The shows selected this month, from sculpture to performance and photographic works, all feature a sense of play, wit and disguise.
Exhibition title: Reisen
Artist: Roman Signer
Galerie: Häusler Contemporary
Dates: Until 28 July 2017
Roman Signer (b. 1938, Switzerland) is renowned for his “Actions” and “Time-sculptures”, which comprise objects, engineered collisions and experiments with explosives. He has been making these innovative, unexpected and aesthetically compelling works in the idyllic setting of Appenzell in Switzerland since the 1970s. Here’s a link to one of Signer’s most beloved Actions – “Kayak” (2010), where he sits in a blue kayak, towed behind a tractor down a Swiss country road as the bottom of the kayak is slowly scraped away. There is a poetic moment when a herd of cows gallop alongside him as if captivated by the surreal scene:
The exhibition at Häusler Contemporary focuses on his lesser-known Reisefotos (Travel Photographs), which like “Actions”, he’s been making since the late 1970s. Stepping into the beautiful gallery space (designed by James Turrell in 2007), I was immediately struck by the number of works presented (over 60 prints). Although slightly oppressive, the close hang reflects the notion of this work as a visual diary, traces of ideas that have informed sculptures, and surprising references and dialogues between images. At a glance, I perceived impressions of everyday scenes in different countries – Poland, Switzerland, Japan - but after closer inspection, realised his eye for obscure details, witty juxtapositions and unusual happenings - certainly not your typical kind of travel photography!
One of my favourites, “Schweiz” 1995 (image below) captures a bicycle leaning against a wall with two circular manhole covers on the ground close to the wheels, which appear like shadows. Here I really felt his ability to find poetry and humour in the banal through the simplest of means. In another, “Polen” 1995 (image below), a golden Labrador stands nonchalantly in front of a white polar bear (or a well disguised person dressed as a polar bear!) in the snow, so absurd yet there’s something brilliantly constructed and sculptural in this unlikely pairing. There’s an authenticity to his spontaneous, snapshot style. Nothing here is staged – it’s gritty and real. The exhibition reveals Signer to be an attentive observer of his environment and his presentation of everyday objects as potential ephemeral sculptures suggests clear parallels to his “Actions”.
Exhibition title: No title
Artists: Hans-Peter Feldmann / Elad Lassry
Galerie: Francesca Pia
Dates: Until 19 August 2017
The exhibition presents two celebrated conceptual artists, Hans-Peter Feldmann (b. 1941, Germany) and Elad Lassry (b. 1977, Israel). Feldmann’s long career, since the 1960s, has focused on ideas of the collection, the archive and the circulation of imagery; similarly, Lassry explores questions of representation and image-making, particularly in his photographic objects. Both artists, although generations apart, explore the physical nature of images and their enduring materiality through distribution (and analogue methods). Lassry’s continuous merging of photography and sculpture questions our understanding of the image, while Feldmann reminds us that images are perpetually made, found and borrowed. Ultimately, they play on the notion that in today’s image-saturated world, the journey of an image, its manipulation and context cannot be controlled.
Entering the first large gallery space, I discovered Elad Lassry’s sculptures and photographic works. As I walked around, I felt intrigued and slightly uncomfortable. The objects and images were at once recognisable but also out of reach - sculptures made of walnut appeared like baskets but were solid forms with flat surfaces and engraved fruits and laminated images decorating them. I couldn’t quite place them. A number of images of women’s hands with long painted nails encased in leopard skin carpet brought to mind kitsch advertising campaigns, but the considered compositions and unusual cropping suggested something more poignant (image below). I found myself peering into the photographic works; the material elements drew me close – a perceptible slowing down and moment of pause in the accelerated circulation of images.
Entering the second room, I immediately felt the impact of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s collection of 150 matted stamps propped on a shelf running all the way around the space (they fit perfectly!). Their sheer number creates a rhythm to their fluctuating format and multiple colours. Looking closer, I noticed that every stamp depicts a nude painting - all the great masterpieces from Botticelli to Gauguin are here. Many have circular ink markings with the date revealing a trace of their individual journeys. As with the repetition in Lassry’s work, there is great humour in their seriality and a certain irreverence for artistic traditions.
Both artists works are perplexing, even at times irritating in their endless riddles and lack of clarity, but they stayed with me long after seeing the show – I’m eager to go back and unearth more!
Exhibition title: Alexander Calder / David Smith
Artists: Alexander Calder / David Smith
Galerie: Hauser & Wirth
Dates: Until 16 September 2017
Although outside my usual photography leanings, I felt compelled to include this exhibition in the selection, presenting two great figures of 20th Century sculpture – Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976, USA) and David Smith (1906 – 1965, USA), it feels more akin to a museum exhibition. It marks the first time these two artists are placed in direct dialogue. One of the few times they were shown together during their lifetimes was at the 1962 Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, where Smith remarkably created twenty-seven works in thirty days, and Calder contributed the 58-foot-tall stabile Teodelapio, which still stands in the Italian city.
Presented in Hauser & Wirth’s smaller space on the 3rd floor of the Löwenbrau building, it is an immersive experience with sculptures at every trajectory – from intimate to large-scale, some static, others with gentle movement at different elevations, several set on varying size plinths and Calder’s hanging mobiles suspended from the ceiling. It felt like being led through a jungle of biomorphic forms, with a new delight at every turn.
You really appreciate how the artists sought for sculpture to be a performative medium that could be physically experienced – as you move around the pieces they continually shift, each new angle framing a new view. For example, Calder’s “Red Flowers” (1954), a hanging mobile in which the artist’s archetypal abstract elements, some perforated, coalesce into an organic, moving composition. At the time, both sculptors’ work was considered radical and dynamic - their configurations seemed to verge on the impossible. Over 50 years later, these works still feel energetic and stir an incredible sense of awe.