PRINT December 2008

Sabine Breitwieser


1 “. . . for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth. Alice Creischer: Works and Collaborations” (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) Several recent exhibitions allow for confidence that an artistic offensive is under way that addresses today’s politically virulent global issues. In Creischer’s midcareer survey—whose subtitle reminds us of her preferred mode of production—objects and collages were brought together in what could be termed “scenic” multimedia installations, deploying a visual and textual language whose philosophical discursiveness functions as a critical apparatus. The centerpiece of curator Bartomeu Marí’s show was Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth During the Contemplation of Poverty, 2005–2007, a work (based on the artist’s experiences while traveling in India) in which a number of fragile sculptures confront audiences with detailed research on the history and the persisting infrastructures of colonialism—a subject that appears even more urgent in light of the global impact of the financial crisis.

2 Dorit Margreiter, European Kunsthalle c/o Ebertplatz, Cologne While new, extravagant, and often unwieldy kunsthalle and museum buildings designed by star architects have—like new-fangled financial instruments—been springing up everywhere for the past decade, many other institutions are struggling for their very existence. Against this backdrop, Margreiter reconceived public space as exhibition venue: Installing a pavilion, a projection surface, freestanding walls, and seating in a city square, she created a barrier-free venue that can be appreciated equally by passersby and exhibition visitors. As an artist who has long dedicated herself to interrogating public arenas and the legacy of modernism, she once more explores the ambivalent status of architecture, design, and the exhibited object, and the extent to which they can serve as catalysts for truly social space.

3 John Knight, Cold Cuts This publication, which accompanied an exhibition of Knight’s work at the Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castelló, Spain, is an artist’s book that is both provocative and beautifully designed. Its juxtaposition of recipes and photographs of culinary specialties from around the world with statements about the United States government and its foreign policy is puzzling at first. Inevitably, however, one recalls the connections drawn between cuisine and power in Martha Rosler’s “Food Novels” and television-chef performances of the mid-1970s, and subsequently the propagandistic character of Knight’s book leads one to think again about aesthetics and politics. My own appetite for Austrian liver dumplings—one of the recipes published here, alongside quotations about US collaboration with former Nazis—has been ruined after almost one in three Austrians voted this fall for parties whose candidates either made or tolerated clearly anti-Semitic and racist statements.

4 Runa Islam, Empty the Pond to Get the Fish In several recent projects Islam has implemented the cinematograph as an instrument that “writes movement,” using the camera like a pencil to trace out the forms of letters and words. Her film installation Empty the Pond to Get the Fish, 2008, commissioned and produced by the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (where it was on view this summer in a show of Islam’s work organized by Matthias Michalka), renders its own title while scanning the former Museum of the 20th Century, a steel-frame building that originally served as the Austrian Pavilion for Expo ’58 in Brussels. In Islam’s work, the architecture itself seems to disintegrate into filmic material, showing once more that artists are needed to generate different perspectives.

5 Sergej Jensen and Henrik Olesen (Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich) In this exhibition, organized by Bernhart Schwenk, the aesthetic practiced by these two artists subjected more than just the clean and perfect vocabulary of Minimal and Conceptual art to a critical revision. Jensen, in paintings and textile works, and Olesen, in sculptures and installations, deployed explicitly nonindustrial materials and production processes as well as fictitious traces of former installations to offer a subcultural counterposition in the Pinakothek der Moderne’s pretentious building. Arriving in the show after ascending an imposing staircase, viewers were confronted with a strange sense of the body that is inherent to both artists’ work, and that here opposed itself to the architecture’s strong tendency toward the representation of authority.

6 Andrea Fraser, Projection (Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin) I am constantly impressed by the radical yet precise conception of Fraser’s work, particularly when it comes to her courageous self-exposure. What should we have anticipated this year from someone who has previously explored art’s role in society, the notion of artistic autonomy, and the relationship between client and contractor—and engaged with these issues in an extremely personal way? Presenting reenacted footage of her own therapy sessions in a large two-channel video installation, Fraser here offered another view into the complexity of the experiences and expectations surrounding the figure of the artist—whether hers or those projected by others.

7 “Progressive Cologne 1920–33: Seiwert–Hoerle–Arntz” (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) This exhibition demonstrated the importance of addressing regional artistic movements, not least because the “Cologne Progressives” have for many decades provided an important model for artists seeking a formal language for socially engaged art. Indeed, while taking Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Heinrich Hoerle, and Gerd Arntz as its focus, this show (organized by Lynette Roth) could easily have gone further in connecting its subject to the present-day context. Just consider Allan Sekula’s School Is a Factory, 1978–80, or Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann’s Atlas, 2003–, which updates Otto Neurath and Arntz’s work of visual statistics titled Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft (Society and Economics), 1930.

8 Florian Pumhösl (Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, and Lisson Gallery, London) Displaying a series of framed “reliefs,” wall vitrines containing books by artist Onchi Koshiro (1891–1955), and a new film titled OA 1979-3-5-036; after Take Hiratsugi, Gozen Hiinagata (Dress Patterns for Noble Ladies), ca. 1690, 2007, based on the pattern book mentioned in its title, Pumhösl demonstrated that selective and altered observation can lead to abstraction. While the visual rhythm of abstract films of the 1930s and ’50s is established by the accompanying music, Pumhösl’s silent film is structured by many different perspectives on his source material. He thus sustains the analysis of Japanese modernism he began at last year’s Documenta, where the artist captivated visitors with Modernology (Triangular Atelier), a transformation of a 1926 design by Murayama Tomoyoshi.

9 Babette Mangolte, Presence (5th Berlin Biennial) With this installation, Mangolte almost seamlessly transposed the engagement with space and the body she began in New York during the ’70s as a documentarian of avant-garde dance, performance, and theater. Two films, Presence, 2008, and (Now) or Maintenant Entre Parentheses, 1976, were projected onto conjoining blue walls in such a way that it was hard to view the moving images simultaneously. The artist thus challenged audiences constantly to decide between the two projections. The attractiveness of both didn’t make it easy.

10 “Scenarios” (Manifesta 7, Fortezza/Franzensfeste, Italy) This year’s Manifesta featured a barely manageable array of exhibitions spread over four locations, with many works commissioned for historically noteworthy buildings. Among the latter, the fortress housing “Scenarios” offered a much-longed-for place of refuge. The surprise that several curators (Adam Budak, Anselm Franke, Hila Peleg, and Raqs Media Collective) collaborated here was matched by the unexpected nature of the art exhibited, which consisted mostly of sound works. It can also be convincingly argued that a biennial at last actually did something for local people, as the fortress was open to the public for the first time.

Translated from German by Elizabeth Tucker.

Sabine Breitwieser is an independent curator based in Vienna and secretary of the International Committee of Icom for museums and collections of modern art. She is currently working on an exhibition on modernity and modernism in contemporary art, which will open in fall 2009.