Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beyond Compare. Bode museum: curated by Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov, Am Kupfergraben, Monbijou Brucke, 10117, Berlin. From 27.10.17.

Beyond Compare. Bode museum: curated by Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov, Am
Kupfergraben, Monbijou Brucke, 10117, Berlin. From 27.10.17.

I cannot remember who it was that first said: "necessity is the mother of
invention." Perhaps this attribution does not matter considering the
exhibition currently under review. W.D.Y.G.T.F.M.P. (why don't you Google
that for me please.) If you are looking for a master narrative you will
search indefinitely for the dominant authority figure that is behind
Beyond Compare. I believe this is because Beyond Compare is an exhibition
which in most ways fulfills the promise presented to curator Alison La
Gamma, which she failed to deliver, for Heroic Africans. See my blog-post
from the year 2012.

Beyond Compare sets "art" objects and makes apparent both the material
cultures of early European history and aspects of the material cultures of
Africa peoples, in showing once again the canonical pieces that were
collected and until recently on display in Berlin's Ethnological Museum in

That museum is now closed and soon the Humboldt Forum shall take its place
in center Berlin, in the revamped Hollenzollern Palace. The exhibition is
nestled within the permanent display of the Bode Museum. African Arts: a
Chockwe Chiefs chair, a Chibinda Luba figure from Angola, rare exquisite
Sapi-Portuguese salt cellar from c.a. 1450 Sierra Leone, and Benin Bronzes
are hidden in plain sight. A floorplan with the galleries "highlighted"
with a just under fluorescent flaming deep pink magenta add a kind of
treasure hunt aspect to Beyond Compare. A provocative title that in the
consistent device of coupling European decorative figurative art with an
African "ethnographic" counterpart frustrates viewers because all of the
objects are compared and thrilling formal artistic and societal linkages-
how the art was used by the peoples who made it abound.

This exhibition is a real scientists or cultural historian friendly
exhibition, because as an experiment partly arrived at due to the acute
need to display these cultural treasures from Dahlem, in an interim museum
construction period, curators Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov demonstrate a
kind of heroic associative visual thinking and alacrity in their compare
and contrast examples which are the life blood of many art historians. In
this they invite the public to discover or rediscover the all too apparent
"primitive" in European culture, as a means to bid farewell to notions of
"the primitive" like professor emeritus Fritz Kramer recommends.

An improvement in placement of the selected "masterpieces" of the
ethnographic museum is that because they are now enshrined in galleries
accustomed to flooding the rooms with the cold light or rationalism
suitable for European decorative arts, now too one can see the dust of
ferrous oxide on the dented bronze face of a Benin Oba. His commemorative
head an emblem of the worship of lineage divinity and kingship, it is a
lost wax bronze vessel, opposing a wooden bust of the severed head of a
mythical Christian martyr, John the Baptist. One would have wished for
stronger lighting in the old galleries in Dahlem in-stead of rooms with
walls painted black and the theatrical spot-lighting which were evocative
in a ham-fisted kind of way of stereo-types of a dark continent.
Nevertheless my gut feeling about the current show Beyond Compare was that
it was by far too few African objects, one can only bide the time until
the Humboldt Forum opens and hope for more. However the comparisons, which
were studious and impeccably chosen ran deep with metaphor and symbolism
that was common, similar, analogous a bizarre translation or reflection of
the other, in Africa and Europe. A very strong example of this was the
Saint Anthony figure carved in the Congo which was paired with a wooden
Saint Christopher figure.

My hope is that more curators working in Museums situated in the
metropoles of the west, with access to classic pieces from across time and
geographic location will seek to make an exhibition based on similar
premises: an argument for cultural relativity. What I consider to include
premises like: that mankind, and facts of life, no matter how diverse has
far more in common that he / she has different. And that we as human
culture are long overdue in revising and celebrating material culture so
that we have a clearer vision of what our common journey as Homo Sapiens
Sapiens has been, by a more tolerant display of relics from the past which
can still be risky and informative to previously held erroneous stereo
types about culture and faith.

By Craniv Boyd.

Fredrik Söderberg, Christine Ödlund. ALPHA & OMEGA. 25-ágúst-27. nóvember. 2017. The Hallgrímskirkja Friends of the Arts Society. Reykjavik Iceland.

Fredrik Söderberg, Christine Ödlund. ALPHA & OMEGA. 25-ágúst-27. nóvember.
2017. The Hallgrímskirkja Friends of the Arts Society. Reykjavik Iceland.

Revolutions abound! It is 500 years since the release of Luther's 95
thesis and many churches around the world have celebrations, festivals to
commemorate this event. The Hallgrímskirkja Friends of the Arts Society in
Iceland is no exception to this, and a recent exhibition Alpha & Omega,
displayed the works of two artists from Sweden Christine Ödlund, and
Fredrik Söderberg, artworks which consisted of works on paper.

The medium format watercolor paintings were framed and hung in the foyer
of the church, in the capital city of a country, Iceland, that has seen in
the past decade exponential growth in the tourist sector. And to struggle
to observe the paintings in the entrance way of a church crowded by droves
of tourists is a strange way to view contemporary art indeed, when one
considers the stayed contemplative space that is the norm of a high street
white cube gallery.

Nevertheless Christine Ödlund and Fredrik Söderberg, both exhibited public
examples of private or introverted artworks. Christine Ödlund focused on
representing light, in works entitled "The Calvin Cycle" and "The Narrow
Portal of Photosynthesis", attempting to represent a moment when light is
turned into energy by a plant, and shapes as in the work "Trilobite" which
appear both symbolic and enigmatic at the same time. In the flow and dark
gestures of the rich pigment she uses on her water colors one can imagine
the fluid dynamics of our skies, oceans or the trajectories of planets and
asteroids through space. The dark on dark motif also evokes questions that
preoccupy current work in astro-physics, so called dark matter a catchall
for all matter in our known universe for which we currently have limited
understanding. The deep purple, indigo and black paintings also call to
mind questions about the limits or range surrounding an event horizon near
a singularity. Contemplating Christine Ödlund's work is astonishing
because one can imagine these big events in distant space, and yet they
are represented or evoked on the surface of a paper page.

"Alpha and Omega" is additionally a series of five watercolors that
Fredrik Söderberg, exhibited. Each leaf could read as Stations of the
Cross or a compilation of decorative patterns and traditions that
accompanied different sects of Christianity. The series of works is also
contemplative, in it decorative patterns are grouped thematically around
the Roman church the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Greek church. Each
page echos thought patterns and flavor of the distinct religions. Fredrik
Söderberg is an artist who recently converted to Catholicism and for him,
these water colors are a way to contemplate his faith. In this method as
both private expression of faith, and representation of artist
investigation, the paintings are further examples where Fredrik yet again
combines the cultural heritage of the past into the field or frame of
contemporary art.

Hallgrímkirkju in Iceland is a destination indeed, with organ concerts
choral galas and a view of the city of Reykjavík provided by Isaac
Samuelsson's expressionistic clock tower. All of these are "sights" in the
tradition of a "lonley planet" style guide book. But while you are there
at the chuch at the top of the hill on Skolavegurstigur, you may also
encounter the work of living contemporary artists Icelandic, or from
elsewhere, who make artworks in dialogue with Christianity and the church
going experience as it is today in the 21st century.

by Craniv Boyd.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Olafur Eliasson. Moderna Museet, Stockholm Skeppsholmen.

Olafur Eliasson. Moderna Museet, Stockholm Skeppsholmen.

It brings me little pleasure to admit in public that I have often been
skeptical towards the artwork of Olafur Eliasson, especially given the
fact that an early encounter with him during a lecture series Die Kunst
und Ihr Außen at UDK Berlin, organized by Heike Föll, which I wrote about
for Raimar Stange's art Magazine Neue Review in the winter of 2004 was
positive. Indeed I did enjoy his descriptions of his early works
"Strömmen". In subsequent years I have had a healthy over-dose of
Eliasson's work, the bridge project he made in the summer of 2008 in New
York City where I lived at the time, and numerous encounters with his work
in Iceland.

While his contributions to the current vernacular of large budget
temporary installation art is impossible to ignore, so too is the debate
which continues to swirl around his entrée into architecture see the Harpa
concert hall in Reykjavik. Negative criticism of his concert house range
from the costs of cleaning the house, to the reminder it is of
uncomfortable times during the bankruptcy in Iceland in 2010, when
construction on the site was placed on indefinite pause, and the excesses
of the design expense and the custom made in China modular glass and steel
cells for Harpa's façade seemed to embody the excesses and fast money
lending speculative loans of the pre credit crisis era.

I have come to regard the soft spoken artist whom I met in 2004 as
something of a contemporary artistic titan, both industrious and
problematic at the same time. The white elephant which makes the work of
Eliasson so unpalatable for art students familiar with the Icelandic art
scene remains a ghost elephant. That phantom being the obvious debt that
Olafur Eliasson owes to an older Icelandic polymath and architect the
late, Eianar Thorstienn (1942-2015).

Finally at last this debt has been attended to in public, in an
installation of models made in the studio. On view in Moderna Museet in
Stockholm. Moderna is currently under the directorship of Daniel Birnbaum,
the one-time Director of IASPIS, (a studio program in Stockholm) where
Olafur made his "Strömmen". So the story that Eliasson relates, that
Birnbaum helped him to dump vats of green dye in the Stockholm sound,
which led to the front-page sensationalistic reportage of the Green River!

The vitrine is sensationalistic in its abundance so much models, so much
work. A geometric orgy, with figures galore! Hanging bodies, mirrored
lights the sodium lamps and their earie deep yellow cast for which
Eliasson is so well known. And on the captions describing the massive
output of models, which are representative of works in private collections
special exhibitions like that of Baroque / Baroque in the winter palace
for example. All this profit for "the studio" and now a measure of credit
to his collaborator who one should say networking and business acumen,
enabled to produce elegant geodesic solutions.

I thought that cumulative effect of looking at all of the models all at
once, was more humane than the proposition of standing beneath the "awe"
of a bombastic artificial waterfall. To me the model making is more of an
art process. At the risk of sounding even more unfashionable I will ask:
who then is the author of the models?

Birnbaum also then enables his long-term friend and collaborator Eliasson
to make an ultimate expression of transparency in art. It is a glass case
long, raised and filled in, like the shark tank of Damien Hirst's the
physical impossibility of death in the mind of the living, overgrown to
the size of a steel container to a cubic tone that one normally encounters
on the back of flatbed 18 wheel transport vehicle, or on the deck of a
container ship.

Transparent cargo, a plethora of intellectual capital as expressed by
handmade makettes of humble materials, Lego blocks, wooden tongue
depressors, gauge 6 aluminum wire. An exciting proposition to see, Laid
bare, the Ideas behind the titan of Icelandic contemporary art.

Erla S. Haraldsdóttir. Geneis. 15 July-29 August 2017. Lund Cathedral: The Crypt Kykogatan 4, 222 22 Lund, Sverige.

Erla S. Haraldsdóttir. Geneis. 15 July-29 August 2017. Lund Cathedral: The
Crypt Kykogatan 4, 222 22 Lund, Sverige.

Tales from the crypt: an exhibition review. In one of the oldest buildings
in Scandinavia there is a stone cellar. It is filled with columns and a
well full of spring water. Light fills in this basement through the
windows the width of an adult human hand and there are tombs and grave
markers worn out relics of a Catholic past. This is the crypt a space in
the Cathedral of Lund, a university town in the south of Sweden. The crypt
is also an exhibition venue. Under the stewardship of Chaplin Lena
Sjöstrand, it is committed to exhibiting the art works of living
contemporary artists.

This summer I had the singular pleasure of attending Genesis, a new series
of paintings by Icelandic artist Erla S. Haraldsdóttir. This work is part
two of a series of paintings made based on the story of creation in the
Old Testament. One may ask: What is the relevance of making work in
addition to an already crowded image making tradition for Christian art
today? And possible answers could be for Erla that it is a vehicle to make
paintings. She is searching for a frame or a frame story. Her sources
include marginalia taken from illuminated manuscript book-culture of early
Christianity which also happened to be a time when the culture of lettered
people was tolerant and inclusive of the book making traditions of the
Islamic world, First shown in Hallgrims Church, in Reykjavik then Genesis
was shown some months later at Konstepedimein (The Epidemic of Art a
former childrens' Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden) and recently Genesis was
in Lund. Izlensk Tecknabokin, which is the product of recent developments
in scholarship in Icelandic manuscripts served, as a source book for Erla,
a further source of inspiration way my own art historical research into
the murals of Ndebele women living in South Africa.

Part of the first iteration of Genesis was shown again in the crypt. In
the new version the story of creation, the symbols or allegories became
more distilled and concentrated. A raven, a unicorn, a mysterious
landscape with unrecognizable heavenly bodies. Possibility and fantasy met
in the space of technically superior oil paintings on canvass which were
hung directly on the stone walls of the crypt. Many artist today are shy
to confront the weight of history that exhibiting in the church entails.
And while there are some modern and contemporary artists who do accept
this challenge of making work to be exhibited in a church, Erla
Haraldsdóttir accepted this and also endeavored to make an expression
about the artists faith, a trust placed in the creative process and
through her commitment to using color and imagery in evocative ways she
has successfully communicated her world of creation for the public.