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Tobias Zielony

Brunnenstrasse 9
April 30, 2016–June 12, 2016

View of “Tobias Zielony: The Citizen,” 2016.

“Refugees as an object of contemplation,” reads the headline of a newspaper displayed in one of several wall-mounted vitrines. Is it a reproach or an invitation? This ambiguity gives Tobias Zielony’s exhibition its power, fixing viewers in a compromised position for a show against voyeurism.

The newspaper hails from a project Zielony began in 2014, although the language is not his own. Compelled by refugees’ calls for political agency in Germany, the artist documented African refugees in acts of resistance in Hamburg and Berlin, then distributed his photographs to a range of African newspapers to use as they pleased. The Citizen, 2015, is a selection of the resulting reportage, displayed adjacent to large prints of Zielony’s original photographs. The texts ensure a plurality of voices that never let one picture do all the talking.

Across the gallery, Storyboard (Monuments Men), 2015, interrogates a more familiar mode of contemplation. Photographs of objects from the Ethnological Museum of Berlin reveal that although African refugees might be new to Germany, their cultural heritage has been a longtime resident. In one image, a European man poses jauntily beneath curved tusks of freshly looted ivory from the kingdom of Benin. In a more recent picture, Sudanese activist Napuli Paul Langa reaches toward the branches of a tree she called home for five days in protest of the 2014 eviction of homeless refugees from Oranienplatz in Berlin. Juxtaposed, such images are a bleak reminder of all that Europe has stolen from the people it hopes to keep out.

Katherine Rochester

Wolfgang Tillmans

Galerie Buchholz | Berlin
Fasanenstraße 30
April 29, 2016–June 18, 2016

Wolfgang Tillmans, studio still life, c, 2014, ink-jet print, clips, 54 x 89".

Wolfgang Tillmans’s latest exhibition—consisting of a few more recent table displays from his series “Truth Study Center,” 2005–, and photographs shown in a range of sizes, some framed, others not—presents images of corridors, flora, dismantled technologies, people, exhibition models, the ocean, and buildings, along with snapshots of past yet still influential subcultures. The show is set up as an appealing invitation to a profound artist’s studio, which, rather than being a place of production that emulates traditional ideas of art and labor, is as much a conceptual, political, and social site where the relationship between artist, work, and technologies is analyzed. In this sense, the installation here can be interpreted as an artistic archaeology of the different vitalities contained within the studio environment. Life there is not so different from other lives—in studio still life, c, 2014, for instance, Tillmans has supplemented the cigarettes, plants, and coffee cups depicted in many of his other still lifes with computer screens and other digital hardware, emphasizing the complexity of these apparatus’s roles in our lives.

Meanwhile, the insides of material worlds are entered and explored as studios themselves, as in CLC 800, dismantled, a, 2011, which depicts a demounted photocopy machine, and Kopierer, b, 2010, showing the scanner unit of another, similar machine. The images complicate the active forces of technologies, whose processes can become the content of the artwork they produce. This is an exhibition in which pictures, as assemblages of diverse forms of lives—human or otherwise—meet places, becoming essential collaborators. These sites then operate as feedback mechanisms, constantly looping between artists and their machines.

Sara R. Yazdani

Thea Djordjadze

Sprüth Magers | Berlin
Oranienburger Straße 18
April 30, 2016–June 25, 2016

View of “Thea Djordjadze: Listening the Pressure That Surrounds You,” 2016.

It’s fitting that Georgia-born Berliner Thea Djordjadze makes careful use of the greenery behind this gallery without ever inviting the viewer outside. She knows that the looming windows to the backyard garden are usually hidden with drywall and she exposes them, save for the silver hinged shutters and a sheet of Plexiglas covering one, which is painted with a pastel wash of yellow and blue. The genteel view is multiplied by its reflection in the polished stainless steel used to annex the first two areas of the exhibition.

Djordjadze built the space out into three chambers: this first room, a metal tunnel, and the last, where raw plywood cuts the space into a smaller one, as in the early stages of home renovations, with reflective Plexiglas tacked to the perimeter. Both the first and last rooms are empty, save for objects assorted around the periphery or displayed on the walls. In the entry room is a pair of ambiguous concrete slabs and mahogany framed plaster paintings. One, Untitled, 2016, features a curved chair back from her installation at Karlsaue Park for Documenta 13. In the final area above the exit from the makeshift steel corridor is another reworked piece: a yellow foam and Plexiglas bench titled Only Way Is to 200 It, 2016, which looks suspiciously like museum furniture.

Words such as translation and abstraction are often thrown around in regard to Djordjadze’s work. Perhaps this is because it quietly begs a narrative while playfully eschewing clarity. Here, a woman is saddled with making a warm, modernist home out of an unwieldy space. Moving through the installation, one is surrounded by trippy idyllic suburban views from windows across the way. Lest one forget the show’s title, this is a place for “listening the pressure that surrounds you.”

Stephanie LaCava

Jochen Lempert

Weydingerstraße 10
April 30, 2016–June 25, 2016

Jochen Lempert, Untitled (Drops), 2016, gelatin silver print, each 19 x 14".

In Jochen Lempert’s exhibition, the gaze of a photographer merges with the methods of a scientist. His black-and-white photographs are studies that document similarities among humans, the animal world, and other organisms in nature via associative patterns. This ordering principle becomes especially clear in Plant Volatiles (all works cited, 2016)—a display case in which small-format photograms and gelatin silver prints are presented as if they were excerpts from a lexicon of the modern world. The arrangement of the installation is defined by discrete groupings in which visual motifs are corralled with one another based on their biological and aesthetic references.

The four-part work made up of gelatin silver prints, Untitled (Leafcutter Ant), for example, investigates the zoological—specifically ants, showing the survival strategies necessitated by their natural environment. The photograph Untitled (Mobile) ultimately concerns synergy, such as the reciprocal influence humans and nature exert on one another. It shows a mobile phone photographed in nature, thus setting a digital circulation of the captured wild into motion. The presentation of the immaterial shifts the focus from object-rooted visages to more ephemeral forms of appearance—the two-part piece Untitled (Drops) in particular captures the transient form of a raindrop running down the image. Across these works, there is not only a question about the potential for an unbiased practice of seeing but also an assessment of the diverse varieties of mimesis and mimicry alighting on each of the different spheres of life featured. Lempert’s pictures, in a quiet way, make our immediate surroundings accessible to deeper levels of aesthetic and scientific experience.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Melissa Canbaz

Isa Genzken

Niederkirchnerstraße 7
April 9, 2016–June 26, 2016

View of “Isa Genzken: Make Yourself Pretty!,” 2016. From the series “Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos,” 1976–82.

Isa Genzken’s comprehensive exhibition “Make Yourself Pretty!” is, for Berlin, a truly overdue survey of her life’s work, bringing together excerpts from the artist’s entire spectrum of sculpture, painting, film, photography, and books. On the floor in the atrium of this venue lies the series “Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos,” 1976–82, an array of long, slender, abstract wooden sculptures that have the same presence as any upright figure. Corporeal elements are a motif in her sculptural pieces, including in the series “Schauspieler” (Actors), 2013–. These theatrically and trashily clad mannequins are dressed in the artist’s own clothes and posed either in dense circular groupings or as lone wolves. A legible formal connection between these two series owes to the exhibition being organized as a kind of montage and not, as is customary for a retrospective, chronologically.

Continuities as well as intentional ruptures manifest themselves throughout. A particular dissonance stems from themes such as architecture and the urban—as seen in the assemblages Fuck the Bauhaus, 2000, or Ground Zero, 2008; pop culture and corporeality—the collaged Jacken und Hemden (Jackets and Shirts), 1998, and photographic series “Ohr” (Ear), 1980–2012; or the staging of the self—the Nefertiti busts Nofrete, 2014–2015, and the deadpan series “X-Ray,” 1989–2015—all being brought into dialogue. Part of the brilliance of Genzken’s work is her ability to invent new formal languages that depart from the path of linearity, especially when she drops in highly personal references. Despite the destructive and recklessly uncomfortable character of some of these works, the exhibition also has the lively feel of something moving, as if the work of turning internal impulses and desires into tangible creations is still in progress and always calling hierarchies and definitions into question.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Melissa Canbaz

Claire Fontaine

Galerie Neu
Linienstraße 119
June 30, 2016–July 15, 2016

View of “Claire Fontaine: May our enemies not prosper,” 2016.

Reflecting on complicity with the status quo and the necessary role of political art, the artist collective Claire Fontaine takes on the refugee crisis in Europe, economic exploitation, and environmental collapse for the current exhibition here.

Symbolic gestures in painting and sculpture are presented as counterpoints to the general mood of resignation about these calamities, illustrating quotes in the press release by Nietzsche, Kafka, Deleuze and a reference to the El Khomri labor-reform laws that sparked violent protests in Paris this spring. At the entrance of the gallery, a snowman made from soil-covered polystyrene, titled Earthman (all works 2016) disconsolately stares out the window, projecting nostalgia in an adulterated world without the levity of snow. Mounted high along the main wall is a row of security fencing, Untitled (Rotary spike: Black-Red-Yellow, Black-Red-Mustard, Black-Red-Shit)—defiantly painted with the colors of the German flag—and flanked by gray and black monochrome panels thickly covered in the nondrying anti-climb paint used to stain trespassers. Correspondingly, Untitled (Hanging) is used like a clothesline for towels, children’s shirts, and a hooded tunic—all suggestive of refugees’ personal items, or ghosts of those missing or drowned while fleeing imminent devastation.

How many shocks does it take to draw out compassion, sincerity, and response—scores dead in a nightclub, hundreds from drone strikes, or thousands at sea? Fontaine confronts audiences with implicit connections to social breakdown: The stakes are grave, and no one is innocent. When there is nothing left to fight for and nowhere to go, who remains to blame but ourselves?

Arielle Bier

Débora Delmar Corp.

DUVE Berlin
Gitschinerstr. 94/94a, Entrance D, Floor 2
June 11, 2016–July 16, 2016

Débora Delmar Corp., *mint lifestyle (display)*, 2016, refrigerator, plastic bottles, pigment, water, vinyl prints, labels, roll-up bin, silicone, juice crates, acrystal, fiberglass, matcha, plastic plants, 79 x 39 x 27 1/2".

Liquids and liquidity are the targets for Mexican artist Débora Delmar, self-branded as Débora Delmar Corp., in this exhibition—an addendum to her commercial juice-bar project at the Akademie der Künste for the Ninth Berlin Biennale. Riffing on the “Silicon Allee” start-up culture permeating the city, Delmar turns the gallery into fictitious corporate marketing offices for her lifestyle drink, Mint, by installing designer worktables where digital test prints for advertising images of the green juice are strewn about, while walls are decorated with three series of tie-dye paintings titled “Matcha,” “Detox,” and “Wheatgrass” (all works 2016)—made from their respective supplement powders. Synthetic bunches of leafy kale and lettuce are tucked into windowsills or beside vinyl roll-up wastebaskets, reflexively mocking their signification of freshness. But in case the simulated promise of a healthy environment inspires, an exercise ball awaits venturesome visitors.

“Mint,” however, doesn’t so much refer to the refreshing liquid’s ingredients, the chroma-key-green wall, or the tufts of plastic foliage sprouting from the midriffs of mannequin hip vases skid-marked with excess matcha, as it does to an acronym coined by economist Jim O’Neill for the emergent economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey. Like Delmar’s drink—subject to a limited shelf-life—these nations are in flux, with hungry corporations ready to consume or dispose of investments should they succeed or flounder on the global markets. Advertising on the side of a juice-stocked refrigerator called mint lifestyle (display) reads, “live more, live smart, live green, live mint,” promoting aspirations as shallow as the setting. If genuine health and wellness are the goal, take Delmar’s market mimicry as a warning not to get drowned by the temptation of a few green drinks.

Arielle Bier

Edmund de Waal

Galerie Max Hetzler | Bleibtreustrasse
Bleibtreustrasse 45
April 29, 2016–July 16, 2016

Galerie Max Hetzler | Goethestrasse
Goethestrasse 2/3
April 29–July 16

Edmund de Waal, My Problem with the Frankfurt School, 2016, porcelain vessel with Sung dynasty tea bowl, aluminum, Plexiglas, 8 x 7 x 4".

For this exhibition, titled “Irrkunst,” Edmund de Waal took inspiration from Walter Benjamin, who spent his childhood in the same neighborhood where this gallery’s two spaces are located. Benjamin’s method of getting lost while walking and exploring cities, or looking for a system to structure his writings (without ever succeeding), is a model that de Waal embraces for his own practice as an artist.

The majority of works here are Plexiglas vitrines filled with small porcelain vessels, all made in 2016. The arrangement of similar-looking white, or occasionally black, ones clustered in tidy groups on shelves—such as in Archive or The Task of the Critic—resemble the sequence of words in a poem. The lyricism here, though, comes from the objects—their numerous minute variations in color and shape make each item unique, while shards of their broken brethren are also incorporated into the individual compositions. Some are even gilded on the splintered side, like lucky accidents.

The artist’s attraction to these simple cups lies in their abstract qualities, and though they are solid forms, they also represent absence or emptiness. While his work has a clear connection to Minimalism in terms of repetition and variations on a motif, a personal signature seems equally important. Each container suggests a history, which connects it to people or places. In some cases, this is literally true, as in My Problem with the Frankfurt School, where fragments from a Sung dynasty tea bowl are collected into a single black bowl.

Jurriaan Benschop

Yi Dai

House of Egorn
Schoeneberger Ufer 51
April 30, 2016–July 16, 2016

View of “Yi Dai: Misfits, Offcuts and Castaways,” 2016.

By the end of the century, the Marshall Islands will no longer exist. Owing to the rapid pace of sea level rise, they will be submerged underwater and more than seventy thousand inhabitants will be displaced. Yi Dai’s current exhibition is rooted in both the nefarious past––a couple of the islands were used as testing grounds for the nuclear bomb by the US military––and the uncertain fate of the country, where the artist worked as a volunteer five years ago. The series “Catalogue of Light,” 2016, serves as the recurring motif throughout the exhibition; it consists of sixty-three small wood panels, mounted on which are circular drawings of the outlines of the islets belonging to the atolls where the military tests were carried out. The drawings have been rendered with lit incense on thin strips of Japanese paper. Below each work, a QR code sticker appears, which viewers can scan with their phones to see a Google Map image of the depicted landmass for comparison.

The largest work in the show, Miniature Catastrophe, 2016, has been described by the artist as an instance of “poetic story-telling through cartography.” Nearly six and a half feet in length and width, this wall-spanning piece depicts the atolls that make up the Marshall Islands in Indian ink. A cube of ice was placed in the middle of each form, resulting in a diffusion of ink into the white oceanic surround––a poetic evocation of the dissolution that will actually occur if nothing is done to stop the melting.

Travis Jeppesen

Horst Ademeit

Delmes & Zander | Berlin
Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 37
April 29, 2016–July 23, 2016

Horst Ademeit, 4325, 17.01.2001, Polaroid, 4 x 3 1/2".

For more than forty years, Horst Ademeit dedicated his life to tracking his obsession with cold rays, a form of radiation he believed was poisoning the immediate environment around his small apartment in Düsseldorf. Ademeit attempted to combat the rays by eating sand and cigarette ash, inserting knots of nylon into his ears, and attaching lengths of copper wiring to his body.

As hardly anyone besides him believed in the existence of this subtle but noxious form of pollution, he began to rigorously document its existence with the technology at his disposal––namely Polaroid photographs, on whose frames he would inscribe long, detailed notes in minuscule handwriting. Several dozen were taken a day, every day, for almost twenty years, amounting to a collection of thousands of pictures that he would carry with him in a trolley everywhere he went to protect them from his landlord, who he was convinced was trying to destroy his life, even by poisoning his food.

The centerpieces of the exhibition are chronologically ordered Polaroids and journals from Ademeit’s vast archive. Together, they form a brief glimpse of a project that is more than a mere evocation of paranoia and an extreme system of belief, but a poignant and often revealing diary of a life lived in the margins of the past century.

Travis Jeppesen

Lesley Vance

Meyer Riegger | Berlin
Friedrichstrasse 235
June 30, 2016–July 30, 2016

Lesley Vance, untitled, 2016, watercolor on paper, 16 x 13 x 1".

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.

Travis Jeppesen

Tobias Pils

Capitain Petzel
Karl-Marx-Allee 45
June 9, 2016–August 13, 2016

View of “Tobias Pils,” 2016.

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.

Franz Thalmair

Erwin Wurm

Berlinische Galerie
Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128
April 15, 2016–August 22, 2016

Erwin Wurm, Narrow House, 2010, mixed media, 29 x 67 x 4'. Installation view.

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.

Arielle Bier

Ursula Böckler

Alte Schoenhauserstr. 35, Hinterhaus
April 2, 2016–August 27, 2016

View of Ursula Böckler, “Photos of the ‘Magical Misery Tour’ with Martin Kippenberger,” 2016.

Martin Kippenberger’s “Magical Misery Tour” is almost legendary. From December 1985 through March 1986 he toured Brazil to collect material for his project Tankstelle Martin Bormann (Gas Station Martin Bormann). As the story goes according to Kippenberger, there was supposedly a gas station somewhere in the country that had belonged to Bormann—a private secretary to Adolf Hitler. The artist resolved to realize the myth by buying a filling station and naming it after Bormann. Photographic documentation of this expedition was undertaken by Ursula Böckler, his assistant at the time. Staged thirty years after the trip, Böckler’s new exhibition shows quite a number of prints from it, displayed in meticulously ordered rows that reach to the ceiling.

One sees Kippenberger, often in staged poses, in front of harsh or unusual architecture, various public sculptures, or tropical backdrops. For the series “Documentation of ‘Gas Station Bormann,’” 1986—hung separately here—–Böckler shot him as he sketched conversion plans for the location in chalk on the ground or scratched the logo “TMB” on one of the gas station’s walls. It becomes clear that some of Böckler’s works on view were created according to Kippenberger’s instructions, and thus they present less her own individual experience than the reproduction of his view of what was happening. The trip itself conjures up a complex host of issues, which, given the relationships between them, are only made visible via fragments. The excerpts here examine not only Kippenberger’s conceptually elaborate schemes but also moments of shared intimacy, aided by his aptitude for a good pose.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Melissa Canbaz


Mansteinstrasse 16
August 5–August 28

Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader, Classified Digits, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 5 minutes 28 seconds.

Communication begets miscommunication when codifications of language are flexible. Mounted as part of the Project Space Festival, this exhibition brings together two artist duos to investigate semantics beyond speech. Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader, along with Carrie McILwain and Johanna Ackva, utilize film, performance, dance, and sound to expand understanding and undermine spoken classifications.

Projected onto a suspended screen, Kim and Mader’s video Classified Digits (all works cited, 2016) shows the artists playing the game “helping hands,” in which one’s hands are hidden behind one’s back and replaced by those of a partner. At one point, Kim, who is deaf, uses facial expressions such as wide eyes and pursed lips to respond to Mader’s two erect index fingers, which is the American Sign Language sign for individual people. Various scenarios play out, such as an elevator run-in. The humor of these situations trumps speech, creating the impression of a minimalist Punch-and-Judy show.

McILwain and Ackva staged Women and Watery Men on the show’s opening night, and its recording is now projected in the gallery. While sharing a bath, they exchange intimate dialogue about shame, with the conversation meandering from pissing in pools to gender issues. After the artists emerge from the water and wrap themselves in robes, a guitar and microphone are promptly recruited so that McILwain can translate Ackva’s choreographed movements into sound. Ending with a collective dance-off, the process of bodily expression is privileged over verbal communication, comprising so much more than mere words.

Louisa Elderton

Julian Rosefeldt

Hamburger Bahnhof
Invalidenstraße 50-51
February 10–September 18

Julian Rosefeldt, Manifesto, 2014–15, thirteen-channel HD video installation, color, sound, each 10 minutes 30 seconds.

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.

Sarah Moroz

Amy Sillman

Alte Brücke 2 / Maininsel
July 2–September 4

View of “Amy Sillman: the ALL-OVER,” 2016.

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.

Arielle Bier

Joseph Grigely

Kunstverein in Hamburg
Klosterwall 23
March 5, 2016–June 5, 2016

View of “Joseph Grigely: The Gregory Battcock Archive,” 2016.

In 1992, Joseph Grigely discovered the abandoned archives of Gregory Battcock, the great 1970s art critic who was murdered in his holiday apartment in Puerto Rico in 1980. In a small series of vitrines containing an edited selection of Battcock’s papers, and with some framed posters and an abstract painting from his early art career hanging on a wall, Grigely tells a story that leaves us wanting more. Excerpts from banter and rant-filled essays and reviews make us nostalgic for a time when art criticism was practiced as a literary form. In one, Seth Siegelaub is described as “a pleasant sort of sexy chap.” That same essay, “Painting Is Obsolete,” from 1969, declares, “Why do we have to experience anything. I don’t like playing with buttons and little balls, and opening little doors, and patting slimy surfaces or listening to gurgling or popping sounds when I’m around art. I can do all that, even better, with real things and if art is anything remotely like imitation of reality then I don’t like it since I don’t like imitations.”

Like John Ruskin before him, Battcock rated life over art. Therein lies his greatness as an art critic. Operating on the side of the life force, he strove, through his writings, to bring the sheer vivacity and fun, tragic, anarchic unpredictability of existence into the increasingly closed off world of art. An avid traveler, he authored a series of essays on an ocean liner, even arguing that a major US art museum should purchase a transatlantic passenger ship and keep it operating in perpetuity. Realizing that no art magazine would dare publish such a piece of writing today, one notes just how much the art world lost when Battcock perished.

Travis Jeppesen

Markus Karstiess

Stiftung Insel Hombroich
Minkel 2, 41472 Neuss
April 15–September 4

View of “Markus Karstiess,” 2016.

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.

Sherman Sam