in the comments section, for the discussion of the title subject.

    I like M83 a lot and agree that their sound is ambitious beyond poptronica though as commenters on the Installation site point out this is not necessarily because of compositional enterprise or chord progression For me the attraction is the “celebrate the apocalypse” mood of “Midnight City” or the spoken “created sample” in  “OK Pal:”

    “We’re walking in the streets – or what’s left of them,
    I take your hand, and the city is slowly vanishing.
    There’s no crowd anymore, no cars, no signals.
    But in the middle of the road, a purple and mellow shape is floating.
    The shape of our mutual dream.
    Stay calm, hold me tight, give it a chance to take us away.
    We will live, we will dream on the shadow of our world.”
    I had a dream the other night that incorporated both this song and the painting in the photo, Franz Marc’s Deer in the Snow (1911). In the dream a good friend of mine who recently has been through a difficult time was one of the deer, but hampered by a hank of rope or net caught between her hoof and head.  The reindeer tender freed her, and despite being “caught,” my friend as the deer, didn’t have any broken bones, or even any bruises or lost fur. I hope she will be OK like the deer in the dream. In the dream, I heard the music from “Midnight City” (which reminds me of this friend). I don’t know why anyone would think people (and animals) don’t see colors or hear music in dreams…maybe everyone does and they just forget.

    Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

    Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

    Lorna Simpson @ Haus der Kunst

    One of the aspects of Lorna Simpson’s work I have always admired is the technical quality of her photographs. At her recent press conference at Haus der Kunst she confirmed what you’d expect from examining the gelatin prints in particular but really, upon close in-person inspection, her oeuvre: that Simpson develops, prints, mounts and even frames most of her photos by herself in a darkroom/studio in New York City.

    This sort of mid-career retrospective represents more than 30 years of of photography, film, video, and drawing. Known (as in these photos have entered the canon) for her mid-1980s for her language driven large-scale works combining photographs and text, Simpson’s effective enigmas are clearly coded but spacious enough to still wonder about. One of the most interesting works on view in München are a series from the 1990s of large multi-panel photographs printed on felt, accompanied by text panels describing their locations and the intimate encounters that are described but only hinted at visually. At the edge of the Englischer Garten where something exactly as described is probably happening right now only not as well concealed, the effect was actually humane and tender as opposed to amusing. The exhibit, which unfortunately overlaps with some other very strong show and with Haus der Kunst’s interactive festival also showcases Simpson’s film and video works, a group of watercolors, and an archive of found photographs from the 1950s, which Simpson has embellished by creating replicas of, posing herself to mimic the originals.