We Need to Talk

Helmut Federle exhibiton Basel

In Covid times, some galleries are encouraging their audience to window shop. They put on the lights at night so that you can enjoy the exhibition. Does that work? I tried it one evening in Berlin – I went to see a painting behind the glass as I stood on the street. But what happened was that instead of being satisfied, my longing to move in closer and enjoy the real thing grew; I became aware of what I could not have. What can we do when art is not accessible and we are blocked from the regular format of gallery visits? Can we enjoy art in a different way?

Most lockdown policies imply that art is not essential or ‘system relevant.’ In the eyes of politicians, art is like the cherry on the cake. Nice and tasty, but you can do without it. Most people might even agree that it is more important to get vegetables, have soap, bread and milk, or even a bottle of wine, than to see art. But what if the situation lasts, which is the case in many countries? What happens when museums, galleries, and theatres stay closed for months? Life starts to become shallow, repetitive; people find themselves unmotivated or indifferent. It is taking too long. Art is not just a cherry, it is part of the fabric (or dough, if you wish) of culture: of reflecting the stressful times we live in, of phrasing ideals we share. Art, for instance, allows looking into people’s problems with a refreshing distance; it can offer a reflective space or a shift in perspective and the possibility to engage with the irrational and unconscious. It invites and reminds us to be more than just a functional, economic being that eats, sleeps and works.

Read the full text on Arterritory

Gerlind Zeilner

painting by Gerlind Zeilner artist from Vienna

Till February 26, 2021, Gerlind Zeilner shows in Los Angeles. Her first exhibition at Nino Mier gallery is called ‘Open End’. For more insight into the practice of the Vienna based artist, there is the book Gerlind Zeilner, Cowgirls, published in 2020 on the occasion of her exhibition at the Halle für Kunst und Medien in Graz, Austria. A fragment from the book you find here:

“What do lines express, apart from being an instrument to depict an object or landscape, or connect things?  Do they have an expression of themselves? There can be something nervous about the lines in Zeilner’s painting, just the way they are drawn expresses sensitivity for nuance and contradictions. There is often change of color in one ongoing line, there is hesitation in the execution, the artist did not want to look things all straight and doubtless. While the world can presents itself as busy and overwhelming, the task of the artist here, seems to be to cope with that, to brings things down to a manageable and insightful level. Painting could be: to show some kind of order within the multitude of forms and phenomena. To slow down the endless threads of stories that surround us, and can easily carry us away.  

Zeilner’s way of ‘drawing painting’ evokes proximity, it gives a sense of immediate touch. As if we can feel, through the lines, that the artist touched the material, while defining forms. I see a special power of Zeilner’s work in this haptic quality, combined with her typical gesture that provides us with a kind of thinking out loud of the hand. The resulting aesthetics is active and vivid; it makes what we usually regard as solid forms (the structure of a café interior, with all its furniture for instance) as an open, moving, transparent and energetic situation. This vividness is underlined through the fact that the works remain unresolved. There are always areas where something still needs to be to filled in, to be completed by the beholder.”

From the essay ‘Walking the Line’ by Jurriaan Benschop published in Gerlind Zeilner, 2020, Verlag für Moderne Kunst, Vienna. You can visit the website of the artist here. To see views from the exhibition at Nino Mier gallery in Los Angels, click here.

Listen to Your Eyes at Voorlinden

Exhibition Listen to Your Eyes at Museum Voorlinden, Netherlands, Juan Munoz, Bridget Riley, review by Jurriaan Benschop

Even though he is its founder, Joop van Caldenborgh is usually not the one curating the presentations at Museum Voorlinden in The Netherlands. Yet on the occasion of this 80th birthday last autumn, he made an exception and designed his favorite trail through the collection, resulting in the exhibition Listen to Your Eyes. Which works did he choose from all of those that he had chosen once before, one after the other, over many decades?

Standing in front of a large Alex Katz painting, Van Caldenborgh says that artists such as Katz taught him to think “outside the box”. “There is something about artists that is weird or unadapted. Otherwise it doesn’t work. As a businessman, when I started collecting, I was not used to that.” Katz’s Twelve Hours (1984) consists of four connected panels that each show three people in social interaction. The flatness of Katz’s paintings is at work both on a formal and a psychological level – his figures are in lively conversation, yet they remain detached in terms of who they are or what they think. The museum has more paintings by Katz, and plans to present a solo exhibition of his work next year. After presentations of works by Ellsworth Kelly (in 2016) and Jonas Wood (in 2018) and Wayne Thiebaud (in 2018), Katz will be the fourth American painter whose work will be highlighted at Voorlinden.

Preferences change over the years, and Van Caldenborgh, who has collected for more than 60 years, cannot be expected to stay committed to all of the artists whose works he has acquired. Yet he likes to follow certain artists as he believes in their enterprise. This has been the case with Dutch painter Philip Akkerman, who has been painting his own self-portrait since the 1980s – it is his only and daily motif. Van Caldenborgh visits the artist once a year to pick some works. The collector likes art with a twist, be it through a rigid concept like Akkerman’s, or presented as a visual punch, like in Erwin Wurm’s Pudelhaube (2019) – an oversized beanie under which visitors can stand and appear to have “lost their head”, or which can also be contemplated as a soft sculpture in itself.

A pre-Columbian piece of fabric, possibly 1400 years old (maker unknown) and depicting a checkerboard pattern of colors, hangs in a room with works by Ryan Gander, Thomas Demand and Alberto Burri. It looks like an intimate abstract painting. It is possible to relate the delicate textile piece to the work of Burri, in which surface and materiality are most important, even though the context in which these objects were made are worlds apart. By introducing an ancient artifact in the context of contemporary art, Van Caldenborgh shows that he has himself learned to think “outside the box”. He listens to his eyes indeed.

Tjebbe Beekman’s painting Abstellraum (2006) was made during the period in which the artist lived in Berlin – he was fascinated by how history was so very present in the buildings and city spaces he visited. Van Caldenborgh suggests that this painting of a storage room could be regarded as an inversion of Luc Tuymans’ approach. While Tuymans paints scenes that seem innocent, but hide a dark or unsettling (war) history, in Beekman’s painting it seems that we are looking at a dark and charged atmosphere even though it is, in fact, just an ‘innocent’ space adjacent to a Berlin beer garden that the artist noticed one day. It offers a moment to reflect on the importance of things that are not always visible in a painting.

Listen to Your Eyes shows a bit of everything. Most artists represented in the collection have at least one piece in the show, which allows for displaying the diversity of the collection. Van Caldenborgh seems to follow the thread of previous collection presentations curated by museum staff. Such an approach is good for raising the visitor’s curiosity and can lead to discovering artists that are new to them, but it is less accommodating in terms of getting a deeper sense of an artist’s mentality, obtaining an understanding of the context in which a work was developed, or developing a dialogue between artists. It is hard to develop lasting storylines with so many different types of works.

At first sight you would not think that Liza Lou’s wall piece Pannus (2018) is made of little beads, as it looks more like a collection of hanging fabrics. The artist works with collectives of women in South Africa to conceive highly labor-intensive handmade pieces and installations. The shared manual work is about more than just producing an object or an installation: for the artist, it is about labor conditions and about the question of how immaterial qualities like empathy can become part of both the artistic process and what we are looking at. The work of Lou is presented in the seventh and last room of the exhibition, which is my favorite room as I feel that here the works relate to each other in a way that adds to their individual meaning.

Nils Völker has made a kinetic sculpture – miniature pinwheels (the colorful ones children play with) mounted on the wall in the form of a circle. Powered by electricity, the pinwheels begin to spin every now and then and in different rhythms, thereby causing a visual play. To place this lighthearted work next to a painting by a grand old lady of abstraction, Bridget Riley, might be considered daring – but it works. Both artists – again, worlds apart – embrace the pleasure of looking at things, and present their fascination for optics. A dynamic quality is something Riley always looked for in the stationary medium of painting: to make the canvas vibrate and active through various color combinations. Looking at something is a work that is never finished.

A sculpture by the late Juan Muñoz completes the scene, and brings in a figurative element in a room with mostly abstract works. Two bronze figures lean towards one another in conversation. The figures are smaller than life-size, and instead of having legs, each one ‘sits’ atop a bulbous base. They are half human, half something else. Muñoz’s figures have the ability to change the atmosphere in the room, mixing beauty with a sense of secrecy and melancholy. They transform the room into a stage where the visitor is complicit, but without saying in exactly what.

“Listen to Your Eyes” will be on view through 5 September 2021 at Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, The Netherlands. This text was first published on Arterritory on January 19th, 2021

Glenn Brown in Berlin

Glenn Brown exhibitioin at Max Hetzler gallery Berlin

Since his appearance on the 1990’s London art scene, Glenn Brown has been in an ongoing dialogue with his predecessors, without being afraid of mutilating his examples or pushing aspects of their work to the limits through stylish deviation and exaggeration. For his exhibition And thus we existed, the artist presents 17 recent paintings that are loosely based on historical figure drawings, alongside six paint-based sculptures. 

Multiple sources often come together in one painting, such as in the green Bring on the Headless Horses (2020), which projects a seated nude over a Hercules figure, intertwining them. This piece is based on works by two 17th– and 18th-century artists (Mr. Brown usually prefers not to disclose the names of his sources, unless of course they are mentioned in the title), but it also references the artist’s own previous work.

Seeing a painting by Glenn Brown is like watching a peacock opening its tail. It is full of proud beauty, carefully orchestrated colors, and within the repeating patterns there are many little “eyes” hidden in the paint, in curving lines. Sometimes they are intentionally meant as eyes, but they are often just blinking moments that draw the attention into the dense figuration, creating anchor points in what seems an overwhelming and cluttered play of lines and colors around a human figure. For the current exhibition Brown was apparently triggered by the multitude of curving, shorter and longer lines that can be found in drawings. He uses them to shape his figures, serving representation, but he also lets them shine as free-moving ornaments in a rich display of color and paint.

Seeing these works, I wondered if the artist considered a path through each of them, in terms of where to start looking, where to continue, and where to leave the painting. Some shops make customers go through their offer in just such a prescribed way. There is no way to find what you are looking for without passing a variety of other offers that call for your attention. In Brown’s case, there are many distractions to look at, and the viewer might wonder if there is a point at which everything comes together. Looking for meaning here feels like a game of a hide-and-seek, in which everything is curling and swirling, in which figures are appearing and disappearing, and the image never comes to rest. 

It is interesting how different the temperaments of the individual works are – ranging from light and airy, to melancholic or tormented – while sharing the same compositional principles. Color seems to be the decisive factor here, giving each work its own pitch. Some small paintings though, like Drawing 9 (After Baselitz) (2017), stand out without (or with just a little) color, and for their dynamics, rely on the contrast between black and white, and between dense and emptier areas. The play of lines in this work is reminiscent of a detailed mountain map where differences in elevation are indicated, even though the actual image is that of a face.

There is not one way to go through the paintings – there are endless ways, and I figure that the artist conceived his work rather purposely in such a way that it is not easy to find an exit. Yet, he gives us some spots that serve well as entrances, like a single red shape against a green, forming a hand, or the blinking eyes that pull attention like a vortex. Once inside the painting, the eye keeps wandering, moving over to an opposite color, or looking for a repetition of the same blue. Everything is connected, yet everything is also loose and by itself. Mr. Brown succeeds in evoking a restless dynamic in a medium that is often thought of as stationary. The many hours of meticulous labor invested in getting at this result has its counterpart in the time needed to “read” and experience the painting fully. There is not one single image – there are many brought together into one painting under the pretext of depicting a figure.

–Jurriaan Benschop

On view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin, untill 23 January 2021 (due to covid by appointment only)

Other Reviews

Riga Biennial 2020

Riga Biennial 2020, work by Valdis Celms

Due to the pandemic, the second edition of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA) opened months later than planned, and only for a short time. Covid-19 became co-author of the biennial, it says in the introductory text written by curator Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, because works had to be adapted, but also because the perspective on art has changed. Since the onset of the virus, the world is no longer the same.

The curator designed a storyline about the end of the world – or rather, about the end of worlds, or eras. In doing so, she taps into the history of the host country, Latvia, which has experienced many end times due to occupation and crisis. But also in a broader sense, she was looking for artists who convey a sense of the end times, or who feel the pulse of our remarkable time. The title, and suddenly it all blossoms, came somewhat out of the blue. RIBOCA 2 is a restrained, carefully composed exhibition that has its moments, but cheerful is not the right word to characterize the show. It is rather grim and dark. Seldom it reminds us of spring or blossoms. Instead it has a focus on depicting change and exposing connections.

The biennial takes place in Andrejsala, a former harbor area of Riga. Entering the first hangar building you see in big colorful letters the words “LIFE TIME.” It is probably the most frivolous moment of the show. It is one of Ugo Rondinone’s Rainbow Poems that, as Lamarche-Vadel points out, “urges you to enjoy the moment, but at the same time asks what you do with the time you have been given.” In the next room, the American artist Bridget Polk is busy stacking sculptures made from pieces of stone. They are vertical, balancing works, which sometimes only remain upright for a short time. They are not meant to last. Polk is a former drug and alcohol addict who, as she remarked, found a healthy addiction in “rock balancing” and who, by being invited to participate in RIBOCA, suddenly entered the international art scene. Her work is about being in the moment, and mixing with the material.

With this prelude, the curator sets the tone when it comes to the question of what art is. She likes to incorporate work that has not yet existed in an art context. And she seems not keen on showing work that might look like classical scultpure. It is in the spirit of Duchamp, rather than Brancusi. Aesthetically (or also: anti-aesthetically), Polk’s work fits into the post-industrial landscape of debris, abandoned buildings, and concrete overgrown with plants. The curator sees Polk’s Sisyphian attitude as the epitome of what being an artist means: the stone is lifted up again and again, and then falls back, starting over.

More than 2000 tree trunks float in one of the harbor basins. The work Currents, by Lina Lapelyté and Mantas Petraitis, is a reminder that we are in Latvia, a country that consists more than half of forest, and where logging has been important since the Middle Ages. In the old days, logs were transported on the flow of the river. This came to an end in 1974, when a dam was built near Riga for a new hydropower plant. It is not the only work in this biennial that refers to the history of Latvia and the strong connection that the Latvians have with nature, which is also reflected in songs and poetry. Every Latvian has a home somewhere in the countryside to retire to, and in the recent lockdown, this was appreciated even more. “Latvians know the forest like no other,” says Lamarche-Vadel. “They know every plant and its workings.” The taste and medicinal effects of plants are also discussed in the biennial.

The main location is a former harbor building, a concrete colossus where hardly any daylight penetrates. Pigeons crawl in through broken windows, and the interventions required for RIBOCA have deliberately been kept visible: the rubble from the knocked-out walls is still on the floor next to the doorways. Lamarche-Vadel does not want the exhibition to be a closed castle, but seeks a porous model that is open to society. The inhabitants of Riga appreciate that this building and this part of the city can now be re-entered; it attracts the curious, but there are also critical voices who find the post-industrial Tarkovsky atmosphere of the site depressing, and serving the cliché of the post-Soviet landscape too much.

Andrejsala is also the location where a new contemporary art museum had been planned. Rem Koolhaas’s design from 2006 had been approved by the Riga city council, but then the financial crisis came, and it remained a dream. In Koolhaas’s design, the white-cube needs of the museum were balanced with the presence of history on this location. RIBOCA mainly focuses on the latter. The harbor building is a black box where works of art become visible in theatrical lighting. The setting recalls the ninth edition of Manifesta, which played on the post-industrial landscape in the Belgian city of Genk in 2012, and at the same time thematized it as an end time.

In terms of theory, Lamarche-Vadel was inspired by Les trois écologies of the French thinker Félix Guattari, a 1989 text that paints a dark picture of the current state of capitalism that rules us, and in which old binary contradictions, such as those between the first and third world, have given way to multipolar, difficult-to-fathom networks. “Nothing can happen before the mental ecology happens,” says Lamarche-Vadel. “First we have to understand our situation, where we place ourselves as humans.” She thereby also sketches the framework of her exhibition, and the potential that she sees in art. Change, she pictures, can only come from art.

The fact that Covid-19 presented itself as co-author of the exhibition takes revenge at times. To view the artifacts that Tomás Saraceno would have used for fossil-free travel from Berlin to Riga is informative, but does not make an exciting work of art. The dialogue that Pawel Althamer had foreseen with the audience does not show in the corona version consisting of some photocopies on the floor. Disappointingly, the sculptural installations that are unaffected by Covid-19 are also not able to steal the show, with a few exceptions, such as the gigantic kinetic sculpture Positron by Valdis Celms. Originally designed in 1976, it was intended for a factory in Ukraine, to strengthen workers’ morale. However, it only ended up being produced now, for this biennial. 

The fact that the exhibition in the main building nevertheless gains in concentration and depth is mainly due to the films. First, there is a dark and slow film by Pierre Huyghe, which microscopically zooms in on a piece of amber (abundant in Latvia) and which contains information about ancient plants and animals. Moments later, a video by Brussels-based Eva L’Hoest, The Inmost Cell, takes the viewer on a journey beneath the surface of the Western Daugava River, past underwater ruins. Here, an archeology of “an end time” is conducted with a virtual camera, in which transformations such as between waving water and grass run smoothly. Everything flows and is part of an enchanting continuum. The film Présage – SiO2, by Hicham Berrada, brings us underwater again, and we see how natural and chemical materials collect on the bottom of a glass tank, and how they react with each other. While looking at it, you get the feeling that the beauty is caused by the pollution.

In the film contributions to this biennial, you can feel how artists become fascinated and enchanted by material, and how the material world is full of life and connections – full of beauty, but also connected with politics and corruption. People play a role in this, but they certainly do not play the leading role. An interesting aspect of the exhibition is how humans are put into perspective, and how other forms of life are put in the spotlight instead.

A cinematic highlight is Eglé Budvytyté’s Songs from the Compost: Mutating Bodies, Imploding Stars, in which a group of teenagers move like insects (or are they cyborgs?) through a landscape of forest and beach. In the choreography of moving bodies, the youngsters are one moment draped limply like dishcloths, while the next moment moving on all fours through the sand, with optimal body tension, like a scorpion on the beach. In previous performances, the artist had already shown her eye for the finer points of body language, and how it can tell something about politics, beliefs, and identity. And how strength and fragility are linked. In this case, man appears as one of several variants of life; you could also see the suggestion of a post-human time.

A succession of cinematic works with overlapping themes creates, throughout the biennial, the feeling of looking at a film of life, with a corresponding soundtrack. Even though they are made by different artists, the films share muted colors and subdued sounds, but each in its own way is refined, attentive, and precise. In the choice of cinematic works, an aesthetic vision unfolds, and an ode to the object and to the material world. Curiously enough, this does not not primarily happen through sculpture, but rather through this detour of film and video. 

The film Atomic by the artist collective Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen tells the story of a jewel made of tritium, a material that was created as a by-product of nuclear tests. A nicely dressed, somewhat bored woman walks around with the jewel, taking in the admiration, and amused by the fact that people do not know what deadly beauty they are attracted to. 

When it became clear that the coronavirus would prevent the planned summer-long biennial, the curator decided to make a film of the whole project. This choice surprised me at first, as it seems difficult, if not impossible, to convey in film the experience of visiting such a large-scale exhibition. Yet, considering that within the biennial, the cinematic works make the biggest impression, it could work out as a nice surprise. Lamarche-Vadel herself calls the (still to be presented) RIBOCA film an additional work – it should not be seen as a documentary that can replace the exhibition. However, it may help the survival of  an event that many eyes have missed due to Covid19.

An earlier version of this text was published in Dutch in HART magazine (Belgium) Nr. 207, 7 October 2020.

‘A Matter of Touch’ at Torstrasse 111 in Berlin

A Matter of Touch, Exhibition - Curated by Jurriaan Benschop.

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

Exhibition from 16 July till 30 August 2020.

Image above: installation view with works by Rubica von Streng and Nikos Aslanidis.

MORE exhibition views

Painting Exhibition A Matter of Touch, exhibition view, Adrienne Elyse Meyers, Rubica von Streng, Jurriaan Benschop
Exhibition A Matter of Touch, works by Adrienne Elyse Meyers (back) and Rubica von Streng (front)

Studio Talk with Daniel Richter

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. (….)

Jurriaan Benschop spoke with Daniel Richter in his studio in Berlin about the paintings for his exhibition in Salzburg at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery. Below you can see a fragment of the conversation.

Video interview

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.

–Jurriaan Benschop

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 Jurriaan will be at ‘Publics’ in Helsinki for a talk about his book ‘Salt in the Wound. Encountering Contemporary Artists across Europe.” It starts at 6 pm and the entrance is free. This evening he 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?

Visit website Publics

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 has his first institutional solo exhibition in Germany, ‘Corpora’ at the Emsdettner Kunstverein up till 15 March 2020. Jurriaan Benschop will introduce the work of the artist at the opening on 2 February 2020.