Hot-pink theatrical lights, a cocaine-colored motorcycle, and sexy-sweet cuddling—this show wants to knock you out with its bold arrangements. Ophelia Finke contributes the bike (Balthazar, all works cited, 2016) and Yves Scherer the cuddling, in the form of a figurative wall sculpture titled Johnny & Kate (indeed, Depp and Moss, respectively). The vibe is of smart, restless young things trashing their parent’s house. Or in this case, Our Lord and Father’s house: The central collaborative work anchoring the presentation is a deranged manger inside a hut, Crib—a nightclubby yet weirdly Arte Povera–ish version of the baby Jesus’s farmhouse bed, tricked out with neon rods. The imprint of a splayed body on the floor dents some pungent hay. It could be an impression from Scherer’s aforementioned work (but enlarged, life-size, as the sculpture is only about three feet tall). It’s eerie—like evidence from a crime scene.
Finke’s ultra-smooth hog, which looks 3-D printed, is the real deal, transformed by white spray paint on one side and blue camo on the other. Scherer’s Johnny & Kate—based on a 1990s picture by Annie Leibovitz—is dead/alive, made of dull bronze but soft looking, as if it were molded in Plasticine. Its mixture of sexiness and vacancy overrides the sordid celebrity voyeurism—the serene figures seem more pleasantly bored than blissed out.
Profanation isn’t simply the debasement of the holy—it’s the returning of divinity to the human realm. Finke and Scherer try to find transcendence in a world of slutty tabloids and LEDs. Their tableaux don’t trade in mean-spiritedness, as a shooting-star ornament made from pinecones adorning the entrance to the (maybe?) Christ child’s resting place lovingly suggests.
Putting on a commanding exhibition during Art Basel isn’t easy, but this gallery has succeeded with a display of Kurt Schwitters’s Merz to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Dada movement, launched at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Featuring several dozen posthumous works by Dada’s agent from Hannover, the exhibition was designed by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid—who died a few weeks before the opening—making for a perfect pairing.
Schwitters famously constructed the Merzbau, 1923–37—an expressionist Gesamtkunstwerk lost in a hail of bombs during World War II—in his family’s home. Far from the artist’s spatial collage with its many nooks and crannies, in Hadid’s flowing installation a visitor can experience a free-form adaptation of it through bellied curves of plastic and marble, among other materials, that stretch as if to suck the capital out of the banks across the street into the gallery space. One is led to and immersed in the furthest niches and alcoves of the display, finding constructivist collages made of painted segments of wood such as Blue, 1923–26, and Treble Clef, 1923–27, or works on paper like Mz 196, 1921. Along with these are a great deal of what would now be designated as “mail art,” including letters and postcards that were supposed to carry the artist out into the world via his 1919 poem “To Anna Flower,” as documented in Postcard to Mr. Walter Drexel, “Anna Blume,” 1921. It’s a pity that all that’s gathered here will soon be scattered again, widespread and little seen, but treasured.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
The memory of a childhood event—a car accident Ivan Seal survived with his family, riding in a yellow Chevette—is the genesis for his third solo show here. The gallery, located in a former garage, is an ideal stage for the revival of this memory. These oil paintings, on display for the first time, are complex constructions whose point of departure is the dismembering of cars with vibrantly colored, crystal-shaped excrescences that provide a visual balance. Six large pieces in a first room seem to suggest they are a body, with two works in the second room making up its heart and brain. The paintings reveal the artist’s memories in an equilibrium between what is resolved and what is yet to be understood. Vague backgrounds uphold wavering, impossible structures, sometimes defined by motifs such as keys or tree-shaped air fresheners.
Abstraction goes out of control in the second room, where the two canvases vulch grinning and vavet grinning (all works 2016) have stable appearances giving way to a free representation of impossible engines. Flowers and vegetation seem to sprout from the ferrous masses. These works inspired the artist’s musical composition “chevette in dub,” which gives the show its title. Like the paintings, this recording of metallic noises, engine rumblings, creaking, and belches brings into the present the resonances of moments impressed in the artist’s mind.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
The white cube is a space that, in essence, does not want to be there. It must renounce itself in favor of the exhibited or performed works. It is a complicated nonplace in which art first nests and then flies away. In her debut gallery show, the young Swiss artist Miriam Laura Leonardi cleverly, and with the necessary measure of irony, turns this situation one notch further by interpreting the rooms of this gallery, with its large display windows opening onto the street, as creative birth caves: Three anthropomorphic sculptures float among the wall works, like embryos in space.
The most cheerful figurine first: Angels of Chaos 1 (all works cited, 2016) shows a doll in a white spacesuit with an oversize bright fleshy flower from a fairground carousel hovering over his head. Instead of a protective helmet, a transparent plastic hemisphere covers half of his face. What might this virile Angelus Novus herald? Like his companions, Angels of Chaos 2 and 3––a leaping chef in a white cap and a cloud that drifts over a seated headless wire figure, respectively––he can be taken as a surreal revenant of the artist as well as of her artistic role models. Leonardi appears in all three in a small black-and-white photograph affixed to the sculptures. The works are referred to, in the artist’s personal idiom, after her “spiritual mothers”: Isa (Genzken), Lutz (Bacher), and Meret (Oppenheim). Given the abundance of wit here, this is more than necromancy.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
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.
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.
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.
At the entrance to this exhibition, a sheet of text by Juliette Blightman elides the wintry dullness of institutional overtures and promptly slips a viewer into her intimate space. It is a territory she rarely abandons, and one to which few other contemporary artists lay claim with the same fresh simplicity and uninhibited sincerity. The title of the show, “Extimacy,” evokes an outward orientation that does not ultimately characterize the works included. This presentation explores a tension between presence and absence—or, perhaps, the multiple ways of being present.
Two big paintings, Exclusivity (no. 3), 2015, and Come inside, bitte, 2015, are hung asymmetrically in the main rotunda, eschewing conventional display. In the next room, a diary of graphite drawings mostly belonging to a loose series titled “Day” and ranging between 2015 and 2016 presents introspective, quotidian imagery. In one entry, a penis hangs between a strainer and a beater in some Ikea gadget. This and other works in the group suggest that the body is intimately connected with the domestic. The pictures are recurrent impressions as well; the aforementioned image reappears in the clumsily rendered little painting Day 329, 2016.
An installation of massive paintings titled “Still Life,” 2016, reveals a towering architecture of sexual imagery. Set up in a semicircular frieze, they are cinematic, bringing to mind Blightman’s longtime fascination with moving images, which are mostly absent from this show with the exception of one text-based video, Day 51, 2015, which expands her surreal motifs in time. It is a melancholy piece that keenly seeks an understanding of social interaction, in a world where physicality and evanescence are no longer distinguishable.
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.