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Elfie Semotan and Michel Würthle

Gabriele Senn Galerie
Schleifmühlgasse 1A
June 23–September 2

Galerie Crone | Wien
Getreidemarkt 14, Entry Eschenbachgasse
June 23–September 2

Galerie Crone Vienna, View of “Elfie Semotan and Michel Würthle,” 2017.

Spread between two venues, this dual exhibition is an exercise in dialogue and friendship between two artists who have known each other for decades. It is also an experiment in installation. While the presentation at Gabriele Senn Galerie is classical and precise, in effect staging Elfie Semotan’s and Michel Würthle’s work as two solo shows on separate floors, the exhibition at Galerie Crone has a much freer hanging, with Semotan’s and Würthle’s pieces cohabiting on the same walls. These starkly different approaches delightfully complement each other, creating a rich and coherent whole.

Semotan’s photographs of forests (all untitled, 2013–17) feel anonymous and slightly claustrophobic, as the compositions give very little depth or expansion to the images. Capturing details of shrubs and trees, they are somewhat unsettling yet strangely beautiful in their seeming muteness. However, when viewed as a sequence, these pictures acquire a temporal, cinematic quality. The granular texture of the photographs, caused by the high-quality Japanese paper they are printed on, emphasizes their filmic character.

Cinema is also essential to the works by Würthle. His ink drawings and collages liberally appropriate imagery from Western filmic genres with self-conscious humor. Shown in his native Vienna, his depictions of Americana are in fact deeply personal: They revisit his youth, when American Western films offered teenagers a much-needed reprieve from the stifling culture of postwar Austria. Moreover, these works acknowledge how important the American avant-garde, and the debates it triggered, was to Würthle and his peers in their formative years in the 1960s. The homage central to this series, in effect, brings the audience back to the notion of dialogue and friendship central to the conception of this exhibition.

Yuki Higashino

Martin Beck

mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
Museumsplatz 1
May 6–September 3

View of “rumors and murmurs,” 2017.

What makes an exhibition? How do the individual elements come together, and how does new meaning unfold as a result? What praxis must a curator follow in order to deploy the “gestures of showing,” as described by Mieke Bal, so that they can be experienced and construed by the public? Martin Beck’s art moves within this constellation of questions and complicates them. His latest show of sculptures, videos, drawings, artists’ books, and installations also includes works he selected by Eadweard Muybridge and Julie Ault, which appear as references to Beck’s own output. Beck has additionally curated a separate show of works from the museum’s collection, featuring pieces by Sol LeWitt and Louise Lawler, among others.

The subtlest piece in the solo exhibition is Beck’s “Flowers,” 2015. In this photo series, which runs through the entire show, emerging now and again, there are flower arrangements shown in various compositions and physical states: an empty vase, only a few stems, a full bouquet, or with hands that compose the flora into an overall picture. Exhibiting is performed within the frame of the image—selecting, disassembling, and putting it all back together again. In “Flowers,” Beck moves the importance of process subtly into the foreground. A similar effect happens in all that is left, 2015, a work that is at once a painting, a sculpture, and a piece of functional architecture (a wall) that is meant to guide the visitor through the galleries.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Franz Thalmair

Sarah Sze

Copenhagen Contemporary
Trangravsvej 10–12
March 10–September 3

Sarah Sze, Timekeeper, 2016, mixed media, mirrors, wood, stainless steel, ink-jet prints, projectors, lamps, desks, stools, stone, dimensions variable. Installation view.

American artist Sarah Sze’s immersive installation Timekeeper, 2016, renders time as a relative element that can be manipulated, layered, stalled, stretched, and compressed. You wander through what could be a mad scientist’s den, which takes the form of a three-dimensional collage incorporating a wildly higgledy-piggledy desk illuminated within a darkened room.

Countless scraps of ripped paper are layered upon a thin metal armature. They gently blow in the wind from fans as projectors throw images of natural and urban realms, and there are even plastic potted plants on which the light beams flicker. The varied landscapes weave together a portrait of modern existence, with the scenes’ intermittently enlarged pixels suggesting our digital experience of the world. A potent orange sunrise sits next to slowed footage of a building being demolished, plumes of dust expanding as dirty clouds; a fire burns while a river ripples; animals including cheetahs and ostriches run in videos so decelerated that they recall Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion studies. Amid this array, the neon green numerals of alarm clocks blink, a metronome ticks, and different time zones are delineated in further projections—as in life, time is inescapable but takes many forms.

Perhaps most poignant, the room is surrounded by projections that slowly circulate: Television static recalls a star-filled sky, interspersed with an owl flying, water flowing, and a bird resting on a branch. This conjures the complexity of the earth and the ever-expanding cosmos. The artist creates idiosyncratic systems of order and balance, giving structure to her own universe within which the viewer can ramble.

Louisa Elderton

Tal R

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Gl. Strandvej 13
May 20–September 10

View of “Academy of Tal R,” 2017.

Tal R’s retrospective bubbles with an inexorable sense of play, as the Danish painter ricochets between abstraction, representation, and all points between. His earlier work from the 1990s and his early 2000s experiments with bold, carnivalesque colors and crudely wrought objects are seemingly lifted from a late Philip Guston painting and strained through a kaleidoscopic sieve. Paintings such as Blocked Door, 2000, dominate the space around them through their sheer size and raucous polychromy, their luminous abstraction pushing up against the garbled hieroglyphic-like simplicity of Tal R’s represented everyday things. This period of the artist’s career culminates with the “Adieu Interessant” (Farewell Interesting) series, 2005–2008, which stages visual supernovas of collaged ephemera culled from glossy magazines. Cartoons, skulls, and hard-core pornography are all swept to the margins of these massive works by a veritable explosion of radiance.

More recent works strain the disciplinary boundaries of painting and thrust the medium toward installation, as in Deaf Institute, 2016–17, a labyrinth composed of ninety-nine individual works on paper. These most recent ones feature the same maximal ebullience of the artist’s earlier paintings, integrating masks, cosmograms, and numerous written languages into their dense pictorial strata. Tal R’s most recent series, titled “Habakuk,” 2017, surrounds the painted maze of Deaf Institute. These nine gigantic works resemble painted railway cars with the misspelled name of the Jewish prophet Habakkuk emblazoned on their surfaces in sloppy cursive. While some are brightly hued, others ring out with monochromatic black, drawing the viewer from riotous hues toward abyssal solemnity in a potent counterpoint to the visual buoyancy of the rest of the show.

Dan Jakubowski

Richard Serra

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20
June 24–September 24

Richard Serra, Ramble 3-54, 2015, litho crayon and pastel powder on handmade paper, 19 3/4 x 25 1/4".

Richard Serra forgoes color in his drawings, considering it an added value, not a structural property. Color does not fit the straight logic of his process, in which materials exist unto themselves and not as references to anything else. This exhibition presents around eighty of these black-and-white drawings, the majority made in the past two years. They are drawings by a sculptor, but not in the sense that they are sketches or structural three-dimensional representations. Rather, the works share some basic aspects of their conception with Serra’s sculptural work. The compositions are the result of a printmaking-like process whereby the artist applies paint stick, silica, graphite powder, or other black pigments on a table surface and then presses a sheet of paper against it with the help of a weighty metal box. Gravity, pressure, gesture, and the texture of paper’s grain are defining factors in how the compositions will look.

In Rotterdam Verticals and Rotterdam Horizontals, both 2016–17, there is a repetitive play of dark forms; differences in pigment density create an abstract story line. The work looks romantic rather then minimal, as the shapes are dramatic and surrounded by visual noise. The show ends in a crescendo with four huge works from the series “Rift,” 2011–17. Here, Serra’s technique is different: Paint stick has been applied in huge quantities and ends up much thicker than the paper. The term drawing hardly covers the results, which look more like sculpted, monochrome surfaces, interrupted by sharp triangular rifts. They hark back to the minimal aesthetics of Serra’s steel works: heavy, balanced, and determined in their definition of spatial divisions.

Jurriaan Benschop

Raymond Pettibon

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
Krimsky Val, 9
June 7–August 13

Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Tombstones II . . .), 1993–97, pen, ink, and graphite on paper, 8 1/2 x 6".

Raymond Pettibon has a habit of painting large murals for his solo shows, and this one is no exception. Organized by the same curators who put together the artist’s retrospective at the New Museum earlier this year, this exhibition opens with an untitled expanse featuring Pettibon’s emblematic surfers—stormy metaphors contending with waves of ontological hurdles—hovering between water and clouds. Rendered with the same color palette and scratch-like brushstrokes, both natural forms blend together, pointing to the malleability and openness of meaning in the artist’s pictorial language. Such avoidance of definitive statements is also apparent in the run-on sentence split into four by a surfer: “In doubt to deem himself a / Goyd [sic], or Beast / In doubt his Mind or Body / a Painter.”

Unencumbered by wall texts and marked by an unvaried, serial presentation of more than three hundred works, the show very much reads like a comic book, albeit one without a plot. Recurrent motifs in Pettibon’s oeuvre, such as flying saucers, detective investigations, promiscuous Gumbys, and suicide scenes, work against the mythology of the artist as insightful truth-bearer and position him as lost in fantasy, hardly bridging images and words. The emphatic force of his lines, whether they delineate a figure or a phrase, stem from a desire to convey the intensity of an unjust, irrational world without trying to mold it into an intelligible narrative. As he wrote on No Title (Tombstones II . . .), 1993–97: “They burden themselves too much with plots.”

Gökcan Demirkazık


2, Bolshaya Konyushennaya st., 3rd floor
June 15–July 29

Piotr Diyakov, Ball, 2017, acrylic, filler, pigment, 5 x 5".

Sever-7, an artist collective named after the 1955 Soviet expedition to the Arctic, consists of both alumni of and educators at Saint Petersburg’s academies who came together four years ago to sidestep institutional parameters. Though earlier projects by the group include ephemeral actions in forests and basements, this show of recent work reads as more conventional. Its title, “One Seventh of the World,” refers to the Soviet Union’s loss of territory—present-day Russia now covers a mere one-seventh of the earth—and to Dziga Vertov’s 1926 film One Sixth of the World. But the attempt to find roots in Russia’s avant-garde feels like a shortcut to cohesion. Instead, each participant has forged an individual way of contending with language, mortality, and history.

In Toilet, 2017, Nestor Engelke has assembled incised wooden boards into an outhouse, which he occupied throughout the opening. The scratches hint at violence, as if the sole way to produce a surface were by partly eradicating it. In Leonid Tskhe’s drawings, such as The Girl’s Head No. 2, 2016, the human figure both throbs with colors and dissolves into smears. A series of small canvases by Nestor Kharchenko, “Horizons,” 2017, cloaks contemporary Russia in darkness via mashed up wooden bits and black paint spattered over photographs of the country’s famed vistas, historical landmarks, and political and cultural figures. Piotr Diyakov’s palm-size sculpture, Ball, 2017, has a more austere physicality. Fingers protrude from a sphere and bend toward one another without touching—a gesture with tragic force in the current political climate.

If Sever-7’s output can handily evoke the 1990s, an era of squatters and spontaneous art actions in this city, their exhibition here demonstrates that gaining a platform while maintaining a provocative stride is much harder.

Christianna Bonin

Akram Zaatari

Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
Plaça dels Angels, 1
April 7–September 25

View of “Akram Zaatari: Against Photography. An Annotated History of the Arab Image Foundation, 2017.”

Akram Zaatari’s latest museum show consists of his own work and, just as crucially, work from the Arab Image Foundation—an institutional archive of photography from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Arab diaspora. Zaatari often uses photographs and paraphernalia from the collection as material. For instance, in the descriptively titled A Photographer’s Shadow, 2017, he has re photographed a picture from the collection of a cameraman’s body blocking light, spotlighting the person framing the shot. Throughout the show, one notices the artist identifying patterns—absurd studio props or cars, for example—at times with a wall full of the repeated motif in a grid of images. The cumulative amount of work displayed is staggering, and from it, one glimpses the weight of viewing the AIF’s repository as an artist scanning for significance.

In the two-channel video On Photography, People, and Modern Times, 2010, we see photographs being carefully archived on one screen, while on the other, individuals with a connection to these images reminisce about them. Both sides are offered cleanly and formally, but traces of nostalgia leak through the right channel. Meanwhile, for the installation Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem, 2010, Zaatari photographed objects he found relevant from Hashem El Madani’s studio and placed those items in cabinets to be selected and shown to visitors during the course of the exhibition.

Zaatari has long advocated that items such as album mounts and notes on the backs of photographs be made equal in importance to the image itself and included in the AIF archive. He has likened his work to archaeological excavation. His careful search for emotion and meaning within each image is far less clinical than that, though. He is more of a storyteller.

Yin Ho

Elena Alonso

Matadero Madrid
Plaza de Legazpi, 8.
February 10–July 30

Elena Alonso, Visita Guiada (Guided Visit), 2017, copper wire, wood, cement, cork, plaster, paint, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Since its inception, Elena Alonso’s drawing practice has continually redefined its own formal limits. It was only a matter of time for her motifs to evolve into sculptural entities. The artist cultivates an ambiguous terrain in her iconography, somewhere between geometric abstraction and organic representation with allusions to the body.

This site-specific project, titled Visita Guiada (Guided Visit), 2017, is a newly commissioned work installed in the cold storage of a former slaughterhouse in Madrid. That she has so successfully translated her personal language, her profound sense of intimacy, into such an overwhelming and complex scenario is stunning. Drawing evolves into space in the form of a hand railing that runs around the columns, which she has covered with a rhythmic succession of materials ranging from copper wire to softly carved wood or plaster, and the architecture of the installation, rather than its surface appearance, comes to the fore. A number of holes in the ceiling provide the only illumination in the show. These were once covered but now allow light to flow down from the floor above. This lighting is eminently unspectacular, as if not seeking to brighten the installation but to emphasize the singularity of the space.

Javier Hontoria

Klas Eriksson

Göteborgs Konsthall
June 9–August 20

Klas Eriksson, Outside In, 2017, paper, dimensions variable.

Swedish artist Klas Eriksson has developed a practice rooted in examining subcultures via works in public spaces and spontaneous performances. With an interest in how power flows and how crowds function, the artist attempts to unpack sociopolitical dynamics using playful tactics. This show raises the question: Who belongs in a gallery or institution, and how do these entities influence artists given “free rein” of such spaces?

For the paintings in “Smoke on Smoke,” 2015, smoke bombs were used to infuse color into canvas; the series is a variant of Eriksson’s site-specific performance pieces in which he sets off multiple smoke bombs, transforming public spaces into cloudy, ethereal milieus bordering on disaster. In this case, his work is loosely translated from one medium into another, in part responding to institutional and spatial constraints. Another example of this morphology is found in Evidence of Patchwork, 2017, where scarves for various soccer teams are sewn together in one quilt-like statement. This work alludes to the artist’s collective performance series “Away Day,” 2013–17, where his Kulturdrägg cohorts travel together to art events (including the opening of this show), wearing scarves he designed, in mischievous celebration and anticipation of the event itself. Meanwhile, Outside In, 2017, connects to a real-life power imbalance instead of a theoretical one. Here, Eriksson displays prison patches from the United Kingdom’s HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) in glass vitrines as if they were scientific specimens—a tangible truth in this show’s layout.

Jacquelyn Davis