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Carsten Höller
Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX, United Kingdom
June 10, 2015 - September 6, 2015

Carsten Höller: Like a Fun Fair, Without the Fun
by James Loks

“Like a fun fair, but without the fun” was the quote from one of my companions at the Carsten Höller exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London. And it’s a fair enough point: the slide is a bit wobbly and not very fast. The upside down goggles didn’t fit me properly and so primarily showed a slice of uncharacteristically blue London sky, that no matter how many times I reminded myself to look up to look down, it still didn’t fully challenge normative expectations of my vision. And as for the flying over the streets of London, first of all, you weren’t flying: you were revolving slowly suspended from a metal arm. You also weren’t over the streets of London, you were on a balcony of the Hayward. And finally, the queue was over an hour long, despite our visit being on a Monday. So we didn’t go on it.

Carsten Höller, Two Flying Machines, 2015 © Carsten Höller. Installation View Carsten Höller: Decision, Hayward Gallery, London 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo © Ela Bialkowska, OKNO studio


If you want a fun fair, go to the fun fair. This is lame in comparison. Which still doesn’t stop it from being a whole lot more fun than your average art show, irrespective of what side of the inevitable “but is it art?” conversation you come down on. For me, it’s a pretty valid gesture to consider the creation of an "experience" for the viewer/participant as an artistic gesture, no matter how loose, woolly, and open to hysterical tabloid-esque denigration that idea might be. I suppose the caveat is that it gets termed an "art experience," not just any old experience, but it’s interesting to consider just what that might be. What makes an experience "artistic," after all?

Carsten Höller, Decision Corridors, 2015. © Carsten Höller. Produced with HangarBicocca, Milano. Installation view: Carsten Höller: Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015. Photo © David Levene


I’m not going to answer this question, merely leave it hanging uncomfortably, and perhaps if anyone really wants to get stuck in, they can do it in the comments section. I will mention, however, that the first thing it calls to my mind is the experience of sitting drinking a tin of lager on an East London street (with a friend–I'm not rock bottom, yet) while watching a pigeon peck away the center of a cheap piece of white bread, ending in such a frenzy of pecking that it managed to flip the still intact crust over its head so that it was wearing it like a necklace, thus burdening itself with adornment now no longer accessible to pecking, and heavy enough to prevent the bird from taking flight. Profound, I know. 

Carsten Holler, Isomeric Slides, 2015, Installation view: Carsten Höller: Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015. Courtesy the artist and LUMA Foundation, Arles. Photo © David Levene


While I don’t know if Höller is simply providing cheap thrills for cosseted urbanites with lives so anodyne that a slip on a slide signifies a major departure from reality, I do know there are some good pieces in here. Notably I found myself drawn to the quieter ones, Two Roaming Beds and Pill Clock being good examples. In the former, two hospital beds slowly track around the gallery on mechanized units. Their movement is apparently random, but I was certainly lead to believe that they actually come and nuzzle up to you like a very slow, lonely puppy (apparently people actually sleep in the beds at night). In the latter, a red and white pill is released from a perspex box on the upper floor, and falls onto a pile on the lower floor. You can take one of the pills if you want, but not disturb the pile (that to me looked a little too neat). The only disappointment with this experience was when we asked the guard what the pills did, he couldn’t come up with anything more original than tell us it was a placebo. Think of the possibilities… 

Carsten Höller, TwoRoaming Beds (Grey), 2015. Produced with Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, and HangarBicocca, Milano. Installation view: Carsten Höller: Decision, Hayward Gallery, London, 2015.  Photo: © David Levene


Perhaps the ultimate problem with this show is the strongest artwork is the very first thing you see: Decision corridors is awesome. Wobbling down a pitch black corridor through a number of diorientating turns and unexpected risings and fallings unquestionably feels like an "art experience." But some of the others leave you in doubt.


James Loks


(Image at the top: Carsten Höller, Pill Clock © Carsten-Höller, Installation View Carsten-Höller Decision Hayward Gallery London 2015. Courtesy the artist Photo © Linda Nylind)

Posted by James Loks on 7/6 | tags: installation sculpture hayward gallery experiential art Spectacle slides carsten höller art experience

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John Waters
Sprüth Magers London
7A Grafton Street, London W1S 4EJ, United Kingdom
July 1, 2015 - August 15, 2015

Here's Johnny
by Philippa Snow

Look, here's the thing: under certain circumstances (in a court of law, in matters of dress, in affairs of the heart) I believe in being totally up-front and honest, which is why I believe that I should tell you from the outset that I am absolutely crazy about John Waters. I mean to say: I actually once came very close to having the man's initials permanently tattooed onto my bicep after a meet 'n' greet. That was back, I think, in 2012, when my body was a slightly more worthy vessel to be etched on, and it offered up a very slightly more exclusive and less expansive portfolio of real estate. I know for certain that he etches in his pencil moustache with Maybelline liner in “Velvet Black,” (though I can scarcely remember a word of the French that I learned for years). Whenever a famous person dies, I'm also struck by a vaguely psychopathic realization that I will one day live in a Watersless world, and I'm not prepared for it. I mean it! I'm sick! But that's kind of the point. The sick ones are John Waters' target audience. I wish he'd stay—yes, seriously—69-years-old in aspic.

 John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012 C-Print © John Waters, Courtesy the artist and  Sprüth Magers


In Beverly Hills John at Sprüth Magers, London, anyway, we find him posing unusual questions. What if the dog who played Lassie had facial rejuvenation surgery? What if Justin Bieber had the eerie, unnatural proportions of Jocelyn Wildenstein? What if—I don't know—a colossal ruler was manufactured in order to make a joke about the size of Fellini's dick? The real joy of his work, both as a filmmaker and as a visual artist, is the way in which Waters manages, always, to be both bawdily dumb and left-wing highbrow at the same time; the way in which, say, Hairspray manages to be a sweet cult classic which has birthed a Broadway musical, and a film with a far more cynical, smart and nuanced view of white white-knighting than many viewers give credit for (“Tracy,” opines Tracy Turnblad's boyfriend, “our souls are black, even if our skin is white”—tempting as it may be, I'll avoid invoking Rachel Dolezal, here, for the sake of my sanity).

 John Waters, Reconstructed Lassie, 2012, C-Print © John Waters, Courtesy the artist and  Sprüth Magers


An image of a famous dog with a Photoshopped facelift is funny, yes, but also asks: is this Hollywood? Is this America? Where does this nightmare really end? Death looms over Kennedy and Onassis. Ansel Adams is slapped with the open palms of progress. Dick Van Dyke is transfigured into &c. &c. You get the picture, I'm certain. In truth, I believe that John Waters likes and loathes the movie “biz” and its players and pawns just as much as I do: that, like myself, he is hungry for new camp icons, just as he points out the system's well-worn hypocrisy and its rank injustice. Glamor is damaging, but it is also hard to resist; the juxtaposition of the B-Movie title “She Shoulda Said NO!” with the smeared and frightened face of Amy Winehouse—a coulda-been Dreamlander—is poignant and lovely and terrible.

 John Waters, Mom and Dad, 2014, 3 C-Prints, © John Waters, Courtesy the artist and  Sprüth Magers


One last thing: even as this exhibition combines a number of “loves” (namely plastic surgery, celebrities, and spoof pornographic movie titles), I am forced to admit that it also uses—as a kind of ironic device—one of my greatest turn-offs: children. In Kiddie Flamingos, a group of children offer up a table-reading of Waters' most iconic film. I get the juxtaposition, of course, but the fact is that anything “kiddie” will almost always leave me cold. Perhaps I am simply jealous of the adulation they receive for being small and uncoordinated and seeming inebriated when I am given no praise at all for the same achievements myself; or perhaps the world of the traditional heterosexual is a sick and boring life, and I am right to resist it. As a means of making personal peace, I tell myself, sometimes, that the absence of filth is the filthiest thing of all. In making a PG-rated version of a film where the lead eats real shit, Waters has outdone himself.  


Philippa Snow


(Image at the top: John Waters, Congratulations, 2014 C-Print © John Waters, Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers)

Posted by Philippa Snow on 7/7 | tags: photography camp plastic surgery kitsch film John Waters

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Between Mock Ruin and Imagined Emergency
by Marianne Templeton

In a recent lecture on the work of Harun Farocki, Thomas Elsaesser proposed that in a time pervaded by performative approaches to social life, “we are all now insurance companies, risk-assessing a world of catastrophe and danger.”[1] This statement connects Farocki's notion of operational images with Ulrich Beck's concept of a risk society, while also alluding to current states of precariousness and self-regulation, and a resurgent popular fascination with narratives and images of disaster. It is thus a catalyst for thinking about the space (and time) between risk and ruin, and how this aperture might be navigated using strategies of rehearsal and prefiguration.

The figure of the risk-assessor channels what Anthony Vidler identifies as “the repressed master discourse of the twentieth century: not the trauma of past loss, but the anticipatory fear of future loss.”[2] In a risk society, this “anticipatory fear” is exacerbated by society's inability to either control or fully comprehend the destructive consequences generated by its internally manufactured risks (i.e., risks resulting from human decisions and technologies, as opposed to natural causes). These “unknowable” anthropogenic hazards are not contained by geographic or temporal boundaries; they reiterate global interconnectivity, while paving the way for “organized irresponsibility” (i.e. the denial of accountability) amongst political, corporate and social bodies at all levels. Inevitably, one is reminded of the 2002 U.S. Department of Defense press briefing in which Donald Rumsfeld responded to questioning about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with his now infamous statement about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.[3]

In a risk society, to what extent does increased insecurity and concern for safety trigger precautionary behavior—such as a desire for instruction and preparation, to counteract the realization that the only certainty is uncertainty? Fear begets violence, which begets fear. Do rehearsals, re-enactments, and contingency plans act as placebos, indoctrination, or minor reassurances in the face of an uncertain future? Certainly they have been hot currency in the art world in recent years, from Tom McCarthy's Remainder (2005) to Omer Fast's Nostalgia (2009). The trend is perhaps reaching its apex with Fast's forthcoming feature film adaptation of McCarthy's novel.

In a 2014 interview, Elsaesser discussed Farocki's fascination with images of “role-play, test-drives, drills and rehearsals of emergency situations” and other methods of “rehearsing (for) living” that have migrated from specialist industries “into everyday life, either in the name of self-improvement and optimization, or for the sake of risk aversion and security.” Farocki termed these “operational images”—images that instruct or initiate action. They are produced to participate in a process rather than for aesthetic value.

Installation view of Harun Farocki: Vision. Production. Oppression. at MUAC, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2014. Photo Mariana Rentería


Farocki makes visible the repetition required to create and calibrate operational images, from the construction of advertising spreads in Ein Bild (1983) and Stilleben (1997); to the instructional training films of Leben: BRD (1990) and Was ist los (1991); and the military video games of Serious Games I-IV (2009-10) and Parallel I-IV (2012-14). Over the course of decades, he documented a transition from instructional image/video to participatory game, reflecting technological advancements and “a new generation of users who want to click on images, not just look at them.”[4] As the latter works show, operational images have long been intimately connected to warfare, military training, and now the rehabilitation of soldiers. Video game rehearsals act as virtual conditioning for the trauma of violent combat; video game re-enactments provide the subsequent therapy for post-traumatic stress disorders. Images prepare for physical risk, and treat psychological ruin. 

Damage Caused by V2 Rocket Attacks in Britain, 1945. Ruined flats in Limehouse, East London, following the explosion of the last German V2 rocket to fall on London. Courtesy Imperial War Museum


Rehearsal and disaster are historically intertwined in the genre of “future ruins,” fantasies of imagined catastrophe and decay visited upon famous or familiar sites. This tradition became fashionable in the eighteenth century, immediately congealed into cliché, but never really dried out—just mutated from Hubert Robert's picturesque paintings of collapsed monuments, via Victorian allegories of anxiety over the end of empire, to modernist architecture cast as failed utopias, and now coffee-table books documenting the economic decline of Detroit through luxurious double-page spreads.[5] Disaster sells; prophecy and profit have an on-again, off-again relationship. Nina Dubin has pointed out that the emergence of “the cult of ruins coincided with [that of] of modern market structures,” noting that “market forces appear to have catalysed an awareness of contingency,” “unpredictable returns,” “the vicissitudes of credit,” and—for the real-estate entrepreneur—the lucrative potential of urban catastrophe. Like the still life or vanitas, the “future ruin” fuses aesthetics, economics, and ethics in a visualization of property ravaged by the sins and delusions of its owners: the Dorian Gray effect.

Brian Dillon—the go-to expert on ruination and co-curator of Tate Britain's popular 2014 exhibition Ruin Lustwrites that one reason for the enduring fascination of ruins is their ability to conjure an “intermediate moment” in which past, present, and future collapse. This compression of time, along with accompanying notions of fragmentation and entropy, are hallmarks of the patron saints of ruin in the contemporary art world: Robert Smithson—who coined the much-loved phrase “ruins in reverse” in his landmark 1967 photo-essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey—and JG Ballard, whose dystopian science fiction novels have alternately drowned, burned, and crystallized the world, experimenting with humanity's creative capacity for self-destruction. A film adaptation of Ballard's 1975 book High Rise—about the violent fate of residents of a tower block, whose social dynamic disintegrates in tandem with their desecration of the building—is scheduled for release within months of Fast's Remainder. High Rise casts gentrification as an anti-civilizing force, in which progress and regress converge to rot structures from within. 

Actual ruins are a rarity in London, surviving only through heritage listing and the whims of “urban regenerators.” Gentrification drives demolition and reconstruction at a cracking pace, often to the despair of existing residents. Narratives from contested zones are explored at the BFI next month in the short film programme "London as Battlefield," including screenings of John Smith's Blight (1996) and Concrete Heartland (2014) by Steven Ball and Rastko Novaković. In a consumer cycle predicated on planned obsolescence, structures are seldom allowed to reach ruin.

If there is no longer space or time for the ruin as real estate, will it expand into the virtual? Hito Steyerl's “poor image” is a digital ruin, degraded by constant circulation and the impact of numerous crops, filters, and compressions.[6] Here, ruin is produced through excessive love—uncontrollable memetic contagion.

Thomas Hirschhorn, In-Between, Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2015. Courtesy Thomas Hirschhorn. Photo Mark Blower


For In-Between, his current exhibition at the South London Gallery, Thomas Hirschhorn has also produced ruin—or rather, the appearance of it—through excessive love. Hirschhorn is a self-professed fan, and his relationship to philosophy, literature, vernacular culture, products, materials, and aesthetics are thoroughly fan-like—that is, dominated by the importance of displaying the fan's love and dedication through creative acts. This love must be indiscriminate or it isn't real love. Hence, the artist's rejection of the qualitative and embrace of the quantitative, evident in his mantra of “Energy: Yes! Quality: No!”

In the exhibition's accompanying artist's statement, Hirschhorn sets out the terms of his self-imposed challenge: to give form to destruction, ruin, and disaster, “precarious and floating but dense and charged.” In-Between resembles the set of a B-grade, post-apocalyptic science fiction film—cheap materials built into ruin; the set limited in space, but evoking an extreme scale of destruction and mass havoc. In the tradition of the depiction of future ruins, nothing has fallen: everything is placed. Yet rather than cashing in on the traumatic transformation of a well-known monument, In-Between is a composite image, unspecific, with no clear referents from which to be estranged.

The installation dips and juts, receding across the gallery in successive tiers of stage scenery. This compartmentalization creates a series of dead ends, often the remains of cubicle or cell-like structures fitted with toilets—for a moment, the work appears to be a destroyed prison block. This would be logical: In-Between is presided over by a bed-sheet banner bearing a single line from Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks, written during the Italian Marxist's near-decade of incarceration by Mussolini's Fascist regime. But what about the other furniture—desks, chairs, a broken IKEA bookcase? A tower block, then, mid-demolition—in reference to London's rabid housing bubble and aforementioned relentless gentrification. Yet there's also something of the ruined cathedral, the collapsed bunker, the Blitzed city street. The expanse of black fabric suspended above is both a starry night sky and a shrapnel-torn ceiling.

Thomas Hirschhorn, In-Between, Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2015. Courtesy Thomas Hirschhorn. Photo Mark Blower


The conflation of dead ends—“blocked passages”—and toilets again recalls John Smith's Blight, with its recurring motif of the toilet nested in the rubble of a partially demolished house. Waste is both a theme and a strategy for Hirschhorn, who desires to use “wastefulness as a tool or a weapon” by giving “too much” of his time and energy; by overproducing; by expending huge volumes of materials in his displays of enthusiasm; and by writing fervent artist's statements that provide too much information. Our treatment of waste reveals how we cope with the inevitable. To return to Beck: modernity's promise was to overcome natural disaster and mass wreckage with “more modernization and more progress... [but] in the age of risk the threats we are confronted with [are caused by] 'modernization' and 'progress' itself.” Globally, our response to mounting piles (and pits) of toxic, non-degradable waste is to create yet more waste. The writing's on the bed-sheet: “Destruction is difficult; indeed, it is as difficult as creation.”

Engaging the culture of uncertainty on its own terms, Hirschhorn short-circuits the relationship between progress and waste, success and failure, value and irrelevance, function and uselessness, urgency and stasis. Heavy things are made of light materials; new materials are made to look second-hand; the creative product masquerades as the aftermath of destruction. There are piles of carefully shaped cardboard rubble, painted matt grey or black, but no actual dirt or dust; all materials are manufactured—have undergone decades of complex engineering to look and be functional, reliable, simple. Brown packing tape, cardboard, cloth, Styrofoam, ducting hose, wires, toilets—materials that facilitate transit, wrapping, and disguise. Means to an end, used to construct an effigy of The End.

 Hubert Roberts, Imaginary View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Ruins1796


To aestheticize risk and ruin is truly an ambivalent gesture: it inevitably underestimates human suffering and trivializes horror. Gramsci was scathing on the subject: the authentic destroyer-creator is compelled by historical necessity, while the “self-proclaimed destroyer” attacks the material instead of the message, thus only effecting “unsuccessful abortions.”[7] Yet Hirschhorn courts this ambivalence as a necessity for operating “in-between” destruction and creation. As Svetlana Boym writes, “a tour of ruins leads you into a labyrinth of ambivalent language—no longer, not yet, nevertheless, albeit—that plays tricks with causality.”[8] Hirschhorn's guiding principle is intermediacy. Rather than attempting solidarity with the precariat, the artist's desire is to act out “the values of the precarious—uncertainty, instability, and self-authorization” through “hazardous, contradictory and hidden encounters,” and thus “to be awakened... to be attentive” to “the fragility of life.”[9] 

Painted ruins are discrete zones, regardless of the illusions wrought by crumbling edges and mist-veiled depth of field. Hirschhorn avoids external vantage points, hierarchies, and clear sight-lines. The physical distance required for traditional ruin-gazing is denied; rather, the (special) effect is of being surrounded by destruction, wandering through wreckage, minding one's head, hands and feet. In this hall of grand disaster, I find myself automatically risk-assessing perils so mild they are almost absurd: trip hazards; swooping cables of tape and card; unexpected contact with other life forms surveying the wasteland. The gap between my situation, and the experience of real ruin by others elsewhere in the world, suddenly feels embarrassingly wide.


Marianne Templeton


[1] Thomas Elsaesser, 'Simulation and the Labour of Invisibility: Harun Farocki's Life Manuals' presented at the symposium Life Remade: The Politics and Aesthetics of Animation, Simulation and Rendering, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, London, 5-6 June 2015.

[2] Anthony Vidler, 'Air War and Architecture' in Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle (eds), Ruins of Modernity, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2010, p32.

[3] Though already in usage in the field of risk analysis, these terms entered into popular consciousness as the prime example of 'Rumspeak'.

[4] Elsaesser, 2015, op. cit.

[5] A quick internet search locates illustrated titles such as Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins, The Ruins of Detroit, and Detroit Disassembled, all published in 2010—the same time that Jan Kempenaers' Spomenik sparked off a wave of photographic surveys of abandoned Soviet Modernism. 

[6] Steyerl also has an interest in operational images.

[7] Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Volume 3, Columbia University Press, New York, 2010, p25.

[8] Svetlana Boym, 'Ruins of the Avant-Garde: From Tatlin's Tower to Paper Architecture' in Hell and Schönle, op. cit., p58.

[9] Thomas Hirschhorn quoted in Hal Foster, 'Crossing Over: The Precarious Practice of Thomas Hirschhorn' in The Berlin Journal, no. 20, Spring 2011, pp28-30.


(Image at the top:  John Smith, film still from Blight, 1996. Courtesy John Smith)

Posted by Marianne Templeton on 7/15 | tags: video-art installation Thomas Hirschhorn future ruins risk society video games operational images harun farocki military waste

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Group Exhibition
Lisson Gallery
29 and 52-54 Bell Street, London NW1 5DA, United Kingdom
July 17, 2015 - September 5, 2015

Boys Against Girls
by James Loks

If you look out the window these days you can’t help but see boys, girls, and the political all manifest on the pavement, floating large as a topic within our cultural exchange: girls walking as boys, boys becoming girls, girls still so horribly un-/mis-represented in Hollywood that Jennifer Lawrence comes across as a goddess for acting like a normal human being. Etc. Besides asking if Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation isn’t the final act of masculine hegemony—something along the lines of "it takes a real man to be this good a woman"—it almost seems like there is little else to add to the conversation.

Which is good, because The boys, the girls, and the political at the Lisson Gallery London doesn’t try to do that. Instead, it plonks itself down in the middle of the babble and shows a bunch of good art. It’s the kind of exhibition that once you slow down from the street outside and give it a few moments to get working, it emerges as, by turns, sharp, funny, interesting, visually strong, and engaged: a suitable show for a London summer.

Richard Sides, narc, 2015, Laminated mixed media, Dimensions variable © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London


The women, and the men, whose art is shown here are as diverse as you’ll find, but—as a kind fatuous exercise—it’s fun to pair them off into neat little oppositions. Beatriz Olabarrieta’s precarious and intense installation, the interior of which materializes an uncomfortable anxious feeling of madness, and Richard Sides’ parallel piece, that throws you into a kind of teenager’s bedroom, the video and the wall pieces giving the world the sneering, disaffected attack of adolescence smarts; Ben Schumacher’s collaged paintings and installation/sculpture demands an anthropological investigation of production and labor, in comparison to Alice Theobald’s triptych video piece that comes across as a dissection of relationships lived in the city; Elaine Cameron-Weir’s decorative, fetishistic sculptures opposed to George Henry Longly’s lush threshold and polished marble wall pieces. 

It’s dumb to do this sure, the assignment of a set of dichotomic characteristics totally conforming to the normative restrictions of gender, and kind of what we’re all trying to struggle against, so it’s fitting then that the possibly the best, or at least the funniest, piece in the show is a collaboration between Lucy Beech and Edward Thomasson. Year Itch is a video where six very "normal" looking couples hilariously produce the soundscape of sex via various absurd physical actions. It captures a bit of our fascination with the whole thing in all its ridiculous wonderfulness: especially as everyone pulls their yoga mats from sight looking very pleased with themselves.

Jesper List Thomsen, 2015 wooden stretcher, plastic, industrial paint, tape, marker pen, acrylic paint
101.6 x 152.4 cm © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London 


The eponymous work of this show maybe pulls the whole thing together: Jesper List Thomson’s The boys, the girls, and the political, a wall piece where a protruding form dallies just inside the threshold of an encircling receptacle, each seeming a little uncertain of what to do; maybe lays it out there, if not in the title, the definite article and oxford comma reinforcing separation of something that might not be, in fact, so separate.


James Loks


(Image at the top:  Alice Theobald, And the Wanderers Wandering at the Wonders of Themselves, 2015 3 x channel HD 16:9 video in 3 parts Scene One: 10'11" Scene Two: 10'12" Scene Three: 10'44" © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London)

Posted by James Loks on 7/21

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Group Exhibition
Ronchini Gallery
22 Dering Street, , London W1S 1AN, United Kingdom
July 2, 2015 - August 29, 2015

Kamiar Maleki Turns a Passion for Collecting into an Exhibition—with an #InstagramTwist
by Natalie Hegert

They say that for an art collection to have impact it must have a strong focus, a direction. For London-based collector and patron Kamiar Maleki, son of mega collectors Fatima and Eskander Maleki, that direction is found in the works of emerging artists, primarily young abstract painters. He’s looking for works that, in some way, speak to our time. And since digital media and social networking primarily characterize our time, for Maleki’s inaugural exhibition as curator he has put together a group of abstract paintings that look really, really good online (and presumably in person too). With works by Oliver Clegg, Christopher Kuhn, Kasper Sonne, and Richard Höglund, Hashtag Abstract at London’s Ronchini Gallery explores current developments in abstraction and tries to engage with the question of how social media trends develop and grow.

In the following exchange, I ask Maleki how collecting compares with curating, what abstract painting has to do with the digital world, and where the women artists are in his collection.

Oliver Clegg, Bloody Mary, 2015, Oil on canvas, 120 x 162 cm. Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery


Natalie Hegert: I understand you’ve been collecting for about ten years, and your parents are also avid collectors. What made you decide to take the plunge into curating? How does this curatorial project compare with collecting?

Kamiar Maleki: Growing up, I was surrounded by my parents’ art collection and quite quickly felt inclined to start my own, concentrating on emerging contemporary artists. The idea to curate a show with Ronchini Gallery was conceived during an engaging conversation with the director, Lorenzo Ronchini, discussing numerous emerging artists I have come across at various exhibitions, fairs, and studio visits. This inspired me to hold Hashtag Abstract as my first exhibition as a curator, to exhibit emerging artists and consider the different ways in which people collect in the current landscape.

Curating and collecting have clear similarities, as well as strong differences. Curation may be considered as a more focused process, whereby the curator acts as an organizer of information/artwork, creating a unique narrative that highlights a particular issue, in order to engage creatively with the viewer. Collecting can often be far more impulsive and personal. An art collection provides a unique insight into the collector’s interest, which can often be far more varied than a strictly curated exhibition. My personal advice as a collector is: love the art you buy, you’ll be living with it!

Kasper Sonne, Installation view of Hashtag Abstract, Ronchini Gallery, London, July 2–August 29, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery


NH: This show comes with its own hashtag, and invites viewers to interact with the works on social media. In a way, Instagram helped curate this show. How do you think Instagram, vis à vis our social-networked society, might be changing the contemporary art landscape, and the way people consume and collect art?

KM: Nowadays, thanks to Instagram, Facebook etc. you don’t necessarily have to visit a gallery to buy art. I recently bought my first piece of art online, through Instagram; the art piece was by Kasper Sonne and his work inspired me to consider social media as a motivating force for the show. Visually striking pieces, such as Sonne’s abstract works, are particularly suited for social media, but also look equally as amazing on the walls at home or in a gallery. Social media—in particular Instagram, but increasingly all platforms—has solidified the power of the image as a tool of engagement and, as such, this is beginning to affect the market for art.

The digital world has also made art much more accessible to the everyday user. Firstly, the individual no longer has to be the first person at an art fair and run around like crazy to find the best pieces; they don’t have to travel the world to every single gallery. The artworks are now being sent to us up to one or two weeks in advance of the shows or openings, and we can buy them from the comfort of our own home. Secondly, viewers are interacting with art in a different way. Social media has given all viewers a platform to become critics, picking and choosing which works they wish to share and comment on; this is already affecting the decisions behind gallery shows—more “shareable” exhibitions will generate their own publicity, so are often more attractive to organizers.  Within Hashtag Abstract we wanted to bring this trend to the forefront of the show, encouraging the viewer to share works through social media in a critical and engaging way.

However nothing beats going to an art fair, opening, or meeting various people along the way. Relationship building and meeting artists and gallerists and collectors are still vital to my work.

NH: Why focus on abstract painting? What does abstraction have to say about our contemporary digital world?

KM: My love for abstract art goes back to my appreciation of artists such as Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. I always try to find something within emerging artists that links with my love of the past and post-war art. I also enjoy process-based art, where one can see how the artist works with different material; this is often integral to abstract art.

I think the importance of abstraction links to my answers above. Social media has perpetuated a very visually-driven culture, whereby the individual gaze is drawn to instantly attractive images. The works included in the show can be appreciated immediately for their aesthetical qualities, and this is arguably what makes them popular with viewers and collectors today. 

Christopher Kuhn, Smear Campaign, 2015, oil and acrylic on linen, 177.8 x 137 cm, Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery


NH: I think it’s really important for collectors to help support young, emerging artists, rather than just artists who have already proven themselves in the market place, and the collector profiles about you always mention that you “specialize in collecting the work of emerging artists.” What factors have contributed to this focus in your collection? How do you discover new artists to collect?

KM: In my opinion art collectors should be patrons of artists or institutions of their choice. There should not be a distinct separation.

As a collector of young contemporary artists, I can support brilliant artists’ works and enable their careers to flourish. Following the example of my parents Fatima and Eskander Maleki—who are patrons to many artists, organizations, charities, and trusts—I was compelled to become a supporter of the arts myself. Collecting is a gratifying passion because you feel a sense of pride and excitement each time you meet an artist whose work you collect. There is also a joy in finding an unknown emerging artist that you feel is going to become established one day.

There are no set rules on how to discover artists. I personally visit exhibitions at newer emerging galleries, attend graduate shows such as at Royal Academy Schools, the various colleges of the University of The Arts London and many more. I also attend fairs including Photo London, Frieze (London, New York), Art Basel (Hong Kong, Basel, Miami), Art Brussels, and LA Contemporary to name a few. Of course studio visits give you an invaluable glimpse into the world of an artist. At the moment the artists I am looking out for are Ida Ekblad, Neïl Beloufa, and Charline von Heyl amongst others, and I am also very interested in the work of Will Boone and Harold Ancart. In regards to more emerging artists, I have recently been following the career of Marco Palmieri, Stefania Batoeva and Luke Diiorio.

NH: I haven’t seen your collection, and I don’t know all of what it contains—this is just based on what information was readily available—I couldn’t help but notice that no female artists are named in relation to your collection. Do you have any women artists in your collection? I must ask, because it’s widely known that collectors, like yourself, have a great influence on the art market, and it’s these two areas—private collections and the art market—that are the greatest bastions of continuing inequality in the art world. How would you position your collection and your activities as a collector, and now a curator, in relation to this issue?

KM: It is interesting that you have not read about any female artists in my collection as there are indeed several. I collect works from very talented female artists such as the Italian Alek O, the Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi, the English Vicky Wright, Ayan Farah, and others. As you mention, it is important that collectors such as myself keep an eye out for new artists, male and female, and from a variety of countries and cultures. It is this engagement with a wide range of artists, from myriad backgrounds, that keeps my collecting so interesting to me; I can only hope that this will help to affect the art world and promote more equality within these areas.


Natalie Hegert


ArtSlant would like to thank Kamiar Maleki and Emma Gilhooly for their assistance in making this interview possible.



(All images: Hashtag AbstractRonchini Gallery, London, July 2–August 29, 2015. Courtesy the artists and Ronchini Gallery)

Posted by Natalie Hegert on 7/22 | tags: abstract painting collector as curator Art collecting emerging artists collector's catalogue #hashtagabstract

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The New Director of Tate Britain Set to Broaden the Museum's Audience
by Kimberly B. Johnson

As the chief founding director of Nottingham Contemporary—one of the U.K’s largest art centers—Alex Farquharson knows all about tackling artistic ventures on a large scale. A long time curator with more than 20 years' experience, Farquharson has worked with some of the foremost leading contemporary British artists, such as Pablo Bronstein, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Jeremy Deller, Gary Hume, Richard Long and Gillian Wearing. When Farquharson launched Nottingham Contemporary in the fall of 2009, little did he know the gallery would go on to attract more than one million visitors in its first five years—defining and solidifying him as a strong presence in the British art industry.

Farquharson studied English and Fine Art at the University of Exeter, and soon after, received his Masters in Arts Criticism at City University in London. He is set to replace former Tate Britain director, Penelope Curtis, who announced in the spring that she was stepping down in order to take the director’s position at Lisbon's Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.

Upon gaining his new position, Farquharson told the London Evening Standard that, “as the home of 500 years of British art, Tate Britain has a unique and fascinating position in the cultural life of the nation. I look forward to working with a highly skilled and experienced team of curators to share these histories with audiences of all kinds.”


Kimberly B. Johnson


(Image at the top: David Baird)

Posted by Kimberly B. Johnson on 7/30 | tags: Tate Britain Alex Farquharson Nottingham Contemporary

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