Hordes of bikes of various styles and from different eras, some broken and some roadworthy but all untitled and from 2016, stand or lean against the wall as if wrongly parked or forgotten in Kaspar Müller’s second solo exhibition at this gallery. Some seem to be frozen in motion, pointing like vectors in different directions. These human-powered carriers cohabit with antiques and bric-a-brac like a junk store of cultures and ideologies: an ancient bronze figure, a bust of Lenin on a pannier rack, and Homer Simpson 3-D slippers speared on handlebars. Caught in a hybrid state of shifting levels of value, all items remain in a collision between the profane and the elevated. One is tempted to spin an infinite number of narratives from the objects’ absurd marriages, which stay precarious in service of a polysemic ambiguity.
“What you inherit from your fathers must first be earned before it’s yours,” reads a billboard-size, rainbow-colored wall text in a psychedelic retro font; the oldfangled-sounding quote is from a translation of Goethe’s Faust (1808). Seemingly embodying a generational imperative to break free and make your own destiny, the return to one’s own heritage—a prepared collection of possessions and beliefs—loses its essence when meaning turns out to be a fragile construct, always in danger of being emptied out or overwritten. And as the bikes maintain the illusion that they could be mounted again in an act of self-empowerment, breaking out of the gallery space into a new life, the pathos-filled slogan “Ride off like a cowboy into your sunset” echoes from the walls.
Yes, that’s right: “Trump Not Funny.” And yet, coming across this statement as the title of a large oil painting in Sue Williams’s exhibition is surprising. The President-elect is nowhere to be seen in it, nor are there any references to his characteristics or qualities. Though perhaps there are, as is so often the case with this artist’s paintings, allusions to sex and heteronormative power hidden in the nonfigurative, expressive swirls of yellow, blue, and orange-red color fields rapidly applied to the canvas.
This show is a delight––even if, for beholders of all genders, the sensuality of the works’ surfaces quickly turns to frustration upon a closer look, one always has visual pleasure. And as with the work of Marlene Dumas or Maria Lassnig, it does not wear off so quickly with this exceptional painter’s. Moreover, it is rekindled again and again. The eleven eruptive oil paintings here, all in approximately the same landscape format, succeed at full tilt. Mostly made this year, they are contrasted with five very small works from 1994 to 1996. These drawings done in acrylic stage their social critique and engagement very explicitly. While their backgrounds consist of bright kitschy patterned textile samples, the figures prove to be male-dominated in crude, threatening scenes.
With these in-limbo images, an observer can fill in the lines like the crack of a whip; the knots of color, erasures, and explosions of Williams’s newest paintings seem to render ecstatic stories of relationships in which, existentially, no less is at stake than the whole.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Multidisciplinary and experimental, Wojciech Zamecznik made his mark on the postwar Polish art scene by playfully exploring the boundaries of photography. Rather than encapsulating a fixed moment, he treated the medium as a jumping-off point for creating innovative graphic forms. Opening with self-portraits and the poster design for the historic show “Family of Man,” the exhibition includes more than two hundred works that reveal the breadth of both his process and his output. His earliest photos unfurl across Europe: His wife, Halina, is seated among high-contrast stripes of light in Bulgaria in 1953; laundered linens hang ethereally like ghosts in Albania in 1955; a woman faces a nude statue as though the two silhouettes were in a standoff in Berlin in 1956.
Black-and-white classicism transitioned into striking signage. Zamecznik’s film posters from the late 1940s to late 1950s feature work by several Polish directors such as Jerzy Kawalerowicz, as well as Fritz Lang’s film noir The Woman in the Window (1944) and Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953). Zamecznik used images from production companies and played with scale and framing while entirely reimagining the color palette. His covers for Architektura magazine between 1956 and 1966 (a publication for which he also served as artistic director for several years) showcase bright backgrounds and clean lines. Photography pivoted from a medium for transcribing reality to a foundation upon which to layer vivid, imaginative graphics. The exhibition deconstructs Zamecznik’s hybrid methods by parsing the photos and paintings that grew into montages and superpositions, for commissions as diverse as a contemporary poetry festival (1967), a national public-awareness campaign in Poland (1960), and a circus (1963). His work became increasingly avant-garde, using stroboscopic light to convey sequences of movement. His use of frenetic motion powerfully evokes aural vibrations and rhythms—effective promotion for various music festivals. Zamecznik deployed visuals as a way of expressing the intangible, achieving new forms that stretched into abstraction or featured typographic punch. One of his later works was an anamorphically distorted poster featuring the word Pamiętamy (we remember) in red, a chilling homage to the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau.