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Rodney Graham

Hauser & Wirth | Zurich
Limmatstrasse 270
January 21–March 11

Rodney Graham, Media Studies ’77, 2016, two painted aluminum light boxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies, each 91 5/8 x 71 5/8 x 7''.

The title of Rodney Graham’s latest exhibition, “Media Studies,” is a pleonasm. Which of the artist’s works is not concerned with the investigation of media? Large-format photographic light boxes—there are several new ones in this show, as well as two paintings series with gesso and magazine images—have come to emit something like the “brand” of the Vancouver School. (And while Jeff Wall claims for himself the sociodramatically tragic side of the genre, Graham occupies the comedic.) Having long since advanced to his own role as a major player, Graham mostly stages himself as a brooding introvert and as the artist recognizable in ever-newly constructed sets.

Thus he appears in Zurich as an elegant gentleman seated in front of a hedge, in Newspaper Spy (all works cited, 2016). He holds a broadsheet in front of his face with observation slits through which he gazes intently at the viewer. As camouflage? As masquerade? Is this an allusion to a Cold War crime thriller or African art and Cubist image-experiments? Or is it simply a question of the theme of gaze and counter-gaze? The viewer is never constrained to any interpretive approach. If one never gets the last secret out of Graham’s figures, the beholder can always feel superior and somehow wiser than them.

How anachronistic does the teacher seem in the monumental diptych Media Studies ’77? The cigarette, corduroy jacket, and bell-bottoms recall Marshall McLuhan while a TV screen to the left of the image remains blank. Even if Graham never denounces his figures, one nonetheless sometimes wishes that they were more than just sad clowns at the art circus.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner

Joëlle Tuerlinckx

Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart
St. Alban-Rheinweg 60
October 15–February 26

View of “Joëlle Tuerlinckx: Nothing for Eternity,” 2016–17.

For Joëlle Tuerlinckx, the making and showing of art are connected in an inherently infinite circle. In her latest exhibition, “Nothing for Eternity,” she breaks through institutional authority. Here, the artist stages the ground floor of the museum as a site of experimental activity and assembly—in short, as a studio. Appropriately, the final gallery of the show is completely lined with silver chocolate wrappers, which naturally evokes Billy Name’s design for the Factory. Beyond this, the silver foil draws a correlation between the chocolate-producing countries of Switzerland and Tuerlinckx’s homeland of Belgium. It also functions within Tuerlinckx’s garbology. Copies of drawings affixed to the foil further strengthen the impression of an artist’s workshop.

Central to her practice is the making available of handwritten notes, scrawlings, and sketches, all of which belong to Tuerlinckx’s standard exhibition repertoire. This time, a nearly forty-nine-foot-long display case exhibits various travel notations from the past twenty years, out of which the indistinguishability between forms of work and forms of life emerges quite beautifully. That her manner of laboring also strongly correlates with the respective site of origination clarifies the circumstance that the display case contains numerous sketches executed during visits to various Basel museums.

A slideshow running on a security monitor of the kind installed throughout the museum was recorded just outside the institution: Tuerlinckx photographed a small eddy in the little river that runs alongside the museum, in which discarded bottles and plastic garbage gather for a while and, with other finds, are finally driven further along. To be sure, this is “Nothing for Eternity” in a nutshell.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Moritz Scheper

Tilo Steireif

Robert Walser-Zentrum
Marktgasse 45
November 19–December 23

Tilo Steireif, untiled, 2012–13, watercolor and ink on paper. From the series “The Robber,” 2012–13.

In 2012, Tilo Steireif, a Swiss artist whose research-based practice has favored photography and installation, began work on a suite of aquarelle and ink cartoons inspired by German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser’s posthumously published novel, The Robber. The labor posed two challenges: It was Steireif’s first foray into watercolor, and The Robber—a digressive novel with a weak plot first published in German in 1972 and in English in 2000—doesn’t easily lend itself to visual exegesis in the way that the Book of Genesis did for Robert Crumb. Walser’s novel begins briskly: “Edith loves him.” Edith being a waitress and estranged paramour of the Robber, an impoverished “good-for-nothing” from the Swiss capital of Bern whose precarious lifestyle—he is more lotus-eater than criminal—chimes with the author’s own traumatic biography. Still, Steireif emerges as a mordant guide to Walser’s elliptical modernist text about a solitary walker with urbane habits.

Installed in three rows across three walls in a small room that has previously shown Walser’s idiosyncratic microscripts, Steireif’s 112 clear line cartoons (all works untitled, 2012–13) are tonally reduced. The worn-out Guston pinks and variations of “sky blue audacity,” to quote the novel, lend his visualization of petit bourgeois anxiety and listlessness an understated pathos. One panel shows the Robber, who bears a striking resemblance to a mustached Walser, examining his bleeding heart while on a walk. The cartoon is faithful to the book, gleefully so, grimly depicting what is understood as metaphorical introspection in the text. But Steireif is ultimately an empathetic interpreter of the writer’s world of homburgs, cigars, carousel rides, strange monuments, and low-key despair.

Sean O’Toole