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Wim Wenders review, Hamburg, Germany.

Paul Laffoley Artforum - Wes Hill


Paul Laffoley

Invalidenstraße 50-51
September 4–March 4

Paul Laffoley, The Orgone Motor, 1981, oil, acrylic, vinyl lettering on canvas, 73 1/2 x 73 1/2”.

The term post-critical has been thrown around in recent years to describe the ideals of hybridity and inclusivity governing much contemporary art. In this context, the exclusive category of “outsider artist” appears antiquated and counterproductive. Reflecting on this contemporary scenario, curators Udo Kittelmann and Claudia Dichter initiated a project space in Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof dedicated to artists who have been largely excluded from the mainstream art world. In the second exhibition in their program, titled “Secret Universe II,” the forty-year career of the Boston-based artist and architect Paul Laffoley is granted reassessment. Featuring over thirty paintings and prints comprising dense interplays between philosophical texts, mystical diagrams, and historical references, Laffoley’s superb draftsmanship frames his paranoid and hyperactive assessments of how history interacts with and constructs the future.

Combining a Conceptualist sensibility with New Age illustration techniques, Laffoley’s works reveal his engrossment in the alternative realities and lifestyles synonymous with the counterculture of the 1960s. His paintings evoke a Philip K. Dick–esque world where history, psychosis, and science fiction come together in ways that are simultaneously thought-provoking, entertaining, and, frankly, weird. Aligning his artistic practice with historical figures from R. Buckminster Fuller to Heraclitus, Laffoley gives an architectural schema to speculative notions and mysterious historical forms, tackling subjects as diverse as kabbalah, the shroud of Turin, quantum theory, cosmogenesis, the work of Wilhelm Reich, and the philosophy of Lucretius. His unconventional theories are delicately spelled out with adhesive lettering on the surfaces of his paintings, conveying his esoteric beliefs and giving the exhibition its legibly driven character. Yet the innovative pictorial arrangements of works such as The Orgone Motor, 1981, and The Eloptic Nohmagraphon, 1989, are often more captivating than the theories themselves. The exhibition provides an engaging introduction to Laffoley’s fascinating career, and exemplifies the move in contemporary art to abolish “outsider” status.

— Wes Hill


Matt Mullican - Wes Hill art review


Matt Mullican

Prinzregentenstrasse 1
June 10–September 11

View of “Organizing the World,” 2011.

Showcasing his forty-year career in an extraordinary range of media, Matt Mullican’s retrospective assails viewers with the structured disorder for which he is known. The exhibition’s title, “Organizing the World,” is somewhat misleading, given that his “sign systems,” as he calls them, are arranged eclectically and elude straightforward comprehension. Mullican’s work essentially explores the way that signs, including language, can obscure the role that intuition or self-generated knowledge plays in one’s navigation through life. This paradoxical position is intensified by the sheer range of work on view and the scale of the exhibition, which results in a difficult yet rewarding viewing experience. Mullican’s work here evinces its crucial place in the progression of Conceptualist practice in America, emerging from John Baldessari’s influence at CalArts in the early 1970s to add his own brand of ontological aporia to the mix.

Of course, no survey of Mullican’s career could be complete without an examination of his work on hypnosis or his unique take on the notion of alternate worlds. These themes are skilfully amalgamated in Learning from That Person’s Work, 2005; a mazelike display of paintings interspersed with multiple videos that depict the artist in a trance state. During a live performance at the Haus der Kunst, a hypnotized Mullican reenacted, in a quasi-autistic style, a stereotypical domestic scene that involved reading a newspaper at a breakfast table before heading off to work. This scenario was regularly punctuated with moments of crisis, during which he obsessively repeated phrases such as “I’m a fake, this isn’t any good,” in defiance of the narrative structure. Like the exhibition itself, the performance was riddled with glimpses of self-conscious doubt about whether his artistic forms could actually transcend their function as signs. Due to this brilliantly double-edged quality of his practice, the exhibition benefits from repeated and protracted visits, acquiring further nuances and complexities over time.

— Wes Hill

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Artforum - Thomas Baldischwyler


Thomas Baldischwyler

Schopenstehl 20
January 27–February 19

Thomas Baldischwyler, Untitled (Documenta 5 - No Smoke), 2012, acrylic on paper, 24 1/2 x 34 1/3”.

For Thomas Baldischwyler, painting is more an unrestrictive mode of practice than a medium. In his latest solo exhibition, his work encompasses figurative and abstract painting, fluorescent lights, readymade sculptures, and collages––all of which have a distinctly formal emphasis. This project takes its title, “The Truth About the Colonies,” from a well-known anticolonialist exhibition organized by Surrealists and French Communist Party members in Paris in 1931. Yet in this context, the title suggests a dichotomy between sociopolitical responsibility and formal experimentation in art, while also serving to contextualize Baldischwyler’s intuitive and performative approach to making work that draws on the history of Surrealism.

Displayed across two specially erected corrugated aluminum walls, four large, colorful abstract paintings, “Untitled (AE-G 1-4),” 2011, form the focal point of the exhibition. These paintings, composed of glistening swells of paint, appear simultaneously heavy and light. A painted collage depicting artists Jackson Pollock and Asger Jorn floating in outer space, Untitled (Jackson and Asger {In a Presentiment by Austin Osman Spare} - Smoking With Cthuluh), 2012, makes an overt reference to the Abstract Expressionist movement. Despite the art-historical irony, it is Baldischwyler’s genuine affection for the lyric qualities of painting that prevents the exhibition from being overwhelmed by insincerity. This lyric concern is made literal by the multiple references to popular music, including a poetic collage of a Joy Division poster, Untitled (CF/JD - Smoke in the Glass), 2012, and a painting that features a photographic reproduction of Rick James, Untitled (Documenta 5 - No Smoke), 2012. Drawing on Surrealist, Pop, and Expressionist influences in a manner that brings to mind the work of the formerly Hamburg-based artist Albert Oehlen, Baldischwyler modifies Oehlen’s post-punk snarl and presents an entertaining yet understated exhibition that mines the performativity of painting.

— Wes Hill

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(Source: dev.artforum.com)


frieze Issue 145 March 2012 RSS

Cathy Wilkes

Gesellschaft für aktuelle Kunst, Bremen, Germany


Untitled (detail), 2011, mixed media

Cathy Wilkes’s dispersive installations are relationally orientated, but her practice is markedly different to those defined by Nicolas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics (1998). While confusing the boundaries between art and the everyday, Wilkes rarely attempts to communicate an essential point about art’s socio-political dimension. Rather, by imbuing all aspects of the exhibition-making process with equal and autobiographical relevance, the Glasgow-based artist’s show at the Gesellschaft für aktuelle Kunst (GAK) highlighted her expressive approach to installation art.

The exhibition was co-produced with the Kunstverein Munich, where – earlier in 2011 – Wilkes showcased a larger collection of new and old works. At the GAK, she purposefully stripped the show back to concentrate on a single sculptural tableau (Untitled, 2011) that was conceived in response to the recent death of her father. The artist’s subtle employment of negative space was arresting, enabling the gallery architecture to dramatize the somber theme and provoking comparisons with artists such as Isa Genzken and Sarah Lucas, not to mention the early 1990s slacker aesthetic of Karen Kilimnik. Whereas for these three artists the use of diverse materials and a lightness of touch provide comical effect, Wilkes’s junkyard-minimalism typically connotes the emotional condition of being weighed down by the world.

The exhibition’s central installation presented an anguished scene inspired by Old Testament narratives, comprising papier-mâché sculptures of two dark-skinned women and a boy. One of the female sculptures was topless – and, like a mannequin, nipple-less – and kneeled in a black mini-skirt, gazing skyward with her arms raised. The other woman appeared frozen in frantic action, mouth wide open. Next to them kneeled a boy closely inspecting a collection of pinecones and green pipe-cleaners. Other objects filled in the rest of the surreal scene: a metal plough, a water tap, two toy rabbits, electric kettles, an unfinished papier-mâché sculpture. The loaded metaphorical content and poverty-stricken drama of the work appeared to be manifestations of the biblically inspired lyrics of Billie Holiday or Robert Johnson. It also alluded to the types of Dust Bowl environments famously depicted by Walker Evans.

Wilkes’s inclusion of several abstract paintings (all Untitled, 2010–11) clearly contrasted with the main installation; however, they were united by their gloomy hues and a poetic treatment of materials. Having alluded to the work of Walter Sickert in Non-Verbal Installation (2005), which was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2008, Wilkes’s paintings once again displayed her genuine fascination for Sickert’s seedy and obscured aesthetic, as well as his succinct application of paint. Whereas in the aforementioned work her paintings functioned more as readymades, here they underscored the emotive impetus of the exhibition.

Accompanying the three small abstract paintings in the final gallery space were two large, pink table arrangements, which acted as installations and contextual presentations. On one of the tables sat an unpainted papier-mâché sculpture of a baby with an oversized tongue, on its hands and knees in an entanglement of fine wire in which bits of porridge and small saucepans were embedded (Untitled, 2010). The other table – a museological arrangement of personal memorabilia, including Fisher Price toys, childhood drawings, a childhood poem by the artist’s brother, a Peanuts cartoon-strip from a newspaper, and two of her father’s pocket Bibles – more clearly revealed the autobiographical origin of the exhibition. Here Wilkes seemed to encourage the viewer to consider the installation as having been shaped by her own reflections on her childhood in Northern Ireland. As such, Wilkes’s artistic practice was related as a more complex extension of childhood play – progressing from shop-bought toys to life-size papier-mâché sculptures.

As both a personal expression and a type of Rorschach test, the exhibition gently persuaded viewers to decode its secret metaphors. Approaching the phenomenon of the exhibition as inherently performative and subjective, Wilkes drew attention to the gaps between the start of an art work – the artist’s inspiration – and its ‘end’: the temporal arrangement of objects in a gallery.

Wes Hill


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