PRINT December 2014

Nicolaus Schafhausen

GCC, Achievements in Figures, Figure A: Amalgamated City (detail), 2013, digital video, wallpaper, 13' 1 1/2“ × 98' 5 1/8”. From “Speculations on Anonymous Materials.”

1 “SPECULATIONS ON ANONYMOUS MATERIALS” (FRIDERICIANUM, KASSEL; CURATED BY SUSANNE PFEFFER) Announcing a high threshold for risk by giving pride of place to the collective GCC’s kitsch sci-fi mural, which loomed over the museum’s atrium, Pfeffer inaugurated her tenure as the Fridericianum’s director with one of the most thought-provoking exhibitions I’ve seen in some time. Precisely installed, the show allowed viewers to examine each piece discretely and also to trace a kind of spatial narrative—Pamela Rosenkranz’s water bottles, for example, were followed by Yngve Holen’s sculptures based on 3-D scans of raw meat, in a graceful segue from commodity form to what might be called commodity formlessness. Pfeffer’s decision to investigate postmillennial metaphysics (new materialism, etc.) through the lens of a contemporary art exhibition was a brave and exciting beginning for what promises to be a successful redefinition of the institution.

2 AD REINHARDT (DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ROBERT STORR) With comics, drawings, and collages in one room, black paintings in another, and a slide projection of 360 photographs in a third, Storr’s distinctive miniretrospective shed light on the links between Reinhardt’s pop-cultural interests and his pursuit of abstraction’s logical conclusion, while bearing witness to the artist’s satiric, critical, and brilliant mind.

3 WALTER SWENNEN (WIELS CONTEMPORARY ART CENTRE, BRUSSELS; CURATED BY DIRK SNAUWAERT WITH CAROLINE DUMALIN) Swennen’s seemingly fragile compositions and witty references to everyday life are unfailingly fun to look at but have plenty of substance—they are like absurd allegories, painterly distillations of abstract sociopolitical concepts. The Belgian painter’s singular oeuvre has long inspired other artists. It was about time a renowned institution gave him a retrospective.

Co-organized with Culturgest, Lisbon.

4 MICHAEL STANIAK (STEVE TURNER CONTEMPORARY, LOS ANGELES) This exhibition of Staniak’s paintings—which at first glance have the disembodied flatness of jpegs but whose surfaces are actually relief-like expanses of built-up plaster—subtly explored aesthetics, authorship, and image production and circulation in the age of the social network, deftly locating artistic possibilities in the friction between the physical and the digital.

5 CAMILLE HENROT (SCHINKEL PAVILLON, BERLIN; CURATED BY CLARA MEISTER) Visitors to Henrot’s characteristically poetic, unsettling, and beautiful show could meander from the artist’s classical presentation of ikebana flower arrangement to a subterranean gallery where her video The Strife of Love in a Dream, 2011, was on view. If not quite as elemental as her cosmological Grosse Fatigue, 2013, The Strife of Love does explore something primal—humans’ fear and awe of snakes, as globally manifested in religious ceremonies, in the manufacture of venom antidote, etc. With her fragmentary technique, Henrot apprehends the zeitgeist and its history.

View of “Sung Hwan Kim: Life of Always a Mirror,” 2014, Art Sonje Center, Seoul. Photo: Seoul Photo Studio.

6 MARSDEN HARTLEY (NEUE NATIONALGALERIE, BERLIN; CURATED BY DIETER SCHOLZ) In his “German Paintings,” Hartley read a nation through its symbols. An American expatriate in Berlin, he was politically and emotionally invested in Germany’s fortunes, and his paintings capture the tensions of 1913–15 in a seemingly playful but grave way. While the exhibition was one of many keyed to the centennial of World War I, the Neue Nationalgalerie stood out with this deeply researched effort to rehabilitate a painter who had almost been forgotten in his adopted country.

Co-organized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

7 “TRAVELLING COMMUNIQUÉ” (MUSEUM OF YUGOSLAV HISTORY, BELGRADE; CURATED BY TRAVELLING COMMUNIQUÉ) “Travelling Communiqué,” organized by the eponymous collective, was an interdisciplinary research project that delved into the photographic archive of one of the more confounding figures ever to have held the dubious title of president for life, Josip Broz Tito of the short-lived Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When the public gained access to the archives in 2002, a number of international contributors began to comb through the material. Presenting a range of media and artistic strategies, the show, which focused on a series of photographs documenting the First Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in September 1961, demonstrated the potential of interdisciplinary, globalized thinking about history and politics.

8 SIMON DENNY (PORTIKUS, FRANKFURT; CURATED BY SOPHIE VON OLFERS) Within the frame of an installation design that recalled cubicles and conference rooms—a neoliberal dream office filled with a profuse but controlled array of objects, from documents to air-conditioner sculptures—Denny meditated on legendary Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee’s economic manifesto of 1993: “Change everything. . . .” The artist’s modus operandi, which involves wide-ranging, in-depth research imaginatively adduced in a variety of mediums, was the most interesting and promising approach to contemporary art I encountered all year.

9 “PICTURES, BEFORE AND AFTER: AN EXHIBITION FOR DOUGLAS CRIMP” (GALERIE BUCHHOLZ, BERLIN; CURATED BY DIEDRICH DIEDERICHSEN, JULIANE REBENTISCH, AND MARC SIEGEL) Displaying documentary material alongside artworks, “Pictures, Before and After” delivered a comprehensive and sincere survey of Crimp’s practice and resonated productively with an event series organized by Diederichsen, Rebentisch, and Siegel to investigate the influential art historian and curator’s texts, projects, and activism. Intriguingly, the coordinated show and series suggested future formats for presenting visual art and for examining the roles that galleries, critics, lenders, and other contributors play in its production.

10 SUNG HWAN KIM (ART SONJE CENTER, SEOUL; CURATED BY SAMUSO) Just as Kim’s videos defy the viewer’s preconceived notions about how stories will develop, his shows undermine expectations about how exhibitions should unfold, leaving visitors to determine their own paths and narratives. Replete with ramps, carefully installed videos, and mirrored and glass walls that dizzyingly refracted the venue’s architecture, his moodily lit presentation at Art Sonje was like a beguiling maze or an eerie, artful playground.

Nicolaus Schafhausen is Director of The Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, and Strategic Director of Fogo Island Arts, an initiative of Canada’s Shorefast Foundation. He curated the German Pavilion for the 52nd and 53rd Venice Biennales; upcoming projects in Vienna include an exhibition of the work of Tony Conrad and a thematic group show, “Political Populism.”