May 28, 2016

The Aesthetics of Mystery: Chandan Shafiqui Kabir in Milan, Italy

Chandan Shafiqui Kabir, Organic form

"It's a liver, right?" I asked the Milan based artist Chandan Shafiqui Kabir. I had guessed correctly. Good instincts because I don't really know much about how organs look like (except for the heart of course <3) But I know about the liver through my meridian gym exercises - it's a tricky one where anger is stored and you can probably sense in my blog that I'm suppressing, always trying to be nice :-)  Did the artist intend his sculpture to be interpreted symbolically? I didn't ask. I was more interested in its looks. Chandan's sculptures had caught my eye when I saw them first on slides during a workshop in Piemonte, Italy, about decolonial thinking in the arts. Aren't these sculptures beauties? They even have a very nice feel to it, a bit rough on the finger tips. "Tough cookies," so I thought with my stomach (only Josef Beuys thinks with his knee). 

Chandan Shafiqui Kabir, Waiting for Vicinity 
 Chandan Shafiqui Kabir, Mythical pitcher 1

Back home in Berlin, I showed pictures of the sculptures to my friends. Philosopher Kovo N'Sondé told me he favoured the sculptures in which one could put something inside, or so it seems at least, that the sculpture is a beholder, containing a secret of some sort. Kovo N'Sonde knows about the aesthetics of mystery. He has been studying knots in Congolese art, and that's exactly what also Chandan has been doing, but then the Bangladesh way: knotting. As N'Sondé writes: "Dans l'esthétique occidentale, la verité est souvent synonyme de dévoilement [...]. Dans l'esthétique koongo, il convient plutôt de concevoir qu'il y a dénouement." (In the Western aesthetics, truth is often synonymous with unveiling. In the Congolese aesthetics one talks rather about denouement (unknotting)). 

Chandan Shafiqui Kabir, Mythical pitcher 2

I like this idea of denouement rather than unveiling in the practise of art. Unveiling has something brutal to it, a laying bare with a brusque movement of the hand. The unknotting has a patient element to it, a slow creation of a tension, like in those good old detective movies when Hercule Poirot unfolds the strands of a plot surrounded by all the possible suspects. And although in the end you know who did it (always the least expected one), you're left a little confused about the how. Let me finish with a beautiful Congolese expression that Kovo quoted: "La parole qui sort de la bouche est une corde qui se lie d'elle-même." (The word that exits the mouth is a rope that knots itself.)*

Chandan Shafiqui Kabir, Mythical pitcher 3

* Steve-Régis Kovo N'Sondé, "De l'évolution de la représentation des figures de l'authorité politique et religieuse chez les populations koongo à Kongo, Loango, Ngoyo and Kikongo (XVII-XX siècles)",  Musée du Quai Branly, September 2014.

May 26, 2016

Tips from a Museum Tour Guide, 4: Geistiges Kapital

The contemporary museum has the capacity to make you feel elated, because you might see an art work that is great and it makes you flow in positivity because such a creation is possible and also recognized as such since it made it into the museum. The museum is there to safeguard das geistige Kapital (the spiritual/intellectual capital) for the future, this I read in an interview with Eugen Blume, the director of Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. This summer Eugen Blume, together with curator Catherine Nichols, is doing an exhibition about this “capital”. Yet it’s also a fact that a glimpse of bad art can ruin your day, especially when it is shown in a museum, because it makes you doubt not only the art world but society in large. "Where are we heading at?" you might ask. Or more David Bowie-like: "Where are we now?"

May 22, 2016

Little Thoughts on Art: Retrospectives

For some artists a retrospective exhibition is not the best idea. It’s weird, but somehow their work can be great when shown in a group show or in a solo show with just one or two pieces, but shown in its totality, the oeuvre seems to annihilate itself. Take the Carl Andre exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof. The importance of the oeuvre as such is clear: it is a stance that has its rights and its impact. But when all his art works are shown together, it’s hard to get excited and even harder not to get bored. M., who has a sharp mind, told me: “Die Fülle an Arbeiten tut ihm nicht gut.” (the plentitude of works does him no good.)

May 20, 2016

Little Thoughts on Art: Let It "Schwing"

What makes out great art? You can see and feel the difference. Somehow something is lacking in some art that keeps it from being great. We’re talking about this little thing extra, an excess of some sort. I asked friends to give it a name: Art lover Shuai Wang told me you could call that extra element "poetry." Artist Wolfgang Müller said it’s about looking at things with a certain “Schwingung” (oscillation). I’m reminded of what Roland Barthes said about the gesture. What is a gesture? he asked: Something like the additional to an action. 

May 18, 2016

Tip from a Museum Guide 3: Ask for Beauty

Is it okay to expect beauty at the Museum of Contemporary Art? My favourite artist Ming Wong said a true thing about beauty in contemporary art during his performance Art Must Be Beautiful at the Hong Kong Art Fair 2011: “I have nothing against beauty, in fact I use beauty in my work, there is a lot of beauty in my work, but it cannot stop there. It is not good enough to give us what we already know, and what we already love. For something to be deemed as art it has to go beyond surface decoration, beyond distraction, and beyond drag, beyond fetichism, and commodification. Art has to go beyond beauty.” 

In praxis I would say that, when visiting a museum, you can trust on your first impression of the art work: Does it have a good form? Does it have a Gestalt? (It can be made with trash from the gutter, that doesn't matter.) If not, it’s probably bad art, since it hasn’t been well thought through how the idea fits the material, and the material fits the form, and the form fits the space, etc. 

May 12, 2016

Tips from a Museum Tour Guide, 2: Think

Although Joseph Beuys said that a museum should be like a university with objects, people usually don’t want to think for themselves in museums. They want a wall text, labels, and a guide like me to explain everything. They don’t believe that based on their own experience of art, they are able to achieve legitimate knowledge. A few weeks ago a lady complained to me that there should be computers in every space, just like in the Jewish Museum, to search for information ad hoc. Open Wikipedia! As a friend of mine said, thinking is a dangerous activity. 

May 10, 2016

Tips from a Museum Guide 1: Don't Touch!

You know how books have, what they call so beautifully in German, an “Aufschagverhalten.” The art bookstore sales persons explained this to me, since it is something they deal with every day when new books arrive. It’s the behavior of a book when you open it for the first time. You start with turning it around a bit to see how it holds in your hand and then you listen to the sound it makes when you open up the pages. The paper will then touch upon your finger tips, which gives you a certain feel. The visuals finish it off with lay-out and font. The same goes for an art work. Besides seeing, you can try to smell it, feel it, and hear it. When it works on all your senses, it’s most probably good art. As an experienced museum guide I have to mention here that you’re not allowed to touch the art work, but I know that most people can’t resist anyway. The most touched art work during my guided tours are Joseph Beuys’ basalt stones of his The End of the 20th Century.  

May 6, 2016

Berlin Gallery Weekend 2016: Read My Diary!

Here is my diary of Berlin's Gallery Weekend, chronologically. If you have no time to read it all, go to my excitements, four in total, which is not bad. I left out the diary entrees after 9pm, the party time, because I thought this would be of less interest to you, and hehe, you know I’m wild ;-)

Don’t Make Me Work 

Friday, 6pm: I started out in Eigen + Art Lab with Carsten Nicolai, who curated a show with books and other items on (too) many tables. It asked for work and time and I didn’t want to work nor did I want to spend time. I did feel like drinking a wine, which wasn't a good idea because it made me tired before I even started. I was supposed to go around gallery hopping with a whole bunch of people, but left Eigen + Art Lab with only one, online Sleek editor Will Furtado, and we would stick together through the whole Gallery Weekend until Sunday 6pm. 

Don’t Make Me Cry

6:30 pm: Galerie Neu had pictures of crying women. Yes, it’s something that women do sometimes. But let’s keep it a secret, shall we?

Don’t Make Me Wait

6.40 pm: Neugerriemschneider had a line in front of its space to enter, showing Tobias Rehberger. F* that! 

Say Cheese! 

6:45 pm: At Galerie Eigen + Art Carsten Nicolai presented an art work that worked really good on photo, but in reality it came across as too dry, which was funny because we are talking about fluorescents mirrored in a pool. 

Carsten Nicolai at Galerie Eigen + Art

Say No! 

7:00 pm: Encounter on the street with Swiss art person who was on his way to the Blain Southern dinner. “Going to some dinner yourself?” he asked. “No,” I said, “Being not present is also advertisement.” Coolio! 

Too Funny and Too Boring Equals Too Bad

7:10 pm Sprüth Magers upstairs (showing Alexandre Singh) was way too funny (inanimate objects are speaking...). Humor is my rule nr. 1 for good art, but it shouldn’t pervade the art. Downstairs the exhibit (Thea Djordjadze) was too boring: wooden walls with some props on top of it, according to the press text "exuding tremendous physical presence" but I wasn't feeling it. The contrast of the two extremes (too funny and too boring) could have worked of course, but then it didn’t.  

Stay in Your Room

8:00 pm: Konrad Fischer (showing Alice Channer): The gallery assistant warned me for sliding danger before entering. The floor was covered with little grey balls. Of course those little things didn’t stay in the gallery but had spread everywhere in the whole building. Let me call it the most annoying art work of the Weekend. 

Konrad Fischer Galerie

If You Want To Sell Badly

8:30 pm: Carlier Gebauer: a combination of paintings and minimal sculptures, a nice package to sell on the market. I wished I hadn't missed out on the Paul Pfeiffer show though. 

Exciting Nr. 1

8:30 pm: I got excited for the first time at Veneklasen/Werner, showing Los Angeles artist Pat O' Neil: psychedelic videos, weird spacey sculptures, and bizarre collages. I loved it! Strange in a really good way.  

Pat O' Neil's freaky sculptures
Pat O' Neil

The 10 %

9 pm: At 7pm, I was just trying to be cool. I did have a dinner planned. Olaf Holzapfel invited me for the dinner of gallery Marzona. I ate Schnitzel and talked with my table partner, also a Swiss art person, about how only 10 % of the art world sells their work for more than 5000 Euros. 

Excitement Nr. 2

Saturday noon: The day started very exciting with Maria Gilissen on the phone. I get a call from Maria Gilissen every two years and it’s always a surprise. Once I was at a meditation retreat and I wasn’t supposed to talk nor have my phone on... Now Maria Gilissen told me she was stuck at Brussels airport, she had missed her flight and her daughter had already arrived in Berlin. Could we go for a coffee? 

Evaporating Effects

6 pm: Esther Shipper: Thomas Saraceno showing real spiders in webs. Isn't Saraceno all about creating an effect? 

Smelly Art 

6:10 pm: Galery Isabella Bortolozzi - Oscar Murillo hung his big leather cloths in the gallery. I liked it, it was such a strong smell.    

Oscar Murillo

Amuse Toi!

7:00 pm We went for dinner at Joseph Roth Diele, where Maria Gilissen told us that Marcel Broodthaers found  it important that art has a certain aspect of “s’amuser” - just an aspect, Maria emphasized, not everything. She was going to New York for the accompanying program of the Broodthaers retrospective at MoMA. The palm trees at the entrance of the MoMA show are not the right kind, she let us know. 

Maria Gillisen on the left, Botum Gilissen, Will Furtado, me, and art lover Shuai Wang


Sunday 1 pm: Johann König’s St-Agnes downstairs (Claudia Comte) reminded me of a European exhibition on Africa in the 1950s, whereas Will thought it was Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. Upstairs Annette Kelm, the dollar photos were just awful, especially the one where the dollar bills were used to spell money. Why don’t you take visa cards, Annette Kelm? Then at least it would look "new".

Claudia Comte at König Galerie
Annette Kelm at König Galerie

Exciting Nr. 3

1:30 next door to Johann König, I got really excited. I met editor Thomas Bettridge. Remember, I was on the train with him to Nürnberg. He started talking about his magazine 032c, which I had never read before, but I got excited anyway. What seems to be so great about it, is that the team of 032c sets own ideas (very unusual, I don't know any art magazine that does that or wants even to do that), rather then follow whatever is hyping on the market. Their last issue was on Nest, which was an interior design magazine started up by Joseph Holtzman, (who, funny detail, suffered from agoraphobia, which is not funny in general, but funny for an interior design architect) Let me quote 032c: “How Prozac Spawned the World’s Greatest Interiors Magazine”.  
032c apparently had a mind of its own from the very beginning, starting 15 years ago with a thin newspaper dedicated to the topic of “professionalism”. Haha! Professionalism in Berlin of the year 2000! 032c has also great merchandise, for instance an employees sweatshirt of their new location at St. Agnes, delivering “religious services” (79 Euros). They also publish small editions, for instance Yves Saint Laurent’s edition with John Baldessari. The exhibition in their front space was beautifully presented, a long display case, dedicated to Christophe Chemin’s collaboration with Prada. 

When art editors meet... Will Furtado (Sleek) and Thomas Bettridge (032c)

Nice merchandise by 032c

I Scream Ice Cream

2:15 pm: Will Furtado looked really good next to the fun lollipop sculptures of Christopher Füllemann at Duve. But he said it’s the other way around, that art work looks really good next to him. 

Will Furtado looking good at Duve


3 pm:  Helga Maria Klosterfelde always seems to exhibit Rirkrit Tiravinaja, which never can go wrong. This time it was his mikado game. I pulled the card: "You will not marry your first love, but this will work out for the best.” Ha! It did!  Also with my second, third, fourth, ... (this continues for a while) ones :-( 

Fortune telling at Helga Maria Klosterfelde

Don’t Tell Me To Be Happy

3:30 pm Arratia Beer: Will liked it. I didn’t. Too much advice how to live life happily. I’m preachy myself, always knowing it better, but at least I don't make an art work out of it.

3:40 pm: Blain Southern: The paintings of Harland Miller were fun, but I didn't get excited, but it made a good statement on the Arratia Beer show next door. 

Harland Miller

Happy Gallerists

4:00 pm: Gallerist Tanja Wagner was sitting outside in the sun, because her artist Ulf Aminde put her in the dark inside with a meshmerising circling video, quite dizzying. I was liking it. 

4:30 pm: insitu - my favorite piece was the video by Liège artist Eric Duyckaert who was scolding at Immanuel Kant: “Motherfucker!” Ha, I’ve always wanted to do that myself. It must be something Belgian! At insitu I drunk champaign because it was Gilles' birthday. 

Eric Duyckaerts, “Kant”, 2000 (film still). Courtesy the artist


I forgot 3:50 pm: Guido Baudach, I always expect to hate what I see there, but this show left me neutral. Is that an improvement?

Exciting Nr. 4

4:50 pm: Supportico Lopez is showing Adriano Costa, who has been living for 3 months in Berlin and then put his stuff in the gallery. I've seen this somewhere before. 

But it got exciting at 5:30 pm: a beautiful Wolfgang Tillmans show at Galerie Buchholz. Also Tillmans displays his "Studio", making random association of pictures, showing friends, himself, quite banal situations, but he makes it work: it’s poetry. How does he do it? He must have a good eye, obviously. 

Wolfgang Tillmans at Bucholz Galerie