After a sleepy August with many of the galleries closed for a well-deserved summer break, there’s a sense of new beginnings as they re-open their doors with fresh presentations.
Exhibition title: No title
Artist: Shirana Shahbazi
Galerie: Peter Kilchmann
Dates: 2 September – 21 October 2017
As a huge fan of Zürich based Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi (b.1974, Tehran), I’ve been awaiting this exhibition with anticipation. It’s the artist’s first at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, though she has exhibited in galleries and museums far and wide. Shahbazi has transformed the gallery space through her own individually mixed colour blocks painted on the walls; her vibrant photographic works are decisively positioned to contrast with these hues. The artworks’ frames are made out of reflective silver, which pick up the colours on opposing walls. Viewing the artworks from different angles cause these reflections and colours to shift and move. It’s a show that has an immense impact from the word go!
Alternating between abstraction and representation, Shahbazi’s brilliantly coloured, glossy photographs are made in the crisp style of commercial photography, but using analogue processes. To make her abstract compositions, she photographs objects, printed patterned papers and for the first time in this new body of work, mirrors. The effects are strange and disorientating, but if you study the images hard enough, there’s always a clue where the mirror begins or ends. Shahbazi enjoys these illusions, playing with what is real and not real – even the most abstract of her works are derived from tangible objects.
The exhibition also features lithographs, originating from photographs of everyday life, from her travels in Tehran and elsewhere. Some appear more like collages, combining fragments of her abstract motifs with figurative elements. This is a new departure for the artist – merging her abstractions with figurative images, bringing the studio and outside world together. I love how the lithographs are interspersed with her glossy photographs, their tones are more muted and their surface matt, bringing yet another juxtaposition.
Walking through this diverse exhibition, I realized Shahbazi’s work is about an overall experience. I felt she wanted me to stay with the images and lose myself in the colours and forms, and delight in the mystery and wonderment.
Exhibition title: Cosmopolitan
Artist: René Burri
Dates: 24 August – 21 October 2017
Entering this exhibition was extremely moving. It’s the first solo show since the great Swiss Magnum photographer passed away in 2014 and immediately his memory, charisma and joie de vivre came flooding back.
The exhibition has been beautifully curated in the Bildhalle space, with careful groupings, and much of his archive on display. Icons such as his infamous ‘“Che”, Ernesto Guevara, Havana’ (1963) and ‘Four Men on a Rooftop, Sao Paulo’ (1960) are shown alongside less well-known images.
Burri’s archive provides an extraordinary visual record of the latter half of the 20th century. You can’t help but wonder when taking in image after image – in Spain, Italy, France, Egypt, Vietnam, Brazil, China, Japan - how one person could witness so much. From his first photograph of Winston Churchill, taken when only 13 years old, he went on to capture many prominent figures including Che Guevara, Le Corbusier, Mao, Picasso, Giacometti, and the list goes on. There were conflicts too, from the 19567 Suez Canal crisis through the wars in Korea, Cyprus and Vietnam.
It was Burri’s charisma, along with his curiosity and perseverance that allowed him such access. I love one story he told of how he came to photograph Picasso. After seeing “Guernica” in 1953, he vowed he would meet the artist. He tried waiting outside Picasso’s studio but had no luck. In 1957, he heard he was in Nîmes to watch a bullfight. At Picasso’s hotel, a porter mistook Burri for a member of the artist’s entourage and he managed to slip into his room to find him with a large group of friends enjoying a rowdy meal. Picasso let him stay and take photographs, resulting in an incredible series of intimate portraits of the artist enjoying the party with no hint of anyone having disrupted things. Burri always managed to get very close!
Exhibition title: Whispering Widows
Artist: Clare Goodwin
Galerie: Lullin + Ferrari
Dates: 26 August – 7 October 2017
Clare Goodwin (b. 1973, Birmingham, UK) presents both small and large-scale paintings, collages and sculptures. The pristine white gallery space, punctuated by mainly pastel-coloured abstractions, offers a sense of ease and calm, a coolness from the summer heat. The gallery floor was painted white and the front windows covered with a rose veneer, creating a cocoon effect so we experience all the works as a whole. Encouraged by the exhibition title “Whispering Widows”, I could almost imagine these paintings and biomorphic sculptures speaking to each other in hushed tones.
Goodwin loves to collect objects, usually discarded things, which she keeps in her studio as the source material for her paintings. For example, unwanted scarves, ties and old knick-knacks, often from the 1970s, the decade she grew up in. Brimming with traces of the past, they trigger her memories and inspire new, invented stories. She is keen to show that abstract painting has the capacity to represent quite tangible aspects of reality, which is further emphasised by the titles, usually British old-fashioned names such as Carol + Harry (image below). Her cool abstractions suddenly take on more of a human quality. When observing this particular painting with its translucent, loose washes of ink overlaid with defined, opaque geometric forms, I started to wonder about individual narratives. I imagined this Carol + Harry, perhaps an elderly couple, their lives intertwined through years of living in close quarters with their many quirks and peccadilloes.
Working in Zürich, where Constructivism and hard-edged Concrete Art prevail, Goodwin clearly has a stylistic affiliation with this heritage, but she consciously creates distance through the emotion, nostalgia and spontaneity that she brings to her work. As I reflected on these artworks, their warmth and humour, I felt quite glad of her predisposition for entertaining the non-rational!