By Dzmitry Suslau
Although the discussions about the changing landscape of global art fairs seem all too familiar, Lorenzo Rudolf’s decision to cancel the ninth edition of Art Stage Singapore nine days ahead of its scheduled opening on 24 January was nonetheless a source of considerable consternation. Though the Blitz spirit demonstrated by the local art community in launching the Art Stage SOS Facebook group aimed at supporting the stranded exhibitors was certainly admirable, the cancellation of one of the Southeast Asia’s key art events is indicative of the global change afoot. It is worth reminding readers that only last year Singapore’s sister fair, Art Stage Jakarta, was also axed, albeit with more advance notice.
Against this background it is perhaps unsurprising that the London-originated Condo has been widely extolled as a welcome solution to a conspicuous problem. Vanessa Carlos – the brains behind Condo – holds the view that there are simply too many art fairs and this fact alone is damaging to galleries not only on account of the immense expense, but also the quality of exhibited work, since the current art fair model seems to stifle experimentation and discourage risk-taking. Condo, by contrast, draws the focus from art fair booths back to galleries, offering a welcome repose to exhibitors and encouraging synergies between international partners who share spaces and client lists for a month. Since its first edition in London in 2016, the initiative has expanded to New York, Shanghai, São Paulo and Mexico City, bringing together new and well-established galleries. The success of this model promises to change the ways in which established art fairs operate. Already this year, Art Brussels has announced the launch of a new Invited section, in which younger exhibitors, whose practice helps challenge the traditional gallery model, will be given carte blanche by the fair’s organisers, who will also cover the rental costs.
Already in its fourth year, Condo is one of the London art calendar’s most-anticipated events, and the 2019 iteration is the biggest to date, with 52 international guest dealers exhibiting across 18 locations in London. Encouraging gallery visits remains one of the initiative’s key objectives. Yet, ironically, navigating Condo is a tricky business, unless, of course, you opt to head either to the West End (the new Cork Street development alone hosts nine participating galleries) or to East London. The Clerkenwell Hollybush Gardens hosting the Berlin gallery Gregor Podnar, with works by Attila Csörgő and Vadim Fishkin, exemplified by an interest in science and technology, as well as the three galleries south of the river seem unfortunately out of the way. Condo’s playful map, designed by Sam de Groot, seems more decorative than practical, and the event’s Google maps pins, for that matter, are even less helpful. For Condo, which has recently joined forces with Thomas Vieth to develop a by-invitation-only app that will connect participating galleries with collectors, the absence of a more general event-focused app seems too glaring an omission. Yet such technical hiccups aside, this year’s edition of Condo has certainly brought together a range of shows well worth a visit.
Ken Okiishi A Model Childhood (13 January – 9 February)
Installation view: Ken Okiishi A Model Childhood Pilar Corrias, London, 2019
Photo: Damian Griffiths. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias
Deeply personal, Ken Okiishi’s A Model Childhood negotiates the obstacle course of memory. The multimedia show, with its central exhibit A Model Childhood, the mainland, faintly reminiscent of a minimalist furniture showroom, delves back into the artist’s family history. All manner of childhood paraphernalia alongside photo and video works evoke continuities and discontinuities in a family narrative and, at the same time, in a master narrative of the whole nation. It soon becomes apparent that all personal effects in this show are, in fact, historically contingent artefacts.
An old photograph from the family archive, one that depicts a little boy (the artist’s father) surrounded by dozens of Japanese dolls modelling the life of a warrior, alludes to a seemingly simpler past and generates a keen feeling of nostalgia. One important detail, however, is not immediately discernible: the photo was taken in 1940; next year, following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the little boy’s and his parents’ lives would change for ever. Forced to discard all objects (including the warrior dolls in the photo) suggestive of their Japanese background, the Okiishi family had to adopt a new identity of loyal American citizens.
Driving from his family home in May 2018, halfway between Iowa and Los Angeles, with his ‘entire childhood’ packed in plastic storage boxes (on view in the gallery), the artist made a stop in Utah. The place where he chose to interrupt his journey was the site of the Topaz War Relocation Centre, one of ten such centres created in the U.S. after the signing of Executive Order 9066 in 1942, a document that led to the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. Thus one stop en route turns the trip into a memorial pilgrimage, linking the artist’s family history with one of the most problematic chapters of America’s history, a chapter that arguably remains largely absent in the nation’s master narrative.
Photographs taken on this trip (also on view at Pilar Corrias) develop on the intrinsically American genre of road photography with its complex amalgamation of observation and imagination, providing a peculiarly multi-layered sense of time and place, linking past, present, and future. Conspicuously devoid of human figures, Okiishi’s photographs unwittingly question the symbolism of urban landscape in Trump-era America.
As part of Condo, Pilar Corrias also hosts David Lewis, New York, with the works of Felix Bernstein & Gabe Rubin.
2. Modern Art (E2 9DQ) hosting Galerie Mehdi Chouakri, Berlin
Charlotte Posenenske (12 January – 16 February)
Installation view: Charlotte Posenenske, Vierkantrohre Serie D, 1967-2016 Modern Art, London, 2019
Photo: Robert Glowacki. Courtesy Estate of Charlotte Posenenske, Modern Art, London & Galerie Mehdi Chouakri, Berlin
Today the collections of major contemporary art museums – from Centre Pompidou to MoMA – would, perhaps, seem incomplete without at least one work by Charlotte Posenenske. However, recognition of the German artist, celebrated for her eschewal of the individual artistic gesture, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until 2007, when her works featured prominently in the twelfth edition of documenta, the artist remained comparatively unknown (all of the pieces held by Tate Modern, for instance, were acquired between 2008 and 2009).
The sculptural works for which Posenenske is best known were conceived as participatory. Made of steel sheets or corrugated cardboard, and, as the artist herself described them, ‘less and less recognisable as works of art’, they were meant to be assembled and rearranged by the audiences. This certainly sets Posenenske’s works apart from many other examples of modernist minimalist sculpture typified by their overt individualism. The artist famously stopped signing her later works, opting instead for serial numbers associated with rationalised manufacture. Her conviction – which may seem idealist today – was that art must first and foremost contribute to the solution of urgent social issues; hence, democratic participation in the production of art was, to her, sacrosanct. In this respect, Posenenske’s work is very much of its time: the late 1960s were typified by the wide-spread urge to change the very nature of art and broaden its footprint, seeing the emergence of such alternative practices as public art and experimental theatre.
The Modern Art/Galerie Mehdi Chouakri show traces the development of Posenenske’s artistic vision, bringing together her earlier paintings, alongside more recognisable sculptural works. The works on paper, the result of the artist’s experiment with the mode of de-subjectification, are principally interesting as the antecedent of her later serial arrangements, such as the 1967 Series D Vierkantrohe (Square Tubes) and Series DW Square Tubes – all on view in the gallery. This small retrospective is certainly timely, allowing the examination of Posenenske’s artistic legacy and adding to the ongoing process of rediscovering the role of women artists in the development of the twentieth-century art.
3. Maureen Paley (E2 6JT) hosting Queer Thoughts, New York
Chelsea Culprit Fear of Seduction (12 January – 24 February)
Exhibition view: Chelsea Culprit Fear of Seduction Maureen Paley, London 2019
© Chelsea Culprit, courtesy Queer Thoughts, New York and Maureen Paley, London
Writing on the symbolism of the female body in western culture, art historian Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat noted that femininity and sexuality often converge. Sexuality in western art is, according to her, ‘perceived as exclusively female – even though, or because it is made up by male fantasies; women are reduced to sexuality’. Chelsea Culprit – an American artist currently living and working in Mexico City – continually explores this link between sexuality and the female form. Her previous exhibition at the New York gallery Queer Thoughts, ‘Blessed with a Job’, examined the sexualised space of a strip club. Culprit herself used to work as a dancer.
Her new work continues the playful exploration of this subject and looks at the ‘deviant’ (within the context of the art history canon) female body. With their kaleidoscopic arrangements of body parts, the muralist quasi-figurative canvases High Spirited Chimeras with Hypnotic Digital Masks (III – V) on show at Maureen Paley are striking. As, in fact, is their title – chimaera, in Greek mythology, is a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. Angular, contorted limbs, mask-like faces – these works are evocative simultaneously of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Mondrian’s grids through the artist’s use of primary colours. At the same time, the repurposing of found textiles gives the canvases a patchwork-like quality, instantaneously bringing to mind an association with domesticity and home – yet another arena traditionally prescribed to women. Thus, by ‘domesticating’ her disembodied strip dancers, Culprit poses questions about the prevalent notions of the feminine, as well as the distinction between high art and craft.
The show populated with chimaeras and witches (Tru Bruja, 2018) does not seem to leave a single trope associated with the traditional view of out-of-control femininity and the female body untouched.
As part of Condo, Maureen Paley also hosts Felix Gaudlitz, Vienna with the works of Juliette Blightman.