To judge by size alone, you’d think these watercolors on paper were what is often described as modest, but they’re actually not. Gesture plays too great a role; instead, there is a dazzling viscosity—a sexiness, even. In one blue-and-yellow piece (all works untitled and 2016), the yellow is deployed sparingly, articulating petal and stem shapes against the blue background. The bumblebee shade stays true to the liquid nature of the medium, congealing and swimming in the center of the composition, while the cerulean that allows it to flourish has been disciplined into strict swaths.
In other paintings, it is the line that dominates the plane—one motif is a series of thin black snakes calligraphically moving through the scene, with a wildness, speed, and recklessness. It’s all abstract, but, as in the best abstractions, it is fun to tease out shapes that replicate the real world, such as a tangle of bloodred branches seeming to emerge from a mass of indiscernible green foliage. These works will certainly be recognizable to fans of Lesley Vance’s oil paintings, though perhaps here the concerns are just as plastic as they are floral. They are contained by the glass and the frame, maybe, but they are also limitless in their vine-like grabbing toward implications unknown.
How multifaceted, rich in variants, and rhythmic can a concentration on black, white, and shades of gray be? For a demonstration, see Tobias Pils’s exhibition here. The artist, who lives in Vienna, draws the beholder of his work into a cosmos of painterly and graphic forms—structures and gestures that, the moment they are applied to canvas or paper, seem to vanish. The most distinct quality in Pils’s works is his play with ambivalence: The towering image Untitled (Yes&no) (all works cited, 2016), for instance, initially presents itself through illustrations of varying perspectives but is flattened out by a nearly endless arsenal of lines. In the smaller-format Untitled (Palms), the artist confronts the organic with the angular as a grayish floral pattern encounters dark beams.
On the lower level of the gallery, the twenty-four-page artists’ book Tobias Pils and five untitled ink drawings are on view. The musicality of the painterly works on the upper level, which is flooded with daylight, gives way in this artificially lit space to austere forms and a reduction to black and white. On the pages of the book in the display case, as well as in the unframed drawings on the wall, black expanses slide into the image space and across filigreed lines. Delicate lattices are disrupted by monochrome surfaces, a vortex of lines is arrested, and waves are interrupted. The images withdraw from any attempt at pinning them down, an elusiveness and vivacity that constitutes their charm.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
Erwin Wurm has a knack for finding eureka moments in the most mundane circumstances. Domestic objects as activated by everyday people define his current exhibition, bringing together three bodies of work ranging from the early 1990s—including printed instructions on paper outlining fattening recipes—to the present, with oversize bronze and polyester sculptures that look like they’ve been bashed or clawed.
Turning spectators into participants, Wurm invites audiences to complete his works by literally stepping into them and accepting his play on conventions at face value. Narrow House, 2010, for instance, is a scaled-down replica of his childhood home in Austria, reflecting the narrow-mindedness of the small town in which he grew up. Miniaturized kitchen and bath appliances, a hallway library, rotary telephone, and family photos complete the setting. Two pairs of wonky flip-flops are a wry addition—Wurm doesn’t take himself too seriously, and neither should you.
Low, white, square plinths fill the main hall, each displaying brief instructions in English or German for his series of “One Minute Sculptures,” 1997–, shown alongside David Shrigley–style pen illustrations. A chair, a purse, a doghouse, tennis balls, and a pile of philosophy books are distributed for visitors to pick up and use to fulfill given tasks toward the completion of a sculpture. Sit on a prayer rug and think about Spinoza’s theories on free will or stick your face in the chair seat like an idiot—why not? Wurm offers a safe space to reflect and fool around. Anyhow, it’s only for sixty seconds, enough time to giggle awkwardly and snap a decent Instagram picture before realizing you too are a work of art.
Julian Rosefeldt presents a thoughtfully crafted installation of thirteen videos from 2014–15 that run in tandem across a large open-plan room. Titled “Manifesto”—a word characterized by “appellative language, militant provocation, and often propagandistic self-promotion,” as the introductory exhibition text emphasizes—the exhibition features a collage of politically underpinned treatises by philosophers, artists, architects, choreographers, and filmmakers from movements such as Futurism, Dadaism, and Fluxus. These urgent diktats are all channeled through Cate Blanchett via the videos’ thirteen versatile characters. Using different oratory styles, she delivers impassioned speeches that should, ostensibly, be awkward to recite, but the stirring words are believable when coupled with quotidian situations. Blanchett transforms into a range of prismatic figures—stockbroker, factory worker, puppeteer, funeral speaker, rocker, and choreographer—whose recognizable milieus endow the texts with new meaning.
Switching out the agitated male voice these manifestos are associated with for a more affecting delivery, Blanchett mainly plays women, though she also embodies a homeless man spouting anti-elitism from manifestos by Aleksandr Rodchenko, Lucio Fontana, and Guy Debord. Elsewhere, the actress reels off media rhetoric as a TV anchor and announces excerpts from texts by Sturtevant and Sol LeWitt as though they were “breaking news,” followed by banter with a field reporter about conceptual art. In another film she’s a schoolteacher roaming the classroom, quoting passages by filmmakers Dziga Vertov, Werner Herzog, and Thomas Vinterberg, which her young pupils dutifully echo back. Each piece features a moment when the main character faces the viewer in direct address. Coming together in brief but perfect confluence, the thirteen manifesto-films harmonize, their diverse content and pitch suddenly a mellifluous hum.
Crackerjack painter Amy Sillman kicks the bucket (of paint, that is) in her current exhibition, conjuring AbEx ghosts so she can slay them with her spirited, calligraphic line work. Her version of abstract painting is more than alive—it is animated.
A humorous digital video, Kick the Bucket (loop for Portikus), 2016, echoes from the entryway. Recordings of vigorous, sharp scratching sound out the act of drawing in front of her studio windowsill to a background chorus of chirping birds. The illustrations, initially made on an iPad, depict dogs, hogs, and humans in a continuous string of transformative events—dying, eating, shitting, and masturbating. A walking skeleton knocks over a pail of canary-yellow paint, a pig coats the screen with color, and then a female figure wearing a military helmet appears to slice it in two.
The dizzy tales continue with “Panorama,” 2015–16, a series of large abstract paintings sequenced along the gallery walls like pages of an expanded accordion book. Scanned illustrations printed on canvas in thick black lines are painted over with muddy layers of gouache or colored ink washes in gray, mauve, or violet, creating shifts in density and a confusion of surfaces. Sillman’s shapes and lines dart in all directions, throwing restraint out the window along with the directionless compass of a bygone era. If her painted marks could script a lesson, it might read something like this: The story is far from over; it’s only just begun.
Within this minisurvey of Markus Karstiess’s sculptures from 2005–15 is a video of him excavating Robert Smithson’s 1969 asphalt pour in Rome, Was die Erde sieht (With the Eyes of the Earth), 2014. The result of this activity is Karstiess’s Scholar’s Rocks, 2015—a craggy ceramic base cradling fragments of Smithson’s work. That artist’s pours celebrated entropy and gravity, while Karstiess’s clay pieces draw on the primeval energies of this planet. His room-divider-like series, “Dirty Corners,” 2013, is another nod to the Land art master, and certainly Joseph Beuys’s “Fat Corners” of the 1960s. The works stand sentinel-like on the floor, shiny smooth on the outside, while rough-hewn, scraped out, and pockmarked within. It summons up an ancient sense of the natural.
This exhibition is a homecoming for the artist, who had a residency here in 2005. It was the venue’s splendid ceramic mural, Lucio Fontana’s Il Sole (The Sun), 1952, that inspired Karstiess to turn to clay. His totemic and symmetrical Isenheim-Rochen-Wesen (Fetisch) (Isenheim-Skate-Being [Fetish]), 2015, held up on a metal rod, feels like a stack of molten vertebrae. Stellar, 2016, is made up of casts from Neolithic and Bronze Age cup and ring marks found in the Northumberland countryside. This piece confronts visitors in the foundation’s passageway with its roiling animism, and it contrasts starkly with the Zen calm of the Álvaro Siza and Rudolf Finsterwalder–designed building. Karstiess harnesses the primitive world into sophisticated, abstract objects that resound throughout time.