Ah, the summer group show. The irreverent member of the gallery calendar, it can run the gamut from an inspiring outlook on emerging talent to an over-intellectualized love child of gallerists and part-time curators alike. Often, it’s a little of both. Yet, somehow I still look forward to these unwieldy offerings each year, figuring, at the very least, I’ll come out with some status quo of the young and unsigned and the older and under-shown. Usually it works out. So, when I was sifting through the list of Berlin’s offerings for the season, ranging from peep shows to relational drawing (Rirkrit Tiravanija with a sketch pad—probably not), I was intrigued by the utter simplicity of Johann König’s offering: Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials - typically stone such as marble - or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials ("plastic") can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals. Interesting, I thought, do a group show around art’s most variable discipline simply by pointing out its point-blank variability.
All conceptual curation aside, the exhibition is, in fact, probably the best of the summer’s offerings that I’ve seen. Somehow, through not trying, at least in outward appearance, König has managed to create a compellingly cohesive exhibition. None of the works, save perhaps Phyllida Barlow’s imposing lattice-like wall, detracts from the others, a feat for a sculpture show not benefiting from a cavernous, Chelsea gallery space. Of the sixteen works on view, four stood out in particular, somewhat surprisingly the most minimally intrusive of any in the exhibition.
Emerging French artist Agathe Fleury’s bridge of euro coins, équivoque, 2010 traverses an unused passageway off of the main gallery as if a golden doorframe. Though obviously engaging in a conversation with other precarious architectural interventions, the piece doesn’t exactly speak the language fluently. Rather than intervening with the space around it, equivoque intervenes with it’s own materiality. It takes metal coins and makes feathers of them. Though perhaps not the initial intention, within current contexts, it serves as a beautiful allegory to the great questions facing the pan-European currency.
Michel François’ Model 8, 2006 sits precariously in the center of the main gallery like an upside-down leaning tower of Pisa. François’ method of pouring plaster over quotidian objects gives the sculpture an enthralling quality. Each layer within the piece pulls you in to look deeper. The aim seems somewhat meta, making the viewer inspect the work in it’s most minute characteristics, in opposition to the often monolithic constructions of contemporary sculpture.
Untitled (Contained Explosions #3), 2010, Jason Kraus’ contribution to the exhibition yields no immediate explanation for its glass cubes frosted appearance and blown-out side. A closer look through the void reveals the spent remnants of a firework. The piece is equal parts comical and disturbing. On one hand it resembles the handy-work of a teenage boy left to his own devices for a bit too long, and on the other it encapsulates the violent power of explosives on a micro level. I found this documentarian liminiality made the piece particularly compelling.
Though turning a painting around to show it’s back to the gallery or leaving a sculpture in it’s shipping container is not perhaps a novel concept, Johannes Wald’s execution in Untitled (Studying the Greeks Grace #12), 2010 really captured the gesture’s intention in a way I haven’t seen in quite some time. Wald’s double-exposure of his classically rendered ceramic head and its model speaks interestingly to the process oriented nature of the work. As the physical, final piece is hidden from view in a crate—or perhaps does not exist at all—the work is imminently about its creation rather than a product itself. It reads both as a commercial critique and one of conceptions of classical beauty and aesthetics in a contemporary setting.
There isn’t a real dud in the entirety of the exhibition. They’ve tamed the group show into an undeniably mature, refined beast. Refreshing, yes, but, don’t get me wrong; peep shows are fun too.
~Alexander Forbes, a writer living in Berlin.
(Images:Johannes Wald, Untitled (Studying the Greeks Grace #12),2010, black white silver gelatin photograph, framed, wood, concrete, format variable; Agathe Fleury, équivoque,2010, bowed stack of euro coins, format variable; Michel Francois, Model 8, 2006, plaster, 68 x 22 x 22 cm 26 3/4 x 8 3/4 x 8 3/4 in; Jason Kraus, Untitled (Contained Explosions #3), 2010, fireworks, glass, wood, 31,8 x 35,56 x 35,6 cm 12 1/2 x 14 x 14 in; Courtesy of Johann König, Berlin)