10 shows to see on now

in London, Chicago, Hamburg, Taipei, Edinburgh, Los Angeles, Berlin, Antwerp, Turin, and Vancouver

By Martin Herbert

Marwa Arsanios, falling is not collapsing (still), 2016, digital video. Courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris Isabel Nolan, Based on my recent observations (1–7) (detail), 2014, 7 drawings, colouring pencil, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin Luc Tuymans, Scramble, 2016, oil on canvas, 208 × 155 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp New work by James Richards. Courtesy the artist Chih-Hung Liu, Coastal Woods in Aurora, 2016, oil painting on canvas, 55 × 88 cm. Courtesy the artist and Taipei Biennial Ben Rivers, Slow Action (still), 2010, 16mm anamorphic film, 45 min. Courtesy the artist and Kate MacGarry, London Clemens von Wedemeyer, Otjesd (still), 2005, 16mm film transferred to digital file, colour, sound, 15 min (loop). © the artist and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris Damián Ortega, Eroded valley (detail), 2016, red bricks, dimensions variable. Photo: Gerardo Landa Rojano. Courtesy the artist Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein) (still), 2014, single-channel video projection, colour, sound, 23 min. Courtesy the artists and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin Lothar Baumgarten, Eine Reise, oder mit der MS Remscheid auf dem Amazonas (A Journey, or with the M S Remscheid on the Amazon), 1968–71, 81 slides, 14 min. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Franco Noero, Turin

James Richards, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 21 September – 13 November

Newcomers to James Richards’s work might consider his films as sphinxes wrapped in enigmas. This, admittedly, assumes a newbie audience is even conceivable when you’ve been nominated for the Turner Prize, won the Jarman Award and the Ars Viva Prize, and will represent your country at the next Venice Biennale – but let that slide. The Cardiff-born artist’s rhythmically edited medleys bring together self-shot digital and found VHS footage, nature and pornography, art-historical and instructional material. Tonally and texturally, they flip between positive and colour-reversed imagery, pin-sharp and ‘poor’. Yet these aren’t abstruse codices, nor are they formalist demonstration pieces. Rather, the transient signals and tempers resulting from Richards’s juxtapositions reflect connoting’s chanciness, montage’s heavy lifting. What we see, they insist, is finessed by what we just saw, by what comes next, by soundtracks (Richards, as his standalone audio pieces confirm, is also an accomplished sound artist) and by the quiddities of contemporary technology. Along the way, they speak of how the self might speak through secondhand materials.

Richards often carries parts of one film over to another. For his ICA show, though, which premiered at Bergen Kunsthall and is headed for Hanover’s Kestnergesellschaft, he’s turned properly cannibalistic. Requests and Antisongs uses his 2015 film Radio at Night as the starting point for a trio of video and multichannel sound works: an affective dismantling in which aspects will recur and a whole will be ‘smeared’ (in the artist’s lexicon) across multiple edits in multiple rooms. Attend also to Richards’s public programme, which encompasses talks, performances and film screenings: a superlative composer/ arranger/remixer, he’s no slouch as a DJ either.


Ben Rivers, Slow Action (still), 2010. AR September 16 previews
Ben Rivers, Slow Action (still), 2010, 16mm anamorphic film, 45 min. Courtesy the artist and Kate MacGarry, London

Ben Rivers, Renaissance Society, Chicago, 10 September – 6 November

Among British artists, Richards’s closest match in the filmmaking/film-programming stakes might be Ben Rivers. The latter, though, shoots most of his own footage, makes long (sometimes feature-length) films, blends documentary and fiction, and as his first US solo exhibition, Urth, will confirm, focuses on make-shift utopias, hardscrabble escape routes, lives outside of contemporary technocratic society. So, hmm, actually they’re pretty darn divergent. In the four-screen Slow Action (2011) Rivers collaborated with speculative sci-fi writer Mark von Schlegell on a filmic-literary narrative in which skewed island societies pop up after sea levels have risen. Things (2014), divided into ‘seasons’ and shot over a year, was made entirely in the artist’s home, creating a shut-in’s cosmology out of underexplored domesticity – bed, books, views through the window, etc. Rivers’s new film, rounding out this show, was filmed in the sealed domes of the now-defunct, University of Arizona-owned Biosphere 2, where in 1991, for two years, a group of scientists locked themselves in, living off a closed ecosystem. Amid the Silent Running vibes and the artful tilt towards US subject-matter, expect no abandonment of mission on Rivers’s part.


Clemens von Wedemeyer, Otjesd (still), 2005. AR September 16 previews
Clemens von Wedemeyer, Otjesd (still), 2005, 16mm film transferred to digital file, colour, sound, 15 min (loop). © the artist and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris

Clemens von Wedemeyer, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, 30 September – 8 January

One more filmmaker purposefully pulping fact and fiction, you say? All right, but mind the alliteration in future. Clemens von Wedemeyer’s first institutional German solo show rewinds through the career of an artist many first clocked at Documenta 13 in 2012, where his three-screen Muster (Rushes) (2012) explored the history of a Benedictine monastery near Kassel, turned consecutively into a prison, a concentration camp, a reformatory and a psychiatric institution, the story part-fictionalised so that art might be, as Picasso famously had it, the lie that tells the truth – or might be, might not. Earlier, von Wedemeyer had made works such as the nine-part The Fourth Wall (2009, shown at London’s Barbican), which ran the story of a group of possibly unsullied modern-day primitives in the Philippine rain-forest through a Brechtian filter, and Von Gegenüber (From the Opposite Side) (2007), a pseudo day-in-the-life documentary about a railway station, spiked with fictional episodes. Like archive-riffling contemporaries Luke Fowler and Duncan Campbell, then, he misleads only to remind us of what – the objective documentarian view, footage’s fidelity to history – we’d be naive to trust.

Chih-Hung Liu, Coastal Woods in Aurora, 2016. Ar September 16 previews
Chih-Hung Liu, Coastal Woods in Aurora, 2016, oil painting on canvas, 55 × 88 cm. Courtesy the artist and Taipei Biennial

Taipei Biennial, various venues, Taipei, 10 September – 5 February

It’s a new paragraph. Are we still in the archive? Yep, and specifically in Taipei, where French curator Corinne Diserens’s Taipei Biennial is titled Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future. The art, we’re assured, will variously perform ‘the archive... the architecture... [and] the retrospective’. It will relate to (among other things) the ‘artistic gesture’ and the relationship between archiving and ‘anti-archiving’. And it will create ‘critical intimacy’ between art and viewer. We can glimpse how performance might fit into it, as apparently it will; elsewhere the artist list leans heavily and naturally towards Asia (including Vietnamese-American Tiffany Chung’s migration-themed multimedia proposals, Taiwanese Chih-Hung Liu’s studiedly pallid paintings and (also Taiwanese) Hong-Kai Wang’s audio-video explorations of the politics of sound). Also on board, meanwhile, are esteemed – and, notably, often archive- and history-delving – Western figures such as Tacita Dean, Manon de Boer, John Akomfrah, Peter Friedl and Reinhard Mucha.

 

Damián Ortega, Eroded valley (detail), 2016. AR September 16 previews
Damián Ortega, Eroded valley (detail), 2016, red bricks, dimensions variable. Photo: Gerardo Landa Rojano. Courtesy the artist

Damián Ortega, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, through 23 October

Damián Ortega’s Cosmic Thing (2003), the Mexican artist’s most famous work, is an exploded Volkswagen Beetle meticulously deconstructed by assistants and strung from wires; a couple of years ago, he told The New Yorker that he did this to show the complexity of systems, the interdependence of their parts (we paraphrase). In the same interview Ortega also showed off his tool collection, and tools and systems are what characterise his Fruitmarket exhibition. The works are mostly made from clay – fragility and flux being among his art’s fundamentals – and a large display-cum-timeline of tools made from seemingly unfired clay ranges through human innovation, from flints to smartphones. That’s the earth and the human hand in synchrony, then, and indeed Ortega’s show (which includes other forms, such as waves, icebergs and models of river erosion) is directly concerned with the four elements and how they shape our world, as well as mankind’s desire to harness the natural world for our own use.



Marwa Arsanios, falling is not collapsing (still), 2016. AR September 16 previews
Marwa Arsanios, falling is not collapsing (still), 2016, digital video. Courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris

Marwa Arsanios, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 17 September – 8 January

Ideology is most successful when it’s invisible: ergo, Marwa Arsanios tracks its physical effects. In her 2014 film OLGA’s NOTES, all those restless bodies, built on research into Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s introduction of reforms to the country during the 1960s and particularly his introduction of a ballet school in Cairo as a ‘factory of the bodies’, dancers variously perform dances done for Nasser, or pole-dance, or brokenly enact a harem dance, or reference Yvonne Rainer. If such work suggests indignities and damage to the human body, the Washington, DC-born, Beirut-based Arsanios’s project for her first Los Angeles exhibition considers a sullied city and the political weather behind it. Here videos, architectural renderings and models, and maps reflect the Lebanese capital’s fast-changing urban spaces and garbage crisis, correlating the city’s notorious landfills and morphing shape with the evolution, if that’s the word, of the neoliberal project since the early 1990s.


Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein) (still), 2014. AR September 16 previews
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein) (still), 2014, single-channel video projection, colour, sound, 23 min. Courtesy the artists and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin

Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin, 30 August – 29 October

I once interviewed Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys by email, or rather tried to interview Thys while he confessed he’d rather be watching Midsomer Murders and eating soup. Later he announced an admiration for extreme introverts, since they’d found a way to avoid reality. That may be the famously oblique Belgian sense of humour at work. Nevertheless, over the last quarter-century – first in video, using a regular cast of amateur actors, and increasingly in sculpture and drawing – the Belgian pair have constructed a world in which damaged-seeming individuals either drift slack-jawed in their own headspaces, get bullied in institutional environments, lash out at each other or complain mildly about mediocre package holidays. Meanwhile, their drawings – affectless pencil sketches that equalise the dramatic and the mundane, Fischli/Weiss style – appear made in character, as if in some kind of rehabilitation class. De Gruyter and Thys’s worldview takes some extracting; but as blackly comedic philosophers they’re in a class, and world, of their own.


Luc Tuymans, Scramble, 2016. AR September 16 previews
Luc Tuymans, Scramble, 2016, oil on canvas, 208 × 155 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

Luc Tuymans, Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, 7 September – 22 October

Also in ‘Belgian interviews’: when ArtReview spoke with Luc Tuymans four years ago he was arguing that he’d been a proper painter all along, an aficionado of light in particular rather than a theorist of the medium’s weakness and inability to represent history’s horrors, and he had just gear-shifted into relatively bright colour schemes and self-shot (albeit off TV screens) imagery. To judge from the warm tonalities that speckled his most recent New York show, he’s still feeling perky. Or as perky as he gets, since that show, the Godard- referencing Le Mépris (2016), was thematically concerned with ‘isolation, melancholy, degradation, and nostalgia’. The Antwerp-based painter doesn’t strike one as nostalgic; he doesn’t, he says, keep hold of his own paintings, doesn’t want to see his old ones. Yet on the evidence of 25 Years of Collaboration he has warm feelings for his longstanding and local gallery, Zeno X. Expect a compressed retrospective and plenty of evidence for how and why, during the 1990s, a generation of figurative painters emerged in Tuymans’s authoritative wake.


Lothar Baumgarten, Eine Reise, oder mit der MS Remscheid auf dem Amazonas (A Journey, or with the M S Remscheid on the Amazon), 1968–71. AR September 16 previews
Lothar Baumgarten, Eine Reise, oder mit der MS Remscheid auf dem Amazonas (A Journey, or with the M S Remscheid on the Amazon), 1968–71, 81 slides, 14 min. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Franco Noero, Turin

Lothar Baumgarten, Galleria Franco Noero, Turin, through 15 October

Tuymans has made work relating to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), and Lothar Baumgarten, opening Franco Noero’s second gallery space, has called his own retrospectively themed show Specchio del mare, or ‘Mirror of the Sea’, a likely reference to Conrad’s eponymous 1906 book of essays and sketches. Way to go, Joe, not to mention the endless topicality of The Secret Agent (1907). Baumgarten’s show collates works dating from 1968 to now, but considers a longer arc – its theme being the reduction of natural resources, here pursued from the beginning of the Anthropocene (which Baumgarten dates to 1492, the year Columbus arrived in the New World) to the present. The German conceptualist is uncommonly qualified to map his own career onto that timeline, since it has taken him from early institutional critique during the 1960s to engagements with South America during the 1970s, further explorations of colonialism in the 1980s, a focus on botany in the 1990s and a general concern and lamentation for the fate of indigenous populations and nature. What we’ve seen of the show, an elegant-looking parcours, is as heterogeneous as you might expect from an artist who’s constantly avoided a signature style, except in the graphic identity he cocreated with Dutch typographer Walter Nikkels, which appears in stacks of letter-blazoned canvases: an ‘I’ to set against the mutually dependent ‘We’ that Baumgarten understandably favours.


Isabel Nolan, Based on my recent observations (1–7) (detail), 2014. AR September 16 previews
Isabel Nolan, Based on my recent observations (1–7) (detail), 2014, 7 drawings, colouring pencil, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

Isabel Nolan, CAG – Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, through 2 October

Isabel Nolan’s own previous literary sources include George Eliot, Hippocrates, John Donne and Shakespeare, and the Dublin-based artist’s recent body of work at CAG Vancouver, The weakened eye of day, spins off from Thomas Hardy’s fin de siècle poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ (1900), whose ‘weakening eye of day’ apostrophises a wintry sun. From here the Irish artist considers light as metaphor; the sun as a symbol; and vast cosmological events, from the formation of the earth’s crust to the sun’s own eventual burnout. Nolan, heedless of outmoded formal distinctions, moves – in an evolved version of a 2014 show for the Irish Museum of Modern Art–from a huge textual scroll to small abstract paintings, sprouting plantlike sculptures to chromatic carpet-making, murals to steel sculpture, while sidestepping the hubristic notion that works in any media can truly reckon with the enormity of her subject matter. The work’s poetic spaciousness is a gift, though. In ‘The Darkling Thrush’, the narrator hears a thrush singing, out of ‘Some blessed hope, whereof he knew/And I was unaware’. Spend enough time in galleries, and you’ll know how the listener feels. 


This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of ArtReview.

23 August 2016