Review /

Hayan Kam Nakache Fri Art / Fribourg

In January of 2015, Fri Art presented the first monographic retrospective of Hayan Kam Nakache. The young artist of Syrian origin presented a selection of approximately sixty modestly scaled drawings on paper, framed and arranged at eye level into a parcours.

Sometimes paired, rarely arranged in groupings of four, mostly simply successive, the work manifestly avoided the rhetoric of display to mark a distance from theoretical recuperation. Confirming this rejection, the selection seems to have been extirpated from an infinite series of sketches, mocking the quality of the finished product as a selection criterion. The drawings, some in color, most black and white, evoke with a variety of strokes a vast range of references, from the trashy ambience of Gary Panter-like underground comics, to amateurish third-zone graffiti, to Arabic calligraphy, to the more artsy William Copley or the bizarre humor of Amelie von Wulffen. In Kam Nakache’s world, the expressionist, the abstract and the figurative all loosely jumble together with trivial notes and references to whatever, you name it. Within the mass of lines and surfaces, figures emerge as semi-recognizable aggregates: landscapes turn into faces, while a figure might switch into a letter. Tempted to decipher, the visitor enters into a game of association that makes no sense yet suggests the process of imagination itself. Against rational consequence, Kam Nakache points at the simplicity of human troubles. The work aims to maintain a practice outside the sphere of instrumentalization. Whereas experts might detect talent and conclude that this insistent messiness approaches wit, distancing the work from that of the amateur scribbler, no doubt the artist would recommend otherwise. Dissolving the dichotomy between adult and child, he might modestly mention the training it requires to master such a high degree of incompetence.

by Nicolas Brulhart

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Arena /

Andre Walker / New York

Is it possible to be influential and not be constantly under the spotlight? Andre Walker has been a point of reference for many fashion designers over the last twenty years.

Born in New York, partially raised in London, Walker debuted at fifteen, showing his first collection at Club Oasis in Brooklyn; that was the start of a rocambolesque career between Europe and the States. Walker has consulted for Louis Vuitton designer Kim Jones and Marc Jacobs, and has inspired numerous young designers. Loved by artists, Walker reemerged on the scene with a capsule collection for Commes des Garçons. Over e-mails between Paris and New York, Flash Art tried to catch up on his life and creative community.


For me you represent the moment when fashion experimented with new representations of beauty. In Paris, where you lived, independent magazines like Purple and Self Service extensively covered this new wave that included your work. Can you tell us how you ended up in Paris, where are you from, and where are you now?

I started living in Paris in 1991 to work on my first collection to be shown there. I’d been visiting Paris since 1982, so it was not surprising to eventually start living and working there. In 1990, the company for which I was working (Willi Wear) went bankrupt. I was floating around Naples and London for much of that year. My friend Carlos Taylor introduced me to Bjorn Amelan and started up a collection under my name. This lasted several seasons and was my entry into the international fashion circuit in a way. At the moment, I’ve been living in New York since 2005.


For a lot of professionals you represent an example of extreme integrity. But what does integrity mean in fashion? Is it about selling a product after all?

Integrity in fashion usually entails a pain in the neck. So, yes, I am an extremist in the midst of the structural and organizational traditions of fashion. Indeed, it is about selling a product, yet for me it was always more about uncovering an idea or a way to meet people. I always enjoy the curious nature of people who work in the arts and/or fashion. There is an honest awareness of the unknown and creation/creativity in general. These vocations thrive on that.


Recently under the wing of Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe, you have made a comeback. How was the experience?

Once again, friendships have played an important part in building relationships. Kim Jones introduced me to Adrian, and Adrian introduced me to Rei. The experience has been such a privilege. There is always something to learn. Obviously I tremble quite a bit before, during and after proposing ideas for the collection they have invited me to create. Yet it’s so amazing to do this as a job, entertainment and a sort of therapy. In the end, there needs to be something shared, a contribution that allows all parties to feel nourished. In one year I have learned with Adrian and Rei that it is important to remain true to the original impulse that guides the thought — that creates the need and the courage for bringing the idea to life. This takes time.


You have collaborated with artists like Bjarne Melgaard and Cedric Rivrain. How did those collaborations begin? Are you preparing similar projects?

Cedric shared his home, hospitality and eventually his artwork with me for some clothing in the SS15 collection. I’ve always been floored by his beauty, the sound of his voice and the shiftless ease of his personality in general. It may just be our mutual chemistry, but from what I’ve noticed, it’s a primal resource for anyone in his environment and serves as a catalyst or introduction to his work… if that makes any sense.

Bjarne Melgaard was working on his shows at the Munch Museum in Oslo and at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris with Bob Recine and mentioned to Bob that he would like to work with me on the one scheduled for Paris! Bob was delighted because we have a deep admiration for each other, and he introduced us both. Over some weeks of observing and three visits to Bjarne’s super-active studio, we decide to collaborate on the show together. I had mixed feelings about Bjarne’s approach and was a bit intimidated by him; also, it felt like there was not enough time to do the project well. I’d had some experience working on an installation in 1997 at the Mattress Factory in a trio show with Greer Lankton and Yayoi Kusama. The show was curated by Margery King from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh…

Bjarne’s work terrified me, to be honest. I had this impression that all he wanted to do was devour his invited collaborators and absorb their identities. His novels and the perpetual disdain apparent in his work sincerely put the fear of God in me, and I was truly conflicted about whether to participate or not. Bob and Bjarne did a great job of convincing me in the end, even if I held true to my belief that he was surely going to slaughter us all somehow. I was so wrong. I didn’t make it to the opening, as a work task for the upcoming AW15 collection stole all of the available time on the night. Cedric and I went the following day and I was blown away. I always asked Bjarne during the early days of prepping the job, why me? His answer was, “Because you have so much integrity.” I think he has an endless amount of integrity beyond a reasonable doubt. It dawned on me the sheer courage Bjarne exercises by simply being himself and recognizing his perceptions that have led to his current peak. He is obviously fearless, kind and super confusing. In other words, crucial.

Yes, I’m looking forward to more projects like this. It’s like having a laboratory exclusively for researching ideas.


Is there any room for independent designers today?

Always. We used to talk about a saturation of the market. We should not exclude a saturation of the population either. Sure, we may start to erode the current infrastructures that organize the distribution of independent designers’ work, yet there will always be a need for clothing/design, even if the industry starts to devolve otherwise.

by Daniele Balice

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Review /

Villa Design Group Mathew / New York

An omphalocele, a rare birth defect in which a fetus’s intestines or other organs develop in a transparent membrane sac ballooning outside of the body, is an abnormality upsetting not only for its bodily consequences but in small part for its material reminder of one’s fragile, porous substance, a reality often taken for granted in good health.

Walking through Villa Design Group’s installation “One Blow in Anger (Evidence 2011–2014),” their first exhibition in New York, at recent Berlin transplant Mathew, evokes a similar sensation — a sinking admission that, like intestines and nerves, what literally keeps us going is actually quite twisted and grotesque.

In a perimeter of nineteen sketches of nonsensical objects on drafting paper, each frame mounted above a plaque engraved with a corresponding chapter of the group’s nineteen-part text piece Evidence of Childhood I-XIX, the plates narrate a contortion of overlapping, forbidden love affairs. The floor is papered with large acetate sheets printed with pages of Patricia Highsmith’s 1984 Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, the artists’ notations in the margins. Meanwhile imitation Barcelona chairs, van der Rohe’s persistent midcentury object of aspirational-lifestyle fetish, sit under plastic sheeting (Suffocation Harp 1–4). Nestled within this cellophane layer are cold, steel forensic tables holding alternately wooden architectural models of impossible structures and brand-new Calvin Klein sweatshirts, stitched with names of his evocative early ’90s fragrances: Escape, Eternity and Obsession.

Softer is the adjoining den, with an imposing, geometric charcoal-colored lamp (Futurized Mussolini Meteorite Lectern); and Carrion Circle, an installation of fluffy floor pillows and another indicator of high taste: a sinister redesign of Eileen Gray’s sleek side table, creating an inviting setting for thumbing through the group’s new publication, REPERTORY 2011–2014 — a hefty report of clinical case studies in “queering the object,” using symbols of refined luxury and design as a means of dismantling relentless consumer desire.

by Jennifer Piejko

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K-HOLE and Martine Syms on New Museum Triennial / New York

The third New Museum Triennial, “Surround Audience,” curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin, opened at the end of February in New York.

Focused on early career artists around the world, the exhibition has a generational quality and is pitched as “predictive” rather than “retrospective,” this year extending from the curators’ shared interest in the social and psychological effects of digital technology. Artists have also been embedded in the process of creating the exhibition, effectively collaborating with the museum. Flash Art spoke to Martine Syms, who has been working with the institution’s archive, and Dena Yago, Greg Fong and Sean Monahan of K-HOLE, who created the brand identity and mascot “XR” — a friendly pharmaceutical character in the style of social media “stickers.”


Martine, can you describe the work that you have made for the New Museum Triennial?

Martine Syms: S1:E1 tells a story about language, symbol and narrative in American culture through a pilot episode, a print edition, an archive and two comic objects. The works use three key moments — the premiere of Mary Tyler Moore in 1970, the primetime schedule of 1988 and Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006 — to explore the privately felt public imagination.


K-HOLE has developed a branding identity for the Triennial featuring a pill character. How did you develop this?

Dena Yago: People are becoming more comfortable with ambiguity in language and using terms without fixed meaning. We’re communicating with image responses and emojis.

Greg Fong: We spent what feels like the first year of this project consulting directly with Lauren and Ryan about behaviors and trends swirling around the big themes they were interested in capturing through the exhibition. We were under the impression that artists would be taking over a lot of the institutional responsibilities of the museum for the show, so we thought it was only natural that we try to filter some of those ideas through an ad campaign. A lot of our early discussion was about generational targeting, surveillance and the state of evasive language — and speech laden with various context-dependent meaning. We also really liked the idea of our artwork commissioned for the Triennial existing entirely outside of the museum. The pill character is inspired by drawings popularized by the chat application LINE.

Sean Monahan: We wanted to develop a campaign that felt fresh and didn’t use the traditional “jpg of art” + “title of show” formula. We thought of the pill character as a sort of mascot for the show — something that could live on in the promotional materials and travel through social media. It took a little bit of time to settle on the pill. We wanted something anthropomorphic but also something that could represent everyone in the show. The pill seemed like a fun way to talk about the anxiety that surrounds high-profile generational surveys specifically and art in general. We wanted the campaign to speak to a broader public and frame the experience of seeing the exhibition as more variable than the traditional, quiet, quasi-spiritual contemplation of meaning.


How did your respective dialogues develop with the curators, and what has been valuable or interesting to you about those conversations?

MS: I originally began this project several years ago as a traditional documentary. It was on permanent hold when Lauren invited me to do a project that used the institution’s archive as its starting point. Television seemed like an appropriate subject as it directly maps language, style, news, etc.

GF: It was a completely iterative and natural process. They came to us with ideas and trends they saw at work in the art world, and we came back to them with mini reports deconstructing those trends culturally, technologically and socially. Working with them from an early point gave us a lot of insight into the spirit of the show, which I think allowed us to take the biggest risks with the advertising campaign. It was also super fun to work between them — Lauren and Ryan have completely different ways of seeing things, and completely different senses of humor.


What are your thoughts on the “Surround Audience” theme as you understand it, and how it responds to the present moment? The materials describe this exhibition as “future oriented.” Is this something that you have been thinking about in your own work?

MS: I’ve been thinking about the effects of the sitcom narrative in relation to social media. Sometimes it feels like we are all presenting uncomplicated, easily digestible episodes of life. So even as the dominance of the form wanes, the structure remains. I’m curious to see how the non-linear characteristics of the internet influence cultural stories in the future. I take a stab at imagining that in my video A Pilot for a Show about Nowhere.

GF: Obviously the New Museum Triennial is focused on “emerging artists,” so it’s intuitive to align the different practices represented at the show with emerging behaviors and trends. But what I think is cool about this show is that Ryan and Lauren have seemed really focused on the intersection between contemporary art and contemporary communication strategies. Which is to say that there are a lot more people looking at art on the Internet, and a lot more artists looking at each other’s art. And that’s definitely the present moment. For our contribution, we just wanted to make something that felt right for K-HOLE — something characterized by our awareness of media, sense of humor and belief that idea and language (and marketing) are progressive forms for artistic output.

SM: Our practice has always been about distribution to some extent. When we began making our PDF reports, that gesture was less about commenting on print and more about wanting to reach the widest audience possible. K-HOLE’s work has always had trouble living in a museum or a gallery because we’ve always wanted our work to be as fungible as possible. Making the campaign a piece was a chance to negotiate working with an institution and making something that could live outside/online/in a signature cocktail/anywhere.


As this is a generational exhibition of sorts, what seems most urgent or important to you here, collectively, among your generation of artists?

SM: I think a unifying feature among artists of our generation is a rethinking of what it means to have an artistic practice. There’s a little bleed between different creative disciplines. I don’t think there’s a meta-conversation about “What is art?” going on, but there is a more personal evaluation of what parts of your life are included in the tent of “your practice.”

MS: I went to see Samuel Delany speak last year and he said: “Poetry is everything. Poetry is nothing.” That’s how I feel.

by Laura McLean-Ferris

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LA Talks /

Los Angeles, year zero

Winter in America

I land at LAX from Paris in a hazy mid-January 2014 afternoon with some summer clothes, many books on Los Angeles, a few vinyls, Flaubert, Polish poetry and my dad’s Leica.

I haven’t slept; I’m haunted by the somber sparkle inside my mom’s eye at Roissy Airport as I was waving goodbye. I am here to start a new life with Fahrenheit, a 2,500-square-foot exhibition space and artist residency in the industrial part of downtown. I barely know the city, and still confuse the 101 Freeway with the 110 and the 10 when driving from Highland Park — where I settled down in a little house surrounded by Mexican families — to downtown, where Fahrenheit is opening its doors. Our neighbors from Night Gallery were the first audacious ladies to move to this area located at the intersection of Boyle Heights, Vernon and the Fashion District. Today galleries, spaces and artist studios are extensively developing in the neighborhood.

The paint is still wet and the Internet barely working when on January 30 we open Fahrenheit’s first exhibition, “Far and High,” presenting the works of Felix Gonzales-Torres, Laure Prouvost, David Douard and Tamara Henderson, among others. It’s the art fair weekend, thousands of visitors from out of town show up for the first edition of Paramount Ranch, and ultimately to our opening. The crowd is so thick and the tequila so tasty that two of my friends have to save me from passing out from emotion. Later we drive around town blasting the new Beyoncé and local DJs Nguzunguzu in a white convertible Volvo. Yes, Paris seems strangely far away.

Spring was never waiting for us, dear

Fahrenheit’s first artist-in-residence, Julien Prévieux, has arrived for a two-month stay to produce a performance starring local dancers and a musician. It is about time to make new friends. The Mountain School of Art students are spreading around town, and I decide to hit the road with one of them, French sculptor Caroline Mesquita. We drive through the dusty southwest, run on mesmerizing white sand dunes and observe triumphant yet lonely cactuses. We end up in Marfa, where I presented a film series at Fieldwork, and head back to LA blasting Dory Previn’s Hollywood-inspired depressing folk and admiring Frank Lloyd Wright’s angled buildings.

From May to July Fahrenheit devotes its program to performances, screenings and talks. Julien Prévieux’s dance piece gathers a large and very diverse audience. It also starts to get hotter and hotter, and my Polish blood demands a rest. I flee north to The Banff Centre, a charming retreat nestled in the Canadian Rockies, where the gallery’s curator whispers with a fashionably unimpressed smile: “Don’t worry, it will only take you about two years to get used to the West Coast.” When I return to LA, I learn that Fahrenheit’s benefit auction has raised enough to finance the entire upcoming program for the year. In June I fly to Europe and while sitting at a terrace in Berlin I overhear a young man chatting with his friend: “It seems like everyone is moving to LA! Have you checked this new space, Fahrenheit?” I smile to myself. I feel proud, I guess. Later this month, a glimpse of doubt darkens my Los Angeles blue sky — and what if I am not made for this Californian life, its individualistic culture and social isolation? What if my French-Polish soul will always win over my work ambitions?

Summer in the city

Fahrenheit’s second exhibition,“The Space Between Us,” opens mid-July and explores how the line extends beyond flatness into physical space through the construction of fluid and indefinite movement. It presents the work of Caroline Mesquita, Polish artist Piotr Łakomy and Los Angeles-based Aaron Garber-Maikovska. French writer and curator Dorothée Dupuis arrives in town for a two-month sojourn as a critic-in-residence and Fahrenheit helps her develop her blog Terremoto. That summer in LA, it seems like everyone I know comes to visit, and Fahrenheit does not even close for a holiday. Swiss curator Tenzing Barshee spends a few weeks here. He notes everything he experiences in his diary: our drives to Malibu blasting FKA Twigs’ Two Weeks, dancing to the purple moonlight and watching MacArthur Park melting in the dark. We take him to the legendary cocktail bar Musso & Frank, where I once interviewed Kenneth Anger and where the founders of Freedman Fitzpatrick and Château Shatto are waiting for us with some Europeans and locals. “I am standing in the sun,” sings French singer Amanda Lear. And what if LA’s fading golden light was in fact the ultimate backdrop for artistic encounters and interactions in 2014?

Autumn leaves

From freeways to highways, from east to west, through hills and canyons, I can’t stop driving. The epic iPod is blasting Randy Crawford’s Street Life, the song that is featured in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and the 1984 Canadian documentary Hookers on Davie. It inspires Fahrenheit’s fall exhibition that features street films by two avant-garde filmmakers, Michel Auder and Józef Robakowski. I’m under the impression that the show is weirdly received, and I realize that LA, with its visual culture shaped by Hollywood and television, is a complex ground for the reception of avant-garde filmmaking. While shadows of doubt are breaking over my head, Andrew Berardini (whom I tease by calling him the voice of our generation) finds the exact words to appease my intellectual fears, and his ongoing support feels priceless.

October means FIAC time in Paris and the Marcel Duchamp Prize awards, for which Julien Prévieux has been preselected with the performance work we produced at Fahrenheit. Not one woman is nominated for the prize, so I decide to boycott the ceremony and stay in bed when I receive a text message from Elisabeth Forney, the impressive woman who is behind Fahrenheit and the FLAX Foundation: “C’est Julien.” He just won the Prize.

Back to LA,  artist-in-residence David Douard starts his large-scale production for an exhibition to open at the end of January 2015, with Liz Craft and Jesse Stecklow. Meanwhile it’s already Thanksgiving and Jesse McKee, the Canadian curator, is back in town. We hop into my car and drive straight to Death Valley. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Sicilian Clan plays full volume just as we enter Zabriskie Point, and I recall Thom Andersen’s beautiful documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, which begins with the words: “This is the city: Los Angeles, California. They make movies here. I live here.”

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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Review /

Tobias Spichtig Michael Thibault Gallery / Los Angeles

Amid an organized geography of minimal abstract elements leaving no hope for the presence of human beings (a few large paintings on the wall lightly touch the floor; a basic sculptural totem made of found speakers diffuses electronic music; and a primordial fire is fueled by propane), there are two identical photographs hung in the two rooms of the gallery, portraying a close-up of an unknown female’s face, possibly a model or an actress from the early 1990s, a forgotten starlet, like many others.

The artist found the two ready-made posters in a salon during a recent stay in Morocco. For the show, he added a resin crystal tear below her left eye, forcing the figure to endure a nostalgic burden, experiencing pain — for herself and for us. The image projects an uncanny, profane beauty, reminiscent of the creepy fascination of a weeping holy statue shedding oily tears.

Spichtig is concerned with images and their meaning as informed by Foucault’s theory. He creates tight, conceptual bodies of work, which sometimes deliver a hint of narrative. Considering contemporary history and social conditions, he attempts to explain our world without despising it. For this show, the artist uses ink almost like watercolor, in a process that allows for a wide range of accidents, and whose result emphasizes his desire to lose control. He creates what he calls backdrops for primitives, delivering to us, the primitives, an environment in which colors combine with organic shapes, evoking at times soothing elements like water and air or sinister, romantic skies that nourish illusions.

Like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Spichtig is a true seeker; his research, surrounded by a certain darkness, is hauntingly generous. No matter how evolved we are in our thoughts or attempts to build a social organization, in his eyes we remain primitives grounded to a network of shared failure, moving forward one uncertain step at time. All that remains are just a few backdrops against which we survive.

by Patrick Steffen

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