Arena /

Anton Belov on the Garage Museum / Moscow

Designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA, the new Garage Museum of Contemporary Art will open in June 2015. Flash Art spoke with museum director Anton Belov about the role of the Garage in contemporary Russia’s cultural landscape.

How do you become an influential contemporary art center in a city like Moscow?

In general, there is much work to do in developing museums specialized in contemporary art in Moscow. In my opinion, this is the reason why the Garage Museum plays such a unique and important role. We inspire people and invite them to engage with the museum: to take part in our exhibitions, education programs, publishing program and other activities. We focus a great deal of energy on developing our team. I believe that our staff and guides can inspire visitors. The Garage Museum is a very young institution with a lot of young people working here, so we really can bring new energy and fresh ideas to the Moscow art world.

I am interested in how the Garage Museum is perceived in Moscow. Do people see contemporary art as a challenge?

There are many people whom I meet regularly at the Garage Museum, not only because they are coming to see our shows, but because they are taking our educational courses, coming to our library, visiting our café and having a nice lunch. Our number of visitors is growing every week. And, most importantly, people are really enjoying the art.

Since the very opening, the museum has been an “island of tolerance” in Moscow. We are happy that the museum helps popularize ideas of freedom and new ways of thinking about and exploring Moscow. The city is changing — new parks and new public spaces have begun to appear. I think it is really inspiring, and, in my opinion, even other museums — like the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Multimedia Art Museum — are now also starting to change their approach in working with people and presenting their exhibitions and education programs.

As you probably know, in 2013 Germano Celant curated for Fondazione Prada a show inspired by Harald Szeemann’s “When Attitudes Become Form.” Would you ever consider this approach — revisiting a previously conceived exhibition?

It is really important to us at the Garage Museum to reinvestigate and reconnect to the histories of Russian contemporary art because there is really very little known. We have started a number of initiatives, like the three-year research project into the century-long history of performance in Russia, which recently resulted in the first major exhibition and book. At the same time, we have developed various exhibitions and books looking back at the 1990s, which was a crucial time of changing all the systems in the country. We made a big project in collaboration with the Ekaterina Foundation, called “Reconstruction,” that was an exhibition in two parts looking at Moscow artistic life in the 1990s, when so-called unofficial art surfaced. Now we are working on a book called Exhibit Russia, which is looking back at twenty exhibitions that happened in Russia or abroad between 1986 and 1996, which were the first to put Russian contemporary art in an international context.

Are you going to invite guest curators from abroad as well?

We have a strong history of working with guest curators, like Klaus Biesenbach and Roselee Goldberg, when Garage first opened. In the last couple of years we have also worked with international advisors such as Hans Ulrich Obrist. But it has also been important to develop our core team, so we started working with Kate Fowle as our chief curator, who has been developing the curatorial team. They now initiate the program, including education, publishing, conferences, research and, of course, exhibitions. They also determine the collaborations with guest curators. Right now we are working on an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois with the Haus der Kunst in Munich.

At the same time we are working with numerous curators and artists in our Field Research program, which is a think tank and production house with emphasis on primary research. Generated by the interests of artists, curators and writers working around the world, the program gives new perspective on overlooked or little-known events, philosophies, places or people relating to Russian culture. So, for example, we’re working with curators Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Salti on researching African and Arab filmmakers who were trained in Moscow during the 1960s to the 1990s.

What can we expect from the museum’s grand opening?

That there will be much celebrating in June! There will be a big program of events and activities for families, the art community in Moscow and our international guests. We’ll open with five exhibitions that will feature Russian and international artists, including a major project by Rirkrit Tiravanija, installations by Yayoi Kusama, a new, monumental site-specific work by Erik Bulatov, as well as displays from our archive and Field Research program.

From the outside, it seems like the political situation in the country could influence the culture. How is the Garage Museum dealing with current politics? Do you have any restrictions in terms of artistic choice?

I think that for Russia this moment is a very good one to build cultural bridges working with artists and curators who are interested in different points of view. We are a privately funded, publicly minded institution, which is quite unique in Russia and enables us to develop an independent perspective on what a cultural institution can be. Our exhibitions always explore the social, political and cultural context of Moscow and Russia in some way. The current show, “Grammar of Freedom / Five Lessons: Works from the Arteast 2000+ Collection,” for example, looks back at a range of art practices that share a common struggle for artistic and individual liberties during the socialist regimes of the former Yugoslavia and USSR, as well as other Eastern and Central European countries.

Importantly though, we do not present art as a political statement. Instead we provide a context for a range of practices and give our visitors the possibility to have their own opinion. Every visitor can choose his own position and opinion about exhibition. If we are talking about a current political situation, of course it doesn’t support our international connections, and sometimes it is hard to procure loans for our exhibitions. But I want to mark that we really feel support from international institutions. We are very proud that the most important museums in the world are working with Garage and are interested in collaboration.

by Gea Politi

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Review /

Eric Wesley 356 Mission / Los Angeles

“Some work” is a survey of Eric Wesley’s practice from the past decade, accompanied by a few semi-new pieces, most notably I Beam U Channel (2015), a thirty-six-foot-long bent steel bar suspended from the ceiling by a cable, which mirrors the architectural balance of the whole and constitutes the show’s visual highlight.

The body of work is exhibited following a linear, numerical progression, from one object — the aforementioned steel piece — to infinity — Infinity Project (Black) (2015), a rented car coated with a clear lacquer, placed in the outdoor patio and returned to the dealer after the opening, thus making for an ephemeral performative action.

The pleasure of researching and acquiring intellectual knowledge is a recurrent part of Wesley’s practice, and the desire to share it is manifest. The four elements composing the “Spa” series (Spa-Versation, Spa-Brary, Spafice and Spacial, 2007/2015) are part offices, part objects and part installations, combining in a pragmatic and awkward way a sense of relaxation with an urge to produce. True to its nature, the spa environment invites the viewer to participate — for instance, by consulting a few laminated copies of popular magazines that address subjects as diverse as the most important people in the Bible or the faith of child stars destroyed by fame. Evenly dispersed throughout the space, placed on maple pedestals, there are six realistic figures of ancient and contemporary male thinkers. Each one is titled after his first name (Gilles, Michel, Plato, …) which creates a bizarre familiarity, also because each body is portrayed in the moment of sleep.

Wesley’s gestures often rely on various anecdotes, but these don’t come easily to the surface, and the narrative, if it exists, remains voluntarily hidden. Yet there are no tricks in what is observed; the work is structured according to bare reality. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but everything is real and grounded; it obeys the law of gravity and is presented in an upfront fashion, “as is,” without any implied warranty.

by Patrick Steffen

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Arena /

Nathalie Du Pasquier: Don’t Take These Drawings Seriously Powerhouse Books / New York

Nathalie Du Pasquier arrived in Milan in the late 1970s. Before that, after leaving her hometown of Bordeaux, she spent a year in francophone Africa, living in Gabon for a while and traveling through Mali and Niger.

Her quirky persona quickly adapted to the city’s creative milieu, and in 1981 Du Pasquier appears in the first group portrait of Memphis, the Milanese design brand founded by Ettore Sottsass; when the photograph was taken she was only twenty-four years old, and one of only two women in the group. For Memphis, Du Pasquier designed mainly textiles, carpets and patterned laminates, but also furniture and objects. In Barbara Radice’s 1984 monograph on Memphis, the author describes Du Pasquier as “a kind of natural decorative genius — anarchic, highly sensitive, wild, abstruse, capable of turning out extraordinary drawings at the frantic pace of a computer.” Indeed, her patterns are synonymous with Memphis’s visual syncretism, and probably the whole 1980s aesthetic.

PowerHouse Books recently published Don’t Take These Drawings Seriously. 1981–87, a compilation of Du Pasquier’s unpublished drawings produced during the Memphis years. “These drawings were influenced by Memphis, and Memphis was influenced by them. But the book isn’t about Memphis, it is about Nathalie,” says the volume’s editor and designer, Omar Sosa, also the co-founder of the cult interior design magazine Apartamento. “When you see traces of those drawings in Nathalie’s current work, you are not seeing the influence of Memphis, you are seeing the signature of Nathalie.” Du Pasquier and Sosa carefully selected each of the drawings in the book over the course of two years, in a Dropbox-supported dialogue between the former’s studio in Milan and the latter’s in Barcelona. They decided to organize them into sections according to the size of the items depicted, from the smallest to the biggest — from drawings of jewelry and watches to urban cityscapes, with clothes, vases, carpets, clocks, beds, cabinets and interior environments in between. “It made sense to do it by size,” continues Sosa, “because Nathalie designed a whole world, from a little ring to a whole city. And when it is drawn, a little ring has a lot in common with a big city.”

It’s almost impossible to describe Du Pasquier’s “world,” especially without resorting to the rhetoric of postmodernism: her designs are exotic and futuristic, aggressive and gentle, acidic and sharp. Don’t Take These Drawings Seriously introduces them as the outcome of a tireless daily practice that Du Pasquier pursued on a small desk, in the intimacy of her bedroom, in the flat on Milan’s Corso Garibaldi that she shared with her life companion, fellow Memphis designer George Sowden. “None of the furniture I was designing could have ever fit in that apartment,” writes Du Pasquier in the book. “I could dream of a room completely furnished with my pieces and it was already the beginning of a new way of life. A life with different rituals.” It’s hard to imagine that those “sassy” furnishings were once pastel sketches crammed into half-filled sketchbooks, or that those iconic patterns were felt pen graphics doomed to fade. “I never produced so many things,” Du Pasquier reveals in the interview with Emily King that closes the book. “I have a few pieces of fabric, a couple of objects and so on, but my work was really drawing.”

In a thoughtful introduction to the collection titled “The Surface,” Du Pasquier provides the reader with a theoretical framework for retroactively understanding her naive-yet-cunning drawings. She confides that “the ‘decorated surface’ is low-tech. It is an inexpensive way of bringing elements to a project that come from other spheres, and that has always been an extra reason for my obsession with them.” Dispersed along the drawings is an extensive selection of patterns that Du Pasquier designed in the 1980s as her main source of income. “I suppose these surfaces came from a mixture of what I had seen in Africa and what I was discovering in Milan — the modernity of my own culture, which I had never previously been in contact with consciously.” Applied to textiles, finishes, carpets and so on, Du Pasquier’s patterns would carry “an important decor, a decor that could change [a] room.”

Since 1987, Du Pasquier’s daily occupation has been painting. The everyday objects that fill her studio, organized in carefully assembled constructions, are the subjects of her canvases. This painting practice still informs her fascination for surfaces, the layering of “bodies” in space, transparency and reflection. They reveal a clear, progressive evolution — for Du Pasquier almost a fulfillment of her research — from the 1980s drawings. As such, the paintings constitute another chapter, and could indeed fill other books, no doubt as worthy as the one highlighted here.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Review /

Ruth Ewan Camden Arts Centre / London

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the French government introduced the French republican calendar — part of a widespread nostalgia for the rationalism of the Enlightenment era that also included a new legal and social order and the founding of a measurement system that would eventually become the metric system. The French republican calendar is the subject of Ruth Ewan’s exhibition at Camden Arts Centre.

A system of symbols and icons to represent each day of the new calendar, all related to nature and agriculture — the ubiquitous cultures of 18th-century France — was produced in collaboration with artists and horticulturalists. The days are grouped into twelve thirty-day months, each comprising three ten-day weeks, and given new naturethemed names inspired by the weather or season (Harvest, Rain, Frost, Fruit).

Ewan has collated all 365 items featured, and she has arranged them in a thoroughly museological display. The notion of the calendar as a collaborative art project is foregrounded, and the efficacy of her task becomes comically pedantic — where a date is represented by Carp (25th Flower), a large plastic bucket of water houses a carp.

Row upon row of variously sized and colored plant trimmings and agricultural tools line the gallery’s perimeter, and gallery-goers shuffle round clockwise, printed calendar in hand, examining the items. Months are color-coded, and numbered dots sit adjacent to every object: little petri dishes of salt, zinc, lead; cuttings of heather, fir, sugar maple; an axe; an animal pen; an almond.

A red clock presides over those reading the wall text. At face value the show can seem close to the monotony of a ticking clock, but under closer scrutiny it becomes apparent that this clock, something so familiar and mundane, is in fact a decimal clock — a radical and fundamentally revolutionary reappraisal of a deeply established system. With her rigorous collation of specimens and antiques, Ewan invites her audience to reimagine even the most basic notions and to ask what revolution could mean for each of us.

by Nick Warner

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News /

Physical Machine / Madrid

Museo Reina Sofia is presenting a special week dedicated to dancer and performer Steve Paxton. Flash Art talked to João Fernandes, the deputy director of the museum and curator of the event.

Why Steve Paxton in Madrid?

For an art museum it is a privilege to present him and his work, offering the audience a rare moment of contact with one of the central figures in the history of art and dance in the 20th century. His presence in Madrid is evidence of one of our museum’s goals: to present some of the ruptures that opened new possibilities for art in the last decades. It continues a program in which the museum already brought to Madrid authors like Merce Cunningham and Simone Forti. My curatorial interest is to integrate the ephemeral inside an art institution, giving visibility to some of the major artists who were challenging art and surpassing any limits that could be attributed to it.

Paxton was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at Venice Biennale Dance 2014. His influence is important, but he still remains quite an obscure figure.

Steve was always far away from the spectacle industry. He never corresponded to the dominant models framing art inside the business. He preferred to experiment and try new languages for the body instead of pleasing an audience with things already known. His generosity, working together with his colleagues, and his intimate and radical experimentation with movement, gesture and rhythm made of him a referential figure for many artists. In some ways, he is an artist for artists, but at the same time his work is so open and generous he can be an artist whose work can help everybody to rediscover art and life through movement and dance.

As Sally Banes pointed out in her 1974 book “Terpischore in Sneakers,” Paxton has always considered the body a “physical machine.” Today, what are his main influences?

He redefined the possibilities of dance, crossing choreography and daily life, using collective improvisation and collaboration, giving visibility to the artistic creative process instead of working for the idea of spectacle. Steve is part of a fantastic generational paradigm shift that invented a postmodern dance context, fostering new relationships between art and movement and between art and life. Yvonne Rainer once said Steve invented walking. Steve crossed dance, art and life, opening all these contexts to incredibly rich possibilities for gestures, movements, concepts and ideas. “Contact improvisation,” a concept he shaped, became a new chapter in the history of dance. Several artists and choreographers are developing their works with many of his ideas and experiments in mind. Think about artists like Tino Sehgal or choreographers like Emmanuelle Huynh, for example.

The program will include “Bound,” a choreography from 1982, performed by Slovenian dancer Jurij Konjar. What is Jurij Konjar’s role in interpreting Paxton’s teachings?

To interpret today is something physical and conceptual: in a way to preserve and to reenact the ephemeral. A performer has to research, to reflect upon, to preserve and to change something existing to make it actual. The body of the performer is today’s real museum of choreography. In Bound, Jurij Konjar preserves an incredible moment in the recent history of dance. An interpreter is always a curator: he takes care.

by Patrick Steffen

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Tales of a City /

The Vancouver Model

I land in Vancouver on a fairly gray and cold mid-March afternoon. The taxi passes skyscrapers amid a backdrop of emerald-green trees and glaring blue mountains on the north shore.

As we drive down Davie Street, I recall the very first minutes of Hookers on Davie, the 1983 documentary by Janis Cole and Holly Dale, depicting Vancouver’s West End at a time when the neighborhood was a beacon for the city’s sex workers. My room at the historic Sylvia Hotel, at the foot of Davie, overlooks the very chic English Bay and its impeccable joggers. That night, we head over to a screening and reading at Model, an artist-run space and the studio of several local artists in the Downtown Eastside. Andrew Berardini delivers an intense excerpt from his upcoming book on colors, concluding with his definition of Puce: “A smashed flea filled with your blood stains puce.” This is followed by “Fetish and Figure,” a film program I put together on the fetishization of objects and bodies, which begins with Kenneth Anger’s 1947 short film Puce Moment.

The legendary Vancouver rain catches us the following morning while I prepare my afternoon talk on the iconography of 1968 in Polish posters and French affiches for Presentation House Gallery’s Countercultures Forum, organized by curators Helga Pakasaar and Jesse McKee. The conference is an eclectic ensemble of presentations by local writers, such as Michael Turner, and international speakers, like the sound-art Estonian punk-star KIWA. He looks just like the secret son of Julian Assange and David Bowie, and he blows my mind with his illustrated history of soviet underground music. Vancouver-based artist Isabelle Pauwels bring the day to a close with a rather uncanny reading. Her unimpressed detachment and wry humor echo some works in the gallery’s exhibition on the historic Vancouver collective the Mainstreeters; notably the unforgettable covers of a short-lived magazine from the early 1980s, aptly named L’Ennui.

The next day we’re visiting Isabelle in her flat in New Westminster, a historical city located outside of Vancouver. As we drive onto a street of suburban houses from the 1970s, Jesse’s riot grrrl compilation blasts emptyspaces:brokenplaces/letloose (fight song) by female punk rock band Red in Reverse, and it feels like we’re suddenly transported to the Pacific Northwest of the 1990s. Back to the city, it is time to see Tiziana La Melia’s exhibition “Innocence at Home” presented at CSA Space, where she painted over plates of metal shaped as birds and fish, backlit with hollow LEDs. Tiziana is definitely one of the most appealing young painters in Vancouver, and she shares a studio with Rebecca Brewer, with whom we discussed the feeling of guilt at being a female painter. Her roughly human-shaped cubist paintings on felt are admirable. We’re walking down Chinatown, the neighborhood that the hotel clerk recommended we not visit (pointing to a Starbucks on the map instead), and we’re with artist Ron Tran who is working on his upcoming exhibition at the non-profit space 221A, for which he will reinterpret merchandise from several stores in the neighborhood. In the courtyard of 221A, Ken Lum has installed a miniature Vancouver Special — the archetypal post-war Vancouver family home, with its faux brick and stucco — scaled relative to its 1970s property value. Heading further into East Van, we pass by Lum’s neon cross, entitled Monument for East Vancouver, that is mysteriously floating above the intersection of two roads in this traditionally working-class neighborhood. The work seems to echo the popular American “Jesus Saves” neon, except here it mimics a local gang tag and is filled with a Vancouver-specific mixture of sarcasm and local pride. An apocalyptic silver sunset greets us in the parking lot of Geoffrey Farmer’s studio. The magic man of “the couve” serves us tea and cakes and shares his enthusiasm about Merce Cunningham’s performance staged in 1972 at the Shiraz Festival of Arts in Iran. He talks about Los Angeles a lot, and I can’t stop thinking how opposite the two jewels of the west seem to me: sparkle vs. shadow; loud vs. hidden; gold vs. emerald.

Vancouver bids farewell with an unexpected parapraxis from a movie script: a lost car, a missed flight, a serendipitous re-direction to Kitsilano Beach and a dramatic sunset by the edge of the city of glass. I guess this is what happens when a place is too charming and a host too caring. Later that night we reverse the fortune, visiting Tamara Henderson and Julia Freyer’s joyfully messy studio, on the eve of their production for a collaborative exhibition at ICA Philadelphia. The journey ends a second time at the Pelican, a restaurant on East Hastings, a cult nightspot for northwestern night owls. It rains again. Run and catch your plane.

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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