Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Ossian Ward finds eddies and labyrinths in the artist’s work

Having lived on the Thames, in an old converted Dutch barge, and swum off its murky shores, I can say with certainty that there is no space in London more neglected than its river. The embankments may swarm with property developments and public monuments but the polluted and under-navigated waters of the Thames are more readily associated with dirt and death. Every morning I welcomed the uninterrupted panorama of this brown band cutting through the centre of the city and considered the river my personal space, but its real inhabitants were typically a discarded condom or a dead cat.

As background for her various photographic series such as Still Water, Another Water (both 1999–) and Some Thames (2000), the American artist Roni Horn researched police forensic reports of suicides hauled out of the river, as well as literary accounts of murder and misadventure on the Thames. To physically capture the images, numbering 80 in total, Horn carefully trained her camera to mimic the viewing angle of a pedestrian, but actually shot them from a working riverboat – sharing a view of the Thames up close, as only us few river-dwellers (alive or dead) ever can. However, the river depicted in Horn’s series is not a distributary for sewage or dumped bodies, but a conduit for London’s psychological refuse. The variety of seasons and weather conditions that Horn’s full-bleed pictures suggest – from a calm, rippled surface reflecting the sunny sky above, to the churning, grisaille currents at high tide – also have their emotional corollaries, ranging from a serene, quiet state of ease to turbulence.

Throughout July and August 1994 Horn travelled around Iceland, taking pictures of a young woman, Margét Haraldsdóttir Blöndal, in various outdoor hot springs or natural pools. The 100 photographs, You Are the Weather, not only challenge us to see heat, cold, moisture and atmospheric condition in this woman’s features but also invite us to empathise with them. How can you feel like weather, the environment or the landscape?

Another series of portraits, This is Me, This is You (1999–2000), relies
on the imperceptible fluctuation between successive blinks of the camera’s
shutter. Two opposing grids of framed photographs, 96 in total, seem to be identical sets of images of Horn’s teenage niece pulling faces, posing, sleeping or wearing a wig and sunglasses. However, each expression differs slightly from
its opposite number and so the work provokes a long-lasting stare as the similarities begin to fall away.

While, in general, we spend less and less time looking, Horn’s photography activates the long-neglected action of seeing, or as she has said, ‘as we go forward into the so-called “information age”, paradoxically we recognise less and less because we value experience less and less’. One step towards remedying this is inherent within the working method of serialisation. If repetition dulls familiarity by forcing prolonged viewing, it can also reveal hidden movements, minute differences and moments of revelation. I’ll say it again. If repetition dulls familiarity by forcing prolonged viewing, it can also reveal hidden differences, minute movements and moments of revelation, but only the second time round.

Portraits of a pretty, pubescent boy, with unmistakably Nordic, blond, blue-eyed features, are paired with Horn’s latest series of watery images in Doubt by Water (2003–4), an installation of double-sided photographs presented on aluminium stands, recently shown as part of the Whitney Biennial and in a solo show at Hauser & Wirth, London. As the boy’s vaguely coquettish pout turns to a steely scowl, an accompanying photograph of a nameless and dingy waterway seems to duplicate his moods in its pitching arabesques, ebbs and flows. After 15 instances of this psychological interplay of boy meets swirl, suddenly an Arctic landscape appears on the reverse of the river photograph to confound the sequence. Yet now that we have become accustomed to seeking out semblances between the boy’s face and the fugitive complexion of moving water, it seems natural that Horn’s sophisticated vocabulary of aquatics can not only transmit human emotions but also translate impressions of place. After six more pairs of icy terrains and opaque river surfaces, the final seven pendant portraits are of stuffed birds, glaring into camera. This jolt further questions Horn’s technique of visual echoes, instilling more of the doubt indicated in the title. Like the treacherous, muddy water, the meaning of this work is anything but clear.

While it may seem an unnecessarily hermetic tool for the translation of such complex notions as environment, emotion or empathy, Horn’s repetitive use of water as an abstract captioning device is as valid as any spoken or written language – or so she would have us believe. Doubt by Water distils many strands of the artist’s previous work into one installation, and the use of water as word-symbol or signage is a development of both the intense studies of faces and rivers and Horn’s consistent use of supplementary texts.

Words have been integral to Horn’s drawings from as early as 1984, and to her sculptures since 1989, when she began incorporating literary quotes into three-dimensional aluminium block pieces such as Thicket No.1 (1989–90), which included the phrase ‘To see a landscape as it is when I am not there’, and more recent installations such as Key and Cues (1994) or the scatter piece How Dickinson Stayed Home (1992–3), which spelt out lines from poems and letters by Emily Dickinson. Text also begins to infiltrate photographic series such as Still Water and Another Thames, in which the footnotes littering the river fail to penetrate the opacity of the water but do, however, reveal the turbid nature of language and its inability to describe such natural phenomena.

It is no coincidence that Horn has produced books so prolifically, publishing on average more than one a year. Her recent book, Wonderwater (Alice Offshore) (2004), is an un-illustrated exercise in collaborative captioning; each of its four volumes is an homage to the titles and themes of the artist’s various series, annotated by friends and admirers including Louise Bourgeois and John Waters.
Whereas Doubt by Water goes beyond language in its substitution of watery symbols for text, it is also a further syncretism of Horn’s other major concerns: sculpture, photography and phenomenology. By freeing photography from the wall or page of a book, Doubt by Water broadens her ongoing sculptural practice, while also continuing her dialogue with Minimalism and duality. The tall aluminium stands resemble slick signage or information boards but are rooted in the artist’s early experiments with metallic, machine-lathed objects. Many of these shiny sculptures come in pairs, culminating in works such as Pair Field (1991), a series of twinned, flat, rounded, conical and drop-like forms in steel and copper. A more lyrical expression of pairing can be seen in the oceanic, deep-blue glass blocks of Untitled (Flannery) (1997) or Untitled (Yes) (2001), in which one of the solid, polished slabs is black and unyielding, the other transparent and light-filled.

The push-and-pull doubling continues in Doubt by Water, as does the scattering: the metal plinths are distributed throughout the gallery to create a meandering conversation piece. The couplings and one-to-ones have a more profound relation to each other than their minimalist stance might at first indicate. They do in fact relate to Horn’s dislike for gender specificity and her preference for androgyny, not just in her choice of objects, subjects and work, but even in her own identity, augmented by her asexual forename, Roni.

Horn favours this neutral position, without gender recognition or limitation, from which to experience art: ‘The work has a way of developing in a manner that never allows the viewer to become too familiar with it or to make assumptions about it. In subverting expectations you increase the chance of offering a more direct experience; not one that simply fulfils the viewers’ desires or confirms their knowledge.’ In short she espouses the maxim that ‘it’s uncertainty that allows for possibility’ and that the unfettered experiential nature of the work is the ultimate goal. Even the photographic works have mimicked the bodily interaction of her installation works, especially in series such as Ellipsis (1998) and the book Her, Her, Her & Her (2004), both sets of black-and-white photos that explore a Reykjavik swimming pool’s tiled, labyrinthine changing rooms. The first-person viewpoint shifts between empty corridors, locker rooms, dead-ends and closed doors, creating a virtual, photographic walk-through. The repetition of similar vistas reinforces the unhierarchical uncanniness that dominates so many bodies of Horn’s work.

The variable paths into and around the freeform positioning of the 30 individual parts of Doubt by Water only adds to the sense that this is close to a career retrospective within a single work. None of Horn’s work to date has relied on the distinctiveness of one monolithic work; instead each forms a discrete element in a pair or a group, often within a larger series. The photographic and book works are especially mutable, subject to the artist’s final edit or précis. Although one constant remains throughout – Horn’s insistent minimalist presentation – the installation strategies can address problems of plinth-based sculpture as well as wall-based photography. In order to strip away or decode the many layers that constitute Horn’s forests and rivers of signs, we need only submit to her abstract, elemental language and let the landscape read a face, the face read the weather and the weather read us.

Ossian Ward is a freelance writer and editor based in London

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Rolf Brockschmidt

Eine exzellente Auswahl aus einer der besten Kunstsammlungen der Niederlande ist derzeit unter dem Titel berlin_nl zu sehen. Stars der Ausstellung sind Marijke van Warmerdam mit ihren intrigierenden großen Fotos, wie überhaupt Fotokunst gut vertreten ist. Aber auch jüngere Maler wie Arjan van Helmond oder Tjebbe Beekman, der hoch oben im Trajekt, wo man einen wunderbaren Blick auf Berlin hat, sein großformatiges, fast impressionistisch gemaltes Kreuzberg-Panorama hängen hat. Die meisten Bilder, die aus der Sammlung des niederländischen Telekommunikationsunternehmens KPN stammen, haben etwas mit Architektur zu tun, viele Künstler haben in Berlin gearbeitet. Die Werke halten dem dominanten Koolhaas-Bau stand, ja, sie treten in einen augenzwinkernden Dialog mit dem Botschaftsgebäude. So hängt gleich am Beginn des Rundgangs Thomas Demands geheimnisvolles Foto „Eingang“, während Marijke van Warmerdam dem Betrachter ihres riesigen Fotos einer amerikanischen Ampel „Don’t walk, walk“ zuruft. Man möchte weiter, nach oben, das Gebäude und seine Kunstwerke erkunden. Ein doppeltes Vergnügen.

Botschaft des Königreichs der Niederlande, Klosterstr. 50, bis Mo 30.4.08, Anmeldung u. Tel.: 20 95 64 20

(Erschienen im gedruckten Tagesspiegel vom 11.10.2007)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Roman Signer, Jason Rhoades, Paul McCarthy in Flick halle Berlin

Roman Signer

The work of Roman Signer (b. 1938, Appenzell) stands out for its unusual approach towards the phenomenon we refer to as sculpture. With his objects, actions and films, Signer adds a further dimension to the concept of sculpture as we know it, a medium which, in the course of the ongoing subversion of traditional boundaries launched upon in the 1960s, had already been expanded to include unconventional materials and actions. Put simply, he examines the basic elements of fire, water and air in terms of their sculptural qualities, albeit not in the manner of Land Art, which tends to effect an overt rearrangement of natural materials within or upon the landscape. Rather, although they also frequently take place outdoors, Signer’s sculptural actions are experiments that temporarily make use of the physical laws of the materials he incorporates, such as the thrust forces of rockets, fans, superchargers or even that of water. His performance technique anticipates the sensation of radically condensed time, a sensation most effectively transmitted by explosions. The majority of his actions are conducted in the absence of an audience; what remains are films and photographs which are not only documents but works of art in their own right.

For a rocket ignited by the artist to fly through the forest, for example, its trajectory must be precisely calculated in order to prevent it from simply smashing into the nearest tree – not the easiest of feats in a forest. Undertakings of this kind are unthinkable as public performances. Indeed, it is only the photograph depicting the horizontal vapour trail of the rocket that serves to capture the poetry of such an action (Rakete, 1978). It is an image at once enigmatic and aesthetic. Many works by Roman Signer ironise our basic understanding of physics in a poetic manner. The element of the absurd acquires a poetic dimension in his works, for not only is the impossible planned and carried out but also works as well. We all know that one could catapult an ordinary stool out a window or that by lining window shutters with rockets and igniting them, one could burst the shutters open with the force, not to mention the impressive sparks that would come raining down too (Aktion Kurhaus, 1992). Yet no one apart from Roman Signer would come up with the idea of actually doing so in the first place. Which physicist would go to the bother of testing the friction forces of a canoe being dragged along the country roads of Switzerland by a car until the canoe was so worn down that he was sitting on bare asphalt? Or who would fire red ribbons across the igneous gases of Stromboli to admire, for a fleeting moment, the writing on air? The volcano and its eruptive processes, its spellbinding drama, the constant anticipation of an eruption and the grandeur of the geological spectacle are all key figures in Signer’s work. It is only natural that he is attracted to these sensational, fire-breathing mountains, and that he models his sculptures on their processes in a kind of volcanology en miniature.

Once the exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof was decided upon, it thus made sense to draw the artist’s attention to a special volcano. Erected towards the end of the eighteenth century not far from Berlin, the volcano in question is a brick construction with natural stone cladding that is crowned by a replica of Vesuvius situated in the Gulf of Naples. This artificial island in the landscaped gardens of Wörlitz was built by a man with whom Signer, on grounds of his artistic innovation and interest in volcanology, appears to share a strong affinity – Prince Leopold Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau (1740–1817). The continuation of this wonderful story over two hundred years later by an artist of Roman Signer’s ilk seemed so natural that the board of the cultural foundation of Dessau-Wörlitz generously and unreservedly granted the artist one “terrifying explosion” at Vesuvius.

In spring 2008 the exhibition will tour to the Rochester Art Center in Rochester, Minneapolis/USA.

susanne kriemann opening in Berlin


Opening: Nov 15th , 2007 @ 6-9 pm
Dates: Nov 15th -Dec 15th, 2007

Virgil de Voldère is proud to present our second solo exhibition with Brody
Condon. In the three works on view, the artist digitally reconstructs a trio
of well-known late-medieval paintings from northern Europe by Hans Memling,
Dieric Bouts, and Gerard David. By re-imagining the religious content of the
original works, the artist presents calm scenes of transcendence that slowly
give way to anxiety and spiritual trauma.

For 3 Modifications, Condon modifies current computer games with strategies
and tools taken directly from online participatory subcultures to create
slowly animated, transfigured works that function as moving paintings. The
subversive tactics of hacking and the intervention into commercial computer
games that characterize the artist's previous work, however, have given way
to a critical examination of the politics of representation. Formally,
Condon conflates the development of perspective and realism in Flemish art
from the fifteenth century with the evolution of computer graphics in
present-day games. Thematically, though, the work in 3 Modifications
explores the roots of 1960s countercultural ideologies, the religious
environment of early modern Europe, and various means of transcending the
physical body through drugs, prayer, and meditation, as well as through game
avatars and role-playing. Shown as projected moving-image installations from
small custom-made computers, these "self-playing" games run continuously
like games waiting for the viewer to pick up the controller.

Condon denies interactivity, a crucial feature of the game medium, to the
viewer. Rather, the works in 3 Modifications emphasize the possibility of
three-dimensional installation and performance art within a digital screen
space. Further confronting contemporary countercultural beliefs with
late-medieval mainstream religious iconography, Condon explores cultural
misinterpretations of historical visual archetypes, presenting an anxious
space where history, religion, personal mythology, and fantasy intermingle.

For further information, please contact the gallery + 1 212 343 9694
Location: 526 West 26th Street - 4th Floor - Room 416 - New York
Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11 am - 6 pm and by appointment

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

REZI VAN LANKVELD-Friedrich Petzel Gallery NY


October 5 - November 10, 2007
Opening Reception: Friday, October 5th, 6-8 pm

Friedrich Petzel Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by Amsterdam-based artist Rezi van Lankveld. This will be the artist's first solo exhibition in New York. Rezi van Lankveld continues her method of abstract painting that allows for revelation of the spontaneous image. Rather than producing prescribed images, van Lankveld lets them occur within the density of her loosely applied brush strokes, swirls and paint drips. Impressionist-like figures and scenes reminiscent of 19th century lithographs emerge from the abstract canvas like waking dreams. The appearance of these images implies an impulsive narrative. But each organic narrative is at odds with the very nature of her abstract process. It is this oscillation between abstraction and figuration that completes van Lankveld's process: her works are at once the image and every mark that has gone into making the paintings.

The dual nature of van Lankveld's paintings is further implied by the use of her limited palette. The action of the paint and spontaneity of line is pared with a muted color scheme that evokes a Dutch sense of the melancholy. Van Lankveld's somber palette furthers an eerie Grimm-like read to the work but her titles persuade us that the appearance of the image is as much of a sanguine surprise to her as it is to us. This intended juxtaposition emphasizes an undercurrent of a European dark sense of humor. A humor in which demons from hell and ladies' men can distract but not overpower the abstract image.

Rezi van Lankveld graduated from Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht in 1999. She lives and works in Amsterdam. She has shown extensively throughout Europe. Her recent exhibitions include: Museum voor actuele kunst, The Hague; Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf; Diana Stigter Galerie, Amsterdam; "Interested Painting," Gallery 400, University of Chicago, the "Prague Biennale 1"; and The Approach, London.

This exhibition will be on view from October 5 - November 10, 2007 with an opening reception on Friday, October 5th from 6-8 pm. Friedrich Petzel Gallery is located at 535 West 22nd Street New York, NY, 10011. For more information, please contact the gallery at (212) 680 9467 or

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Trans Video Express-curated by John von Bergen

Sara Meltzer Gallery presents:
Trans Video Express: Recent Video Art from Germany
curated by John von Bergen
Thursday, October 18th from 6:30 - 7:30pm
Thursday, October 25th from 6:30 - 7:30pm
Screenings begin promptly at 6:30pm.

Since its inception decades ago, video art has gradually become a medium that can no longer be labeled unconventional or Avant-Garde. And although the German painting phenomenon has recently been a strong export on the international art scene, conversations continue about other forms of German art, including historical perspectives in video.

Having lived in Berlin the last few years I began to notice the possible ways in which cultural languages begin to change when crossing The Atlantic. The idea of sharing some of the current video works that I have recently seen in Germany to an American audience is just one way to open a dialogue about what is happening in this part of Europe at this time. But it would not be fair to suggest that these evenings could offer a comprehensive overview of the video art coming out of Germany (and this is by no means another Biennale). However what is being presented is a small spectrum of projects involving narration, abstraction, found footage, documentation, loud theatrics, poetic discussions, and the breaking of some rules (and maybe even some laws). One could say these positions may not yet be positions. But the videos being presented still become vehicles for making a comment, taking a risk, hitting a nerve, or simply trying to offer a small glimpse at something beautiful.

The artists are currently working in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, Stuttgart, and Karlsruhe, and many will be presenting their works for the first time in The United States.

Marc Aschenbrenner
Kopffüssler (Head Walker)
Running time: 02:17 min.

Screening #1/October 18th:

In Zweite Sonne (Second Sun), Marc Aschenbrenner struggles across an Austrian landscape, while the helium balloon attached to his costume grows to epic proportion. Kopffüssler (Head Walker), is a brief but climactic situation when the artist wears an over-sized green head, as he jumps, struggles, and reacts violently to a white-cubed room.

Roland Schappert (in cooperation with the poet Michael Ebmeyer) delivers us Bar/Vegetation, a short film where a poet’s voice blends over ridiculous chance gestures and facial abstractions of a family being interviewed.

In City of Cool, The Dresden-based artist collective Reinigungsgesellschaft (whose German implications range from "Cleaning Service" to “Purification Society”) work their way through Leipzig’s working class district of Plagwitz, changing street signs into poetic diversions. Locals and passersby are quizzed of the pros and cons of their project, which inevitably opens up a larger discussion about the current problems in Germany.

Alicja Kwade's video No Light Left takes a low-tech approach towards a sci-fi production. She creates a universe of tumultuous light-sources as the screen shifts between the familiar and the uncanny.

Christof Zwiener’s Brückenbau (Building Bridges) shows the artist’s personal adventure of trespassing through a remote building site with his camera, fabricating perhaps one of the world’s smallest and never-to-be-noticed “public artworks”.

Knut Klassen (a former collaborator with John Bock and the artist group Gelatin) creates video works that cannot be so easily categorized as art films, nor as documentaries. In Lis, he has developed a language of conditions that depend on unscripted actors engaging in both private and social rituals. Incomprehensible performances are intertwined with the monologue of a young actress, while revealing glimpses into Berlin’s off-space theatre scene.

Stefan Panhans
Sieben bis zehn Millionen (Seven to Ten Million)
Running time: 05:42 min

Screening #2/October 25th:

Pablo Wendel re-creates himself as one of the oldest sculptures known to man in his video Terra Cotta Warrior, proving what can happen to an imposter as he attempts to blend in with the other 7,000 warrior statues displayed in North Western China. Eventually Wendel is discovered by confused security guards, yet maintains his inanimate posture as he is dragged off the scene.

In Stefan Panhan’s film Sieben bis zehn Millionen (Seven to Ten Million), an androgynous youth speaks to us in front of a slowly paced snowfall, as we experience a rapid-fire monologue (with rapid-fire subtitles) about consumer obsessions.

Susan Schmidt and David Buob present Dad's Cellar, where a strange and dreamy dialogue is heard from the artists as double-channeled holiday scenes suggest a serene but chilling nostalgia… a glance at the relationship between individual and space.

Wolfgang Oelze’s work Old Painful collects a range of Hollywood moments that deal with cinematic themes pertaining to suicide. Juxtaposed scenes lead us through a labyrinth of contemplations, and create a network of circumstances that suggest desperate motives from unconventional points of view.

Julia Oschatz creates a romantic, humorous, and tragic environment with her film Cut and Run. Partially referencing Caspar David Friedrich’s Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, we witness a play between sense and nonsense, as her ambiguously headed character stages paralyzing actions in a post-production reality.

In a more documentary fashion, Peter Jap Lim's work Gehen Üben (Practicing Walking) involves a private session in which Jap Lim had hired an actor to teach a group of Germans literally how to walk. The exercises border self-conscious acts of absurdity, as adults re-learn the basics of moving around each other.

Johannes Wald’s untitled film is a short but definitive finale, as the artist strolls through a park at dusk, lighting up a street lamp from what appears to be an inventive act of vandalism.

John von Bergen was born in Connecticut in 1971, and received his B.F.A. Degree with Honors at The School of Visual Arts in New York. In 2003 von Bergen moved to Berlin with an invitation from the Berlin Senate for Culture. Since living in Germany, von Bergen's work has been exhibited in various galleries and venues including Halle 14 in Leipzig, Wilhelm Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen, Kunstraum Innsbruck in Austria, and The Brno House of Art in Czech Republic. This last spring he was invited for a residency at "7. Stock" in Dresden. In September von Bergen opened a solo exhibition titled "THE ITCH" at Galerie Lena Bruening in Berlin, and was also recently profiled in the book "Berlin Art (No. 1)" by Stefan Maria Rother. Upcoming projects include a presentation at "Elektrohaus" in Hamburg, and a collaborative work with the writer Jonathan Lethem.

The screenings will also be on view during regular gallery hours
Tuesday through Saturday, 11am - 6pm
October 23rd through November 3rd.
Programs will alternate hourly.
The gallery will be closing at 3pm on Saturday, November 3rd.

for more information please contact:

Sara Meltzer Gallery
525-531 West 26th Street, 4th Floor
New York NY 10001
212 727 9330

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An ideal venue for fools and their money

It was like a scene from Hieronymus Bosch as the rich gathered at Frieze. Then there was the art...

Stephen Bayley
Sunday October 14, 2007

Frieze Art Fair
Regent's Park, London NW1; finishes today

What is the role of the mobile in contemporary art? Mobiles are dynamic sculptures. Alexander Calder was the best-known practitioner: his mobiles were witty and delicate arrangements of flat metal in primary colours, suspended from and separated by lightly tensioned rods and wires. Their profiles changing with the merest gust of wind, mobiles were nice commentaries on spatial relationships and the play of light, possibly even commentaries on the evanescent nature of experience itself.

They have them around the pool at the Colombe d'Or, the hotel in St Paul-de-Vence where artists paid their bar bills with paintings and sculpture. I know a collector who has a Calder in the bathroom of his Chicago apartment. The other role of the mobile in contemporary art is the 3G thing you clap to your ear as you barge, head down, through the teeming throng of the Frieze Art Fair. They seem to be obligatory.

Just heard someone say into his handset: 'I hef sin you riding plane to Berlin.' Most men have no hair. Women have yes hair. The bald (or shaved) men are in black. The women have legs. Lots of them. I am standing in what, rather preposterously, is known as the Private View. I say preposterous because the giddy scrum of rich intercontinental punters, circling in orbits of self-love, looks as though Hieronymus Bosch has art-directed a Prada fashion show in Frankfurt airport during a crippling baggage handlers' strike. It stretches the semantics of privacy to absurdity. And as to the 'view' bit - that's misleading too.

The Frieze Art Fair is in its fifth year. Other specifics are its site in Regent's Park, London, in a vast, spare structure of 21,000 square metres. This was designed by the Shoreditch-Canadian architect Jamie Fobert who came to notice several years ago when he won the commission to design the Kettle's Yard Gallery in Cambridge. There are 151 stands from galleries in 28 countries. League leaders are UK and the US with 34 each and runner-up Germany with 25, as neat a summary of the geopolitics of the contemporary art business as I can manage.

It is not at all like an art gallery. In my experience, it is more like the sort of events they have at Birmingham's NEC. Perhaps the Gift Fair (where you can buy novelty keyrings). Or possibly even more like Maxx Power, the exceedingly popular event where C1 youth eating testosterone sandwiches displays its extravagantly customised Vauxhall Corsas to pouting girls wearing not terribly much.

I am standing here with two glasses of champagne. This is not mere greed, it is a survival stratagem. The big thing at this vast Private View is knowing where the drinks are. Later, I discover that there is a source behind the scenes, a single point of access. Serving girls leave with full trays of bubbling flutes which are immediately depleted by greedy hands, like estuary seagulls at a landfill, even before they circulate in the forum. It rather puts me in mind of the myth of Sisyphus.

You will notice I have not yet mentioned the art. This is because to comment on the merit or quality of what's on display at Frieze is irrelevant. Once, the direction of contemporary art was determined by lonely, radical geniuses with a vision and an atelier. Now it is determined by hedge-fund managers, or by Deutsche Bank (headline sponsor) redeeming itself in a maelstrom of (mostly) college-standard tat. Art has leapt the species barrier. Its value (as opposed to cost) is no longer determined by critics and connoisseurs, but by all those hundreds of thousands of non-doms who want rapid access to culture without having to work very hard for it.

I bumped into society decorator Nicky Haslam and asked him what it was all about. 'There's nothing here which makes any intellectual demands,' he said. Then I was bounced into Chelsea jeweller Theo Fennell, no stranger to money, and asked him the same question. 'There's a line between having a laugh,' Theo said, 'and having merit.' He did not say, but was unambiguous about, on which side of the line we stood.

Contemporary art has become what money men call a new asset class. It has attracted a new type of collector. People feel it is the influence of Charles Saatchi who started collecting, they say, because the art world gave him useful access to the New York drawing rooms where he wanted to do business for his advertising agency. Previously, he had been just as keen on go-karting. Because of the Saatchi Effect, contemporary art, once difficult (or have you not read Uber das Geistige in der Kunst?), became the optical equivalent of easy listening. Factor in the fact that no one can afford a Titian any more and you get the Frieze Art Fair (and its equivalents Art Basel and the Venice Biennale and Art Basel Miami).

By overheating the art market, Frieze enhances the carbon footprint of Apollo's chariot. There is a trickle-down effect everywhere. In a Sotheby's sale of modern masters timed to coincide with Frieze, an oil painting by Lyonel Feininger (an interesting personality, but a modest talent) is estimated at a preposterous $12.5m. I think I saw a Warhol for $35m in Frieze's tent, but it may have been the champagne.

The event itself is a work of dizzy entrepreneurial genius by organisers Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, who founded the influential magazine that gave the fair its name. Here I must go easy on Frieze because Slotover is the son of good friends of mine. His father is Stockhausen's agent, his mother a children's book publisher. Stockhausen got into trouble when he called 9/11 'Satan's greatest work of art'. I wonder if that is what gave Matthew the idea for Frieze...

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A 20TH CENTURY HISTORY - Katerina Gregos

CONFRONTED WITH Robert Kusmirowski’s work, one is immediately immersed into the past. Kusmirowski’s oeuvre explores ideas of history and its representation, as well as memory, but also demonstrates in an uncanny way the artist’s identification with an imagined collective past. Working in a variety of media, all his work is painstakingly handcrafted and constructed in such a way as to appear as if it were a genuine relic of the past, excavated from the annals of early 20th century history. Kusmirowski’s sculptures and installations consist of meticulously two- and three-dimensional objects made with paper, cardboard and wood as some of his basic materials. Such is the perfection of his craftsmanship that his works bear the patina of time in a manner that completely subverts the fact that they were made in the present. Kusmirowski’s practice consists primarily of falsifications, fakes or forgeries of situations, ordinary objects of different sizes (from stamps, vintage photos and postcards to bicycles), and reenactments and performances which refer to events that occurred or might have occurred long ago, recreating an intimate iconography of the past. Most of his works appear as though they could have been taken out of a historical museum, and indeed everything the artist produces looks as if it exists in a time capsule and feels almost awkwardly uncomfortable in the present. In that sense Kusmirowski manipulates not only objects but also time and place; he plays not only with history but with the ideas of change and transformation that go with it and how these might be inscribed retrospectively into the physical world around us. The illusionistic quality in his work is physical but also metaphorical, questioning the boundaries between reality and artifice, original and fake. It is no coincidence that Kusmirowski began his artistic career as a copyist of documents and objects from the Polish People’s Republic, his country of birth. There are no simple appropriation tactics to be found in the artist’s practice; rather than appropriating objects or images, as is customary, Kusmirowski appropriates an idea of the past, whether imagined or mediated.

He fuses real historical events and incidents with imagined ones, often inserting himself as protagonist in certain situations to create a hypothetical sense of individual or collective memory, an open-ended mental space about which each of us can hypothesize, fantasize and reflect on. The simulated patina and precise craftsmanship of his work thus creates a nostalgic atmosphere of bygone times that operates by association and evocation rather than as a straightforward narrative. Kusmirowski thereby activates cultural memory but also stirs up an ecumenical sense of nostalgia and melancholy, something many people experience as they grow older. There is a certain fatalistic aspect to his work and also a fetish that goes beyond the historical, a kind of artistic obsession/identification with the aesthetics and lifestyles of times past. In addition, his work is also a poignant comment on the fragility, futility and fleeting nature of life. The viewer must suspend disbelief at all times. In one of his first large scale installations (D.O.M, 2004), Kusmirowski made a recreation of a Polish cemetery for the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw. At the Ujazdowski Castle, Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, and then later at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, he made a life-size replica of a Communist era artist’s studio which mirrored itself (Double V, 2005).

Kusmirowski completed a walk from Warsaw to Paris (Map of Auschwitz, 2004), which is documented in two photos and a map/itinerary of the countries through which he walked. The walk is a reference to Constantin Brancusi, who walked from Bucharest to Paris one hundred years earlier. At the 4th Berlin Biennale, he presented Wagon, a work initially made for Novart, Festival of Young Art, in Krakow in 2002: a full scale simulation of a ’40s transport wagon from a train. The work was haunting with its realism — including the smell of old railway carriages — bringing to mind, among other things, the hundreds of trains that made the sinister journey to concentration camps. Kusmirowski performs magic with his materials, creating a sense of illusionism so akin to reality that one cannot believe it is a counterfeit. In this sense he is an artistic Houdini that leaves no clues as to the means by which he performs his magic deeds. The artist conjures an entirely fascinating and uniquely personal, nostalgic retro-world, which is as immersive as it is escapist. However, through digging up the ghosts of the past, Kusmirowski prompts the viewer to reflect upon the present.