Phyllida Barlow

Kunsthalle Zurich
Limmatstrasse 270
October 29–February 19

View of “Phyllida Barlow: Demo,” 2016–17.

After changing directors two years ago, this Kunsthalle is beginning to transmit cheerfully powerful signals. However, the joy over the vital and funny show “Demo,” encompassing two expansive works by the sculptor Phyllida Barlow, is clouded, as the seventy-two-year-old artist, mother of five children, and influential teacher of such well-known pupils as Rachel Whiteread and Douglas Gordon, had a formidable show just one year ago in St. Gallen, not far from Zurich. Meanwhile, the Kunsthalle has again exposed itself to the criticism that it is too friendly with Hauser & Wirth (the gallery that represents the artist).

A forceful installation of painted wood, cardboard, plastic, iron, and Styrofoam awaits the visitor in the lower spaces of the Kunsthalle. The rough materials—only revealed upon second glance to have been worked on—extend across three rooms in absurd constructions, proliferating rampantly. The visitor walks between posts, piles, and rods, as if moving through a fabled forest. If one raises one’s head, a laminated paper ball on a wooden strut might seem to be a bird, or a dwarf—although figuration seems to have been erased from Barlow’s work. Thus, it is not just games of deception that give pleasure in this installation but also the visual sense and proportion with which this tumultuous exuberance is executed.
Despite its perfection and poise, the installation appears to be in perpetual motion, in evolution, as if it could only be finished by the beholder. In the second work, one story higher, the viewer steps out onto a podium, another stage. Through sight holes, one can then observe the restoration work on the adjacent exhibition halls or dream of a better Kunsthalle. With Barlow, for a short time this is a reality.

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