(Berlin.) Welcome back after the Christmas Break. Maybe it was the same for you as for me, the same as every year: First buying all presents on amazon, then watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, and realizing, Jeff Bezos not only resembles, but is the real life version of evil Mr. Potter. Placing another order the next day, anyway.
Maybe you’re an affluent art collector, and there was something more special star-ing out of your stockings, or star-ring under your tree, than in my case. Keys for example, or in fact, those modern things that have come to replace car keys, to make life easier on you (it was such an annoying task to lift a hand!) and every Belorussian fourth grader who will easily hack the electronics and “borrow” your vehicle for an unspecified period of time. (Maybe it’s just like software: private property is over, the future is shared.)
This unfortunate introduction should prepare you for our subject of the day: A new exhibition at Daimler Contemporary.
Dreaming of some anonymous Santa Clause, or at least the Spirit of Christmas fixing the lottery numbers for me (to no avail, of course), I visited Daimler Corp.’s historic office tower in Advent time. Always a great occasion to enjoy Berlin’s best glühwein from the wine merchant on ground floor. Upstairs, avoid handing your coat to a sculpture, it’s Bogey, Humphrey “Rick” Bogart, standing at attention, guarding the door in a beige dinner jacket. Not offering refreshments on a tablet, he’s holding a half-burnt (plastic) cigarette in his (plastic) fingers instead. This could be a readymade bought at auction from some failed pub/café in the rural regions of no matter which part in the world. Apparently life-sized, and in the absence of platform shoes or a box beneath his feet, it’s impossible to look him in the eye without kowtow - maybe except if you’re Chinese. The artist: Guillaume Bijl, the work: Composition trouvé, 2016 (bought at Nagel Draxler Gallery in 2016; that’s no trade secret, the gallery show is still online).
It doesn’t continue in the same vein. Last Night’s Fortune Cookie - no: Teller, Last Night’s Fortune Teller! - seeks not to be a curated show, nor is it the same as a commercial gallery’s summer group show, but indeed a continuation of the latter: An assortment of recent acquisitions spread all over the floor - think of yourself back from a shopping spree (/your letter box). With Abstraction and China - the country, not ceramics -, Daimler Collection cherishes two main obsessions, but then there’s that Bogey, and more that won’t fit in either category. Creating a customer profile for Daimler Contemporary is tough (or not, with the right algorithms). Investment interests and the global marketing agenda probably matter as much as curatorial guidelines.
In the antechamber, luxury chic mirrors the state of China Now: Photographs of young and sexy girls (Yan Fulong) that were not cut out from Vogue China, empty shopping bags (Silvie Fleury), and, taking the centre stage, a pair of pink pumps put on a round mirror plate and an ice machine freezing the soles (Simone Westerwinter): Restart From Scratch/Zero (Wieder bei Null anfangen), thus titled in homage to 1960s Zero Group. Attempt at a narrative interpretation of the ensemble: The (invisible) shopaholic Chinese It-Girl dances in her new shoes, while regarding herselfie on the wall? No, it’s actually some “gender” stuff, or at least meant as such.
In the second room, a large rectangular hall turning into a U-shaped corridor, things get more abstract, and some of it is great – Always a pleasure seeing Fred Sandback! No wait, that’s Monika Brandmeier with much more than a rip-off/continuation of his work: Geometrics filling the space with emptiness. Further an installation with video by Yu Honglei showing Chinese people in various environments, living still-lives or slo-mo, they carry silver rings (hula hoops?) and teabags, suddenly the closeup of a teakettle appears. Add a melodious ping-pong-ping soundtrack, and it’s hypnotic, it really is! Bilingual (Chinese and English) subs complement the images with phrases like: “In the face of this unknown, I feel joy”, “We only ask questions, not answers”. A voice from the off tells of a mirror someone once gave him, selling it for the moon, and yet to him “it’s only a mirror”. Rather sober kind of chap, is he not? “It’s still very useful”, his musings continue. Confucian wisdom.
Ceramic kittens appear, not Hello Kitty pink but Afro-Chinese. (Pseudo)autobiographical objects and someday, the narrator might “sell them, somebody will buy them”. Somebody did: There they are in physical form, right next to two blue columns with birds (bluetits?) squatting upon. All is a commodity in red China, not least art. Follow more reflections on everyday objects, because: “Everything is extremely important. Nothing will come back again.” But what is this “nothing”, you might feel inclined to ask. Or protest: On the contrary, would that not devaluate everything? Why bother, once all has been explained away? “They never come back”, you don’t say that in boxing anymore. As you might notice, I’ve followed that film for quite a while, and so should you; it’s good!
On another wall, and extending to the floor, digitally painted, floral, kitsch by Marius Glauer. - No, that’s photographed flower and other patterns, on second thoughts it might not be that bad after all.
Bethan Huws continues her Duchamp fetish with an oversized Porte-bouteilles in neon. The best part is the reflection in the windows behind, creating (true) multiples. The artist features with more works in the show, and for two readymades I could not even find a label: One is an antique wooden tennis racket, the other a fire extinguisher in artful casing. Mayhaps one of them is not - even interpretable as - an artwork.
And Iman Issa, it’s hard to escape her these days. Daimler bought from her, too (did they ever consider starting an artist pool to sponsor with cars, like they do with sport personalities?). Oversized dividers, hourglasses and more, each with its belonging text on the wall, museum style, in order to create tension and question the rapport between word, thing, and meaning. Some belong to a new series not with inventory texts, but more detailed descriptions of paintings, and a newly created object, Issa imagines to match the title at least as well. The works fit the title, not the description. She won’t change her visual USP and brand recognition value for this new series, though.
In a side room another Brandmeier-Sandback, no, now it’s Haris Epaminonda with blanks, white spaces in the world, not unexplored but created anew.
A seven channel video installation, or for the vulgar: a film on seven screens, three of which are big flats, the rest historic TV sets. Knowing artists’ limited productions funds – even in China?! -, I would not entirely exclude the possibility, Fang Lu’s choice of presentation owes as much to cost considerations as to aesthetic principles.
On those screens we see one more bewitching Chinese woman seated at a microphone. A sound engineer in a tone studio? The soundtrack is nothing but white noise. As the camera zooms out, we notice rows of plush red seats surrounding her, that’s an empty theatre, and nobody on stage. She’s looking very professional, and focused, as the camera closes in again. A talent show maybe - and she judging us? There’s that scarcity of women in China, with a ratio of 115 males for every hundred females (numbers may vary depending on your source). Should we sing, or dance (or strip down)? Suddenly we catch a glimpse of a silent orchestra behind glass, is it only an illusion? Confucius says: “What is the sound of an empty stage?” Or was that Zen? There’s a lot of suspense, this film definitely more thrilling than the average Hollywood output (there are really good Chinese films, though). The artist's intention to raise questions about “media and identity ”.
Heading back to the entrance, one artwork has been flipped already, as a sign on the wall announces: “Sold”. Not exactly: In 2013, Patrick Fabian Panetta sold his (gallery’s) booth on we-are-not-a-fair abc as an exercise in conceptualism. DC bought it – not from the unknown painter who took the booth (and who must be a special type of character to still peruse classified newspaper ads), but from Panetta, and now shows a large white wall panel and some installation material hidden behind. Presented like this – for scarcity of space they had to incline the panel like a roof, or a lid - it seemingly reveals the behinds of the art trade, i.e. screws and file folders.
Finally, posters and iPads - at least Daimler doesn’t put them on their dashboard yet, and declares this cutting edge design like so many other car makers do - referencing The People’s Republic of North Korea (Utopia Group: North Korea Micro Film Festival). ERRATUM 9 FEB 2018: DAIMLER DOES. JUST VERIFIED. ---- THEM. Go watch a bunch of naked Chinese hiding behind paper masks with caricatured faces of the world’s leaders and talking in the diction of Fatty Kim’s propaganda communiqués, Chinese with English subtitles. Appear, in no particular order, and all joining the choir: Bush, Obama Ben Laden, Merkel, Abe, Putin, Castro, Sarkozy, et alteri. Another iPad has a Kim doppelgänger dancing to propaganda songs with a KPop beat. There’s- “Oh, no, I’m so solly, no, I did not mean to offend Gleat Leadel, no, please....” (Due to technical issues this blog will return shortly.)
Last Night’s Fortune Teller, 25 November 2017-13 May 2018, Daimler Contemporary
World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism