Philippe Vandenberg

Limmatstrasse 270
August 30–November 8

Philippe Vandenberg, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 31 1/2 x 7/8".

A few group and solo exhibitions in New York, Paris, and Marseille hardly sufficed to make the painter Philippe Vandenberg—who committed suicide in Brussels in 2009—known to a greater public beyond the borders of his native country. This show marks the debut of his work in Switzerland. The course run by “Dog Day,” which is curated by Hamburg entrepreneur and collector Harald Falckenberg, invites the visitor on a journey of discovery. An untitled painting from 2008 sets the pace. On a black-and-white background charged with powerful, horizontal brushstrokes, a message in blue, orange, and black letters stands out: KILL THE DOG/DAY/KILL THEM ALL. The observer might read it as the cynically humorous protest of a seeker who in the end found no foothold in art.

Vandenberg’s works revel in the juxtaposition of ironic figuration and abstraction (à la Martin Kippenberger and Sigmar Polke) and, moreover, in the blurring of writing and image, in the vein of Cy Twombly. All of this comes to mind when looking at Vandenberg’s “L’Important c’est le kamikaze” (The important thing is the kamikaze), which he worked on between 1989 and 2005. Yet his unadorned, parched works give the viewer the greatest pause when they are left without titles. In a 2007 work, for instance, against a thickly painted black background there is this to read: DIEU ARRIVE (God arrives). As the “A” is unrecognizable, and the first “R” looks like a “P,” the viewer might also see: DIEU PRIVE (God [is] private). A theologian could hardly render a more accurate depiction of the abyss that opens between the two statements. God and life appear as if wrested from the deep oil background. Our existences struggle forth in scrawl.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Paul Chan

Ruchfeldstrasse 19
April 12–October 19

View of “Paul Chan: Selected Works,” 2014.

This twenty-four-room exhibition surveys Paul Chan’s sculptures, videos, animations, drawings, and projections, as well as his often-political ruminations on life and death. Though he appears to keep his art-making and activism mostly separate, here Chan absorbs a multitude of intellectual and otherwise notable sources, such as Henry Darger, Charles Fourier, Diane Arbus, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Beckett, and even Batman, the Joker, and George W. Bush, with a twist.

Beginning with one of the earliest works on view, the low-tech colorful animation Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2003, which features schoolgirls running, cartwheeling, and defecating in post-apocalyptic-looking fields, as well as in improbable scenes of orgies and massacres, the exhibition continues with this complex, polymathic premise. A flaneur bouncing from popular culture to allusions to cultural (Western) landmarks, Chan questions and reinvents perceptions about the Internet, language, and semiotics. Some of the most exciting pieces on view are the so-called arguments, and the “nonprojections” series that Chan started creating in 2013. Both are made of electrical wires and outlets plugging ordinary objects together, the latter including projectors that project nothing. Meanwhile, Master Argument, 2013, a large-scale floor installation of numerous pair of shoes plugged together with electrical cords and concrete, becomes the ultimate representation of the agora and its vox populi. Through these simplified installations, Chan manages to divert the common towards the universal.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva