“Non-Solo Show, Non-Group Show”

Kunsthalle Zurich

This really was a group show, but of a very specific kind. Artist Ei Arakawa was invited to invite, in turn, the participating artists. What counted, then, were not so much the works themselves, however beautifully executed, but rather the relationships among them and the way they drew attention to correspondences of all kinds: between artists and styles; between different media, attitudes, and theoretical principles; and so on. To the question, What is art (or, What is an artist?), the exhibit offered a catalogue of relationships as answers; in every case, though, to be, in this world, meant being in-between.

First example: Who is Kerstin Brätsch? A painter, obviously. But she is also one half, the other half being Adele Röder, of the “import/export company” DAS INSTITUT, and there was just as much work by this partnership (posters, stacks of stickers, and a prominent floor installation of silk screens, booklets, boxes, and marzipan fruits) as by Brätsch herself. There were also individual works made by Röder and Brätsch for DAS INSTITUT. It would be wrong, however, to think of Röder and DAS INSTITUT as secondary to Brätsch’s core painting practice, since her paintings derive from motifs generated by DAS INSTITUT and not the other way around. In fact, all the works on display by Brätsch and DAS INSTITUT shared the same title (or at least part of a title), like a brand: SWISS SPA ÇA-VA. And Brätsch’s paintings on paper were mounted on the colored Plexiglas characteristically used by DAS INSTITUT. Her identity is thus fluid—or rather, identity is merely one strategy for staging multiple (corporate, collective, Romantic) Brätschs.

If DAS INSTITUT and Brätsch considered the construction of artistic identity, Carissa Rodriguez instead foregrounded the relationship of the creative act to the specifics of place in her stainless-steel sculptures, such as railings with hanging hardware and lace; acrylic canvases with decorative patterns and a red spot, whose size varied; and ink-jet prints on PVC vinyl, again with elaborate decorative patterns. The artist found her motifs in St. Gallen, Switzerland, famous for its lace and patterns. The location of the exhibition itself suggested the direction of the works.

In contrast to works by the other participants, Klara Liden’s pieces, with the exception of Untitled (Fenster) (Window), 2009, which shared a room with one of Nora Schultz’s printing machines (Yet-Untitled-Press, 2009), were displayed in their own rooms at opposite ends of the kunsthalle. To some extent, this was a technical issue, since Liden’s installations required darkness. But it was also indicative of the intelligence of the exhibition as a whole. Liden’s work was positioned to illustrate a sort of solo principle; the show was bracketed at either end by the idea, or performance, of individuality. Arakawa’s work, on the other hand, embodied the group. The exhibition’s title and format came from a previous Arakawa exhibition at Franco Soffiantino Gallery in Turin, to which he had invited Henning Bohl and Schultz; all his works in Zurich were collaborations with Nikolas Gambaroff, Nick Mauss, and, frequently, Schultz. It would be tempting to see Arakawa as the salient rule and Liden as the singular exception. But this would be too simple. Collectivity and individuality are mutually entangled and supporting. One does not trump the other; it is the shuttling between them that counts. As if to stress the point, in the week before the opening, Arakawa, Gambaroff, Mauss, and Schultz together made the most stereotypical celebration of the artistic individual, which was then installed in the third room: a monograph, on Klara Liden, called Klara, 2009.

David Lewis