Michael E. Smith

KOW
Brunnenstrasse 9
September 16–November 5

View of “Michael E. Smith,” 2017. From left: Untitled, 2017; Untitled, 2017.

Michael E. Smith’s third solo exhibition at this gallery features a stuffed Macaw parrot hanging upside down (Untitled, 2017) in a dimly lit space with a green laser pointer mercilessly beaming onto the creature’s left eye every second. The artist’s unsettling sculptures are often made of unlikely alliances between fragility and weight, organic and synthetic, or the ordinary and the remarkable. They lure the eye and fill the space around them with their repulsive energy, creating environments where material, language, and image converse with and contradict one another.

Another work (also Untitled, 2017) features a dehumidifier that shows signs of wear. This machine, usually used for domestic comfort or to support the appropriate conditions for sustaining an artwork’s lifespan in an exhibition space, is here brought to balance on the paralyzed corpse of an Emperor angelfish that sports a gawking eye. Like a parasite, the machine appears to be sucking the lifeblood out of its nearly squashed host. In Smith’s show, sublime moments in the omnipresence of decay are debauched by a profane play that at times results in a quiet, disillusioned humor. Though physically absent, what lies at the center of all these objects is eventually the human body: its vulnerability, willfully repressed, and need for physical and psychological shelter in a society that is, at its core, molding.

Elisa R. Linn

Holly Hendry

Arratia Beer
Potsdamer Str. 87
September 16–October 28

Holly Hendry, Reflux, 2017, plaster, jesmonite, oak, cement, aluminum, marble, steel, tumeric, grit, poppy seeds, ash, paint, 41 x 24 x 22".

The body has long been a subject of artistic investigation, from Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical studies or Rembrandt’s paintings of autopsies to Alina Szapocznikow’s sensually corporeal sculptures of limbs and lips and Sarah Lucas’s 2009–2010 “NUDS” series, to name a few. The lineage leads to Holly Hendry, a young artist whose unique sculptural language abstracts the body into layers of organs and dermis, akin to the sedimentary buildup of soil.

Following her graduation from the Royal College of Art last year, this is the artist’s first solo show in Berlin. Combining floor-based and wall-mounted sculpture, each work is made up of complex layers of materials including oak, Jesmonite, cement, aluminum, rose marble, rock salt, Lycra, poppy seeds, and cloves, all smoothly finished with external edges that are sleekly planed. Reflux, 2017, sits as a top-heavy block reminiscent of Tetris, its internal matter layered in shades of mustard yellow, slate, and pale pink. A bony spine connects its L-shaped form, doubling as the U-bend of a kitchen sink, while a large black screw penetrates each level. Hendry embeds foreign forms in each of her works, partly as an homage to the collection of objects recovered from corpses’ digestive tracts at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum—an institution of medical history and oddities.

People are soft and permeable, and though the artist’s sculptures feel scientific in their dissections if not industrial in their hard materials, they carry a sense of the squishy in their undulating tiers. Flesh is objectified, becoming a jigsaw of matter; inside becomes outside, and negative space shifts into solid mass. We are medical marvels on which Hendry is operating.

Louisa Elderton

Rodrigo Hernández

ChertLüdde
Ritterstrasse 2A
September 15–November 11

Rodrigo Hernández, Eva, 2017, oil, acrylic, wood, papier-mâché, 12 x 14 x 7".

Where is this beloved Eva, whose name is incorporated into the title for Rodrigo Hernández’s current exhibition and serves as the namesake for each work within it? She is in the past: a onetime lover of Picasso, who inscribed her name on a piece of gingerbread in his 1912 collaged painting Guitar: “J’aime Eva.” There’s something cruelly comedic, of course, in etching one’s love into a cheap edible, destined to go stale. Hernández’s show converts this spirit of perverse amour into a series of relief paintings—done in oil, acrylic, wood, and papier-mâché—that radiate Cubism’s influence without disappearing into it.

In Evá, 2017, a green parrot sits in profile, its body broken into curvy chunks by a slender brick chimney. Both bird and object are grounded by blue within a sharp ellipse, red-edged and reminiscent of a distended Lucio Fontana slit or, for those with a Freudian penchant, certain anatomical features. Outside this circumference, it’s all midnight blue, except for some white lines suggesting a grand cosmic schema. But loftiness is drained from the picture by the parrot’s silliness—one dotted eye stares blankly—and the work’s shoebox dimensions, which suggest an extremely well-crafted children’s project.

Another piece called Eva, 2017, finds a square support broken into a few angular planes. A single black spot could be an eye, and yellow and brown sections could be sandy hair. But it’s hard to know; the work is comically myopic, like a mashed cartoon. Dotingly executed, such works evidence Hernández’s ability to circumvent the smothering power of his own modernist references. Throughout, his cubist paraphrases are rendered in a storybook aesthetic, heightened by a band of blue painted across the gallery wall, like rising water. The exhibition expresses a strange desire not just to play in the theater of artistic inheritance, but to sally forth with the prescribed artistic roles provided therein.

Mitch Speed

Irma Blank

Galerija Gregor Podnar
Lindenstrasse 35
September 9–November 18

Irma Blank, Global Writings, Splitter AE-1, 2009, ink and pencil on transparent paper, 14 x 11''. From the series “Global Writings, Splitter,” 2009.

As seen in her famous large-scale works rendered in ballpoint pen, writing, in its occasionally unvarnished instrumentality, is Irma Blank’s greatest subject. Here, in an exhibition devoted to what she calls her “Global Writings,” the artist attempts to excavate the seismic universality of grammatographical expression from its semantic commitment. In the five pages of Global Writings, Lineare, 2005, for instance, the handwritten textual markings recall Bengali or Sanskrit. Step away to compare the arrangement of paragraph clusters on each page, and the sculptural dimensions of the project become richly apparent. Language is a vehicle and a soundscape, of course, but also a sculpture.

Blank is at her best when she’s at her rawest: applying pen or pencil directly to paper. The clear highlight is three works in the series called “Global Writings, Splitter,” 2009, wherein the performance of a gesture leaves impressions all over the transparent paper: mostly variants of an S shape, but executed from all different angles––from a distance, they resemble schools of insects swarming across the palest of surfaces.

Less potent is the effect that results when the artist tries to transfer her approach to more expensive materials, as in Global Writings C, 2000–2008, a digital font sample screen-printed on steel. A few other instances of what Blank or her gallery calls “digital writing” betray a confusion that calls for clarification: typography, while a distinct art form, is not writing.

 

Travis Jeppesen

Michel Majerus

Michel Majerus Estate
Knaackstraße 12
April 28–March 3

Michel Majerus, 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992, acrylic on cotton, 9 1/2 x 18'.

The title of this exhibition, “Laboratory for appraising the apparent”—the first of a three-part show at the artist’s former studio space—is appropriated from a quote Michel Majerus once wrote down in a notebook. The phrase simultaneously mirrors the credo of his early work from 1990 through 1995, presented here, and his estate’s mission of an archival reappraisal for the public. An arrangement of books taken from Majerus’s library is installed next to the entrance, appearing like an overview of the artist’s favored sources, including Vogue and Nintendo magazines, a publication on architect Kisho Kurokawa, and textbooks on typography. A distillation of these materials can be traced in the reproductions of thirteen of his small notebooks, neatly labeled with year and month, each containing a cryptic selection of his own aphorisms.

On a wall hangs a giant painting with cartoonish, baffled-looking bears sitting in Chio Chips or Kellogg’s boxes for 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992. They are partly covered and outlined with tumultuous curvy strokes in red or blackened turquoise color fields. Slipshod, comic-style lettering underneath displays the title. Referencing Andy Warhol’s commercial phantoms and cribbing the gestural force of a Willem de Kooning not only epitomizes Majerus’s blunt jockeying for a position next to canonical figures and works, but furthermore evinces his obsession with the transformative potential of blending high and low images: an in-your-face remix of signs caught in constant flux.

Bringing to mind Wittgenstein’s reading of the duck-rabbit illusion in Philosophical Investigations (1953), the artist’s fragile surfaces conceal and reveal more than what is initially apparent, or as he scribbled in one of his notebooks: “As soon as someone has sussed out my logic + my system, it’s up to me to point this logic in a direction that contradicts itself so that it can’t become doctrine.”

Elisa R. Linn