Daniel Richter in Salzburg

For his new series of paintings, presented in the exhibition So Long, Daddy, Daniel Richter has plugged into a timeless motif in painting: the figure. Yet this description immediately comes with questions. Who or what are the beings that appear in these colorful and dynamic paintings? And how would we label the environment in which they appear? Both the figures and the spaces around them are ambiguous and impossible to identify in one single way.

If we follow the complex play of lines within the paintings, enforced by marks of color, we get a sense of the complexity of the figures. Their outlines and gestures seem familiar enough to interpret them as fellow human beings. Yet within them, there is also the suggestion of something animalistic, an instinctive energy. Maybe humans are crossed here with their natural roots, the paintings bringing out the monkey inside us, or the bird that screams and wants to fly. (….)

I spoke with Daniel Richter in his studio in Berlin about the paintings for this exhibition .You can see a short video clip here

Painting Exhibition at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin

‘A Matter of Touch’ Exhibition with 8 painters from Europe and the US, opening on July 16th, 2020 from 5 – 9 pm at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin       

Touch is an important aspect of painting. The temperaments of the artists in this exhibition can be felt through the way they have worked and touched the canvas, be it with a firm, decisive brushstroke, a light touch to create transparency, or the sanding off of layers to create flatness or roughness. A whole range of sensibilities can be stored in a painting, speaking to us even before we identify what is actually depicted.

Though keeping distance has become the norm in public life, in the realm of paintings, we can be reminded of physical encounters and intimacy, and enjoy a close perspective. The artists in this exhibition embrace the tactile and are interested in paintings as physical matter. Yet their focus is also on less tangible aspects of the artworks, such as luminosity, wonder, or absence. The importance of light can be felt throughout a range of different motifs and vocabularies.

The works have been collected from studios on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the pandemic, not all artists are able to be present for the opening, yet their works offer us an artistic dialogue across borders. The paintings find a temporary home in the ruinous beauty of the Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111. Located in the center of Berlin, the space evokes the time when the city offered itself as an artistic Freiraum.

Participating artists: Nikos Aslanidis, Thessaloniki; Thomas Brüggemann, Berlin; Michelle Jezierski, Berlin; Joseph Kameen, Aiken, South Carolina; Kiki Kolympari, Athens; Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Chicago; Grit Richter, Hamburg; Rubica von Streng, Berlin         

Curated by Jurriaan Benschop for Kunst- und Projekthaus Torstrasse 111, 10119 Berlin. Project management: Ulrike Seyboth & Ingo Fröhlich, www.torstrasse111.de

Image: Kiki Kolympari, Cross City Interior (2019) acrylic on linen, 110 x 140 cm

Restless by Nature. Anna Tuori in Paris

The first word that comes to mind when I look at the works of Anna Tuori is restless. There are restless “walkers” populating her paintings, ready to go but also wanting to stay. A restless hand made the paintings, moving over the surface, adding scribbles and patches in different places. And the resulting works never rest; they appear active, vibrant, and alive.

The Walkers is a series of paintings that Tuori started in 2017. Having seen them in different situations, I started wondering why they work so well. At first, they look quite simple in composition and casual in execution. There is a human figure whose head has been chopped, cut by the frame of the painting. Yet the figure is not entirely headless: a face turns up at another, rather unexpected place, for instance between the legs, or on the jacket of the walker. This series makes me think about movement, about having or lacking direction as a human being, and about grace and speed. But these works also evoke contrasts between burden and lightness, roughness and delicacy. They are open figures rather than specific characters, which enables us to identify with them. The longer I look, the more details appear on the surface and the more sophisticated the paintings become, in terms of having nuance of expression and balance in composition. The individual paintings cannot be grasped all at once, each as an overall image. Only through time, through putting together the pieces that are spread over the painting, does the scene become a whole in the mind of the beholder.

Painting is, among other things, about looking and seeing. For that reason, it seems quite relevant that the walking figures are not looking at us. We don’t meet their gaze; we are looking at a moving person from an outsider’s perspective. For Tuori, reflections on the impact of seeing have a special place in the works she made for her Paris exhibition. This goes for the Walkers, but also for the different portraits of women that are on display in the show. In Dissociation (2019), there is a face with many eyes, or actually multiple faces within one figure. In Off on an Adventure (2019), the facial expression usually accentuated through eyes, mouth, and nose is almost absent, hidden under light paint. In the details of the figures, a lot can be noticed, about eyes for example, but also about how hair falls, how an arm is lifted. Just like in daily life, in the way people look and move, a lot is happening and can be read as an indication of somebody’s well-being. A gaze can be unpleasant, experienced as offensive or even as an act of aggression, while looking can also transmit love or care. In the dense traffic of looks, flirts, or meaningful gazes, Tuori seems very alert and redirects the sight lines to where she thinks it is necessary. The women in her works are certainly not just there to be pretty and admired. They are complicated, hard to read, or hiding behind smoke. They seem independent from what beholders might want to see in them.

The way Tuori paints the portraits looks like drawing with the brush – sketch-like, with energetic lines. Despite the restlessness of the figures, or even their neuroses or anxieties, there is generally an upbeat quality to the work. There is pleasure in the drama that unfolds. The artist seems to enjoy the whole range of expression that is possible in painting, as well as the ability to loosen things up through lines. She doesn’t feel like an expressionist, though, instead mixing an expressive gesture with other things. “In the painting, emotional or intuitive and conscious or intellectual approaches do not exclude each other. Just like expressive or conceptual ways do not exclude each other,” the artist commented.

During a dinner in Helsinki with the artist and some friends, we spoke about the fact that Finland was listed as the happiest country in the world for two years in a row, according to a United Nations study. How do you measure happiness? Apart from economic indicators such as gross domestic product, aspects like life expectancy, corruption in government, and the ways communities interact with each other were included. The locals at the dinner table made jokes about Finnish happiness, knowing that the long, dark winters do not exactly bring out the cheer in people. Yet I could also detect joy in the ironic self-reflections. Similarly, in Tuori’s paintings, there is a mocking, light touch, while at the same time nothing less than the struggle of life is what we are looking at. And this light note comes not just from being Finnish, but also from painting, from the transformative power that painting has over life.

Tuori’s mentality behind painting is not one that gets too comfortable with itself. The artist has changed and developed her approach over the years. It started from a dialogue with a romantic conception of art. The figures in some older paintings create their own imaginary world as a hideout. Tuori was shaped by modern ideals as well, by belief in progress, and the confidence that we can design our own lives. In the recent works, I sense a reluctance to tell too much of a story, and the artist also doesn’t lead us to wander around in an imagined, painted world. There is a rougher edge to the work, and less usage of effect to impress. Painting now seems to spring from the wish to balance believing and being skeptical, being empathetic and not caring so much what others might think. You just need to be alert, open, and flexible. Tuori’s figures appear to be in a permanent process of loosening up. They are as restless as I could hope for.

This text was published in the catalog of the exhibition Anna Tuori ‘Never seen a Bag Exploding,’ scheduled to be on view till 2 May 2020 (but currently closed because of covid19 restrictions). For information and obtaining the catalog contact Suzanne Tarasieve Gallery in Paris

Book Launch at ‘Publics’ Helsinki

On March 3rd, 2020 I will be at ‘Publics’ in Helsinki for a talk about my book ‘Salt in the Wound. Encountering Contemporary Artists across Europe.” It starts at 6 pm and the entrance is free. This evening I will discuss the work of Anish Kapoor, Miroslaw Balka, Paula Rego, Luc Tuymans, Sean Scully and Janis Avotins, all featured in the book. How is their respective work related to the place where they grew up and work, to its history and (cultural) landscape?

Nikos Aslanidis in Emsdetten, Germany

Nikos Aslanidis can hardly be called a pleaser. His paintings can look rather grim, leading us into dark ages, showing people in the battle of life. The question coming up while visiting his exhibition in Emsdetten is how much of our own era, and our own lives, is reflected in the paintings. The artist’s goal is to make timeless painting, and he is not worried about ‘being contemporary’ or introducing props that refer to current issues. Yet, the situations depicted aren’t that far from home. Timeless means here, that it also suits our time. In each painting there is a figure engaged in some kind of work or activity, as can be figured from titles like The Gardener, The Alchemist or The Hunter. The good news is that Aslanidis presents his vision always with an understanding of order, with nuance and also with beauty. As a painter he seems to find a task in making situations of life presentable and worth looking at with curiosity or wonder, no matter how uncomfortable or tense they are.

The Thessaloniki based artist currently has his first institutional solo exhibition in Germany, ‘Corpora’ at the Emsdettener Kunstverein, up till 15 March 2020.

Image: The Dancer (detail) 2014-16, oil on linen, 180 x 200 cm

‘Trees’ at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

A visit to the exhibition ‘Trees’ with works by Carroll Dunham and Albert Oehlen made me think about the difference between motif and subject matter, or even ‘content,’ in painting. The fact that both artists paint trees was taken as the glue for this duo presentation in the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Yet, one should not get too philosophical (or ecological, or symbolical) about that. The tree here is a formal motif – a vehicle to construct a painting, and as far I can see it does not connect the painters in a deeper way. What I like mostly about the show are Oehlen’s large paintings where the shapes of a bare, winter tree counteracts with geometric color fields. At times the trees resemble human or animal figures in their dynamic shapes. The exhibition becomes interesting where trees stop to be just trees…

The exhibition is up till 1 March 2020

Lecture Rethink Painting at HBK Essen

On December 3rd, 2019, I will be at the HBK Essen, Germany, for a talk in the series ‘Rethink Painting’, initiated by Nicola Stäglich and Sabine Bartelsheim. I will discuss the work of some contemporary painters, among them Kaido Ole, Bernard Frize, Bridget Riley, Janis Avotins, Béatrice Dreux and Paula Rego. Included will be reflections on the question How to write/speak about painting in the current era of stylistic pluralism?

The lecture starts at 8 pm.

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

Salt in the Wound. Encountering Contemporary Artists across Europe

Salt in the Wound takes the reader on a journey through Europe, to visit artists in the places where they live and work. 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, Buchhandlung Montag), 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), London (Tate Modern) and others…

Book sellers can order through Ideabooks, Amsterdam here



Helmut Federle in Basel

The first thing that strikes one about the six large paintings on display at the Kunstmuseum Basel and made over a span of 25 years, beginning in 1980, is that their scale feels American. Few artists paint this monumentally in Europe. Yet the sensibility of Helmut Federle’s work is also European, melancholic in tone and subtle in its application of paint. Even though these notions are generalised, they lead to an important transatlantic quality of Federle’s painting. The Swiss-born artist, based in Vienna and in his mid-seventies, has travelled the globe often and eagerly. He has absorbed notions about scale and colour, values and beliefs, from different cultures. A four-year stay in the US from 1979 onwards was important to his development, just as the discovery of postwar abstract American painting made an impact, during the 1960s, on the very museum in which his work is now showing.

You can spend a long time looking at these works without getting a clear idea as to what they are ‘about’. In Untitled (1990) a large dark circle appears against a background of grey brushstrokes, half transparent. A tilted U-shape enters the right side of the painting, delivering a second formal focus. A greenish-yellow light shines, as if the work was lit from behind. Without any narrative or action, this and the other canvases refuse to be boiled down to any specific subject matter or statement. They’re just there, as presences you want to be with: complex characters with conflicting parts. They are not necessarily pleasing or beautiful, most are rather dark in atmosphere, but they appear sincere and dynamic. The uneven paint application, as well as the play of layers, invite one to keep wandering over the canvas. Some forms are clear and decisive, like the circle; other areas are vague and unfinished. The division between yellow and grey in Untitled (1980) feels strict and firm, while the repetitive pattern of lines in Death of a Black Snake (1999) is subtle and mysterious. Collectively, with all their contradictions, these seem like existential paintings: this is how it feels to be conscious, to be human, to have fear and hope, highs and lows.

Asian Sign (1980) produces a push and pull between negative and positive form. Are the grey blocks in the foreground? Just as this appears to be the case, they recede, and disappear behind the yellow, meandering bands. The yellow is bright and enlightening here, more than in other paintings. The fact that the painting, acquired by the museum in 1982, created public uproar – it depicts a swastika – indicates that people did think there was a subject matter or statement in the work. More particularly, an evil one, even though the symbol is not presented clockwise, as the Nazis used it, but counterclockwise and thus, according to a Hindu interpretation, stands for the setting sun. Of course it can raise eyebrows to discover such a form, huge as a flag, that mirrors (not depicts) a symbol appropriated by fascists. The real question, though, is whether or not Federle’s work should be taken as symbolic at all. An auxiliary selection of works on paper shows further engagement with signs and symbols, but they are not about reproducing fixed meanings. Rather they spring from an interest in seeing form free from preconceived ideas. What kind of expression does this produce? Amid its push and pull, Asian Sign is a work concerned with the moment that form becomes meaning, just as Federle’s work in general is about the moment that form becomes a manifestation of inner life.

This text was published in ArtReview, October 2019