Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tillmans in DC

I went to DC the first week of August to see the Wolgang Tillmans show at the Hirshhorn Museum. I have always had a mixed response to the work of this artist. Some work is, to me, so conceptual that there is no pathway into the work on other levels. So, I was surprised how much of the work I found engaging and communicative. I was especially excited to see the abstract work. I knew the large scale photograms that were on view at PS1 last year. But I was less familiar with the series called "Paper Drop". I had seen some of them at Andrea Rosen's booth at AIPAD last year. I was intrigued by them then, but I was wowed even more to see a large room filled with their graceful shapes and evocative rhythms. They are not without the conceptual rigor that Tillmans is known for -- turning photography back on itself by photographing the very materials that are used to show the work. It seems a kind of conceptual mirror. But they work even without this intellectual layer. They are simply beautiful. If they were paintings, they would be admired for their form, balance, texture, and composition. That they have extra levels to plumb on further study and reflection only adds to the seductiveness of their surface beauty.

@Wolgang Tillmans "paper drop" (shadow)

@Wolfgang Tillmans "paper drop" (star), 2006. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

@Wolfgang Tillmans "paper drop" (kestner), 2006

However, the star of the show for me wasn't photography. There was one 6 minute video titled "Lights (Body)" that was visually hypnotic and conceptually irresistible. The catalog describes a video that "presents various views of the flashing and oscillating lights of a busy discotheque set to the pulsating sound of electronic dance music". Some views are extreme close-up and some are from a distance, but they are all abstracted out and without a human presence. The effect is of some kind of robotized dance hall one moment followed by a moving, living abstract expressionist canvas. Again, as in "paper drop", Tillmans combines a sumptuous, visually compelling surface with a thought provoking core. The catalog made no mention of this, but I wondered whether his disco without people was a reference to an AIDS decimated social scene where the music and lights blare on in pre-programmed ecstasy while the humans who are meant to enjoy them are nowhere to be found. I was transfixed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My Summer Vacation


The whole initial idea for me to blog was the brainchild of Ellen Harris when she was executive director at Aperture Foundation. I must thank her here for her great idea and for her faith in my ability to put something interesting on paper. These blogs were posted on the Aperture site during the summer as I traveled. I had considerable support from Aperture staff in their creation and editing. Special thanks go to Paul Vargas and Andrea Smith. It is with the permission of Aperture that these first blogs are reprinted here essentially as they were on the original site. I have edited for current relevance. For more information about Aperture books, programs and blogs, go to

21 JUNE 2007
Sculpture Project 07 Münster
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 9:38 AM

I have just spent a few days at the new Sculpture Project 07 in Münster. This is the fourth installment of a city sculpture project that happens every ten years. If it's not too soon to judge, past years have been much, much stronger. Still there was much to see.

(You may find the official Skulptur Projekte Münster 07 website at If you don’t wish to read the site in the original German, note the “English” link at page bottom.)

On the first evening, we bravely struck out on our own without a guide. What followed was a farcical Roland Barthes treasure hunt. We had a map with the general location of the work, a list of artists, and a few titles. Armed with that, we were quickly reduced to pointing at random objects asking, "Is that a sculpture?” “Is that a sculpture?” is THAT a sculpture?" To be sure, we found a few of the obvious works: Martha Rosler, Isa Genzken, and Hans-Peter Feldman for example. But something like Mark Wallinger's circle of fishing line mounted six yards above our heads and extending most of the way around the inner city completely escaped notice.

The next day our group was given a docent/guide. If you go to Münster, this is the way to go. There is just no way to find all the work on display without help. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, helpful, and articulate.

The highlights for me were few. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster explored memory and nostalgia by creating a mini-theme park of 1/4 sized reproductions of many of the sculptures from previous years. Her idea is that, since this is the fourth installment of the Project, and our memory stores only about one-quarter of what we see, her miniatures recreate a semblance of what we really remember. When I was there, the park was filled with squealing children and families having the best time crawling on and around all the mini-sculptures. To see a Richard Serra in 1/4 size is to really understand what scale does for his work. I loved everything about this—its accessibility, its multi-layered meaning, and its combination of child-like pleasure mixed with real intellectual rigor. Great.

Bruce Nauman submitted plans for an inverted pyramid for a previous fair that was never built. The result, which was built this year, is remarkable; defined negative space that rewards the eye from many vantage points.

Susan Philipsz had a sound installation under a bridge that was quite haunting. Singing the “Barcarolle” from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, her voice was projected by speakers from each side of the river. The score is based on The Story of the Lost Reflection by the German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is the story of the seductive yet unfortunately vicious charm of the courtesan Giulietta, whose spell men cannot resist, thereby losing their own reflection, so that neither their wives nor their children are able to recognize them. It was creepy fun.

20 JUNE 2007

On a bus between Documenta and Münster.

I've just spent two days at Documenta. It wasn't nearly enough. Unlike Venice and Basel, it wasn't really crowded, but there was so much to see and digest that two days seemed only enough for a rough overview.

Documenta prides itself on being firmly anti-art market, as well as having a deep
intellectual foundation. I found myself at a disadvantage by not buying the extensive catalog and ancillary magazines, which provided ample supporting essays and information. Other than the art, there just isn't that much information available in the galleries. In some cases that was okay. Either the art spoke for itself or there was some other pleasure to be found in the works. But other times, one just really needed help. The information on the wall tags was spare and merely factual in most cases. I was left wanting more.

I’ll give an example from work I know and love. Zoe Leonard’s set of three hundred-plus photos, documenting the demise of her Lower East Side neighborhood, which morphs into her tracking of piles of donated clothes to Africa, was offered at two sites. The first site presented the complete portfolio of work. The second site had her suite of forty photos culled from the larger set, which she has sumptuously printed using the dye transfer process. I can make up my own stories about this beautiful work. I especially love the dye transfer set. But if I didn’t know that there was a complete and engaging narrative explicit in the work, I would never know it without a guide or by buying the catalog. Call me lazy or cheap, but I think a curator owes me a bit more.

Also on display were two South African photographers whose work I admire: Guy Tillims and David Goldblatt. Their solid emotional message combined with satisfying formal footing made their work stand out to me against the large collection of ‘70s conceptual work that was everywhere at this Documenta.

Other notable photography was hard to find. One of the standout works to me was a sculpture by the Brazilian artist Iole de Freitas. Her work takes over architectural space like a virus. In this case, it even spilled through the walls to start again outside, and pierced the outer walls again to move inside. It looked like art had invaded the building and taken its basic form for nourishment, growing in any direction like kudzu. Fabulous. For me, it mirrored the work of Monica Sosnowska at the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennial. Both artists invade their space in dramatic, telling, and satisfying ways. They were two of the best things I saw in my whole trip.

19 JUNE 2007
On To Basel
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 9:53 AM

For those of you who haven’t been to Basel, take note: it’s huge. Forget about the satellites or the corollary museum shows. There is more art here than one could ever see in one place. An art market Uffizi. A super-sized Warhol, Rothko, Picasso Big Mac mega meal. With fries.

[For information on the next two Art Basel exhibitions: this year's Art Basel Miami and Art 39 Basel, go to]

I thought I had seen big shows. I've been to Art Basel Miami, Art Forum in Berlin, FIAC in Paris and Paris Photo, but this is the mother ship. The catalog has the heft of a phone book. I thought I had chops to absorb loads of art in an art fair environment. This was too much even for me. After a day spent zig-zagging through a seemingly endless maze of galleries and installations, I was hard-pressed to remember a single thing I’d seen.

But... it’s my job to remember something, right? So here goes.

Blue chip is the name of the game here, and photography is no exception. I found some of the great photo galleries of the world strutting their stuff. Rudolf Kicken´s booth had beautiful examples of vintage Otto Steinert, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Christoph Stromholm, in addition to relative newcomer Götz Diergarten. Mr.Kicken always has a fantastic booth.

Jeffrey Fraenkel had a marvelous small installation of portraits from the collection of Richard Avedon alongside a number of smaller scale portraits by Mr. Avedon. It was sublime.

But the treat for me was a gallery that may be less well-known to Americans. Francoise and Alain Paviot have been running a first-rate gallery in Paris for twenty years. They specialize in 19th century French photography; Man Ray; Brassai; and a well-curated collection of newer artists. Their booth was a revelation. First off there was a large Dieter Appelt twelve-piece installation. Very dark and conceptual, as his work always is, but very emotional in this case, too. Also on view were five very early Edward Weston nude studies. I had never seen anything like them. Also of note was a first class exposition of Cliché Verre. There was much more. Truly a gallery to check out.

Of course, all the big names you would expect were on view at multiple galleries: Becher, Gursky, Struth, Sugimoto, Lawler, Sherman, et al. But you knew that, didn’t you?

18 JUNE 2007
Venice Biennial, Part II
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 3:03 PM

Just a few more notes in passing about the Venice pavilions. I know this is a photo-centric blog, but Venice has so much great non-photo art, it's hard not to mention a few highlights.

The Korean Pavilion had the work of artist Hyungkoo Lee.

Mr. Lee imagines a world where we have invested so much into the characters in our cartoon, animatronic, and fantasy worlds, that they can actually become something corporeal. He has meticulously recreated skeletons of the likes of Tom and Jerry and presented them as some kind of fabulous blend of Hanna-Barbera and a natural history museum. The first pass is one of fun and humor, but of course deeper waters lie under the cartoon surface. This was a great show and an artist of whom I would like to see more.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no fan of large art for the sake of largeness. When it works, though, there is no denying its power. El Anatsui had just such a piece in the Arsenale section of the Biennial. He "wove" thousands upon thousands of bottle caps (and in another case, the metal wrappers from the tops of liquor bottles) into a tapestry that must have been thirty feet high and twenty feet across.

From across a large room, the work seems to be spun of gold and precious fibers. It has a look of antiquity, like loot from faraway lands.

But as you come closer, you realize the humble thread of this tapestry; it's the detritus of a consumer society writ large and gorgeous.

I can't stop thinking about it.

13 JUNE 2007
Venice Biennial, Part I
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 12:21 PM

Evan writes on Monday, June 11th. The Biennial held a preview for professionals and press from June 7th through the 9th, and is now open until November 21st. You can visit the official site at

This is my third day at the Venice Biennial. I've waited a few days to file. I was worried that my first impressions would not be accurate, since logistically the days have been a challenge. The challenges made me cranky and certainly influenced how I saw what I saw. As the weekend progressed, the situation improved, though I still believe this is a very difficult place to have this kind of an event.

The biggest challenge is just getting from one place to another. If you want to see something which is outside of the two principal biennial venues (Giardini and Arsenale), you can spend an hour or more in transit back and forth. It can really eat up the day. Long lines, prices bordering on extortion, challenging public transport—a lot of factors contribute to making this a difficult experience.

I could really start ranting on that topic, but I would rather stay positive and talk about the art. Where shall we start?

There is a lot of photography on view, as one would imagine. Of special note is a site specific installation by Thomas Demand. In his signature style he has created a photo of a fantasy grotto complete with stalagmites, stalactites, and rocky caverns made entirely with cardboard. The exhibit estimates that over 900,000 pieces of board were used. What is not typical for Mr. Demand is that the "model" (life-sized) and all of the process involved in producing the photo are on display as well. It isn't my favorite work but it was a fascinating glimpse into this artist's process.

Plenty of younger artists are on view as well. Yto Barrada is a photographer from Tangier. Her work, which I like very much, was highlighted in one of the first galleries in the Arsenale.

Also in the Arsenale was the work of Spanish artist Ignasi Aballi. On view was a collection of lists. Mr. Aballi cuts out various pieces of information from the newspapers. Numbers of dead, amounts of money, quantities of each nationality—the different categories create their own list. For such a minimalist subject, the photographs were quite appealing visually. From a political and taxonomic point of view, they are unforgettable.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer was the artist chosen for the Mexican pavilion. Check this guy out. Really. Space prohibits an exposition of his work but to me it was one of the best. It combined gee-whiz cool with genuine artistic, intellectual and emotional content. Great.

But my most satisfying overall experience came at an exhibit outside the official biennial sites. Palazzo Fortuny had a show called "Artempo". The theme was the intersection between works of antiquity and contemporary art. Alex Vervoordt put this show together and he didn't miss a note. One after another, there were remarkable and eye-opening juxtapositions. Francis Bacon, Hans Bellmer, Paolo Giacometti, Anish Kapoor, and an especially rich and varied selection of Lucio Fontana’s work were all on offer. Mr. Vervoordt placed his well-known artists in contrast and context to other art. Everything from anonymous eighteenth-century art to Buddhist scrolls to lesser-known artists was fair game. The resulting conversation among the artworks in the space was one of the most scintillating I've experienced in years.

(Read Roberts Smith's fabulous review in the New York Times -

Next: more Venice pavilions. Art Basel and the satellite fairs begin today. I will file my impressions as I get a handle on the scene.

08 JUNE 2007
Photo-London, Part II
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 10:39 AM

In my last post, I promised to talk about the panel discussion called How to Collect Contemporary Photography. This was a discussion moderated by Anna Somers-Cocks, founding editor of The Art Newspaper, with Francis Hodgson, head of the photographs department, Sotheby's London; Jeffrey Boloten, partner, ArtTactic; Greg Hobson, curator of photographs, National Media Museum Bradford; and William Hunt, partner in Hasted/Hunt gallery (and well known to Aperture audiences).

Mr. Hodgson weighed in passionately about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: conservation. He mentioned that when the photo conservator at the V & A, Elizabeth Martin, passed away four years ago, her position was not filled. He stated that this has left a backlog of photo conservation and restoration projects at the major British museums that would take "lifetimes" to complete. Remarkable! I think there needs to be much greater awareness—and tons more information disseminated—about how to care for photographs. Mr. Hodgson's comment elicited multiple responses from the panel, including Mr. Hunt remarking that his own awareness about the non-archival quality of face-mounted plexi [Plexiglas] had prompted him to insist that no artist in his roster use it. Of course, it was mentioned that the "most expensive photo in the world," a.k.a. Gursky’s 99 Cent II Diptychon, is on face-mounted plexi.

This was a fabulous panel. Each member was articulate, informed and passionate about the topic. Debate was lively and spirited. It both answered questions and posed new ones. Really a treat.

A few last notes about art on view:

This was billed as a contemporary photo fair, which meant that there were fewer mid-century blue chip photographers on display and many more up-and-comers. In the blue chip category, Camera Work from Berlin had a stunning vintage print of William Klein's "Smoke and Veil." London gallery The Approach had a number of John Stezaker's collages of found images. I have seen this work at a number of other fairs and most recently at the auction to benefit White Columns in New York City. The work always attracts my eye and engages my mind. Even though similar techniques are applied to all of them, each one looks fresh and original.

Also looking as good as ever to me was a large scale urban landscape by Stephane Couturier. I continue to be impressed and engaged by this artist:

Filed under up-and-comers, Laurence Demaison at Parisian gallery Esther Woerdehof has been exploring self-portraiture for a number of years. Her best, to me, have been where she explores her relationship to and with water. There have been a number of series where she submerges herself in a pool to be photographed. Some of these just present the natural distortion of the water, while in others she creates wave patterns to further evoke a painterly effect. I think there is a link to the work of Susan Derges who I mentioned in my first post. Derges' Observer and the Observed series also uses water and self-portraiture to striking ends. In Demaison's newer work, water is just a puddle in which to catch fleeting glimpses of a fractured self. In a B/W format there is also some question to the viewer about whether the liquid is water. Titled "Jour de Sang," I am told the phrase translates as “day of suffering” or “sacrifice.”

05 JUNE 2007
Photo-London, Part I
Posted By Evan Mirapaul at 10:07 AM

Evan Mirapaul writes from Photo-London on June 2, 2007. The fair ran from May 31st to June 3rd.

A former 19th century fish market, Old Billingsgate was the site of the Photo-London fair this year. The closest thing we have to it in New York is the Lexington Avenue Armory, though Billingsgate is quite a bit smaller. This makes for a rather intimate fair (just 42 juried exhibitors). After having been to the behemoth fairs like Armory, Art Forum, Basel/Miami, and Paris Photo, the smaller scale was welcome and pleasant. At least on the days I went, the fair was not too crowded, and seeing the work on display was easy.

Several works immediately caught my eye. At Zebra Gallery (London) Julia Glover had a new take on stereoscopic images I found intriguing. She mounts stereoscopic viewers on matte board in a frame so it appears on first blush that the viewers are the Duchamp-like art.

But when you step up and look into the lenses you find a voyeuristic look into dark, crowded rooms occupied by a man surrounded by the ephemera of whatever collection he has created. Entitled "Men Only", I found it very good and not a little creepy. The 3-D effect of the stereoscopic viewer makes one feel as if you are literally looking through a hole in the wall to spy on a private scene. Fascinating.

I suspect some readers will share my weariness at seeing so much Photoshop-created faux reality. Still, a few photos in this genre bullied their way into my imagination. Galeria Bacelos (Spain) is showing the work of Victoria Diehl. Ms. Diehl superimposes parts of a human figure with parts of decaying statuary. The net effect is haunting.

Though the figure alone would be beautiful and the statuary alone would be perceived as beautiful, the combination is a kind of horror show. By using male and female models, Ms. Diehl effectively asks questions about aging, the nature of beauty, and what it means to idealize the form.

Another Photoshop work was created by Chen Chieh-jen. Best known for his video art, the Parisian gallery Alain Le Gaillard showcased his photography. Of particular note to me was his photo "Self-destruction 1927-1997". Mr. Chen inserts himself into an historical photo of Chinese civil war from 1927 mirroring the violence in the original photo by showing himself both being beheaded and beheading others. Chen has stated that he does not consider himself a political artist but an artist from a violent culture. He seeks to portray that violence which he feels is an indelible part of his self.

There was also "straight" photography that was of note to me. Many viewers will know the work of Helsinki school artist Jorma Puranen. Purdy Hicks Gallery (London) was showing some of these exquisite large-scale photos of reflections. Sumptuous.

The photo work of Sean Scully was beautifully presented at Ingleby (London).

His "Walls of Aran" series was presented as both visually poetic and typological.

Both Purdy Hicks and and Ingleby had the work of Susan Derges.

It seemed that this artist was being re-examined and reappraised, perhaps because the show is held the UK. Regardless, I like her work very much.

There was much more art to comment on. In the next installment I'll mention a few more artists, and provide an account of a fascinating panel discussion with Bill Hunt, Greg Hobson (from the National Media Museum , Bradford), Francis Hodgson (Head of photo dept., Sotheby's London), and Jeffrey Boloten, moderated by Anna Somers-Cocks (founding editor of "The Art Newspaper").