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Philippe Vandenberg

Limmatstrasse 270
August 30, 2014–November 8, 2014

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 (ŕ 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

Michel Pérez Pollo

Rämistrasse 37
October 31–December 31

Michel Pérez Pollo, Materia gris (Gray Matter), 2014, oil on canvas, 98 x 118”.

The contradictions are great. The paintings of the young Cuban Michel Pérez Pollo sustain intellectual and spatial suspense with ease and without pandering or folkloric fuss. The artist, who generally works in acrylic on canvas, paints like a virtuoso, here presenting large, curious ensembles of bulbous figures rendered in thin layers of oil paint. They would almost threaten to leap from the canvas, were injury and silent melancholy not inherent to them. Evoking the various roles sculpture has traditionally played in Latin American art, Pérez Pollo’s repertory of figures in these paintings derives from a hodgepodge of small clay models, which he makes himself, and from found objects. They seem like revenants of the abject figurines of the surrealist Yves Tanguy.

Oscillating between the abstract and the concrete, or formal and anthropomorphic, two figures in Materia gris (Gray Matter), 2014, appear as twisted ovals with a piece seemingly broken off of one and leaning triumphantly on another spiral chunk to the left of it. Perhaps it’s a symbol in the original Greek sense of a mark or token? No, rather it reads as an allegory of the poverty of human existence as the cut surfaces of these two halves, upon closer examination, would not fit together. The forms’ plasticity is carried out with a humorous lightness. We will be seeing more from this painter, and not only in Zurich.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

August 23, 2014–November 26, 2014

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, King Stag: Deramo, 1918, wood, paint, metal, brass, bells, fabric, 23 x 5 1/2 x 4”.

Though Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s portrait has adorned a Swiss banknote since 1995, the modernist pioneer’s oeuvre has not yet been exhaustively researched or presented. Thankfully, this retrospective attempts to achieve those goals by gathering over three hundred works, including rarely seen costumes as well as a large array of her sketches—works that add complexity to our understanding of her practice.

The show focuses on Taeuber-Arp’s multifaceted, Bauhaus-spirited practice, which is evident in her paintings, her small-scale accessories and fabrics, and her designs for theatrical sets and original marionettes—notably for Carlo Gozzi’s 1918 avant-garde play König Hirsch (King Stag). Iterations of shapes manifest in her design objects, as in the famous wooden sculpture Coupe Dada, 1916, and the ironic painted hat rack–object Portrait Jean Arp, 1918, as well as in her mazelike spatial paintings, which also echo her furniture and architectural design—see the drawing Axonometric Drawing of Galerie Goemans, 1928–30, one of two blueprints in the show.

While the exhibition smartly groups motifs and media, the galleries also showcase repetition and difference, shifting between graphics and bas-reliefs, hard and soft surfaces, and representing space as conceived, perceived, and performed by the artist, who attended Rudolf Laban and Mary Wigman’s Zurich School of Dance. Though the show balances scholarly approach and sensory enjoyment, its enthusiastic presentation pardonably risks leveling off Taeuber-Arp’s delicate understandings of point, line, and plane by its sheer density. Overall, however, the array points out not only formal similarities but also Taeuber-Arp’s superlative sense for equilibrium.

Gabrielle Schaad

Paul Chan

Ruchfeldstrasse 19
April 12, 2014–October 19, 2014

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

Emanuel Rossetti

Helvetiaplatz 1
October 23, 2013–December 7, 2014

View of “Emanuel Rossetti,” 2014. Foreground: Gallery Bells, 2014. Background: Vomitory, 2014.

Emanuel Rossetti’s “Delay Dust” starts on an unusual note for an institutional solo exhibition. Before even entering, one encounters a work by another artist, Georgia Sagri’s Sick Building, 2014, a log lodged in a wooden, florescent painted frame, installed outside in front of the building. By incorporating Sagri’s piece, Rossetti gestures to his artistic milieu, as if signaling its importance to be equal to any of his own works. The inside of the museum is dominated by Rossetti’s Vomitory, 2014, a soft, blood-red carpet that covers floors and walls of the central lobby and a side gallery, upholstering the acoustic space that reverberates with the sound installation Boundaries # 2, 2014. Simple black speakers placed one per room throughout the museum emit an array of swelling and decaying sustained tones, lingering on the edge of audible, in a collage of drone music. The speaker’s frequencies bleed across multiple rooms, connecting the red-carpeted spaces with the surrounding bare, white rooms.

One of Rossetti’s unframed film stills, which features a donut-shaped image rendered in SketchUp, Untitled, 2010, is displayed in the lower floor galleries, but its reception is interrupted by a shrill, timed ring from upstairs of Gallery Bells, 2014, a zigzag layout of five metal bells laid out on the floor and installed in one of the red rooms. This pervasive sound unites the visual displays, putting them in dialogue across spatial boundaries and reiterating Rossetti’s opening gesture of including Sagri, in the way it evinces a determination on Rossetti’s part to bridge connections between individual practices, mediums, and environments

Gabrielle Schaad