PRINT December 2012

Willem de Rooij

Sven Augustijnen, Spectres, 2011, HD video, color, sound, 103 minutes.

1 Sven Augustijnen, Spectres (Kunsthalle Bern) Spectres is a 103-minute documentary examining the decolonization of the Belgian Congo and the assassination of its first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. Augustijnen ruthlessly deconstructs the role of the Belgian government in both events, as well as its subsequent attempts to erase past embarrassments. Seemingly casual camerawork and editing make for an impactful aesthetic experience: Much of this powerful work’s significance lies in its formal execution. But Augustijnen’s stance on colonial history is just as remarkable: Devoid of sentiment or politically correct conventions, it is light and at times humorous, but never cynical.

2 Angela Bulloch (Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam) For “Short Big Drama,” Nicolaus Schafhausen’s last exhibition as director of Witte de With (curated in collaboration with Amira Gad), Angela Bulloch presented older and newer works in an installation divided across two floors: a dimly lit parcours featuring her trademark “Pixel Boxes” on one, and striking, brightly lit large-scale text compositions (called “Rules-Series”) printed directly onto the walls on the other. The exhibition epitomized Bulloch’s impressive and multifaceted oeuvre, as well as Schafhausen’s inimitable directorship: intelligence, humor, and sharp political awareness paired with an emotional, sensuous, and sensitive intuition.

3 Judith Hopf (Documenta 13, Breitenau Memorial, Guxhagen, Germany) Documenta 13 displayed an at times puzzling curatorial concern with injustice, destruction, and loss in the broadest sense of the word. Only a few artists managed to make pointed statements within this alarming compilation of seemingly unrelated traumata. Judith Hopf’s Bamboo Forest, 2012, was located in the Breitenau Memorial, a mental institution in a former prison for girls in a former concentration camp. Hopf skillfully bypassed the impossibly high moral expectations raised in this context by installing stacks of water glasses decorated with melancholy green paper leaves. These elegant, efficient—and above all autonomous—sculptures looked like spines or bamboo stems, evoking resilience as well as fragility.

4 Louise Lawler/Eric Bell and Kristoffer Frick (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) After eight years of renovation, the Stedelijk reopened last September with a bang. Ann Goldstein’s masterful installation of the world-renowned collection was precise and rich with historical cross-references. By commissioning Louise Lawler’s monumental photographic work Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989, Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993, 1995, she connected the museum’s turbulent history to its present, and Lawler’s work to anchor points in the collection. In the temporary exhibition “Beyond Imagination,” a bustling overview of contemporary art made in the Netherlands curated by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen and Kathrin Jentjens, Hunting in Heaven by Eric Bell and Kristoffer Frick stood out. This hallucinatory film departs from F. T. Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook (1932), investigating the concept of the future by interpreting the past.

5 JCJ Vanderheyden (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam) JCJ Vanderheyden inspired generations of Dutch artists. Beginning in the mid-1960s, he produced a concise and multifaceted oeuvre dedicated to the mechanisms of seeing, showing, and viewing. “In-sight” was a complex installation in two parts: One room showcased a selection of interrelating works from all stages of his five-decade career; a second became an enlarged version of the architectural model made in preparation for this show. This installation was the last project in the long relationship between the artist and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; one month after the show closed, Vanderheyden passed away.

6 Mathias Poledna/Florian Pumhösl (Raven Row, London) Austrian artists Poledna and Pumhösl produced new works for their joint exhibition. Poledna’s 35-mm short film A Village by the Sea, 2011, was installed in one of Raven Row’s newer galleries. An enchanting minimusical of sorts, this impeccably styled adaptation of a popular chanson from the early 1940s was as light as it was dark: a melancholy reflection as well as a biting commentary on the lures and traps of contemporary nostalgia. Pumhösl’s extensive series of elegant paintings on glass was breathtaking. Designed to fit Raven Row’s eighteenth-century paneling, these delicate, abstract, codified elaborations on modernist logic were elusive and resistant to interpretation.

Thomas Eggerer, ABM I, 2012, acrylic and oil on canvas, 42 x 58".

7 Thomas Eggerer (Maureen Paley, London) Eggerer’s paintings negotiate a complicated zone between figuration and abstraction. Groups of figures appear dwarfed by—or trapped inside—architectural, formal, or political superstructures. Washes of arresting color stress undertones of social pressure and psychological disorientation. The complexity of male identity is an ongoing concern. In “The Sound and the Scent,” Eggerer’s first solo exhibition in London, a set of three works depicting Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli stood out. The famous pianist was allowed but a modest slice of surface, forced between an overpowering expanse of multilayered green and a grand piano, which seemed to eat him like a Pac-Man.

8 Matthias Schaufler (Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender, Berlin) Since Cinzia Friedlaender opened her gallery in 2008, her program has been precise and personal. In “Imkerin” (Beekeeper), Matthias Schaufler presented six paintings of various sizes. His interests in fashion, the human body, and the latter’s pictorial dissolution were negotiated in a state of sophisticated crisis. Smudged, blurred, wiped, and scratched, the intensely labored canvases alluded to the human condition as well as to their own formal condition. The subtle hues of pastels never reached the edges of the frame, holding the unstable center together.

9 Friedl vom Gröller (Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig) Since Rike Frank became curator of the exhibition space at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig in 2010, she has produced several intelligent and carefully crafted exhibitions. Austrian artist Friedl vom Gröller has been making mild and humorous filmic and photographic portrayals of artists and friends such as Morgan Fisher and Franz West for more than forty years. She also founded a school for independent film in Vienna, and for her first major German survey to be staged in an art school seemed beautifully appropriate. The efficient and elegant display system designed by Julian Göthe and Etienne Descloux aided concentration on the multiple simultaneous projections.

10 Willem Oorebeek (Robert Miller Gallery, New York) Brussels-based artist Oorebeek has been analyzing the workings of representation for more than twenty-five years: appropriating, adapting, recontextualizing, or dissecting images that originate in printed mass media. His “BLACKOUTS” are found images overprinted with black ink, which leaves but a ghostlike residue of their glamorous past. In “american proof AP” I was struck by a large-scale, mechanically woven rendering of a faded, pixelated hedcut of Alan Greenspan from the Wall Street Journal. The fact that this bold object, The Last Emperor of the Wall Street Journal, 2006, was made with the Jacquard weaving technique, which presaged computer technology, granted it another level of complexity without its becoming didactic.

Willem de Rooij, an artist living and working in Berlin, will have a solo show at Bergen Kunsthall, Norway, in 2013.