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“The Finger that Shows the Moon Never Moons”

Dan Gunn
Schlesische Strasse 29, Street front, 3rd Floor
April 22–June 25

View of “The Finger that Shows the Moon Never Moons,” 2017. From left: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, The Vapor of Melancholy, 2014; Susanne Winterling, Untitled (The pressure behind your nailcolour, my dear), 2009.

Amid political turmoil, we might look to the moon to galvanize our struggle for a better present, or simply for aid in leaving it all behind. The exhibition “The Finger that Shows the Moon Never Moons” brings together eight artists along with their drives and escapisms.

The moon in question might be Renato Leotta’s Aprile, 2017, a disk covered in black volcanic sand hung just above eye level. Flat and unspectacular, the plaster plate is insufficient in representing the celestial body, but it toys with a theatrical register in its willful yet ironic invitation to suspend disbelief. A similar theme carries over in Rodrigo Hernández’s prop-like Super Position, 2016, a piece of outdated, perhaps Cold War–era technology modeled in cardboard. With childish pretense, the work insists on belonging to a parallel universe—however, even here the tarnish of history endures.

Meanwhile, in The Vapor of Melancholy, 2014, a back-lit photograph by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, play takes an existential turn. A young man lies on a bed, his hand in a dainty bend, as he breathes out a cloud of smoke in a rain of superimposed fireworks. His blissful high troubles the mood of the title, evoking the ambivalence in escaping only to inevitably return.

Susanne Winterling’s glass prints of phosphorescent algae share in this urge for the otherworldly. Crossover Planetary Algae Empire (for Octavia Butler), 2017, shows the organism lit up by a spotlight, imbuing the green-blue shape with a mesmerizing dimensionality. Dedicated to the famous science-fiction writer, Winterling’s work abandons the Anthropocene for life under different moons.

Kristian Vistrup Madsen

Michel Majerus

Michel Majerus Estate
Knaackstraße 12
April 28–March 3

Michel Majerus, 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992, acrylic on cotton, 9 1/2 x 18'.

The title of this exhibition, “Laboratory for appraising the apparent”—the first of a three-part show at the artist’s former studio space—is appropriated from a quote Michel Majerus once wrote down in a notebook. The phrase simultaneously mirrors the credo of his early work from 1990 through 1995, presented here, and his estate’s mission of an archival reappraisal for the public. An arrangement of books taken from Majerus’s library is installed next to the entrance, appearing like an overview of the artist’s favored sources, including Vogue and Nintendo magazines, a publication on architect Kisho Kurokawa, and textbooks on typography. A distillation of these materials can be traced in the reproductions of thirteen of his small notebooks, neatly labeled with year and month, each containing a cryptic selection of his own aphorisms.

On a wall hangs a giant painting with cartoonish, baffled-looking bears sitting in Chio Chips or Kellogg’s boxes for 10 bears masturbating in 10 boxes, 1992. They are partly covered and outlined with tumultuous curvy strokes in red or blackened turquoise color fields. Slipshod, comic-style lettering underneath displays the title. Referencing Andy Warhol’s commercial phantoms and cribbing the gestural force of a Willem de Kooning not only epitomizes Majerus’s blunt jockeying for a position next to canonical figures and works, but furthermore evinces his obsession with the transformative potential of blending high and low images: an in-your-face remix of signs caught in constant flux.

Bringing to mind Wittgenstein’s reading of the duck-rabbit illusion in Philosophical Investigations (1953), the artist’s fragile surfaces conceal and reveal more than what is initially apparent, or as he scribbled in one of his notebooks: “As soon as someone has sussed out my logic + my system, it’s up to me to point this logic in a direction that contradicts itself so that it can’t become doctrine.”

Elisa R. Linn

Shirana Shahbazi

KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art
Am Sudhaus 3
April 2–August 6

Shirana Shahbazi, [Frucht-03-2007] (Fruit-03-2007), C-print on aluminum, 47 x 59".

While hardly anyone still believes in photography’s claim to truth these days, the medium continues to renew its promise of authenticity. The contention that images, identities, and worlds are constructed has long been evident––even analog photography has for some time now had to account for it. Rather than clinging to that discussion, Shirana Shahbazi’s pictures take as their point of departure the material world, never completely breaking away from their relationship to objects. In this exhibition, thirty-five photographs are seemingly displayed at random, but each’s presentation is deliberate and should be perceived as such. Within the disparate arrangement and heterogeneous imagery, there are still lifes of extreme artificiality and simplicity, including [Frucht-03-2007] (Fruit-03-2007) and [Magnolie-04-2013] (Magnolia-04-2013), as well as examples of geometric abstraction—[Objekt-25-2013] (Object-25-2013) and [Kreise-02-2014] (Circles-02-2014).

Elsewhere are two-tone lithographs of fleeting landscapes and vistas of travel, such as [Wellen] (Waves) and [Wüste] (Desert), both 2014. In the case of the abstract [Raster-01-2013] (Grid-01-2013), a reduction is achieved alongside the creation of a complex play between the impression of flatness and space. Shahbazi’s photographs are all marked by their disparate nature: The images feel controlled, improvised, logical, and baffling all at once. This show can be taken as ironic and, at the same time, as an expression of radical rigor. What is chiefly important here is equivalence, the illusion of classification, and freedom from hierarchy.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Melissa Canbaz

Win McCarthy

Keithstrasse 12
April 22–June 24

Win McCarthy, January ’17 calendar (Der Fuß des Künstlers), 2017, foamcore, C-prints, paper, stones, tape, pencil, pins, 37 x 40 x 2".

The top of the checklist reads “FOR ASSEMBLY,” as if to suggest that this exhibition of new works by American artist Win McCarthy is a type of instruction manual. McCarthy, like a TV handyman, lays out the materials: a floor display of wooden sticks, a blown-glass mask, a large yellow toy crane, and a collage juxtaposing a photograph of young people with another of a full-size crane, collectively titled “Staging area” (all works 2017). So, what are we assembling?

Two collages on the wall, January ’17 calendar (Der Fuß des Künstlers) and March ’17 calendar (bits & pieces), would seem to indicate something as elusive as time or a life. January is dominated by a large photograph of the artist’s foot covering several pencil-drawn squares on a yellowed board surface, while others neatly contain figurations of small stones, pictures of friends, and cities. In March, objects and images flank the empty grid, as if still deciding how to arrange themselves for the month, which is already past, implying that boxes were always inadequate hosts for a pile of being anyway. Here, time is a volatile substance, layered, subjective, and intensely unfit for formal organization.

Yet in these works McCarthy gives perfect form to that impossible task precisely by failing to adhere to his purported templates, be they calendars or the shapes of people. Mr. Reticence, a stuffed fabric torso with a blown-glass mask for a face and a single pink shoelace for hair, becomes the mascot for a whole team of similarly botched and taciturn characters. Eerie as well as silly in their fragility, these sculptures remind us that being unclear, or illegible, is not the same as being nothing, just as an empty schedule is not an index of lost time.

Kristian Vistrup Madsen

Adrian Piper

Hamburger Bahnhof
Invalidenstraße 50-51
February 24–September 3

Adrian Piper, The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1–3, 2013–. Installation view.

When speaking with former residents of East Germany, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of deceit, such as family and friends spying on one another in service to the state. Given that history, knotty questions are raised when an American artist’s installation asks visitors to question their trust in oneself and others. This is the provocation made by The Probable Trust Registry: The Rules of the Game #1–3, 2013–, an installation from Adrian Piper, who has lived in Berlin since 2005, after being placed on the United States’ list of “suspicious travelers.”

In this museum’s cavernous main hall, three towering walls have been installed, each footed by a curved desk. Here sit museum attendants, who guide visitors through electronic contracts demanding nearly impossible commitments: “I will always mean what I say,” “I will always be too expensive to buy,” “I will always do what I say I am going to do.” Following the show, a list of the signatories will be kept by the institution, as well as distributed to the participants. While Piper’s early work used public performances to disturb common expectations of propriety, this piece converts the audience into a collective performer, tasked with self-scrutiny.

Though her work is grounded in extensive philosophical study, this piece cuts into the gap between ideals and reality. Most people would love to be “too expensive to buy.” Unfortunately, economic pressure and normalized state surveillance often make such integrity untenable. Piper’s gesture thus tangles a fantasy––solidarity between the righteous––with a more realistic picture of a kinship based in ethical compromise. As a social experiment, this work is a little didactic, even patronizing. But its implications are crucial. Within late capitalism, the boundary between choice and coercion is at best elusive, and at worst an illusion.

Mitch Speed

Lena Henke

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
April 28–July 30

View of “Lena Henke,” 2017.

Lena Henke has made a walk-in artwork out of the rotunda, a space neither interior nor exterior, illuminated by the light from an approximately sixty-five-foot-tall glass dome. A sculptor by heart, Henke works with the architecture to make the crowds passing through—often to reach the cathedral from old town—aware of the typically overlooked space, interrupting their flow and diverting their attention.

Two oval-shaped glossy aluminum boxes, in the tradition of Donald Judd’s specific objects, stand in the pathways, blocking the two opposing entrances. From the mezzanine one story above, grains of dry sand trickle through the rolling grilles that have replaced four floor-to-ceiling windows and down to lower floors, landing on the sculptures or on the heads of passersby. Looking up, visitors find men walking on piles of the sand, constantly pushing heaps through the grids’ holes. Like Carl Andre’s Grave, 1967, for which he poured a bag of sand down a stairwell, Henke’s work speaks about gravity, evanescence, and the devolution of sculpture. A material fundamental to bronze casting, sand, as it functions in Henke’s work, shape-shifts while forming the artwork. Seen from the mezzanines above, the two aluminum boxes on the ground floor become stand-ins for eyes and the architecture’s columns form a skeleton, and it becomes apparent that Henke has transformed the rotunda into a giant sculpture of a head.

In homage to architect Luis Barragán, magnificent pink, blue, and yellow hues mark the rotunda’s walls and columns. Throughout the day, these delicate tones take on beautiful shades in a compelling public intervention that engages light, form, and color.

Vivien Trommer

Arne Schmitt

Jacky Strenz
Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 2
May 6–July 18

Arne Schmitt, In new Splendor (7), 2017, ink-jet print, 14 x 11".

As is often the case with Arne Schmitt’s photographs, the selection of them here can be mistaken, at first glance, for architecture photography. But his sober black-and-white works, which combine an engagement with architecture and city planning in low-key compositions without gimmicks, go far beyond that. In this exhibition, the shots are the tip of an iceberg of invisible research activity.

The series “In new Splendor,” 2017, examines the built heritage of an insurance group in the northwest of Cologne’s city center, which Schmitt reveals to be the point of intersection for different discourses. Michel Foucault’s thesis from his late 1970s lectures The Birth of Biopolitics—the beginning of neoliberalism is to be located in the reformation of the German Republic after 1945—is key for this artist. Correspondingly, he traces a corporate history that addresses not only Germany’s economic miracle but also the development of neoliberal ideology’s dishonest dealings and signature managerial style that openly opposes state and labor union interference.

The group’s business broke up in the aftermath of 9/11, and their former headquarters now houses luxury apartments. One learns all of this in an advertisement for the new development, which Schmitt has furnished with thorough footnotes and included here. It is this subtext that first brings the photographs to full expression and allows one to perceive, for example, the Third Reich–derived style preferred by the insurance group’s patriarch. Not coincidentally, numerous sculptures by Arno Breker—Hitler’s favorite sculptor––still stand on the grounds today. Suddenly, the sobriety of these images is transformed, and historical contamination filters into the present day.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Moritz Scheper