Finally, the tornado of international art events, gallery weekends and biennials that all culminated in Art Basel is behind us. It is a rare calm to catch up on the summer exhibitions we were too busy traveling to see.
These are the last shows for many galleries before they take a much needed holiday. All too often they just present a group show of whatever inventory is available from their artists (that didn't sell at the fairs). We searched for exhibitions that raise well above the expected, and we’re delighted to see some galleries mounting some of their finest of the year. Two of the five shows we recommend are solo exhibitions of now iconic artists who have worked with the gallery for decades from their beginning until current stardom.
Christopher Wool at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
It is a rare opportunity to see an impeccable exhibition of new works from an iconic artist, but Christopher Wool at Galerie Max Hetzler is the perfect exhibition before summer. He is one of the only artists to remain relevant at the forefront of painting for more than four decades now. Wool presents the full range of his practice from sculpture (an extension of painting) to small works on paper. At this late stage in his career, he is a virtuoso with full command of his skills. Beginning with his archive of drawings he scanned the so-called Rorschach series from 1986 to creates successive layers and layers of post-production. It becomes impossible to trace his process backward which magically re-mystifies the making. In contrast to the ‘controlled’ Rorschach ink blots (of Warhol for example) which are divided along a central axis, there is no symmetry to be found in Wool's paintings. Since the final paintings are silkscreens, they problematize the opposition of two art historical trajectories as neither expressive gestures (of Abstract Expressionism) nor anti-gestural systems (of Minimalism). Like the rest of his arresting oeuvre, the compositions are auras that have fallen into chaos of urban vandalism. The blotches recall dog piss puddles, gum smashed into asphalt, coffee stains on clothes, and above all the graphic scrawls of graffiti all un/intentionally ‘messed up’ – a kinship to much of real life.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Bleibtreustrasse 45, 10623 Berlin
Carol Rama at the New Museum, New York
This career-spanning retrospective begins and ends with some of Rama’s most radical works when she returned to earlier themes of the female body often disabled, institutionalized, suffering and erotic. Her work has from the beginning pushed back against the weight of fascism and for that was censored by Mussolini’s regime. Rama was a visionary in all the meanings of the term, creating psychologically charged paintings that are kin to art brut and outsider art of mental hospital patients. Her early watercolors almost exclusively of women: screaming with sharp tongues, dismembered amputees, exposing their genitals or penetrated by snakes. This long-overdue show contains more than 150 works in all media (painting, objects, works on paper). In the middle of her career, Rama turned away from graphic content and joined the Italian Concrete Art movement avant-garde and made transcendent geometric abstract paintings. She quickly verged away to her bricolage technique of combining letters and mathematical signs with parts of dolls’ eyes and stuffed animals. In the 1970s she turned to new forms of two-dimensional assemblages using rubber from bicycle tires which were in honor of her father who was bicycle manufacturer and committed suicide while Rama was a child. She returned to surreal by way of the La mucca pazza (Mad Cow) series which brought together her fascination that cows were forced to eat the meat of other cows that infected them with this deadly virus bringing together identity politics, the post-human anatomy, and feminism.
New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
Yan Xing at Kunsthalle Basel
It is hard to say what is the first work you encounter as Yan Xing’s entire exhibition is a mise en scène a sexual love triangle. The exhibition is based on a complicated novelistic story of a powerful curator who is married to an obedient wife but becomes obsessed by his desire to be dominated by a man. All of this causes a confusing mix of genders, sexuality, and sadomasochism – this is an artwork about the art world after all, and part of the story is the artist sleeps with the curator's wife (well, this happens from time to time). Public and private collide before you enter the gallery as the artist supposedly licked the floor clean (an act of submission). Two blocks of gray granite nearly touch each other, on top of the first one are copper pipes just large enough to tightly hold a porcupine needle. This is related directly to the pair of monochrome Paynes’ gray photos that hang side by side above the rocks. You must look close to make out the details of a sexually charged scene in which a handsome young man in a white french cuff dress shirt lies sleeping while another man behind him inserts a needle into his ear. The image is cringed worthy but also unapologetically sensitive formally related to Mapplethorpe’s homoeroticism as the dangerous, violent and erotic are mutually present. The rest of the exhibition comes from the story which is nearly impossible to decipher; instead, it is like walking in a dream space. Objects exist as refuse (shoes in trash bags), relic (a hand embroidered handkerchief draped over a granite stone), and replica (a painting of a Cezanne painting of a servant).
Kunsthalle Basel, Steinenberg 7, 4051 Basel
Tom Burr at Maureen Paley, London
Tom Burr stages his first exhibition with Maureen Paley from his three decades of work that inject (homo)eroticism of the mourning body that evacuated with absent into the confines of minimalist structures. You enter the gallery to see three ‘stages,’ at first they appear to be yet another grouping of minimalist or post-minimalist sculptures. Two are like oversized black Sol LeWitt cubes, but upon closer inspection, something much more intimate is inside which matters as much (or more) than the external shell of formalism ‘primary structures.’ The cube transforms into a personal space (a cell, shower stall, covered bed or chamber) inside which the floor is covered with carefully arranged black plastic sheeting, clear plastic bags inside which are books, magazines or images held in place by push pins, for example, a paperback copy of J. Edgar Hoover on Juvenile Delinquency. There is an almost seductive embrace of cheap commercial commodities. Minimalist Kitsch moves from false sentiment to damaged authenticity by rejecting the masculine inherent the industrially produced Donald Judd boxes or stacks. Burr takes the domestic more personal gestures of decorating and displaying collections of ephemera like relics on the ground. Together the objects are charged with history, cultural imaginary and the deep tenderness that bring humanity (or even romanticism) to the clean, pure neutral cube. Burr’s sculptures are pierced by fetishistically bodily surfaces and materials revealing subversive dissent and desire.
Maureen Paley, 21 Herald Street, London E2 6JT
Jorge Pardo at Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
The gallery is lined with large-scale paintings which although not unfamiliar to Jorge Pardo are not his primary medium. He mostly works with materials, tools, and techniques of industrial product design. Taken together this exhibition at Galerie Gisela Capitain can be seen as a site-specific installation. Pardo himself has said “to be an interesting artist, you really have to understand your relation to other forms of production,” which gives the perfect mode of entry into his practice. Although his signature ‘functional objects’ do not appear in this exhibition, the Constructivism and even the LA Light and Space movement are evoked in his lightbox paintings. Starting with found photographs which he manipulates as the ground for his painting on top of which (and behind) he layers his biomorphic and organic vocabulary. Computer generated designs combine the languages of nature and machine. He borrows from different histories of architectural ornament (mixing of styles and periods) from Islamic tile work, socialist interior design of interlocking stars specific to his homeland of Cuba and Californian mid-century modernism. The surfaces of his smaller drawings are covered beautifully with layers of laser cut white paper which brings them in relation to the larger wall works which are as much sculpture as painting.
Galerie Gisela Capitain, St. Apern Strasse 26, 50667 Cologne
– Justin Polera