28 April 2014
Milan, Glasgow, and Brussels within two weeks! In Milan with EG, I met Rosita Missoni, the grand dame of the Missoni empire, and Giovanna Castiglione, the wonderful daughter of the late great designer Achille Castiglione at his Foundation. These are just two of the custodians of serious Milanese style, sophistication, purpose and huge appetite for life. The next week, it was to the Glasgow International where the locals are friendly, engaging, and generous with their time, especially when confused visitors like PH and I asked for directions. Then, further north again, to Brussels where I was struck with the ultra-tasteful Belgians: super intellectual, elegant, understated, bourgeois with expensive well-tailored clothing and jewellery. Occasions for these peregrinations were Design Week in Milan, Glasgow International, and Art Brussels art fair. Feeding my eyes, everywhere I go!
Trends I noticed at Art Brussels included painting that exposes process, with interest in application of paint, transference of imagery, mixing of painterly languages, from actual text to mark-making in a variety of ways. One exhibition that stood out was Walter Swennen at Xavier Hufkens. Though Swennen has been around a long time (b 1946), I think his work encapsulates a lot of what I see going on. Younger artists I saw at Vanhaerents Art collection, at the show curated there by Walter Vanhaerents and Emma Dexter were Alex Hubbard, Ryan Sullivan and Michael DeLucia, all of whom also seem to me to be interested in the process of painting, or making sculpture, that references printmaking techniques, or digital, pixilating methods. There are deliberate efforts to mark-make with trowelling, dripping, pouring. Lots of different surfaces that draw attention to their material – resin, acrylic, stencilling, e.g I think we’ll hear a lot more about the young painter at Mihai Nicodim’s gallery, Michiel Ceulers. It seems Ceulers has shown in London at Rod Barton, a gallery I’m not familiar with, but having taken a quick look at his program, think I’ll check out, as I noticed he’s worked with another artist who stood out for me at the fair called Samuel Francois who makes paintings from inflatable life jackets out of rubber and canvas, with monochrome snaps and pockets and folds exposed. Even someone like Claudia Comte, whose work I’m on the fence about, having seen it now in Glasgow, as well as Barbara Gladstone’s entire booth in Brussels, seems to be playing with imagery that on one hand looks standardized, regular, somehow spit out by a computer-generated program, but then throws that back by creating the perforations in plywood by hand, splintering the wood in a deliberately messy, amateurish way.
This clash of the digital and hand-made is another theme I’ve noticed both in Glasgow, at the Glasgow International where I visited last weekend with Paul Hobson, and in Brussels at the fair and in the various private collections that MC and I visited. The term “post digital” has come to my attention recently. It describes art that addresses how digital technology has changed, or compromised our relationship to being human. Of course, that opens up a lot of questions about what it means to be human anyway. But I think it fundamentally has to do with what we can touch and feel and experience in our here-and-now, three dimensional (or maybe 4-D, if you include our senses) world. Jem Finer, the artist of Longplayer, coined the term”post digital”, in relation to his work, as “a return to a tactile relationship with ideas and materials informed by over 30 years of working with computers. A practice that seeks to transcend mediation via a screen and locate itself in the physical world, rather than at one stage removed, through digital representation”. He first formulated the term in relation to his 1000 year long musical composition,” Longplayer,“ which needed to be “composed” in such a way that it could survive possible computer mortality.
A painter who seems to be engaged with this post digital vibe and whom PH and I admired at the McClellan Galleries in Glasgow was Avery Singer who uses SketchUp, a 3D-modeling software tool to create scenes of stylized, Leger-like figures in black and white. Though it appears computer-generated, it’s actually achieved with painstaking spray-painting and masking, which sort of flips the ease, instantaneity and disembodied qualities of digital techniques on its head. It’s interesting that she chooses a) to use black, white and gray, and b) such simplified, “modernistic” forms. It’s almost as though she’s exploring a new language the way those early moderns did with their simplified forms that signified a new world back in the 1910s. Malevich, Tatlin and Kandinsky are all up there shaking their heads and chuckling, “plus ca change…”
Then there was Jordan Wolfson, whose 2012 Raspberry Poser film I found totally seductive. It doesn’t hurt that an incredibly rock-able male-sung version of Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” is the bass-throbbing backdrop for this slick film that overlays a crazy cartoon boy and bouncing bright red HIV virus over the pristine, high-style SoHo interiors and surface that shout Desirable Life Style. It assaults and absorbs with its brazen in-your-face confrontation of sex, desire and death, and an aggressive fuck-you attitude to HIV and fear.
There’s another trend I’ll venture to highlight, and I think it has to do with a re-valuation of gay culture, if one can generalize crassly. Though Wolfson is not himself gay, he picks up on the way gay politics underpins almost every form of culture, from design, fashion and music production to art and advertising. There was a small show of homoerotic photos by George Platt Lynes paired with beautiful formally pure pots by Lucie Rie at Kendall Koppe. It was a jarring pairing, but has stuck with me. In another exhibition of work by the late Hudinilson Jr, also showing at McClellan Galleries in Glasgow, diaries, photos, newspaper cuttings and collages documented political and personal issues around queer identity in Brazil in the 1980s. I think, like so many trends – whether it’s fashion, politics or art – the requisite 25-30 years have passed since the 1980s when AIDS and HIV brought gayness and queer identity into the limelight unlike anytime before, and now we’re seeing a return to that focus. Of course, now we have the benefit of hindsight, but more importantly, the benefit of drugs that enable HIV+ people to live in complete confidence. Death has been cheated, and there’s a reckoning going on. Even the box office success of Dallas Buyers Club seems to bear that out.
The other cultural reckoning is happening around post-feminism, also an important movement for the art world, in terms of opening up so many possibilitites and directions in it. We are definitely seeing this in the resurrection of the old guard feminists like Judy Chicago, Penelope Slinger, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneeman, eg. New discovery for PH and me in Glasgow was Christina Ramberg, who died in 1995 and was a central figure in the Chicago Imagist movement and the first wave of feminist art in the US. I found her diagrams of female bodies doing regular activities, wearing regular feminine undergarments but betraying a discomfort and literally compromised position very moving. Funny and pathetic.
Brussels was an eye opener for me because of how adventurous the collectors are. I was especially impressed by the presentation at Thalie Art Project in the beautiful suburb of Uccle where MC and I went along to meet up with Caroline Achaintre, who has an enormous majestic tufted piece in the show, and Christian from Arcade. The show focused on Textile languages, so was completely up my street. Really interesting to treat the subject politically, as well, addressing the conditions of textile production around the world, as well as celebrating the tactile and visual pleasure of work by the likes of Sheila Hicks. I also thought CAB (Contemporary Art Brussels) had a first rate show, curated by Stijn Maes and including works from 8 different Belgian collectors. I wasn’t familiar with any of the artists, and especially liked Rodrigo Bueno and clairenadiasimon, a collective that resulted in an installation including a hologram of a helmet that resembled a skull. The Vanhaerents Art Collection housed in an enormous and perfectly suited warehouse type space in the city centre was extraordinarily impressive. Yes, it had high profile, high-priced work, but it was thoughtfully presented and it’s clear that he has a distinct eye and I enjoyed some of the playfulness of the work. David Altmejd, Jeppe Hein, Haroon Mirza, Elmgreen and Dragset and Ugo Rondinone, for example, aren’t necessarily artists you’d find congregated in a collection here in London or in NY. Another, more personal and quirky collection was open to the public at The Loft in Schaerbeek, where the subject was – rather hazily – globalism.
It’s encouraging to find other collectors – far more experienced than I – who are going a little off the beaten track, bravely presenting work that isn’t commercial or fashionable, but makes perfect sense within the context of their interests and understandings. I think these people are often leading the charge in terms of identifying interesting, new and significant developments in art.
I have experienced such creativity, innovation, aspiration and inspiration in the past couple of weeks! As an aide de memoir, I’ll list the Top Ten Experiences of my tri-city tour:
1. Villa Necchi Campiglio
2. Spazio Rossana Orlandi and the show she curated at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi. Special Mention: Nacho Carbonell
3. Bruno Munari’s Alphabet at Galleria Pegaso
4. Dinner at Rigolo with EG and LM
5. Glasgow School of Art
6. Michael Smith and Bedwyr Williams at Tramway
7. Dinner with PH at the Ubiquitous Chip
8. Michael Borremans at BOZAR
9. Franz Erhard Walther at WIELS
10. Art Brussels. Special Mention: All Boys Club at Galerie Anita Beckers