November 30, 2016

Pills for the Heart. Leftovers from a conversation with GuNa, resident at NON Berlin

These are thoughts that came up during my visit to GuNa’s exhibition My black brown at NON Berlin on Saturday November 26, from 3:30 till 6pm in the afternoon. 

Talking with Nayeon and GuNa. Photo: Courtesy NON Berlin

Leftovers are the rests of food that you decided not to eat and throw away. Arriving at her residency in Berlin, GuNa wanted to do good to her body, shaken by moving to a different place ("Moving to a different place is interesting but at the same time there is always fear by my side" so GuNa in the exhibition flyer), and she bought healthy, bright, colourful food like lemons and bananas. The dried leftovers of that intention are very carefully displayed at NON Berlin. GuNa seems to hold on to waste and abandonment, with an intensity that is unable to let fully go. 

There is some rest in everything one has decided to do, the choices one has made. What stays are the leftovers of those other options. That’s where the melancholy sets in.

Stupidity comes before wisdom, so a Korean saying goes. Not to know, and touching upon that. 

GuNa likes to paint plants that are half dead, that are not been taking care of, abandoned. Berlin lets its plants decay in wintertime, so she noticed during her residency. One doesn’t seem to put them inside, as people do in Korea, or cover them up outside so they can survive wintertime. In Korea the trees are nicely cut, she says. GuNa appreciates the negligence of Berliners, to let things go ugly, bent and twisted - to let death be in a season that’s welcoming it. 

Courtesy NON Berlin

In GuNa's paintings the depicted figures, once fully convinced of their strength (fist and arm stretched forward), are not (yet) dead, just like the plants, they are hovering somewhere in between. GuNa lets them die only halfway. 

If you look at GuNa’s portfolio, there is the same small painting of a bird that always pops up in displays, as if holding everything together. At the NON space, the bird is at the staircase that leads to the basement. In the harmonically balanced composition of the show, the location of the bird at the staircase seems to suggest a way out of it, not upwards, but inwards. 

The heart is weak in GuNa’s work. It’s weakened by a melancholy that comes from the past, being sick in childhood. A painting shows the pills, enlarged, that are taken to strengthen the heart. A chemical poison that kills as much as it makes alive.  

November 25, 2016

The Importance of Being Artist

Are you sometimes wondering during your museum visit if you've spotted an important artist? Somehow you can just feel you've seen one by the way they walk through the exhibition space. It's not so much what they wear, but it's the air of owning the space they walk in, in this case the contemporary art museum. Mostly it goes together with an aura of importance and also an incredibly serious look. I detected one yesterday. It was easy to do so because he (of course of the male gender) was talking to a (of course female) curator with a very serious look of importance on his face. I just caught a fragment of the conversation. "I have a mission", he said with his face getting even paler from carrying the weight. I backed off immediately to the safe zone of the bookstore because artists (especially the white male ones) with a mission are the worst. Fortunately, salesperson M. put me at ease by saying: "Wer eine Mission hat, hat ein wahres Leben." (Those who have a mission, have a true life.)

November 16, 2016

Warning: This Is Self-Promotion. The Shape in the Air. An Art Philosophy for the 21st Century

A week ago I presented my newest publication in collaboration with the electronic duo Ducks! at Bar Babette in Berlin. It's titled The Shape in the Air. An Art Philosophy for the 21st Century and published in the mimas atlas series of Hybriden-Verlag. "An art philosophy for the 21st century" is a big subtitle of course. It sounds kind of preposterous to do so in the early year 2016.  Also for a book based on a conversation between only two persons - that is me and the Artist, whose true name, for the sake of suspension, I won’t reveal to you yet. Also in the book you have to be careful not to skip it: It’s mentioned only once, and even then you’ll have to use your intellectual capacities to put the first name together with the last one.

Of course, the subtitle is a reference to my favourite Andy Warhol, who wrote The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. From A to B and Back Again, which is according to me something like the bible of contemporary art. it deals with all the essential topics of life. Art essentially deals with exactly those topics although their surface might change: love, beauty, fame, work, time, death, economics, atmosphere, success, art, titles, and underwear power.

When I finished my book, I had this silly pride of having written an art philosophy of the 21st century in only 28 pages, which is, I think, with our current attention span, a very 21st century thing to do. But then Hybriden Verlag made the fontsize bigger and turned it into about 45 pages, which makes it into a less spectacular endeavour, but still an achievement of some sort. 

The book is set up like a detective story. I just have always wanted to write a story in which I use the word  “swell”  like the great detective writer Dashiel Hammett did. You’ll have to buy the book to see if I truly did so. I mean, you can imagine how hard it is to bring the word “swell” together with art in one sentence. 

I’m pretty old-fashioned in my choice of detective series, unlike Patti Smith, who is, this I read in her last book M Train, a fan of the Swedish high-tech ones. You know, I like Columbo where the murder is commited right at the very beginning and you see who did it, and the rest is just watching how Columbo will find out what you already know. 

Just one more thing - this book is not about finding the Artist. The Artist is not missing nor is the Artist hard to find. I meet the Artist almost every day, and if not, then we call on the phone. 

I would like to thank the Artist, and also Will Furtado who guided me in the process of writing, Jennifer Danos who did the proofreading, Lani Bagley and Craig Schuftan of Ducks! for giving the text a rhythm, and Hartmut Andryczuk for publishing the result.

The Shape in the Air. An Art Philosophy for the 21st Century (mimas atlas #19, Hybriden-Verlag, Berlin), in collaboration with Ducks!  The book includes a CD and an original drawing. You can buy it here

November 11, 2016

Art Trivia of Insignificant Importance: Furniture and "Accessoires"

Who would have thought that German language can cheer one up. It has a bad reputation, but German is actually a funny language. I attended a dinner party and a friend and I were talking about Laurie Anderson's latest art film - something to do with her dog. And then my friend said she bought the video so we could get together and see it. I asked her the specificities: how big is the screen she has? Is it a laptop? Or a flatscreen? It's not very big, she admitted, but she does have a "Sofalandschaft" which makes for a comfortable watching experience. A sofa landscape! Only the German language could deal so accurately with such a piece of furniture. Of course, the Germans might be considered to be the discoverers of the landscape as such, aren't they, at least the romantic notion of it: with the Rückenfigur standing on a hill and admiring it. Pop and German seem to be contradiction in terminus but it's a very pop thing to do, to metamorphose something as fleeting as a landscape into something as immobile as a furniture piece.  

Talking furniture, yesterday I was giving a guided tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the topic was "Was ist Kunst?" I had some young fellows in the group and they were testing me. One was very good at it and he told me that art was decoration. "You can call it accessories," he said. I was a bit baffled because, of course, it's true - it's in the first place used as a decoration next to your sofa. I had to think of Oscar Wilde, who travelled at the age of 27 to the United States for a tour to defend beauty in the age of industrialisation: "A picture has no meaning but its beauty, no message but its joy. That is the first truth about art that you must never lose sight of. A picture is a purely decorative thing." So that young fellow might be onto something, a new Oscar Wilde in our age of neoliberal "usefulness". A very capitalist thinking is dominating also in the art world, with the idea that everything should have a result and "use". I'm horrified of the idea of useful art. Then I'd rather prefer the decorative one. 

November 6, 2016

Four Reflections on Current Hamburger Bahnhof Shows

In the Rieckhallen of Hamburger Bahnhof there is an exhibition of musical scores by visual artists. You might know the Rieckhallen as that eternally long hall that takes two hours to walk and then two hours to walk back to the exit. This sounds as exhausting as it is. Now I finally know how to make the Rieckhallen better. You see, in this exhibition some walls have been taken down. Chris Markley, for instance, is shown in a huge space with just two projections. It got me totally excited. That’s it, I thought. Those walls dividing the Rieckhallen into even, stiffening spaces have to be teared down. Turn the Rieckhallen into one huge space with maybe only 2 to maximum 3 separating walls. It will make the space magnificent and the art work will be able to breath. 

The categorisation of modern art and contemporary art is questionable, as we all know: where does the former end and the latter begins. But it is totally justifiable when you look at its audience. Take the current Kirchner exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof. The show attracts a totally different (older) audience that’s into modern art, but doesn’t like contemporary art at all. That the Kirchner exhibition takes place at the museum of contemporary art, leaves most of them cold. It makes me wonder if in thirty years time, I’ll be visiting exhibitions of whatever survived from the early 2000s and avoid, let’s say, the art of the mid 21st century. Probably I will. 

At the moment there are Franz West chairs shown in the Historical Hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof. You can see that they’re not design chairs and they're also not normal chairs, so the conclusion is they must be art chairs. Then you still don’t know if you’re allowed to sit on them. When giving guided tours it’s the first thing I do with my group. We sit on the chairs, and then we go and look at this new constellation of chairs from afar. The sight of this fleeting temporary togetherness warms the heart. It's only a pity that Christopher Büchel’s container of the 2000s USA selection is also in the same space. Nothing against Büchel, but the Franz West’s chairs on their own in this beautiful hall would have been such a splendid sight. It would also have visualised a radicalness that no other huge spectacular art show could ever top: give people space, give people a chair to sit on!  

Today was the last day of the Capital exhibition curated by Catherine Nichols and Eugen Blume in the Kleihues Hall. You know I wrote the short texts for the exhibition, but it’s not only because of my own involvement that I’m particularly fond of this show. My favourite constellation is at the end of the Kleihueshalle. It’s a small Kurt Schwitters bricolage of wood, titled Cathedral, shown next to Beuys’ enormous environment Das Kapital. The combination undoes every attempt to aggrandize Beuys’ monument into a redemption of some sort. Beuys’ Kapital Raum shows blackboards, recording equipment, a grand piano, and projectors without film. What I found most beautiful was to put into praxis what Eugen Blume very well describes in the catalogue: to “think sight and sound rather than actually seeing and hearing.”

November 4, 2016

Casual Smart Cultural Dining at the Swiss and Belgian Embassy

Antwerpse handjes

Two weeks in a row I was dining at an embassy. Not bad at all, I wouldn’t mind getting used to this. The first dinner was a cultural get-together at the Swiss Embassy, which is in between the Hauptbahnhof and the Reichstag in a no-man's-land. Apparently it was the only building that was not bombed in that area during World War II. The tables were arranged according to Swiss cheeses and I was at the Sbrinz cheese table. It’s funny, right, to arrange your tables according to cheese.  It’s a very Swiss thing to do. French people would never think of arranging their tables according to Camembert, etc. It’s the kind of Swiss humor you also see at work in the art pieces by Roman Signer and Fischli and Weiss. The confusing thing was that the cheese never made it on the table for real. The same at the Belgian dinner, my table was named after Isa Genzken and she never showed up. 

The Belgian dinner was organized for the visit of people from the Middelheim open air museum near Antwerp. On the table were delicious “Antwerpse handjes” and Belgian chocolate, but the highlight of the evening was the speech of the wife of the Belgian Ambassador. It was her mother’s birthday and she shared with us an advice her mother used to give her, which is to pay attention to everything that comes your way. Also to people. So I turned myself to my right side (I already knew my left side, which was occupied by my friend, art lover Shuai Wang). Sitting next to me was Stefan Körner, who works at a big German auction house. We had a great conversation about his correspondence with Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld is all about efficiency, he told me. If you repeat yourself, he’s quick to say that you’ve already said that. No surprise for the man who said "I'm lazy all the time, I just know how to exploit it." Lagerfeld also writes real letters on special, beautiful paper. Like love letters. Isn’t that the sweetest thing to do?