Artistic Response born of Awe in the Changing World around Us
In 1967 Jackson Browne penned the lyric: "These days I seem to think about/ How all the changes came about my ways/ And I wonder if I'll see another highway." As the world shifts around us in ways that are profoundly disorienting, Browne's song resonates. Bringing together six artists whose work is infused with that lyric's sense of wonderment, and with the poetic and musical tradition of the elegy, These Days: Elegies for Modern Times responds to today's changing world with installations, photographs, painting, sculpture and video. The exhibition is at once an extended lamentation, but also full of a revelatory sense of possibility and hope. The exhibition features work by George Bolster, Chris Doyle, Micah Silver, Robert Taplin, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Pawel Wojtasik. Two of the artists will exhibit works from the past year while the other four have created new installations specifically for the exhibition including two room-size works: a 12' tall, 36' diameter video panorama and a full-size chapel-like environment.
George Bolster's new installation, Reckoner, transforms one of MASS MoCA's galleries into a chapel for the 21st century. The centerpiece of Reckoner is an elaborately drawn ceiling panel depicting the Reckoning or return of Christ at the end of the world and the division of good and evil. Figures on the ceiling include martyred saints like Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake and Matthias who was stoned to death. Suspended from the Apostles is a sculpture of a narwhal, which serves as an allegory for Christ. Christ's stigmata connect to the wounds of the apostles through red ribbons, symbolizing sacrifice and blood spilled at the apocalypse. The Radiohead song Reckoner, an atmos-pheric piece of music that seems like a pleading at the end of time accompanies the installation. As they move through the chapel, visitors will notice one additional component of Bolster's work: drops of water that descend from the ceiling as each Saint weeps for the loss of faith, not just in the form of religion, but in the face of culture.
Chris Doyle's animated video, Apocalypse Management (telling about being one being living), takes inspiration from Mannerist and Renaissance frescoes of The Last Judgment merging them with contemporary disaster imagery. The video begins with a landscape and its inhabitants in the aftermath of disaster like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The particular cause is unclear, but the devastation portends a state of emergency for which the viewer is reminded to be ready. Slowly a man beneath a fallen building starts to move and then begins singing. No words are discernable but the song seems to lift up the man allowing him to transcend struggle. Additional vignettes come to life, where the wounded, lost, and dying sing and dance their way out of destruction. By turning a site of hideous disaster into an almost operatic dance, Doyle provides hope in the lost, along with the belief that the end is not here. This elegy to disaster does have a bright side, for while it makes palpable the impossibility of preparing for cataclysmic events, it endlessly strives for recovery.
Micah Silver's The End of Safari begins with Yves Saint Laurent, not in elegiac praise of the iconic fashion designer, but rather using his 1968 safari-style jacket as a launching point for an investigation into the realm of fantasy. Laurent's safari jacket signaled a shift in the manifestation of cultural fantasy exposing colonialism in the form of fashion. Laurent highlighted artifice by openly acknowledging that he never visited the places that inspired him. The lineage of fantasy can be traced to travel writings of the 1500s in which authors imagined — rather than experienced — distant lands. Once uncovered, this fantasy fell apart, and it has been disappearing ever since. Silver's installa-tion begins with a fake environment of synthetic trees and grass, a simulated "jungle" in which the story of fantasy unfolds in an elegiac libretto narrated by a fictional Yves Saint Laurent. Sound emanates from the room itself, like a type of ventriloquism. The result is a space that transports the viewer from the museum.
Robert Taplin's Everything Real Is Imagined (After Dante) consists of nine sculptures, each referencing scenes from Dante's Inferno as modern allegories of political strife.
These Days >
Ansel Krut, Giants of Modernism #2 (Carrot Head), 2009, oil on canvas, 90 × 60 cm, detail.
Ansel Krut, Caricaturist Drawings with Psychedelicism
There is a measured and psychedelic cast of protagonists in Krut’s paintings that revel in absurd creativity. This quality of absurdity in Krut’s images is vital, yet needn’t be overplayed, as it belies the subtlety and sophistication of his characterisation, and his sincere exercise of technique.
Ansel Krut >>
Gustav Metzger, Acid Action Painting, 2006, detail.
A Practice Rich in the Semiotics of Left Wing Politics
Gustav Metzger’s practice represents a life-long involvement in left-wing politics, ecology, and the creative and destructive powers of twentieth and twenty-first century industrialized societies. This is the first time such an extensive overview of Metzger’s work has been presented in the UK.
Gustav Metzger >>
Felice Casorati, La donna e l'armatura, 1921, detail.
Contrast and Comparison, What Seems New
FormContent, a group of young curators formed by Francesco Pedraglio, Caterina Riva e Pieternel Vermoortel, plans its upcoming exhibition and applies its distinctive and independent curatorial practice to a more institutional space than the one they usually move in.
What Seems New >>
La Fenice, 1644, Biblioteca Nazionale di Torino, detail.
Amusements, Court of Savoy, 16th and 18th Centuries
As of the second half of the 16th Century, the House of Savoy began to reform life at Court, drawing inspiration from the greater European dynasties, and in particular from the Royal Houses of Spain and France. Trends and amusements were imported, artists and men of letters were invited.
Baroque Feasts >>
Urs Fischer, Intervening in Worlds Beyond Gallery Spaces
Urs Fischer’s multimedia art, which is grounded in sculpture despite the artist’s training as a photographer, offers grand gestures with a pop attitude. A yellow teddy bear weighing several tons in the midst of Manhattan; a house made of bread placed in the public space of Vienna; images of mundane subjects like donuts, London telephone booths, and crumpled Diet Coke cans precisely rendered via silkscreen on mirrored chrome boxes — in Fischer’s work of opposites, transformations of material, media, and scale are not uncommon. Private becomes public, stone turns into bread, and everyday commodities collapse into flat reproductions to decorate minimal objects. In a sculptural balancing act, the Swiss-born artist (b. 1973) grapples with size, gravity, and volume. Fragile and floating objects seemingly suspended in the air — works in which the shadow is a fundamental aspect of their form — live next to gigantic amorphous sculptures cast in aluminum and steel.
Fischer has been known to cut holes through walls (à la Gordon Matta-Clark) and erode the floors of the exhibition space in interventions that recall land art of the 1960s and ’70s. He is less interested in radical aesthetic measures or art historical cross-referencing that could easily relate him to Franz West, Dieter Roth, or Francis Picabia, but rather finds inspiration in artistic alliances that bridge time and place. For nearly every positioning of his work one runs into a companion piece: bodylike walls with bulging scars, floating pink clouds, and installations of countless monochromatic raindrops suspended in midair bear witness not to the bombastic, but to a sensitive artistic intervention.
Fischer’s art makes an important contribution to the discourse of form as defined by Georges Bataille’s principle of l’informe. Probing the aesthetic frontiers between object and art, he aims at destabilizing content and form, and integrates in his art anarchistic detonators that reduce identifiable thought and action to absurdity. Occasionally dismissing static concepts of artworks, he indulges in anti-form, illustrates processes, and depicts fusion and dissolution: wax figures melt, as does the streetlight made from cast aluminum whose surface, like erupting magma, seems to have gotten out of hand — Frozen Pioneer— a mutation frozen in flux.
Fischer’s creative urge transcends the work by means of reference; it oscillates between abstraction and figuration and is both static and dynamic. Rather than imposing his own will onto his work, he searches for each work’s singular momentum, cultivating apparent accidents and incorporating chance as an integral part of his production. Fischer questions the creation of values added to art, as when a fruit sculpture rots during the run of the exhibition or when a seemingly benign installation of a spotlight projects the shadow of a banana or ladder onto a wall. His choice of unconventional materials — including styrofoam, mirror glass, lacquer, and glue, as well as wax — imbues the work with a sense of temporality. The transience of life is also evident in motifs such as the skeleton of Skinny Sunrise — in the Kunsthalle exhibition he will for the first time show a self-portrait, another burning candle sculpture. Nothing remains the same, as the title of another of his works — Thank You Fuck You — reminds us.
Urs Fischer’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the New Museum in New York (2009), the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (2006), the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (2005), the Kunsthaus Zürich (2004), and the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2004).
Urs Fischer >
Urs Fischer, Dr. Random, 2003 © Urs Fischer Courtesy of the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Andy Keate.