Friday, June 29, 2007

Painting by numbers

Super-rich collectors are distorting the art market, and our public galleries cannot afford to compete

Charlotte Higgins
Thursday June 28, 2007
The Guardian

Any self-respecting tycoon needs a good luxury yacht on which to entertain. During the opening weekend of the Venice Biennale earlier this month, flashy vessels were moored bow-to-stern in the lagoon, providing a spectacle in their own right at the entrance to the world's most important art exhibition. The Biennale is not supposed to be about buying art. But it is, increasingly, about window-shopping. The billionaire art collectors were in town - and they weren't afraid to flaunt their bling.

Contemporary art's popularity among those with mega-bucks, its intense fashionability, is reflected with precision in the salerooms. Last week's London auctions told a clear story of a fabulously buoyant market. The papers gleefully reported records toppled, a Damien Hirst medicine cabinet becoming, at £9.65m, the most expensive work by a living artist ever auctioned in Europe.

There are plenty who applaud this buoyancy. It means artists are increasingly able to make a decent living. And the desirability of contemporary art is inextricably linked to its place in culture at large: it is accepted as part of the mainstream as never before. Dealers say that there is a trickle-down effect: if they have one or two very successful artists in their stable, that in effect allows them to subsidise those who produce less commercial work. But there is undeniably a wealth divide, which cuts several ways: between collectors and artists; between artists who can command great prices and those who are less commercially successful; and, perhaps most damagingly for ordinary art-lovers, between wealthy individuals and public institutions.

One effect of the gap is to shift the way the art world is constituted a notch towards the predilections of the collectors. Events such as the Venice Biennale have less and less to do with art, and more to do with the owners of those yachts. The parties, the exclusive dinners - all this glitter, this exclusivity and preening - threatens to eclipse the slow and serious work that art is. The noise around the fantastic prices being achieved in the sales can trick us into imagining that commercial value equates to artistic value. It does not.

More worryingly, perhaps, the gap threatens to affect what artists actually create. Imagine being an art student now - the fantasy, or phantom, of a collector appearing to buy your entire degree show must be a bizarre distraction. At the other end of the spectrum, there are well-known British artists operating large, profitable studios on a Rubens-eque scale whose output, one cannot help thinking, might benefit from a slowdown in productivity.

The real problem in all this, however, is that state museums are increasingly priced out of the market. They simply cannot afford to compete. The Tate spent £4.8m on art in 2004/05, which would have bought about half that Hirst medicine cabinet. The Museum of Modern Art in New York spent £20m. If museums do not refresh their collections they stagnate, become irrelevant. They must have the capacity to buy if they are to continue the success of the past decade, with annual visitors increasing by 15 million over the past nine years. This predicament ought to be soluble. For a start, the recommendations of the 2004 Goodison Review, suggesting tax inducements as a means of encouraging philanthropy, should be quickly implemented by the Treasury. Second, the super-rich should start putting their hands in their pockets. Frick, Carnegie and Getty are remembered for giving money away, not for their prowess in making it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Viviane Sassen wins Prix de Rome

From the jury report:

'According to the jury Sassen's work is of high quality and displays hope for the development of photography, precisely at a moment when the medium has reached a deadlock. She succeeds in improving herself and creating innovatory photojournalism. She plays with mise en scène and enters into a genuine collaboration with the people she photographs without reverting to manipulation or voyeurism. Furthermore, she transcends her subjects; the photographs are not purely about death, loss and urban life in Africa but also about humanity, cultural clichés, Sassen's personal life story and aesthetics. According to the jury her work is not 'pseudo-anthropological, pseudo-sociological, or pseudo-site-specific-art but authentic art'. Some of the jury members designate a number of 'masterpieces'.'

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

RONALD DE BLOEME - Männerparadies

After numerous group exhibitions in Berlin this is de Bloeme’s first solo show in Germany.

New large format enemal on canvas works form the core of the exhibition. De Bloeme´s colour-intensive usually austere compositions reflect and reduce the constant presence of advertising, packaging, national symbols and pictograms of everyday life. These smooth, perfectly composed paintings seem like the memory of a walk through the city, cut into large, coloured segments.

Composition is the will to communicate - so could one also summarize the work of the young Berlin-based Netherlands painter. Precisely this will is central to his reflections and investigations about the nature of visual communication systems. The desire to reach others expresses itself with different intensity - aggressively, tenderly, quietly, loud, self-interested, unselfishly. Communication is the highest capitalistic virtue.

Signs are demanding. They want to be considered. Ronald de Bloeme observes them. He does not go simply past the awnings, the postal sacks, the diagrams, the patterns, the guides to paper planes models. He sees the effort, the work, the will for communication.

By quoting visual messages of a non-art-related system of symbols, the artist refers to processes of the creation of meaning itself. At the same time these patterns, found in products, on building walls or brochures are repeatedly transformed by the artist.

Ronald de Bloeme responds through the intensity of painting to the plea that is transmitted by these symbols and places the constructed codes at that point, where the fight for the principals of images and the suitability of picture languages are traditional fought: in the rectangular frame of the traditional painting. He releases the conventional pictorial composition from its traditional set of rules, by exposing it to the aggressive stylistic idiom of the visual culture of goods and leaves the effect of the pictures to the scrutiny of the viewer.

Work by Ronald de Bloeme also features in a show entitled ‛Ons feestje is niet leuk’, an exhibition he curated for Galerie Nouvelles Images.

Exhibition Dates: 16th June -15th August, 2007.

Hamish Morrison Georg Spielhaus

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bernd Becher 1931 - 2007

um Tod von Bernd Becher

Jäger einer verschwundenen Welt

Von Werner Spies

24. Juni 2007
Der Gang in die Ateliers und Archive, die Bernd und Hilla Becher in der Alten Schule in Kaiserwerth eingerichtet haben, die Gespräche am riesigen Tisch gehören zu dem, was man nicht vergessen will. Immer ging es hier um die Ordnung flüchtiger Dinge und die Erinnerung an verlorene Orte. Aus diesem Grunde hat es etwas zutiefst Anrührendes, dass der so sachliche Arbeitsplatz, an dem Bernd und Hilla Becher wie ein siamesisches Zwillingspaar ihrer unteilbaren Passion nachgingen, an eine salische Pfeilerbasilika stößt.

Denn liefert nicht die dreischiffige Suitbertuskirche am Kaiserswerther Stiftsplatz das Symbol für das, was die großen Künstler in ihrer beispiellosen Komplementarität suchten, ein nunc stans, eine Ewigkeit im Augenblick? In dem spartanischen, wohlgeordneten Haus begegnete der Besucher dem, was die unverwechselbare Entdeckungsreise der Fotografen bestimmt: Er stand plötzlich mit dem Rücken gegen die verflossene, entwertete Zeit. In Tausenden von Aufnahmen haben Bernd und Hilla Becher Industriearchitekturen dokumentiert. Sie zeigen, wie Zeugen der Schwerindustrie, Fördertürme, Kalköfen, Wassertürme, Getreidesilos, Hochöfen, Kohlebunker, Gasbehälter verschwinden und ersetzt werden.

Eiskalte Repertorien der industriellen Welt

Bernd Becher (1931-2007)

Im Laufe der Jahre entstehen, von kaum jemandem wahrgenommen, eiskalte Repertorien der industriellen Welt. Darin tauchen die Produktionsstätten auf, die unwiederbringlich hinter Börsenberichten und Bilanzen verschwunden waren. Bernd und Hilla Becher taten ihr Werk mit einer Unparteilichkeit, die auf subjektive Eingriffe verzichtete. Wie in August Sanders Sammelwerk „Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts“ ging es um Fülle und Typologie. Bei der Arbeit gab es auch keine nationalen Grenzen. Die Fotografen zogen immer gemeinsam in andere Länder, in andere Kontinente, um bei ihrem Sammeln die transzendentalen Kategorien aufzuspüren, die den Erfindungsgeist der Industrialisierung zu veränderten Formen zwang.

Ein immer gleiches gedämpftes Streulicht lässt die Wassertürme oder Kohlebunker nur leicht hervortreten. Der Blickpunkt wird so gewählt, dass sich das Motiv ruhig in die Bildmitte einschreibt. Nirgends spielen die Fotografen mit der Vereinzelung, die, wie in der pittura metafisica, eine irreale Stimmung zustande bringen könnte. Schattenwurf und Dramatik werden vermieden. Sonnenaufgänge, Landschaft, Gewitter, Rauch und Spuren von Arbeit fehlen; und dort, wo in den Sommermonaten ein Baum einen Giebel auflockert und eine Form unleserlich macht, beginnt ein geduldiges Warten auf Herbst und Winter. Nur kahle Zweige befingern die Fassade.

Vom Menschen selbst fehlt jede Spur

Von der Arbeitswelt, vom Menschen selbst entdecken wir keine Spur. Es ist eine Welt, die auch die Neutronenbombe in diesem Zustand übrig lassen würde. Man spürt, dass die Suche nach dem Standort und der Umgang mit Belichtungszeit nichts mit der Ermittlung von Aktualität zu tun haben möchten. Im Systematischen der Technik und in der Beschränkung auf ein Motiv drückt sich etwas Fatales aus. Die gleichbleibende Einstellung der Kamera, die die Frontalität, Symmetrie und Redundanz der Formen hervorhebt, bringt eine Unerbittlichkeit zustande. Die Melancholie der Gespräche, die sich in dieser Welt von gestern verfing, unterstrich, dass die Künstler Bildern hinterherliefen, die nicht mehr der Jetztzeit angehörten.

Denn eigentlich erreichen die abertausend Konstellationen, die in diesem Planetarium von Industrieformen erscheinen, unser Auge mit Verspätung. Sie scheinen von dem Licht längst erloschener Sterne erhellt zu werden. Das Inventar, das Bernd und Hilla Becher anlegen, ist so besehen alles andere als optimistisch. Man könnte auch nicht sagen, dass es den Einfallsreichtum der Ingenieure feiert. Mit einem Schlag lässt sich Platonismus mit den Händen greifen.

Es geht um das Übersehene

Es geht ihm zu einer Zeit, da sich die Maler mehr und mehr auf eine innere Sicht zurückziehen, um das Übersehene. In diesem Augenblick wird die Begegnung mit seiner späteren Frau Hilla Wobeser entscheidend. Die Fotografin gibt ihm die Mittel, um zu einer neuen, unterkühlten Auseinandersetzung mit dem Sujet vorzudringen. Die Trauerarbeit verzichtet auf Larmoyanz, die sich an das Vergehen des physischen Lebens heften könnte. Das Werk projiziert die Tristesse in die Dinge. Vergessen wir nicht, es ist die Zeit des Nouveau Roman und der Nouvelle Vague, die Zeit, die alles Psychologisieren zensiert.

Die Arbeiten der Bechers bringen eine Stimmung zustande, die sich am ehesten mit der vergleichen lässt, die von Boltanskis Werk ausgeht. Auch ihre Aufnahmen kreisen fast ausnahmslos um Abwesendes und Vergangenes. Die monumentale Werkschau, die die Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen vor drei Jahren ausrichtete, machte dies alles sichtbar. In der Präsentation trat das Typologische in den Vordergrund. Man stand vor heroischen Friedhöfen menschlicher Erfindungen; nie zuvor hatte der Besucher an einem derart verwirrenden Totenamt für abgelegte industrielle Formen teilgenommen.

Treibjagd auf eine verschwindende Welt

Er traf auf Wände voller Verlustanzeigen. Dies gilt vor allem für die Arbeiten, die auf die ersten Beutezüge zurückgehen. Inzwischen darf man behaupten, dass diese Treibjagd, die eine verschwindende Welt einfangen möchte, wenigstens ein wenig dafür gesorgt hat, Aufmerksamkeit für das Übersehene zu schaffen. Eine der ersten Publikationen, „Zeche Zollern 2“ (1971), führte dazu, diese Architekturen und Aufbauten mit den Augen des Archäologen zu betrachten.

Auch der Denkmalschutz begann sich, dank der Pionierleistung der Bechers, für Formen zu interessieren, die zuvor als banal und rein utilitär abgetan wurden. Die Titel der Bildbände kündeten das Umdenken an. Auf „Anonyme Skulpturen“, die noch den ästhetischen Ansatz gelten lassen, folgten die systematischen Kompendien, die unterstreichen, dass es nun nicht mehr um die Präsentation von anonymen Einzelformen ging, deren stupenden formalen Reichtum man am Interesse absichern konnte, das damals der konstruktivistischen Skulptur galt.

Die Aufnahmefähigkeit strapaziert

Denn inzwischen war das Archiv der Bechers so stark angewachsen, dass die Verblüffung über die minimalen Abweichungen, die zwischen den einzelnen Formen lagen, in den Vordergrund trat. Die Bilderjagd hatte dafür gesorgt, dass sich das OEuvre vom einzelnen Bild und von der nachweisbaren Topographie befreien konnte. Es ging um die Begegnung mit einer überreichen Fülle, die die Aufnahmefähigkeit des Betrachters strapazieren musste. Wir kennen eine derartige Entmutigung durch das Labyrinth von Formen nur noch aus den Bilderserien Picassos. Dieses Sehen, in dem eine Form auf die andere zurückstrahlt, passt in die Zeit von Op-Art.

Sie gehört zum Spiel mit Labilität und Veränderung, das in den Händen eines Josef Albers gleichfalls ein ethisches Ziel verfolgte: Der Relativismus der Variationen sollte das intolerante Kunstverständnis und damit die Rechthaberei und Dominanz von Lösungen abschaffen. Auch im Gespräch mit Bernd Becher wurde deutlich, dass die unermüdliche Beschäftigung mit formaler Differenz, die Lust am Umgang mit der Ermüdung von Formen über das Interesse am Seriellen und am Spaß an rein formalen Trippelschritten hinausreichte, zu denen das Inventar immer neuer, nie zur Ruhe kommender Industrieformen führte. Das Paar wusste genau, was es wollte und was für die eigene Arbeit nicht in Frage kam. Zu den Tabus gehörte die Farbe, zu den Tabus gehörte die digitale Bearbeitung von Aufnahmen.

Gursky oder Höfer waren ihre Schüler

Und dazu zählte nicht zuletzt auch der selbstkasteiende Verzicht auf den profitablen, monumentalen Abzug. Die Beschränkung auf das kleinere Format sollte die Heroisierung des einzelnen Motivs unterbinden. Auf diese Weise hatten Bernd und Hilla Becher zusammen, unzertrennlich Berühmtheit erlangt. Und etwas ganz Entscheidendes: Bernd Becher war, auch hier assistiert von seiner Frau Hilla, ein überragender Lehrer, der an der Kunstakademie Düsseldorf überragende Schüler zu ermuntern vermochte.

Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte - sie alle verdanken dem disziplinierten, verzichtenden Sehen, einem Sehen, das Spontaneität und Schnappschuss verachtete, ihre großen Karrieren. Nun ist Bernd Becher fünfundsiebzigjährig in einem Rostocker Krankenhaus gestorben.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Multitudes website for D12

French magazine multitudes: have made a website to go along and comment on D12.

rosa barba
thomas hirschhorn
tjebbe beekman
martha rosler

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Michael van den Besselaar

groupshow at Black and White gallery NYC

08/06/07 - 14/07/07
en plein air reloaded

636 West 28th street, New York

Thursday, June 07, 2007

First intelligent comment on new Hirst Show

Is this the birth of 21st-century art?

With his shimmering skull, birth paintings and bisected shark, Damien Hirst has redeemed himself, says Jonathan Jones

Tuesday June 5, 2007
The Guardian

The darkness is a work of art in itself. Perhaps it is the real work of art. The public visits that are carefully orchestrated at the gallery, with timed tickets and small groups and - obviously - draconian security, are restricted to two minutes. In two minutes your eyes can't adjust to the darkness. In two minutes the iridescent object can only register as a dream of eye sockets that are blue-green pools sunk into a shimmering spectral mask. As you move closer the ghostly head bursts into all the colours of the spectrum ... and then two minutes are up and you are escorted out of the building.

You can re-enter White Cube, Mason's Yard to see the rest of Damien Hirst's exhibition, and go to White Cube, Hoxton Square to take in still more of it. But after seeing the work he calls For the Love of God, it's not the same any more, looking at animals in formaldehyde and butterflies trapped in paint and fish arrayed on shelves.

The old dispensation of Damien Hirst's art - that immaculate pharmacy - doesn't seem as urgent, as real, after seeing his new order. This isn't a disparagement of him, even if he had recently started to seem a bit saggy and sad, like a poorly preserved shark. It applies not just to Hirst's art before the skull but to what every artist in the world is doing at this moment. For the wonder at the crystalline heart of this exhibition is not only a memento mori, a death's head. It is also a birth, as scary as shattering as the one TS Eliot's Magi witnessed: a birth like a death. What is being born, exactly? It might be the art of the 21st century.

Art does not follow the calendar's dividing lines. The art of the 20th century does not begin in 1900 but 1907, the year Pablo Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, whose masks and staring eyes and jagged limbs and shallow perspective could never have been imagined by Monet or even Cézanne. Exactly a century on, Hirst has created an object that has nothing to do with the 20th century, that owes as little to Marcel Duchamp as it does to Picasso, that has nothing to do with the Holocaust or 1917 or any of the 20th century's memories ... a work of art, in fact, that could have been created in any century but that one. Art has struggled to escape the 20th century because its first half was a great aesthetic period that cast a long shadow. Hirst, though, has broken through - for the second time.

This exhibition is a kind of autobiography, a restatement of who he is and what he has done. This suggests the kind of self-consciousness Picasso exhibited in 1907, or again in 1937 when he painted Guernica: the self-analysis of an exceptionally intelligent artist looking back on his achievements at the moment he transcends them. He has even revisited the masterpiece that started it all, the act of genius that came to him in his 20s.

The frustrating thing about The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - the tiger shark Hirst placed in a tank of formaldehyde at the beginning of the 1990s - is trying to explain its power to anyone who didn't happen to walk into the Saatchi Gallery and see it when it was first exhibited. It was a stupendous, marvellous sight. It fulfilled the title because the shark, when you walked towards its mouth, really seemed to be alive and swimming towards you. You want to talk about the tradition of the memento mori, the reminder of impending death, in art? This was a memento mori, because it let you feel for a moment you were about to encounter man's most awe-inspiring predator, too close for survival.

The shark decayed. It shrivelled and shrank, and by the time it went back on public view, by the time Hirst was universally famous, his most important work was a leathery curiosity that belonged in some dusty corner of a natural history museum. It was, and is, still fascinating, and with his new work Death Explained he makes a virtue of its weakness. The new tiger shark downstairs at Mason's Yard makes no pretence to be alive - how could it after being sawn in two lengthways? Perfectly bisected, it is displayed in two tanks you can walk between; that is, you can stand inside a shark's mouth and in its stomach.

Hirst's animal sculptures, collectively called Natural History, are the most misunderstood artworks of our time. Routinely described as if they were no more than their content - in this exhibition, as well as the divided shark, you can see cows, sheep, fish and a white dove - they are in fact optically complex works that play with apparently infinite richness in the way large bodies of fluid refract light, and that have fun with mirrors, holes and anatomies. The shark's two halves don't just stay still in their tanks: walk alongside them and the vast volume of liquid does things to your perception. The tail seems to move in a leisurely way. The grey skin of the fish is magnified when you look from the outside: walk between the two segments and, because the exposed organs are pinned right up against the glass, there is no magnification. "It's quite a diddy little shark," as one visitor comments. But this is the point.

In life, the shark is larger than life. In death it's smaller than life. So what is life? What is it that makes such a difference between carbon-based organisms that move and those that don't? This is what everything in Hirst's exhibition asks, obsessively.

Near the shark is a cabinet lined with fish in translucent boxes: it is mirrored and you see yourself among them. Walk around it and the same fish are laid out as skeletons - and your face is reflected among them again. Even the paintings on the walls in this big downstairs space at Mason's Yard, which on first sight look like pretty, vacant abstractions, are grisly reminders of the fragility of existence. Each is based on a biopsy result revealing the kind of news that shatters a life: you have skin cancer, you have Hodgkin's disease. . . the surfaces of these brightly coloured nightmares are encrusted with broken glass and razor blades, the texture of the worst news, the worst pain, the worst prognosis.

It gets worse, the news. At White Cube Hoxton Square is a bullock whose poor brown eye looks down at you, appealing for empathy, as it hangs there pierced by arrows. This is typical of paintings of Saint Sebastian - in fact, Hirst's bullock resembles the Saint Sebastian in the altarpiece by the Pollaiuolo brothers in the National Gallery, who suffers his fate just as passively. The work is a vindication of Hirst's use of religious imagery, so often seen as cheap and meaningless. If you look at images of Saint Sebastian as a modern viewer in a Freudian age, it's hard to avoid their homoerotic implications and they become more about sex than religion; by transposing it to the world of animals he makes it once again a story of the acceptance of death, the Christian passive soul. It's all in that cow's eye.

So is Hirst a morbid, passive connoisseur of the grave? Does he want to be dead? The accusation is plausible when you direct it at Andy Warhol, whose art is actually deathly and as if made by death, but it doesn't wash with Hirst. He is scared of death because he loves life - and that comes through in the most shocking works in this show.

Upstairs at Hoxton Square, the four paintings come as a relief from the brutality of tortured bullocks and cancer art. Here are gentle images of the birth of Hirst's son Cyrus, lovingly copied from snaps taken in the operating theatre when his wife Maia had a C-section. They are touching and sweet; it's funny to see Hirst as bespectacled dad in a painting called Happy Family. Then you go to the St James gallery and the reality bursts in your face. Hirst photographed, and with his assistants has painted, the entire operation. He shows Maia cut open, every bit of blood and flesh, the surgical instruments, the baby, like a little god born out of some hideous bloody sacrifice, raised aloft.

It's nearly time to go back upstairs and try to comprehend that skull, and here is a work that is intimately related to it. On a drawing for the skull, Hirst notes, "Like that Mexican skull with the turquoise on it." He has been spending time in Mexico, inspired by its Day of the Dead, and the skull is partly modelled on Aztec masks that cover real skulls with precious blue stone; you can see one in the British Museum, which also has a fake Crystal Skull once thought to be an ancient American artefact. Reading about the culture that produced the turquoise skulls Hirst has been looking at, I found myself seeing his paintings of his child's gory birth in my mind. I was reading about the culture of blood sacrifice that horrified the Spanish conquerors; the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people, cutting their chests open to tear out their beating hearts. They did this to keep the world alive, the gods in heaven. Life for them was violence. In Hirst's paintings of Cyrus's birth there is a primeval, an Aztec sense that life involves pain and sacrifice; that death is when pain stops.

You turn to diamond, to hard inorganic purity that glitters forever. A diamond is created deep inside the earth when carbon - the same element that becomes coal, the same element that bonds in the basic molecules of all organic life - comes under incredible pressure and heat. Hirst's diamonds have come out of the dark to eat light.

So this is it, "the distinguished thing", as Henry James called Death. This is King Death: a skull cast in platinum and covered with "the highest quality diamonds" by a West End jeweller. It's the perfect artwork to show in this part of London: the perfect artwork for an age of massive wealth and escalating art prices; a ridiculous pop object in so many ways. Is it vulgar? Oh yes, and that is what makes it great. So much art nowadays aspires to a pseudo-seriousness, shrouding its essential mediocrity in an anthropological appeal to a universal human sense of vulnerability. I'm talking about Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn - and I would have included Hirst had you asked me a year ago. But the skull redeems him utterly: his art has undergone a sea change, into something rich and strange.

You just can't argue with this work of art. You can't fault it. I've examined it with the critical equivalent of a jeweller's eyepiece. I compared it to Holbein's anamorphic skull in The Ambassadors, as well as the turquoise Aztec skull in the British Museum. It is comparable to those masterpieces, not derivative.

It's something no artist could ever do before - that is, as a modern work of art. The objects it resembles - from Tutankhamun's gold death mask to a silver monument to Alexander Nevsky in the Hermitage - were commissioned from nameless craftsmen by all-powerful rulers. No modern ruler has the authority to do such a thing, and up until now, no artist was in a position to emulate them. So Hirst truly has created an exceptional object. It is not merely an expensive work of art, but a great one. It has a primitivism that renews art for our time just as Picasso's discovery of African and Oceanic masks renewed art a century ago: it promises that art in this century might yet become as new and as ancient as the best art of all ages. I can't think of a period that wouldn't be amazed and delighted by it: Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and the Aztecs would all be flocking to White Cube. You should go, too.

Damien Hirst Beyond Belief is at White Cube, Hoxton Square and Mason's Yard, London, until July 7. Details 020-7930 5373.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007



by Mario Cutajar

(L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice) It is difficult to consider the work of the Argentine painter Guillermo Kuitca without being reminded yet again of the extremely narrow straits within which contemporary painting is forced to operate by virtue of its ever-diminishing capacity to give effective representation to significant realities and ideas. Considered in the abstract, everything and anything could be a fit subject for painting. In practice, however, it is otherwise because any painter who appreciates something of painting's history must ask what, if anything, can be gained by bringing to a subject the stilted and self-conscious rhetoric of painting, a rhetoric as removed from and alien to the present as the conventions of Elizabethan drama.

Making a virtue of necessity, the conceptual, self-limiting brand of painting that sprouted up like stunted tundra in the aftermath of the glacial ravages of Pop, embraced the stiltedness of the medium itself as a means of making the ubiquitous seem alien. In the process painting acquired a new lease on life as a deconstructive medium, which is to say it became a way of turning unremarked cultural trivia into critically considered cultural artifacts. This is how painting found a way to be cool--at the price of relegating itself to the status of an academic anthropological tool.

Kuitca's specialty is maps, maps in the broadest sense of the term, maps as diagrams of both spatial and temporal relationships. He has painted family trees, the floor plans of stadiums, apartments and prisons, the seating arrangements of theaters, the street plans of cities (in one case creating a grid of city blocks composed of hypodermic syringes). He has transposed the topography of countries onto the hollow-pocked surfaces of mattresses and has tackled his theme with the broad- est possible range of painterly techniques. The results are often extremely handsome abstract paintings with a referential twist. Critics have insisted on discovering all manner of angst in these works--everything from elliptical references to the terror instituted by the military junta that ruled Argentina in the ‘70s, to suggestions of the anonymity and free-floating anxiety that attend modern urban existence.

The content that can be imputed to these essentially empty works is in fact almost without limit since like taciturn, cool art in general they function as screens for the psychic projections of the viewer. But it is equally possible to see them as elaborate excuses for the continuation of painting itself. In that case, their vague melancholy issues from a different source: the sense they intimate of painting's slow starvation.

Anselm Kiefer 2

Saturday, June 02, 2007

William Kentridge: What Will Come (Has Already Come)

FRANKFURT.-Städel Museum presents today William Kentridge: What Will Come (Has Already Come), on view through 5 August 2007. The exhibition “What Will Come (Has Already Come)” takes its title from a Ghanaian proverb. The presentation will end William Kentridge’s engagement as the first Max Beckmann Foundation professor in Frankfurt, which the South African artist, theater director and filmmaker began with a series of lectures titled “Meeting the Word Halfway” in the Städel Museum in spring 2005 and continued teaching for two semesters at the Städelschule. Kentridge, who received international renown mainly for his drawn animated films, in which he explores the nature of human emotions and memories and deals with the quest for cultural identity and the rootedness in the history and politics of South Africa, intensely dedicates himself to issues of seeing in his work. The present exhibition also reveals his interest in a large variety of models of seeing with which science, popular culture, and art have been concerned since the Early Modern Age. That he has also drawn inspiration from Albrecht Dürer’s prints establishes a connection with the Städel Museum, which houses one of the most comprehensive collections of prints by Dürer in Germany. The exhibition presents a series of Kentridge’s new drawings, prints, and stereoscopic images. Its highlight is a 8-minute filmic anamorphosis for which he has used a technique that has been unknown in the history of seeing in this form to date.

The Max Beckmann Foundation professorship and the exhibition “William Kentridge: What Will Come (Has Already Come)” is supported by Altana AG.

The main work of the exhibition, the filmic anamorphosis “What Will Come,” draws on the idea of the picture puzzle that originated in the sixteenth century. Kentridge translates this play with perception that operates with distorted images that can only be deciphered from a certain angle to his film. The technique of cylinder mirror anamorphosis he employs is a special form of anamorphosis that is based on the addition of a further level of perception. It is not enough to change one’s point of view but a special seeing machine is essential to decode the picture: a cylindrical mirror with a certain radius that reflects the distorted image, “straightening” it “optically.” Producing such complicated distorted pictures requires a profound knowledge of mathematical rules and optical foundations. Relying on a special graphic grid, the preparatory sketch is transferred to the anamorphotic mode segment by segment, and the curvature of the mirror that is to correct the distortion has to be precisely calculated.

William Kentridge avoids these down-to-earth exercises by looking into a mirror while drawing, positioning his hands and arms on the desk as usual instead of basing his work on mathematical calculations. What he draws he sees in the mirror and not on the sheet in front of him. An unusual drawing process already precedes the unusual perception that the viewer is confronted with later.

As in the past, present anamorphoses also initiate a discourse on the subject of seeing because they not only entertain the viewer with their optical attractions but also encourage reflections on the relativity of visual perception. In this sophisticated play of projection, reflection, and transformation involving different forms and sceneries, Kentridge relates to subjects such as colonialism, fascism, and tyranny.

Without offering a definite plot, he intersperses his film with narrative and visual fragments. A gas mask points at the Abyssinian War of 1935/6, for example, in which the Italian fascists, with Hitler’s support, annexed Ethiopia by force and 275,000 Ethiopians lost their lives. The soundtrack, an Italian marching song of the fascists under Mussolini, speaks of a little black face, “Facetta Nera,” a beautiful small Abyssinia to be kissed by the sun of Rome. A composition by Dmitri Shostakovich based on a Jewish song that Kentridge also uses echoes the exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel after the great famine of 1984/5. If only by allusion, the artist touches on the subject of not ending losses of place through elements of his soundtrack and the visual motifs of his work. Though the background is quite different, Kentridge also comes from an African Jewish family. Born in Johannesburg in 1955, the son of Jewish immigrants already got a taste of the injustice prevailing in the country very early on. His parents were lawyers who did not shrink back from defending leftist trade unionists and political activists. “What Will Come” shows the artist in a Janus-faced structure inextricably linked at his spine with an African male’s head.

For a series of other works presented in the exhibition, Kentridge drew his inspiration from Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts in the textbook “Underweysung der Messung” (“Instruction in Measurement,” 1525), the most outstanding examples of which will be included in the exhibition, emphasizing Kentridge’s relationship with the collection of the Städel Museum. Each of these prints depicts a draftsman viewing his model or object through a graphic grid, taking his measurements, and committing it to paper in the correct perspective. In the days of these works’ origin, people and especially artists learned to see their surroundings with different eyes. First attempts were made to describe seeing in mathematical formulae and to calculate ideal proportions. Accordingly, it is a matter-of-fact and scientific view which manifests itself here. Kentridge’s model is a cardboard figure without arms and feet facing the viewer both passively and intently who is only presented to us in the form of his head. This presentation ironically exaggerates the situation of the viewer fixing an object on the one hand and lends voyeuristic traits to the perception process on the other. Unlike Dürer’s spatial construction, Kentridge’s solution is not aimed at the creation of a two-dimensional space based on vanishing points and lines but uses two individual pictures with identical motifs that differ minimally in their perspective in order to produce a three-dimensional space in the stereoscope. The effect of a stereoscope is based on the physiological characteristics of our eyes and our brain’s visual center. Looking at an object, the angle of each eye towards the object is slightly different due to the interocular distance. Only our brain’s visual center composes one single picture from the two pieces of information which allows us to perceive it as three-dimensional. In a stereoscope, a construction of mirrors and prisms fulfils this task of combining the two pictures.

It is also a work by Dürer that provides another starting-point for Kentridge’s stereoscopic drawings: as we know, Dürer never set eyes on his “Rhinoceros,” which went down in history as the most popular woodcut of the Early Modern Age. The animal had been caught in India by Portuguese soldiers and brought to Lisbon in 1503, where it was exhibited in a chamber of curiosities from time to time. Dürer knew from it by hearsay and through the description and drawing of a friend of his by the name of Valentim Fernandes. Against this background, the rhinoceros presents itself as an exotic trophy in Dürer’s work, which already suggests the colonial perspective which was to become so characteristic of Europe in the following centuries.

new works Machiel van Soest

Crown jewel or kitsch novelty? ... Hirst's skull.

Damien Hirst was worried his diamond-encrusted skull would look like a £50m disco ball ...and he was absolutely right!

Securing an interview with God himself would be easier than setting eyes on Damien Hirst's latest work, For The Love of God, never mind meeting its creator.

Hirst's new exhibition, Damien Hirst: Beyond Belief, opens today in both White Cube galleries in London. There are several floors of sheep and cows in tanks, a new shark thrillingly chopped up vertically rather than horizontally, doves, butterflies, and a surprisingly touching sequence of paintings based on Polaroids of the Caesarean delivery of his own son. There is also a sequence of vast canvasses splattered with hair, broken glass, scalpel blades, human teeth and diamond dust, seductively colourful yet all based on biopsies of such horrors as a cancer of the salivary gland or a prostate blood clot.

But all are eclipsed, and the show is meticulously constructed to ensure this, by the dazzle of the diamonds. Admission to the holy of holies will be by timed ticket only, and the worshippers will only be permitted to remain there for five minutes. Weekends are already booked out.

The Hoxton gallery will be the outer circle of hell, ringing with the howls of those lost beyond hope of redemption. The St James's gallery will merely be purgatory, filled with the penitent believing that once they have served their time, they will rise in the jealously guarded lift to the shrine, joining those who have been admitted to the true presence - the £50m platinum skull completely covered by 8,601 diamonds. "The most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created, " the press release pointed out, in case anyone had missed the point.

This morning's press view worked hard to up the paranoia levels. Only carefully screened groups of hacks were invited to Mason's Yard to view the skull and meet the master, admitted in groups of three for 10 minutes at a time. The groups were oddly composed so that the woman from the Evening Standard, sliding inexorably past her deadline, was given a later slot than the man from the Art Newspaper who has a month before the next edition. The pondlife press had been ordered to assemble at Hoxton, and make the best they could of that before being admitted to Mason's Yard later in the day. The correspondent from the Times, judged insufficiently respectful in the past, was banned completely.

Hirst himself was sitting in gallery owner Jay Jopling's beautiful penthouse office, scruffy in scuffed boots and artfully tattered shirt with bat and skeleton print - relaxed, amiable and chatty. Beside him sat the large, suited, sterner presence of Frank Dunphy, his business manager - who broke into the conversation just once. When Hirst said the price was "rounded up" to stop any buyer making an overnight profit, Dunphy added: "Maybe it's not high enough?"

Hirst, as casually as if speaking of assembling a flatpack kitchen cabinet, said it had all turned out better than he expected: "I was worried it might look like a skull ring - spend all that money and you just end up with a disco ball, shock horror."

In the innermost sanctuary, the diamond skull is at head height, in a crystal clear glass case lit by four sharp narrow beams of light. The room's walls, ceiling and floor are painted black, so black that those entering from the bright corridor immediately crash, blinded, into one another.

Like the crown jewels in the Tower, which it bizarrely resembles, it is hard to see the object itself behind the dazzle of light. An unemployed photographer - only the gallery's own supplied images are permitted "for security reasons" - looked in delight at the pin points of light dancing across his T-shirt. "It's a disco ball, innit?" he said happily. "A £50m disco ball."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Luc Tuymans

Luc Tuymans has build a smokingroom as you see on airports inside his exhibition at a Belgium museum.
He considers it a work of art, because smoking is a part of the process of making art to him.
Also it´s a political statement because smoking gets banned out of our culture more and more.
Therefore let´s a light up one for mr. Tuymans and support his protest.
Sadly the intervieuw is in Dutch...