Martin Herbert

  • View of “Alexandra Bircken,” 2021–22. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

    Alexandra Bircken

    The Kesselhaus, or “boiler house,” of the Kindl – Centre for Contemporary Art is a high-ceilinged industrial space—the type of building that Berlin sometimes seems to be made up of—and Alexandra Bircken’s multipart installation Fair Game, 2021, extended into every region of it. It did so mostly via the German artist’s near-trademark full-body latex bodysuits: rumpled black shells suggestive of recently departed life, deflation, or newly discarded skins. These objects littered the floor and hung in numbers from the ceiling, from a dangling ladder with cows’ ribs for bars, on the walls, and in

  • View of “Becky Beasley,” 2021–22. Photo: Trevor Good.

    Becky Beasley

    Becky Beasley’s art is nothing if not autobiographical. In a text accompanying her latest show, “H.S.P. (or Promising Mid-Career Woman),” the British artist alludes to her own depression and drinking. The initials, we’re told, stand for “highly sensitive person,” and the display is described as a “coming-out exhibition.” In 2020, she received a late diagnosis of autism. She also identified herself as progesterone intolerant, and her life experiences—“I was an odd ball, a bit weird, unusual. I was also called unstable, needy, obsessive, demanding, intense, scheming, a monster, a witch”—made

  • Win McCarthy, Garden Path Sentence, 2021, mixed media. Installation view.

    Win McCarthy

    “My name is Joseph Winston McCarthy. Born July 2nd, 1986. American. I’m here in Berlin on a business trip.” So, in relative coherence, begins the handout for Win McCarthy’s exhibition “RULER.” The text then develops, or disintegrates, into a vertical list of potential personal measurements, all unanswered: “Cholesterol,” “Quarterly earning,” “Credit score,” “Occupation,” “Weight,” etc. These, meanwhile, are mingled with unverifiable measures and overtones of nostalgia: “Personal merit,” “The king’s thumb,” “Fatigue,” and “Once again, it’s bedtime for baby.” As an attempt at an objective outline

  • Alexander Basil, Untitled, 2021, oil on canvas, 74 3⁄4 × 94 1⁄2".

    Alexander Basil

    “I used to live in a room full of mirrors / all I could see was me,” sang Jimi Hendrix in 1968. Over the past year and a half of isolation and atomization, most of us have come to know how that feels. Meanwhile, social media continues to normalize the idea of proliferating images of yourself to display to others, and Alexander Basil has known no world without it. (Born in Arkhangel’sk, Russia, in 1997, he turned thirteen the year Instagram launched.) Between those poles sat the clean-lined lockdown paintings in Basil’s exhibition “Claustrophobia,” all Untitled and dated 2021. Set, in several

  • Trisha Baga, Blindness, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 56 1⁄4 × 78".

    Trisha Baga

    Time travel is possible. All you need, at least according to Trisha Baga’s thirty-five-minute 3D video 1620, 2020, is an old onion and lemon, a few connecting wires, and a computer running on a chirruping dial-up modem. Such is the gizmo that, per the Filipino-American artist’s labyrinthine narrative here, transports a present-day experimental theater troupe, DNAUSA, back to the beginning of colonial American history—the landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620—in order to perform gene therapy on the country itself, opaquely repairing flaws in the “narrative DNA” encoded in the rock. The performers

  • View of “John Coplans and Michael Schmidt: The Lingering Drama of the Body,” 2020–21. From left: John Coplans, Self Portrait, Frieze No. 5, 1994; Michael Schmidt, works from the series “Frauen” (Women), 1997–99. Photo: Gerhard Kassner.

    John Coplans and Michael Schmidt

    The photographic practices of John Coplans and Michael Schmidt have never been juxtaposed in an exhibition before, but the two artists admired each other’s work, and it’s not hard to see why. In the commingled monochrome images in “The Lingering Drama of the Body,” extracted from much larger cycles of work, both artists explore how the human body is imprinted by time. For the British-born Coplans—a founding editor of this magazine as well as an artist, writer, and curator—that meant the aging process. For Schmidt, a long-term chronicler of cultural change in Germany (and in Berlin in particular),

  • Esteban Jefferson, Tarifs Réduits, 2020, oil on linen, 72 × 108".

    Esteban Jefferson

    If you encountered Esteban Jefferson’s paintings in Paris, in the Petit Palais, whose rotunda provides the setting for the scenes depicted in the five canvases in the New York–based artist’s recent show “Petit Palais”—you’d likely think them uncompleted, and to some extent you’d be right. In Entrée, 2020, for example, we can discern the museum’s ticket desk, employees behind it, and guests ascending a short staircase into the halls. But all of this appears only in the form of ghostly penciled outlines on brown-stained linen, the only element fully and attentively painted being a marble bust,

  • Catherine Biocca, Red, 2020, industrial marker on hand-sewn terry cloth, cotton filling, cotton, 66 7/8 × 41 × 2".

    Catherine Biocca

    Catherine Biocca’s recent show “Milky Seas” took its name from an effect of bioluminescence created when bacteria in seawater cause large tracts of the ocean to glow blue at night. In the Italian artist’s hands, this reference torqued into metaphor, but so obliquely that the viewer stood in genuine need of the recent interview with the art magazine Monopol, in which the artist explains her interest in the phenomenon—luckily, a printout was available by the door. In the context of her exhibition, apparently, the artist related the luminescence produced by marine microorganisms to the toxic

  • Sophie Reinhold, Das kann das leben kosten (That Could Cost You Your Life), 2020, oil on marble powder on jute, 55 × 43 1⁄4".

    Sophie Reinhold

    The title of one of Sophie Reinhold’s paintings here, Gewöhne dich nicht daran, 2019—referencing an anti-drug addiction slogan of the German Democratic Republic and translating as “Don’t get used to it”—might also apply to her purposely elliptical practice. The Berlin-based artist frequently works up pale paintings on a ground of jute and marble dust, with pieces of canvas cut out and stitched onto their surfaces to create ghostly figurations, like shallow reliefs on a facade. In this show, “Das kann das Leben kosten” (That Could Cost You Your Life), the chimerical expanse of the opening painting,

  • Maria Loboda, Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

    Maria Loboda

    There are exhibitions for which an accompanying text is helpful, and then there was Maria Loboda’s “Woman observing the Alpha Persei Cluster,” which would have been impenetrable without one. Unless, that is, the viewer happened to be equally versed in French modernist interiors, English Bronze Age antiquities, Swiss utopian movements, Egyptian royalty, old science-fiction comics, astronomy, and more. Heavily researched and encoded art is nothing new, of course, but the Polish artist’s installation, a mix of wall drawing and sculpture, was among the most multilayered examples I’ve seen, and

  • Ryan Mosley, Evening interval, 2019, oil on canvas, 59 × 47 1⁄4".

    Ryan Mosley

    It makes sense that Ryan Mosley shares a gallery with Neo Rauch, since both the British painter and his older German colleague use deliberate narrative lacunae and patched-together compositions to suggest the collapse of former certainties. In Rauch’s case, the world he limned was, at least initially, the post-Communist one. Mosley, over the dozen-odd years since he left London’s Royal College of Art, has fashioned colorful, instinctive-feeling, uneasy carnivalesques full of Picassian harlequin patterning, James Ensor–ish skulls, cacti, animals, and, often, men in stovepipe or bowler hats and

  • Roman Ondak, Aeon, 2019, wood, metal, paint, 10' 8“ × 2' 7 1⁄2” × 2' 7 1⁄2".

    Roman Ondak

    Many of Roman Ondak’s artworks over the past two decades have relied, explicitly or implicitly, on the help of his audience. Think of Measuring the Universe, 2007, in which visitors mark their height on a gallery wall, or Good Feelings in Good Times, 2003, a performative, volunteer-filled queue. But the Slovak artist has also alternated such ephemeral proposals with sculptures, installations, photographs, and films, and his first show with Esther Schipper—a commercial powerhouse on the Berlin art scene—was on the face of it a full pivot to objecthood, as well as a reminder that the heyday of