Review /

Alex Israel Almine Rech / Paris

Alex Israel’s second solo show at Almine Rech Gallery, following “Thirty” in 2012, features an ensemble of two self-portraits, three “Lens” works and a display with a “Sky Backdrop” painting. Formal elements of Southern California — its physical landscape, architecture and consumer goods — are still the main subject of the exhibition.

Enlarged and frameless, three eight-foot-tall sunglass lenses made of UV-protective plastic are leaned against the gallery walls. These lenses are presented in a range of the same colors used in the new “Sky Backdrop” painting: yellow, orange and purple. Their surfaces are reflective and transparent, refined and seductive, calling to mind the “finish fetish” art scene. Intimate and monumental, they have a surreal presence.

In the second room, a small polychrome sculpture representing a Chevy Corvette stationed near a cactus is displayed on a white pedestal in front of a large stucco “Sky Backdrop” that evokes a horizontal cinematic expanse (rather than the Spanish Revival windows or doorways from the homes of Hollywood’s Golden Age that Israel uses in other works). Once a prop, the Corvette has been reproduced in painted bronze. It’s a performing object, an “actor for a part” making possible a cinematic gesture: an ensemble to be experienced through an absent camera. The viewer’s experience is almost choreographed. Israel’s role is “directorial.”

The two self-portraits exhibited are the latest updates of Israel’s logo — a silhouette of the artist’s profile. Here they frame two stereotypical images from California culture: a seagull flying, and a view of the U.S. Open of Surfing. These self-portraits are markers, a logo for a brand that is Alex Israel. By staging himself, Israel is the main subject and the context for his work, using the language of branding to clarify and communicate these conditions.

by Timothée Chaillou

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Leopold Thun on Emalin

Emalin is a nomadic, pop-up exhibition project that mounts shows in a range of spaces: from highly decorated hotel rooms, as in Athena Papadopoulos’s presentation during Frieze 2014, to Nicholas Cheveldave’s show in an old Gianfranco Ferré showroom in Milan. Flash Art talked to co-founder and director Leopold Thun.

How did the project originate?

I began the project with Jasmine Picot Chapman while studying in Scotland. Initially it started out as a magazine that tested the boundaries between photographic editions and a sort of DIY fanzine of photographers we liked. Once we moved to London we realized that the format of a magazine wasn’t enough, and we soon put up our first exhibition in Switzerland.

What is your mission?

We aim to produce shows in new contexts, both for the artists we work with and ourselves. This ideally means that they take greater risks with the works they produce, or step in a new direction from what they usually do. At the same time, we really get to understand their practice more in depth and collaborate with them using a holistic approach that allows them input on the environment in which their work is going to be shown.

What are the structural challenges of your model?

There are several structural challenges such as increased costs due to shipping, temporarily living in a space that isn’t necessarily home, and renovating or adapting the spaces we aim to show at. Our endurance is sometimes tested, too, as each time a new network has to be either created or tapped into: no one likes an empty opening.

The dates of show have in certain cases coincided with art fairs, encouraging new audiences to engage with the works of emerging artists, often London based, and fostering a more international conversation. Can you say more about this?

I must say that this was more often a coincidence rather than a planned decision. For my last exhibition with Nicholas Cheveldave we decided to show his latest body of work in Italy, as it deals with interesting aspects of American coffee culture, which stands in direct contrast to Italy’s. Initially the show was meant to be in Naples, Italy’s coffee stronghold, but ultimately we got offered this wonderful space in Milan, and MiArt was happening at the same time. Of course I do enjoy when an international audience visits the projects, but the local audience should always stay at the forefront. That’s why the exhibitions often stay open longer, well beyond the traveling circus of the art world, and try to engage with their immediate surroundings.

What’s upcoming?

I’m currently staying at Fabian Marti’s TwoHOTEL in Bahia, Brazil, with the London-based painter Stefania Batoeva and the Brazilian artist Adriano Costa. I think that this time I can be sure that the international conversation won’t overshadow the local one.

by Attilia Fattori Franchini

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Abdelmonem Alserkal on the Alserkal Avenue / Dubai

Mr. Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal gets edgy when he’s called a patron of the arts. Unassuming by nature, discreet by upbringing, he has nonetheless masterminded one of Dubai’s most dynamic cultural assets — the eponymous gallery “neighborhood” set in the grimy underbelly of the city’s industrial zone like some cool art oasis.

From a cluster of galleries in 2007 dotted between garages and tire shops, Alserkal Avenue is now poised to double in size. As of Autumn 2015, some 76,000 m2 of new, Hollywood-back-lot-style spaces will welcome international heavyweights like Leila Heller Gallery, as well as some local luminaries, such as decade-old The Third Line. This ambitious construction has been mirrored by an equally exuberant programming activity, the most visible of which was the Safina Radio Project — a boat-cum-recording studio navigating Venice waterways during this year’s Biennale.

Mr. Alserkal’s snug, understated office, enlivened by Tintin paraphernalia and Paul Smith doodads, belies his position in one of the United Arab Emirates’ most enterprising families, instrumental in establishing the country’s utilities and infrastructure. Yet for all its industriousness, the Alserkal family is decidedly low-key. True to his pedigree, Mr. Alserkal does not trumpet his achievements, but rather embraces the challenges ahead.

What does an arts “neighborhood” mean today? If we look at Paris’s 13th arrondissement, the East End in London or Milan’s Lambrate, they are dwindling landscapes compared to what was planned. What sustains your belief in this format in Dubai?

The neighborhoods you mention are scattered. Here, we are all under one family, one management. The first part of Alserkal Avenue, which started in 2007, grew organically, alongside the development of Dubai’s art scene. As this scene evolved, we were approached by a lot of new talent who saw Alserkal Avenue as a place where they wanted to present their ideas. They understood the value of community support, and they wanted to be part of it. The members of the initial community wanted more space, so the new expansion stemmed from this demand. It is a curated expansion, so it provides continuity to the community that has existed since 2007. It will be more sustainable than the neighborhoods you mention.

Why are you investing so heavily in international visibility with projects like the Safina Radio Project?

I believe we are providing a platform for regional and local initiatives — artists, art galleries, creative — to be visible internationally. We have always housed homegrown talent. Now we are extending the platform for them to participate more deeply in the international art world. In this respect, we are acting more like an arts organization. We have done well in supporting the commercial side; now we want to contribute to supporting actual arts creation through our commissions, and to supporting artists internationally through our galleries. [At Art Basel Miami Beach in 2014, Alserkal Avenue supported Jacob’s Ladder — a performance work, referencing helicopter evacuation in conflict zones, by artist Shahpour Pouyan, represented by Alserkal-based gallery Lawrie Shabibi — Ed.]

Is this a new positioning? Has Alserkal Avenue outgrown its role as “neighborhood” to become a privately endowed institution?

We want to pursue a new role as an arts organization. There are still many gaps in the Dubai art scene. We want to create opportunities for the talent base here, and the possibilities are endless. We achieve this through our homegrown programs like the Safina Radio Project, our joint commissions with Art Dubai and our own commissions, our partnerships with foundations abroad, our educational projects, the upcoming artists’ residencies… It is no longer about the physical space, but about this content we are building, the substance we didn’t have before. We are no longer a neighborhood. We are becoming an arts organization. That is where we want to be.

Do you feel there is an overlap between what you intend to do and initiatives by other local players like Art Dubai, with its own agenda of residencies and commissions?

Everyone is doing their own part — Art Dubai, Dubai Culture — and there is an opportunity for us as an arts organization. In terms of commissions, for example, our mission is very clear: to support experimental media that is not at all commercially supported — experimental work, sound installations, public art, performance. But we are also building a cultural destination. Among the new initiatives will be a theater, art cinema and educational spaces. So it expands the arts.

Which is more important for you: that people engage with the cultural content in Alserkal Avenue, or that it is seen as a desirable destination?

Content is extremely important for us, but the programming is new. In the first year it will be about forming our own voice. We want to be part of the art history in this part of the world. Ten years from today, we want people to refer back to commissions we did. We want to be part of that timeline. But we are just starting.

by Kevin Jones

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International Currency Lodos / Mexico City

Having grown up in a post 9/11 world, millennial artists like Noah Barker, the curator of the group show “International Currency,” don’t voice resistance (as rage has long been turned into another banal nutrient for the Matrix), but rather display traces of elegant self-respect as the world finally collapses into chaos.

Their art is made of modest, symbolic gestures that seek to establish a relationship with their opinionated predecessors, and they use opacity as a means of counteracting the network’s ubiquitous craving for transparency.

Liam Gillick’s video Heckle (2014) is a portrait of a decaying pier on a Greek island: turquoise sea and sky, white plastic chairs waiting for off-season tourists. Unrelated to the imagery, the soundtrack comprises various forms of “heckling” — the noise of waves washing ashore, an indistinct clamor of protest during Occupy Wall Street, a free-jazz concert. These sounds are superimposed over long, factual still shots like distant rumors, evoking the occasional collusion of emancipatory agendas that forms of spectacle and activism sometimes share. Cameron Rowland’s almost unnoticeable work, Constituent (2014), consists of the copper wire from a couple of electrical circuits in the gallery, which Rowland has had an electrician render visible. Copper smuggling is a recurrent subject in Rowland’s practice: what interests the artist is the potential currency that this material gains due to its increasing value as a raw material. The final work in the show, Detroit Rubble (2015), is a set of construction remnants that Detroit-born artist Scott Reeder asked the gallery to collect from around its neighborhood and to paint in bright complementary colors. As cited in the press release, they are intended to make visual and literal reference to the cobblestones of 1968 Paris.

The philosophical current of speculative realism is to propose an update of a millenary, ontologically oriented conception of the universe as a means of understanding the ways that technology has revolutionized our world over the past ten years, in the process granting objects and phenomena a dystopic subjectivity as collateral damage. How scary then to realize that the point of view in the press release is that of “capital,” not the “curator”: “Art doesn’t force my hand. Instead, I bring it together. My ideas fill its difference as we share our present and indeterminate future.”

by Dorothée Dupuis

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Nicolas Ceccaldi Project Native Informant / London

“Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering of a skyscraper’s cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash.”

The imaginative city of Zirma is one of the many Invisible Cities described by Italo Calvino in the book from 1972. “The city is redundant,” he writes. “It repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind.” Can a city be experienced through its commodified images? “Permanently Tiedup Version of You,” Nicolas Ceccaldi’s first solo show at Project Native Informant in London, is an exercise in urban experience, image circulation and détournement.

The artist’s overture is firmly declared by the way the space is transformed through an in-situ intervention as a response to the black walls left by the gallery’s previous guest. Leaving much of the space in its previous state, Ceccaldi takes advantage of walls raw that convey an un-shimmering, degraded appearance reminiscent of city peripheries, while also adding a visual layer to the images presented. Borrowing from Liz Jameson, William Turner, Lorraine Christie and Scott Dunwoodie, the five prints, all acquired in a well-known London department store, present an evocative potential, while at the same time enhancing the artist’s seditious attitude. Placed in the gallery but consciously framed for domestic display in small and medium sizes, the renowned reproductions within the intimate perimeter of Project Native Informant evoke Romantic horizons and Futurist attitudes toward modernity.

“There is no more beauty except in struggle. No masterpiece without an aggressive character.” Thus declared Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in the 1909 Futurist Manifesto. Ceccaldi’s combination of famous copies and site specificity convey subversive feelings and a déjà-vu state. Each artwork, titled as the original, states its author’s materials with an extra intervention by the artist, who has added to their surfaces drawings in paint marker. Recontextualization and deviation are present on various levels, investing the whole exhibition with a familiar urban sense of loss and encounter, transformation and contamination.

by Attilia Fattori Franchini

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Maria Lind on Future Light / Vienna Biennale 2015

The first edition of the Vienna Biennale, combining art, design, and architecture, opened June 11 and will continue through October 4, 2015. Flash Art talked with Maria Lind, curator of the group exhibition “Future Light: Escaping Transparency.”

Does your contribution succeed at delivering the promise of the Biennale’s subtitle: “Ideas for Change”?

The subtitle is a bit unfortunate, and I have since the beginning told Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, who initiated the Biennale, that I think it promises too much — in general, and for art in particular. The approach is on the verge of being instrumental. As one of the artists in the group exhibition “Future Light: Escaping Transparency” commented, the MAK seems to need additional advisors, who can bring in a slightly different way of thinking and a more sophisticated discourse, away from the current neo-liberal inclination.

You frame your concept of “Future Lights” in relation to “old enlightenment” — to reason and rationality, the individual subject and the public sphere. In a time of preemptive and algorithmic forecasting, do you see irrationality as a choice?

It depends on what you mean by “choice.” The irregular and idiosyncratic are taking on a new significance these days.

I was told Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz’s video installation Loving/Repeating was one of the showstoppers of the Biennale. What makes their filmic installation such an important piece in the show?

It is a great solo exhibition, if I may say so. The films themselves are strong, and together they form an intriguing narrative about non-normative subjectivities, which gives us a glimpse of the future. The sequencing of the films — you can only ever see one film at a time — enhances that.

Your notion of a blinking “relational trickster light” — is it a new approach to the relational in art?

I am referring to light that is not steady; it goes on and off and it relates to its surroundings.

What do you take home from this Vienna Biennale?

I am pleased to have been involved, and I am really happy with the three parts that make up “Future Light.” The MAK has been brave to initiate a new biennial. Like most biennials, the Vienna Biennale can function as an amplifier, and it is important to credit predecessors. For instance, if the argument is that it is relevant to work with art from Romania, then projects and people dealing with this in the past, especially locally, should be credited. Big players need to be careful to “pay back” the smaller players, who often take the risk of working with artists and methods long before they are established.

by Andreas Schlaegel

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