Margaret Ewing

  • El Anatsui, Ozone Layer and Yam Mounds, 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable.
    picks August 26, 2010

    “Who Knows Tomorrow”

    In the competition for a place in public memory, Berlin’s colonial history has lost out to the cold war and the Holocaust. While the city is seasoned in displaying certain shards of its fraught twentieth century, this exhibition of contemporary African art exposes the continual absence of visual traces of Berlin’s colonial ties. Extending across four branches of Berlin’s sweeping museum network, “Who Knows Tomorrow” foregrounds commercial paths between Europe and Africa, with works inspired by the very products of these exchanges.

    Yinka Shonibare’s Scramble for Africa, 2003, reenacts the 1884–85

  • Ellen Harvey, The Room of Sublime Wallpaper, 2008, painted wooden panels, forty-two Plexiglas mirrors mounted to swivels, newspaper, tape, dimensions variable. Installation view.
    picks May 21, 2010

    Ellen Harvey

    Taking its title from William Gilpin’s late-eighteenth-century philosophy of the landscape, Ellen Harvey’s exhibition “Picturesque Pictures” cleverly demonstrates that the now ubiquitous tangle between representation and reality has quite a long history indeed. Gilpin’s measure of beauty—rooted in the tradition of landscape painting—was based on how closely a scene correlated to established landscape conceits, thereby positing preexisting images as the grounds for aesthetic appraisal of the natural world.

    Gilpin’s ideas find new life in Harvey’s parodic Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque

  • View of “Auto-Kino!,” 2010.
    picks February 22, 2010


    Responding to the psychic drain of Berlin’s unremitting winter, Phil Collins’s latest project, “Auto-Kino!,” transforms the Temporäre Kunsthalle into a playful drive-in cinema for which viewers reserve spots by the hour via a telephone hotline. The dusky gallery’s spectacular installation—fifteen vehicles facing a screen, complete with refreshment stand in the corner—lures visitors into a participatory realm only to permit an immediate withdrawal into the relative privacy of individual cars. The show is not all surface, however. In collaboration with Siniša Mitrović (his partner in the production

  • Tacita Dean, Palast, 2004, still from a color film in 16 mm, 10 minutes 30 seconds.
    picks November 23, 2009

    “Berlin 89/09: Art Between Traces of the Past and Utopian Futures”

    In Berlin, where the past is omnipresent, and the assimilation of the city’s many histories is still very much in play, this year’s twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall begs for widespread reassessment. Surveying art in and about Berlin over the past two decades, this exhibition affirms the electrifying tension between history’s tenacious grip and the city’s constant regeneration.

    Efforts to preserve material traces of these early post-wall years emerge as a recurring strategy, whether realized through the relics themselves or through their representation. Fred Rubin’s light-fixture

  • Danica Phelps, Orion's First Months (detail), 2009, pencil on paper, 1 x 66'.
    picks September 28, 2009

    Danica Phelps

    Best known for works like Walking Amsterdam 9–5, 2003, a salon-style installation combining lists of the artist’s daily activities, understated illustrations, and her code for tracking personal finances through green and red stripes, Danica Phelps has built a practice on the tangled relationship between the public display of private experience and the framing conditions of the market. In her first Berlin exhibition, this and other stripe works of recent years provide a meaningful context for new drawings, sculptures, and stop-motion animations.

    In much the same way that a 2003 show at New York’s

  • Clemens von Wedemeyer, The Fourth Wall, 2009. Performance view. Photo: Sheila Burnett.
    picks July 01, 2009

    Clemens von Wedemeyer

    In 1971, the “discovery” of a Stone Age–style society living on the Philippine island of Mindanao triggered an international media buzz. Purportedly, the Tasaday people existed untouched by technological advances. Fifteen years later, they were found to be living in far more modern conditions than first reported, which led to still unresolved accusations of a locally orchestrated hoax. This is the starting point for Clemens von Wedemeyer’s new commission by the Barbican, which, in a series of eight films of both original and appropriated materials, embeds the fascinating mystery of the Tasaday

  • View of “Several Silences,” 2009.
    picks May 23, 2009

    “Several Silences”

    The famously unsilent silence of John Cage’s 4'33", 1952, is the clear starting point for several works in this show. In a play between turning in and opening out, some pieces embrace their surroundings to incorporate input from the immediate environment, while others posit a more self-contained silence. Bearing direct relation to Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 “White Paintings” (themselves inspiration for Cage’s piece), Harold Mendez’s tandem works, Nothing Prevents Anything and Better off then than when life was babble? (both 2007), are white bulletin boards excised from a university’s hallways.

  • Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled (self-portrait), 1970/73, Polaroid, 4 1/4 x 3 1/4".
    picks February 12, 2009

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    Now two decades since the culture wars co-opted Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, it feels possible to view his work without a knee-jerk defense against philistinism. Indeed, the intimate scale of these black-and-white Polaroids offers an experience very different from the larger format and crisp formality of the artist’s later work. But though these works of 1970–75—ninety-two selected from some fifteen hundred that were made—are among his earliest in the medium, they evidence the heights to which this relatively simple technology could be raised. Mapplethorpe’s is not the Polaroid of the

  • Pamela Bannos, Couch Tomb, 2008. Installation view.
    picks October 27, 2008

    “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery & Lincoln Park”

    In one corner of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, an imposing gated tomb bears the name Couch. Close to the road and surrounded by grassy fields and popular footpaths, this disused family vault belongs to another time. Such a disjunction between monument and environs combined with the new online availability of the Chicago Tribune, dating back to 1849, moved Pamela Bannos to embark on an exhaustive research project into the park’s history. She discovered that from 1843 to 1859, the Chicago City Cemetery, the site of all official burials during the city’s first decades, occupied this land. Amassing hundreds

  • Anselm Kiefer, The Voyage of the Nibelungen to Etzel, 1980–81, book of twenty-two double-page spreads of gelatin silver prints with gouache, oil, and graphite mounted on cardboard, 23 1/16 x 16 5/16 x 3 1/4" (when closed).
    picks July 23, 2008

    “The Immediate Touch: German, Austrian, and Swiss Drawings from Saint Louis Collections, 1946–2007”

    Beginning with the Second World War’s end, “The Immediate Touch” sets out to challenge national boundaries by posing a tenuous linguistic unification of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. But the distinctly different realities of the war and its aftermath led to divergent visual expression. Though attempting to balance the precedence given to German postwar art production, the exhibition works against itself by largely arranging artists by national origin and therefore misses the opportunity to create dialogues through unexpected juxtapositions.

    The show’s strongest moments are still German. In

  • Sigalit Landau, Barbed Hula, 2000, still from a color video with sound, 2 minutes.
    picks June 06, 2008

    “Imaginary Coordinates”

    In the second exhibition presented in its new building, the Spertus Museum courts controversy by exploring the loaded question of how the land of Israel and Palestine is defined, both historically and in the present. The organizing framework is a dialogue between maps of the region dating from the sixteenth century to the present and contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, but while the recent works successfully negotiate the reality of life’s precariousness there, the maps—though visually absorbing—add little to a furthered understanding. Moreover, the near-exclusive