Critics’ Picks

  • Horia Damian, Heptagone etoile, 1952, acrylic on wooden panel, 38 x 38 x 1".

    Horia Damian

    Galeria Plan B | Berlin
    Potsdamer Strasse 77 - 87 Building G, Second Backyard
    April 26–June 15

    Can looking back at the historical moment in which the avant-garde sought to transform humanity through art be fruitful today? A presentation of drawings, paintings, and models by Horia Damian (1922–2012) suggests the affirmative. Born in Bucharest, Damian moved to Paris in 1946, where he lived and worked until his death. His monuments, rooted in the early modernist traditions of Soviet Romania and Paris, and set against the backdrop of 1960s Minimalism, reflect neither ideological pathos nor an ironic criticality. Instead, the monument served him as a medium, situated between art, landscape, and architecture.

    Each of the works in this exhibition occupies the double status of autonomous artwork and preparatory sketch for a monument. Two captivating early mixed-media pieces serve as scores for Damian’s later projects: a trimmed heptagon on wood, Heptagone etoile, 1952, and a rectangular work on paper, Untitled, 1953, feature white dots perforating a deep-blue background in an order both geometrical and celestial. Elsewhere, variations on structures such as flat-roofed ziggurats, mastabas, and stepped pyramids reoccur. Midway between picture and object, four wooden reliefs of trimmed pyramids in gold (Pyramide d’or, 1964), white (Pyramide blanche, 1965), red (Pyramide rouge, 1967), and blue (Ziggurat Bleu, 1980s) show the artist’s fascination with holy tombs or shrines—the dwelling places of gods that connect human mortality with the afterlife. Even when the plans for these lyrical monuments-to-come are carried out, as they were in The Hill, 1976, for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, they seem to be made of a trembling material that does not impose awe-inspiring authority, but rather engages its beholder in contemplation—aspiring to an ideal, rather than a palpable world order.

  • View of “Not feeling too cheerful: reclining figures, facades and more,” 2019.

    Asta Gröting

    carlier | gebauer
    Markgrafenstraße 67
    April 27–June 1

    Paramount to Asta Gröting’s current solo exhibition, “Not feeling too cheerful: reclining figures, facades and more,” is pace. The meeting of two exposed wires in a finger-size hole in the wall creates an intermittent electrical buzz in Einen Funken Leidenschaft (Spark of Passion), 2008: the soundtrack to a meditation on slowness and vulnerability. The series of white-wax-and-epoxy-resin-cast sleeping bags strewn across the gallery floor, facetiously titled “Reclining Figure,” 2018–19, suggests cocooned, slumped bodies and serves as an irreconcilably pristine monument to homelessness and destitution. In another room, Verdauungswege 2 (Digestive System 2), 1990, an enormous, snaking digestive tract, turns the slow processes of the body outward, exposing them to the elements.

    In her most recent video work, Things, 2018, the artist presents a slow-motion portrait of just that: A random parade of objects floats up against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Lemons, flowers, marshmallows, a squid—each item passes by slowly, giving us enough time to ponder its significance. But, as with much of the work in this exhibition, it’s the punctuated exposure to Zeit that overrides the particular content.

    Gröting’s series “Berlin Fassaden,” 2016–18, is perhaps the most tangible witness to this passage of time. Her silicone casts of building facades turn bullet holes into bulging bubbles and cracks into scars. The ravages of history are translated via the weathered textures of Berlin’s architecture and preserved in these unexpectedly delicate hanging sculptures, their material soft and malleable. We are left with the recognition of a shared vulnerability between ourselves and the seemingly inanimate objects around us, which, the artist intimates, are also capable of “not feeling too cheerful.”

  • View of “At The Gates of Eternal Market Success: The Suffering Of The Artist,” 2019.

    Mathieu Malouf

    Lars Friedrich
    Kantstrasse 154a
    April 27–June 1

    Mathieu Malouf presents seven new oil paintings in “At The Gates of Eternal Market Success: The Suffering Of The Artist,” five of which he has augmented with shitake mushrooms. Typical of Malouf’s practice, the canvases abound with appropriations of pop culture, social media, and art-historical references—for a start, his subjects’ afflicted, viscerally disturbing countenances draw comparison to those in Julian Schnabel’s plate paintings. Then there are his immediately recognizable antagonists, including Mr. Bean, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Willem Dafoe, and art-historical motifs like Andromeda and Saint Sebastian. With titles like My Face When I Lend My Pen To Someone Immediately And They Don’t Give It Back Immediately and At the Gates Of Oil Painting (Suffering Of the Artist) (all works 2019), the uniting theme seems to be that of punishment, meted out by both divine and popular force.

    Lot and His Daughters EXCEPT You Are Lot subjects the viewer to the role of the biblical father, his lascivious hands groping toward his daughters who are locked in a lustful embrace. The first-person videogame-like perspective seemingly condemns the audience to the act of committing incest themselves. (One wonders whether the seven paintings cite the seven deadly sins.) Pointing to the current cultural climate in which interpersonal interactions are often comparable to a product review on Yelp, Malouf satirizes the romantic male painter’s tragic fate: being delivered from the hallowed halls of glorified existential dread and landing at the pearly white gates of judgment.

  • Chiharu Shiota, Beyond Memory, 2019. Installation view, “And Berlin Will Always Need You.”

    “And Berlin Will Always Need You”

    Gropius Bau
    Niederkirchnerstraße 7
    March 22–June 16

    As you cross through an expansive corridor connecting various rooms and an echoing atrium, one thing is abundantly clear: distance pervades. Exploring the gulf between local production and global circulation, the group exhibition “And Berlin Will Always Need You” displays the work of sixteen Berlin-based artists and collectives, most of whom arrived in the city within the past twenty years. Each artist, still tethered to other locales, provides a distinct reading of Germany’s historic marriage between industry and craft.

    German cultural institutions are put on view as the authoritative arbiters of this union, and the Gropius Bau, founded as a decorative-arts museum in the nineteenth century, seeks to place itself in this history. Chiharu Shiota’s installation Beyond Memory, 2019, avoids the institutional self-critique present in some works in favor of aesthetic detachment. Here, a high-hanging web of white yarn holds archival documents and photographs related to the founding of the museum. The web’s scale and height induce awe, yet the viewer cannot get close enough to actually engage with the documents.

    In the video Le trône (The Throne), 2019, Antje Majewski examines the fraught representation of Cameroonian craftwork in Germany. Using techniques of documentary filmmaking, Le trône explains how Sultan Ibrahim Njoya offered his throne in 1908 as a gift to a German emperor, which was subsequently displayed by museums. The artist shows how a reevaluation of colonial power relations is necessary in order to reassess the throne’s out-of-context presentation to the German public. Like the exhibition at large, Majewski’s work pinpoints the nostalgia of viewing crafts as unobstructed reflections of local conditions, and reminds that handwork in Berlin is coterminous with distances extending beyond the city itself.