Travis Jeppesen

  • diary May 26, 2011

    Prague Rock

    “YOU KNOW THIS IS WHERE the sugar cube was invented, right?” So my companion helpfully informed me last Thursday as we taxied it out to the veritable no-man’s-land known as Modřany, an area of Prague I had neither seen nor even heard of, despite having spent half of the aughts in the city. “No one’s going to find it,” artist Ondrej Brody predicted the night before at his opening at STYX Project Space in Berlin.

    Yet the obscurity of the locale ultimately served the minoritarian aesthetic that has always been fostered by the Prague Biennale, an event that has been entrenched in local controversy

  • picks April 13, 2011

    Dieter Roth

    An “everything” artist in the truest sense of the term, Dieter Roth produced his work in excess and eroded the distinctions between his life and art, with the latter becoming much more than a mere extension of the former. He allowed every type of material, organic and synthetic, into his universe, and fittingly, much of the work is now undergoing the kinds of processes the human body endures once life has vacated it. This seems appropriate to the formlessness underpinning the massive oeuvre forged by Roth, who is certainly by one of the twentieth century’s most prolific, unusual, and restless

  • picks March 07, 2011

    Bob Mizer

    Photography, porn, criminality—Bob Mizer’s work incorporated all three in the mid-twentieth century, an era when mere suggestive poses of the male figure were enough to land a photographer in jail. This exhibition, curated by Billy Miller (editor of the infamous true sex zine Straight to Hell) and artist Christian Siekmeier, is the first to make the case that, beyond the notoriety and glitz, Mizer was also an artist.

    Mizer was a workaholic who produced more than a million photographs under the guise of his company, the Athletic Model Guild, which he founded in 1945 and managed until his death in

  • diary February 24, 2011

    Looking at the Stars

    IT WAS SUPPOSED to be the best of times. A-list actor and Academy Awards co-host James Franco had chosen Berlin’s two branches of Peres Projects to launch his continental art career, and you could feel the anticipation in the air upon arriving the Saturday before last at the Kreuzberg location, where a small gathering of film fans and art sluts joined listless paparazzi and camera crews on dinner break from the Berlinale in loitering about the gallery, which was filled with burnt-out children’s play houses, a few video installations, and a scatter-art piece in the corner. With the exception of

  • film February 24, 2011

    Mourning and Militancy

    AT THE TIME of Harvey Milk’s murder in 1978, the virus that would come to be known as HIV was already present in San Francisco, with an estimated 10 percent of the city’s gay population unknowingly infected. By 1981, that number had risen to 50 percent. The 1980s would encapsulate the largest tragedy in the city’s history, but the decade was also—as We Were Here, a new documentary, suggests—a moment of great heroism and feats of compassion for both the living and the dying.

    While such a vast topic would seem to necessitate a chaotic cast of thousands, director David Weissman instead focuses on

  • picks February 24, 2011

    “When the Neighbor Came to Make a Phone Call”

    A quiet resentment has been evident in relations between Czechs and Germans for much of the past century. Among other events, the expulsion by force of more than three million ethnic Germans residing in the Czech Sudetenland following World War II has left an unhealed scar that forms the symbolic border dividing the two nations. A new short film work by Mark Ther, Pflaumen (Plums), 2011, poignantly examines this affair through the simple story of a young Sudeten German boy and his mother. Alongside a new work by Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau, it is one of the highlights in this group

  • picks February 06, 2011

    Valeria Fahrenkrog

    The diminutive exhibition room, measuring no more than some thirty-three square feet, was so oddly shaped—with its bizarre contours, inexplicable niches, and tiny corners—that it could nearly be treated as a found sculpture. And that is sort of what Valeria Fahrenkrog has done in her current exhibition, which consists of photographs, paintings, and paper sculptures that draw attention to some aspect of the tiny “offraum” (off-room) Hoi, located on a busy shopping street in Cologne.

    Fahrenkrog’s earlier work is similarly site-specific—if not situatedly so, as in the case of her architectural

  • picks January 27, 2011

    Janet Biggs

    After all the confused pomo ramblings and posturings of the 1980s and ’90s, it comes as something of a relief that a number of artists in the millennial years have gone back to classic existential themes. Chief among them is Janet Biggs, whose work documents individuals obsessed with attaining extreme states of being, mainly through athletic pursuits. Deceptively simple, her videos mostly alternate this documentary footage with shots of musicians performing the music heard as the sound track. In Vanishing Point, 2009, Leslie Porterfield, the world record holder for motorbike speed, races away

  • picks January 13, 2011

    The Date Farmers

    Call me a die-hard romantic, but I’ve always had a thing for duos, and the Date Farmers—the collaboration of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez—is one of my latest obsessions. The two began working together in 1998, and their current exhibition is a massive, museum-size retrospective, showcasing the artists’ graffiti soul and colorfully declaiming that a gritty bricolage forms the heart of Southern California’s shiny plastic facade.

    Operating out of a desert habitat a few hours east of Los Angeles, the Farmers use strictly found materials such as wood and plaster as the backdrops for their spray

  • picks December 08, 2010

    Louise Bourgeois

    Louise Bourgeois was a longtime hoarder of fabrics, linens, tablecloths, and napkins. She put these household items to use in the mid-1990s, when she began stitching them together to make flat pictorial compositions. Many of these works form the basis of this exhibition, revealing yet another facet of this beloved master of the psycho-symbolic.

    There are three-dimensional sculptural works here as well, including one of her final metal cages, titled Peaux de lapins, chiffons ferrailles à vendre (Rabbit skins, Scrap Rags for Sale), 2006, and Single II, 1996, a headless man sewn out of cotton fabric

  • picks November 28, 2010

    James Benning, Keren Cytter, Karla Black

    For his performance at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, James Benning, California’s reigning auteur of landscape cinema, used his HD camera to rephotograph and reframe all the portraits of his friends and family depicted in his seminal 1991 road-trip film North on Evers, then slowed them down and projected them onto the large screen of the Arsenale Cinema. Benning then read aloud the original diaristic text that had appeared, in handwritten scrawl, across the bottom of the screen in the original film. The overall effect could easily have been one of weepy-eyed nostalgia, had it

  • picks November 27, 2010

    Karla Black

    Paint-splattered cellophane dangling from the ceiling like shower curtains; mounds of powder, polystyrene, and topsoil molded into giant wedding cakes; colorful bars of soap carved like rock candy—it all may appear sugary sweet at the outset, but Karla Black’s latest sculptures are hardly the aftermath of a baby shower. Rather, they are records of a process that attempts to imbue sludge with delicacy. Much mention has been made of the supposed femininity of Black’s art, and most of this comes, unsurprisingly, from male critics. I don’t buy into this superficial interpretation. Despite her work’s

  • picks November 17, 2010

    Max Ruf

    Embedded within Max Ruf’s work is a mystery yearning to be deciphered, and the difficulty of this task, while frustrating for some, will be a happy challenge for those who enjoy seeing their own endless curiosity about the world reflected in art. Painting, collage, and objects alike are employed in his exhibition “Intelligent and Well Thought-Out Actions to Ensure We Leave the Planet,” the title of which is excerpted from an easyJet press release. The full sentence is, “We all have the responsibility to take intelligent and well thought-out actions to ensure we leave the planet in a good shape

  • picks October 17, 2010

    Ed Ruscha

    With Ed Ruscha, it’s always interesting, even when the threat of boredom might linger on the sidelines. Indeed, that has always been the point. Which is why now, in the wake of his continually prodigious output and a barrage of painting retrospectives, it is a good time to take a close look at some of his early photographic work.

    This exhibition just does that (though a smattering of sketches and the artist’s sole two films are also included). The show focuses mainly on two black-and-white series, “Roof Top Views,” 1961/2003, and “Apartment Houses,” 1965/2003. We get two approaches: straightforward

  • picks August 26, 2010

    Robert Morris

    Robert Morris’s ultimate importance is not as an artist but as a philosopher who happens to stage his arguments in the realm of art. This is not to negate the value of said arguments or even the potential aesthetic value of the objects he chooses to work with. But in comparison to those artists who retain an allegiance to the retinal, it seems only fair to say that Morris works in a relatively new space—or, at least, one whose canonical precedents lie in the realms of the literary and philosophical rather than the art-historical.

    The works, then, serve as illustrations of Morris’s precepts: hence,

  • picks July 21, 2010

    Joel-Peter Witkin

    The limbless, the mutilated, the crippled, the transgendered, the obese—all those who have traditionally been assigned to the “sideshow freak” category by history’s darkest and most misguided forces—serve as models of great and sublime beauty in the black-and-white photographic oeuvre of Joel-Peter Witkin.

    Once the more prudish—er, sensitive—viewer gets past whatever initial shock the photographs may provoke, a multilayered world awaits discovery. There is the quintessential Catholic torment of Poussin in Hell, 1999, and Satiro, Mexico, 1992, the former a massive, busy staged allegory of the

  • picks July 21, 2010

    Vladimir Skrepl

    In the annals of “bad painting,” the great anti-aesthetic that has been experiencing something of a revival of interest since the 2008 “Bad Painting––Good Art” exhibition at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vladimir Skrepl is to the Czech Republic what Georg Baselitz is to Germany or Asger Jorn is to Denmark. While much younger than the other two (Skrepl was born in 1955), and lesser known (having come of age behind the iron curtain), Skrepl is regarded as one of the most important contemporary artists in his home country, even though he remains an obscure figure abroad.

    This is

  • picks July 01, 2010

    Ali Mongo

    Ali Mongo’s first solo exhibition in Berlin consists of thirty tiny paintings. Many are the size of baseball cards, or even smaller, and are characterized by a fusion of figurative and abstract elements rendered in a bright palette. The messy, nearly nonexistent draftsmanship and thematic range—from extreme childlike simplicity to violent perversion—situate the works firmly within the tradition that was once called “naive” painting; the pieces on view here typically feature nude figures and imaginary beings adrift in a colorful, splotchy landscape. In nearly every one of the untitled works, it

  • film June 29, 2010

    Weather Underground

    “IF WE NEED ACTION”—camera pans up toward an ominous gray sky—“we know where to look.” The joke, delivered by George Kuchar about halfway through his Weather Diary 5 (1989), is typical fare for the filmmaker, riffing on his frustration with the lack of sexual stimulation in his cooped-up motel room and the inherent dangers of the locale: the “Tornado Alley” region of Oklahoma that Kuchar has been visiting each May for the past two decades. The result is an ongoing personal theater of absurdity, nonpareil in the world of cinema.

    Kuchar’s career as a filmmaker can be divided into three discernible

  • picks June 14, 2010

    Olafur Eliasson

    In Olafur Eliasson’s first major institutional solo exhibition in Berlin, the Danish-Icelandic artist shows himself to be a master of smoke and mirrors—literally—as artificial fog and reflective surfaces are among the ephemeral materials recurring throughout “Innen Stadt Außen” (Inner City Out). Indeed, it is these seductive tricks—obscuring viewers’ immediate surroundings while magnifying the larger environs—that ultimately expand the work’s appeal to audiences beyond those expected of the contemporary art world. Who doesn’t love a good deception?

    Among other things, the exhibition is indicative