September 29, 2017

Guest Blogger Claudio Cravero on Damien Hirst in Venice: For the Love of Hubris

This is the second part of Claudio Cravero's reportage about Venice. In a first part he told us about Viva Arte Viva at the Venice Biennial. And now he tells us about his visit to the Damien Hirst exhibition. When I think of Damien Hirst, I think about the footage that I saw in 2013 when two of his works with dots got stolen from a London gallery. On the footage you can see the thief with a robber mask entering the gallery, then take the two works from the walls. This turns out to be a piece of cake - both gallery and works are seemingly not secured. The thief's car is conveniently parked in front of the gallery. But then the thief makes a mistake and tries to put the first work in the front of the car next to the driver’s seat. It doesn't fit. The thief opens the back door and stuffs both works on the back seats. Why not in the trunk? you might ask. The thief also didn’t bother to cover the works. Detective Sergeant from the London police stated: “The items would have been visible in the back of the car and we are appealing for any witnesses or anyone with information to please come forward.” If it wasn't a surrealist performance, was it maybe Damien Hirst himself trying to catch attention because  the prices of his works are sinking? Since that didn't work out so well, he's now back at conventional exhibiting. At least, that's my theory. Claudio Cravero visited the result. 

Making dreams come true is a sine-qua-non for artists like Damien Hirst. Although in his 50s, the Young British Artist is still full of a juvenile hormone. ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ is Hirst’s latest multimillionaire reverie displayed at both François Pinault’s art venues in Venice. Until December 3, 2017

How many times have we been told to think big? A megalomaniacal attitude may sometimes lead to success. For Damien Hirst, however, thinking big is more than a good omen to his lavish projects.
This time, the artist bursts his vainglory becoming a first-class storyteller at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, the two art centers owned by the tycoon Monsieur Pinault.
Much closer than any ‘once upon a time’ - because in Venice the storyline dates back to 2008 - Hirst’s adventure sheds light on the discovery of a vast wreckage site off the Coast of East Africa. The finding should confirm the legend of Cif Amotan II (a.k.a. Aulus Calidius Amotan), a freed slave from Antioch (North-west Turkey), who lived between mid-first and early-second centuries AD.
In the Roman Empire ex-slaves were afforded several opportunities for socioeconomic advancement. So was Amotan. It is said he accumulated an immense fortune through which he built an extravagant collection of artifacts deriving from any corner of the Ancient world. A large vessel was supposed to ship Amotan's treasure to a temple located overseas, but the craft accidentally foundered letting its traces to myth. Almost a decade after excavations began, the exhibition brings together the works recovered during this find. Hence Hirst's story begins. And Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is its the title, as well as its riddle.

In the atrium of Palazzo Grassi, standing at just over eighteen meters is the monumental figure of a demon. It consists of a resin-painted copy of a smaller bronze recovered from the wreckage. The creature, like primeval beings in Ancient Mesopotamia, shows elements of the human, animal and divine. It is said to be unraveling the mystery of a disembodied bronze head found in the Tigris Valley in 1932. Regardless of any historical interpretations of the sculpture, the demon fills the vacuum of the internal court of Palazzo Grassi.
On the gallery floors, several clusters of sculptures depicting deities and a triumph of pieces of jewelry are adamantly displayed according to a personal idea of cultural syncretism. Adopting traditional archival methods and museum exhibition tools (cases, grids and pedestals), the artist rewrites his wry history of the Ancient world. In this direction, objects from different eras are affiliated to one another, and their erudite labels are very much explanatory of this uncanny melting-pot.

While a certain feeling of dizziness pervades the exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, a seabed-like ambiance invites visitors to walk across Punta della Dogana along with human-scaled images of underwater archeologists. However, the setting echoes a recent museum experience, such as Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds at the British Museum in 2016. The exhibition staged the rediscovery of two cities submerged at the delta of the River Nile for over a thousand years. Similar to the London show, also in Hirst’s exhibition a good number of light-boxes and video screenings contribute to transforming the spaces into a film set. Whereas the former story is documented as real, the latter is purely fictional. Hirst’s storyline is interspersed with fake elements to the extent that even the masses of corals and seaweeds covering the statue have been reproduced with shimmering lapis lazuli and other precious materials. To get the riddle solved, a series of busts that represent Hirst’s homage to his colleagues come into play. Indeed, subtle references to Jeff Koons’ works, or even an explicit portrait of Walt Disney, are part of Hirst’s pricey game.
Hirst’s hubris is then limitless. Although For the love of God, his diamond-encrusted human skull, had already entered the history of the contemporary art market, his latest exhibition will unlikely set any record within the history of art. To date, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is to be remembered as one of the most expensive art whims ever come true.

Claudio Cravero

September 21, 2017

Berlin Art Week 2: Everything That Moves

Ho Tzu Nyen at Michael Janssen Gallery

“How do I recognize what’s part of the Future Now Festival?” a visitor asked me on Sunday at the Hamburger Bahnhof. “Everything that moves,” I said. 

When I saw the Wurst-stand at the entrance of the new Berlin Art Fair looking exactly the same as it did last year, I knew that imagination hadn’t been part of the new concept. 

I could only see the art fair later on, at home, on other people’s Instagram. I looked at what people posted in wonder how they can see what I can’t see. 

At KOW Michael E. Smith’s work left me neutral. “I have no opinion,” I said to somebody who asked.

At Sprüth Magers I could see that Barbara Kruger had done something with the space that had an impact but it didn’t make me warm.

Barbara Kruger

At Guido Baudach I was asking myself if the army camouflage stuff on the wall was very burnable and in case it was, how I would escape. 

At Arratia Beer, Holly Hendry’s sculptures would have been more interesting if the press text hadn’t explained them.

Holly Hendry

At Esther Schipper I was thinking that somebody should tell Karin Sander to take a course of Kritische Weißseinsforschung at the Humboldt University so that she can finally learn what she’s doing with the color white.

I didn’t go to Thomas Fischer because I’ve seen Sebastian Stumpf jumping from rocks too many times to still find it interesting.

I got excited at Blain Southern about Michael Simpson’s bench and ladder paintings. They are benches and ladders and at the same time they’re something more. 

Drawings by Michael Simpson upstairs at Blain Southern

And I got very excited about the excellent zombie movie by Ho Tzu Nyen at Michael Janssen Gallery and spent the rest of the night there, with artists Aiko Tezuka, Akane Kimbara, art historian Mariko Mikami and the artist himself. We were talking about the zombies in the film and then we were chatting about people in real life. Although after a while the zombies and the living got mixed up.

Talking about zombies, fiction and non-fiction
Good times at Michael Janssen Gallery

September 13, 2017

Berlin Art Week: Who Wears It Better?

I started Berlin Art Week in a VIP fashion. 

At Hamburger Bahnhof I hear that a whole lot of birches have arrived to be installed in the Historical Hall for the Future Now Festival. “How high?” I ask. “Six meters,” the guard tells me. I get pre-stomachache. 

KW press conference takes place in the café for some reason. It’s cramped, obviously, and the director and artist refuse to use a microphone so that nobody can understand them. This does not keep them from talking on and on and on.... 

That’s why during the press conference I’m sitting outside in the garden of the KW on these horrible green chairs of the last Berlin Biennial that make your but hurt. I ask my colleague: “Do you still write poetry?” “Na, I stopped smoking. I don’t know if I can do writing without.”

Willem de Rooij’s newest work for the KW exhibition is a sound piece with howling dogs in Greenland. This has been done before by Dieter Roth but then in Spain. So we (the press) play the game “Who wears it better?”  De Rooij makes the howling elegiac and pleasing so that it bores the hell out of you. In Roth’s piece, the dog’s barking is hardly bearable, it gets under your skin and it’s merciless towards your sense of aesthetics. And he doesn’t need to darken the space to create an existential feeling.

Crossing the street to go to an art space, the person next to me tells me to watch out for the approaching car: “Mit Diplomaten muss man aufpassen...” (you have to watch out with diplomates)

Listening to the welcome speech at the next art reception, I ask my neighbor: “Why is she reading from a paper?” My neighbor answers: “Because she has nothing to say.”

Annemie Vanackere and Miet Warlop

At HAU it’s fun to hear two women talk with a Belgian accent. I always wondered how my accent sounds and now I know it  sounds cute. I’m a new fan of Annemie Vanackere, the director of HAU. She’s awesome, isn’t she? Miet Warlop performs Nervous Pictures, which is a great title and she herself is great too. Very strange because most Belgians make me crinkle my nose. 

I decide not to go to Monica Bonvicini’s exhibition at Berlinische Galerie. Just not my thing. I mean "Sex and lube" would be a show i'd check out, but not "3612,54 M³ VS 0,05 M³"

September 7, 2017

End of the Summer Tales in Cultural History

A young man with naked upper body sits down next to me. I’m sitting on the terrace of a Lebanese restaurant eating halloumi. “Alt-Tempelhof is getting younger,” I message my friend. “Stay calm,” my friend writes back. And a few seconds later: “Stop staring!” The young man puts on his T-shirt. Maybe it feels inappropriate to eat half naked. Or maybe because I'm staring. I notice he has three vegetables on his bicycle rack: an orange pepper, mushrooms and a broccoli. Since he’s eating a Shawarma I conclude he’s not a vegetarian. 

That kind of morning

Walking inside the Lebanese restaurant to pay, I see the writing on the cook's T-shirt. It says: "Denim doesn't build character. It reveals it."

A man and a woman sit opposite each other in the subway, talking loudly so they can have a conversation as if they would sit next to each other. They’re dressed in black and have skulls depicted on their T-shirt. “Versuche das Wesentliche vom Unwesentlichen zu trennen, so sagte ich ihr,” (“Try to separate the essential from the inessential, so I told her.)  the man says, and adds: “Jetzt geht sie in die Kirche.” ("Now she goes to church.”) “Nicht meine Lösung,” the woman says (“Not my kind of solution”). The conversation continues philosophically. Talking about good or bad decision making, the woman concludes: “Es gibt keine Garantie” (“There’s no guaranty”). 

Brussels - Berlin