Thursday, December 21, 2006
I'm sure they were thinking it was time a woman won'
She's never had a painting lesson and never knows how a work will turn out. In her first interview, Turner prize winner Tomma Abts speaks to Emma Brockes
Wednesday December 6, 2006
'I think it should be about the art and not the personality. These private things should not be mentioned' ... Tomma Abts. Photograph: Sarah Lee
Abts' win on Monday night has been widely interpreted as the Turner Prize correcting itself. As well as being the first woman and the first painter to win the prize in almost a decade, after years of artists with personas as feverishly worked upon as their art, here was someone about whom we knew practically nothing: 38 years old, from Kiel in Germany but resident in London for the past 12 years, and (rumour had it) the former girlfriend of Chris Ofili - that's pretty much it. Efforts to extract more would, as you will see, be a painful experience. We meet around the corner from Abts' studio in Clerkenwell, which she has occupied since she first came to London on a grant. She had been living in Berlin, doing a mixed media art course in which she had concentrated mainly on film - "structuralist films" - while doing her own painting on the side. The Berlin art scene at that time was a little "sleepy", she says, whereas London was just starting to swing with the YBA movement. Abts moved to the city not because she wanted to join in - she's not really a joining-in kind of gal - but rather to enjoy, at a tangent, the energy and interest in art that it generated. "It's quite nice to have that bit of distance, to have my own personal space to develop my work," she says.
For a couple of years she got by on the arts grant, and then was forced to find work. "I had strange jobs, like telephone marketing type jobs for German companies." It was only four years ago that she was able to live solely off her art, and it was a huge relief finally to give up the day jobs.
Abts has never had formal training in fine art and hasn't taken a painting lesson in her life. The town she grew up in was "not very exciting" - she summarises its main features as "sea" and "nice landscape" - but the idea that news of her win might appear in the local paper makes her smile broadly. Abts' parents still live in Kiel and told her proudly that she had made the national news in Germany on Monday night. They have always encouraged her, she says, and her upbringing was "very free." I ask if her parents do anything artistic.
What do they do?
"Do I have to say?"
"My mum is a teacher in a primary school and my dad is a gynaecologist." She smiles sheepishly.
Is it true that you used to go out with Chris Ofili?
The smile falters. "I won't talk about that."
I tell her that I hope she did.
Because then you could be characterised as a former golden couple, the Posh and Becks of the art world. (Ofili won the Turner Prize in 1998.)
Abts looks horrified. "No comment! I don't think these private things should be part of art, in a way." Without naming names, she goes off on a riff about self-cannibalising artists who make their careers by rummaging about in their own detritus. "It [the Turner] used to be such a personality-based prize and I think that's not appropriate, necessarily, for art. I think it should be about the art and not the personality. These private things should not be mentioned."
OK. Are you married?
"No." She cracks up laughing.
Abts used to work on canvasses of all sizes, but somewhere along the line she started feeling most comfortable with a single size, a modest 19in by 15in, and has stuck with it ever since. She paints sitting down, and the canvas fits the arc of her arm. It's an agonisingly slow process, she says, and she will sometimes put a canvas away for a couple of years before returning to complete it. "They're such slow paintings to make that I think they might also be slow to look at ... that people might not really notice what's going on."
This isn't false modesty. Abts was surprised by the warm reaction of the critics to her work in the run-up to the Turner Prize. (In October, the Guardian's critic Adrian Searle wrote: "Abts' quiet and disturbing paintings seem utterly right and unexpected. They ought to win.") She has always painted for herself, on the side, and the fact that it has ended in glory is something she finds quite amazing. But her self-containment that might also be construed as arrogance. She won't name any influences, or works of art that first inspired her as a child, or her favourite past winner of the Turner Prize. She's not even sure she could name them.
I ask what she thinks of her co-nominee, Phil Collins, whose conceptual work based on the perils of reality TV was about as far from Abts' paintings as you could get. "It seemed to me," she says, "that for what he was doing, he was doing it very well." This sounds pointed, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking.
It is said that winning the Turner Prize doubles the value of an artist's work overnight. No, says Abts. "Maybe some galleries and artists would do that, but not the people I work with." She considers art a calling, not a career, and she didn't go into it to make money - well, who does? Actually, she says, she thinks young artists today have a rather warped attitude in this regard. "It seems that these young artists think of it as a career choice, to do art; they think that it will pay off and they'll make money." She looks doubtfully out the window. "Maybe they will."
Why does she think so few women have won the Turner Prize? "I don't know, because to me it feels that in the last few years a lot of female artists have been very dominant. In a way maybe [the prize] hasn't represented what's happened. I'm sure they were thinking that it was time a woman won it. I'm sure there are those kind of strategic decisions [going on]."
Abts' paintings are like palimpsests, multi-layered, and it gives one little jolts of pleasure to look at them, although it's impossible to say why. They require no external stimuli, no subject matter and no obvious end point. Starting a new painting is, says Abts, "the easiest part for me, because I have so many visual ideas. Colours, or starting to make shapes or thinking about where things go, that's easy. Then just trying to make it more concrete and trying to make some kind of meaning."
What is the meaning? Abts doesn't mind art that requires an explanation alongside it, but equally, she doesn't think one needs to explain - or even know - why something is good. There has been much discussion about how she can tell when one of her paintings is finished. Instinct, she says. "A question of balancing it all out or making it darker or ..." Anyway, she just knows. She very rarely abandons a painting, but when she does it's because she has painted over the canvas too many times and it has become bumpy.
"I can't really ever say what it will look like or how it will finish or what will make it work. It's a different idea or moment for each painting. It's not really... I try so much with the composition and colour, and get closer and closer, and then there's always a moment where there's a surprise, when I try something and ... everything is in place."
Isn't it scary, not being able to formalise what she is doing, has done, or is going to do - why any of it works or doesn't work? "It is scary!" she says. "Sometimes I think, God, I don't know if I will ever finish another painting because I don't know how to do it. But then it keeps happening ..."
She frowns and has another crack at it. "What is an interesting idea for me is something being ... an image and at the same time an object." We talk about Jasper Johns' Flag as an example of this: a painting, a flag, and also a representation of a flag. "When I finish [a piece of art] it becomes congruent with itself."
There is a confounded silence. "I don't know what that means," she says, and, with a lack of pretension we may not see again in a Turner Prize winner, laughs uproariousy.
His work is packed with jokes, ideas - and farmyard animals. Adrian Searle pays tribute to the genius of Robert Rauschenberg
Tuesday November 28, 2006
Animal magic... Monogram, 1955-59 by Robert Rauschenberg
During the 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg produced some of the best and most influential art of the decade. Visiting Rome in 1952 with Cy Twombly, he hung small, totemic sculptures called Personal Fetishes from the trees in the Pincio Gardens. Subsequently, he threw all the work he had made and shown in Italy into the Arno River. "It saved a packing problem," he said. He may also have been following the advice of an unkind critic.
Rauschenberg went his own way. When abstract expressionism was at its height, the young artist responded by painting a series of uninflected white paintings. Soon he was painting monochromes, then red paintings. In 1953, the artist spent hours at work with an eraser, rubbing out a drawing by Willem de Kooning, leaving only the ghostliest trace of an image on the sheet of empty paper. At the time, these gestures were regarded as baffling or inconsequential, if they were regarded at all. Yet, even as false starts to a career that has spanned more than half a century, they would have been enough to secure Rauschenberg's place.
The same year he erased De Kooning's drawing, Rauschenberg began a way of working that came to be seen as a bridge between abstract expressionism and pop art, between postwar heroics and 1960s cool. The same has been said of Jasper Johns' work. Rauschenberg and Johns were partners during the 50s, trading ideas and colluding in one another's career strategies. Initially, they made their living doing shop window displays for Tiffany's and Bonwit Teller. Both, arguably, produced their best work together, Johns' reserve and Rauschenberg's impetuousness providing a foil for the other.
What Rauschenberg came to call his Combine paintings are the core of his art, and the subject of a major travelling exhibition, currently at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. In his preface to the show, Paul Schimmel of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art calls the Combine paintings "some of the most influential, poetic and revolutionary works in the history of American art". One might quibble: other works and artists might have as much of a claim, and 50 or so years on, Rauschenberg's Combines may not appear quite so revolutionary and radical as the works he made immediately prior to them. But these ramshackle hybrids between painting and sculpture, stage prop and three-dimensional scrap-book assemblage, have neither given up all their secrets, nor have they quite settled down as tame museum artefacts. However much conservators worry over them, and academics examine their surfaces and hidden corners - like car mechanics, in search of secret subtexts and hidden codes - they have almost too many possible readings. Their richness is itself perhaps an allegory of the excess of modern life, the postwar consumer boom.
Rauschenberg has always resisted the idea that the Combines have any secrets or narrative, other than the chance encounter of disparate elements. If they have any meaning, it is in their profligacy, their inclusiveness, their physical attempt to wrestle with high culture and low - and with no culture at all. The different elements of the Combines have been described as having no more relation than the different stories that vie for attention on a newspaper page, or the objects that find themselves on the same tabletop.
But serendipity and opportunism are never entirely random. The Combines are full of jokes, camp replays and caricatures of just about every earnest New York School cliche, as well as startling and unforgettable juxtapositions. The poor stuffed Angora goat Rauschenberg somehow acquired migrated from a wall-mounted painting to a panel on the floor, with a car tyre round its midriff and its head slathered in a fright-mask of glutinous oil paint. It was given the unlikely name of Monogram. Both goat and artist would be justified in asking how they got here. Maybe all art is to a degree self-portraiture, against which self-parody is no defence.
In 1957 Rauschenberg painted the same painting twice (Factum I and Factum II), with the same brush-strokes and drips, the same collaged calenders and photos. The doubling of the painting - one of which currently lives in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the other in New York's Moma - is a great comment on the "authenticity" and supposed uniqueness (as an event as much as an object) of paintings. These paintings are themselves filled with doubles: two trees, two photos of Roosevelt, two photos of a fire in a launderette.
The Combines are bursting with ideas, as much as with physical and painted material. A brick dangles on a cord, in front of a found painting of a tropical beach - as if one could smash the view, like a brick through a painted window. This almost Magrittean moment is followed, in the same work, by a softball hanging above a fork, as though it had just been tossed and is about to be caught again. Suspended time and irreversible decay are recurrent themes. A stuffed pheasant stalks a ledge atop another canvas, and a veritable menagerie of stuffed roosters, chickens, an eagle and a heron preen and wilt in other works. Icarus and Ganymede, the randy rooster and America's national bird, all have their place. Symbolism is unavoidable, but Rauschenberg never felt much like taking responsibility for any of it.
Litter from the street is swept into the studio and through the work. Newspaper clippings trodden into the painted mulch, remnants of fabric hanging like banners and poor curtains, reproduction Old Masters, private letters and photographs, Coke bottles, radios, electric fans - waste of all kinds snags our attention as we pass.
The current state of the Combine paintings is itself one of suspended decay, lending the work an almost overwhelming air of melancholy. With time, the paintings tend towards muck: the tatty and yellowing papers, the squalid empty planes stained with dribbles and faint colour. Once, all this looked new and hip.
Rauschenberg's awkward but much-quoted remark - "Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in the gap between the two)" - has since been used to justify all kinds of activities that might not look like art-making at all. What is important about Rauschenberg's statement is not so much the bit about the gap betweeen art and life, so much as the observation that neither can be made. In other words, stuff happens. And stuff happens everywhere in these paintings. A rooster crows, a nude poses on a log, a runner pounds the track, paint drips, lights flicker, a radio plays. Rauschenberg's son writes to his absent father, and the artist pastes the letter to a Combine painting, rather than keeping it in a drawer. A sister wins the local beauty contest; a departed lover leaves his scribbled breath on the pillow. It all ends up in the work.
The Combines have been likened to combine harvesters - threshing their way through the world, and through Rauschenberg's life. In a short BBC film made on the occasion of Rauschenberg's exhibition of Combines at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1964, the artist looks terrified and camera shy as he is interviewed. Rauschenberg deflects almost all efforts to make him talk about his paintings. There is a clip of the artist at work, smearing an area of paintwork with a rag. Although the result looks purposeful and vigorous, Rauschenberg appears indifferent as he tracks the wet sludge about the surface. He knew precisely what he was doing, if not exactly what it meant - or if he did, he wasn't saying. Recently, he said: "I remember those works as if I had made them yesterday, and I don't remember what I made yesterday."
With time, the meanings gather. Rauschenberg's Combines occupy the same floor of the Pompidou as a breathtaking retrospective of Yves Klein, three years younger than Rauschenberg, and who died in 1962. For all their openness and inclusiveness, Rauschenberg's Combines turned into a style like any other. By the time Klein died, the Combines were beginning to look exhausted. Klein's work, on the other hand, which was often accused of being kitsch, vulgar and ephemeral, looks as alive now as ever. But it is oddly static and sterile; it looks as though Klein didn't know what to do next either. And while Rauschenberg's Combines point in all sorts of directions, into the future as well as the past, Klein's art is a frozen, perpetually stalled moment.
· Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, is at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (33) (0)1 44 78 12 33, until January 15. Centrepompidou.fr
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Friday, November 17, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
In the Hamburger Bahnhoff museum for contemporary art here in Berlin i saw this amazing installation by:
Claude Lévêque, an artist wich i had never heard of.
It´s an amazing experience to stand in this very teccie almost 80´s like discotheque kind of enviroment with kkk hood shaped mirrors hanging upside down from the ceiling.
At first you feel attracked to enter the room and an almost laughable feeling came over me as i had the feeling that i entered the set of the Flashdance movie, then at that moment you realize that these sharp elements are hanging on a thin wire discomfort overwhelms you and cold shivers run over your back.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Rezi van Lankveld
Aaron van Erp
Tjebbe Beekman is also showing new works at Diana Stigter Gallery in Amsterdam.
Painting The Netherlands - Germany Malerei
Open from 21 october 2006 - 21 january 2007
Friday, October 06, 2006
Urethane on linen
182.9 x 304.8cm
Jules de Balincourt
2006, Two panels, acrylic, oil and spray paint on panel
220 x 300 cm
Schlock and awe
After Iraq, Katrina and Abu Ghraib, what should we expect from US artists? More than Saatchi's show delivers, says Adrian Searle
Thursday October 5, 2006
It has a sense of anxiety and self-loathing; amid this are angry protests, displays of mock insouciance, and tragicomic buffoonery. Ryan Tracartin's sculptures made me laugh out loud. At 25, he is as much a film-maker as a sculptor, and his sculptures look like props. Until Hurricane Katrina, he was based in New Orleans. World Wall is a kind of childish grotto, with bits of bodies poking out of the walls, a huge, cave-like open mouth where a living room once stood, mad bulging eyes, a house whose roof is painted over with waves. An unnaturally skinny naked mother stalks the floor, head aloof. The unattractive but game Vicky Veterinarian has a cat burrowing in her shirt. Mango Lady's skin is made from mango peel. The characters are all in search of a plot, but there isn't one.
In Fuck the Police, Dash Snow presents 45 framed press clippings: Cops Busted in Sex Abuse, Cops Who Killed For Mafia, Cop in Coke Ring. The catalogue tells us Snow "started taking photos when he was a yobbish teenager", and that the headlines are all "splattered with jism". Well, that changes everything.
Perhaps the most telling sculpture is an anonymous figure, either cowering or in prayer. The body is a black bin-liner. Brown clay hands reach forward, palms flat on the floor. Behind the figure is a trail of crumbled clay. Huma Bhabha's sculpture has an odd vulnerability, however curtailed an image of a human it presents.
After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, what should one expect from American culture, apart from rage and crawl-into- a-hole-in-the-ground-and-die abjection?
Perhaps that is what LA-based Jon Pylypchuk intends: his miserable little figures, touchingly dressed in remnants of fabric, stagger about on the floor, gather helplessly around the wounded, vomit in shock on the ground and upon each other. It is a horrible roundelay. All this goes on at ankle height. "Hopefully, I will live through this with a little bit of dignity," the title reads. Dignity is in short supply here. How about 222 plaster, wax and charcoal heads, each damaged in some way, each set inside a grubby little vitrine, in Beijing-born Terence Koh's Crackhead? Koh can't be accused of subtlety, any more than Banks Violette and her sculptural tableaux.
Violette's work is sculpture that wishes it was as edgy as a death-cult heavy metal band, but is about as dangerous as Spinal Tap. His casts of electric guitars, mock amplifiers and drifts of salt and sugar faking cocaine have schlock value, but little else.
In Barnaby Furnas's paintings, men in suits are being turned to mincemeat in a shoot-out on Hamburger Hill, and a flood of urethane red, like a bloody response to the poured and stained 1960s colour field paintings of Morris Louis, roars through a blue sky in another mammoth canvas. I can just see this sanguinous deluge displayed with pride in some American corporate lobby somewhere. That is one of the problems with art that attempts to make statements: it gets assimilated.
Paint becomes snot in a painted sneeze by Dana Schutz; she paints feelings as though they were regurgitated food. In one canvas, a head eats its own face, as well it might.
Schutz's paintings are at least funny and intelligently made. There are some silly paintings in this exhibition: a self-consciously badly painted decapitated horse with a huge penis, bluntly crass paintings of bits of bodies, Gerald Davis's deeply unpleasant paintings of adolescent sexuality.
Davis paints pubescent Monica giving head, and an x-ray view of teen Linsey's full colon, accompanied by a painted diary entry about her exquisite bathroom experience in the shopping mall. Where do we go with images like these? Am I meant to admire their more abstract qualities, or feel all smug at their sophisticated ironies?
USA Today is neither as good as I wanted it to be, nor as bad. When I say bad, I mean angry, lacerating, bitter, disillusioned, pained and powerful. In New York's Whitney Biennial, Richard Serra showed a rough little drawing of a now familiar image: a figure hooded in black, standing with outstretched arms on a box, waiting, so he thinks, to be electrocuted. "STOP BUSH," Serra scrawled on the drawing.
It may not be great art, but it doesn't need to be. That's the problem. I want an art more powerful - not just loud, not just blunt. Most of art's audience already know what they think about the state of America and the war on terror. The job of artists, novelists, film-makers, musicians and playwrights demands that they go further than stating the obvious. USA Today is an expression, more than anything, of impotence.
· USA Today is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, from tomorrow until November 4. Details 020-7300 8000.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Personal Favorite : Mark Titchner
It's Turner prize time again: the annual occasion for a national punch-up over contemporary art, when four artists are lined up in order to be pilloried, praised and passionately fought over before one of them - not infrequently, the one least expected to do so - is awarded a cheque for £25,000.
It is, in short, always something of a soap opera, which is why it is particularly appropriate that, as part of his section of the exhibition at Tate Britain in London shortlisted artist Phil Collins has set up a fully operational TV production office, called Shady Lane Productions.
Collins is asking members of the public to contact the office if they have had a damaging experience as a result of appearing on a reality or makeover show.
He will then invite participants to tell their side of the story, unedited, for a resulting programme called The Return of the Real, a sort of "what-happened-next". Collins's own reaction to his shortlisting was: "I thought about it for a week. It felt like that moment in [the film] Carrie when she has a bucket of blood thrown over her and is made a fool of on a grand scale."
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, one of the Tate curators who has put together this year's exhibition, said that this year's artists "cover all bases". Apart from film-maker Collins, the other shortlisted contenders are a painter, a sculptor and an installation artist. It is the second year running a painter has made the shortlist. Tomma Abts's non-representational oils, unvaryingly 38cm by 48cm, are made, as Ms Carey-Thomas put it, "with no source material, no sketches and no preconceived idea of how they will end up". Working with a combination of utter precision and total intuition she applies paint until, gradually, a shape emerges, though the work may go through wildly differing stages before the final form is found. Ms Abts says that the painting is complete when "it suddenly has an atmosphere and makes you feel something". The work is then given a title using a dictionary of first names from a particular region of Germany.
The other contenders are Rebecca Warren, whose clay sculptures reference figures such as Rodin and Dégas and whose lumpy, bumpy, hyper-feminine forms gently debunk her artistic forebears; and Mark Titchner, whose installations draw on defunct belief systems and outmoded science to "question the codes by which we live today", according to Tate curator Katharine Stout.
The unveiling of the exhibition was, however, overshadowed by comments made at the weekend by one of this year's jurors. Journalist Lynn Barber, writing in the Observer and breaking the convention that jurors remain silent at least until the prize is awarded, quoted an extract from her diary saying that she felt "demoralised, disillusioned, and full of dark fears that I have been stitched up - that actually the art world has already decided who will win the 2006 Turner prize and that I am brought in purely as a fig leaf". She also said the experience of being a Turner prize judge had "seriously dampened" her enthusiasm for contemporary art and that she had tried to "warn off" a colleague, writer Miranda Sawyer, from accepting an invitation to become a juror for the 2007 prize.
Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, said of Barber's article: "I think it was tongue in cheek. This was a very personal account of how she found the process and very good-humoured. I'm very relaxed about it - she's very engaging and slightly self-deprecating and honest."
This year's prize is awarded in a ceremony at Tate Britain on December 3. The winner will receive £25,000 and the runners-up £5,000 each. This year's jurors, apart from Ms Barber, are Margot Heller, director of the South London Gallery; Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns gallery, New York; and Andrew Renton, director of the curating course at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Chairing the jury is Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota.
According to Sir Nicholas, the prize "cannot possibly cover the full range of new developments, nor survey all that is important in contemporary art in Britain. Nor is the prize intended either as a long-service medal, or as a forcing ground for new talent. It answers the simple questions, what were the exhibitions, which were the works of art and who were the artists whose work had the strongest and most enduring impact this year on this group of individuals, the jury?" To be eligible artists must be under 50 and living or working in Britain. Previous winners since the prize's inauguration in 1984 have included Martin Creed (2001), Chris Ofili (1998), and Damien Hirst (1995).
Thursday, September 21, 2006
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
With Tuymans we jump from endgame to postgame wrap-up, a commentary on the
This is why we shouldn't expect or require an individual masterpiece from Tuymans.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Watch the new show of Armen Eloyan here: http://vernissage.tv/blog/2006/09/07/armen-eloyan-comic-related-paintings-bob-van-orsouw/
I don´t want to guess how he broke two arms at once....
Altough smoking like that ... very classy Armen!!!!!!!!!
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Martin Eder opened a show with new works at the Eigen + Art Gallery Berlin.
Although the works weren´t that great in my opinion, it was absolutely an art event and later in the evening the artist played with his trashy night club band in the beautifull ballhaus, wich was absolutely brilliant.
It was amazing how many art victims etc. turned up for just two openings in Auguststrasse.
There was a show at KW and the one above.
KW i don´t have photographs of, sorry.
Art=Hip here in Berlin.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Well summervacation is kind of over. The first real opening in months took place at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien yesterday. I had the feeling that this overwelming crowded happening took some ajustments from my part, but it was very nice to see our friends Susanne and Sasha again. The exhibition: How to do things...in the middle of (no)where included work by Sasha (real name Alexander Komarov wich is shown on the photographs, he made a kind of paralel between a prisoner or prison life and the way an artist moves in his studio, i don´t do him justice with this very short description of his work wich includes many more layers but i have to be off and running to the next opening today of Martin Eder wich will probebly feature here tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Saturday, August 26, 2006
MICHELE ROBECCHI: What’s the connection between the three pieces?
JASON RHOADES: The Meccatuna (2003) piece in New York started out as a very simple idea to take a live tuna on a pilgrimage to Mecca. I tried to figure out how to do it, if it was possible or not, and it turned out it was hard. To keep the tuna alive, you have to keep it swimming. But I thought it would have been very beautiful to take a tuna to Mecca. And then it went to Sushi Tuna, and that was also hard. Then it turned into Canned Tuna. That’s the one I achieved for the show in New York. Meccatuna was a really simple thing – I thought it was a word that meant ‘everything’, like the whole shebang, the whole kit n’ kaboodle, the whole Meccatuna. It turned out that it wasn’t really a word yet. But then I still tried to push through and have it achieve its wordliness. It comes from this idea of a pilgrimage of going to see something, like in Egypt and Morocco where they paint your trip to the Kaaba on the side of your house or something. There’s that folk art image of that thing. Then I figured out I couldn’t go there because I’m not Muslim. So that pushed me even more – I was even more interested. My Medina was this pussy mosque that we built in St. Gallen. It’s beautiful. And that was just a very simple idea to build the pussy mosque, something I thought should be done. You know I collect these pussy words from all parts of the world in English and whatever, Spanish, and we have over 3,500 now that we will work from – linguistically harvesting these things. They have to be proven somehow. That’s just a very simple relationship between – it’s a strange thing, what euphemism, analogies, second word for something. Like in this cockney rhyming one – Sigourney Weaver = beaver. I like the way it interacts with us socially and sexually and intimately and yet kind of worldly. It places us in the world and it places us with language where we’re situated. Anyway, I just found it amazingly interesting as something to collect. Do you collect them?
MR: Um, no.
JR: Not yet. Maybe you will.
MR: Maybe. I’ve only collected empty cans so far.
JR: Really? I’d been interested in that. Do you want to sell your collection of empty cans? How many cans have you got?
MR: Thousands, I think.
JR: Like stacked, or wrapped in boxes? Where are they now?
MR: They’re in boxes at my mother’s house now. It was a very Warholian thing – collecting things, put them in a box and move on. Did you collect something when you were a child?
JR: Yes, various things, but I’m not a big pack rat. I don’t like to keep them. I like stuff that I can have for a while.
MR: You clearly enjoy the search though.
JR: Yes, it’s all about searching.
MR: Your interest in Islamic culture nowadays must bring a lot of attention, given the current political situation.
JR: Yes, it’s good advertising. I started off fascinated with it because we don’t know about it. It’s not really taught and it’s not really clear. So I think my job as an artist is just to pull back the skin of something and expose parts of it. Not in a weird, aggressive way. Trying to be sensitive, but having no morals or no fundamentalism about it. I was fascinated by this Kaaba forever as a piece of art – I thought it was a sculpture. It’s a great sculpture from Abraham and the Pagan idolatry. Even in Islam, this big black cube, you go around it.
MR: It’s a challenging combination of different religious items.
JR: Yes. Mohammed adapted a lot of early elements, took it to serve the purpose of his trip.
MR: The Santa Sophia mosque in Istanbul presents a similar mix of Christian iconography and Muslim elements.
JR: Yes. My Medina was kind of based on that a bit. I’d been to several mosques in Egypt and of course in Turkey. I didn’t like this feeling that you get when you go into it, this holy place with no central element like Christianity. I think it’s bad if you have to look in one direction. They do look in the direction of Mecca but it’s not centrally around one cross thing. It’s just a room. The place where I did the pussy mosque in St. Gallen is big, there are no squares. It’s a continuous room. We’re trying to build that now in the desert. That’s My Medina in pursuit of my hermitage. That was all about trying to build this private museum for myself.
MR: So, you’ve been approaching these religious/laic issues as a man of faith?
JR: No, I’m a man of no faith.
MR: Well, you have faith in art otherwise you wouldn’t be an artist.
JR: Yes, but art is slippery, that’s why I like it. It’s a weird one that can constantly change, disappear. Art to me is just a pursuit of something. That’s all. I don’t like moral fundamentalism. In this idea of the art world there’s always this morality – and of course in the religious world – but in the art world too we have it.
MR: But if you keep aside the practical application of religion and just focus on the pure concept, religion too is the pursuit of something.
JR: But art is a fucked-up job. In a way you have to succeed, and to do that you have to be mediocre. You can’t be extreme.
MR: Really? That’s interesting because a piece of criticism you often hear about contemporary art is that it’s all about being extreme.
JR: No. You have to be able to. I can’t piss on the floor here. I have to have some kind of control to weave my way through it. With my work it needs to be bigger than me to control me. ‘It just needs to be more fucked up than me’. It’s a strange thing. When I tell someone how to do something, I often say ‘just make it a little more fucked up’. Then I say they’re thinking too much. Just do it like if you need to get it done. That’s how some weird spiritual thing happens – it’s like a fate or a faith. Within this piece here, it’s a strange way of working. That’s what the piece is about. Grabbing something, dragging it across, dragging it somewhere else. This mobility of things. This weird story of Jean-Michel Basquiat dragging the paintbrush across paint as he’s going to do some drugs or to the bathroom or whatever. This activity is totally natural to his environment. What’s interesting about Basquiat too is that the microscope was so incredibly focused on it and I really liked the way people look at it and think of him as charismatic and they rethink his history. They encapsulate these stories, that’s all part of what it is that art is, to me. I don’t necessarily like Basquiat’s paintings but I do like some part of it very much.
MR: When I saw your work at the Friedrich C. Flick Collection in Berlin, the first thing that came to my mind was how it worked technically. When you sell a work like that is there a specific map of how to remake it?
JR: That one was the haemorrhoidal installation. That was meant to be like a haemorrhoid on your asshole, it’s like round and there’s a blood clot thing and it makes a little fatty thing on the sphincter part. It was designed to be an asshole with little bumps on it. It was made up of five very distinct pieces that Flick had acquired over the period of a relationship we had, which was quite a long time.
MR: Where did you originally show that piece?
JR: It was shown at different points. It’s been the creation myth, which was one piece and various versions of the piece. It was five pieces. I talked with Flick about every piece he had got and decided to put them together to make one big work out of that. We have maps for individual pieces and we have maps for the entire thing – these big manuals. They will probably be the only thing that is actually left of my work, details of this and that.
MR: So it’s not about doing it the same way twice?
JR: No, it’s not about that. If you look at somebody who taught us how to see then you can interpret that, you can do that. Somebody can almost do the Flick installation without me now. I mean, not that they are these skilled people, but if you know the ways that I work then you can do it. It’s not about me anymore. It’s this thing that we put together and it’s not so much about preserving it in its original intention either. It’s like you don’t know what the fuck we are making or how it will be interpreted, you don’t know that over time. It should be preserved somehow in its intention, but not in its physical form? Maybe, maybe not – I don’t know. I think at the levels we have now, at least there is a little bit of infrastructure around it because there’s so much money involved. The minute money slips away it becomes your cans collection. What do you do with it? It’s at your mother’s house, when that situation changes, do you go and get it?
And in what form do you pull out the four cans that you like? Now, you’re just selling it on eBay, it’s simple.
MR: How about The Snowball (1999), the work you did with Peter Bonde at the Danish Pavilion during the 48th Venice Biennale?
JR: Through it I was able to experiment in certain things. It started as a bar conversation, ‘Oh Jason, let’s do something with race cars and burning rubber and stuff’ and I’m like ‘Yeah yeah, whatever. If you find a way to do it then maybe I’ll do it’ and in a way he called my bluff and came up with the thing. Then we had to do it and there were some amazing things that went along with it but I don’t collaborate well.
MR: Well, with Paul [McCarthy] you do.
JR: Well, with Paul of course, because it’s a totally different level of relationship. With Peter Bonde there wasn’t any basis to be connected to one another. Our interests were so far apart and so different in what we wanted from the thing. Eventually it worked out pretty well though. I like parts of it, but for me when I walk away from an exhibition, when I’m on the plane or in the cab leaving the town, that’s what makes a work of art for me. Whether it was perfect, whether it was this life changing thing that had happened. The problem with Venice is that I don’t remember anything from about a week before the opening. I remember the event in LA, that was pure for me but this video installation of the stuff was so much not it.
MR: Yes, when I saw the show I thought ‘I wish I was there instead’, although I think the installation was pretty good.
JR: It was fucked up. It was good there, in the desert. I think for somebody coming in you might get this feeling and this energy or something but compared to what it was, it wasn’t even more pure, it’s just that was something I was interested in. When you do a show or you work with somebody it’s like you are committed to them, you’re married to them. With Peter Bonde it was a one
night stand with somebody that I was really not attracted to, I was just too drunk
to think about it and too embarrassed when I woke up in the morning. Or maybe I didn’t wake up in the morning, maybe I slipped out in the middle of the night. It’s that feeling, you know? And Peter, he’s an interesting artist, he’s good. But culturally I think we just don’t have that much in common.
MR: How did your collaboration with Paul McCarthy start?
JR: I was a student of Paul. I was living in New York and I was thinking about this graduate school idea or going back, because I was moving paintings around New York at the end of the 80s and it was this amazing time when you saw the art world shrinking again. I remember when I was at the Art Institute in San Francisco, I was a security guard and I would go to this library and read these high performance articles. I don’t know how I started to find them but what I really liked was that they pushed the limit; they pushed the audience out in a way. It wasn’t just embracing or glorifying or doing those things and there was a very formal attitude to them, they were very controlled in how they were produced and very emotional, just things that I like to come together. So I knew that Paul was teaching at UCLA so that’s where I wanted to go, then I was a student, then kind of did my own thing. Paul never treated anybody lower than him or higher than him. He had incredible respect and if you did a good work it was a good work and it was the same level as him. Of course we all get jealous but it was not overpowering, he knew where he stood and he respects art and artists. After a while, when I had found my own feet, we started to do some stuff together just because we had an interest. It wasn’t forced, it was just natural.
MR: Yes, I can tell.
JR: It also runs its course too. You have that pure time together and it’s good and it shouldn’t be forced from the outside. I hate when people try to put two people together. But Paul is great.
MR: Your installations sometimes can be very overwhelming.
JR: They’re not for everybody, for sure. I think people should be overwhelmed. I think it should shut you down; it should make you give up something. I think you should come to a work of art and be able to offer it something and be able to stand there with it and just say ‘yeah, I’m prostrating myself, I’m giving in to you.’ Not that it is overpowering, too much stuff or whatever. That is for me, I like to forget, it’s a blur, it’s crazy. But you should be able to simply see it for what it is in your personal idea about it. You should be able to indulge in the camel stool, you had one as a kid? Or looking at a Turner painting at the museum here. For me it’s like I look at these Turner paintings and the most amazing thing is having a beautiful person standing in front of it and you’re looking at them in relation to the painting. That I love, beautiful legs or fashion or whatever, and they are giving themselves up and you’re there too, to witness this thing. That’s a part of it that is beautiful. I think you should only go to see one work of art at a time, like this idea of the pilgrimage, at one point in your life you should just go to see one work of art but don’t try and turn it into a tourism of ancient sites. That is not what it is.
MR: You often talk about the protection of culture as a value to defend from the claws of mass tourism – can you elaborate?
JR: If you make something and it somehow fits into a context – a museum, a person’s house – as an artist my job is to protect culture and to figure out a way to protect culture.
MR: Well, sometimes there is a fine line between protection and repression. ‘Protection of Culture’ can be a tricky concept.
JR: Well, I think the museums that exist today are totally repressive. The artist is struggling with that. It’s constantly at battle.
MR: You mean because they want the artist to fit into a specific pattern?
JR: It’s become a public tourism thing. Art is not necessarily for the public.
MR: Yet they think they are protecting culture too in their own way – by bringing it to a broader audience.
JR: What they’re trying to do is to get people in the door to pay for a secondary social life for them. A lot of directors and curators just protect themselves, their lives, their families. That’s true of all of us. But it’s not necessarily their job. If their name goes first and everything else goes after, usually you can tell who they’re looking out for.
MR: The ‘Dionysiac’ exhibition at the Centre Pompidou last autumn was an attempt to individuate a common trait between artists whose work has a strong, spectacular impact. Didn’t you have the impression that the power of these individual works was somehow diminished by their being presented altogether?
JR: That’s another problem. When I go to do a group show, which I don’t like to do at all, I don’t usually look at anything else. I try not to see the show – I wander through it a couple of times. Of course it’s diminished. I don’t like walking through these rooms. It’s possible that in Paris the works were all on the same tone, but I think some things were more interesting than other things in part. I don’t know, I actually never really saw it as a show. I saw the Sheep Plug (2004) from Iceland and them doing it there and now what we’re doing is we took half of it to this castle in Stuttgart and the other half is coming to LA. I have a house in a place called Sheep Hole and it has a bomb shelter underneath the house. So we’re going to bring half of the Sheep Plugs there and put them into this weird, fucked-up Vietnam veteran bomb shelter that this guy dug by hand after 9/11.
MR: Speaking of your house, how’s the swimming pool going?
JR: Oh, the penis pool. I always run into problems, it’s still not there. I get involved with these people to try and build it all the time. I say ‘it’s a penis pool’, and they’re like ‘oh, great’ and whatever, but for some reason they’ll think it’s not real or something and they say ‘oh, we can’t do that’.
MR: Why do they say they can’t do it? You think they have a problem with it?
JR: I don’t know. I’m actually a little guilty of it too. To come up with a penis shaped pool with this asshole jacuzzi, the idea keeps evolving too, so I’m also a problem. I would like to have a collaborator that would stop it and deal with it. I can’t find the right shape – should it be the shape of my penis, should it be the shape of your penis. There are so many different things, like pussies, there’s so many different pussies in the world. Norman Rosenthal was here the other day with the director and he said ‘oh, it would be really great if you came in and did a talk with the artists’ and he says ‘we have this beautiful life drawing. It’s perfect, let’s do a pussy drawing class’ and it would be really nice because it’s great to have people draw pussies or penises out of their heads, it’s really crazy. I was interested, with the penis pool, like the one written on the wall of the bathroom, this quick drawing. So with the penis pool it goes back and forth.
MR: It reminds me of art school, when they ask you to draw nude models for the first time. All of a sudden you’re called to react to a naked human body in a completely different way. Did you have to do that?
JR: Yes, that was a big feel. I went to a very classical art school in a way. We had one guy that was really a teacher and we had this belly-dancing model that was very nice too. I was pretty good at it, not in a classical form or whatever, but I had all the right moves and stuff. It was incredible. I was like 18 years old and from a kind of semi-conservative background. I was pretty wild and then you’re supposed to take this thing seriously, the form of the body is this thing, you’re not supposed to react to it in a certain way. It’s a very strange thing. I always considered this point when they would draw not the figures but the plastic models, the plaster models. And then this stage when Abstract Impressionists threw the models out of the art schools. It’s like this expressionistic thing, it’s like there’s no more of this plastic form, we need emotion, throw out the plaster casts, that whole thing.
08/07/2006 t/m 08/10/2006In his first museum solo at the GEM, Hague artist Vittorio Roerade (b. The Hague, 1962) presents work produced over the last six years. In his paintings, Roerade uses unorthodox techniques and materials to fairytale figurative effect. He combines beeswax with photo-collages, pours on epoxy resin, perforates his works and decorates his pictures with hair and embroidery. The main themes of his strange and moving matter paintings are the fragility of human life and the interconnection of everything on earth.
Even though his work is based on sketchbooks full of countless meticulous drawings, Vittorio Roerade has always worked first and foremost as a painter. Into his oil paintings and watercolours he quickly introduced elements of photo-collage. His choice of subject has remained unchanged: man, human relationships and the connection between the individual and the wider world. Portraits play a major role in his oeuvre, both as a mirror of the world and as the bearer of psychological meaning. In a number of striking early series, Roerade obtains a variety of effects through repetition of parts of the human body, such as noses, eyes, hands and feet. The elements often become enigmatic and turn into an abstract pattern, but such repetition can also transform a double portrait into an image of a single fused human being. In some of Roerade’s portraits, however, the nose or mouth is actually missing, making the depiction seem both concentrated and otherworldly. The exhibition at the GEM begins with the ‘wax portraits’ that Roerade was making in 1997-2001: thick layers of beeswax smeared on around the eyes or mouth make it look as if the facial features are having to work their way out through the skin. Later he uses epoxy resin to achieve a still more layered and transparent effect. The brushstroke disappears, making the image still more anonymous. The forms dissolve into the resin and lose their solid outlines. Faces are simplified down to a circular shape adorned with three dots: two eyes and a mouth. Subsequently, Roerade starts to add elements, such as songbirds, which soften the severity of the pared-down image and open it up again. The faces are also more freely represented and start to look like animals or teddy bears.
Roerade’s recent work also reflects another fascination: with structures. Where this was expressed in his early work by means, for example, of a close-up of a hand, revealing the network of fine lines in the skin, patterns of branches and spider webs now occur as independent motifs. Roerade’s interest is unlikely to be purely formal in nature; his concern is with a network of relationships between individuals and with a fundamental structure ultimately underlying the entire material world: the universe in a playful and poetic form. He introduces texts, taken from pop songs, on the subject of love or the beauty of life. These texts, constructed of little holes bored into the smooth epoxy resin, likewise form an abstract pattern, overlying the image like a starry sky. In his most recent paintings, he takes the integration of the individual and the network even further, while at the same time allowing the image ever more freedom
Works by Elspeth Diederix, Marnix Goossens, Gert Jan Kocken, Anouk Kruithof and Jaap Scheeren, Hans van der Meer, Julika Rudelius, Gerco de Ruijter, Viviane Sassen and Martine Stig, Marike Schuurman, Roy Villevoye and Useful Photography will be represented in Dutch Dare, Contemporary Photography from the Netherlands. This exhibition will run from 19 October to 2 December 2006 at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, Australia.
Frits Gierstberg has compiled the exhibition at the request the Mondriaan Foundation as part of the commemoration of four hundred years of bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Australia. The accompanying catalogue is published by NAi Publishers (ISBN 90-5662-548-9).
"The binding factor in the selection for Dutch Dare is the manner in which these photographers and visual artists blend traditions and genres and turn them upside down, use humour and irony, deploy the documentary and play with it at the same time, taking everyday life as the starting point and managing to develop countless variants of Dutch Primitive realism," explained Gierstberg.