For “Following G,” painter Peter Wilde constructs a portrait of a young Berliner based on photographs from her Facebook profile. In the tradition of such pioneers of Photorealism as Robert Bechtle and Charles Bell, Wilde generates conceptual tension by meticulously, even lovingly, reproducing snapshots of fleeting moments and easily overlooked subject matter as large-scale oil paintings. Although G (and her surrounding creative clutter) is striking, the subjects of Wilde’s finely rendered scenes are often ambiguous actions in which no faces are directly defined. Rather than replicate persona-defining profile pics, Wilde paints apparently innocuous images that might be buried in a series of episodic shots. These offhand images of young people conversing or looking at a laptop on an unmade bed feel genuinely intimate. Objects, light, atmosphere, and personal aesthetics appear like clues in a suspenseful story—one driven by the viewer’s interest in why Wilde directs his attention and skill to carefully honoring these insouciant scenes.
On the Carpet, 2014, presents a ratty Persian rug seen from above. On it rests a haphazard arrangement: figures only visible from the waist down, weathered purses, candles, beer bottles, an ashtray, a can of hair spray, a fly swatter, and a range of cigarette paraphernalia. While the atmosphere here is clearly convivial, Wilde’s central subject, G, remains elusive. Wilde recently disclosed that G is a transgender expat, yet this identity is never fully revealed in Wilde’s work. Instead, the mystery that he imparts to his images respects and enhances her privacy.
The oversize works by artists such as Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley are today installed to unleash a “Bilbao effect,” which became a popular term after Frank Gehry built the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, transforming the poor port city of Bilbao into a must-see tourist destination. The story behind Scott King’s Anish and Antony Take Afghanistan, 2014, a black-and-white comic strip included in his latest exhibition, “Totem Motive,” is based on this very scenario. Can giant sculptures make even a place like Afghanistan more attractive to tourists?
The comic strip, drawn in collaboration with illustration artist Will Henry, depicts several scenes in which Kapoor and Gormley act as agents deployed by the UN to Afghanistan; in other scenes, survival packages filled with development funds by the Arts Council descend from the sky. Variations on this idea also appear in King’s photo series “Study of Blackpool Tower,” 2014, which lines the walls of the gallery’s second room. In 1894, the English coastal town of Blackpool received its tourist landmark, the steel, latticed Blackpool Tower, which was inspired by Paris’s Eiffel Tower for its ability to be seen from any vantage in the city. Rightly so, the photos all include the tower among the varied scenery of the town: the view from solitary places, such as the promenade, forlorn side streets, and the empty circus at the base of the tower. Ultimately, the photographs could serve as either a study of the impressive structure or a documentation of the now desolate town that resides under its shadow.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Although Geta Brătescu has been favorably compared to Louise Bourgeois—undoubtedly because of her gender and the longevity of her prolific output—a more apt comparison might be to Joseph Beuys in the sheer fervor of her fusion of the mythic with modernist abstraction. At the same time, her work is unburdened with the German meister’s pedantry—it is quite content to stand on its own. Having worked in solitude in her native Romania for much of the past century, Brătescu, born in 1926 and still going strong, was first brought to the attention of a larger audience when her work was included in the main exhibition of the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Brătescu often works in series, and her Berlin exhibition consists of four of them, in addition to three stand-alone works, dating from the mid-1970s up to 2010. “Himere,” 2005, includes a suite of ten drawings that the artist made with her eyes closed—by which is presumably meant only in the execution of the black outlines, as the inner shapes have been perfectly colored-in with white, red, gray, and an occasional orange. Her zigzaggy, often cartoonish lines are hardly the product of a blind seeker; from them emerge identifiably anthropomorphic forms that seem confident yet playful in their creation. In “Jeu des Forms” (Play of Forms), 2009, another series, this geometric rigidity engages in a tug-of-war against inchoate shapelessness, a conflict played out against soft pastel backgrounds. The triangle is a recurring motif here, deployed not as a ponderous in-itself signifier but as an aggressive pointing device, adding a sharp edge to the wormy squiggles that otherwise populate the plane of the work of an artist who is either a folk modernist or a conceptual mystic.
The centerpiece of Reinhard Mucha’s solo show at Sprüth Magers is the installation Frankfurter Block , 2012, so named because it first appeared at Frankfurt’s Galerie Grässlin, where it occupied a space that has been loosely recreated for the current Berlin iteration. This embedding of a work’s exhibition history within that work itself, such that the two become inseparable, is characteristic of Mucha’s oeuvre, which is often obtuse and self-referential. The eleven works in the show, some of which date as far back as 1981, feel like clues or bits of a narrative that, by design, never quite coalesce into anything concrete and knowable. What exactly is a viewer to make of vitrines filled with thick, sealed envelopes addressed to the artist himself? Or walls of framed photocopied coupons? Or any of a number of oblique nods to fellow Düsseldorfer Joseph Beuys, including a rolled felt blanket, Braunkreuz-like smears of paint in a set of drawings, the use of the vitrine as a framing device, and the application of the term “Block” to describe the complex of assembled works?
If it all sounds a little dry, it is. But the heady Conceptualism of Mucha’s enigmatic self-construction in Frankfurter Block is balanced by the formal intrigue of his familiar wall-mounted sculptures, which appear in the installation as well as in the adjacent gallery. Titled after provincial German towns, the sculptures, all dating between 2007 and 2014, are hulking glass-faced assemblages of recycled industrial material and pieces of furniture. The layers of each work have a specific history and subtly allude, as some have noted, to various aspects of Germany’s traumatic past. But considered on their own, freed of the weight of press release detail, they are equally compelling as masterful studies in surface, depth, texture, composition, and ultimately, gestalt.
Filmic images do not function as representations of external phenomena, observed philosopher Gilles Deleuze in his key study on cinema. These images are instead concrete realities of movement and time. Strictly speaking, Zofia Kulik’s latest solo exhibition, “Instead of Sculpture – Sequences 1968-71,” doesn’t feature film or sculpture, but a body of early photographs. Filmic registers suffuse these works, however, and serve to interrogate both the classical genre of sculpture and its gendered tradition.
Among photographs of objects and materials, as in Bundle Tower, a three-part series depicting a formless heap of gray, wooly thread with protruding paper scrolls (all works 1968–71), the artist’s photo sequences of a middle-aged woman in states of undress are conceptually and affectively the strongest. Instead of Sculpture: Lady Halina and Cones, for instance, pictures a model in a bikini and sunglasses sitting with crossed-over arms on a chair. The first image of the smiling woman feels personal and yet somewhat awkward, like an intimate snapshot of someone only distantly known. Followed by a sculpture of the model’s naked body, upon which a string of yellow paper cones has been placed, the series progresses with shots of Lady Halina’s body bending and turning as if prompted to move by the cones covering it. Kulik stages the female body to become a sculptural prop—a malleable, soft object. But here, there is not only a smooth surface made to last, but a living and aging body. Her model’s skin, like human celluloid, has recorded the passage of time.
“Smart New World” presents ideas that once seemed paranoid but have now become banal realities: An information society equals a surveillance society, and Big Data means data capital. Ambitious themes such as the end of privacy run the risk of being met with apathy: Edward Snowden’s revelations, widely received as mere confirmation of long-suspected realities, hardly affected our digital behavior. Yet the show manages to navigate different ethical aspects of information control, successfully avoiding an impasse of truisms.
The entrance of the Kunsthalle has been transformed into a virtual bureau of the International Necronautical Society. Visitors must sign an INS waiver stating, among other things, that the signatory’s proper name “was not and never will be proper, nor the property of any individual.” What follows is far less tongue-in-cheek: Omer Fast’s crushing dramatization 5000 Feet is the Best, 2011, looks at mediated warfare through a cinematic amalgamation of interviews with former drone operators suffering from PTSD. A three-channel video by German duo Korpys/Löffler is shot from inside an abandoned apartment building in East Berlin on the mammoth construction site of Germany’s new intelligence-agency headquarters. With a laconic tone reminiscent of the Stasi agent in the film “The Lives of Others,” a narrator states the date and time of each scene, raising questions about Germany’s difficult history with state surveillance as well as the current possibilities of hiding out off the grid.
Kenneth Goldsmith’s installation Papers from Philosophical Transactions, 2014, prints out pirated JSTOR articles on site in a tribute to the late Aaron Swartz. Not all works compel: Aleksandra Domanović’s Anhedonia, 2007, uses Getty Images to reconstruct “Annie Hall” without breaching copyright, but the heavy-handed result falls short of the film’s original drollery; Simon Denny’s hardware installations, meanwhile, simply feel trivial. Nevertheless, the show’s success arises out of a comprehensive back-and-forth between its exploration of global issues and individual behavior.