Alex Wissel, Rheingold, 2016–, episode 5, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes and 20 seconds.
Alex Wissel is a Düsseldorf-based artist whose deadpan video installations, drawings, and performances address biography and history in an attempt to deconstruct master metanarratives through reenactment. For the past year, he has been cowriting, with director Jan Bonny, and acting in Rheingold, 2016–, a series currently under development for television, which follows the downfall of Helge Achenbach, one of Germany’s most notorious and criminal art consultants. Additionally, he has been developing a body of drawings in conjunction with the series. Here, he discusses the television series, which will be screened at the Kölnischer Kunstverein during Art Cologne in April 2017.
RHEINGOLD IS A SERIES that director Jan Bonny and I have been writing together about a former German art consultant named Helge Achenbach who is now in jail for fraud. He systematically betrayed his clients (for example, the Albrechts, one of the richest families in Germany, who own the supermarket chain Aldi) over several years with a very simple trick: He forged invoices by photocopying them with little euro signs over the dollar signs, and because of the exchange rate he made nearly $20 million over a few years. After he was arrested, he testified in court that they weren’t invoices at all––they were collages.
Using this as a starting point, we want to explore how the achievements of left-wing politics in Germany have been abolished to create the basis for neoliberalism—particularly how the baby boomer generation has misinterpreted ideas around 1968, like Beuys’s concept of social sculpture and his notorious declaration that “everybody is an artist”—and we’re looking closely at the creation of an ideology centered in self-expression, ideas of freedom, and the free market, and in which art is the highest value or in which self-expression is a value in itself. Rheingold should read as a comedy or satire about the past fifteen years, particularly the Social Democratic Party and its shift from a working-class movement to one that has increasingly lost its agenda and its voters to the right wing. There’s an example of this in almost every Western country. Rheingold is a little like a prequel to the success of populism now.
Achenbach in many ways embodies this generation. He started out as a social worker, taking care of people in prisons, and then somehow became art-infected after coming across Beuys, who was a bit of a father figure for him. Achenbach opened a gallery and began inventing ideas around art consulting in Europe, proffering art as an inspirational method in the workplace that can encourage employees to be more creative and effective. He became extremely successful, building up several private and corporate collections, and selling his ideas to corporations, such as Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, and the German national soccer team, for which he created a training camp called Campo Bahia for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where even the rooms for the players were decorated by artists such as Andreas Gursky. His own little Bayreuth. And after Germany won the World Cup, he went straight to jail.
I met him recently on my way to the bakery. He has now reached the status of a Freigaenger, which means that he is allowed to do social work during the daytime and only has to return to jail at night. He came up to me and said, “You’re one of the guys making a movie about me. I watched trailers on the Internet and I like that episode with me at the copy machine!” Jan and I met him one more time. He also started painting in prison now, and we’re thinking to involve him as an artist in the series. Maybe we can use some paintings as interiors for some scenes.
Jan and I both want to develop Rheingold as a proper TV series so that it will be broadcast to a wider audience. The aim is more or less to portray some ideas around a specific art discourse that are not usually addressed in German television. A lot of artists and well-known actors have already worked on it, such as Studio for Propositional Cinema, Bibiana Beglau, and Joachim Król and Mathias Brandt, who both play Achenbach in different scenes.
In German, the word Geschichte means “history” as well as “story.” I’m interested in how history can be written and rewritten, and how an alternative history can come about through using the technique of collage. For instance, if you put two pictures together, a third picture comes across; that’s how meaning is created. For me, the most interesting thing in this process is how one can produce an alternative art history. I see it a bit like activism. It’s maybe a bit old-fashioned to say, but every artist creates him- or herself by declaring themselves to be one, like Achenbach did in court. The tagline I wrote for a former project reads, “Everyone invents a story for themselves that they later call life.” In politics and in history, it’s the same.
Kamrooz Aram, A Monument for Living in Defeat, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.
Kamrooz Aram is a Brooklyn-based artist whose works often challenge a modernist disdain for decoration, ornamentation, and patterning. His current solo exhibition, which is on view at the Green Art Gallery in Dubai through January 8, 2017, features new sculptural installations wherein paintings are explored as mere decoration. Positioned as backdrops to tableaux that might recall museum displays of ancient art, the vibrant, buzzing canvases in these works appear both passive and active. Aram will also have a solo exhibition at the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle, Belgium, from February 5 through April 4, 2017. Here, he discusses his presentational strategies for both shows.
I TEND TO EMBRACE some of the more taboo subjects in art. For instance, making something that’s emotional, or that has a spiritual presence—these are things that are difficult to talk about because they’re dismissed, by academia mostly, as things that lead to subjectivity and sentimentalism. But not all emotions lead to sentimentality, and not all definitions of spirituality have to do with subjectivity.
The collages that I’m showing at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens are simply pages from midcentury books that document ancient Persian art. The pages are adhered to linen with minimal pencil lines and monochromatic painting; essentially I’m recontextualizing found images. I’ve realized that so much of my process is formal. When I’m composing a painting or when I’m choosing an image for a collage, it really is an intuitive and formal process.
These collages will be shown alongside sculptural works that present ambiguous objects in museum-like displays. Some of the objects appear to be genuine antiquities, while others may have been made by myself in the studio, and yet others may have been acquired at a museum gift shop. I’m interested in highlighting the importance of exhibition design in shaping one’s understanding of objects in an encyclopedic museum. There is always an interdependence between the object, the pedestal, and the painting. The pedestals in these works use materials such as brass, hardwood planks, and terrazzo—looking at the work of architects such as Carlo Scarpa inspired these choices.
In the Correr Museum in Venice, which Scarpa renovated from 1952 to 1953, there is a room in which paintings are set into large slabs of travertine. If you look closely, you can see evidence of the pencil lines indicating where the travertine should be cut, and the lines extend just a bit off the corner. It’s this really beautiful, human moment where the craftsman’s functional mark becomes a sort of expressive mark. In a previous series of paintings I referenced graffiti cover-up, which is also a form of labor that resembles artmaking. People are sent out to cover graffiti, and they are just painting however they paint “naturally”—the process is automatic and uninhibited. What results are apparently banal or bored marks. But I’d argue that there’s some care in it. When you look closely, you might see how the worker was a precisionist, though most of the work is imperfect. Despite his fanatic attention to detail, there are moments of looseness in Scarpa’s work, too—the pencil lines on the travertine, for instance; he never went back to erase them.
The idea of the painting as a backdrop to an interior is something that I’m interested in. There’s an analogy to music—sometimes you’re actively listening: The music is on, you’re totally present, following the lyrics, there’s no distraction, there’s nothing else. But other times, perhaps most of the time, you might be in a car or a café and a song is on, and you’re talking with someone, and that song somehow affects your mood, and affects your conversation, but in a way that you can’t quite say. Perhaps it happens at the subconscious level. The music is a backdrop. The idea of painting as backdrop is present in my titles—a previous exhibition was titled “Unstable Paintings for Anxious Interiors,” and my upcoming museum exhibition in Belgium will be titled “Ornament for Indifferent Architecture.” The latter is a response to Luis Barragán, who said that all architecture should be emotional architecture—though often it’s not. This idea made me think about how art functions as an element of architecture; it becomes part of the architecture and has the potential to enhance it. I think painting—and art in general—can help indifferent or banal architecture become emotional architecture.
Nick Mauss, visualization for Spectre/Faune, 2016.
Nick Mauss frequently stages and animates historical material in his works, which revel in unexpected juxtapositions and recontextualizations. It is fitting that he has envisioned the exhibition layout for “Design Dreams, A Celebration of Léon Bakst” at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco—one of several shows worldwide this year celebrating the 150th birthday of Bakst, the consummate set and costume designer of the Ballets Russes, among other creative roles. Here, Mauss describes the itinerary through the exhibition as well as Baskt’s enduring impact. The show is on view through January 15, 2017.
I OFTEN INCLUDE PIECES BY OTHER ARTISTS IN MY WORK, and for me the interest is always in the resonance of that work, whether it has a sense of urgency. It may be historical work by someone no longer living or no longer known, which allows for a shift in emphasis or a redistribution of attention. I am less interested in standard historicization than in how the work vibrates through layers of histories and senses of the present moment.
Celia Bernasconi, curator at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, contacted me to see if I would consider working with her and dance historian John E. Bowlt on a historical exhibition about Léon Bakst. She asked me to be the exhibition designer, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and in many ways I’ve already done in my work, but not explicitly. Much of the way I work is about the negotiation of distances and intimacies, and about reorienting the roles of artist and viewer and artwork. I think about the spray of implications of “the decorative.” I was drawn to modernist ballet because it’s a multiauthored, but not necessarily collaborative, form. And these twentieth-century ballets are inextricably linked to and propelled by innovations in the visual arts, especially in painting—ballet is where painting is “put in its place” as decoration.
Given the indelible impression Bakst left on twentieth-century visual culture and early modernist spectacle culture, it’s surprising how few people seem to know his work. In developing the exhibition, I learned that aside from his innovations for the stage, Bakst was an undeniable influence on Paul Poiret and other fashion designers, changing the world of fashion forever. And while he didn’t live long enough to work in Hollywood, you can find his atmospheres of excess, especially his synthetic Orientalism, drifting from Hollywood to B movies to Jack Smith. His imagery has had a strong afterlife. In the show we are even exhibiting some second- and third-generation costumes that live off fumes of what he designed. Bakst was really pathbreaking in the way he did so many different things. He was a set and costume designer; he made jewelry and paintings; he wrote treatises on fashion; and he gave lectures. He was a polymath and entrepreneur. He cast a wide net and operated in a variety of media and roles, and also upended them. He seems especially interesting to revisit now.
Installation video of Spectre de la Rose and L’Apres Midi d’un Faune, Villa Sauber, in the exhibition “Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Léon Bakst” at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.
In terms of approaching the work of another artist—there are so many questions that can run alongside conventions of curating. What is a way to actually fully incorporate the work, literally take it in—but also step away and actually disappear again? Because Diaghilev forbade the filming of his productions, his dances live in a space of total projection. I tend to work well with absence. But at the same time I wanted to see how close I could get to the material. I made many visits to the museum’s storage, and I saw that the costumes were often collages of culturally incompatible fabrics and techniques, or that the amalgamation of ornamental motifs had been hand-painted or airbrushed directly onto the costumes, and they looked incredibly fresh. It became clear that textile ornament was an integral part of Bakst's logic that I could use as a guiding principle—you can see it in his famous billowing costume drawings, in his set designs, and in his late designs for the New York fabric company Selig, of which we were able to include many original gouaches. So these motifs that could be found throughout Bakst’s work, on a cellular level and in a grand scheme of his stage designs, became a literal substrate to the exhibition, an inherently disparate grammar that unites everything.
The big challenge with an exhibition like this is that you’re trying to show, in the static museum setting, objects which were never intended to be seen as museological artifacts. They are remnants of an elaborate time-based spectacle that lasted for a few evenings, or maybe a few seasons. How to show these fragments is something I’m still thinking about, and it is such a challenge: How can you make a displayed costume become vivid enough that you want to read it like a text? How can the impact these productions had at the time they were performed—and they were very radical—be transmitted?
It was important for me to work with what was already there, and to take cues from the things I was discovering. In programs and publications from the time, I found evidence of the way these ballets were advertised, received, and consumed. One publication in particular, Comoedia Illustré, combined fantastically written descriptions of the productions with photographs, drawings, and ornamental borders in very dynamic page spreads. I transferred the space of these pages onto the exhibition walls as a way to frame, double, and narrate the costumes, headdresses, and miniature set maquettes.
Framing and making conflicted spaces is central to what I’m doing. In this case, I was able to bring the work of Bakst to the public in a way that is hopefully a rich experience. From the point of view of artistic practice, I was able to synthesize something about historical material and its formal problems, such as the basic (but often sidestepped) tension of translating two dimensions into three dimensions, from Bakst’s highly idealized drawings to the reality of the costumes and the sets, of getting how exactly to display their formal properties as constructions, their reception by an outraged or enthralled public—the list of problems could go on for days. I hope I have created a succession of experiences for the viewer that keeps these tensions and questions in motion.
Still from Crashing, 2016–, a TV show on HBO. Pilot episode. Pete (Pete Holmes). Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO.
Los Angeles–based comedian, actor, writer, and podcaster Pete Holmes could have been a youth pastor. Instead, he makes dumb jokes with deep meaning. Below, Holmes discusses his recent HBO comedy special Faces and Sounds, as well as his HBO TV series Crashing, produced by Judd Apatow, which premieres on February 19, 2017.
BEFORE MY WIFE LEFT ME, I was already a comedian, but I didn’t really see an urgency to make people feel good or give people another perspective on the world. I was fine and everything seemed fine and I made a lot of light, observational humor, which was great—I still like that stuff. But then suddenly I felt real pain and I realized: This is what the battle is. You know that jacket they put on you for X-rays at the dentist? People are walking around with that on, but what they’re wearing is sadness. I’ve learned that once you sit down with sorrow and woe and pain and suffering, you realize how vital it is to go out and spread lightness and silliness.
I’m not preaching, Hey, let’s pretend the world is great. But there is a lot of magic and basic wonder and joy that I think a lot of people subconsciously or maybe consciously are robbing us of all the time. One of the things that can snap us out of that is laughter—noticing something funny. It’s an elevated perspective. I like to find simple things that are funny and dig in and explore them because then we start to realize that everything has the potential for authentic joy. I’m not saying, Don’t look at death; don’t look at pain. I’m asking: What are we doing here? Can we maintain some sort of childlike way of looking at the world?
A friend of mine, the pastor Rob Bell, pointed out that all of the bits in my HBO special have this message underneath them. I wasn’t trying to do it, but once I realized that it was more fun to make a joke that had some sort of positive takeaway, I was hooked. Even if it’s something as simple as, It’s OK to laugh at a stupid joke. Why are we analyzing and scanning and why did we become so cool and pinched? It’s OK to lighten up and relax.
I think audiences are changing. Now with podcasts and Facebook you know everything about everyone, and the premium is placed on how transparent you can be. It used to be that only artists were transparent—Marina Abramović naked, running into her boyfriend. But now everyone’s naked and running into their boyfriend. So the artist has to go the next level. Audiences don’t just want your jokes. They want to know how you’re feeling. I open my special by saying, “This is my special, I really want it to go well.” I think that’s very important—to let the audience into every nook and cranny. That’s my experiment.
In the pilot of Crashing, the character Leif tries to console my character, Pete, by talking about pain as a catalyst for positive change. He references some pretty interesting philosophies by people like Ram Dass and Joseph Campbell, but he’s also kind of stupid, so it’s funny. He says the things I wish I could have said to my old self when I was in the situation that we see in the show—soon to be divorced, in the shallow end of the comedy scene.
Judd and I love watching things fall apart— it’s so much funnier when they do. That’s why Pete is at the start of his career in the show, and why he bombs when he performs, which you never see on TV. And that’s why the show is called Crashing—he’s crashing on couches because his marriage is over and he has no place to stay, but he’s also crashing in life. It’s the hero’s journey of a guy who keeps going even when he’s doing badly and people are telling him to quit. And my character is just happy to be there. He’s so thrilled to be involved. And it’s fun to watch someone who can’t be stopped in his positivity get kicked in the balls over and over and over.
We shot in New York because it’s a city that doesn’t want you. And comedy is a scene that doesn’t need you. It has no interest in you. You have to find a way to insist yourself upon it, and that’s what the show is about—a guy who has nothing, no prospects, who’s not even good at stand-up—trying, through grit and sheer will, to forge a place for himself in this world. It’s Pete realizing he needs to validate his own dreams.
Comedian Mike Birbiglia gave me two pieces of advice that I tried to use while writing the show. The first was: If you’re not telling secrets, who cares? Every episode we tried to tell emotional secrets, stand-up secrets, personal secrets. There’s always some juice in there. He also said: Bleed on every page. And I think we did that, which makes me really happy. I can imagine Judd right here saying: Stop it! Tell them it’s funny! It’s a funny show! And it is funny—it’s a hilarious show. But if it’s just funny, who cares? I tend to watch the shows that grab your heart and make you laugh. Otherwise it just kind of burns through you.
View of “Europa,” 2016–17. Foreground: Notes for a Cannon, 2016. Installation view, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2016. Photo: Denis Mortell.
Emily Jacir is an artist and filmmaker whose work addresses silenced historical narratives, translation, resistance, transformation, and exchange. She investigates personal and collective movement and its implications for the physical and social experience of trans-Mediterranean space and time. Her solo exhibition “Europa,” her first survey in Ireland, features such works as the installation ex libris , 2010–12—originally commissioned by Documenta 13—which is a memorial to the approximately thirty thousand books from Palestinian homes, libraries, and institutions that were looted by Israeli authorities in 1948. The show is on view at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin through February 26, 2017.
I CHOSE THE TITLE “EUROPA,” the Arabic and Italian word for Europe, in order to emphasize looking at Europe from my perspective here in the Mediterranean. I do think it is important to make a distinction between Italy, with all that it means to me both personally and as an artist, and other places in Europe that are featured in this exhibition. For example, cities like Paris, Linz, and Kassel are all places I have briefly visited, whereas Italy has been quintessential to my formation; I have been living in Rome off and on since I was fourteen. This exhibition features histories of movement that are shared by the Irish, the Italians, and the Palestinians—all of whom are migratory peoples. For centuries, webs of social connections and communication were between the wider world and a particular village, such as Bethlehem or Catania. It is no accident that the Italian and Arabic words for country, paese and balad, are also the words for village.
The works in the show also reflect links between Palestine and Ireland and the shared history of British colonial rule. After the Nakba in 1948—an event whose repercussions are even more harsh and devastating today—Palestine remained, and remains occupied. Additionally, those refugees who were forced to flee then are now fleeing for a second, third, and sometimes fourth time due to current events in the region. When considering recent migrations to Europe, it is important to look to Palestine, as we are not only one of the largest refugee communities, but also the most protracted refugee problem in the world. We’ve been waiting to be repatriated for decades. To view current events in relation to this fact is vital, as there is a lot of knowledge and experience to be gained from it.
I am premiering a new work commissioned by the museum, titled Notes for a Cannon, 2016, which takes as its point of departure the clock tower that once stood at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem before being destroyed by the British in 1922 under the command of Ronald Storrs, the British military governor of the occupied city. The removal served to make the city match the British imaginary of what biblical Jerusalem should look like. The piece has many facets, but it’s essentially an exploration into slippages of and standardization of time, as well as time-keeping practices in public space. It explores the ways in which various times are lived and experienced simultaneously, and it touches on Dublin’s loss in 1916 of its own time zone, Dublin Mean Time. The piece reflects upon the site of IMMA and the events which took place in there in 1916 during the Easter Rising when General Maxwell carried out the order to execute the leaders of the uprising. There is a sound installation in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham clock tower and then an installation in the east wing of the building which includes footage I shot in Acre and Gaza in 2000, as well as drawings, photographs, an original 1890 bell from a church in Armagh, and an 1890 original Ottoman wristwatch.
Luchita Hurtado has been making art for decades, though, despite her close friendship with many famous artists, she was reluctant to show her work until the 1970s, when the women’s liberation movement provided encouragement. A small survey show in Los Angeles gives insight into the wildly fluid forms and experimental techniques in her paintings and works on paper. “Luchita Hurtado: Selected Works, 1942–1952” is on view at the Park View Gallery through January 7, 2017.
“PAINTING IS SUCH AN ESCAPING THING…almost like two lives coming together.” I found that line in one of my letters to my second husband, Wolfgang Paalen. We met at one of his openings. He asked me which painting I liked, and then he said, “Take one!” Next he signed it and invited me to meet him in Mexico and see the Olmec heads in La Venta. The pilot let me fly the plane on the way. Wolfgang proposed to me on that trip. No one was married to anyone at that time. He was living with two women at the time. Two ex-girlfriends.
I must have written that quote when we were apart from each other. There was a time when I was in Mexico and he was in New York. I always tried to make work, but I am surprised at how much of it has survived. Often, I worked in the corner of Wolfgang’s studio. I made little colorful paintings. He was very supportive of my work. The paintings I was making in the late 1940s had bright pinks that reminded me of my aversion to those blush colors that I avoided wearing in my native Venezuela. I also loved dark hues, blues, and key-lime greens akin to tropical flora. I was friends with Wildredo Lam at that time, and Noguchi. Long before I met Wolfgang, Isamu was like my brother; he had a beautiful studio on MacDougal Alley in New York and we often talked about art. So the paintings and drawings that Paul Soto of Park View is showing now in LA were done in dialogue with those figures in the 1940s.
I worked hard to become an artist. My family had immigrated to the United States in two sections. At the time, all the Latin Americans I knew lived in the Inwood neighborhood in New York. I chose to go to Washington Irving School near Union Square, where I majored in art without my parents knowing; they thought I would be a seamstress. I got married early and had two children, but I still kept making work. I just had to balance raising my children with my practice while freelancing for Condé Nast and Lord and Taylor. I found time at night to work on my paintings. But I was reluctant to show my work in the 1940s. As you know, Frida Kahlo was always referred to as the amateur wife of Diego Rivera. But Frida was really something and she showed in Paris. We knew them in Mexico along with Leonora Carrington and so many people who were going back and forth between all these cities.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that I began to have more freedom to make work. Things happened in my life in a weird order. At that time, I had gotten remarried, to the artist Lee Mullican, who along with Paalen had started the Dynaton art movement. We were living in Santa Monica, and our two sons, John and Matt, had grown up. I got my own studio. In the ’80s I was asked by the Guerrilla Girls to form a West Coast chapter of their group; previously I had been involved with a consciousness-raising group with Vija Celmins, Alexis Smith, Miriam Schapiro, and Judy Chicago. Miriam particularly liked my sewn-together canvases. I often worked in series. In my works from the 1940s, the mark-making is similar, and the biomorphic line also started influencing my desire to make a patchwork of the canvas. Mimi would come over to the studio and she encouraged me to show them. So even though I had been in group shows with Larry Bell and others, I finally had a solo show, called “Grandview One,” at the Women’s Building in Los Angeles.
If you live long enough, you will feel like you’ve had three lifetimes. There’s a story of a scandal I caused in New York, when Duchamp gave me a foot rub. I met him through Jeanne Reynal, who I was staying with. I was in my twenties. But he is long gone, along with the Lams, Breton, Isamu, and Agnes Martin, who was also a very close friend. Agnes was so much fun because she was a free spirit. Everyone thinks she was reserved because of the work and because she liked routine, but sometimes she would break loose and pick me up and careen through the streets. She was a terrible driver.
I still have a studio. Now my drawings are about my fears for the earth. We are doing our best to do away with the earth. In the studio I keep lots of textiles. For most of my life I made my own clothes, and when we traveled extensively in India, Europe, and Mexico, I collected patterns. My line work comes from these patterns. There is a piece in the show that has a seemingly amorphous shape that comes up often in my early work; later I remembered how much it resembled a little butterfly I saw as a girl in Venezuela. Painting is like that, though—a spiritual connection between what you do and the patterns found in the world.