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Frieze, Yvonne Todd, Centre for Contemporary Photography

Yvonne Todd

Centre for Contemporary Photography , Melbourne, Australia


Shooting predominantly in a studio, the New Zealand artist Yvonne Todd explores photographic portraiture through a thick veil of humor. Curated by Serena Bentley, ‘Wall of Seahorsel’ brought together two of Todd’s photographic series: ‘Wall of Man’ (2009), comprises portraits of men aged 50 and over, while ‘Seahorsel’ (2012), revolves predominantly around choreography.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in conversation with Wes Hill

The place where thought and action meet: documenta (13)
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in conversation with Wes Hill

Museum Fridericianum, Kassel © dOCUMENTA (13). Photograph Nils Klinger Doreen Reit Nakamarra, Women's ceremonies at Marrapinti, 2009  Courtesy Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd

Held every five years and now in its 13th iteration, documenta has been at the forefront of curatorial experimentation since 1955. This year’s artistic director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, following on from directing the 16th Biennale of Sydney in 2008, has invited and selected a record number of Australian artists to exhibit and participate, including Fiona Hall, Warwick Thornton and Margaret Preston. Here Christov-Bakargiev explains her philosophy, and her idea for an exhibition that hovers in a propositional space, with Wes Hill. [….]

Wim Wenders review, Hamburg, Germany.

Political Pollutant, or Tsunaminity -- Armond White 

Lazily titled after Chaplin’s 1940 Hitler-Mussolini satire The Great Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen‘s new film The Dictator is part ….

Jeff Koons @ beyeler

Tommy Wiseau

Charley Harper, Frieze review, Wes Hill


Issue 142 October 2011 RSS

Charley Harper

Kunstverein , Hamburg, Germany


It’s hard to dislike the work of Charley Harper. Best known for his quirky yet scrupulous natural history illustrations of the 1950s and ’60s, which featured in The Golden Book of Biology (1961) and Ford Times magazine, the rediscovery of this previously overlooked American artist and illustrator was the subject of a modestly sized exhibition at the Kunstverein in Hamburg. Unconventionally displayed in the exhibition on black and white wallpaper of forests and seascapes, Harper’s merging of caricature with the Modernist imperative to simplify projected a sophisticated Americana that was surprisingly difficult to resist.

Since his death in 2007, interest in Harper’s artistic career has spread steadily, due in larger part to the release of Todd Oldham’s excellent publication Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life (2007) and a retrospective exhibition held in his hometown of Cincinnati. As the first significant presentation of his work outside the US, the Kunstverein exhibition naturally foregrounded the uncertainty surrounding his precise art-historical position. Although Harper described his own work as ‘minimal realism’, it would be more accurate to consider him within a history of American Pop art, combining Andy Warhol’s delicate blotted illustrations of the 1950s with John Wesley’s sparse compositions and Alex Katz’s cool depictions of nature. When understood as a kind of provincial or ‘outsider’ strain of Pop art, his career as a commercial artist and its considerable blurring of fine art with graphic design (and even children’s illustration) acquires greater legitimacy.

More than 60 of the works exhibited were depictions of the natural world, the majority of which featured birds of different species. Harper’s aesthetic sensibility was remarkably consistent throughout his 50-year career. Utilizing as few visual elements as possible, he assumed an orthographic approach to representation, always relating the two-dimensional nature of his depictions to a three-dimensional source. The legs of his subjects were often delicately executed with single lines, exaggerating spatial tensions between mass and support, which are present in the creatures themselves. This was exemplified in almost all of Harper’s bird prints, but it was perhaps best exploited in his depiction of insects and crustaceans, with Shadow Dancers (1958) and Beetle Battle (1971) being some of the most inventive. Here, he assumes an overhead perspective that highlights the disproportionate legs and modular bodies of the insects, making them appear like small machines or robots.

Composed with precise geometric shapes and unusual colour combinations, aspects of Harper’s work resemble the abbreviated graphic style of Russian Constructivist posters. But Harper used his lines and curves to communicate a beauty, simplicity and order that he considered fundamental to the natural world, with the shapes of his animals almost always harmoniously echoed by the surrounding environment. He was obviously attracted to the notion of nature as sympathetic, ignoring its ugliness in an effort to promote the fantasy over the reality. Whilst this affirmative quality is now an important part of the appeal of his work, it is also one of the reasons why it was not more widely recognized earlier, conflicting with the critical and political agendas that were encouraged in the Postmodern era. He may have matched Warhol’s excellent skills as a designer and colourist but, unlike Warhol, his earnest celebration of nature appeared inconsequential in relation to the social and political changes that were affecting post-1960s culture.

Harper’s proficiency for composition and the notoriously difficult medium of silkscreen printing was suitably showcased by the Kunstverein curators. The decision to display his work on photographic backgrounds of American landscapes was initially distracting; however, it successfully emphasized the intense distillation of his designs from real-life observation. Motivated by contemporary concerns about the environment, the conflation of fine and commercial art and the post-critical tendencies of contemporary art, the exhibition recognized the complex visual language underpinning Harper’s unassuming and refreshing body of work.

Wes Hill


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


Frieze d/e review - DAS INSTITUT mit UNITED BROTHERS und Nhu Duong — Wes Hill

DAS INSTITUT mit UNITED BROTHERS und Nhu Duong Lüneburg, Germany

Halle für Kunst

Nhu Duong ‘BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed’, 2011, Installation view

DAS INSTITUT – the collaborative side-project of Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder – appears to be fuelled by the sense of liberation that comes with temporarily abandoning one’s day job. Since 2007, the project has allowed the painters to emerge from behind their canvases and to develop another practice which, while treating art as just another commercial market, paradoxically depends upon breaking taboos to create credibility. This exhibition ‘BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed’ is part of a series of collaborations between DAS INSTITUT and UNITED BROTHERS (the Japanese artist-brothers Ei and Tomoo Arakawa), which began at Kunsthalle Zurich in 2011 and included the Swedish fashion designer Nhu Duong at the Halle für Kunst stop. While the series was conceived after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, this show’s title alluded to another kind of radiation: Tomoo Arakawa’s Fukushima-based tanning salon is called Blacky Iwaki.

The gallery space was filled with tanning beds, video projections and semi-transparent roller blinds, the latter emblazoned with Brätsch and Röder’s familiar, spray-paint-like abstractions and titled BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed Roller Blinds (2011). The two-part opening night performance began when the blinds were ceremoniously rolled up and the tanning beds were switched on. DAS INSTITUT’s works are characterized by a casual experimentalism usually found at art schools, so it was fitting that about twenty art students from the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg joined in for a choreographed dance routine. Energetically instructed by a whistle-blowing Ei Arakawa, the amateur dancers moved awkwardly to a traditional Japanese song, occasionally waving patterned scarves or holding up naive figurative paintings made by Ei as a child. For the second act, members of the audience were encouraged to dance around the streets near the gallery, donning an array of hoods, overalls, trousers and incongruous-looking garments, all designed by Duong. When they returned – a little more sluggishly than when they left – the chanting and whistling stopped, the blinds were rolled down, and the tanning beds were switched off. For the remainder of the exhibition, the beds and blinds resembled theatrical props more than art works – a quality reinforced by a dual video projection of a similar dance-based performance held for the 2011 Reconstruction Festival in Fukushima.

The exhibition’s light-hearted, improvisational and art-world-insider tones brought to mind shows by the performance-based ensemble Chicks on Speed – although DAS INSTITUT downplays gender in favour of design. While the tanning beds and radiantly-patterned blinds linked the UV rays of Tomoo Arakawa’s tanning studio to the Fukushima disaster, the radiation motif served as just another prop – with Brätsch and Röder offering not so much a focused inquiry as a framing of loose associations. Perhaps celebrating the diminished political currency of contemporary art, ‘BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed’ suggested that there was a time when an exhibition linking nuclear meltdowns to fashion and carefree dance routines would have provoked debate rather than just an air of indifference.

—by 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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