Taking Root at KIT Düsseldorf

In a world full of conflicting interests and beliefs, how do artists root themselves? Where do they find their sense of direction? These questions underlie the exhibition Taking Root. The assumption is that the eleven artists presented here did find some roots. They have developed a clear and insistent focus in their practice, and that is what gives their work depth.

For a tree, life without roots is not possible. It needs a stronghold, right underneath, in order to grow and stay firm, to endure storm and thunder, and to maintain resilience. One can assume that similarly, human beings find some “nutrition” in the places where they grow up. Yet, those places are not the only ones where developing roots happens. Artists can pick their roots, collect them on their way through life, or search for them in places where they are not yet familiar. After all, humans are mobile beings. And for humans, roots are not just a matter of physical circumstances; they can reside in thoughts, memories, beliefs, and traditions.

Taking Root brings together the work of eleven artists. Some of these artists grew up close to nature; for others, the city has been their natural environment. Some of them are young artists, who in recent years have started their own studio practices. Others have been working for decades already, and have had more options to develop their roots. Together, the participants span two generations of contemporary artists. Most of them come from Europe, yet in terms of landscape and cultural climate, their backgrounds are diverse. One is from the USA, which is itself a country with roots in Europe. 

In times when God is declared dead, or has been hijacked by terrorists, when political leaders can be liars and fakes, the question is where to find understanding and beliefs, and additionally, where to find the confidence and context from which to act? The answer goes inside, into the imagination and reflection of the artists. And it leads into the traditions that have shaped them. These eleven artists have been selected for this show not necessarily because their work is about roots, or depicting it as a theme, but rather because their work has roots. The artists have been able to ground themselves in the present, and find a sense of direction through anchor points in nature, religion, art, or culture. They have developed an interest that brings their work into focus.

The artists in Taking Root do not usually find their artistic incentives in the daily news or in politics. Their knowledge is more indirect, coming from stones, stock photos, walks, landscapes, icons, paintings, plants, children – from all possible sources. There are many situations and observations that guide them. They do not preach or illustrate a particular belief. They make their work as artists, through searching and delving and developing their own discipline – that is enough of a statement. You can sense in their work that they know something.

Even though art is not necessarily sacred territory, it offers stretches of land where a different world is possible – not corrupted, and not adrift. It can offer an environment where you actually want to spend time, a place that is nurturing for the mind, body, and soul. The Kunst im Tunnel offers a good shelter, with solid walls, to create some distance to the physical and digital traffic around, to the hustle of city life, to the problems of our times. The generous tunnel space filled with the works of eleven contemporary artists allows a time out – and offers itself as a place to reconnect and take root.

KIT, Mannesmannufer 1, Düsseldorf, exhibition runs through 26 January 2020 and is open Tue-Sun 11 – 18 h

By the Sea. Report from Marseille

For its first edition in 2007 the Art-o-Rama hosted only five galleries, under skeptical observations from the Paris art scene about the chances of a fair in a poor city like Marseille. Sixteen years later, the fair has become a significant end-of-summer event with an international program, and cooperation with other institutions in and beyond the Provence. Even Parisians leave their city to enjoy art ‘by the sea’ and see what France’s second city has to offer.

Read my impression from the Art-o-Rama fair here on the website of DAMN magazine.

Salt in the Wound. Encountering Contemporary Artists across Europe

Salt in the Wound takes the reader on a journey through Europe, to visit contemporary artists in the places where they live and work. The book looks into the relationship between the work of the artists and their environment. What are the differences in cultural climate between Tallinn and Thessaloniki, between London and Lisbon? Through studio visits, exhibition reviews and conversations, the author reflects on the imagination of leading European artists, and how it relates to both local histories and the global art practice.

The book contains essays on the work of Miroslaw Balka, Anton Henning, Flo Kasearu, Bernard Frize, Anish Kapoor, Michael Borremans. Lia Kazakou, Sejla Kameric, Norbert Bisky, Monika Sosnowska, Janis Avotins, Luc Tuymans , Paula Rego, Klaas Kloosterboer, Irina Botea , Bridget Riley, Marc Mulders , Sean Scully.

Published by Garret Publications, Helsinki, 2019.

Order the book online through Amazon (USA), through Walther König (Germany, Austria) through Abebooks (UK), through Suomalainen (Finland) or find it in selected bookstores and museum shops around the world:

Berlin (Uslar & Rai, St. George’s), Düsseldorf (Kunst im Tunnel), Bonn (Kunstmuseum), New York (Mcnally Jackson, Printed Matter), Columbus Ohio (Wexner Center for the Arts), Bloomington Indiana (Friends of the Arts Bookshop), Los Angeles (Hennessy + Ingalls), Riga (Careva Gallery), Helsinki (Nide), Vienna (Walther König), Amsterdam (Athenaeum, Stedelijk Museum), Maastricht (Dominicanen) and others

Book sellers can order through Ideabooks, Amsterdam here



The Things of the World are Rock – Maria Capelo

The publication ‘The Things of the World are Rock’ brings together recent drawings and paintings of Lisbon based artist Maria Capelo. They were shown in the Pavilhão Branco in Lisbon earlier this year. The title of the exhibition catalog is borrowed from words by Cesare Pavese. The artist shares with Pavese a deep interest in landscape, and in the traces of life and history that can be observed in nature.

I visited Capelo’s exhibition in Lisbon and wrote in response the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’ which was published in the catalog, along with texts by Tobi Maier and João Pinharanda. The book is published by the Galerias Municipais in Lisbon.

“All the drawings bring our attention to the surface of things, and show structure, strong contrast. They are refined, we see the thinnest of lines and folds, like in a hand palm. What the works share is a transformational unpredictability and suggestiveness. The depicted motifs seem to be willing to become something else. A tree is a bone. A branch is a leg. A bush is a vulva. Stepping into the work, causes a chain of associations. “My work has always that approach, of observing, contemplating and reorganizing what you can see.” Capelo remarked. So she makes landscapes – but she also makes something else.” (fragment from the essay ‘Rock Solid Vivid’)

Book Launch in Riga

On June 5th, 2019, Salt in the Wound was presented in the Latvian capital Riga with a talk and discussion at Careva Gallery. With this event the gallery launched its art book store in the city centre, at Kalku Iela 24.

One of the chapters of Salt in the Wound is conceived in Latvia, as I was a resident at the International Writers and Translators House in Ventspils. From there I started to explore the Latvian landscape, history and habits, and the cultural environment. The result can be read in ‘Notes from Latvia,’ which recalls, among others, a meeting with painter Janis Avotins in his studio in Riga.

“‘Art shouldn’t be sentimal,’ Avotins says – partly because we’re talking about the relationship between his work and the history of Latvia. The figures he paints are based on photographs from magazines of the Russian era. At his studio I see folders full of neatly ordered cuttings, all images from a time gone by, the time in which he was born. He is interested in the postures of the people in the photographs, not in the individuals themselves. Or, you could say, he looks at the way people are specifically not individuals.” (fragment from ‘Notes from Latvia’).

Next Book launch: University of South Carolina Aiken, 30 Sept. 2019

Come Close & Step Back

Pia Krajewski, Irina Ojova

Exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop
Opening 11 April 2019, 7 pm

This exhibition brings together the work of two painters who were selected for the 2019 Winsor & Newton Residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin: ​Pia Krajewski​ (Cologne, 1990) and ​Irina Ojovan​ (Chisinau, 1988).

While Pia Krajewski maximizes the presence of a figurative motif through monumental close-ups, Irina Ojovan seems interested in the opposite movement, reducing the clues that could identify the motifs underlying her paintings. What the artists share is an interest in taking images from the exterior world, isolating them, and transforming them into a reduced painterly vocabulary. To grasp the paintings in their full scope, the viewer has to move closer to and further from the canvases, collecting sensations of texture and touch from close by, or seeing the overall image from a more distant perspective.

Gerlind Zeilner in Thessaloniki

Gerlind Zeilner ‘Line of Thought’ exhibition at Donopoulos IFA, 2 Feb – 11 March, 2019, curated by Jurriaan Benschop

The paintings of Gerlind Zeilner are the result of both attentive observation and a vivid imagination. The Vienna based artist collects impressions from what she calls “the theatre of life” as she observes it in bars, on the streets in her hometown or outside in a mountain village. First she makes quick sketches of scenes; later in the studio, things start to change shape as the artist looks at them, and this transformation is intensified in her paintings.

The characteristic colorful lines in the paintings are not only there to indicate the shape of an object, a person, or building – they also act by themselves to transmit a variety of expressions, ranging from fragility and hesitation to firmness and wonder. As a whole, the paintings embody a sensibility and a way of looking, more than a specific scene.

Meeting with Rachel Whiteread

One of my highlights of 2018 was meeting with British artist Rachel Whiteread in Vienna to talk about her exhibition in Belvedere21. For her it was the first come back to the city after making the much discussed holocaust memorial.

There is something about plaster that is incredibly special. It is really ancient; it comes from rock that is turned to powder, you add water it becomes liquid, heats up and dries, and pours the surface away from the object you are casting from – every minute detail. It is almost like alchemy.”

The full interview was published in DAMN magazine and can be read online here

Exhibition ‘Content is a Glimpse’

‘Content is a Glimpse’ is an international painting exhibition presenting the work of five artists: Anna Tuori (Helsinki), David Schutter (Chicago), Fiona Rae (London), Jorge Queiroz (Lisbon), Mark Lammert (Berlin). Five artists with different backgrounds present works that imagine, form, and deform the human figure, or otherwise allude to the body. The image above shows a work from the ‘Walkers’ by Anna Tuori, of which there are three on display.

The exhibition borrows its title from the words of Willem de Kooning, who pointed to short moments of insight – each encounter like a flash – that can occur while looking at a painting. The figuration in de Kooning’s work is not something that can be pinned down as an objective fact, rather it resides and is hidden in painterly gestures, color marks, and abstraction. It comes and goes, it is part of the dynamics of perception. This quality can also be found in the works of the five artists participating in the exhibition.

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop

On display from 24 November 2018 till 9 February 2019

Catalog launch: 26 January, 4-6 pm, open event.

Efremidis Gallery, Ernst Reuter Platz 2, Berlin Charlottenburg.