PRINT December 2016

Eva Birkenstock

Isa Genzken, Nofretete, 2014, seven Nefertiti busts with sunglasses, seven wooden plinths on casters, four steel panels. Installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2015–16. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

1 ISA GENZKEN (STEDELIJK MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM; CURATED BY BEATRIX RUF AND MARTIJN VAN NIEUWENHUYZEN) The first show I saw in 2016 was Genzken’s arresting survey. This comprehensive presentation of her radical, inventive oeuvre of the past four decades was expressed through an intriguing curatorial concept: Rather than following a strict chronological order, the presentation expanded into an open course of carefully arranged constellations dispersed throughout the Stedelijk’s generous space. This allowed for captivating juxtapositions—of recent and early works, of well-known and rarely seen objects—that actualized not only interconnections and idiosyncrasies highlighted by the exhibition but the inner logic of this anarchistic, constantly evolving body of work itself.

Co-organized with Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.

2 ULRIKE MÜLLER AND “ALWAYS, ALWAYS, OTHERS: NON-CLASSICAL FORAYS INTO MODERNISM” (MUSEUM MODERNER KUNST STIFTUNG LUDWIG WIEN, VIENNA; CURATED BY MANUELA AMMER AND ULRIKE MÜLLER) Müller expanded her incisive inquiries into modernist abstraction and its emancipatory promises from drawings, enamel paintings, and textiles into experiments with brushstrokes on both canvas and paper. The artist’s own investigations were further extended by the companion exhibition she cocurated of the museum’s collection, which presented an array of rarely seen objects exhumed from storage. With works hung in thematic constellations on colored walls and separated by meandering passages and open vistas, the show’s organization ignored any linear narrative but redoubled the playful entanglements of abstraction and figuration unfolding within the artist’s own oeuvre.

3 MARIA EICHHORN (CHISENHALE GALLERY, LONDON) Surely one of the most radical and concise exhibitions I saw this year, Eichhorn’s UK debut simultaneously confronted the problematic labor conditions and the precarious status of publicly funded institutions that mark today’s 24/7 society. Following a conference on the subject of labor on the opening day, she simply shut down the gallery for the remaining five weeks of the show’s run. No lights, no e-mails, no phone calls, no networking—just 175 hours of paid leisure time for the gallery’s employees and a curt label at the entrance gate.

4 FRANCIS PICABIA (KUNSTHAUS ZÜRICH; CURATED BY CATHÉRINE HUG AND ANNE UMLAND) “Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction”: Picabia’s famous aphorism aptly provided the title for this landmark retrospective. Convincingly juxtaposing an excellent choice of paintings (comprising representative examples from all the constantly changing styles and isms that the artist frantically adopted and subverted throughout his career) with a stunning array of works on paper, avant-garde zines, and artifacts relating to his film, theater, and poetry, the show did justice to the obsessive oeuvre of this too-long-underestimated artistic chameleon. His role as an inspiration for future generations could not be more evident.

Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it is on view through March 19, 2017.

5 “WE CALL IT LUDWIG: THE MUSEUM IS TURNING 40!” (MUSEUM LUDWIG, COLOGNE; CURATED BY STEPHAN DIEDERICH, YILMAZ DZIEWIOR, BARBARA ENGELBACH, JULIA FRIEDRICH, AND MIRIAM HALWANI) What better way to celebrate a museum’s birthday than by inviting artists to use it as an occasion for reflection? On the fortieth anniversary of their institution, Dziewior and his team opened up their archives, storage, and administrative machinery for research-based commissions from twenty-five artists and collectives of various generations and origins, with striking results. Not only do the usual suspects (pioneers of institutional critique like Andrea Fraser, Hans Haacke, Christian Philipp Müller) and other twentieth-century luminaries (Rosemarie Trockel, Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg) present powerful new works, but visitors are treated to surprises from younger figures as well. One highlight is the performative perspective provided by artists such as Ei Arakawa and the collaborative duo Manuel Pelmus¸ and Alexandra Pirici. Jointly they unfold a multifaceted portrait of a museum in flux, critically engaged with the politics of collecting, preserving, and presenting.

On view through January 8, 2017.

View of “Katrin Mayer and Eske Schlüters: Time to Sync or Swim,” 2016, Kunsthalle Lingen, Germany. Photo: Heiko Karn.

6 KATRIN MAYER AND ESKE SCHLÜTERS (KUNSTHALLE LINGEN, GERMANY) With “Time to Sync or Swim,” artists Katrin Mayer and Eske Schlüters offered a seductive scenario for reflecting, materializing, and experiencing current conceptions of gender and identity. Taking Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando—which describes evolutions of a multilayered self in time and space—as its starting point, the exhibition was structured by the combined layering of optical, acoustic, and haptic sensations. Underneath a ceiling-like grid, fetish objects were presented alongside a soundscape that referenced Tumblr otherkin communities, excerpts from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, and Orlando. Visitors were invited to “sync or swim” through this fictive, nonlinear holodeck—an infinitely malleable virtual environment where subjectivity appeared as a porous and permeable interface.

7 NEW NOVETA IN COLLABORATION WITH VINDICATRIX, NJË MORI (GOOD FOREVER, DÜSSELDORF, SEPTEMBER 2–4) Utterly absorbed in an obsessive and anxious struggle, New Noveta’s two members (Keira Fox and Ellen Freed) stormed the gallery space with plastic bags tied around their waists, wielding bamboo sticks and scissors to cut open their prosthetic attachments filled with abject substances (i.e., raw fish) while hysterically yelling incomprehensive commands. The performance was an urgent expression of vulnerable corporeal matter being suffocated by—if also simultaneously struggling against—the oppressive speed of capitalism and the society of control.

8 ANNE IMHOF, ANGST II (HAMBURGER BAHNHOF—MUSEUM FÜR GEGENWART, BERLIN, SEPTEMBER 14–25; CURATED BY ANNA-CATHARINA GEBBERS AND UDO KITTELMANN) Rarely has a solo show so impressively taken over the main hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof. After having seen Angst at Kunsthalle Basel this summer, I eagerly attended Angst II, the second part of Imhof’s operatic exhibition cycle (the third recently took place in Montreal). The whole space was turned into a giant stage, given over to an immersive choreography that offered no privileged audience viewpoint, only frenetic and simultaneous action. Visitors had to continuously reposition themselves in order to accommodate the shifting layers of steam and sound, the hovering drones, and the fluid movements of this community of alienated and androgynous lovesick bodies.

9 “PUTTING REHEARSALS TO THE TEST” (SBC GALERIE D’ART CONTEMPORAIN; VOX, CENTRE DE L’IMAGE CONTEMPORAINE; LEONARD & BINA ELLEN ART GALLERY, MONTREAL; CURATED BY SABETH BUCHMANN, ILSE LAFER, AND CONSTANZE RUHM) This ongoing research project explores the notion of rehearsal within contemporary art, performance, and film. Following a series of panel discussions and the publication of a comprehensive reader on the topic, the outstanding exhibition unfolded across three venues, in which various artists revealed rehearsal to be everything from a site of production to a medium in itself: a modus operandi for the painterly process (Jutta Koether, Silke Otto-Knapp, Heike-Karin Foell), a transitory practice of linking historical documents to experimental arrangements (Discoteca Flaming Star), or a simple testing ground for new ideas (Loretta Fahrenholz, Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf, Mathias Poledna, Heimo Zobernig)—to name only a few examples. And all this was presented in a setting that itself translated theoretical notions of rehearsal into fragile and potentially changeable spatial configurations.

On view at SBC Galerie d’Art Contemporain, Montreal, through December 10.

10 KEREN CYTTER, A–Z LIFE COACHING (STERNBERG PRESS) Cytter’s novel, published on the occasion of her solo exhibition at the Künstlerhaus Graz, Austria, recently showed up in my mailbox. It is certainly a handy “incomplete guide for life,” if not quite for gaining social recognition and financial success (the tongue-in-cheek blurb admits as much). Indeed, this page-turner is a poetic and humorous abstraction of the artist’s restless investigations into the complicated nature of human relationships, unrequited desires, and other poignantly unpredictable social interactions.

Eva Birkenstock is Director of the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and curator of the performance project of Liste Art Fair Basel. Her most recent exhibitions are “Studio For Propositional Cinema: In Advance of a Shipwreck” (currently on view in Düsseldorf, curated with Hans-Jürgen Hafner) and “Sol Calero: La Sauna Caliente” (currently on view at Kunsthaus Bregenz).