Wanted! Artist Cosmologies

Hettie Judah searches for acquirable, desirable objects, at the intersection of where art meets fashion and design. This month: Artist Cosmologies

By Hettie Judah

Katie Paterson, All the Dead Stars (2012) published by Merkske, Ingleby Gallery Matt Mullican, Untitled, 2014, Edition of 8 Kikuji Kawada The Setting Sun to a Triangular Pyramid, Tokyo, 1989 © Kikuji Kawada, Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery AstrologyIRL Aquarius sparkle Jersey

Is there a limit to the number of stars the artworld can accommodate? Certainly, according to David Balzer’s Curationism: How Curating Took Over The Art World and Everything Else, we’ve reached our limit on star curators. But what about those other luminous balls of gas held together only by their own gravity and whose ceaseless motion describes an eternal loop through space? Those shifting points in the great beyond seem to loom large in the collective consciousness around this time: the start of the year in the Gregorian calendar, and, (perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this consumer-oriented column) Tachiagari – the changing of the season – at Dover Street Market.

For the work in his recent exhibition The Last Cosmology (at Michael Hoppen Gallery, London), photographer Kikuji Kawada looked to the skies for portents of epochal transitions on earth, documenting astronomical phenomena and extreme weather conditions at the close of the Showa era in 1989, and the end of the twentieth century a decade later. In capturing the final solar eclipse of a century, or chasing after the elusive Halley’s Comet, Kawada portrays the impassive cosmos continuing in its round as a century of enormous transition and violence reaches its close: ‘There was a great war during my boyhood and then I lived during the period of reconstruction and growth and now I slowly approach the evening of life. Through these photographs the cosmology is an illusion of the firmament at the same time it includes the reality of an era and also the cosmology of a changing heart.’ (1) Prints for sale include Setting Sun to a Triangular Pyramid, Tokyo, 1989 (£10,000 ex VAT). 

Later this spring, MACK books will publish The Last Cosmology as a single volume. Given that a first edition of Kawada’s 1965 book The Map was described by Christie’s as ‘the defining photobook of post-war Japan’ shortly before they sold an edition for £12,500, (in 2010) let’s assume that this forthcoming volume will more than justify its £45 cover price.

Evoking the vastness of time and space through discreet sublunary objects such as a string of beads carved from fossils or series of clocks showing the time on other planets, artist Katie Paterson’s engagements with the cosmos are less an augury of human events than a way of keeping a sense of proportion. If the span of geological time can be summarised in 170 carved fossils, what significance the length of a human life? And if Mercury has a 4223-hour day, do Mercurians still spend half of it trying to peel their kids away from Facebook? An even grander distillation occurs in the All The Dead Stars (2009), in which all 27,000-odd known dead stars in the universe appear mapped in elegant arcs of scattered light. (2) The All The Dead Stars artist's book, in the form of a map (2012), is now available in handy pocket form for any space travellers out there keen to find out where to surf the shockwaves of a supernova .

By contrast, artist Matt Mullican’s cosmology is one of microscopy rather than telescopy, an eternally expanding catalogue of the minutiae of human experience, from quotidian objects, to subtle emotions to subjective systems of belief. Symbols representing elements in Mullican’s cosmos are categorised by a colour code in which black, for example, betokens the world of language and signs, and blue the physical everyday world. Key recurrent words / symbols within the Mullican cosmology are those representing heaven, god, fate, death, before birth, life, world, demon angel, hell, after death – as mapped on granite in an (3) untitled edition from 2014. 

The New Museum Triennial opens at the end of next month, co-organised by curator Lauren Cornell and artist Ryan Trecartin. An interview with the Triennial team in the January & February 2015 issue of ArtReview includes an intriguing reference to the assistance given by Trecartin’s astrologer in selecting an auspicious date for the opening of the show – a twist in the whole ‘star curator’ narrative that I somehow doubt David Balzer saw coming. When not advising the artworld’s finest (astrological consultation, NYC only, $45), astrologer Morgan Rehbock contributes hip horoscopes (think Taylor Swift references, healthgoth and cosmic ADD) to the Opening Ceremony blog and runs the AstrologyIRL label selling (4) zodiac sign Ts and jerseys 

So what’s the skinny on the Triennial? "Ryan asked me to provide my astrological wisdom in regards to planning the New Museum Triennial and I was able to help him choose the ideal date to open the show for positive reception," explains Rehbock. “Mercury is retrograde in Aquarius (Ryan's sign) from January 21 to February 11, which could have been seriously cosmically confusing! Luckily the show opens on February 25 when Mercury will be totally out of retrograde. The Moon is in Gemini that night, which will generate buzz and promote positive intellectual discourse. Venus, the planet of art and beauty enters Aries on February 21 getting the universe ready to see something new and innovative.” Hold onto your hats for a buzzy end of Feb, art people!

And finally – remember how wonderful the cover of ArtReview's December 2014 issue was? The one with Olafur Eliasson wearing that great sweatshirt with ‘Space Is Just The Beginning…’ on it? And how you assumed that it must have been made for him, what with his education project being called the Institute For Spacial Experiments, and his series of symposia called Life Is Space, and, oh, any number of other projects he’s been involved in with ‘space’ in the title? But I saw it in a shop window in Paris ten days ago – and well gosh darn if it doesn’t turn out that Olafur’s sweatshirt was off the peg! Made by a Danish company called Soulland, it’s currently in their end of season sale online for €55

(1) Kikuji Kawada, Setting Sun to a Triangular Pyramid, Tokyo, 1989 (£10,000 ex VAT), Hoppen Gallery

(2) Katie Paterson, All the Dead Stars (2012), artist book, published by Merkske in an edition of 100. Signed and numbered. Ingleby Gallery

(3) Matt Mullican, Untitled, 2014, edition of 8+3 proofs, published by Helga Maria Klosterfelde Edition, Hamburg. Price on application

(4) AstrologyIRL Aquarius sparkle Jersey, $150 

(scroll through images at top to see all objects)

Online exclusive published 28 January 2015