This retrospective of Walter Pichler’s work makes it clear that he remains profoundly influential, both in his native Austria and beyond. Simultaneously working in sculpture, architecture, graphic design, furniture, industrial design, drawing, and occasionally writing, he liberally blurred the disciplinary boundaries between these fields and heralded an expanded notion of what an artist might be.
Take, for instance, Table for Oswald and Ingrid (Prototype 8), 1967. It is purportedly a dining table for two, with inflatable legs and a plastic top with indentations that are meant to function as plates. Embossed with the names of its prospective users—the jazz musician and writer Oswald Wiener and his wife, Ingrid Schuppan-Wiener, whose home was a gathering place for the Viennese avant-garde in the 1960s—it is hilarious as a piece of furniture, but its idiosyncratic form clearly marks it as sculpture. This piece questions both the autonomy of art objects and the “form follows function” philosophy of modernist design while acknowledging the social context of its presentation. Moreover, Pichler’s use of inflatable PVC and other then-new materials further muddied the distinction between design and sculpture.
The artist, in dialogue with interlocutors including architect Hans Hollein, aimed to integrate art into everyday life. With works such as Dormitory, 1968, consisting of four beds (one lost) with sculptural forms, radios, or photographs embedded in each mattress, he expanded the contexts available for artistic endeavors. The strength of this exhibition ultimately lies in the fact that it offers aesthetic strategies that are still highly effective at situating art outside its isolation in order to both trouble and enrich it.
Just how many exhibitions there are in this show, with the promising title “Exhibition/s,” is open to debate. On the other hand, that Andreas Fogarasi always addresses the functionality and logic of exhibiting in his own artistic practice, or makes them the main object of investigation, is clearly staked out. Focusing on works from the past five years, the show considers the intersection of architecture, design, and visual arts. Questions as to how cities and the events generated in and by them are transformed into images, which then inscribe themselves in the collective memory, run like a red thread through the artist’s haunting formal language.
In the second room is Study Desk (Two Tiles from a Specific Place, Three Specific and Unspecific Samples), 2017, a work that that sets the tone for the rest of the installation. On a piece of particle board cantilevered by steel brackets—a display common in hobby and hardware stores—are inlaid tiles, cement, wax, tin, and resin. As in marquetry, the different materials conjoin to form a total image that can be read as a mood board for an interior decorator or as an abstracted city plan from a bird’s-eye perspective, but rendered using a constructivist vocabulary. With more than thirty objects, videos, sculptures, architectural models, and photographs, the entire exhibition is, like this piece, organized as bricolage. Taken as a whole, the display admittedly adds up to an exceedingly dense image, but when considered in fragments, the multiplicity implied by the show’s title becomes apropos.
Like living creatures, the waves scurry over the surface of the sea—a viewer can hardly escape their delicacy. Like living creatures, these fleeting apparitions in Hans Weigand’s latest exhibition move through the gallery. Here, the artist exhibits large-format watercolors with india ink on wood with surprising subjects, in the style of Katsushika Hokusai. It is, however, not the actual graphics that are to be seen but rather the wooden blocks with backgrounds and surfaces that shimmer in mauve and ocher tones. The image brought forth from the wood—wave riders and their boards, for instance—are dyed black and bring a necessary contrast to the images.
Weigand draws on an image archive he has been compiling for decades. Trouble in Paradise (Falling J . . .), 2016, for example, shows Christ, clad in a loincloth, plunging into a breaking wave. In the diptych made up of Ghostsurfer 5 and Ghostsurfer 6, both 2016, the waves have just swallowed their riders—only the surfboards are vaguely perceptible. The high point of the exhibition is Gesiterwelle aus dem 16. Jahre (Wave of Spirits from the Sixteenth Century), 2015, a nearly seven-foot-wide work in which a turquoise tidal wave sweeps over the eggplant-colored surface of the sea. The sprawling valleys and peaked ridges of the water figure seem to be assembled from human bodies and drive the entire mass over the calm ocean. The depth of the printing block into which the wave is gouged makes the image appear as a living creature.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
“Grey Area,” the title of the first-ever retrospective for the Finnish artist duo Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen, known as Grönlund-Nisunen, refers to the way their site-specific works occupy a space somewhere between visual art, natural sciences, architecture, and electronic music. According to Paul Klee, “art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible.” Grönlund-Nisunen seem to have taken his words literally, as they investigate various physical forces and natural phenomena that are beyond the reach of our senses but which still impact our daily existence. If everything is going smoothly, we don’t ask questions about phenomena such as gravity, electricity, magnetism, or lurking radiation. Using simple but effective technology, including a variety of sensors, transformers, and amplifiers, the artists make the unseen audible and turn the intangible into light, heat, or movement. Though it may sound dry, this exhibition shows that their works plumb surprisingly deep and powerful depths, from sheer joy and wonder to unease and even fear, as in the sine wave sound piece Ultrasound Installation, 1996, that changes its pitch in response to impulses from a radiation-measuring Geiger counter.
Grönlund-Nisunen’s works are more like instruments than sculptures. They are purely pragmatic machines in the modernist sense, in which function dictates form. These shiny metal constructions are beautiful for what they do, rather than how they look.
Marinus Boezem has long harbored a passion for Gothic architecture. One of his well-known works, The Gothic Growing Project, 1978–87, is a grove of poplar trees whose arrangement reproduces the plan of the Reims Cathedral. The recorded sound of the wind among those poplars can be heard now, in an actual Gothic cathedral, in Transformation, 2016. Installed in the magnificent Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, the show alternates Boezem’s pieces from the 1960s with his new creations. The artist takes a sensitive, measured approach to the solemn site, and the works, even when large in scale, have a delicate touch: an aerial architecture of white veils wafted by fans (Labyrinth, 2016); shattered mirrors on the floor (Meteorites, 2016); a large sheet stretched out on a table, at which a group of parishioners spend several hours a day embroidering the plan of the cathedral, evoking the collective but anonymous nature of medieval craftsmen (Gothic Gestures, 2016). In this context, even Boezem’s earliest works, which are dryly conceptual, are charged with poetic resonance. For example, the wind report (Windschaal / Wind Scale, 1968), which was included in a landmark 1969 exhibition titled “Op Losse Schroeven” at the Stedelijk Museum, here seems to speak of a pneuma, or spiritual breath, like the sound of the wind recorded among the columns. Into the Air, 2016, instead, is subtly blasphemous and consists of a hoist that lifts viewers up to just beneath the vaults of the cathedral, allowing them a viewpoint that the Gothic architects reserved for God. (Boezem has hung a text up there, which warns whoever ascends: “Wait until you hear from me.”) After standing in line for my turn in the hoist, I backed out at the last minute. The official reason was my fear of heights; in reality, it was my fear of divine punishment.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Over the span of a mere fifteen years, Jarosław Kozłowski developed a vast body of work that stands as a testimony to the vitality of his artistic production under adverse social and political conditions. This survey exhibition, which contains more than sixty pieces, presents a compelling case for Conceptualism not only as a space of intellectual exploration but also as a bulwark against the repressions of the state.
Kozłowski isn’t well known outside of Poland, though he ought to be. The artist’s early works, such as the mixed-media assemblage Present X, 1966–67, incorporate motifs of eyes or partially obscured faces that stare at the viewer, suggesting a reckoning with the psychological ramifications of constant surveillance under Communism. It’s difficult not to feel the uncomfortable reverberations of this in our present moment, in which not only our physical movements but also our voices and even our keystrokes are under continual observation by a host of entities, both human and machine.
Much of the rest of the exhibition showcases the artist’s energetic experimentation, mordant humor, and fascination with the ways that language gives rise to the political. Many works incorporate text or rely on it entirely. Mimicking the format of a grammar-school primer, Lingual Exercises, 1972, presents simple words, such as “man,” “bag,” and “egg,” with their letters rearranged to form nonsensical combinations, as if presenting a methodology for un-learning. Twenty-one signs reading “STREFA WYOBRAŹNI” (Imagination Zone, 1970/2015), originally placed in public spaces in Osieki and Koszalin, make a playfully ironic claim for the imaginary as a space of political resistance. Though the works here are a half-century old, Kozłowski’s inventiveness and incisive wit still feel relevant today, asserting once again the radical potentials that lie in conceptual practice.
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.
Joana Cera Bernad’s first exhibition at this gallery features an hourglass on a small shelf at one end of the gallery—Un segundo de tierra (One Sand Second), 2009—a minuscule device that registers the passing of only one second, derisively whittling time down to its elementary unit. With its anomalous pace, the piece seems rara avis, given the rest of the intensely meditative works on view, but it poses a question that immediately links it to them: How much sand fits in one second?
In a number of works installed on both the floor and the walls, Cera Bernad mixes stones she found with ones that she has modified. Hailing from a family of craftsmen, the artist has a profound knowledge of the specific qualities of a variety of stones and gems, and here she marshals such materials into uneven, raw forms. Polished shapes stick oddly to lichened surfaces, as in Untitled (Albarracín series), 2010, and a blend of temporalities arises, like small human gestures juxtaposed with geology’s bedrock of time. These arrangements eschew harmonious compositions but, in their own puzzling way, are the best works in the show. Coming back around to this question of sand, one must also consider how much time matter is capable of gathering.
La incorrupta (The Uncorrupted), 2016, a video by Brazil-born, Copenhagen-based artist Tamar Guimarães, revolves around a female curator’s project that explores corruption. The curator’s proposed exhibition hinges on the display of a relic, the hand of Saint Teresa of Avila. The thirty-six-minute work follows actors and amateurs, many of whom work at the Reina Sofia, as they discuss her show’s premise privately and in public. As expected power plays of institutional politics spiral out, the artist’s narrative weaves together physical and social bodies, religion and superstition, collusion and exploitation, dictatorship and decolonization.
Absence is critical here despite the earnest richness, if not outright sensuality, of what is heard and seen. The relic is never shown and the museum’s commitment to securing its loan remains dubious. This absence pressures the museum’s exhibitionary role, its practice of representation. The institution’s other key function, conservation, aims to maintain objects’ integrity, to safeguard them from physical corruption. And in the video, conservation is also put in the service of institutional preservation—as a reason why the relic couldn’t be shown. Relics, of course, are complex objects that draw much of their authority from metonymy, as delegates for wholes. Here, the missing relic merges the dictatorial legacy of Franco, who always kept the hand by his side, with Western institutions’ constitutive practice of secularizing objects that hold significance in other cultures, of reducing them to aesthetic objects. As the curator reminds us, co- accompanies ruption in corruption: It requires complicity. In the end, Guimarães’s video celebrates the hold objects have over us while updating institutional critique and its relevance.